First Impressions: D&D Beyond Beta Phase 1
Update: Curse has responded to early critique of D&D Beyond in their "Beta Report - The Morning After" thread including most of what I wrote here.
The very first portion of Wizard's of the Coast's fancy new digital tools to support DMs and players is out now as a beta to anybody who has a Twitch.tv account to log in with. The decision to require a Twitch account in order to use the service has ruffled the usual feathers one would expect over at Reddit. For people who don't watch any streams on Twitch but do play D&D and want to use the official tools it seems like a strange hoop to jump through. However, It is a move undoubtedly tied to the fact that Curse is owned by Twitch and WotC has partnered with Curse to produce D&D Beyond. I do use Twitch pretty regularly so this doesn't bother me, but I can see someone else asking, "Why do I have to get an account with this streaming service in order to use D&D tools?"
Beyond is split into 5 sections at the moment and contains only the content that is currently available for free in the SRD and Basic Rules that have already been put out. In this stage of the beta (which WotC has promised to roll out in 3 "phases" over the next few weeks) Beyond has five different sections:
1. The Compendium
This section of Beyond which contains all the rules for actually playing a game is what needs the most work to me at the moment. There is no way to search through the text of the rules. The table of contents is broken into categories and than organized alphabetically, which is useless. Right now, this part of Beyond is sadly just a worse version of something like the Roll20 compendium. Honestly, I hope this is placeholder for a better system coming down the pipeline.
2. Spell, Item, and Monster Lists
Thankfully, these sections feel much better developed. These types of searchable databanks are directly in Curse's wheelhouse and it shows. Each section is categorized logically and easy to search and filter.
Players will be able to search through spells by what type of attack or attribute save they use, spell level, casting time, duration, range, and additional tags such as "control", "summoning", "utility", etc. Easily, this is already the best interface I know for a player leveling up who wants to browse through what they have available to them - if not for the pesky fact that this currently is missing spells not in the Basic Rules. The items are similarly sortable in the same manner.
As a DM the most useful section for me right now is the monsters. Sortable of course by name and challenge rating but also by type, size, alignment, and the environment they are most likely to be found in. For bringing up stat blocks on the fly during a game this would be an invaluable tool for me. The less time flipping back and forth between pages of the monster manual the better.
Suddenly, it makes a lot more sense why WotC shut down their official forums in 2015. The 5th edition had already been released and being reviewed quite well when they made that decision and it puzzled me somewhat. Well, now we have new official forums and they've been moved under the umbrella of D&D Beyond. Not much to say here, other than to note that these are now the "official" D&D forums.
As far as I can tell this thing is only accessible through the web right now. Why they don't have Android and iOS versions available right now makes me a little nervous about how they're coming along. It's a strange for something that is billed as an "app" showing it's use on smartphones and tablets in marketing material only to have the first impression of it through a website.
Other than that, the most glaring omission and what players and DMs alike are hungering for is a well supported and intuitive character creation program. We have been promised this will be coming in Phase 2 of the beta for us to check out. What we've been given so far is such slim pickings that I suspect this Phase 1 test was largely to see how their servers would respond to the load. There are tons of creatures from the Monster Manual/Volo's Guide to Monsters along with Spells from the Player's Handbook that really need to be available before I can evaluate Beyond as a real tool I can use.
The interface for spells, items, and monsters is on point for the functionality I want this app to have. However, until we see a pricing model for the full content of the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual I'm still skeptical. The basic rules compendium is less useful than 3rd party implementations of the exact same content and the forums are your standard forum that's been in use for decades now.
I realize this is a beta right now but I'm not too impressed. I am very open (and hoping) that that changes in the future, there is a lot of potential packed away here. Wizard's has been bungling their digital tools for one reason or another since 3rd edition - I want this to be the time they nail it.