Cantrip: D&D Beyond boosts the game to new levels

DDBeyondi love D&D Beyond.

Let’s get that out right away. The digital toolset from Curse working in close conjunction with Wizards of the Coast puts the entire fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons experience at your fingertips. i’ve got the Legendary Bundle and proudly subscribe at the Master tier.


Special quality of D&D books

Don’t get me wrong – having the physical books on my shelf is important to me, too. There’s something very special about Dungeons & Dragons stuff compared to any other sorts of books.

i move around a lot. Between that, donating tons of books, DVDs and CDs to the library, a total liquidation of material possessions to fund a European backpacking excursion, and a town evacuation due to wildfires years ago, i’ve since become a digital-first consumer. My comic books are through Comixology, music is all files on the computer and e-books line virtual shelves.

But not so for D&D and other roleplaying games. The Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual, Volo’s Guide to Monsters and more occupy a place of reverence in my office. Thumbing through the tomes facilitating some of the best times of my life is a tradition i’ve held onto since childhood.

Other digital RPG books i own in PDF format just don’t have the ease of use that physical books possess, especially longer ones. Products like the Book of Lairs from Kobold Press are terrific in PDF form. With modular books like this, or shorter books like Deep Magic: Void Magic (also from Kobold Press) you won’t find yourself flipping through lots of pages, cross-referencing different sections and so forth. Often i find myself holding two, three or more different portions of a book open and with PDFs tasks like this are cumbersome. (Maybe just for me; i might not be PDF-savvy enough.)

D&D Beyond changes everything

D&D Beyond eliminates all of those hurdles and, true to the name, vastly improves the experience. The layout and design of the site, access and functionality of the content and dedication of the developers and moderators is all top notch.

When D&D Beyond offered beta access, there wasn’t a whole lot going on, but it was clear the project was ambitious. Moreso, it was obvious that the team behind the project was dedicated, true fans of Dungeons & Dragons. Curse Product Lead Adam Bradford has been out front and up front the whole time, addressing questions and concerns, sharing updates and keeping the D&D community informed every step of the way.

The full launch of D&D Beyond took place during Gen Con 50 in August 2017. Even since then, just a little over a month from the time of this post, D&D Beyond has grown, evolved and improved immensely. New features were added and a whole new aspect of the product emerged when Todd Kenreck joined the team as content director.

Kenreck is a video producer, reporter and documentary filmmaker bringing tons of experience and an authentic love for D&D to help build a great community atmosphere around D&D Beyond. Basically every day, there is new video content on the D&D Beyond website featuring personalities like Chris Perkins and Mike Mearls from the Dungeons & Dragons team, Dungeon Masters like Matt Mercer of Critical Role and players like Holly Conrad of Dice, Camera, Action.

The videos are intended to help tell the story of D&D, and to give DMs and players insight into what makes D&D so special. They also help illuminate and illustrate game elements like races and classes, and different aspects of play like myriad planes of existence and how they might affect adventurers.

In the D&D Beyond Live Developer FAQ on Sept. 22, 2017, Adam Bradford explained that another use for the video content might come about as tooltip options. For example, video content could be tethered to class summaries so you might watch and listen as Mike Mearls explains deeper what it means to be an Oath of Ancients paladin.

i would encourage all D&D fans to check out the development update video below, as well as the Nerdarchy live chat with Adam Bradford. He answers a ton of questions about D&D Beyond and shares a lot of information about what’s in the works going forward. And he does so with a transparency and authenticity that strengthens my confidence in this wonderful service.

These Live Developer FAQ segments will be monthly, allowing a chance to share status updates, upcoming developments and insights. In the video here, Adam shares some of the analytics from D&D Beyond usage like stats on what races and classes are most often used with the character builder. Can you guess what the most popular race/class combo is? Watch the video and find out. (Click here for half the answer.)

Getting better every day

After watching Adam’s Live Developer video and his appearance on Nerdarchy Live Chat, i am more convinced than ever that D&D Beyond is truly something extraordinary. The toolset alone is worth investing in 100 percent. i’m discovering new things daily to make playing and running D&D games smoother and easier.

Here’s a few things i find useful, cool or simply fun:

  • Random character builder: An optimizer’s dark nightmare, i love the kooky combinations that result. My players want to try a megadungeon and i’ve settled on Maze of the Blue Medusa. Megadungeons tend to incur fatalities more than regular ol’ adventuring so i’m thinking it’ll be quite handy to be able to generate characters with the click of a button.
  • Official adventures: i’ve played one, stolen from others and read or flipped through all of them but haven’t run any. Tomb of Annihilation and Out of the Abyss in particular are two that i really want to run for my group. Using D&D Beyond will make this WAY EASIER! Hyperlinks means you go right where you need to for maps or further information and the monsters have hover-over tooltips with quick stats in addition to hyperlinks right to the monster entry. This is amazing! Given time i bet we’ll see robust features to allow adventure creation with tools like this.
  • MezMockHomebrew tools: These are intuitive and useful, with more features to come. Spell creation is wonderful because you can use existing official spells as a base and make tweaks. For example my drow illusionist uses vicious mockery because the DM thought it fit well. A few simple clicks later and mesmerizing mockery is a wizard spell added to the spellbook. i also transformed lightning lure into lure of the grave for a necrotic warlock spell in about one minute.

Looking ahead

Adam mentioned so much cool stuff during the Nerdarchy live chat and Developer FAQ! The team behind D&D Beyond is absolutely hearing what people are saying and working hard to improve and provide incredible tools for D&D. A few weeks ago on the forums i posted that a button to add personality traits, ideals, bonds and flaws to a character would be useful and not a day later the feature was added. i’m not saying i had anything to do with it directly, but it was certainly great to see.

On a side note, it irks me to read comments online from frustrated or skeptical D&D fans regarding D&D Beyond. Just about every time i read something negative, it’s a concern already being addressed, already fixed/changed or simply not true. This isn’t to say DDB is perfect, but i do believe there’s more constructive ways to communicate and it’s definitely worthwhile to try and find an answer before getting upset by speculation.

Here’s a few things brewing at D&D Beyond that i’m looking forward to:

  • Encounter/monster building: If this is anything like the spell and magic item home brew tools (and i’m pretty sure it will be) DM’s are going to love it. Tweaking existing creatures to customize them for your D&D game is a long and honored tradition.
  • More robust campaign tools: Yes please! If i can create and organize campaign information that hyperlinks to unlocked DDB content i will be one happy DM.
  • Adventurers League coordination: i don’t have many opportunities to participate in AL games, but i have many times in the past and it’s an awesome program. Features to create characters using AL guidelines and track adventure rewards would be terrific. And hey, if they add AL adventures through a team-up with the Dungeon Master’s Guild with the same level of functionality as the big campaign books i won’t complain.
  • Revamped character sheet: Lots of bells and whistles with this one. Adam Bradford goes into detail about what they’re working on for the character sheet and it looks super useful and spiffy.
  • Mobile app for iOS and Android: i’ve used DDB on my phone already. Most notably it saved the day at Gen Con 50 for a spontaneous D&D game. i generated a character in no time, pulled up the Monster Manual for DM Nerdarchist Dave and we were off on an adventure. i can only imagine how much smoother and easier a dedicated mobile app version will be.

Now i’m curious – have you tried D&D Beyond yet? What do you think? Every time i head to the site i find new, useful, cool stuff for players, DMs and fans of D&D. Let me know in the comments what your favorite part of D&D Beyond is, and if you have any questions please feel free to ask and i’ll do my best to answer or point you in the right direction.

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