D&D Encounters: Murder in Baldur’s Gate – Preview

by The Average Joe (Joe Lastowski) on August 9, 2013

murder-in-baldurs-gate-coverNext week begins season 15 of D&D Encounters: Murder in Baldur’s Gate. August 14 is the week 0 character generation session, with things kicking off officially with the D&D Launch weekend event August 17-18. There are a lot of changes this time around, so read on for a preview of what to expect.

Today Dungeon’s Master welcomes our newest contributor, Joe Lastowski (a.k.a. The Average Joe). Joe has over 20 years of gaming experience and has participated in the public play program including D&D Encounters for many years now.

Normally I write the D&D Encounters preview article each season, however, changes to the program now require the DMs to purchase the materials. My FLGS hasn’t yet received their copies, but as luck would have it Joe got his hands on the materials earlier this week. I think Joe does a great job of explaining what’s in store during season 15 and I think his initial impression of the materials aligns with mine (based on what I’ve seen and read so far). We welcome your feedback and encourage you to leave your comments below.
– Ameron

Pay to Play

encounters-15-diceThis is the first season where the adventure is not provided free to stores. While the opening weekend packet and introductory adventure (with a couple player extras) was offered to stores on the Wizard’s Play Network (WPN), the actual weekly adventure must be purchased by each DM (or store) for $35 US ($40 CAN) per copy. Stores with the opening weekend packet got copies of a Baldur’s Gate map to give to players and custom d20s, which are red and feature the symbol of Bhaal on the 20 side. Technically, you might have players who shell out the $35 to learn all the “secrets” of the adventure, but given the lower production values (see below) and cost, I don’t think that’ll be too much of an issue, as these are not likely to fly off the shelves.

More Ways to Play

In another first for the D&D Encounters program, this season the session can be run with three different editions of the game: 3.5e, 4e, and D&D Next. Obviously, you’ll want to discuss with your players and your locations which versions everyone is interested in, but this kind of openness is kind of unprecedented. It’s almost as if Wizards realized that D&D Next was not the be-all and end-all of editions, and that people might appreciate options. I highly approve of this strategy.

Unfortunately, because different editions have different play focuses, the lowest common denominator for threats makes none of them all that challenging. With D&D Next focusing on the adventuring day, 4e focused on encounters, and 3.5e focused somewhere in-between, the balancing of the adventuring day is out the window. As a result, when you look at the monster stats, you’ll notice that none of them are all that scary, because one wouldn’t want to overtax the per-day D&D Next folks in one fight while the 4e folks can just recharge their encounter powers for the next fight. This also creates problems when looking at how to break up rests between weeks (see below).

Character Creation

This season is for levels 1-3, so you’ll start with players making level 1 characters. All race/class options are open (as are backgrounds & themes, if you’re using 4e). Depending on the edition your table is playing, you will need books or materials from that edition. Unlike previous seasons, there are no fancy Baldur’s Gate-specific character options to try out, so just go with whatever seems fun. Since the combats are not that difficult (see above), I’d also recommend encouraging players to build characters that specifically are not combat-optimized. Focus on diverse skills, role-playing related backgrounds, and interesting feats instead of just going for the options that give you the best numerical bonuses.

The Story

The high point of this season is the story. While the final outcome is, effectively, inevitable (the details may vary, but the results will be similar), and often involves NPCs doing things that the PCs are sort of on the sidelines for, it’s still got the potential to be really epic. The basic layout (avoiding spoilers) is that there are three major factions in town: the wealthy priests, the middle class soldiers, and the thieves’ guild that supports the poor. Each faction believes that they have the city’s bests interests in mind (and that the other factions are corrupt), and the party will ally with one of these factions (maybe changing their mind as things progress). There’s also the remnant energy of the dead murder god Bhaal floating around, and the launch weekend event features a fight against a creature infused with that energy.

Each of the 12 weeks will correspond to a “Stage” in the adventure. In each stage, multiple events go on throughout the city. Depending on which faction your party is allied with, they will interact with different events. If the PCs don’t do something, there’s a default “what happens” text that will push the overall plot forward, and DMs will need to track certain progress based on the results of these events. The final encounters and battle in week 11 will be determined by where certain NPCs rank on the DM’s secret chart after all the previous events have been tallied

Challenge by Level

There are 10 numbered stages to be played out, plus an Introductory and Final stage, with each stage translating to one of the 12 weeks of the D&D Encounters season. However, most every stage is a different day in-game, and there are no indications of when leveling should happen. This will cause some problems with the organized play nature of D&D Encounters, as different tables might advance at different levels. Officially the adventure is supposed to take folks from levels 1-3, but since monster numbers aren’t even provided, calculating XP will be more than a pain. I’d recommend the following, but obviously your own tables can make their own decisions:

  • Weeks Intro-3, level 1
  • Weeks 4-7, level 2
  • Weeks 8-Final, level 3

If you’re playing 4e, I’d recommend only having extended rests when you level (between sessions 3-4 and 7-8), but if you’re using 3.5e or D&D Next, you may need more extended rests thrown in there. If you need a narrative reason why players don’t get extended rests from day-to-day, you could say that the rising tension in the city makes it impossible for them to get a “good night’s rest,” or you could have the lingering Bhaal energy in the city prevent them from fully relaxing as they sleep.

