Review Plus: Discussing Dragon Plus, and the recent Arcana Unearthed Article

It seems as though the game plan for Wizards of the Coast on moving forward with Dungeons and Dragons has been a series of little surprises released to a relative lack of fanfare. This isn’t a terrible plan*, and I suppose that relying on the starving throngs of fans left aching for more content is perhaps a viral marketing method unto itself.

And being one among the throngs, I suppose that it is my duty to report their news for them, which I happily do now. The magazine is currently available for iPhone and iPad through their newsstand app, and there are promises that it will eventually expand to android, PC, and Mac. Though my old iPhone 4 is a little clunky when viewing the magazine, it isn’t unwieldy otherwise. A fancy little bonus feature is a handy (if not humorously proud) news section which aggregates all official D&D facebook and tumblr posts.

While I didn’t enjoy the idea of Fantasy Grounds and their ultra expensive a la carte licensed product, it is nearly (but not entirely) counteracted by the return of Dragon Magazine in the form of a free digital magazine. It isn’t core rule pdfs, which I think are sorely needed, but it is a turn in the right direction.

That having been said, the content is impressive, given that the whole thing is free. I haven’t really been able to look at the 4th edition digital magazine, nor how expansive it was, so I don’t know how it compares. The old print magazine had at least twice as much content, though it is hard to tell given the fact that the magazine is formatted for a mobile phone. Articles are great, with little in the way of actual rules. This is not entirely a bad thing, though I hope that perhaps a future Dungeon Plus will deliver on some more rules heavy articles.

The first issue is heavy on featuring the Elemental Evil product push, but does a good job in presenting it in a digestible way. I also enjoy the embedded pictures, though it is annoying that they have a great map of the Sword Coast region with no way so far of extracting said map. I have not yet had a chance to see the embedded video, nor the Scott Kurtz strip, though I am excited about the latter being something of a replacement for more venerable Dragon comics (though I still miss Phil and Dixie).

“What’s new” indeed.

The remainder of the magazine is, of course, advertising, though it goes a step beyond simply displaying full page ads that link you to products. They include whole articles devoted to selling you their product. Though this isn’t unexpected or even wrong, it seems somehow unconnected. We love your product, we jumped through hoops to find and download your magazine, we know how to buy your books and games. But I suppose there is something to be said for this groundswell saturation*.

Curiously enough, as I fiddle with the options, you can apparently send articles to people (as I had done to myself) through the iPhone messenger or e-mail. The articles are rendered through a strange resolution on a PC, and cannot be readily printed, but are legible. It appears that the app itself has a print option, but it does not appear functional.

For now, I am satisfied but cautious about upcoming issues. Despite it being free, the magazine could stand to be put out monthly rather than every other month, especially given the relatively scant amount of content. I also hope that the magazine grows to be meatier and explore new territory, and not simply include articles that link to products from month to month; I would foresee that getting old. What can I pay for more content that isn’t advertising?

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I’ll tell you how much I’d be willing to spend.

But on to Unearthed Arcana!

First of all, I have never been an open fan of any sea based campaigns, despite the fact that I once ran a heavily sea-themed campaign myself. I think that I enjoy the adventurous aspect of it more than I do the pirate/swashbuckler veneer that most people seem to embrace wholeheartedly. And yet…

I love minotaurs! Especially ones from Krynn. If this water-based Unearthed Arcana is an excuse to give people Minotaur PC’s, then you can write a whole pirate book for all I care! And yet, I also find myself enjoying the other player options, as they are flavored for the sea, but can be utilized for non-sea based adventures as well. I am thoroughly impressed by the way that they have been giving us even this scant bit of content to not only expand player options, but to show us the simplicity in creating it.

Seriously though, 3rd edition made me wait 3 years to have a (nearly) playable minotaur. It’s kind of a big deal to me.

I have yet to use very much of 5th edition content, so I expect that a review of this nature will change once I get to look at the mechanics of everything first hand With that caveat aside, I thoroughly enjoy what they are doing so far, quibbles about pdfs aside.

Now for the real complaint; as we see more content being released through disparate digital channels, I find myself wishing that there was a better archive of these articles and rules. As it stands, the D&D website is abysmally poor at allowing access to old articles, especially when viewed through mobile devices. I was far more in favor of their old web design that simply listed articles that you could then peruse more easily. Everything now looks like a facebook page with all of the inherent navigation problems therein, and the search function is similarly afflicted.

But alas, I suppose that just as it is upon our shoulders to spread news, so it is to enact creative solutions to such consternating problems.

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Consider the gauntlet dropped, WotC web developer!

* I could suggest a better marketing method, but I’m not expert, so bully for them.


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