D&D Beyond Digital Toolset Before, During and After a Campaign
Yeah, yeah, I know. You already bought the books. I did too, and both Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage are on preorder from Amazon. I enjoy having the physical books to read through and — for running adventures — use at the table. And it’s important to me to support D&D as a consumer. But I’ve been using D&D Beyond since the beta, long before I was a DDB Insider, and I’d unlocked quite a bit from the marketplace before that too. I keep up with the conversation about DDB also. “It’s double dipping, it’s a money grab, it’s unfair to pay twice, X digital toolset is better,” and so on. At the end of the day, it comes down a cost-benefit analysis for each individual. If the advantage DDB provides is not greater than the price to unlock content for you, there’s nothing wrong with that. For many, many others around the world, the analysis is more favorable. For me, it’s really favorable and here’s why. But before getting started, let’s make a deal: I won’t disrespect your view of DDB, and you won’t get angry because I enjoy using, supporting and advocating it.
D&D Beyond as a player
I can’t stand messes and disarray. In terms of playing Dungeons & Dragons, I’ve always striven to keep character sheets neat and tidy, with crisp and consistent penmanship. But naturally, even the most meticulously filled out character sheets get sloppy with use. Eraser marks and scribbled notes turn my character sheets ugly pretty quickly. Traditionally, I’d re-write on a fresh sheet whenever a character leveled up. The advent of fillable PDF character sheets was a delight. Between sessions I could just update the PDF and print out a new one for the next session.
But no more!
Managing characters before, during and after play with D&D Beyond is a godsend for me. All the information and fiddly bits fit cleanly and nicely where they need to be, changing things on the fly is fast and simple, and there’s not even a bunch of paper to recycle because I can access everything about my character on a device without printing a thing. I love it.
The DDB character sheet itself underwent a major overhaul recently. There’s a ton of bells and whistles now that help during play. One of my favorites is the customized breakdown of actions available to your character. Each type of action is detailed, and you can filter as well. You can quickly see what you can do as far as actions, bonus actions, and reactions — including your character’s particular spells. This is fantastic. For a new player especially, seeing what you can do at a glance on your turn is really cool. But even longtime players will find this useful, particularly at higher levels when you have so many options. It even lists options available to all characters, like Help, Dodge and so forth, and clicking on them brings up a sidebar detailing what the effects are. This is awesome.
Using DDB during play is so smooth. In the live stream Secrets of Castle Greyhawk game I play in on Thursdays at 1 p.m. eastern on The Greyhawk Channel, playing Gusamon Gusfun the svirfneblin Circle of Spores druid is a snap. Managing hit points, whether he’s falling three stories through a glass tower or getting a boost from his Symbiotic Entity ability, hit points are always fluctuating and there’s no erasing, crossing out numbers or anything. Easy peasy and no mess.
The character sheet even makes calculations and adjustments for you. Probably most useful for spellcasters, these features show the DC and numerical effects of spells based on your individual character. For example if you cast fog cloud with a higher level spell slot, it shows the specific area covered, higher level cure wounds shows the exact dice to roll and what to add and so on. Even a fighter can see exactly how many hit points Second Wind grants, and things like that.
Starting or joining in new a new D&D campaign and creating new characters is extraordinarily easier too. The more content that emerges, the more options available for character creation, and having it all centralized in D&D Beyond with immediate access to more detailed information is incredibly useful. It’s super cool how Playtest/Unearthed Arcana, Critical Role, Eberron and Homebrew options are included in the character builder. I would love to see stuff from Kobold Press show up in DDB — or even Nerdarchy content! How awesome would that be? Could you imagine turning on the slider for Nerdarchy content and seeing the options in From Hit Dice to Heroics show up on your character sheet as Actions?
One thing to note, if you are a D&D player and don’t want to invest any money in DDB, it can still prove useful. Using the digital toolset itself is free, and the Basic Rules are likewise free. Granted, this doesn’t give you nearly as many character options, but you can still get in there and check it out with no cost. Microtransactions in the marketplace mean you can unlock specific options you want too, so if you’re playing an Evocation wizard but they’re a tabaxi, you can unlock only the tabaxi race and you’re good to go.
A D&D Beyond subscription is not required. Subscriptions, either the hero or master tier, give you more character slots (free accounts have 6) and allow content sharing and access to public homebrew
D&D Beyond as a Dungeon Master
I’ve written more than a few posts about how I use DDB for campaign management. Running the 5E Spelljammer Ingest Quest live stream game was super smooth without too much work to set things up. All my notes for each session were organized with the spoiler feature, so I could show just what I needed during play. Making tooltips is super easy, so I could quickly pull up whatever monster, spell, condition and so on with one click of a button. I used a lot of hombrew monsters too, and for these I simply made a hyperlink to my collection.
Campaigns in D&D Beyond are great for the players too. For Ingest Quest and my long-running home game, I can share much more than my unlocked content with players. After each session, I write up summaries of what happened so players have a record of their adventures. It’s also a space where I can collect additional campaign information. In my home game (also 5E Spelljammer), the ship’s crew is always growing and changing, so it’s a place to list all the different NPCs on the ship’s ledger as well as stats for their ship, which I created with the homebrew tools as a magic item. There’s the crew charter, the standard contract for crew members; bullet points of major campaign events; important people the characters know; and house rules. It would be really neat if players in a campaign could add their own notes; maybe in the future this will become an added feature.