Disappointing Materials

encounters-15-full-kitUnfortunately, the materials are a little lacking overall. Whereas DMs used to receive maps and occasional item cards with D&D Encounters seasons (for free), the for-sale Baldur’s Gate product has none of that. It comes with two staple-bound books on glossy paper (a 32-page adventure book & a 64-page setting book). There is also a DM screen with several copies of the map of the city, a “Let’s go Shopping” table that gives you nothing but ways to roll random shop names, and a random encounters table for non-combat encounters in the city. All of this is shrink-wrapped in a flimsy paper wrapping.

Unlike previous for-sale products that have coincided with D&D Encounters seasons, this product feels incredibly lackluster and poorly put-together from a production standpoint. There are no play maps provided. The artwork is sparse, and often re-used (see the Dragon’s-Eye View article “Tyler Jacobson and D&D” by Jon Schindehette from August 7 in which Tyler Jacobson talks about how they’re doing everything in Photoshop layers now so that the marketing folks can re-use the same art in different configurations). Gone are the inspiring full-page illustrations from products like the Underdark Survival Guide or Heroes of the Feywild. Instead we get a lot of text with the occasional tiny little icon so you can find the related area on one of the 57 copies of the same map that are printed throughout the product.

Also, the stats for enemies (in any edition) are missing from the book. Sure, you can download them from the Sundering web page, but those are pages you’ll need to print out on your own, with your own paper & ink, since Wizards can’t be expected to have things you’d need to use printed out for a product that you paid for (did that sound bitter, because it felt awfully bitter as I wrote it). Also, enemy numbers are not provided, so you’ll need to figure out just how many under-powered humanoids you’ll need each week to challenge your players. If the printed encounters aren’t enough for your group, there is also a downloadable set of extra city encounters to flesh things out in weeks where your party ends up not interacting with the major plots.

encounters-15-map-a encounters-15-shop-names
encounters-15-map-c encounters-15-map-b

The Sundering

This season is the first of several products that will follow The Sundering, a massive Realms-changing event that will feature the two worlds of Abeir-Toril pulling apart again. Like previous massive events (like the Time of Troubles between AD&D 1e and AD&D 2e), these events will likely change cosmologies, alter reality, and justify the implementation of the new edition of D&D. There is a lot of talk about how the players will have a direct result on what happens… but this is a little disingenuous. In reality, Wizards will crowdsource to see which of the three factions most frequently had a certain result, and then that will become the “official” version of what happened in Baldur’s Gate at the start of the Sundering.

Advice for DMs

This season has a lot of potential. The folks at Wizards of the Coast have clearly passed the ball to the DMs, though, so the success or failure of this season lies solely in your hands. Read the materials as thoroughly as possible. Plan ahead to make sure you know everything that is going on in any given stage, so that you’ll be ready for whatever the PCs decide to do. If things seem too complex, feel free to simplify. If you’re overwhelmed by the many plot options, feel free to use the neutral ex-adventurer Elf Coran (the deus ex machina, all-knowing NPC written into the city background) to push the players one way or another. And if it all goes south, use the ample material describing the city to create your own adventure that eventually leads to the final outcome. When you understand what the “secret” power is that you’re tracking week-to-week, you’ll likely come up with a number of ways to accomplish the same goals.

As far as maps for those of you using 3.5e or 4e, I’d recommend re-using maps from either of the Neverwinter seasons, or any other city maps you have handy. The D&D city tiles will also do the trick, if you have them. If you use miniatures in your games, pretty much the only ones you’ll need are humanoids. There’s only one encounter that uses any kind of monster and the rest involve dealing with thieves, soldiers, thugs, townsfolk, etc.

If you can make the factions come alive for your players and really sell the different events as the city gets closer to murderous chaos, I guarantee that your players will feel rewarded. The setting book for Baldur’s Gate is kind of superfluous and heavy with bland text, but there’s enough plot in each week’s events that the players can feel like they’re really involved, if you present it to them properly.

How will this season of D&D Encounters play out? I remain hopeful that the quality of the story will make up for the other lacking materials. Are your players excited about playing different editions? Are they eager to see what happens with the Sundering? Let’s hope that the organized play program shows the folks at Wizards how many dedicated players they’ve got out there, and let’s hope that season 16 in November, Legacy of the Crystal Shard, shows a little more effort put into the materials they want us to use promoting their products.

Related reading: Major Changes Coming to D&D Encounters: DMs to Pay for Adventures

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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{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Vobekhan August 9, 2013 at 10:13 am

First off, welcome Joe, though regulars will no doubt have seen your comments on previous articles.

As to the preview, many thanks. Although I’ve got the Organised Play packs for the Launch Weekend and Encounters I havent got the actual adventure pack as yet (our store doesnt sell a lot of D&D so I have to resort to Amazon, expected delivery date despite paying to expedite is the day after the first session!).

There seems to be a large number of people that dislike the lack of supplied maps and while they have been a greatly appreciated part of previous Encounter seasons there’s no reason DM’s cant either reuse old ones or even go theatre of the mind (oh the horror!) – admittedly “tactical” combat struggles with TOTM but narrative combat truly comes alive. Personally I will probably use a mixture of TOTM for small skirmishes but either old maps or my dry-wipe mat for “set pieces” as needed.

