Legacy of the Crystal Shard is different than any other D&D Encounters adventure we’ve seen so far – and I mean that in a good way. Although it does bear some similarities to previous season and holds true to some of the conventions you’ve come to expect from the D&D Encounters program, it takes a huge leap into new territory as we’ll describe below. My initial impression is that this will either be the very best or very worst season of D&D Encounters; there will be no middle ground.
The adventure itself is part of The Sundering, the ongoing series of stories happening throughout the Forgotten Realms. It’s the second of fives D&D Encounters adventures that tie in to The Sundering, the first being last season’s Murder in Baldur’s Gate. This adventure builds on the events of R.A. Salvatore’s original Icewind Dale trilogy. Although it’s not necessary for the DM or any of the players to have read these books, if they have it will give them with additional insight this season (so read them if you haven’t because they’re fantastic!).
Legacy of the Crystal Shard is presented as edition-neutral and can be run using 3.5e, 4e, or D&D Next mechanics.
This is going to come as a shock, but there are no set encounters broken down week by week. That’s right, the players will find their characters thrown into events already in progress and be given complete freedom to insert themselves as they see fit. Groups can play at their own pace doing as much or as little as they want week to week.
This is completely new way to run D&D Encounters. Some participants will enjoy the flexibility it presents; others will find the lack of a clear path disturbing. This will mean that DMs need to do their homework. It will be exceptionally difficult for a DM to pick up the adventure and be able to run it without significant prep.
I want to reassure everyone that it’s not going to be complete chaos. The adventure is actually arranged in a pretty organized way. There’s a structured timeline provided for DMs. Although the PCs will have considerable freedom to do as they please, other things will be happening in parallel. The PCs can bounce between story threads as they see fit, but as they do some elements of the story will continue to play out. After all, they can’t be everywhere at once (and that’s intentionally built into the way the story is structured).
The overall story is broken into three acts. In Act 1 at the outset the PCs will learn of three potential avenues they can investigate. Each path has a considerable amount of detail for the DM to work with. It will be possible for the PCs to make a difference in one or two of the paths, but it’s unlikely they’ll have the time and resources to resolve all of them – again, the adventure is set up that way intentionally.
Between Acts 1 and 2 there is an Interlude. The Interlude is designed to help DMs get the adventure back on track if things are coming off the rails (a real possibility if your players are anything like mine). It also serves to advance the plot and provide the PCs with information about any of the significant story elements they may not have yet had time to deal with. From there we get a more linear story through Act 2.
Regardless of what avenues of adventure the PC’s have followed, all roads lead to the same inevitable confrontation with the stories main villainous forces in Act 3. However, depending upon what choices the PCs made along the way, including which NPCs they helped, offended, or killed, they may find certain aspects of Act 3 more challenging and certainly more difficult. Remind players that choices have consequences, as they’ll learn this season.
Much like they did for Murder in Baldur’s Gate, Wizards put out a lunch weekend adventure to get people excited about this season of D&D Encounters. And in the same way that the Murder in Baldur’s Gate launch weekend was just a really details and expanded version of the first session, this to is the case for Legacy of the Crystal Shard’s launch weekend adventure. If you have it and play it, that’s great, but you don’t need it and won’t really miss anything if you don’t play it.
See D&D Encounters: Legacy of the Crystal Shard (Launch Weekend) – Preview for more details.
Character Level and Backgrounds
The adventure intends for the PCs to start at level 1 and work their way to level 3 by the end. After reading through the materials I don’t see any reason why the PC can’t be tougher. It even says at the beginning that the PCs might be coming from Baldur’s Gate following the events in Murder in Baldur’s Gate so that would mean they’d be at least level 3.
I’m going to give the players in my group the option of continuing to use the same characters they ran last season or making new ones. I’m also going to begin the adventures at level 3 and try to ramp up the difficulty and bring the PC to level 6 by the end.
I find it important for each PC to have a good reason for participating in the adventure. In the launch weekend materials it says the PCs are guards for a caravan on its way to Icewind Dale. This is boring but it works. In the actual adventure six much better and much more interesting character hooks explaining why each PC is going to such a remote and foreboding place under such extreme circumstances are provided.
It is possible that some of the PCs were already in the Icewind Dale when the adventure begins. I wouldn’t encourage this as it will mean a lot more work for the DM, but if a player is insistent they can talk to the DM to figure out what they know about the shenanigans going on in and around Icewind Dale when the PCs arrive.
