Another season of D&D Encounter has ended. I for one had a great time playing through the adventure. But that’s not to say there weren’t areas that could use some improvement. As I’ve done after the other seasons of D&D Encounters I’ll go through what I felt were the high and low points of the adventure and the D&D Encounters program making judgment and singing the praises. I encourage you to share your thoughts and feelings on how season 6 went at your FLGS whether you agree or disagree with my take on things.
Game Day Tie-in
Beginning the adventure on D&D Worldwide Game Day was a stroke of genius. It took a program that already has a proven track record of bringing new players into the FLGS to try D&D and gave them an introductory tease of the adventure to come. For those who only play on Wednesday night at D&D Encounters this was a chance to squeeze in another game.
Players who participated in the Game Day adventure could use the same character for the Lost Crown of Neverwinter adventure that began the following week. The XP and gp they earned as well as the information they acquired during the Game Day adventure all followed them into week 1. This allowed some PCs to level up faster than other PCs and it gave them enough money to purchase magical items earlier in the adventure.
Usually during public play (LFR, D&D Encounters) the characters are expected to go at least four encounters before they get an extended rest. This has been the case in D&D Encounters in every adventure so far. But Lost Crown of Neverwinter set a good tone early by changing that preconception.
The PCs had two intense back-to-back encounters that made up the entirety of the first chapter. The second encounter was a battle against a White Dragon which required everyone use their full complement of resources (including daily powers) to defeat the monster.
There was some uncertainty by DMs as to whether or not the PCs were supposed to get a short rest between sessions. Regardless of how your DM decided to handle resting (I allowed my groups to take a short rest) I think the players really enjoyed the encounter and the very short chapter. At my FLGS we actually played week 1 and week 2 in the same session which made the first chapter a lot more exciting.
Throughout the adventure there was a sense of urgency that really affected the pacing. This was especially true in chapter 4. The heroes were trying to catch up to the Lost Hirer and stop his reign of destruction. The second encounter in the chapter (Week 12) again threw normal convention to the wind by running the players through two back-to-back mini encounters without getting the benefit of a short rest in between.
This is the kind of thing I see more at my home game. Creative DMs will often look for ways to challenge the players by adjusting traditional encounter design. I think players enjoyed and appreciated something a little bit different when they saw it during a public-play event. When I ran the week 12 encounter I told the players that there were going to be two short encounters without a short rest in between. In retrospect I think this was a mistake. Had I just sprung the second encounter on them things might have been a lot more interesting and they really would have felt that sense of urgency and desperation.
My only real issue with the pacing was during chapter 3. This chapter seemed entirely unnecessary. The encounters in chapter 3 moved well enough, but the encounters didn’t seem to fit with the bigger story. If I were to run this adventure again for a home group I think I’d condense all the details from chapter 3 into one narrative or skill challenge.
The Motivation Railroad
During my weekly field reports I talked a lot about the PCs’ motivation or lack thereof. In the middle of the adventure a lot of the players were confused as to what they were supposed to be doing or why they were going to certain locations. In the end it made a lot sense, and at the time it might have made sense to DMs who had read the entire adventure, but for player without that inside information it felt like their hands were being forced.
I realize that good adventures should be more than going from A to B to C, but if the PCs don’t understand what they’re doing or more importantly why they’re doing it then it will affect their play. I had to keep telling my group that things would be clear later and to just play on.
I think the problems a lot of players were experiencing could have been resolved in a normal home game where the adventure doesn’t need to be so linear. However this isn’t really an option with D&D Encounters. No matter what the overall objective is the adventure need to play out in the order its presented.
The Illusion of Choice
After fighting alongside the Lost Heir against the White Dragon, he presented the PCs with badges. If the PCs chose to wear these badges it would make a statement to anyone they interacted with that they were affiliated with him and supported the Lost Heir.
After their meeting with Lord Neverember and accepting his offer to dig up dirt on the Lost Heir, he too presented the PCs with badges. These announced the PCs’ affiliation with the Lord Protector and would get them access to certain restricted parts of Neverwinter.
For the first few weeks the players at my table had a lot of fun deciding if they would support one side of the other, or just remain neutral. In the end it didn’t really matter and the PCs were forced onto Neverember’s side. My players were actually quite angry that they were given the illusion of choice when in fact they really didn’t have any choice at all. One guy was even angrier because he didn’t sell the Lost Heir’s badge and take the 50 gp when it could have covered the shortfall he experienced when trying to purchase a magical weapon.