But a great preview Joe, I’m sure the DM’s out there will do their best to make the season as enjoyable for everyone as they can.

2 Joe August 9, 2013 at 10:22 am

Who is this new guy? I like the cut of his jib…

Thanks Vobekhan. Despite the lack of a lot with this release, I remain hopeful. There are enough awesome DMs out there that I think we can pull it off.

3 LordOcampo August 9, 2013 at 10:42 am

Congratulations on your new position! Welcome aboard.

I have a question: you wrote that “the actual weekly adventure must be purchased by each DM (or store) for $35 US ($40 CAN) per copy”. Do you mean every story or DM has to shell out 35 bucks every week or are you writing about the product available at Amazon right now? If there is a weekly purchase, where can it be done?

4 froth August 9, 2013 at 10:53 am

“Unlike previous for-sale products that have coincided with D&D Encounters seasons, this product feels incredibly lackluster and poorly put-together from a production standpoint. There are no play maps provided. The artwork is sparse, and often re-used . Instead we get a lot of text with the occasional tiny little icon so you can find the related area on one of the 57 copies of the same map that are printed throughout the product.

Also, the stats for enemies (in any edition) are missing from the book. Sure, you can download them from the Sundering web page, but those are pages you’ll need to print out on your own, with your own paper & ink, since Wizards can’t be expected to have things you’d need to use printed out for a product that you paid for (did that sound bitter, because it felt awfully bitter as I wrote it). Also, enemy numbers are not provided, so you’ll need to figure out just how many under-powered humanoids you’ll need each week to challenge your players.”

Ouch!

5 Ameron (Derek Myers) August 9, 2013 at 10:59 am

@LordOcampo
The adventure book is a one time expense. So for $35 you get everything you need (or at least everything that’s available) for all of season 15. Next season you’ll have to shell out again for the next adventure.

Although we encourage you to purchase Murder in Baldur’s Gate: Sundering Adventure 1 from your FLGS, it is available online at these fine retailers.

6 bisonic August 9, 2013 at 11:54 am

Good review. I am afraid to see how this adventure is going to go over with my weekly younger players who only know 4E but I think the group of new players expected to come in may like it. I expressed my reservations about it on the DND Community Encounters forums, where most of you post. I am not looking forward to running this season like I have been for the last few, but we’ll see how it goes. If it all falls apart I may just try to adapt the Ashes Of Athas materials to encounters, one chapter or so per night. That would likely involve less prep work and just as much printing.

7 Hutchimus August 9, 2013 at 12:03 pm

“Also, the stats for enemies (in any edition) are missing from the book. Sure, you can download them from the Sundering web page, but those are pages you’ll need to print out on your own, with your own paper & ink”

This seems to be a tempest in a teapot to me.

The alternative, in my mind, would be to have three stat blocks for each enemy/NPC printed on the page; with presumably most people only being interested in one of those three. Downloading/printing the stats based on your edition of choice seems like the easiest way to accomodate everyone equally.

8 Spykes August 9, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Very nice article. My FLGS receives a complimentary copy this past Wednesday and the owner was kind enough to give it to me. After going through it, I agree with your assessment. Very much a disappointment. I said it in the official Encounters forums, but it’s worth re-stating. The lack of battle maps is to me the most glaring omission. As you look back at the review articles on this site and others from past Encounters seasons, the maps are the one feature everyone always agreed on being outstanding offerings. To now force the DM down the path of “theatre of the mind” is frustrating to me. I personally can’t run a campaign using that style. I love miniatures and the combat sequence so I’m pretty frustrated.

What I see happening is that DMs will end up using some kind of home grown rendition of a particular scene, lots of DM generated maps that get passed around on the forums and a lot of battle-mat drawing, which really slows the game down. As a sanctioned event, I think that DMs and players expect a little more than what you would get in a home game and at the end of the day, the product that will be presented will end up falling short of past offerings.

9 Mr. Daedalus August 9, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I have to say, after my store was kind enough to provide the materials, I was shocked. Maybe I’m one of the rare ones, but I love 4e, and the complete lack of materials for the current system makes me exceptionally disappointed. I have been DMing for my store for the over a year, and I couldn’t even begin to say many folks have begun to enjoy 4e with the last few Encounters seasons, especially being so well written and planned out.

This seems like one giant step back, and has me questioning whether or not I’ll continue the Encounters system at my store. This mad cash-grab in response to the thrashing that Paizo is giving them needs to stop. And D&D Next? Pfft. They should’ve called it D&D B4. Because that’s all it seems like, what came before 4th Edition.

10 Cent August 9, 2013 at 1:58 pm

I’m not sure what Wizards intentions are, but as others have stated here and elsewhere, I’m sure this will drive away more than a few of the DM’s who were volunteering their time (for swag, I know) to run these Encounters seasons.

I have no problem paying or contributing to the purchase of a module, but I expect that module to be a notch or two above the freebies that came before it.

