When D&D Beyond was first announced, the possibilities of the browser-based system were too tremendous to ignore. When browsing through the beta earlier this year, we got a taste of things to come and it seemed that playing Dungeons & Dragons had a great chance of becoming much easier than it used to. Sure, I love the books and their illustrations, having them as a resource guide is amazing. But I can recall a dozen different times gameplay was halted as someone looked up the properties of a spell, or how exactly their character’s special Level 17 ability worked. So D&D Beyond looked to be an awesome tool. Recently, the full version was released and after playing with it for a while, we got some thoughts to share.
First up, let’s talk character creation. The system in D&D Beyond lets you choose everything Fifth Edition has to offer across three different books. Meaning you got your standard compliment, your newly added basics to Fifth, your expanded variants, and your latest additions. You’ll be able to build your character completely from scratch with the choices you want, and the system will guide you through those choices with the appropriate information you need. It will also give you the option of taking fixed rolls to give your character a challenge that is fair, or manually roll your own dice and input the values.
The details of your character, later on, become a combination of drop-down menus and your own personal description of your character. Everything from the profession you choose to the equipment you carry is easily accessible and manageable. You’re literally cutting out about an hour worth of planning and strategizing as everything is laid out in front of you. And as a bonus, if you’d really like to roll the dice (so to speak) you can have the system design a character for you randomly or have it do a quick-create where you control the basics like your race and class, while the system takes care of the nitty-gritty parts.
Speaking of those nitty-gritty parts, the menus to look up everything you may need are easily laid out in alphabetical order. D&D Beyond went to great lengths to keep everything in a quick reference encyclopedia so that no matter what you may come across, you can find out everything about it. One of the examples below shows the Items Menu, in which you can look up different types of items ranging from rings to weapons to potions to armor and more. So if I buy something, come across something, kill an enemy and pick it up from their dead hands—I got a reference point for it to know how it works.
If I decide to go down the magic user route, I also have what could be considered the quintessential spellbook for Dungeons & Dragons at my fingertips. Browsing through the spells section shows me everything I could possibly ever want to cast from simple cantrips to powerful lightning bolts and everything in between. If you’re truly trying to take your mage or wizard down a very specific path and turn them into the best possible weapon they can be in a particular area, this guide will give you the ins and outs to help you get there and best utilize your spells by understanding them better. The entire guide has made me want to try my hand at making a fire mage again now that I can plan better.
For those of you looking at the Dungeon Master side of things, D&D Beyond will basically solve all of your problems. As you can see from the photo below, you get access to all of the guides you need to make the game you want on your own. You even get Volo’s Guide To Monsters and the Sword Coast Adventure’s Guide. This is a handy tool for people who are trying to get into the game but can’t afford to throw down the cash for all of these guides. There are some illustrations, but essentially you’re getting the PDF versions of them all with the info transfered to the menus.
And if you don’t feel like building your own adventure, you can access one of the new adventures of Fifth Edition from their library. As you’ll see from the photos below, you have access to all the pre-built campaigns which includes battles and maps for you to guide people through the adventure. It was interesting to scan through these digital versions and compare them to the physical ones as I thumbed through the pages. There’s nothing missing here, and if anything, the people behind the program went to great lengths to make sure this was easy to read and apply to the physical world.
One of the best little side options I found was the ability to create your own creatures. As you can see from the example I copied, you can make anything from simple skeletons to full-blown dragons. You can edit their traits and abilities, reactions and legendary status, set up rules and guidelines for hurting and defeating your creatures and more. This is the tool that will seperate the creative from the mundane as those who truly want to have an immersive world that they control can build it from the ground up. This includes creating villagers who later turn into greater threats, so if you truly want to do some crazy storytelling, you have the ability.
I absolutely loved D&D Beyond and can’t imagine playing the game without it now. Sadly, the one thing that would make this perfect isn’t here: a downloadable app. I recognize that I need a Twitch account to access the system, but if I were able to put my character sheet on my smartphone through a proper app instead of opening a browser, I’d be set with zero complaints. Beyond that one issue, the rest is absolute Dungeons & Dragons gold. I can’t wait to see how the system grows over time and adapts with new additions.
The pricing will be the real dividing point for some people. To gain access to the sourcebooks and what they hold alone is $30 each while the adventures are $25 each, making them cheaper as a resource tied to your account to access whenever you want. If you want everything and then some, the best way to go is through subscription as a Hero Tier (everything) is $3 monthly and a Master Tie (and then some) is $6 monthly. Much like Twitch, there are packages, witht he highest on the Master Tier being $55 for a year-long subscription. The fact that it’s the price of one and a half of the physical books is a quite a bargain, but I can see people screaming that they don’t get to own the material like you would a book. That’s true, but considering you’re paying to digitize all of this and make the game more mobile than it is… it becomes worth the cost.