One thing I believe that this adventure really has going for it is that it does a much better job of balancing the three pillars of D&D – role-playing, combat, and exploration – than many of the previous season did. Anyone who played Murder in Baldur’s Gate is likely itching for an adventure with more opportunities for combat. This adventure has plenty of that. For those who enjoy the political intrigue and social interactions there is opportunity to do that too. Once the PCs get an idea of what’s going on in Ten Towns and the surrounding area they’ll realize that they can choose the paths that focus on the “pillar” they’re most interested in. All options can lead to all three pillars, something I think Murder in Baldur’s Gate failed at more often than not.
Putting aside the adventure for a minute, let’s look at the Campaign Guide. This is another fantastic supplement from Wizards. Regardless of whether you plan to play the adventure provided or not, the 64-page Campaign Guide is a must have if you plan to set an adventure in Icewind Dale. It’s got everything you need to know about each of the Ten Towns, the Barbarian tribes of the Icewind Dale, The Dwarves who live in the caves beneath the snow, as well as some of the evil factions at play in the area (most of which get involved in this season’s adventure so I won’t go into detail here).
Many of the important NPCs who live, work, play, and scheme in Icewind Dale are presented here for the DMs. We’re not just talking one or two sentence, but fully detailed bios that include motivations and tips on their personalities. As a DM I find this attention to detail tremendously helpful when I need to throw one of these NPCs into my game unexpectedly.
There are plenty of full colour maps of the towns, the Dwarven mines, and other important locations in Icewind Dale. Many of the maps originally appeared in the Forgotten Realms Atlas released way back in 1990, but the new versions presented here are updated, digitally re-mastered and look great. The rest of the interior art is new for this book and is in full beautiful colour.
What’s Not Included
There are no detailed battle maps provided with the adventure. I think by now we’ve come to terms with the fact that this is the way things will be moving forward. I hope this doesn’t surprise anyone, but I felt it was worth mentioning.
The monsters’ statistics are not provided either. Again, this is how things worked with Murder in Baldur’s Gate so I don’t think this will come as a shock to anyone. What might come as a bit of a shock is that no information about combat encounters is provided. When combat might happen the adventure simply lists the name of the encounter in bold text which directs the DM to the adventure supplement online. The monster statistics are now available on the Wizard website. We’ve provided the direct links to their PDFs below.
- Monster Statistics: 3.5 Edition (2.5 Mbs PDF)
- Monster Statistics: 4th Edition (2.6 Mbs PDF)
- Monster Statistics: D&D Next (2.5 Mbs PDF)
The screen that accompanies the adventure is chalked full of great materials. On the players’ side are reproductions of the maps from the Campaign Guide including a broad view of the Icewind Dale showing where each of the Ten Towns is located as well as individual maps of each of the Ten Towns themselves.
On the DM’s side is great material not present in either the adventure or the Campaign Guide including eight random encounter tables, a table that breaks down of how long it takes to travel between the Ten Towns, two trinket and treasure tables, a list of weather surprises, two tables with NPC names, and a table of random NPCs you might meet.
Although I personally don’t use a screen, I’m going to copy the tables and keep them handy when I DM. I’m also going to copy the maps as handouts for the players.
Advice for DMs
I only have two pieces of advice for DMs at this time. The first is to read the entire adventure from cover to cover before you sit down to play the first season. I’ll admit that in many of the previous seasons I’ve skimmed the whole thing and then just focused on the encounter I’m playing that week when I’m prepping. That won’t work this season. You have to know what’s happening all around as the PC could go in any direction at any time. You need to be ready. It will mean a lot more work for DMs this season. To all the people putting on their DM hat for the first time this season I wish you good luck. It’s going to be difficult, but I think you’ll have a lot of fun with it so don’t be discouraged.
The second piece of advice I have for DMs is to make a timeline. Literally draw out a timeline and make notes about what’s happening on each day. This will help you keep track of what’s happening with the plot threads the PCs are not currently a part of. It will also help you when the PCs decide to drop what they’re doing and see what’s happening with that other thing (and you know they will).
The Adventure Begins
Legacy of the Crystal Shard is available for purchase on Tuesday, November 19. D&D Encounters season 16 begins on Wednesday, November 20 and runs through Wednesday, February 12, 2014.
As I mentioned above there are no set encounters that are supposed to happen from week to week so DMs will really need to judge how many session are needed to complete the adventure. I plan to roughly map out which sessions I pan to run each week during the season so I can keep on track. Alternatively you may have to throw in some random encounters to stretch out the adventure if your PCs are particularly fortunate or adept.
Remember that Christmas and New Years Day both fall on Wednesday this year so you’ll have two fewer sessions than you expect this season.
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