11 camazotz August 9, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Nice overview, and I am looking forward to seeing this product. Since it’s also a product available for purchase by anyone, I would like to have heard how it’s quality compared to other for-pay modules from the past. I’m personally just happy to be able to access for my own game table what used to be exclusive content.

12 DMSamuel August 9, 2013 at 4:12 pm

One of the reasons that I often lobbied for WotC selling the encounters packets to the public market is that we would then have the maps and tokens available to people who could not, for whatever reason, make it to the encounters night.

I was very hopeful with the news that they were releasing this one for sale – since I have been clamoring for that option – though I still think they should provide it for people running in a public store, hence the word option.

But now you are telling me that the packet itself doesn’t come with playing maps or tokens or even player handouts? And the stats have to downloaded and printed elsewhere?

*sigh* Thanks for failing at this one WotC – I thought you were giving me what I was clamoring for, but instead, you gave me a shallow husk of it.

13 B.J. August 9, 2013 at 4:18 pm

I’m looking forward to this. I think it has lots of potential. I got my launch weekend materials a couple of weeks ago, but our FLGS will be closed for GenCon. I’ll have to get the actual materials when they reopen in a week and a half.

Regardless, we still haven’t finished out Search for the Diamond staff! We haven’t played in two weeks (vacation two weeks ago and only one player on Wednesday!).

Question: when should we get the dice for the adventure? I read above that it came with the launch weekend materials, but I wasn’t given any and the shop owner said he didn’t get any either. I haven’t actually received any of the freebies in the last seven seasons. I’m just wondering if something “fishy” is afoot.

14 Spykes August 9, 2013 at 5:25 pm

@ B.J.
I agree it has tons of potential and I’m sure it is an outstanding adventure story. I like what I’ve read so far. Why then would they take something that is as good as that at it’s core and offer such flimsy materials to present it? I get that they want it to be more free, leaving decision up to the players instead of being railroaded down a particular path. I support that concept. However, if that’s your goal, you have to work harder to make that possible, not less. There are still going to be key combat encounters that will require a map, etc… I go so excited when I finally saw the books only map of the underground area, but they jammed it onto half a page at a 3-D perspective view. so it’s not really usable.

WE WANT MAPS!!!! OMG

As far a your dice, they should have already come in the Encounters packet. It had player maps.. pffft. Dice, and no battle maps.

15 Feeroper August 9, 2013 at 10:42 pm

I may be in the minority here, but I really like this product. From my read through so far, it appears to be a quality adventure and looks like a hell of alot of fun. I personally dont mind the lack of maps.

Ive run several Pathfinder Society games and they make you pay for the pdf of the adventure, then everything else is up to you, maps, printout of the adventure, chronicle sheets for players, etc. They even build those adventures with their flip mats and map packs that are advertised in the adventure you just got. Mind you there really isnt anything wrong with that, I think the disconnect here is that WotC has been going above and beyond for so long by providing all this great stuff for nothing that there is a perceivable sting by suddenly changing that. I personally always looked at the encounters stuff being free as a bonus though.

Now of course you could argue that since D&D is the biggest brand in RPG’s (in terms of the general public’s mindshare, I know Paizo has pulled ahead in sales), they should remove as many barriers to entry as possible so the average joe walking in off the streets can just land at a table and play. While I agree with that sentiment, I also think that the quality of this module is higher, and now folks who dont have access to encounters whee they live suddenly do. This is also meant to be a module for play at home and it feels like it, which I think is a good thing. As well, I assume WotC is also trying to find ways to bring in a little extra cash as they dont really have an actively supported edition right now with this lengthy playtest.

Also of note is the social media integration. If you dont care about that stuff then you can safely ignore it, its not required, but for those who do like that kind of thing, it adds a neat layer to the experience. It gives players the chance to make a mark on the realms, or at least fell that way, as the mark being made will certainly not be realms shattering, however, it really speaks to the consistency WotC has taken with the rollout of D&D Next, and the involvment of the community.

As part of the Recounting Encounters podcast, I think this season will be really condusive to our show much like Against the Cult of Chaos was, but even more so with this one. Im really looking forward to not only running this one, but also seeing what stories other folks tables produce.

The price is steep for this product, but at the same time I can see myself getting alot of use out of the setting material, moreso than in previous seasons of encounters (which the obvious exception of the maps)

So overall I am actually really pleasantly surprised by this module. Sure it would have been nice to have those maps, and a lower price point, but I think this is a solid module, and im really looking forward to rolling this one out after Gen Con. Its a shame that our FLGS didnt get the Encounters kit for this one with the launch weekend adventure, dice (which look great this season, I really hope I can get my hands on one), and player handouts.

