Thoughts on Dragonspear Castle

So the announcement about the first D&D Next adventure, Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, has hit the blogs, and there is a bit of buzz going on around it. They also seem to be cementing their relationship with Forbes, with a spiffy article all about it.

Erik Tenkar isn’t pleased (to say the least) that it’s being offered as a GenCon-only offering. Meaning, you can pre-order the adventure, but there is no shipping option. You must be at GenCon this August to pick up your copy. Personally, that doesn’t really bother me. It’s a marketing decision, and they want to be able to have some sort of big D&D Next presence at the convention besides seminars and presentations, so this is a way to build buzz. I get it. I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to get a copy, but I can’t say it bothers me.

I’d like to talk about a couple of other things in the announcement, though.

First, it’s not just going to be an adventure, but the book will also have a copy of the playtest rules in it. They’re marketing this as a sort of yearbook, even with places for folks to sign their copy. It marks a point in time in the design cycle, not just the release of the game itself. I still have those 4E preview books, and they served the same purpose (although they were sold in Barnes & Noble).

Second, I’m a little put off by the notion that it’s a “mini-campaign comprised of four thrilling adventures designed to advance characters from 1st level to 10th level.” 10 levels in four adventures? Considering the latest playtest rules are 316 pages long, and this book is “over 200 pages” long, even if they smoosh down the rules a lot, there’s not a lot of room for the adventures themselves. 10 levels in 50 or 60 pages? It seems a bit much, and doesn’t fill me with confidence about the speed with which characters are expected to level up, and thus what the “sweet spot” of PC level is going to be for the game. I prefer a low-level game, and anything over level 20 is for gods and godlike NPCs…

Third, I was hoping that we’d finally have a definitive ruling on what the official name of the game will be, but it seems they’re still being coy. The upper-right corner of the cover sports the 4th edition logo, while the lower-right says “Playable with D&D Next rules”. And the Forbes story refers to D&D Next as a code-name. So will it be just D&D? D&D 5th Edition? D&D Next? Something else? It seems like we still don’t know.

Fourth, I’m intrigued by the announcement of the Candlekeep playtest adventures that will be run at GenCon (from the Forbes article):

All throughout the entire weekend, we’re going to have a constantly running game where you just get in line –if you want to DM, you can DM your friends or we’ll have volunteer DM’s on hand– and you can play through scenes of this climatic battle.”

After each group finishes the adventure, the results of their actions will be collected and tabulated, and used to determine the fate of Candlekeep, which will be announced at the end of the convention. “If you’re told to go behind enemy lines and trash a supply caravan, whether you succeed or fail will tie into the greater results of the entire weekend. Essentially it’s one massive interactive adventure.”

I’m not a fan of having big campaign-impacting decisions decided by a single convention, but I love the idea of different groups of adventurers being sent on different missions associated with the same adventure, all interacting with, or at least impacting, one another.


Also, please don’t forget the Adventures Dark and Deep Bestiary Kickstarter going on right now! 900 monsters, suitable for most OSR-type games, all under one cover. Can you help get us to having an illustration for each and every one?

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Dragonspear Castle

  1. The cover reminds me of this promotional folder I got in late 80s for D&D. I'll have to dig it up.

    Eh. So they are giving something out at Gen Con. So what, that is what they are supposed to be doing afterall.

  2. Concerning the level issue: Wizards uttered/typed a phrase during the runup to 4th Edition that really crystalized the fact that the game is no longer for people who cut their teeth on older versions of the game: "we've learned in our research that players like leveling up." At the time, it made me smack my forehead and say "well duh!" and marvel at the naiveté, but really, it's a window into their design goals and intent. The new versions of the game are really designed around instant, constant reward. There's no such thing as a penalty anymore, only a situation in which your myriad bonuses do not apply, and based on the latest version of the playtest rules, those situations are vanishingly rare. Leveling up is something that, as best I can tell, is supposed to happen at least every other session if not more often. Folks, according to WOTC design researchers, play the game to be rewarded and to get that endorphin rush from accomplishing something and getting something. So, the designers supply it.

    This, and a couple of other things, have basically ensured that I will never, EVER, play any version of the game past the 3.x stage, which I've discovered fairly recently isn't all that bad when run by somebody with common sense in their head.

  3. On the topic of the 1st – 10th level thing, I am assuming that over the course of those 4 adventures the PCs will be automatically leveled up. Like adventure 1 has them at lvl1, adventure 2 they are lvl5, adventure 3 they are lvl 8 and for the finale they are lvl 10. Im guessing it is not intended to be a full campaign and just meant to show of how it runs at different lvls. I wouldn't be surprised if it contains pregens you are supposed to use. That would be the only way I could think to explain the short page count and lvls.

  4. It's a lull of a year for Wizards. This might be their only new RPG offering at Gencon (besides reprints ya?). I for one don't need anything D&DNext until its 100% finished.

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