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.
Unfortunately, you neglect to mention what a convoluted and onerous process the “renewal” process is. It involves logging in to your account at least three times, filling out an order form that states that your subscription will not be extended, but overwritten, and then being linked to a “walkthrough” that explains that the subscription will not be overwritten, but rather you can ignore the statement and proceed filling out the forms with information which WotC should already have on file, as I am attempting to extend an existing subscription. The walkthrough consists of multiple HTML pages would must be manually clicked through.
Consequently, I have absolutely zero confidence that an attempt at extending my DDI subscription will save me money.
Yes, I like DDI. It keeps improving, and I appreciate that WotC seem to be very dedicated to it. However, their web support and subscription system are among the worst I have ever experienced in e-commerce.
My preceding rant notwithstanding, I poked further into the process, and despite the screens that appeared not matching precisely what WotC posted in their walkthrough, it does appear that the subscription extension process works accurately.
It is a bit of a nail-biter given WotC’s rather checkered past online. Like DDI, it is rough, but it seems to be working. Sorry to waste bandwidth on it. (Although I do think it is worth grumbling about considering I’m fronting them the money now for services I hope will be around in 2011.)
Personally I found the renewal process quick and painless. YMMV.
Gametable’s not bad for quick and easy but for those with more time to prepare, rptools.net’s maptool is capable of a hell of a lot more, and with significantly less memory leak to boot. (No, seriously: I’ve run sessions with gametable while sitting with a performance monitor open watching as the program slowly grows in memory use until it has consumed every bit of free memory on my system, at which point things slow down to a near-halt and everything needs to be restarted; what makes this worse is that it’s typically triggered by trying to use any of the advanced features of the software like hidden GM layers.)
What? No Maptools love? (www.rptools.net) :D
I started using Gametable as well when I was looking for a VTT that was free, easy to use, etc. (I think Glittercom was the other one but both appear to be deprecated).
"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."
No way…not with Hasbro’s plans for a 5th Edition would I ever waste another penny on WoTC. The suckered me once with 3.0 to 3.5, won’t do it again…have moved over to Paizo.
RC2 bears a nasty memory leak. If you dig through their forums to find the sourceforge repository for Gametable, I believe RC6 is out and it’s had a new chat engine for some time that is much more stable. However, as of this posting I can’t seem to find it, as sourceforge appears to be redesigning their site and has jumbled things up.
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