D&D Beyond Part 1: Character Creation

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

For a while now I've been part of the Beta process for D&D Beyond, the new online tools for Fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. I used the Fourth Edition tools extensively in the campaign I ran for a while, up until we ported it over the Pathfinder. Since I've moved back to D&D I've been looking for a good set of online tools for building and organizing my campaigns and characters and had limited success. I've cobbled together a few different sites that I use for audio and map making, but have otherwise turned to Google Docs to keep all of my notes straight. Now, with D&D Beyond, I have the beginnings of the tools I've been looking for but they aren't there just yet.

In its current state, the D&D Beyond Character Generator is fairly substantial. It gives a solid rundown of every ability score, race, class and ability in the game. Most of this help text is there for the benefit of newer players and can be turned off for more experienced players. What I read of it does give players a very good idea of what each ability score represents, primers on the abilities and history of each race and class, as well as well worded, but not always concise explanations of what thing like advantage are and how Armor Class is tabulated.

The first thing that struck me as odd was that the character builder brings up class selection before ability scores are assigned. I suppose this makes sense for people using the point buy system, but some players (read myself and most of the people I play with) still prefer to roll their abilities. This sets one of the key steps in character creation out of order for folks like us.

I understand that Wizards is trying to move to a more universal system for determining ability scores, but it has always been my belief that buy systems encourage people to min-max their characters, pushing the individuality of Dungeons and Dragons characters aside in favor of more "optimized" builds.I wouldn't have such an issue with this if it didn't seem so at odds with the rules-light, story-and-character-centric model that 5th edition was purportedly built on.

But I digress; the rest of the character creation runs smoothly and organizes the step in a fairly logical way. I do have some problems with the way the character background is selected and input. Each background comes with its own traits, which are easily selected, but the ideals, flaws and bonds have only blank fields for the player to fill in with their own. I appreciated the varied options given in the Player's Handbook for players who simply wished to roll their traits, but the best option the character builder gives for this is to display the options for the player to copy and paste into the field. The option of a drop down or even a random button would be a nice addition there.

Finally we come to equipment selection. I had hoped that Wizards would have learned a lesson from the 4th edition online tools and built a more navigable equipment list. However, it seems to have been ported directly over from the previous editions tools. There is a search field and a number of filters available, but no matter how precise the search entered, there seem to be at least 2 dozen results. Mundane starting gear ends up lumped in with magical gear o a similar type forcing the player to scroll through the list of results before being able to settle on the correct gear. It's a frustrating organization that I feel could be much improved through a branching system with mundane gear at the top of each category, or something similar.

In the end, I'm discussing the merits of a product still in the late stages of testing. I am sure that this will not be the last iteration on these tolls that we will see. I hope that Wizards of the Coast continues to support and improve the online tools. There is a great deal to like in it so far, but it rightfully doesn't feel quite finished yet. As flawed as parts of the character creation system are, it still gives me a much better way of storing my characters than the disintegrating binder on my desk and significantly cuts the time it takes for my players to build their own.