Monday, March 13, 2017

Something New for Monday: D&D Beyond

Well over the weekend some news broke about a D&D digital toolset that stirred up some excitement. The article and discussion at EN World has some interesting questions and answers. What jumped out at me:

  • It's not a virtual tabletop, it's designed to enhance play at a table. OK, cool. Since we play face to face I'm more interested than if it was another VTT.
  • Character builder - ok that's expected. Are 5E characters really complicated enough to need one though?
  • Digital character sheet - ah, so presumably you'd be able to run your character from a tablet or a laptop, maybe even a phone. If you're going to have one of these. might as well include character creation too. Makes more sense now.
  • Rules Compendium - hyperlinked rules is a handy thing to have. This is already covered to some degree by the SRD. The official one is here (and downloadable) with others here and here and here. I suppose if you're going to have a D&D application then including a rules reference makes sense too.
  • "D&D news, articles, forums, and more" - I suppose it's handy to have these built into an app too but we've already had these for decades accessed through an app called an Internet Browser. I'm not sure this is really something you can tout as a special feature of an app. 

So sitting at a table with this new app on all of our devices, what do we get? We get hyperlinked rules (OK, but I already have those), a character builder, digital sheets, and a way to distract all of my players with news and forums built right in - great!

Oh yeah, Call of Cthulu - there's a game that just screams "I need a character builder" - sigh

As far as the character builder, I just don't see a huge need for one. Sure, it's D&D so someone will make one (we've been doing that since the 80's at least) but I don't think it really solves a problem - it's more of a nice to have. Compared to 3E, 4E, Pathfinder, and other games like Hero System, GURPS, and Shadowrun 5E creation is just so simple that this seems like making something because it's expected rather than a real challenge. Also considering 5E's relatively glacial pace in adding new character options it really seems like a stretch. This is not a question I have with just this app - HeroLab offers a Savage Worlds set too. I can make a SW character in 5 minutes, because they just are not that complicated. I suppose it's worth it to someone or it wouldn't exist but it does surprise me sometimes.  For D&D maybe it will be an easier way to get the Unearthed Arcana stuff out to people for playtesting and feedback for eventual inclusion in some official material, but that's the biggest benefit I can see. 

Digital character sheets are alright but I have had players using HeroLab for iPad in my Pathfinder game and they lock up at least once per session - I don't know why, they just do. My paper sheets never do, and they never run low on battery power either. I'm a fan of technology in general but I've noticed gamers in particular tend to think that adding tech to something can only make it better and sometimes that is not the case. The digital sheet is handy in games that use a lot of conditions, like D&D 4E and M&M and I can see some benefits there. Most D&D types games though ... I just don't see it. Sure, you can get an app on your tablet and use it to build and manage your character for $ every month - or you can do it on paper for about zero additional cost. Oh, you're hasted? you can use that app etc or here's a sticky note or an index card with the relevant modifiers you can hang onto.  Plus, you lose so much character with the lack of doodles in the margins, cheeto fingerprints, Dr. Pepper splashes, and pizza grease stains! 

Advanced 2050's interface by way of the 90's

I suppose I'm in a weird place for this as I'm trying to reduce the amount of device involvement at the table these days. With the M&M campaign I'm fine building a character in HeroLab but I'm back to running the game without it as much as I can. I use it as a rules reference for powers sometimes but that's about it. For Deadlands it's all about the cards and chips and miniatures on the table - I just don't need a  PC or a tablet to run it. I find physical stuff like sheets or cards that can be handed over to a player as needed- whether it's a condition, an item, or an NPC - is just more fun than one of us reading a screen to each other. 

One big exception - I'm running a lot of adventures from PDF's. I like to have physical copies of rulebooks and things the players might use but adventures are something that is really only used by the DM. I'll print out maps and any player handouts but I don't really need to print the whole adventure. It works pretty well so far for DCC, RQ, and ICONS and I figure it will expand into other games too. 

In the end, I'm not playing 5E so there's no immediate impact to me specifically, but I am interested in seeing where this goes. We will play it sooner or later and you can bet I'll be checking on the status and the business model for this tool. 

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