16 dan August 9, 2013 at 10:44 pm

This preview has left me less than thrilled about this next season. For one thing, with the new playtest packet, any PC lower than level 4 has next to no customisability outside of race, class, and equipment. Even the classes at such low levels lack the defining features of the class. The fact that anything really meaningful character-wise happens after level 3, and that this season runs to level 3 really bothers me. Of course, I will still have to give it a spin.
Also, I feel like the way the new materials have been released is a shoddy example of what they are trying to accomplish. They are charging the price of a core rulebook for a packet of info and story, but it is presented in a fashion that is not even nearly on par with one. They are providing the basics of a story, but the DM is expected to pay $35 to finish the job for them. The fact that they provided more for free in the past is ridiculous.
The reasoning for not printing 3 stat blocks for each enemy (one per edition) makes sense, but I feel like it may have been better to make one side book of just stat blocks, or have all version-specific details in a seperate booklet, and allow the people buying the set to choose which edition. Basically, there would be options available for different parties. Yeah, it’s great that they provide versatility within the materials, but is the average DM really going to use more than one edition for the book?
Finally, on the topic of maps, I love the tactical aspect of using them. I’ve only ever done TotM once, and I found that it was hectic and disorganized (possibly due to the fact that only the DM and 1 player had done it before). That being said, 4e exists on the assumption that you WILL be using a map. 3.5 and Next may be more flexible, but many players still prefer maps. Yes, a DM can use old maps, but what if he has none because he is just starting out? He can draw them out on grid paper, but that adds time to a session that in my experience tends to already push the bounds of (at least my) FLGS’s hours.
It seems to me that WotC is not providing the ability to play in either of 3 editions, bit is instead making the consumer make unnecessary extra effort to play any of them. I feel that this oversight and the fact that there is now a fee is going to lead to d&d encounters losing momentum, and possibly dying out.

17 Spykes August 10, 2013 at 2:52 am

@ Feeroper
Actually, I don’t think there is anyone here that disagrees that this is a quality adventure and will be a hell of alot of fun. The point everyone is on about is that they have forced everyone to play theater-of-the mind or do a ton of work preparing maps for encounters using guess-work. It’s not the fact that they aren’t giving them to us for free anymore, although they should for encounters, or even that fact that they aren’t in a huge poster map format. It’s the fact that they don’t even exist… AT ALL.

They have core rules for opportunity attacks… How will you know when to use them?
They have core rules for determining spell effects areas for cubes, cones and spheres. When do you plan on using that?
They have core rules for range weapon attack. How will you know when to call for disadvantage for a ranged attack?
Line-of-sight, movement, almost any tactical specification for combat. All of this becomes shrugged off in TotM.

The frustrating part about it is that it’s not technically anything we can give them feedback through the playtest system. They have written good rules for it, this product just doesn’t allow us easily implement those rules without a ton of homework, at least not yet. I remain hopeful.

In the meantime, I guess I will start preparing home made encounters & their maps for situations such as this:
“As soon as the Adventurers are out of earshot, she orders their assassination through whatever means you devise.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think that is way cool. Just not for Encounters when I have to prepare every week and have no clue which way the players will turn next. If that situation happens, I’ll be fumbling for a battle-mat and drawing out something I making up on the fly. Alternatively, I will have spent a ton of time preparing something in advance for every possible outcome. ( it will probably be the later)

18 LordOcampo August 10, 2013 at 4:25 am

Thanks for the answer, Ameron. I may purchase it, seems like I have a chance to get it with a good discount. But production values are very low indeed and the lack of maps is another point against it.

Let’s see it it’s worth the discount price, even if there’s a great adventure inside.

19 Hutchimus August 10, 2013 at 8:34 am

“They have core rules for opportunity attacks… How will you know when to use them?”
Whenever a player moves away from an enemy or past one, the DM rolls for an opportunity attack. Been playing a mix of theater of the mind and gridded combat forever and this has never been an issue.

20 Feeroper August 10, 2013 at 4:19 pm

@Spykes

Yeah I know the concern is about not having maps. I was just saying for me it’s not a big deal at all. Encounters was the only public play game that provided that and I’m used to having to provide that stuff myself for other ones and especially for my home games. I think we will see lots of cool things that people will add into it themselves. There’s more setup involved, but again it’s not much different then other OP programs or a home game. I also think mixing the maps with TotM style is good as well, and makes it easier to drop in situations you might not be able to as easily if you were mapping everything, but YMMV, that’s clearly based on your preference of play style.

However having said that, I certainly see your point of view and can understand. There are definetly negative side effects to this new setup.

21 blackwarder August 11, 2013 at 8:18 am

I don’t get it, There is a big map of Baldur’s Gate right on the DM screen! What’s with all the whining? What am I missing?

I never played in an encounter season, we don’t have a FLGS around here so being able to purchase it and run it at home is a big boon for me, I can’t wait for amazon to ship it to me.

Warder

22 DMSamuel August 11, 2013 at 9:21 am

Thanks for insulting us – I haven’t seen any whining in this thread, it has been a down right decent conversation. Just because you disagree with us doesn’t mean we are whining or that our concerns are automatically invalid and shouldn’t be listened to (which is what you are implying when you say we are whining).

Yes, there is a map of Baldur’s gate on the screen, but it doesn’t do anything to help the DM adjudicate the combat sequences. This package is meant to be played with either 3.5, 4, or next, and the last time I looked, both 3.5 and 4e used tactical combat with miniatures and battle maps.

The fact that this new encounters packet is missing those items makes it that much more difficult for a DM to run the module in those two systems, even though the marketing says it can be played in any of the 3 systems. Maps and tokens have been standard with every other encounters season packet, so it was reasonable to expect them to be included with this one as well, especially since they have moved to a pay system to get the product.

