Heads up, 4E players: Tuesday is your last chance to buy a year’s subscription to D&D D&D Insider before Wizards of the Coast increases the price by 20%.
I was initially skeptical about D&D Insider, but having used it for a few weeks now I’m pleased with the service. I gave an overview last month, but now that I’ve had a chance to use it as a DM, click and read on for my brief review. (If you’re still not convinced, read on anyway for some free alternatives.)
The Character Builder is a real time-saver and has the incredible feature of giving you all content from every official D&D book, Dragon magazine and RPGA adventure, even ones you don’t own. Every member of my 4E game currently uses either this or the free level 1-3 demo to build and level up their characters, while I use it to pick magic items and treasure.
The Compendium lets you search for game content, also including books you don’t have. It’s not indexed like the Character Builder or D20SRD.org, but I found it useful in Saturday’s game to look up a spell for a confused player, who had built his wizard using a book I don’t have.
Dragon magazine and Dungeon magazine, I haven’t gotten around to reading yet.
The flash tools are simple time-savers and mainly of use to DMs, though not really a deal-braker.
Here’s something I’m genuinely impressed with, however: Asmor’s Monster Maker, a third-party tool for creating 4E monster statblocks, recently added support for D&D Insider. What that means is that D&D Insider subscribers can use Asmor’s Monster Maker to search for monsters from the entire D&D Compendium and import those. I’m seriously impressed with how many monsters I can find, including iconics like Acererak, Dragotha and Ashardalon. I searched for “Vecna” and got statblocks for ten monsters, including Vecna himself (level 35, if you were interested). This has serious value as a tool for DMs to quickly import, modify and print out monsters.
A year’s advance subscription to D&D Insider is US$4.95/month right now. The price increases in July, but in a sensible bit of marketing Wizards will let you buy a year in advance at the current price.
D&D Insider recently added support for Paypal, which is a welcome addition for many.
If you’re still not happy with WotC’s offering, there are few alternative products. They’re mostly free, so there’s little reason not to download these even if you’re already with D&D Insider.
For monster building, you can’t go wrong with Asmor’s Monster Maker. It’s a free program to aid creature building, and can export to a standard statblock in HTML format. As I mentioned, it now allows D&D Insider subscribers to import data from the Compendium.
For online play, my current tool of choice is a free Java app called Gametable. It’s a 2D grid with great line-drawing tools, support for virtual minis or “pogs” in easily-created PNG format, and useful features for annotating pogs and whiteboard-style freehand drawing.
For campaign management, Dungeonmastering.com’s DM Tools help you create and store monsters, templates, encounters, traps, powers and magic weapons. You can also share monsters with other users and access a database of shared monsters.
DM Tools is free, with an optional premium membership: for $7/month or $57/year, you can store an unlimited amount of monsters, items and encounters and remove advertising. In a competetive move with D&D Insider, DM Tools is offering one month free or a $10 discount if you upgrade your account before Tuesday.