Thursday, November 17, 2011

First Impressions - DnD Encounters: Beyond The Crystal Cave

The weekly Dungeons and Dragons Encounters sessions have been part of my life for the past year. I spent my first couple of weeks playing before I began my stint as a DM. I have enjoyed introducing the game to people of all ages, but in particular to the younger players. In fact, I have used Encounters to introduce the game to my 16 year old daughter and my 12 year old son. For the most part, the adventures have provided an excellent introduction for new players. The fact that the encounter seasons have been designed to coincide with the current product releases is good for the more experienced players as well, giving them an excellent opportunity to experiment with new settings or character options before they spend their hard earned money.

This seasons Encounters adventure resurrects an old adventure from 1983, UK1: Beyond The Crystal Caves. I owned many adventures over the course of my playing life, including this one. I never did get the opportunity to run it with my players but it provided me an excellent example of how to design an adventure where role playing was more important than combat. That lesson has remained with me to this day. 

Unfortunately, the things that made this adventure ground breaking in 1983 are exactly the things that make it the wrong choice for an Encounters adventure. The original adventure favoured puzzle solving over combat and it was possible, even likely, a first level party who was was good at solving puzzles could complete the adventure. Many a 5th or 6th level party who attempted to fight their way through this adventure perished long before the modules completion. 

On a Wednesday night my typical group consists of three boys and one girl ranging in age from 11-16, a woman in her 20's and a gaming veteran with plenty of experience. The whole concept of the adventure was lost on the majority of my group. I understand Wizards can't release an adventure to please everyone but all of the previous Encounters seasons at least didn't alienate any of the players. My younger players were quite frankly bored. Young boys have no interest in a tragic story of forbidden love. The girl, who happens to be my daughter, liked the concept of being able to solve puzzles and find non-combat ways to complete the adventure. She did, however, find the overall story arc of the adventure to be overdone.

If we look at the Dark Legacy of Evard, we have what I consider to be the perfect Encounters adventure. This season was scheduled to coincide with the release of The Shadowfell boxed set. For new players, they faced a wide variety of creatures and they had the opportunity to role play with a variety of towns people, they even had choices! The experienced players were able to learn a little bit about the mythology of Dungeons and Dragons. Evard is a legendary Wizard, as all us veterans know, responsible for the creation of a variety of spells from the early days of the game. Even myself, as the Dungeon Master, found this adventure to be a learning experience. This was the first opportunity for me to use my Despair Deck.

I suspect that my observations and experiences with this adventure are not unique to my group. I would love to hear the thoughts from other DMs and players!

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