23 Bionic August 11, 2013 at 10:49 am

Let me add this. Th reason I started to DM Encounters was not for the materials, it was because I could read the adventure once, refresh on it the day before, and run it smoothly every time. If I needed to, I could hand one of my players a packet to DM a second table with no problem. We’ll see how much of my prep time I am willing to spend on it each week. Time I could. spend prepping for my home game.
Encounters is meant to be introductory and. My long time players understand that it means railroading and simplicity. While I still want maps, but I think the biggest problem has been the lack of care they are putting into the community. Perhaps crowdsoursing your playtest is not the best choice for keeping sales strong. When new players come in I have to explain that we are playing 4E but that we won’t be soon so don’t buy the Player’s Handbook but maybe get the Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdom or download the playtest which the store can’t sell.

24 Chris August 11, 2013 at 10:52 am

I can’t imagine why they would offer to sell a product with less value and production quality than the product previously given for free. It doesn’t support any strategy I can think of. Someone in the organization had to have known this was not going to make the community happy. I understand why they moved to a pay model, but they should have tried to just amaze their customers with the quality of the product. Would including a new poster map really have busted the price point they were shooting for?

25 blackwarder August 11, 2013 at 11:32 am

O.k if I get it straight what you guys talk about are big grid map for combat encounters, one you can use for combat with miniatures, right?

I was sure you were talking about location maps in the packet…

Are there location maps in the adventure?

26 Astrolounge August 11, 2013 at 11:38 am

“If you need a narrative reason why players don’t get extended rests from day-to-day, you could say that the rising tension in the city makes it impossible for them to get a ‘good night’s rest’.”

Why am I so reminded of…
http://www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/?p=615

27 Katrina August 12, 2013 at 2:24 pm

It looks like the retailer versions of the game kit come with the map and tokens, which makes sense. Honestly, those “fiddly bits” can really increase the price of a product more than extra pages by far, and I don’t mind the Encounter experience at the FLGS to be a premium one.

From the ICv2 exclusive interview:
“So you’re playing the same thing as you’re playing at Encounters, but the Encounters play involves these extra materials?
Schuh: That’s correct, so for those who want to play it home because they don’t have a store nearby, they still can. They can participate in these Sundering adventures. But people who play in an Encounters store, we know that the retailers really provide that extra special experience.”
http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/26419.html

28 Justin Yanta August 12, 2013 at 7:54 pm

I also liked the material included and I am fine downloading the monsters (We were playing DnDNext anyway so I was use to downloading the monsters). I feel bad for the 4e people though. I understand that they did not include maps because you can easily go off the rails each week but still they should supply maybe some generic maps that you could at least download so you have something. For my FLGS I will be using a vinyl wipe off map and just drawing them each week but still this is a pain (make me think back to my old AD&D games with graph paper).

Still I wish a little more direction was given in the adventure since sometimes you need a little help on how many bad guys you should throw (I am going to triple the amount of bad guys to player ratio, unless their are mages). I want my players to feel they are losing the battle each week and not able to stay ahead. To me that is how the adventure is reading that no matter what they do things keep going down hill. We will see how it all works.

29 Galahad August 12, 2013 at 10:26 pm

I have the module. I was looking forward to this product with great anticipation but have been tremendously disappointed.

The lack of maps means that, even if I wanted to, I could not setup a second or third table at a moments notice. This is a critical blunder by hasbro. Hasbro has provided great maps in the past – did they fire the cartographers? Why eliminate one of the areas of potential strength for the product?

I could use a battle map or tiles (piazo ones are very nice) but that will entail extra work to support a product I paid money for. I understand the creature stats in a download arguement but not even providing numbers is a bit strange.

Peronally i have little or no interest in the forgotten realms gods. I did not care when 4e killed some and I dont care that 5e is bringing them back with these sundering modules. I have read the module and the railroading is extreme. The player input into the final outcome is illusionary.

I agree entirely with the review. Excellent work. It is unfortuneate that the module is not as complete as the review.

30 DMSamuel August 12, 2013 at 11:02 pm

“I understand the creature stats in a download arguement but not even providing numbers is a bit strange.”

Wait, are you saying there are no encounters set up at all? Just story ideas? No number of combatants or anything like that?

That makes it even worse. I have seen several people say that the story is non-linear and that it is worth it, but if they aren’t providing any suggestions on how to structure a fight, how many enemies, or anything? Wow, it’s worse even than I originally thought.

31 AlHazred August 13, 2013 at 11:10 am

@DMSamuel: Yes, that is what John is saying. For example, if the group ends up working for Rilsa Rael, at one point early on they encounter a toll collector, Nant Thangol. When they meet him, the encounter book has the following: “More Flaming Fist mercenaries (a lieutenant and several privates) stand guard around the table, and Nant Thangol sits behind it.” The bold face text in the module is telling you that you can find stats for all these guys in the stats sheet you downloaded from Wizards. The exact number of guards, the area where you meet them, and in fact just about every other physical detail, is completely up to the DM (as in, absent from the module).

Now, for me and others running this in D&D Next, this presents little problem – if you’ve been running things in playtest mode since January you should be able to think on your feet at this point. It would be nice to have the maps, but a lot of newer people are going more Theater of the Mind anyway.

