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Limit Sources While Using D&D Beyond

by Mike on 18 September 2023

Over the lifespan of D&D 5th edition Wizards of the Coast released dozens of sourcebooks including new races, subclasses, spells, backgrounds, and feats. Allowing access to all features from all sources for every campaign can result in strange character combinations fitting no particular theme and create weird game-stressing results at the table. The expansion of materials leads to players choosing the same optimal selections regardless of the direction a campaign takes (I'm looking at you, Toll the Dead) .

Limiting sources lets you focus a campaign around a theme. For a draconic-focused campaign you might limit sources to the Player's Handbook and Fizban's Treasury of Dragons. For a more gothic horror-focused campaign you might add Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. However not every sourcebook fits in every campaign.

D&D Beyond's Limitations

D&D Beyond doesn't do a good job of limiting sources or identifying where material comes from. If a player owns a particular sourcebook, the options from that sourcebook appear in the character builder even if a DM limits sources in the campaign manager.

The character builder itself has limited functions to filter out Magic: The Gathering and Critical Role content but books it considers "core" sources (I don't know whats included in that category) are always available if a player owns them. Thus, if a player owns Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, all options from that book show up.

Even though the introductions of many of these supplemental D&D books state that their rules are optional and at the DM's discretion, D&D Beyond includes them automatically regardless of what you select in the character builder.

Thus, if we want to limit source material (and I argue we do), it's up to us to communicate clearly to our players how to choose from limited options.

During our session zero we want to clarify which sources are allowed, which sources are not, and how to use D&D Beyond with these limitations in mind. Here's an example list we might offer to players during our session zero of a dragon-themed campaign:

Here's a potential shorter explanation suitable for a one-page campaign guide:

This campaign uses limited sources. When using D&D Beyond, ensure you browse and select options from the sourcebook directly before choosing options in the character builder. The character builder does not filter out options from other sourcebooks.

Selecting from limited options in D&D Beyond is an arduous process but without a good way to filter sources, we have to work with our players to help them select only the features available in the sources we want for our campaign.

You might ask again if it's worth the trouble to limit sources in your campaign. I argue it is. Limitations fuel creativity. Selecting specific sourcebooks lets every campaign we run feel different from the others, with new and often undervalued options available to players who might otherwise focus on the most optimal options regardless of the theme of the campaign.

With some work on our part and that of our players, we can weave a rich tapestry of unique campaigns we run for years to come.

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