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D&D will add an e-reader to its confusing line of digital products

No, it’s not a PDF, but it is handy nonetheless

Three adventurers gather around a treasure map. One of them, a half-orc, scratches his head vigorously. Wizards of the Coast
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Dungeons & Dragons is seeing a kind of renaissance brought on in part by its success on streaming platforms like Twitch and YouTube. To add fuel to that fire, the team at Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast has enabled an entire slate of digital tools that enhance the traditional tabletop experience. Later this fall, they’ll also add a Kindle-like e-book app called D&D Reader.

No, it’s not the officially licensed PDFs that fans have wanted for decades. But, if it’s implemented correctly, it could be about as good as die-hard fans are likely to get.

The D&D Reader is being built by Dialect, the same content marketing and digital design company that drives the digital D&D magazine called Dragon+. Reader will be available for iOS and Android devices, and feature all the core books you need to run your own campaign, including the 5th edition Player’s Handbook and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The app allows you to buy them in part or in whole. As an added benefit, there are even free modules for a subset of races and classes.

Yes, there’s a search function. But in the beta version that we were shown, it wasn’t tremendously effective. A search for “magic missile,” for instance, simply returns all of the available modules that include the term. It’s up to users to hunt down the information they need within each module. There are hyperlinks throughout that key off of spell names and the like, but in the version we were shown, most of them were buggy.

Where the app shows promise is with its bookmark function.

Say that you’re building a rogue. Step one is to download the module for your character’s race, many of which are free. Next you’ll want to download the rogue class module, and then the charts, appendices and any spells that you might need as you level up. Add a copy of the arms and equipment module and you’re ready to go. Once they’re all bookmarked, it’s very easy to find what you need when you need it.

Another advantage will be for players who travel for their weekly game, especially harried Dungeon Masters on the go. No more lugging four or five hardbacked volumes around with you. Just load up what you need into your iPad and you’re good to go.

The trouble is that the D&D Reader suffers from the same kind of complex monetization model as products like Fantasy Grounds and D&D Beyond. If you already own the entire library of 5th edition books, you’ll need to buy them all over again inside the Reader app. And, while purchasing the entire book is a viable solution, buying each individual module — a package of five to 10 pages of content, perhaps — for $2.99 a pop feels exploitive.

I see D&D Reader being a great entree for new or returning players. It gives just the right amount of information, right when you need it. But if you’re already invested in the product, this might not be the digital solution that you’re looking for.