D&D Beyond: A Resource
With intuitive character creation, podcast recaps, encounter advice, and access to loads more free content, D&D Beyond is a fantastic resource for D&D 5e players and GMs.
“D&D Beyond is a hub for those who wish to play, learn about, and enjoy D&D”
Let’s jump right in to my first resource for gamers and GMs alike: D&D Beyond. D&D Beyond is a hub for those who wish to play, learn about, and enjoy Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition (aka D&D 5e or D&D Next). Hosting all the official content as well as a myriad of homebrew content, D&D Beyond is often a first stop for me and my groups when we are looking for D&D related content.
While a lot of you may have already traversed over to D&D Beyond before now, I really love the site well enough that I wanted to make sure anyone who's interested in playing Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition knows about it. I started playing the game during the play test phase of 5th edition, and nothing like this existed. When it finally launched, I was so comfortable with my paper and books that I didn't see a need to use D&D Beyond. But with each new book addition my tiny apartment library was getting more and more full and it was becoming cumbersome to take all of my books with me (yep, I'd carry every single book with me to sessions) and then try to look through them all for some obscure piece of information that I needed. This website with its myriad features simplifies that greatly. For reference, I will be discussing what you can do for free (and one-time purchases) for most of this article (1). At the very end I’ll list all the things you can do if you subscribe to D&D Beyond. The great news is that the site has so much content for free that you don’t really need to spend any money. Though unlocking digital content (these are the one-time purchases I mentioned) is also incredibly helpful.
Character Creation and Sheets
My favorite part about this site is the character sheets feature. You can create as many characters as you want, though you can only have six on your account at a time if you’re using the site for free (more about subscription options later).
If you need more than six characters at a time, you can create your characters using the character builder, save the PDF of your character sheet to your computer and then erase the character from D&D Beyond and make another. It’s a small work-around that doesn’t seem to be that big of a hassle to me (mostly since I’m only playing with three characters at the moment) so I happily enjoy my free account.
The character builder function is ridiculously intuitive, especially considering how complicated character building can be. It guides you through several steps and automatically adds things as you make your decisions: You picked a tiefling? Great! It adds fire resistance. Decided you wanted to play as an elf? Cool! It will add your dark vision automatically. It’s the small details that this program doesn’t forget about that impress me time and again as I use it to create my characters.
What else is insanely awesome about this feature? Well I am very glad that you asked: It’s that anything that you add to your character is cited so that if you have the physical copies of the books (or someone in your group does) you are given the book and the page number of everything relating to your character as well as the book descriptions being listed automatically in the sheet it generates.
To top it off, when you have a completed character sheet on the site, you can view it and select whatever it is you’re interested in learning more about. For instance, if your character has a spell they can use but you can’t remember what the specific details are, you just click that spell on your character sheet and a little window will slide in with the details of that spell just as it’s written in the books. It’s like that for every piece of equipment, spells, and even for your or your GM’s homebrew content.
Even better, it lists what you can do by action in battle AND has a status tracker so you can keep track if you’re exhausted, charmed, etc. It also has buttons for short and long rests that reset the appropriate spell uses, status conditions, etc. whenever you take them. This is unbelievably handy for keeping track of things between sessions. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times we’ve exited battle and quit the session for the day only to come back a couple of weeks later and ask “Did we rest? How many spells did we use? Can we just restore to full and pretend like we had a long rest?”
Another nifty feature is that this site allows you to share your character sheet with your GM so they can see your statuses as well. It updates too (though your GM might have to refresh their screen to see it) whenever you make a change to the sheet.
Character Creation & Roleplay Articles
Creating a backstory is about giving your characters a "why".
So, you’ve made your character, but your GM wants a backstory. How on earth do you do that? Well, it’s pretty much as simple as giving your character a “why”. Why do they use knives instead of a bow? Why do they use lightning spells instead of fire ones? Every character needs a “why” for every action. Backstory allows you to figure out the “why” beforehand.
For some people, it’s easy to write a backstory for a character. Half the time I make a backstory before I even begin to build my character (for reference, that usually gets me characters who roleplay well but aren’t the best in battle because roleplay was my main focus when creating them).
But for a lot of people, making a backstory is hard. Again, D&D Beyond can help with that. They have many articles - here is one on Character Identity - designed to help you design a good character for roleplay. The article I just linked to aims to help you roleplay your character better, from crafting a backstory that fits your style (long winded, short bullet points, etc.) to giving them motivations that effect actions. It’s a nice little advice piece to help you better understand and craft your character which will in turn help you have more fun playing the character you’ve brought to life.
It’s this sort of article that you can find throughout the site to help you as a player and as a Game Master (GM) craft believable characters. You’ll also find advice and helpful hints in the Player’s Manual and some of the other books available for purchase.
Speaking of books available for purchase, there are a lot of them these days for Dungeons & Dragons 5e. All of which are available for purchase on D&D Beyond. The awesome part is that you can actually pick and choose the parts you want from the books. For instance, I wanted to make a sorcerer who picked a path from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Since that’s not free content I went ahead and purchased the path for a few bucks (I think it was $2.99).
