Sunday, March 1, 2009

Better does not necessarily mean good: The D&D Compendium

Well, the Lords of Tyr game was last night, and I have finally had an opportunity to use the reworked D&D Compendium under actual game conditions.  I had read some reviews about how much better it is since the recent update, so I figured I would give it another chance.

I was horribly disappointed.  Our party's warlord used Wolf Pack Tactics and wanted to give the free shift to a character who was prone.  So obviously, the question came up whether or not you could shift while prone.  I figured this would be a good  opportunity to use the D&D Compendium to find the answer! 

So I brought up the compendium and typed in "Prone".  I hit clicked search and looked down at the results.  The first answer was "Elephant".

Obviously this was not looking good so far.

Looking up at the categories I realized that the D&D Compendium had defaulted to the "Creatures" category since it had 329 results.  Well, easy enough to fix.  I looked for a "Rules" category, or a "Conditions" category, or something else appropriate. 

Well, apparently there are categories for Races, Classes, Items, Creatures, Epic Destinies, Paragon Paths, Rituals, Feats, Powers, and Skills.  Well, those are nice categories, but none of them were helpful right now. 

No problem.  Obviously I just need to run a search without applying one of the categories.  That should be simple enough, right?  Apparently not.  After looking all over the interface I realized that there was no way to search the database without choosing one of the categories. 

This was frustrating.  It's not like I was making a search for an obscure term or corner case scenario.  Conditions like "Prone", actions like "Shift", or attacks like "Grab" seem like obvious things a DM or player should be able to look up during a game with the D&D Compendium.  In reality, it is impossible to look up any of these.

This wouldn't be so frustrating if I hadn't already seen free resources like The Hypertext d20 SRD implemented so well for 3E D&D.  You would think that with the resources available to them, that Wizards of the Coast could implement a database that worked half as well for their paying customers.


Questing GM said...

One of the main problems of the Compendium is that it has never included a rules section (like what is 'prone' in your case) since the beginning.

Which was weird considering that it would have been the most useful part of the Compendium.

Tom said...

Do you think WoTC selectively holds some things back on the compendium? If they put everything up, and easily searcheable, then maybe people wouldn't buy certain books.

Just speculating, I'm not a subscriber.

Sean said...

I think that the lack of a rules section is done on purpose. I agree though that having a section on conditions would be very helpful. Even if it just gave a quick overview and pointed to the correct page in the book.

Questing GM said...

This has been discussed before in ENWorld where someone thought that by having access to the Compendium, they could forgo buying PHB II.

A person who is cheap or circumstantially frugal could actually do that but they would have to take a painstaking process of finding out what is new.

However, others have replied that the Compendium works better as a supplementary tool to make game prep much easier than a comprehensive database of having every information within arm's reach. I hope you get the difference here.

Despite as advertised when 4E was first announced, I think the function of the Compendium was changed along the way and it did not become the in-game savior that it was implied to be. It's used mainly as a prep tool and that's probably the vision that they are sticking to.

Take this as you will but I'm not a subscriber too. ;)

Rob said...

I agree that as it is now that the D&D Compendium is more useful as a game prep tool than an in game reference. I just think it is a shame, since it should be capable of being both.

I also understand that Wizards is afraid of cannibalizing sales of their other products. Unfortunately, I think this is a short –sighted view. Microsoft was infamous for doing this. When a division would come up with an innovative new product that might potentially compete with a proven money maker, they would shut it down. They even had a term for it: “Knifing the baby”.

The problem is that doing this may protect profits in the short run, but it can really stifle innovation and allow other companies to gain an advantage in the long term. Microsoft has recently been trying to reverse course on this policy, but there is a lot of inertia to overcome.

Who knows? Protecting its publishing business is important, as that has always been Wizards of the Coasts main profit center. Hopefully they will not do too much damage to themselves while trying to protect it.

Todd said...

I think that I might be the reason for this. Ok, not personally... I am a non-subscriber because of other issues (mainly because a recurring fee does not interest me even if it were to provide me with value for my money, which at present it does not). Subscribers, in general, seem to be paying for development of a product they supposedly already have (not a bad thing in and of it's self when announced before payment – check out Rob's much earlier post on patronage). As a result, I think that the powers that be have concluded that those people are "existing customers" as is, and that any product development should attract new customers primarily (rather than satisfy existing ones). Non-subscribers have money that they aren't currently harvesting (again, not me personally), which will lead to business managers taking a stronger interest in product lines. This is especially true in today's economy. Unfortunately, from that viewpoint, I am their enemy. I don't want to open the fist I have tightly clamped about my meager funds, and certainly not for a subscription service which will leave me owning no product when I stop paying for it. This means that in order to gain access to my wallet, they need to give me a book, and I am OK with that. Honestly, I figure that a lot of people are probably OK with it, which brings me to issue one: Knifing the baby.

“Knifing the baby.” Eww... and people wonder why I despise large corporations? I suppose it is an apt analogy though, as both Microsoft and Wizards of the Coast are leaders in their respective fields. On the other hand, Wizards is a less well developed organization, by far. This is especially evident in their electronic media. From the price point of book PDFs to the fiasco with 3e character builders, Wizards seems to just lack any business sense when they start a project that doesn't use paper. In this case though, as idiotic a choice as it is, at least wizards never claimed that the compendium would be useful in game. Check it out: Now for my money, Rob is dead on in expecting more from them, but at least they didn't misrepresent what they were offering.