Sunday, June 29, 2014

Scourge of the Sword Coast: Some rambling thoughts

Properly titled, "Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Sword Coast", is an adventure for 'Dungeons and Dragons next or 5th edition. This is a second level adventure set in the Forgotten Realms in it's current timeline, which is prone to change with the next edition of the Forgotten Realms. The adventure is very much a sandbox that has a lot of potential but does some things that hit my personal annoyance buttons.

First off, the price. This is an electronic product for $17.99. Ouch. This includes several files and the current existing rules for Dungeons and Dragons in many other separate files.

The 'core' book of the adventure is in total 85 pages but that doesn't count cover or credits page. On the other hand, I'm honestly surprised that there is no 'rear' cover as is so common for books that went from print to PDF. The file does have several bookmarks hitting the major breaks in the adventure to make navigation easier, and those major breaks often have further bookmarks to allow you quick access to those desired spots.

What's worse? It's not designed to be an electronic product. The pages and everything in it, are full color. I can see doing that for the cover maybe because covers sell. But the pages are full color themselves. I mean that they have full bleed backgrounds of 'scroll' like dark yellow parchment color. In addition, the page numbers are surrounded with big red and gold stars.

You will not be printing this puppy. There's also a minimal amount of art in something that has a premium price. There are, I think three, maybe four illustrations in the book. The art is solid mind you, but again, at this price point I'm expecting something of top shelf level illustrations with at least every NPC illustration if for nothing else, to hold up a tablet in game play and go, "This is what you see."

The maps are by +Mike Schley and he does a fantastic job with them. We have a map of Daggerford with a small overview of the region on the same map. The map comes with like 40 noted locations. There's also overview map of the Sword Coast region including Waterdeep, the Ardeep Forest and other locals. It's a fantastic full cramped map that will serve well outside of the adventure itself.

But again, it's in full color. If you have a laser printer, you're like, "Sucks to be you Joe." Yup.

Note there is a separate file with the maps included with them. I imagine that these would have been physical hand outs or elements outside the main book in a printed product.

The adventure is set up so that the players are assumed to be answering a call for 'heroes' or 'adventurers' if you will, by Sir Isteval. The town of Daggerford is well detailed with a lot of characters and locations to explore with a lot of plots for the GM to throw out for the characters to follow up. These NPCs may have a variety of reactions to the players depending on how the players act in initial and later encounters.

In many ways, Daggerford is the 'home' of the players for the follow up in their journeys here with Sir Isteval acting as a patron for the group and potential allies around the corner from other venues. This allows the players to have a 'stand by' place to recover and spend gold without having to worry about being eaten in the wilds.

The adventure has a very 'sandbox' feel which is good. In the adventure itself, it notes what level the players should be as they go through different aspects of the adventure. For an example of how many sessions you could get out of the game, consider the following:

The adventure in Julkoun should get the players to third level.

Firehammer Hold should get the characters to fourth level.

At the end of the adventure proper, they should be fifth.

I'm seeing an easy six sessions here.

Now in terms of utility, Wizards of the Coast could easily have made this more firendly.

How so Joe?

Well, for this PDF only premium price, consider the following:

1. Monsters in black and white. Yeah, with all of the things that are included in the rules as its own file in black and white, the monsters are in the adventure proper. In an electronic file, referencing monsters while you're on a separate part of the book isn't necessarily the easiest thing. Mind you, Wizards of the Coast could have made it easier with hyperlinks to the monster stats under their "Creature" section under each encounter, but HEY, that might require you to do some work.  It's easier just to print them out. But HEY, again, full color so murder that printer will pages that aren't even white but scroll colored.

2. Maps: There are a lot of nice encounter maps here. How hard would it have been to include black and white versions to print out in full scale with miniature use? Again, I know that Dungeons and Dragons in its new edition has made some noise about "it's not a board game" but some of us like miniatures. Really, we do.

3. Tokens: There are a ton of pregenerated characters in this sucker. This is fantastic. There are numerous monsters in the adventure. Again, great stuff. One of the problems that previous editions have had is that you need specific miniatures for various encounters. If you're making an electronic only file, you might want to consider putting some tokens in that represent the pregenerated characters and the monsters to go with those maps. But again, that's just me talking like someone is actually using an electronic file in its most efficient manner as opposed to you know, making it for print and then not printing it.

Now in addition to the adventure itself, the download comes with the Dungeons and Dragons rules. Mind you, these aren't the final rules and are subject to change, but they have a lot of interesting bits to them. If you really wanted to see what the future edition is going to look like or is heavily influenced by, this is the way to go. Not getting into the details of it here as the download, which is huge and broken up into different sections but hey, at least it's in black and white so you won't murder your printer with it.

I know it sounds like I'm bagging on the product, and to a certain extent, I am. If you're the biggest publisher in the gaming community and you can't be bothered to print the product for people to run YOUR game, because this is one of those adventures that was supposed to be run at stores, and then you can't be bothered to make it easy to use, what does that say about you as a company? Nothing good.

The adventure though? I think it has a lot of potential. If nothing else, Daggerford can easily be reused outside of this adventure with minimum tweaks. The maps and encounters can easily be snagged and moved around for any adventure for the appropriate level characters. It's one of the things I used to love about Dungeon back in the day. "While I have no intention of running this as written, I shall surely steal this encounter for Y and this for Z."

Some may be saying, "Well Joe, why did you get this?" Honestly, I was going to run it for my group, but if you've been reading the blog for a while, you'll notice for the past say three months, I've been playing in a Warhammer FRPG and it doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon so while I'd have loved to have written a actual play review, this grousing will have to do. If anyone has run it, please leave some links to actual play in the comments section. I'm sure people want to see how it runs as opposed to what one fat man says.

If you have a burning desire to see how the rules for Dungeons and Dragons are coming along before the big reveal in the next few months, this can provide a good look at it. If you want the adventure... well, money is relative. To me, it's overpriced for what it is and isn't anywhere near as electronic friendly as it needs to be to justify that price.