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In which I complain about my DDI subscription

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For a little over a year now I've had a subscription with WotC's DDI. This gets me their Dragon and Dungeon magazines, the 4E character builder, their monster editor, and access to the D&D compendium. Ostensibly it will give me access to the virtual tabletop they are working on, but as that isn't released yet I can't say much for certain.

On the surface I love the idea. A reasonable monthly fee gets me access to new D&D content as well as a suite of tools to help make the game easier to play. Whats not to like about that? Obviously the problem comes in when you see how the service works in reality. So much of the stuff they offer isn't useful to me, it really makes me wonder if its worth the cost anymore.

Lets start with looking at the service as a player. Dragon magazine is the one that seems to offer you the more useful articles. Most of what they give you is new feats and powers to use in your characters. Those are nice I guess, though with the scant bit or lore and fluff they offer its easier to just wait until it appears in the character builder instead of reading the articles.

When they added the assassin class through the magazine it seemed like they were going to have some real content in the magazine. Then they released the assassin class in one of their books. They've claimed that the assassin class in the book is different than the class in the magazine. If thats true why do they have the same name, is that confusion really necessary? If what they really did was create different builds for the assassin in each place, then they lied saying it was a DDI exclusive class. Its ok to just release new class options in the magazine, just be honest about it.

The assassin class was the most blatant place this happened, but not the only place. They did the same thing with the minotaur race as well. They also had a dhampyr race they added as well, which for some reason hasn't found its way into the character builder. Not that I'm keen on playing thatrace, but why short change it? They wrote it, apparently they thought someone would like it.

The character builder is pretty nice, its rare that I make characters without using it. I'm not sure if its silverlight or the way they built it, but the thing is painfully slow at times. I can deal with it being slow, it sucks but its tolerable. The real breaking point is that the thing will lock up from time to time. When it does I'm not sure if its just being slow, or if it died. So I sit there staring at an unchanging unresponsive screen for a few minutes before killing it and starting over. I had wondered why they had a feature to recover unsaved changes when you started the character builder, now I wonder if they realized it was something they quickly realized would be crucial.

How about content for DM's? Thats more of the Dungeon magazine's terrain. One they do adda lot of are short modules. Its nice to have the modules, but I'm not very impressed with many of them. Too many of them follow the mold of giving the players a premise to enter the dungeon, followed by a dungeon filled with combat. There are some they've released which had more story, but they are the exception not the rule. The value I get from them is the plot hooks and synopsis. I can take those and expand it into an adventure that I'd enjoy running my players through.

They have a number of articles from their research and design team which is nice at times. Every now and again I'll come across something and wonder what they were thinking, and these articles address that. However, thats not terribly useful for me during my game sessions. Instead of telling me why they did it, if they offered suggestions for how I might use it I'd be more interested.

By far my favorite series of articles are the ones by Chris Perkins, where he talks about things he's done as a DM that might help your game along. Not everything applies to me, but theres been quite a few that and I think I can use to help me improve my games.

They do give you access to the online compendium and the monster editor. Which are quicker ways to look up rules and creatures. Really though, when it comes to making a ruling during a session I'll just make something up instead of researching the actual rule. Its far better to keep the game going rather than to be sure you're obeying the rules. Being able to search for monsters is pretty useful though. When I need an Orcish Warcaster, I'll rarely look through orcs to find something the appropriate level. I just search for Artillery monsters of the right level, flip through them until I see powers I like and rename the powers.

Their latest project is the virtual table top, which sounds like a decent I dea. Except that its been done before, several times. The main hook they are able to put into it is that it can grab monster stat blocks and character sheets from their other tools for use in there, which I'll admit will be a great thing to have. I don't think thats reason enough for them to reinvent the wheel though. They could have saved a ton of time and effort by partnering with an existing virtual tabletop and built an add-on to include those new features.

When I really look at what I'm using from the subscription its not a whole lot. The character builder, the monster search in the compendium, and a rare article for DM tips or an adventure idea. I have a hard time seeing that as worth the $8 monthly fee.

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  1. Farcaster's Avatar
    I would unfortunately have to agree with a lot of what you said here. I personally do not like the new character builder at all. In fact, I still use the old one, even as out of date as it is becoming. I rarely read the Dragon articles, and I always come up with my own content for my games, so modules are of no use to me. Nonetheless, I have a standing DDI subscription... Is it worth keeping?... If I was in a financial pinch, it would certainly be the first thing to go.
  2. kirksmithicus's Avatar
    The CB could certainly stand to see a lot of improvements. My group has simply been using the old one, but of course the old CB doesn't have the Dark Sun content. So we have a shared account on the computer at the store where we play, and use it for any final character tweaking.

    I would have LOVED to have seen them add a local data base, so that you could really add some house rules and custom content to the CB and the game. I suppose that isn't a priority because it doesn't generate any cash flow.
  3. Q-man's Avatar
    If I remember right, the old version did have some method for you to add in custom house ruled stuff which was removed from the new version. I never made much use of it, but I recall that option being there.
  4. kirksmithicus's Avatar
    It didn't add anything other than the name of whatever you wanted to add. It wouldn't allow you to add your custom items to the CB's math.
  5. Q-man's Avatar
    So its not all that good then. Glad I didn't waste a lot of time with it then.

    Still though at least you'd get the name on your character sheet, so it was a start. Which is more than the new character builder gives you.