I didn’t have to buy the whole book. I just bought the part I needed. Why I’m excited about that is that it brought the price of the whole book down by the amount I paid. So as an example, if the book costs $20 and I pay $3 for a piece of it, the remaining book costs $17.
It’s so nice to be able to pick and choose what I need and know that if I ever want to take the plunge, whatever I have already purchased will have been taken into account.
The digital book content is a one-time purchase and unlocks that content for your account forever so don’t worry about it going away.
This section of the website I haven’t explored as much, but it is still really cool. Every week they post an article detailing a new encounter you can throw into your game. My favorite was when they suggested an encounter with a Minotaur that was lost. They listed why the creature was lost (which is a feat considering they have labyrinthine recall) and how the party could take it down and/or calm it down. These encounters are designed for certain character levels but also include ways to scale them up or down. I think it’s a great resource for a GM to be able browse encounters to find a fun one to spice up their campaign.
Podcast Spotlights & Recaps
Critical Role is a hugely successful and sponsored podcast. D&D Beyond posts spotlights on each episode and how you can use them to improve your own gaming experience. “Critical Role Spotlight is a series of DM and player tips based on the events of this week's episode of Critical Role! Learn from the glowing successes and hilarious mistakes of the Mighty Nein and their illustrious Dungeon Master.”
Heroes of the Vale is another successful podcast/stream that also gets some page space on D&D Beyond. This is more of a simple recap, but it’s still filled with loads of story content.
Ah. The homebrew section. The section where all the creative juices of all the GMs and players are released into the world to forever change the landscape of unassuming games everywhere! Where new monsters lurk while new weapons and spells to crush them lay hiding like precious stones waiting to be found. It is a repository for items, both useless and useful. In short, it is the secret stash of all things not official but still really cool.
Homebrew content hasn't been extensively play tested, but that doesn't mean it can't add a world of fun to your game.
...Actually, this section I have not explored in great depth yet, but I do know a little bit about it. To add any published homebrew to your campaign takes a subscription and at the moment, I am okay with my freebie one (unless you’d like to donate a subscription, I’d be down for that, feel free to donate via PayPal or check out my ko-fi page if you’re up for it). This section allows you to create and publish your own homebrew content as well as using others’ homebrew content in your own campaigns. It’s awesome that they are allowing people to be so involved in the game and make these modifications. I can't wait to try it out at some point.
Always remember with homebrew content that it hasn’t been play tested as extensively as the official stuff, so it may be a bit overpowered (OP) or extremely under-powered. So if any of your players want to use homebrew stuff, make sure you read it thoroughly so you have a good grasp on how it functions. The last thing you want is someone’s homebrew item to one-hit KO your most fearsome monster that was supposed to take 3 hours to defeat. Besides it's way more fun to have your players do that anyway with some
Who It’s Good For
GMs and their players can greatly benefit from D&D Beyond, especially if they have a subscription. But without a subscription it’s a bit limited for GMs, in fact, there’s not much a GM can do on their site without a subscription. But that’s okay, they are cranking out a lot of content for free here and a resourceful GM can read everything they can and incorporate it into their games. Where this site really shines for GMs is when they pay for a subscription (details on the cost to come later in this article).
As a player you really don’t need a subscription at all, though having the hero subscription will allow you to have an unlimited number of characters hosted by the site.
Even with campaigns that I play on Roll20 (oh don’t you worry, there will be an article on these guys in the future) I always go to D&D Beyond to make my character, even if I have to manually retype the stuff into my Roll20 character sheet. Mostly because it’s laid out so well on D&D Beyond and it’s easy to use and track and there are so many resources: all the official ones and plenty of additional homebrews.
What does it cost?
You want to talk specifics for a minute? If you want to use the site for free it’s totally doable and easy and there is a lot of free content available. I used it for free without making any purchases whatsoever for a very long time. After a while I made a few one-time digital content purchases, but I haven’t spent much on the site at all. Maybe $30 total over the course of several years.
If you are only ever going to be a player but want access to more than just the free official Dungeons and Dragons content, you can purchase the books or portions of the books in their digital marketplace.
Here’s something important to note: The subscriptions don’t get you any official content. None. What they do get you is access to more features on the D&D Beyond website. The Hero Tier costs $2.99 per month and allows you to have an unlimited number of characters, it allows you to add homebrew content to your characters, and it removes ads from their site (2). “The Master Tier [$5.99 per month] subscription allows a subscriber to turn on content sharing for up to 3 campaigns in which they participate. Each campaign can have up to 12 participants (13 counting the DM).(3)(4)
Turning content sharing on for a campaign means that any content unlocked by any participant (player or DM) within that campaign is available for all players and the DM for use... anyone in that campaign can unlock content and share it with the other people in that campaign as long as one person (doesn't have to be the DM) has a Master Tier subscription and has used it to toggle content sharing on for that campaign.”
D&D Beyond is a great resource for all official (as well as some homebrew) D&D 5e content. Some of it’s free, some of it will cost you. I’ve used it for free for years but I also think the items and services for sale are worth it if you have the money to invest.
The Campaign DnD wasn’t paid or in any other way compensated to write this post, all opinions are my own. If you have any questions, please contact me via the contact page on this site.