If you’re running this in 4E, you have real problems. You need to find a good terrain map and determine the terrain features. You probably will need to do the math to generate the number of opponents and may need to adjust them to fit the party. And you may need to do this for multiple tables, in the two-hour window we’re given for the module.

For me, the kicker is the two-hour slot. Without maps, we need to draw or scavenge; this takes time, either when we could be running for players, or beforehand when the DM is on his personal time. Add to this the fact that the DM may have had to pay $35 for the module, and it becomes obvious that there’s a resource deficit for this season compared to previous ones.

IMO, the module is not that railroady – I’ve seen far worse in D&D Encounters (anybody else remember the terrible plot point of the Arrow of Time from Season 4?), I can see some good ways to make it interesting.

32 Galahad August 13, 2013 at 7:10 pm

A greatdeal of my disappointment in MiBG arises from the high level of satisfaction I had with’vault of the dracolich’. Murderis just a mediocre product compared with vault. Add to the lack of quality and substance in both content and product is the $35 price tag. Perhaps hasbro needed another $15 to finish the package to truly high standards. I dont kow that for sure, it just appears that way to me.

At this point in my view the module is both unrunnable in 4e (without major additional work on maps, placement of opponents, etc) and the end result is so preordained as to make the entire exercise pointless.

Some of the local encounters players have expressed a willingnes to play it reagardless of thses failings. I have infomed them of my reluctance to invest extra time into the module and that i would never consider using the written ending. I would eliminate all the god avatar crap completely – i just have no interest in participating w hasbro’s attempt to use encounters to reverse whatever it was they did to FR at the start of 4e. The players, if they desire to be part of the sundering facebooking, can report what ever result they want.

The upside is that, as I own the module, what happens at my table is upto me.

Someone bought the second (out of three) copy of the module at the store in last 2 days – perhaps they (i have no idea who bought the package) will run it as written. The person has yet to indicate if they are interested in running a table on wednesdays. Perhaps they will do so. If so, they can, with my blessing, have table 1.

33 ShadowTiger August 13, 2013 at 7:58 pm

I think its silly to charge that much money and not include maps which they used to include for free… it really does make no sense.

I look forward to participating in this adventure because I enjoy the video game “Baldur’s Gate” and it was my first intro to D&D.

I am somewhat wary of how much fun combat will be because level 1 characters in D&D Next are super boring now that they are “Apprentice tier”. I would rather play with the previous packet… though it is up to the DM. There is a chance we will take this season off and play a different system entirely.

Then again maybe this is a blessing in disguise. I bet our players will come up with some really crazy and off the wall stuff to do if all the mechanics and maps are removed from the game. Lets see what happens… next week… we are a week behind!

34 Matt August 13, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Thanks for giving us a preview.

You’ve hit on all of the failures Wizards has committed with Murder in Baldur’s Gate, so good on you for that. Other than the “Baulder” misspelling on all the Game Day and Encounters shipments.

I wasn’t about to pay for another product from Wizards without a preview (I’m looking at you, Menzoberranzan!). And you’ve justified that concern completely. My store won’t be playing season 15 of Encounters, nor will I advertise Wizards products for free anymore. We’ll see how things go with season 16, but I am expecting more of this (or worse!).

For those curious as to what to do, there are plenty of other systems to choose from. And if you need to pay, I find Pathfinder to have higher quality products and cheaper dollar/hour of gameplay. Just don’t expect any handouts, at all.

35 jeff berger August 15, 2013 at 9:18 am

I am really disappointed in the comments for Baldur’s Gate. As someone who has been playing since 1979, D&D is supposed to be played “Theater of the Mind” THat is the point of the game. When D&D was being smeared in the 1980’s by Rev Falwell and company, I always defended the game to parents that it was valuable as it taught three-dimensional thinking, using your imagination, working with groups, and cooporation to achieve a common purpose. All valuable tools for the adult world.

Battle maps and Minis are a conceit of 3.5 and 4.0. Last night at the 20 Sided Store in Wiliamsburg we played a store made prequal to BG and it was played Theatre of the Mind style with a wipe off map. We sat around and each person discused what they were doiing and we had a great time. We used minis, but they were moslty just to show where we were on the mat. As for lenghthing the game play, I realize that there are some new players who think 1 hour is too long, but the fun of D&D hAS ALWAS been that adventures that took all afternoon or all weekend to play. It allows for people to actually talk to each other and develop a social network. At the 20 Sided Store we have brached out into hanging out as a group. We have had parties, barbacues, many were we have combined game play. If you want to just sit down for an hour and use overpowered characters to kill monsters, stick to magic the gathering.

You don’t need battlemaps and minis to play. If all you like is the combat, then play version 4.0 rules. If you want to play real D&D, try using TOTM, you might find it a more enjoyable experience. What I like about BG is that it allows you to go back to the old ways of interacting with NPC’s, hanging out in taverns and stores, and becoming more immersed in the story. I read the material and I was excited that the descriptions and graphics (which I really liked), allow you to get an image of where you are and allow you to go from there, and not get stuck in a set place. Unlike the previous Encounters, this is more old school in that you can really direct what you are doing and where you go, not just fight and hack your way through a campaign that has a set end and start point.