In some of the previous seasons of D& Encounters the PCs made choices which affected which of two or three encounters they’d play out the following week. I think there should have been more of this with regards to the badges. Take the encounter in week 3 for example. The PCs are in a bar where the owner is a Neverember supporter. A bunch of rowdy teens that support the Lost Heir cause trouble. The teens pick a fight with the PCs even if they clearly and honestly declare their support of the Lost Heir (even if they’re wearing their special badges). It would have been easy to adjust the narrative and have another group of Neverember supporters in the tavern. This creates options for the DM. If the PCs support Neverember or remain undeclared then things play out as written. However, if the PCs are wearing their badges and declare loyalty to the Lost Heir then the other group of patrons the support Neverember are the ones who attack.
It’s little details like this that make any adventure better. If you’re going to give the PCs choices then there should be things that change when they go one way or the other. Giving them choices and then having things roll on ahead as if the choice was inconsequential is frustrating and in a way a little bit insulting.
Good Role-Playing Opportunities
Despite some of my misgivings about perceived railroading I must admit that there was a lot of room for role-playing in this adventure. During most weeks there was opportunity for the PCs to interact with numerous NPCs. The players in my groups didn’t always focus on the role-playing, but when they did it really added to the week’s encounter.
For those who think this adventure was just hack and slash allow me to remind you of many of the opportunities where you could have interacted with NPCs and experienced some solid role-playing. There were the merchants in the square during week 1, the barflies at the Beached Leviathan during week 3, Lord Neverember in week 4, the guards at the Blacklake Bridge during week 5, the patrons at the House of a Thousand Faces week 6, the Sons of Alagondar in weeks 10 and 11, the townsfolk and Seldra during week 13.
During my first few sessions the PCs spent a lot of time interacting with the NPCs and trying to get a good sense of who the power players in Neverwinter were. During the first few weeks the players actually spent more time with the role-playing than the combat. This really set a good tone for the rest of the adventure.
It was nice to see D&D Encounters return to the Forgotten Realms. Many of the players have a familiarity with the Realms already: some play LFR, some read the novels and others know it from various video games. This familiarity with the setting gave many players confidence when it came to role-playing. They often drew on their knowledge of little details from the realms to make social interactions flow more smoothly.
When Seldra revealed her motivation for bringing the Lost Crown to Neverwinter in the first place many of the players at my table were familiar with her great-aunt as they’d played the video game in which she did the terrible deeds. One player mad a History check to confirm that his character knew these details and told Seldra what really happened. This provided her with a sense of relief and helped them convince Seldra to join them in the final battle. This little detail made a big difference and really got the table into the role-playing.
I think the adventures are too long. Stretching them out to 13, 14 or 20 weeks is too much. Remember that the players only complete one encounter a week. It’s difficult for them to remember what happened in the first few weeks by the time they’re finishing the adventure. I think the sweet spot is 10-12 weeks. No chapter should be longer than four encounters and the adventure shouldn’t be more than three chapters. When the adventures are longer there always seems to be a few encounter thrown in that just feel like filler. Trim the fat and just keep the very best of what the adventure has to offer.
Although I understand why they always begin the adventure at level 1 it would be nice to see options for players that want to begin at higher levels. This would let the regulars continue using their PC from one season to the next. Even just a call-out box during each encounter that provided guidelines on how the DM can beef up the adventure for a tougher party would help. Tip on how to modify the monsters, suggestions for adjustable hazardous terrain or an additional mini-skill challenge would make any level 1 encounter more suitable for a level 3 party and wouldn’t require a lot of extra work.
Overall I really enjoyed this adventure. It had its ups and downs but I think looking at the big picture it was solid. It really seems like Wizards is doing a good job of listening to the participants and taking that feedback to heart when they work on future adventures.
The program is still going strong in my community. We have a core group of solid die-hards, but we also get new players we great regularity. D&D Encounters is doing what it was intended to do and that’s help create buzz and exposure to D&D.
After this season of D&D Encounters finished I got together with two of the other DMs from my FLGS and we talked about what we liked and disliked about Lost Crown of Neverwinter. Visit Coffee Break Podcast: Jarvy was the best NPC and listen to the podcast.
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.