posted Saturday, May 23rd 2009 by
News, Reviews & Culture
The latest news from Wizards of the Coast is that they’re increasing the one-month subscription price of D&D Insider from $8 to $10, as of July. Angry blogger TheUruguayanGamer calls it an unjustified price hike, while others aren’t concerned.
Does D&D Insider justify its subscription fee? It’s up to the individual, and what value they place on the content. What are D&D Insider’s components worth to you?
Dragon and Dungeon magazines
Back in 2007 I had a subscription to both Dragon and Dungeon magazines. Not including advertisements, the magazines had around 169 pages of content between them each month. Quality of the art and articles ranged from amazing to so-so. Although the cover price of the print edition was $7.99 per magazine, a one-year subscription to both magazines reduced this to around $6.65 for both. The price for international sales was higher.
D&D Insider’s online magazines suffer a major drawback: they’re online-only, in HTML and a cumbersome PDF format. You can’t take these to the bathroom or read them on the train, unless you feel like carting around a laptop. Thus, while I’ve yet to judge the quality of the content, the value is limited if you consider the digital format inferior to the traditional printed magazine. On the other hand, if you prefer the convenience and flexibility of an e-book format, this is an advantage, and international users will appreciate that there’s no expensive shipping involved.
The most recent issue is 190 pages in total, with no advertisements aside from promotional articles. Page-per-page, the online edition is perhaps slightly larger than the old print magazines, and despite the different form factor the per-page wordcount is comparable. A one-year advance subscription to D&D Insider retails for $5.95, marginally cheaper than the old print magazines. If you only read one of the magazines, an Insider subscription costs twice the old print Dragon subscription.
Character Builder and Compendium
I was initially skeptical about the D&D Character Builder, but my players swear by it. It’s better than most of the free character builders available online, and for newbies to D&D fourth edition it’s an alternative to tying up DM time or stumbling through the character generation process manually and making mistakes. For experienced players it’s a time-saver. The interface is a little tricky, but works well and the program seems to be well-maintained.
Particularly interesting is that the online service updates the program with data from published books and Dragon magazine, including books you don’t own. Using the free Character Builder demo, for example, I can look up the full statistics of a half-orc, a race in Player’s Handbook 2, even though I don’t own the book. Homebrew or third-party material can be entered, saved out and sent to players.
The Compendium is essentially just the source of data used by the character builder, supplied in web-based form. It fulfils a similar function to the Hypertext D20 SRD, except that it automatically extends to cover all official D&D books, as mentioned. If you own a lot of books this’ll be handy for searching for a particular feat or item; if not, it amounts to a subscription to game content.
A few Flash-based bonus tools are included: a points-buy calculator, encounter builder and a monster builder. There’s nothing here that isn’t already covered by the Character Builder or one of Asmor’s 4E scripts.
The two main features of D&D Insider are the online magazines and the game content / character generator. As of July the monthly charge is $10, or $6 to pay for a year in advance.
If you’re a player, you probably won’t be interested in Dungeon or the bonus tools. You will, however, have access to a database containing all official D&D player content (races, classes, feats, items, etc), even for books you don’t own. You still need the books if you want the non-rules content, artwork, pleasing bookshelf lineup and new book smell. If you own a lot of books already, you’ll have a character generator tool that collates data from those books. I haven’t reviewed Dragon yet, so you’ll need to make your own judgement on its content.
If you’re a Dungeon Master, you’ll probably be interested in both magazines, but beware that your players may also subscribe to Dungeon. The character generator serves as an NPC generator (took me under ten minutes to stat up a villain) and a generator for new player characters, especially useful for new players. It’s also a fantastic source of treasure items sorted by type and level, again, even if you don’t own all the player splatbooks.
At worst, you’re paying twice for material you bought in book form already, a character generator you don’t need, PDF magazines that advertise future products, and still no Game Table. At best, you have a free supply of player content for half the price of an MMO, a convenient character/NPC generator and both D&D magazines without the expense of shipping. I’ll leave the decision to you.