For those who only know 4.0, try playing BG old school. Get rid of the pre-made maps, pull out the vinyl mat and erasable pen, break out the pizza and mountain dew and immerse yourself in the theater of the mind. You might just like it.

Now get off my lawn…

36 DMSamuel August 15, 2013 at 8:11 pm

@Jeff Berger

I agree with much of what you say – I’ve been playing D&D since 1982. My favorite edition is Mentzer Redbox basic, and I play that entirely theater of the mind style with my face-to-face group. 4e is definitely NOT my favorite edition, but I respect it for the things is does well (and it DOES do some things well).

What I don’t agree with is you calling 4e “not real” – it is as real as any other edition and even though some of us may not like it as much as 1e or basic, it is STILL D&D. I am anti-edition war, so I bristle at calling one edition more “real” than any other.

Here is my main problem with this product though – it has nothing to do with which edition is better or worse, it has to do with the expected playstyles of the editions. WotC is marketing this as usable with D&D Next, 3.5, and 4e. That is not true – to play 4e you use battle maps and minis or tokens – that is the EXPECTED play style for 4e. Regardless of whether or not your chosen playstyle includes 4e, you must admit that saying this product, which is 99% theater of the mind and comes with no 4e support other than downloadable statistics, is made for 4e just as much as 3.5 or next is a bit disingenuous. Even if you want to thank the heavens that 4e is going away, it is not fair to market something as playable with a specific edition when it is essentially not compatible with said edition.

I find it misleading at best… Wouldn’t you be disappointed if someone told you something awesome was coming out and it would be completely compatible and usable with your current set-up, only to find that the product really isn’t compatible without a ton of extra work (at best) or not at all (at worst)?

37 Mr. Daedalus August 15, 2013 at 9:41 pm

@Jeff Berger

I’m fairly disappointed and disgusted at your elitist reply. It’s exceptionally selfish and rude to tell other players that they’re not playing D&D “correctly” because they aren’t playing the edition(s) you feel are “real” and to imply that because you’ve played it longer you know better than anyone else. How self-important must you be to not only have that opinion in the first place, but to broadcast it so openly on a forum that has expressed virtually universal disappointment for a product that makes flat-out false claims of mutli-edition support? It boggles the mind.

Like DMSamuel, I’m very much so anti-“edition war”. There is no one edition or ruleset that is better than other, but moreso, there’s no one playstyle (Theatre of the Mind, Battlemaps/Minis/Tokens) that is better than another. I’ve found a mix of both has greatly enhanced any table I’ve played at, DM’d at, or observed. And as one of my players often says, “I treat 4th Edition as a different game entirely from 3.5, just as I do Paizo’s Pathfinder to 3.5, because it appeals to a completely different part of my gaming desires.” And the fact that you’ve had parties, barbeques, and other events outside of the game with players you met doesn’t further your point any. I’ve found roommates, companions, and lifelong friends from doing just about any social situation. The fact that you play ToTM doesn’t accentuate that any further, being a human being and interacting with others does that, regardless of the interaction (gaming, sports, etc.). And any credibility or higher ground you might lay claim to was completely destroyed by your last statement of “Now get off my lawn.”

Shame on you, not only as a DM or a player, but as a so-stated Defender of D&D and just a person in general. You’re a self-important elitist, and your comments have come off as nothing more than prickish and closed-minded. And I’d love to leave some snarky, off-the-cuff comment to flame you with in finality, but I’d rather not sink to your level.

38 Galahad August 16, 2013 at 12:53 am

I, like mr berger, have been playing since the late 70’s.

Unlike berger, i enjoy the maps and minis that have been developed since that time. I respect those who wish to play in a paper, pencil, & dice only environment but i like using maps and minis. I have recently started collecting dwarvern forge 3-d scenery to add to the reality of my adventurers encounters.

The maps,minis and dice keep getting better every year. I will continue to add to my collections to help me better dm my games. I just want hasbro to include the elements nessecary to play the baldurs gate missions in a 4e encounters environment. Until hasnro actually releases 5e, 4e is still valid. I expect, therefore, to receive some sort of encounter setups and maps with which to run the weekly event.

At this time these materials are not included in the baldur’s gate packages, either in the commercial module, the store packs, or online. In order to fix these holes in the product for my store I would have to spend some extra time. I bought the package to run encounters. I cannot do so with the package as provided. This is the source of my complaint.

39 Jeffery September 9, 2013 at 3:20 am

I understand the sentiment behind the complaints about the map and stats. Its my understanding that at least for the launch weekend event packet did have a map that is not included in the print product (totally agree that it should be in there if its available elsewhere). I don’t have an FLGS but have picked up a couple encounters packets on secondary market and the production value of this product is quite a bit higher than those, as usual style/artwork are to an individual opinion.

I have to disagree on stats, they made a story product and gave options for the edition to the players (this is as much an in-home product as an Encounters product IMO) I’d rather have the option to just get the stats I need and print those, then having 20 extra pages to deal with 3 editions worth of stats. Personally I hope that is a trend going forward with published adventures (edition neutral with stats for enemies available online in edition of choice) to allow the print adventures to truly focus on telling a story.

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