D&D Beyond Combines Tabletop Gaming with Digital Features

The first edition of Dungeons & Dragons came out in 1974, but the venerable tabletop game is still rolling along. Now in its 5th Edition, the various incarnations of the game have relied more on dice and statistics than some other competing RPGs that place a greater emphasis on DM/GM (Dungeon Master/Game Master) discretion and roleplaying and less on random outcomes. Now, Wizards of the Coast is prepping a major release of three digital tools meant to improve game speed and streamline the experience.

If you’ve ever actually played D&D or seen the Summoner video set to audio from the Dead Alewives, you’re aware that the game (particularly its earlier incarnations) could be downright lugubrious.

If humans born in the 20th century want to leave a modern Rosetta Stone for future generations, to translate the English dialect of nerds born from the 1960s through the early 1980s, “Lemme see that sheet,” wouldn’t be a bad phrase to start with. I have memories of debating which elements a red dragon’s breath weapon would and would not melt, during a long car trip with two hapless teachers and a couple of high school classmates who emphatically did not play the game, that will haunt me for the rest of my days. What can I say? I wasn’t just cool in high school — I was super cool.

Calculating the area of effect of a compressed fireball, considering the implications of various simultaneous spell effects, and arguing over whether I should have to cast a Wish spell to bring a fellow player back from the dead after he self-immolated were all interesting ways to learn about physics, chemistry, and the fundamental unfairness of life. But they also involved a lot of arguing and occasional consultation with source material far removed from the AD&D 2nd Edition Player’s Handbook.

Anyway, where was I? D&D Beyond consists of four tools. We’ll cover them ourselves, but there’s also a video if you prefer to watch the explanation. Three of these tools are currently in beta testing and are scheduled to launch on August 15.

First, these toolsets will function as a cross-linked, searchable encyclopedia of game information, including the core rulebooks: Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monstrous Manual. Moreover, this database will be searchable by metadata, with the implication that you won’t just be limited to searching by spell level or type, but can also look for spells that allow saving throws, affect the target in particular ways, or possibly have different component requirements. In short, the goal was to build a database that would be useful to players, as opposed to checking off project goals on a list.

Second, these new tools will allow players to build characters much more quickly and can be used to dynamically track things like hit points, saving throw fails (or successes), and available spell slots. In some cases, tools like this can be used to keep players guessing about what will happen next — whenever a DM tells you to roll a check without knowing what it’s for, you still know something could happen. Giving the DM the power to roll that check themselves without informing you of the outcome arguably allows for a more realistic result in which players don’t notice things they didn’t notice (as opposed to noticing that there was something they didn’t notice).

Third, D&D Beyond will allow players to share their creations, including monsters, spells, races, classes, and magical items with each other, or integrate the rules into the official material from Wizards of the Coast.

Fourth, these tools will allow a DM to both access a player’s character sheets and share official content for them to make use of. Digital Trends, which has more details on how some of these functions will integrate with each other, uses the example of Volo’s Guide to Monsters. If a DM owns this book and chooses to share it with the players that are taking part in his or her campaign, the players will have access to the book’s rules for creating new species without purchasing it for themselves. How many people and groups a DM can share content with simultaneously has not been disclosed.

D&D Beyond isn’t the first attempt to digitize the D&D universe and bring it into the 21st century. But it’s the largest and most comprehensive of any Wizards of the Coast effort to date. Some of these tools seem like they’d be real improvements to the current game, streamlining some rough patches and giving players more time for actual playing.

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