Paying for extra content in order to play Dungeons and Dragons has been a very divisive topic in the D&D community. One camp sits on the side of “What? No way I’m paying for that content, I already bought the books!”, while another says “Anything to make my life easier is good for me! Sign me up!”. Both points of view have their merits, and yes, it is completely easy to DM D&D without having to sign up for DDI, after all, 30-plus years of D&D have been played without an electronic aid. But you know what? I’m an unabashed fan of the system, what it promises in the future, and the way it’s made my life easier as a NewbieDM. I make no apologies for it either.
You hear that? That’s the sound of half my audience calling me a WOTC shill and leaving my site. To the other half of you, let me tell you how using DDI can be good for your game:
Dungeon & Dragon Magazines. The two magazines that are included in the subscription package have proven to be valuable game aids for my table. If there is anything you can take from these sources, is the fact that they can be mined like crazy for material for your games. Maybe you don’t want to run the adventure path in its entirity, but take a look at the Scales of War campaign in Dungeon Magazine anyway (i’m not running it, btw). I created a PDF of all the adventures in the path, up to the month of May, and it clocks in at over 529 pages. That, my friends, are a lot of encounters and maps. But there’s more. The Dragon Magazine articles detailing cities for example, are great places to just drop into your homebrew world. The monsters, magical items, npc ideas, all the articles are a treasure trove of material that keeps you from having to spend too much time on creating stuff, and rather spend it playing. Doesn’t that alone pay the price of admission?
The Compendium. This has been my favorite tool as a DM. Need an 8th level lurker to throw at the party in the Underdark? The Compendium with all of its filters, quickly finds an appropriate monster for me. Traps for the appropriate level? Treasure? All these things are in the compendium. Sometimes the thing goes all haywire on me and searches don’t come through or I have to restart it, but on the whole, it’s been my favorite part of the experience. The only reason I’ve had to open a monster manual is for the fluff of a monster, in case I don’t know it. And here’s a tip I learned from the guys at Critical Hits, if you use the Compendium, along with Google Chrome, and Google Documents, your life becomes even easier. Copy the stat block on Chrome, paste it over to a Google Document, you can even edit it to level up or down the monster and voila! a nicely edited & updated stat block. I take screen sshots of the stat block, then paste it unto photoshop, and create monster jpegs. I have a small library of monster stats on jpeg that I just then drop unto my word documents if I want to reuse them. It doesn’t get easier for me.
Character Builder. The crown jewel of the system, so far… It is a great way to make characters using every single thing that has been published for PC’s. Including of course, every alternate option in Dragon Magazine and exclusive PHB3 content that’s available now. But you already knew that. Making a D&D character has never been easier. I made some characters on PCGEN for 3.5 and I prefer this program.
The future. Okay, so let’s talk the future, and some of WOTC’s stumbles getting to that future, because the naysayers will bring it up with some reason. In 2007 WOTC promised the world in regards to DDI, and they failed to deliver. And it left a bad taste in people’s mouths. They promised a digital game table, a character visualizer and other things. I argue that DDI doesn’t need any of that stuff, not now, and not ever. The Digital Game Table is available already via a variety of web sites. The Maptools and other like softewares of the world have that niche covered. Those software packages do the same thing WOTC promised, and for free. A character visualizer? Please, a good Google images search will give me the perfect dwarf I need. There’s no need to pay for that. What they can’t offer you on other sites is stuff like the upcoming monster builder. Allowing DM’s to build monsters and to mix and match powers from existing monsters, the Monster Builder looks to be the DM’s equivalent of the Character Builder.
Is DDI a little pricey? Well, my group was told that since they’d all benefit from it, each one had to pay their share. So no, it’s not too pricey for my group. They all use the character builder and benefit from my access to the compendium, magazines and other stuff, so they feel the small cost is justified.
In closing, I can strongly recommend a DDI subscription. This is especially true if you are a DM with not too much time on your hands to prepare and invent things. By the way, I wasn’t given a free subscription to plug this or review it either, I’m just telling you what works for me.