Friday 7 August 2015

Designing Epic Adventures

"Blood Above, Blood Below" being played at GenCon 2015 (Photo credit unknown!)

Last Saturday, my "D&D Epic" was held at GenCon Indy! Hundreds of players cooperated in a single multi-table event to save the Moonsea from a demonic ritual. Adventurers were separated by level into three tiers, with each tier playing a different "track" of the same mission. In the end, they successfully foiled the ritual - though the high track failed, the low and mid tracks triumphed.

It was a huge honour to write this one, and I had great fun designing it (mixed with some terror). My watchwords throughout were "Make it Feel Epic", and I think for the most part I succeeded in that. The low track featured naval combat in a flooded arena, while the mid track saw players infiltrate a drow outpost on the backs of cloakers. The high track was possibly my favourite, where the adventurers did battle on giant spider mounts inside an Underdark Colosseum. I wish I was there to see the event being played, but hey - it's the other side of the world!

I hear the players had fun, but there's been some criticism too. Some players found the mid track too easy, while others criticized the lack of interactivity between tables. Ever since writing the Epic, I've been pondering ways to better design these events. There are some real challenges here, primarily:

  • How do you design an event that feels interactive, while keeping the administration of that event manageable?
  • How do you support players of varying experience levels?
  • How do you make each table contribute towards a shared goal?

So, I've been thinking about this a lot. While I don't claim to have the answers, I think I have a better idea of the problems - and as a designer, that's half the battle. As a player, I really want to be feeling the following:

  • "I want to feel like I'm part of an epic group endeavour with clear goals"
  • "My table's actions should affect other tables in transparent ways"
  • "The challenge should be greater than usual, with opportunities for epic loot"
  • "If my table performs well it should be recognised and rewarded by the event as a whole"
  • "There should be ways to help out tables in need"
  • "I want access to player options that aren't normally available"
  • "The event should feel special somehow, either through unique props, handouts, actors, music or lighting." 
  • "My table's actions should never invalidate the contribution of another table or shut down an encounter in progress"

In addition, DMs have their own special set of requirements:

  • "I want to run the adventure with minimum - if any - prep"
  • "I want clear guidelines on how to modify difficulty on-the-fly without it feeling contrived"
  • "There should be a simple way to relay messages to and from HQ without halting play" 

I have some ideas for improvements, but first I'd be interested to hear your views on the matter. I know that the Adventurers League itself is always looking for ways to improve these events. So, did you play "Blood Above, Blood Below" on Saturday night? What did you like or dislike? Which Epics (or "Battle Interactives") have you enjoyed in the past? What made them so great?