D&D Encounters: Beyond the Crystal Cave – Preview

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on November 4, 2011

Season 7 of D&D Encounters begins on Wednesday, November 16. The adventure is called Beyond the Crystal Cave and was inspired by the classic AD&D adventure,UK1: Beyond the Crystal Cave. It’s no coincidence that it coincides with Wizards of the Coast’s latest product offering, Heroes of the Feywild which hits shelves on November 15.

In August we shared the few details we knew about season 7 based on what Wizards announced at GenCon. Now that I’ve actually received the DM’s kit I’m can provide a much more in-depth preview which I will be sure to keep as spoiler-free as possible.

The Adventure

The original 1983 version of Beyond the Crystal Cave and the new adventure sharing the same name both drew inspiration from the works of William Shakespeare. DMs who really want to get into role-playing the major NPCs should read A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest. Reading Romeo and Juliet might help too, as the overarching plot is loosely based on this tragedy.

The adventure does a wonderful job of showcasing the various aspects of the Feywild. The new races from this sourcebook are well represented among the important NPCs.

I was pleased to see that they didn’t use the same stock monsters we’ve seen throughout many season of D&D Encounters. I was also happy to see that there wasn’t one keyword common to the monsters’ attacks. In previous season a resistance to poison or necrotic gave some PCs a huge advantage. This time everyone’s back on level footing.

The adventure itself has 13 encounters but runs 14 weeks – the first week is a slot 0 (more on that below in the Character Creation section). Chapter 1 is four weeks, chapter 2 is five weeks and chapter 3 is four weeks. I don’t like that there’s a five-encounter chapter. It makes sense from a story perspective but it’s usually too difficult for the newer players that attend D&D Encounters.

There is a lot of role-playing in this adventure, more than any other I’ve seen at D&D Encounters to date. It’s not necessarily set up as structured skill challenges (although there are some of those in there too), but it plays out more in a free-form style. The PCs will learn quickly that they should not try to fight everyone they meet. In fact some of the encounters are designed as tests of the PCs’ abilities and they are not supposed to kill the monsters, just defeat them. This will be a shift in thinking for many players.

In a few encounters the PCs will make choices that determine which of two paths they follow that week (similar to the way it worked in March of the Phantom Brigade).

The way magic treasure is determined has changed slightly. In most cases the PCs find a specific item or the DM can roll from the table. However, this season it specifically states that the DM can choose an item appropriate for the PCs at the table. Although many DMs were likely doing this already it’s nice to see it in print so new DMs don’t feel restricted. Half of the 20 items listed are from Modrenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium and Heroes of the Feywild.

A Word from the Designer

The last page of the adventure contains the designer’s notes. Steve Townshend shares some insight regarding how the new adventure came together. There is also a blurb from the original Beyond the Crystal Cave that describes how it was unlike many other adventures that were being published at that time. I think that all the players participating in D&D Encounters this season will benefit from reading both articles. It’s a good reminder that there’s more to D&D than just hack and slash. The new adventure, much like it’s namesake, emphasized role-playing over all else. I encourage you to give it a read.

Character Creation

This season the first week of D&D Encounters is designated as a slot 0 and there is no actual game play. The intent is for all the players to gather at the FLGS and create characters together the first week. Heroes of the Feywild will be released the day before and players are strongly encouraged to use the new materials within to help them build their new PCs.

Special character sheets were provided in the DM kits. These are Feywild / Crystal Cave themed and look great. It’s too bad that there isn’t a way to build the characters using character builder and then print them on these special sheets. Perhaps that’s something they can work on for future seasons.

It’s worth noting that players who do make characters using options from Heroes of the Feywild will have a few advantages over other traditional characters. During some interactions with Fey creatures they will offer their Fey brethren bonus rewards to help them in their quest. These aren’t game-changing or game-breaking gifts but it’s a nice way to reward players who use the new materials and try playing something different.

Pre-Generated Characters

By now I don’t think it comes as any surprise that Wizards is no longer proving new pre-generated characters. We again got the same six stock PCs that we’ve had since D&D Encounters season 4, March of the Phantom Brigade: Belgos, Brandis, Fargrim, Jarren, Keira and Valenae. Just a reminder that you can download all six pre-gens as high-res images or PDF files.

Amazing Maps

One thing that Wizards continues to do right is provide excellent, high-quality maps. The maps that were provided for this season of D&D Encounters look fantastic. Since much of the adventure takes place in the Feywild we get a few really great wilderness maps that DMs should have no trouble reusing in their home campaign.

Initiative Tracker

For the third season in a row a set of 10 initiative tracking cards were provided with each copy of the adventure. As with the previous Initiative Trackers this season’s has the cover art from the adventure on each card.

If you’ve got Initiative Trackers from multiple seasons mixing and matching them will certainly make it easier to distinguish the heroes from the monsters.

