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Let me preface my feelings on this by pointing out I don’t use digital aids for TRPGs. Not because I don’t *want* to, but because I haven’t found one that suits my needs, much less my wants.
D&D Beyond continues that streak.
I’ve been involved with D&D Beyond since the first week of the Beta. I have yet to find the app all that usable. It’s shiny, but it’s just not the right tool for me. I find the interface clunky and counter-intuitive. That’s one thing.
The other is the subscription model they’ve chosen. I don’t really have a problem with the service being subscription-based. In the days of 4e, I paid a subscription to use Insider. Didn’t have a problem there. If there exists a useful thing to which I can log in and accomplish stuff, a thing which involves someone’s IP, someone else’s time and effort to construct, and someone else’s time and effort to maintain, I’m all for paying my fair share for using it.
But that’s not what’s happening here.
In the Olde Daies, you could use Insider without paying for all the print IP again. Not so with D&D Beyond. If you want to actually use D&D Beyond, and you already own the D&D books, you will be forced to buy all the books again. Rather than hard-copy books, or even digital copies like PDFs, you are forced to purchase proprietary content which only works inside D&D Beyond, and to which you will lose access should you fail to maintain your subscription (i.e., you don’t get to have in your actual possession the thing you’ve purchased). Moreover, the digital copies only usable in Beyond are US$29.99. Each.
The app is practically useless without at least the Player’s Handbook. As a player, you’ll likely want the other books with significant player options, like the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and Volo’s Guide to Monsters. If you’re a DM, you’ll want to add the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual. Without buying their digital copies of the books, you’re restricted to the Basic Rules and the SRD, which, while usable to a certain extent, is certainly not worth any monthly subscription.
I have to admit, if I had no D&D stuff in my library – if I was just now coming to the game – but I did have an iPad, I’d consider it. But I’ve got a shelf full of books which, if I want to use D&D Beyond in any meaningful way, I’ll have to buy again. The app interface isn’t so revolutionary and awesome that I’d even consider that option.
Hell, if they’d take proof of purchase of physical books to grant access to the IP we’ve already purchased, I’d be a lot more amenable to it. I’d buy a few months’ worth of subscription just to try it out in a really in-depth way. But if I have to hand them around US$100 just to make the thing work?