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To Be the DM

Robert Lashley Posted:
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I'm just going to start off with this, I'm a D&D fan. I think Wizards of the Coast has hit it out of the park with their reworking of the core rules as part of 5e. Tie that in with their cross media campaign and someone over at WotC deserves a promotion. September marks the release of the Rage of Demons story line. On the 15th of this month, the pen and paper source book (more on that in a new column later this month) Out of the Abyss will be launched to the masses (core game stores will have access to it a week earlier). Sometime soon we should see Neverwinter come out with their own demon themed expansion but the newest addition to the D&D landscape, Sword Coast Legends, will be released first on the 29th.

Developers N-Space and Digital Extremes have been cooking up a game so far that looks to bring back most of what people loved from the storied D&D cRPG pantheon. Most prominently Baldur’s Gate and the Neverwinter Nights franchises. We’ve written a lot about Sword Coast over the past few months and it even won our Best RPG at E3 award. Today I plan on focusing on the Dungeon Master aspect of the game.

Around 10:00 am on Saturday I sat down with Tim Schwalk, Design Director at N-Space and resident DM sadist. As the DM you can create custom campaigns and lead adventurers through story driven conquests or monster filled slogfests. It seemed like Tim might have a cold heart and lean more toward the latter but he showed me how to work the former too. I started the other players in the demo off on a predesigned short romp that showcased what the game was capable of. As the DM I could look ahead to all the rooms and easily scale their difficulty by clicking on a 20 sided die that floated in the middle of the room. I could also manually add or remove things to make it a truly custom experience.

That custom experience revolves around DM Threat. DM Threat is a mechanic that gauges how difficult the DM has tried to make the encounter for the players. There are a lot of things that a DM can do that won’t change their threat level. You can change the atmospherics of the room. Drop down a carpet of skeletal remains. Rework a doorway from a cavern opening to a double wooden door. Then there are things like hiding spider eggs in that carpet of skeleton bones, a mere 5 threat a piece, or you can add a pack of spiders. Do you have a rogue in the group that thinks they are the bee’s knees? Well you can bog the place down with traps to see just how sharp the rogue really is.

In our adventure I changed a few entry ways and added some traps but I also made a few custom monsters to attack the player characters. I created wargs that were able to use the ability lay on hands. Why? Well, why not? These cost me a good deal of threat but I could earn that back by lowering the difficulty of a few rooms and saving the threat to ramp up the difficulty of the final boss. This was a giant spider attached to the ceiling that jumped down when the PCs passed a trigger point. I also set a few hidden drow guards to act as reinforcements. For the coup de grace I was able to spend the last of my threat and take over the giant spider and manually control all of it’s attacks. This cost 50 threat but was well worth it. From what I could tell a full threat bar only held a little over 100 threat so 50 is a pretty significant percentage.

Another great idea was the creation of DM loot. As the players progress through the adventure and defeat your encounters you will be rewarded with items. These can range from new monsters to add to your repertoire, threat potions, or one time use monsters to lay out that don’t count against your threat meter.

Even if Sword Coast Legends didn’t have a premade campaign to start with and I just focused on the DM toolkit it would still be my game of show for PAX. While it probably won’t earn my game of the year vote I definitely see it placing in my top 5 and predict that Sword Coast is going to provide me with a large number of hours of solo, coop, and DM fun killing my fellow MMORPG writers. Speaking of which we plan on streaming some of our misadventures later this month. Keep an eye on the website or our social media for details as the game gets closer to launch.


Robert Lashley

Rob Lashley is a Staff Writer and Online host for MMORPG.com. Rob's bald and when he isn't blinding people from the glare on his head talking in front of a camera you can chase him down on twitter @Grakulen or find him on YouTube @RobUnwraps.