Oh for goodness' sake—D&D has early access periods and pre-order bonuses now, like a 3D model of a dragon for a virtual tabletop that doesn't exist yet

Adventurers from D&D's revised ruleset Player's Handbook do battle with kobolds, swords drawn, spells flying, dungeons? Dragon'd.
(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast via GameInformer / Art by Tyler Jacobson)

Dungeons & Dragons' 2024 rules overhaul—stuck awkwardly between "not a new edition" and design update—is en route. The 2024 ruleset will be releasing its revamped Player Handbook on September 17, its Dungeon Master's Guide November 11, and its Monster Manual February 18 2025.

As part of its debut, Wizards of the Coast has announced further details for its pre-order bonuses and, gee, that sure is a videogame DLC chart, huh.

Typically, when faced with this sort of thing, I'd come out swinging with some snarky jab—or break down its pros and cons in the interest of nuance. My reaction to looking at this thing, however, is as follows:

This sucks. We can all agree this sucks, right? As a baseline, ground-level, shared assumption?

I cannot imagine any TTRPG enthusiast staring at this thing and going, "gee willikers, I sure am looking forward to unlocking my two weeks early access with my D&D Beyond Master Tier subscription(™), complete with 34 digital frames for all my characters!" Oh, also, you get a 3D model of a gold dragon for D&D's officially-licensed virtual tabletop, which fills me with dread and knowledge that, chances are, it'll be just as much of a "big-budget misunderstanding" as I thought it'd be.

To properly lay out the pricing, which the chart doesn't even really do beyond savings, pre-ordering the digital and physical versions of the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual on the D&D Beyond storefront individually will run you around $80 a pop, or $240 total. The bundle, as advertised, costs around $180. That is indeed a saving of $60.

The extras you'll get are (digital) dice, frames, and backdrops—but the main selling point really is that early access period, which will allow you to look at the new rules one week earlier for a Hero subscription (around $2 a month) or a Master subscription (around $5). Oh, you'll also get a digital artbook and, again, that 3D model of a gold dragon (yipee). This is so out of pocket, it's not even wearing trousers. I cannot imagine a single solitary soul who is psyched by this.

Now that Hasbro owns D&D Beyond, there's really no reason that a book shouldn't come with a code as standard—charge a subscription fee to use it, sure, but $10 extra for a PDF is nickel-and-diming. It does track that said PDF would arrive at your digital doorstep before the premium copy, but the "Early Access" period gated behind a few piddly extra dollars a month is a twist of the knife as well.

Ultimately, this smacks of a large company desperately trying so hard to treat tabletop gaming as a thing you can squeeze money out of like videogames—which tracks, because that's exactly what Hasbro CEO Chris Cocks said he wanted to do two years ago, aiming for "the type of recurrent spending you see in digital games". Well, here it is.

I sorely hope this isn't a preview of the next few years of annoying nonsense. Let's just hope Hasbro doesn't hire the pinkertons to pay me a visit for sharing an illicit, subscriptionless nu-PDF to my mate in 2040, when I assume I'll need an Ultra subscription and a WizardsKey to jack into the Forgotten Realms via databank.

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.