Before I get rolling in my assessment of DDI, I want to remind folks in Winnipeg that I will be running D&D 4E demos at Imagine Games on Saturday, November 29, and Saturday, December 13. Games will start at 1:00. Sessions are limited to 6 players, so get there early if you want to guarantee a seat at the table. I’ll provide minis, pregenerated characters, and dice, so all you need to bring is yourself.
There. End plug. Let’s talk about Dungeons & Dragons Insider.
I, like a lot of people, was a little bit leery of the new digital initiative over at Wizards. The idea of having to shell out a subscription fee for electronic access to more D&D content struck me, initially, as pretty distasteful.
When I thought about it for a bit, though, I decided it wasn’t that bad. I was already shelling out 20 bucks a month buying Dungeon and Dragon magazines from the local game shop. Spending that on electronic versions was a bit much, but when you tack on the extras, it started to look a little more reasonable. Of course, this was before any pricing was announced. Currently, if you subscribe for a year, you get the two magazines at $4.95 a month, which is pretty decent.
Now, the price is going to go up as more and more tools come online for the system. I’m okay with that, as long as the tools they build are useful and functional, and the price stays in step with what I feel they’re worth.
Anyway, I subscribed.
I’m not totally sold on the whole thing, though; I think they’re off to a pretty good start, but I’m withholding final judgement. Here’s my thinking on the various components so far.
- Dragon Magazine. Dragon’s doing a really good job of providing extra options for characters. That’s been my one reservation (well, my main reservation, anyway) about 4E – it’s early in the product life span, so there’s just not as many options available. Dragon’s helping to ease that concern, and the look at playtest files for things like the Artificer, Barbarian, and Bard classes gives me a better idea of the kind of depth of support and development Wizards has planned. Overall, thumbs way up.
- Dungeon Magazine. This I’m not as enthusiastic about. The articles are pretty good, but I find that the adventures are a little less than thrilling. Sure, it’s early days yet, but the folks at Wizards just don’t seem to be taking any chances with their adventures. Pretty much everything is a dungeon crawl, with a few encounters on the way to the dungeon crawl, and maybe a few encounters on the way back from the dungeon crawl. While I find the adventures very useful for seeing the way encounters can be put together, and they can be stripmined for new monsters and traps, I just find them very bland. Safe, I guess, in that they are aimed at the very basics of the game. In comparison with what Paizo’s doing in the Pathfinder line, they really come out second best. Most specifically, the Scales of War Adventure Path just doesn’t compare to the Pathfinder Adventure Paths in terms of variety of activity and interesting options. Ah, well, as I say, it’s early days. I’m willing to give them a while to start stretching themselves.
- D&D Compendium. I haven’t really used this much, though I can see it being useful. It just hasn’t come up so far. I think it’s a good idea in theory, but I really can’t say more about it than that.
- Encounter Builder. I can see this becoming more useful to me as I learn the game more. Right now, I find it more helpful to page through the books looking for the right mix of monsters, because I don’t know what all of them do, yet. Still, it’s very handy for figuring out the XP budget for each encounter, and telling you whether it’s an easy, average, or hard encounter for your target party. I like it, but haven’t used it extensively.
- Ability Generator. This is okay, but I’m assuming that it’s going to be superseded by the Character Builder. As a stand-alone thing, I don’t much see the point.
- Monster Builder. Building monsters in 4E is a lot quicker than in other editions (and I know what I’m talking about: I built 30 3E monsters for the Penumbra Fantasy Bestiary). This little tool makes it even easier. The one catch is that it doesn’t seem to do Elite or Solo monsters, which is disappointing. Having said that, it does all the heavy lifting, math-wise, for normal monsters, and the explanation in the DMG of how to improve them to Elite or Solo is pretty straightforward. It’s good, but not perfect. Also, I’ve yet to be able to get the formatted stat block view to work. Still, it shows great promise.
- Character Builder. This is currently in closed beta testing, and only goes up to 3rd level. But I have to say that it’s pretty sweet. There are some weird things about it and a glitch or two, but this is a beta, and that’s to be expected. I’m not going to talk about the problems here, because I have every confidence that they’ll be corrected before release (the one-day turnaround time on the Vista x64 issue fix shows how serious they are about fixing things). What I will say is that I’m going to be using this tool to create all the pregen characters for my 4E demos, and it’s going to take me about a quarter of the time of using one of the form-fillable character sheets out there. When this is finalized, it’s going to be worth the price of admission all on its own, I think.
- Upcoming Features. The three other things they’re talking about adding to the DDI offering are the Character Visualizer, the Dungeon Builder, and the D&D Game Table. I’m not all that interested in the D&D Game Table – my game schedule is full enough, without trying to cram in virtual sessions. The Character Visualizer seems like a neat toy, but I’ve been unimpressed with the quality of the art that I’ve seen in the previews. I’m guessing it will be better in the release, but it’s still not something that really draws me, though I’ll probably spend some time playing with it. The Dungeon Builder seems to be the item that I’d use most, especially if it has the option of printing out battle maps, but I don’t see that on the list of features. We’ll have to wait and see.
So, there it is. In general, I like where DDI is headed, though I have a few reservations. I’d like to see a broader variety of adventures in Dungeon, and I’m anxious for the extra features they’re developing. I’m tentatively sold on it. We’ll have to see how well it lives up to its promise.