D&DI – Brief Review of the Bonus Tools

D&DI Bonus Tools

Currently individuals willing to pay for a D&DI subscription have access to three “Bonus Tools” with the promise of more online tools, not called Bonus Tools but still tools of a sort, to come. Obviously the most dynamic of these eventual tools is the Game Table but for now all we have is The Encounter Builder, The Ability Generator and The Monster Building which are the three tools called Bonus Tools. I had played around with the first two already and finally took some time to check out The Monster Builder, so far I’m very unimpressed.

The Encounter Builder

I first tried out this tool when it was released some time back. I have since gone back and did in fact use it for a generic encounter I was throwing together for a game several weeks ago. My initial impressing was “yuck” and I have to say that it hasn’t changed all that much since then.

What’s Cool About It?

The Encounter Builder allows you to go through all the monsters that have been released both in books and online (well… on D&DI anyway) and put them into a form and create an “encounter”. This is cool and as it does do some of the searching for you “Okay, I need a level five Artillery Monster…” and in the end you can have a neat official-looking encounter set up.

What’s Lame About It?

The first problem I ran into was that the builder would not allow me to add an Elite monster to the encounter unless that monster was Elite in the Monster Manual. The suggestion is to simply add two normal monsters and thus have the xp cost of the encounter pop up accurately. A similar problem occurs if you want to “level up” any of the monsters in the encounter. I found your best bet was to add them (and probably the Elite as well) in under the notes section. Unfortunately at this point I felt that it no longer looked “cool” and it looking cool was the primary reason i was using the builder in the first place.

Verdict?

In the end being a fan of modifying monsters and creating my own monsters this builder seems almost useless for me. On the other hand if you are a DM who likes to use creatures direct from the book and is not a fan of creating your own this tool is kind of useful, if not awe-inspiring. The ability to quickly search out the type of monster you need can certainly prove useful. Of course, some DMs also like to make things make sense and just because your group of Minotaurs need a Level 9 Brute you’re not necessarily likely to add a Shambling Mound.

To be fair D&DI does directly confront the shortcomings of their builder:

“The encounter lists are based on creatures from the Monster Manual. You can use altered versions of monsters in your encounters by adapting the tool. For an elite version of a monster, you can select the monster twice, giving you the right XP total. For a lower- or higher-level version of a monster, you can choose a monster of the right level as a placeholder, or the “Other” entry. For a new monster, pick the “Other” entry or a monster of the appropriate level. In all cases, you can make whatever final edits you need to do when you paste the list into a text file.”

I still feel that if you are spending most of your time editing what they have created for you to make it accurate you might as well skip it entirely.

The Ability Generator

What’s Cool About It?

The Ability Generator essentially does the math for you when you are trying to stat out your character. For people that don’t feel like doing this themselves this can be a useful tool.

What’s Lame About It?

The fact that we need a computer program to handle some rather simple math seems plenty lame all by itself.

Verdict?

This tool is what it is. There really isn’t too much positive or negative I can say about it. Some people like have computer programs for this kind of thing and I guess that makes it nice for them. Being a bit less techie than some D&D players I would prefer sitting down with a pen and a pencil and crunching things out by hand.

The Monster Creator

What’s Cool About It?

The program allows you to quickly put together your very own monster. It does all the math for you (half level + stat bonus) and sticks it into a neat little format that can be shown to other people or posted someplace or whatever else tickles your fancy.

What’s Lame About It?

This program is what prodded me into doing this post about the Bonus Tools. I decided today to type up some of the cool creatures I have been working on for my D&D game. The first creature I decided to work on was a guy called The Frozen Paladin. The first thing I noticed was that there was no way for me to change his damage dice. The program automatically sets them based on the creature’s level. My monster uses a Scythe and I wanted to use D4s to better represent this but apparently I would need to post this into a word document and edit it there if I wanted to change the dice. Then I realized that there was no option to make Mr. Frozen an elite. Well, this ticked me off since most of the creatures I felt like typing up were special because they were elites. After some more poking around and further realizing that the program simply did not do what I wanted it to I gave up.

Verdict?

Can this program work for you? Well, sure, as long as you are either willing to accept their givens or modify them after the fact. There are other monster creators out there and personally I think you would be better off checking out one of those. I think it should also be said that there is no way to put the monster you have created here into the Encounter Builder and that just makes me shake my head (well no way other than editing it later). While the Monster Builder is kind of neat it just doesn’t do what I want it to do and in the end I would rather simply write my monsters on paper if they are for my own use or put the numbers into a form if I need to post them. Still, it would be nice to have an easier way to construct monster for posting so I will need to track down a better monster creator.

Final Verdict

I don’t mean to come off sounding completely negative about the Bonus Tools. They are after all not the bulk of what you get from D&DI. Many of the articles have been exceptional and I am not at all taken aback by the lack of useful tools. The other programs that are hopefully coming soon (though I won’t hold my breath) will probably be far more user-friendly and useful than these tools.

Essentially I feel if you could at least edit the program-created statistics in the stat block that it creates (primarily for the Encounter and Monster Builders) these tools would be much more useful and user-friendly. The idea of needing to save it and transport it elsewhere for editing simply seems far too cumbersome.

Feel free to comment below!

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    Matt Says:

    First of all I haven’t used the tools, so these comments go off of this article and Josh’s previous rants about them. But what it seems to me is that the design of the UI of these programs was for simplicity and for new people coming into the D&D community.

    Based on how the books are written and the simplification of the system it seems the goal of this edition was to make it more “user friendly” and as such bring in new blood. To be sure, there is a ton of content that the old school should like and in some ways this “simplified” system is much more enjoyable as a player, especially the game mechanics that have brought a more tactical aspect of combat into being (also working together as a group seems to be more prevalent as well, which again is a plus). So what does this have to do with their online tools?

    Basically the thought in software UI design is that you need to design to your audience, and in this case they are going for the greenhorns of gaming. Seems like they wanted to get out tools that make it easier for people to just pull out what’s from the book and not worry about the extra bells and whistles of tailoring monsters. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these tools upgraded to allow more customization once some of the other D&DI features have been release. However it is possible that they might not because the more features you add the less user friendly the tool will become to the person looking to just get the simple out of the book info. This goes into some modern theory about UI design and this is probably not the greatest place to go further into that so I’ll leave it at.

    My point is that this is a possibility that they wanted to release a more simplified version for their new clients in the hopes to give them some love with the thought they will add more features later for those that want it, but at least they have a work around. In truth the simplest explanation is that they wanted to allow more customization, but they ran out of time. However the way they have handled some of the other aspects of this edition makes me think this is also a plausible explanation.

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    I actually think most if not all of these tools were designed for one of the designers own games and then added to D and D I but someone can check me on that.

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    Matt Says:

    Well that’s a weird business decision to make, but that makes sense too.