The other day, I had a question about my D&D 4th edition game: What modifiers apply to Initiative? Looking up the answer reminded me of some annoying flaws in the D&D 4e Compendium.
First, search for “Initiative”. After several seconds it brings up a list of 5,011 monsters - practically every one in the Compendium, since nearly all contain the word “Initiative” in the statblock. However, it doesn’t return the entry for Initiative. The search assumes that the category with the most results is the one you’re looking for.
Next, change the category to “Glossary”. We get seven results, including “Fey Beast Companion Actions”, “Ready an action” and “Surprise Round”, but no entry for initiative.
So I dig out my physical copy of the Player’s Handbook and consult the index at the back of the book. Right there on page 267 is the answer, under Rolling Initiative: it’s 1d20 plus half your level, plus your Dexterity modifier.
Why isn’t this basic game rule included in the Compendium? Was it omitted by accident, and nobody noticed for four years? Did someone at Wizards of the Coast think it was beneficial to omit the rules, perhaps to encourage book sales or discourage piracy somehow?
Compare the Hypertext D20 SRD, the Compendium’s unofficial D&D 3.5e equivalent. Search for “Initiative”, and right away we get the rules for Initiative checks. The Pathfinder SRD likewise returns the correct answer.
The Compendium has a similar issue with the tarrasque. While the D20 SRD gives you the creature as the first result, the 4E Compendium defaults to Tarrasque Plate Armor, an item.
Because the Compendium is behind a paywall and therefore not indexable by Google, you’re limited to this clumsy search. There’s also no index, which makes the Compendium a weaker tool than the physical rulebooks or the online D20 / Pathfinder SRDs.
If the upcoming “D&D Next” has digital tools, will they solve this problem? And when unofficial third-party tools arise to solve players’ problems, how will D&D’s publisher react?
Actually, there was a beta of a better system for the compendium. It automatically determined the category you were looking for. The only problem was that you needed to have surgery to implant the probe into your brain to figure it out.
On a serious note, I don’t mind the category issues. I usually select the category before clicking search.
On the other hand, when you are looking for a category of things, often the compendium works better than searching the SRD sites.
Neither is perfect. No site is ever going to be perfect.
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