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D&D Beyond Brings Pen and Paper into the Digital Age

Jack Gardner



Earlier this year, Wizards of the Coast launched the most ambitious addition to Dungeons and Dragons in years. The prolific game company introduced D&D Beyond back in March as a beta for hardcore players of the traditional tabletop role-playing game. The beta period came to an end at the beginning of September, launching to a positive reception. I've had a chance to play around with the materials and systems the past few weeks, and Beyond might just be the most useful, mainstream tool a modern D&D role-playing group could use.


D&D Beyond takes on all of the tasks previously reserved for bulky books and easily misplaced character sheets. The streamlined approach means that any player can access a roster of their created characters online while also having access to the basic rules and systems needed to run a game of 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons for free. Players who want any of the content contained within adventure modules, expansions, and supplements can purchase those on the digital marketplace for use online in D&D Beyond.


That might seem a bit standard, however D&D Beyond offers a really intriguing idea: A two tiered subscription model. Anyone can use Beyond for free, but they will be limited to six characters on their account, the occasional ad will appear, and homebrew content from others cannot be added to a given campaign. The Hero tier for $2.99 per month allows for unlimited characters, no ads, and allows for all homebrew content. Most interestingly, the Master tier for $5.99 per month brings in all of the access of lower tiers, but also allows Dungeon Masters to share all of the purchased content they have with everyone in up to three campaigns. You can feasibly join a D&D Beyond campaign, create a character, and immediately have access to everything your DM will be using in the upcoming adventure - for free. That means, in theory, that a group could pitch in to collectively buy a book apiece and have collective access to the entire 5th edition library. 




This feature has been one that fans of the staple pen and paper RPG have been awaiting for a long, long time. There are numerous online tools that players have used to help in character creation, organize player-created expansions, and keep track of campaigns. D&D Beyond puts all of those tools into one place and offers that aforementioned game sharing ability. 


Nathan Stewart, the senior director of Dungeons & Dragons, stated in the announcement for D&D Beyond's beta phase that, "D&D Beyond speaks to the way gamers are able to blend digital tools with the fun of storytelling around the table with your friends. These tools represent a way forward for D&D, and we’re excited to get them into the hands of players."



The ideal experience of D&D Beyond resides on PC. Going to the website with a full keyboard makes finding what you need and adjusting numbers on a character sheet a cinch. Currently Wizards of the Coast plans to bring the service to a dedicated app for tablets and smart phones. In the meantime, players can use the mobile version of the D&D Beyond website, which offers most of the same functionality as the desktop website. Accessibility stands as the main downside of the mobile version. Often it can take a few clunky finger taps to navigate to the page you need. Weighed against the previous state of the game, where it could take someone several minutes of page turning through rule books and modules, the mobile site offers a vast improvement. The mobile app represents an opportunity for Wizards of the Coast and their development partners at Curse to refine the Beyond experience into a finely tuned collection of role-playing tools.


As it stands, one of the main strengths of the Beyond platform is how easy and readily understandable it makes creating a character for even the most uninitiated. It automatically handles the heavy lifting of putting values and adding bonuses derived from the player's choice of creature and class for their character. The only hitch in the character creation process might be when it comes to figuring out starting equipment. That process seems to be complicated for beginners and possibly frustrating the first few times through for those more accustomed to pen and paper. However, there are options to create randomized characters or characters at level 1 that's properly geared for their class. 


Players who want to create new content in D&D Beyond are free to do so. Want to create a new spell, item, or monster? There are ways to do that and share them with your fellow adventurers. Those creations do have to adhere to some guidelines that prohibit the use of licensed content in homebrew additions. You can't make an item that gives out someone's personal information, contains hate speech in the description, or is very obviously from another IP like directly inserting The One Ring from Lord of the Rings. Wizards of the Coast also prohibits players from adding content that builds off of other races or creatures mentioned in the already established lore of their worlds.




Overall, D&D Beyond might have a couple flaws or kinks in the system, but it's an incredibly solid foundation that Wizards of the Coast will most definitely be refining over the coming years. It's a great way to ensure players keep coming back to get hooked on new modules and expansions. Sure, you might have played through a whole campaign as a skilled human swordsman, but what would your adventures be like if you had created a Tortle barbarian? Beyond makes it easy to experiment with new characters and discover new adventures.


Oh, and that Tortle race that can be used in Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition? It was created as a supplement to the Tomb of Annihilation adventure to raise money for Extra Life! All proceeds from the sale of The Tortle Package go to Extra Life - so, if you're looking for a D&D one-shot to run on Game Day, think about grabbing a few friends, hopping on D&D Beyond, and crafting your own adventure in the isolated Snout of Omgar. 


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