Managing a campaign in D&D Beyond also gives the DM access to the characters in the campaign. You can open up their character sheets for review, and even modify them. So you can check out their personality traits and background, or add homebrew magic items for a character, or even slip something into their backpack without them knowing…
I am constantly experimenting with D&D Beyond campaign management and different things I can do to make experiences at the table better for me and players in games I run. One tip I strongly advise anyone who uses DDB campaign tools — save often! The system does not have an auto-save features (yet?!) so one errant click of the back button and you lose whatever you were working on. This happened to me recently. I bumped the back button on my mouse and lost a couple of hours of work.
Something I would like to explore more is using DDB campaign tools during play to interact with the players. For example, since you can add images and embed video and so forth, I’m curious how it would pan out to edit notes and add maps, art, and the like while playing. Players would need to refresh their screens, so there would be that delay, but it might be kind of neat to try. Another wishlist feature would be a button to shift something in your DM Private Notes to the Public Notes section.
At any rate, I can only see myself continuing to use DDB campaign tools more and in new ways. Even if all I do is list my Five W’s, an introduction, and a tooltip list of monsters for an adventure, it’s a benefit to me at the table.
D&D Beyond as a content creator
Indispensable. As Nerdarchy continues to grow our publishing arm through our improved Patreon rewards and products in the Nerdarchy store like Chimes of Discordia: Fantastical Mounts, From Hit Dice to Heroics, Secrets of the Vault: Mage Forge Vol. 1, and our next project currently in the works, D&D Beyond has been clutch. Even as the editor-in-chief of this website, too, I use DDB and the Standard Reference Document to be as accurate, consistent and legitimate as possible.
Fact-checking rules and terms, making sure the OGL isn’t violated, and even just for comparison of our content against official material is vastly improved through D&D Beyond. I have a pretty decent grasp of proper verbiage, style and spelling for D&D products thanks to the D&D Style Guide: Writing and Editing, but I still use DDB for extra quality control. There is reasoning behind word choices and usage in official D&D content, and I do my best to maintain those standards — especially for Nerdarchy’s products. (I’m more lenient here on the site, but I’m a peculiar and particular editor nevertheless.)
Using D&D Beyond as a tool for content creation bleeds over a lot into the next topic, which is an all-encompassing use for this digital toolset.
D&D Beyond as a researcher
Filtering content to find exactly what you want is beyond measure with D&D Beyond. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve filtered spells, monsters and magic items to find exactly what I was looking for. Just the other day, someone on the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Facebook group asked what, if any, weaknesses a death knight has. Great question! There were a lot of tongue-in-cheek responses, but I wondered if DDB could provide an answer.
Pulling up the death knight, I see a formidable foe, no doubt about it. High AC, hit points, magic resistance, good saving throws — they’re no joke. At first I thought an assault on their Dexterity might be good, since it’s their lowest ability score. Then I noticed it has a +6 Dexterity saving throw. Their Intelligence isn’t too high though. So over to spells I went, and filtered for the ones requiring an Intelligence saving throw. Only seven of them, but some goodies in there like synaptic static, feeblemind, and mental prison to name a few. Granted, the death knight will have advantage on these saving throws thanks to its magic resistance, but given all the other strengths of this undead powerhouse, attacking its Intelligence might be your best bet. And hey, if you’re a Shadow Sorcerer focused on psychic spells like the character I played in Nerdarchist Ted’s one shot a couple of months ago, just get that Hound of Ill Omen up in the death knight’s grill!
Aside from all the great filter options available for spells, monsters, and magic items, the regular search feature on the DDB site is phenomenal. If you can pin down a specific phrase you want to find out more about, the search can find it for you. Just the other day I used it to find all the monsters whose attacks are considered magical. I found a creature with the Magic Weapons trait, copied the phrase “weapon attacks are magical” and pasted into the search. Then I filtered those results by Monsters and voila! There are 35 results. It is not 100 percent accurate; the results include various devils, Dragonbait, hezrou, rakshasa and a few more that don’t fit, and there could be more that didn’t show up, but it’s at least a decent barometer.
In general, you can search for basically anything in any official publication and find it. Did you know the Pudding King is mentioned in 21 different places in Out of the Abyss?
In the video below, Nerdarchists Dave and Ted discuss what they enjoy about D&D Beyond and how they use the digital toolset. While it is true that the Nerdarchy crew are DDB Insiders and are also proud to count D&D Beyond as a sponsor on the Nerdarchy YouTube channel, we are all genuinely impressed by the service and excited to see where it goes from here. We would not endorse or advocate something if we didn’t believe in it. Adam Bradford and the team of dedicated folks on the DDB team are huge D&D nerds and continuously work to improve and enhance what it has to offer.
Now, what about you? How are you using D&D Beyond for your own games or content creation? Do you have any tips for Dungeon Masters using the campaign management tools? I am interested to hear your thoughts, good, bad, or ugly. No one is saying you have to use DDB or that you’re wrong for not liking what it has to offer or feeling the value is worth the cost to you. For me, the value far outweighs the cost and I love it. Sound off! And of course, stay nerdy.
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