Since the release of WotC’s Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, there has been talk of “online tools” to assist players and DMs in the operation of the game.  At launch, several were available, and several more listed as “in production”.  Some of the planned tools were later scrapped.  Most of the existing tools weren’t really all that helpful, in my opinion.  (I know, I’m supposed to be trying to be less negative, but just come with me on this one.)

Now there’s a new suite of tools in production (one is even in Beta testing at the time of writing this post).  If they’re going where I think they’re going with the new tools, I think WotC is finally taking a step in the right direction.  Hopefully, the tools will be designed to work with one another, allowing players/DMs to create monsters/maps/treasure/etc, then combine them in such a way that a meaningful story can be put together.  I don’t know exactly what they have planned, but I’m hopeful.

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My first question is:  Did WotC drop the ball on creating PC tools for D&D?  In my opinion, yes.  They did drop the ball a bit by not having a functional and useful suite of PC tools available when 4E launched.  The majority of the existing D&D player-base is typically very computer-savvy.  By not having computer integration at launch, they missed and opportunity to bolster their existing player-base, and to expand it by increasing appeal to other markets.

There are a lot of people out there who might be interested in playing D&D, but find the game to be too much “work”.  The math, the note-taking, the mapping – all of these can be daunting to someone new to the game.  Aside from people with OCD tendencies, obsessively noting every detail – on paper, by hand – is rarely considered “fun”.  Taking the calculations out of the calculation, as it were, might help people feel more like they are playing a game and less like they are doing homework.  (The Character Builder, available soon after launch, was a good start.  Why has it taken so long for WotC to follow up n a good idea?)

A good example of a specific market that is being marginalized, I feel, is the video-game-player market.  There is some overlap between these two markets already, but there are a lot of video gamers who are essentially lazy.  They like the fact that the computer/console do most of the work for them, behind the scenes.  If the post-character-creation workload was reduced to dice-rolling and mini-moving, these people might be more inclined to join the fun at the table.  This leads me to my second concern…

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The new tools suite that is in production seems to be geared toward pre-game setup.  (Having not seen the finished product or even the production plans, I am only peculating at this point.)  That’s good, but what about tools for use while the game is happening?

Off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of things that would be very useful for players, and I can imagine a couple more for DMs (having not been a DM yet, I’m still just speculating on this, but I can think of a few things I’d like to have on “opening day” that would make my job less stressful).  No, I’m not going to list them here.  Yes, I’d be willing to discuss them with WotC, assuming they’d sign a NDA and/or pay me for their use.  I’m not stupid and I’m certainly not doing any work for free.

The strangest thing to me is that I’ve gone searching online – albeit cursorily – and haven’t located any consumer-created tools like this, either.  I’ve found random encounter generators, random dungeon generators, character creation tools, map-making programs – all generated by players, most for free, and all of them designed for use before the game even starts.  But I haven’t found any tools that can be used while the game is in progress.  Are computers forbidden at D&D tables?  (And almost two years since the release of 4E, but most of the tools I located are for 3E and 3.5E…)

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Since we are a more computer-savvy culture than when D&D was first created – and D&D nerds often more so than the general public – I can easily imagine a scenario where a number of people are sitting around a table, minis on the battlemat, dice at the ready, and laptop computers at every player’s hand.  Am I the only one imagining this scene?  It would be worth it in reduction of book-pile-clutter alone!


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