In March, Wizards of the Coast announced at PAX East that it would be bringing the traditional pen-and-paper role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons into the digital age with a new tool: D&D Beyond.
Wizards of the Coast describes D&D Beyond as a “digital toolset” for players using the game’s 5th Edition rules. The company partnered with Curse, a Twitch-owned company that builds other gaming-management tools, with the intent of making it easier for players to manage their characters and games. The program will launch on August 15th, and when it does, it’ll include a searchable database of the game’s rules, plus a platform for building characters and monsters, for keeping track of the items they pick up during the game.
Adam Bradford, Curse’s product lead, explained that while resourceful gamers use plenty of home-brewed digital tools, D&D Beyond will be a platform with “all of those elements, all with the entire library of official Dungeons & Dragons content fully integrated.”
Bradford says when the platform launches in August, “Players can play with digital versions of every official D&D sourcebook with the compendium. They can build a character using that content in addition to a custom magic item created in our homebrew system. That homebrew magic item can then be shared with the community for other players to use in their own games.” He says there’s more planned down the road: the platform will be tweaked to include monsters and encounter builders, as well as combat tracking for characters during games.
The goal is to make players’ experience easier. Gaming has changed considerably since Gary Gygax first introduced Dungeons & Dragons in 1974. Video and computer games compete for gamers’ attention, and the role-playing scene has splintered into factions based around everything from freeform storytelling to live-action gaming, and D&D itself has undergone massive changes over the decades. Nine years ago, Wizards of the Coast released its controversial 4th Edition, which overhauled its rules system and prompted some gamers to jump over to competitors such as Pathfinder. The recent 5th Edition release met a much more positive reception from players. Bradford says introducing a digital toolset gives gamers a way to focus more on playing the game, rather than spending time looking up rules or creating characters. Other tools, such as a digital character sheet, just make sense, allowing gamers to update them quickly and accurately, but also access them on a variety of devices, rather than a single sheet of paper.
To put together a product that was useful to gamers, Bradford says Wizards approached the build process in the same way the company developed the new edition of the game: via extensive playtesting. “Player feedback has mattered and been acted upon, and the results speak for themselves,” he says. When the company first announced the product in March, they had worked with a pool of 160,000 players to design and tweak it.
The elements currently in the Beta release will remain free; that includes the Basic Rules, the Standard Reference Document, and the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion. For more features, however, players will have to pay. The system will offer digital content and subscriptions for sale, as well as specific game elements and adventures.
Players will also be able to purchase digital sourcebooks, such as the Player's Handbook or Volo's Guide to Monsters, which will be available for $29.99. Adventure modules will run players $24.99. (Bradford notes that when D&D Beyond launches, the three core game books — the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual — will be on sale for $19.99.)
There are also two subscription tiers. The Hero Tier is designed for players; signing up removes ads, lets players create an unlimited number of characters, and adds “publicly-shared homebrew content to your collection to use within the toolset.” The second subscription is The Master Tier, which is designed for Dungeon Masters and their groups. It includes the benefits of the Hero Tier, but also lets DMs share their unlocked official content with other players within a campaign.
While gamers have been using digital tools for decades — PDF character sheets, number randomizers, character details stored on Google Docs, websites like Roll20 — it’s hard to believe that until now, Wizards of the Coast has essentially missed the opportunities that technology and the internet have to offer to the game. “Creating a comprehensive toolset for D&D is challenging,” Bradford explains, because it’s more than just digitizing all of the tools. It’s making sure they all work together in a way that makes sense. “The goal is that technology is used to mitigate the negative impact of rules on the game experience, where the key focus of telling an interactive, cooperative, epic story with your friends shines through more clearly.”