I’m sure everyone has heard of WotC’s DDI (Dungeons & Dragons Insider). It is a subscription service that provides access to a collection of electronic tools as well as some subscriber-only content. While I was waiting for my new battery charger to arrive, and unable to use my main computer, I decided to subscribe to DDI for a month to see what it had to offer.
DDI is designed strictly for 4e gamers. Not being a 4e gamer, I knew most of what was there wouldn’t hold much interest for me. Still, I wanted to take a look and hoped to find something to make the fee worthwhile.
To be fair, I should tell you right now that I do think I got my money’s worth. For a one-shot deal, $9.95 for one month offers a great deal of subscriber-only content. The graphics alone made me glad I checked it out. All the images from all (most) of the 4e books are available for download. In addition, every issue of Dragon magazine and Dungeon magazine, (that have come out since 4e was released) can be downloaded as well. Sadly, that is DDI’s sole redeeming feature.
The last page of all three 4e core books (DMG, PHB, MM), have an ad for DDI including a screenshot of their virtual tabletop. This ad includes the following statement:
Bring even more to your game table with D&D Insider.
With quick access to exclusive material and digital tools D&DI will help enhance every aspect of your tabletop game. And, with D&DI, you can take your game online, so you can play with friends anywhere — wherever they live, wherever you go.
The problem is that the virtual table top does not exist. All development on the VTT has been suspended and by all accounts it will never be completed.
DDI’s online database is slow, bulky to use, and has extremely limited search and filtering capabilities. To make matters worse, search results are littered with hidden codes that are tedious to remove if you intend to cut and paste these results into handouts or other materials. That aside, the database is usable and provides the information DMs and players are looking for . . . Or so I thought.
Here is the hype for the D&D compendium (DDI Online database):
Gain full access to the complete rules text for every race, class, paragon path, epic destiny, skill, feat, power, item, and ritual — from every D&D 4th Edition rulebook and online magazine article.
By “complete rules text” I assumed that the database would include the text descriptions for each monster entry in addition to the monster stats. These text descriptions were actually the sole resource I had hoped to gain from my one month subscription. Notice that monsters are not listed in the text above. I think it’s reasonable to assume that monsters are important enough to require that their complete descriptions be included. After all, there are a number of knowledge skills that allow characters to know certain facts relating to each monster. This knowledge is detailed in each monster description. By omitting this text, all those knowledge skills become unusable to any groups attempting to use DDI exclusively to run their game.
Errors and Typos
As with all WotC material, editing apparently isn’t considered nearly as important as getting a product out the door. The brief time I spent going through the compendium uncovered endless errors and typos. Although most were minor, some were glaring and significant. Regardless of the severity of the problems, the sheer number was astonishing.
I should mention though that it appears that as errata comes out, the DDI information is updated. The updating may not be handled as quickly as some might like but the fact that it is being done at all is a little surprising and very impressive.
Clearly, the character builder is the big selling point for most people. Creating a 4e character is far more involved than in any previous edition and includes seemingly endless yet ever-expanding options. Having a character creation program makes the process far easier. Expanding that program into a character leveling aid could easily make it a must have for many groups.
WotC have done an amazing thing. They have talked an enormous number of people into paying a subscription fee to play a pen & paper rpg. Prior to 4e, I doubt anyone would have believed it possible to pull off such a thing. You have to admire the ingenuity of their marketing team.
If you play 4e, it may be worth your while to pay for a single month, download the tools and all the subscriber-only material you are interested in, and never look back. If you don’t play 4e, it still may be worth your while to pay for a month just to get the images and other subscriber-only material.
For those considering an ongoing subscription, all I can say is that the acronym is very appropriate.
DDI – Don’t Do It!