It's late on Friday at Gamescom. I have been working hard and unsubtly complaining about the heat in Germany. I'm Irish, I'm big, I'm bearded. This means that even the slightest warm day is uncomfortable for me personally. 30 plus degree weather in Cologne? Not a happy writer.
Showing up to my appointment on Friday I admit many things. I was sweaty. I was tired. I was not sure what I was going to see and I wasn't hugely bothered.
What Is It?
Sword Coast Legends is a five player experience set in the classic Dungeons and Dragons region of the Sword Coast. Or if you prefer, Neverwinter, Baldurs Gate and Icewind Dale can all call the Sword Coast home. Classic Dungeons and Dragons. Dare I say, proper Dungeons and Dragons? That I'll leave up to dyed in the wool D&D fans to debate.
I'm calling it a five player experience rather than a 4 vs 1 asymmetrical experience like Evolve or the now sadly canceled Shadow Realms. Those games are, or were, adversarial. The Shadow Lord in Shadow Realms may have operated in much the same was as the DM in Sword Coast Legends but where the Shadow Lord was trying to beat the party, the DM is a shepard.
I'll admit it took me a few moments to get into the experience. I played Shadow Realms at Gamescom 2014. I had that mindset there in my head. Get the party, make them hurt. Make them pay. That's not what the aim of the game is here. Well... it could be if you are one of those DMs who whole heartedly embraces the Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies school of campaigning.
n-Space have brought the pen and paper tabletop to the desktop and the console. The top down ARPG viewpoint is only one small part of the experience, and experience is the whole point.
How Was It?
The lads at n-Space were as tired as I was. Going around to developers and chatting sounds easy but somehow Gamescom transforms that simple concept into a gauntlet to be run. The first part of the presentation was entirely hands off and has something I plan to steal in its entirety.
Sword Coast Legends lets you, if you want to create and run a game, design anything you need for your story. We were very quickly taken through the set up. Want to have your NPC be a blind leper? Go right ahead. The character creator is yours to play with. The particular campaign designed for the others in the room while I waited to get into the Dungeon Master hot seat was straight forward. People needed to talk to someone and of course he was missing. Of course you were sent out to find him, and of course he was dead.
The Dungeon Master system has a mind boggling array of options. Want to set an ambush to trigger on people spotting the dead NPC? You can do that. Want to add a little more blood splatter to the dead horse option? Princess really bled out. Want to add some flavour text to poor Princess so people can click on her corpse? It's all in there. Events and items can be chained to keep the story going. The blind leper sent you out to find the poor dead chap, his journal in turn pointed to the lair of the Watcher and on we went to design a dungeon..
I think it's fair to say that the first few days of Sword Coast Legends' existence are going to be ... a mixed bag. There will be the single player experience to keep you occupied and adventuring yes, but if you're hoping to hop into excellent player created campaigns? They'll take a little bit of work, especially if they are going to be worth playing. This isn't a criticism as much as it is a plea for patience. I have no idea what campaign I would make but I am still drooling over the options available to me.
We got to see the cave take shape. Traps were laid down in quick succession, chests were created and scattered around. Some had locks, some had traps. These are the dangers you face in any campaign. Ambushes and spawns were arranged with various presets available if you wanted to get it done quickly. While the ultimate aim of the quest was to defeat the Watcher, there was a mini boss to the Watchers Big Bad.
I Am Stealing This Idea
What happens when you create a character in Sword Coast Legends? There are presets as mentioned to make your life easy or there is the very pleasing character creator that lets you tweak all sorts of details. Our Mini Boss... well he was the product of an exhausting Friday and the need to make a few jokes. Take one Ogre, turn him green. Take your green Ogre and stuff him in purple shorts.
Clearly you see where this is going. He's big, he's armed and you wouldn't like him if he is angry. Peaches was born and placed in a room for the adventurers to face. With Peaches ready to go and the lair of the Watcher ready to be pillaged, the other people in the meeting were unleashed on their characters. I, myself, finally got into the hot seat.
Mechanically things are straight forward. You can create new characters on the fly if you want. You can make it rain, make it shine. As the Dungeon Master you have complete control over the situation and the scene. In terms of actually fighting against the party, you have a threat meter. A zombie or goblin only ranked 5 threat points. Fairly easy to set down a mass of them. An ogre on the other hand clocked in at 50 points. Threat goes up the better the party is doing. This lets you keep the challenge up but not overwhelm people right out of the gate.
Another point to be made, players can tell when you the DM are paying attention to them. My "self" would show up on their screens as a wisp of light. If you're playing the adventurer side of things and you see a glowing ball of light lurking near your friends, be on guard. There may be traps springing up around you where there weren't any when the Rogue last checked.
While the party dealt with the first room or two, I got to fiddle with the character creator and it is so very simple and easy to use. Peaches was our ogre? Clearly I had to make his favourite pet, "And Cream". And Cream was a lightning breathing spider that could summon wolves. When they said I could give it any powers I wanted, they weren't kidding.
Sadly for And Cream, disaster struck the Kolnmesse. Someone pulled the power to the n-Space booth. One of those random acts that meant we had to start the campaign over (thankfully it had been saved).
Attempt 1.5 ran better than 1.0. Instead of And Cream, the cone of cold blasting zombie friend of Peaches known as Cobbler came into being. Ultimately the party prevailed and that felt good despite nominally being against them. This wasn't a game meant for people to go head to head and make each other hurt, it was something that the DM was meant to curate for the players. It was an experience to be had and shared, not one to be endured. I went into the room sweaty and cranky, I came out wondering which pre-order I want to drop money on.
If you never have had a D&D experience and want to get into one from the comfort of your computer with friends? This is it. I was sad to see that Shadow Realms was canceled and would never be something I could share with other people. In Sword Coast Legends I think we have something that is quite simply an even better game. I guess I better start writing the Return of Peaches.