Fortune Cards

Wizards continues to offer players Fortune Cards when they earn enough renown points. Unfortunately none of the players at either FLGS I play at use Fortune Cards so these rewards don’t appeal to anyone. However for those players who do use them, the promo cards are a nice addition to your deck since they’re only available if you play in D&D Encounters.

When a player earns 20 Renown Points, they earn the Cavern Oracle (promo 1) Fortune Card.

When a player earns 40 Renown Points, they earn the Crystalbrook Blood Feud (promo 2) Fortune Card.

When a player earns 60 Renown Points, they earn the Glittering Crystals (promo 3) Fortune Card.

The Adventure Begins

The designers at Wizards of the Coast really seem to know what they’re doing now that the D&D Encoutners program has run for six seasons over almost two years. They continue to produce great adventures that keep players interested week after week. The strong emphasis on role-playing that we should see as we play through Beyond the Crystal Cave will remind players just how much more there is to D&D than combat. Season 7 begins on Wednesday, November 16.

Visit the Dungeon’s Master D&D Encounters Archive for all of our ongoing weekly coverage as well as other great D&D Encounters articles and resources.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pedro Rodrigues November 4, 2011 at 9:49 am

Thks for the preview, great as always.

The maps do look great, hope the map packs are just as good (and generic).

2 Sentack November 4, 2011 at 10:09 am

Wow, that does look great. Plus a strongly roleplay focused season combined with alternative paths sounds like this might be a much better season then Neverwinter. I’m looking forward to it.

3 Kiel Chenier November 4, 2011 at 10:36 am

Have these arrived at Dueling Grounds yet?

4 Thorynn November 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm

I love that they’re still trying to innovate with this series. I just really wish they would release the old ones for purchase. It seems like a lot of creative talent and resources being used at WotC for a very limited audience. I understand its supposed to be a perk for the FLGS and to drive traffic, but once thats done… release it to the people!

5 OnlineDM November 5, 2011 at 5:11 am

As I recall, Dungeon’s Master created some pre-gens from Heroes of Shadow for the Dark Legacy of Evard season, correct? Any thoughts of doing something similar using Heroes of the Feywild options for this season? I know that when I run a session of Encounters on rare occasions, I still have some of those Shadow pre-gens available, and new players have enjoyed having more options.

6 Jason Dawson November 5, 2011 at 8:46 am

Posted up a request for help out here in Afghanistan. If anybody has access to either Lost Crown of Neverwinter or Beyond the Crystal Cave and would like to send it to the military folks here in Afghanistan, please feel free to hit me up.

7 Don Cee November 5, 2011 at 9:49 am

I did not see the player tracker in the DM kit. Did you get yours?

8 DaveK November 9, 2011 at 10:00 pm

During character creation flow chart, there is a reference to Gnome as an available race. Did they release Gnome as a Essentials race that I missed? See #3 in the steps page 6

9 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 9, 2011 at 10:32 pm

@DaveK
I don’t have Heroes of the Feywild so I can’t say for sure, but I think they did mention at GenCon during the preview seminar that the Gnome was going to be in this book. We’ll know for sure by next week. If anyone who has the book already can jump in and let us know for sure that would be helpful.

10 Sentack November 11, 2011 at 3:51 pm

What would be great for this season, is if someone could make some Feywild essential classes for the game like was done for Heroes of Shadow. I was thinking someone could make a quick Witch and Skald. Whoever drew up the Shadow ones look pretty awesome. Could they do it again?

11 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 11, 2011 at 5:10 pm

@Sentack
I’ll reach out to a few people who have helped us create pre-gens in the past and see what we can come up with before week 1.

12 AlHazred November 17, 2011 at 8:31 am

@Don Cee
I didn’t get any play tracker materials either. And the download on the Encounters website is still for Neverwinter. This week was character generation so it wasn’t too big a deal, but it’s going to really make next week challenging if it isn’t available yet; I remember when Dark Legacy of Evard came out, the play tracker download didn’t get updated for almost two months!

13 Don Cee November 17, 2011 at 8:58 am

My Wizards Rep, sent me the player tracker for the new season. You can download and print it here:

http://www.samanthajones.biz/Player_Tracker.pdf

We included a short level encounter last night for people to ‘test drive” the new characters that they made. Looks like pixies are going to be very popular!

14 crimson November 18, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I would also look forward to fey-wild themed pre-gens like the ones made for Legacy of Evard.

15 Ameron (Derek Myers) November 18, 2011 at 4:25 pm

@crimson
One of our DMs is in the process of making new Fey Wild themed pre-gens. We’ll post a link early next week.

16 Sentack November 20, 2011 at 11:24 am

Looks like the new season asks players to test drive out a few new backgrounds. What would be nice if someone could make “background” cards like the theme cards that came out last season so DM’s can pass them out to players who are still making characters and they can review the choices.

I would do it but I have no artistic or photoshop skills, so I’m just going to print out flat text write-ups of the backgrounds and let players review them before picking one.

And thanks a ton for whoever is making the pre-gens. I really appreciate it.

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