On Saturday I participated in the 2009 Weekend in the Realms. “The Icy Queen’s Crossing” is an Living Forgotten Realms adventure for character of 1st to 4th level. Although pre-generated characters were provided, players were free to bring their own LFR character as long as they weren’t above level 4.
One of the things that made this event unique is that the “adventure takes place in the aftermath of the events depicted in the new Forgotten Realms novel The Fall of Highwatch, which was released on November 4.” Previous events have been tied to the release of gaming products like the PHB 2, the Monster Manual 2 and the DMG 2, but this is the first time a 4e adventure has been tied to a novel.
The purpose of these “event” games is to bring new players into the fold. These games are played in public settings, usually game stores and public libraries. Experienced players can meet new people and new players can get an introduction to D&D. It’s win-win. The adventure is straight forward and doesn’t require any background or familiarity with the game. With that in mind, here are the ups and downs of my experience playing in the 2009 Weekend in the Realms.
Meet new people and exchange ideas
These public events are great. I’ve participated in four over the last year and at each game I’ve introduced new gamers to D&D, played with experienced gamers I’d never met before and had a great time all around. Although I have a regular weekly game at my house, it’s always nice to play in a different setting with different people.
Not all players and DMs do things exactly the same way. I’m always fascinated to discover the little differences like seeing how other players track damage, speak in character and even roll dice (yes there are different ways to roll dice).
It’s also a good opportunity to see how other DMs handle certain situations. You don’t realize how many house rules you use until you’re playing with strangers. You’re not necessarily doing anything wrong, just differently. Public games are a great chance to trade tip, tricks and shortcuts with other gamers. If it’s worked for them it might work for you too, and vice-versa.
Tokens, not minis
I know that putting this in the good category will cause a lot of DMs to disagree with me, but I liked that no free minis were provided for this event. This time around Wizards provided flat, two-dimensional tokens. Previous events of this nature, such as the World Wide D&D Game Days provided minis for every monster in the adventure as well as minis of the pre-generated PCs. I always thought this was lavish and unnecessary. What they provided this time around did the job just fine.
When it comes to these kinds of public games, the DM who runs the adventure generally keeps the materials afterwards. I think this is totally fair. After all if no one DMs then there’s no game. The promise of free swag is a good way to recruit a DM if you can’t otherwise find a volunteer.
Even though providing free minis is a good way for Wizards to advertise some of the other peripheral products they sell, I think it was an unnecessary expense. At the end of the day, minis cost money to make and money to ship. By replacing the minis with tokens on cardstock, Wizards has no doubt cut their costs substantially. I’d rather give up free minis and keep having these kinds of events then see it get cancelled because the materials cost too much to provide.
Where’s the role-playing?
D&D is a role-playing game. I’m always disappointed when the role-playing takes a back seat to killing monsters. This adventure is set up in much the same way as the dungeon delves. The PCs are given a very simple introduction and motivation: “Free my husband and I’ll reward you with magic and gold.” Then it’s three combat encounters. No talking, just kill, kill, kill.
I understand that if you’re trying to entice new players you want to get them hooked quickly. I’ll admit that combat is a great way to do this. However, there is more to D&D then fighting monsters. This adventure didn’t really provide any opportunities to role-play.
I guess the danger of putting too much role-playing in an introductory game is that shy players will feel excluded and may not want to play again, and vocal players will dominate the table. If the DM is a rookie then this could be a disastrous situation. I guess Wizards would rather avoid complications of this nature and just exclude role-playing this time around.
Adventure for characters of 1st-4th level? Not a chance.
Normally LFR adventures provide a low level and high level version. The difference is that the monsters are appropriately scaled for tougher or weaker PCs. Playing the high level will provide more XP and better treasure. This adventure was one size fits all. Party’s with PCs above 1st level won’t be challenged at all. We certainly weren’t.
Here’s what our party looked like.
- Level 1 Human Wizard
- Level 2 Elf Ranger
- Level 3 Tiefling Warlock
- Level 3 Minotaur Barbarian
- Level 4 Warforged Warden
The first combat was fun. It mixed ranged and melee attacks from various monsters. It even had additional monsters enter the combat a couple of rounds in (I think this is a great tactic that more DMs need to adopt). Of all the encounters in this adventure, the first encounter was the one I enjoyed the most. By the time we finished we’d all used all of our encounter power, a couple of action points, and two PCs needed to use their second wind.
The second combat was a disaster. It was way too easy. The PCs entered a winding cave they knew to be defended from within. The monsters tried to use ranged attacks, but the PCs moved in quickly. Then the monsters swarmed the PCs and in just two rounds we killed everything. The DM didn’t make use of unique terrain, nor did she use the attackers complimenting abilities to their best potential. The DM’s error in judgment, combined with great teamwork from the PCs resulted in the second encounter taking only four rounds to complete. I’m glad I used my daily power in the first round.
The third and final encounter was another disaster. It was by far the most boring combat of the game. The PCs rolled really poor initiatives. The monsters swarmed us at the mouth of the cave and combat remained in one place. Again the potential use of terrain and special abilities was removed because everyone bunched up. Our party was uniquely suited for this scenario. The Barbarian and the Warden stood in front doing melee attacks and the Ranger, Warlock and Wizard stood back and attacked from range. Three rounds later it was over. The Warlock and the Wizard never even had an opportunity to use their daily powers.
There were two skill challenges in this adventure. Both felt tacked on and completely unnecessary. Both were complexity 1 (4 successes required before 3 failures). The first skill challenge was disarming a magical trap as part of the first encounter. The intent seemed to be that the PCs should focus some attention on this while the fight raged on. We ignored it. The result was that some PCs were slowed (not an issue for the three ranged attackers), and the damage was negligible. After we defeated the monsters we all focused on the trap together and beat the sill challenge in one round.
The second skill challenge was at the very end of the adventure. The PCs needed to free a magically imprisoned NPC. As with the previous skill challenge it seemed that the PCs were supposed to try and free the NPC while combat was going on around them. We focused on the fighting because we didn’t have any other choice. Because we were swarmed at the cave mouth we didn’t even know that there was an imprisoned NPC in the room until all the monsters were dead. After that we again all work together and defeated the skill challenge in one round. It was an extremely anti-climatic ending. It really felt like something was missing. When it was clear that the adventure was over, the players all looked around with a “Was that it?” look of disappointment.
All in all I am glad I participated in the Weekend in the Realms. It was a chance to play D&D outside of my normal game with players I’d never met before. I got to talk D&D and plug my blog (shameless, I know). Despite my harsh criticisms of this adventure, I would be disappointed if Wizards pulled the plug. I enjoy playing in these events and look forward to the next one scheduled for March 2010 in conjunction with the release of the PHB3. If you live in the Greater Toronto Area and want to join me and the rest of the Dungeon’s Master team in March for the next World Wide D&D Game Day, send us an email.
To find out more about The Fall of Highwatch (Chosen of Nendawen, Book I) by Mark Sehestedt and to download a sample chapter, visit Wizards of the Coast.
For more on these kinds of public gaming events, read my review of Worldwide D&D Game Day 2009 from March and Worldwide D&D Game Day – Monster Manual 2 from May. And be sure to check out the 10 Things I Learned at Worldwide D&D Game Day.