D&D: Neverwinter – Wizard’s Fiery Phoenix?

At PAX Prime 2011, Loveless and I had the opportunity to sit down with Laura Tommervik and Shelly Mazzanoble from Wizards of the Coast and talk about their new line of products featuring the city of Neverwinter in the Forgotten Realms.

I started out the conversation by voicing my familiarity with the Dungeons & Dragons game and reluctance to proceed from 3.5 into the new D&D 4th edition.

I explained to Laura that most of my acquaintances have passed along negative feedback regarding the 4th edition of D&D. Much of the feedback I have received referred to D&D 4e as “tabletop WoW” or “a game focused entirely on tactical combat.” Laura’s response was both diplomatic and insightful, “The Dungeons & Dragons game has continually evolved since 1974 and it will continually evolve, forever. Wizards of the Coast is constantly trying to provide the best play experience for what people want.”

“It’s all about us listening to the community, having that feedback loop, the community actively involved.” Laura said.

Although everyone I know plays 3.5, we’re more than willing to gaze across the river at 4th edition. Maybe we just need a sturdy bridge to allow passage and find out if the grass truly is greener on the other side. Or perhaps a nasty mottled green troll lurks under the bridge, waiting to devour us alive!

I spent over two decades of my life playing the Dungeons & Dragons game. Given that fact alone, I was willing to give these products a second chance. I found a crack in the wall of my old school gamer mind, and began shaking loose the rusty nuts and bolts so I could see things in a new light. The judgmental DM who grew up with Gary Gygax, Arneson, Elmore, and Easley needed to loosen up a bit. This was after all, a completely new product with fresh faces full of passion and creativity behind it. Why not give them a chance?

“In terms of what edition of D&D people are playing, we’re just glad you’re playing Dungeons & Dragons.” Laura offered, which caused a smile to work its way across my face.

“The current campaign is all about the city of Neverwinter. There are vast universes in D&D, and it’s hard to have shared experiences with so many different settings. What we are trying to do going forward is provide a cross category approach.”

“We are providing a cross category approach using story as that connective tissue between all the products: the tabletop RPG, board game products, video games, and novels.”

Wizards of the Coast has revived Ed Greenwood’s star attraction the Forgotten Realms in their 4th edition version of Dungeons & Dragons. Using New York Times Best Seller R.A. Salvatore as a key player in the design of their new product they have forged into new territory while bringing back familiar faces like Drizzt Do’Urden. This is an ingenious ploy as even I couldn’t help but pose under the huge statue of Drizzt and his dear friend Guenhwyvar outside the WOTC booth at PAX. Old school meets new. My friends, we have just come full circle.

So, Laura continues to explain that Wizards decided to begin the new series of products by launching them in the Forgotten Realms- “the most popular world within D&D”. An obvious choice for a focal point in the realms was the city of Neverwinter. “Neverwinter has a fascinating history and is in the process of being rebuilt as the D&D campaign begins.”

I asked if Ed Greenwood was still actively involved in the Forgotten Realms. Laura told me that they still work very closely with Ed, “one of our authors” which caused me to raise an eyebrow. Ed Greenwood, creator of the Forgotten Realms- the very place in which all of these products are set is “one of our authors”? Hmmm… According to Laura, Ed just came out with a new book this summer although I can’t for the life of me seem to locate it on the net. I’m friends with Ed on Facebook, but even there I only find shameless plugs from other RPG creators and photos of people posing alongside Ed with his long wizard beard.

“In terms of Neverwinter, we work very closely with R.A. Salvatore- the New York Times best seller who had a trilogy in Neverwinter.” Yes, everyone always did love R.A. Salvatore. I never did find out what those first two letters stood for. I always imagined that he had a really god-awful name and thus attempted to mask it by replacing the words with large imposing capital letters. Randleworth Agglewaddle Salvatore. Or perhaps Rucksack Abblewath Salvatore?

Laura continued, oblivious to my wildly wandering mind- “This setting is interesting to new people but also brings in a lot of locations from the past book and video game history. We’re focusing on this great place with so much going on.”

Being a follower of the Forgotten Realms and D&D products for over two decades I asked “Are places seen in the Neverwinter Nights video game franchise going to be incorporated into the new games?”

Laura responded “There are a suite of programs that assist in sharing the collective experience- the shared experience. They will all be centered around the same story. The Neverwinter Campaign Setting just came out.”

 

D&D NEVERWINTER CAMPAIGN SETTING:

The Neverwinter products really do look cool. As Laura hands me the D&D Neverwinter Campaign Setting book I flip through it taking a look at the interesting locations and wonderful images.

“This Book contains pretty much everything you will need to know about the city. It will introduce you to the people you will find in Neverwinter, the geography, 3 factions vying for control, new character themes, and 1 new character class. “

The book looks nice and clean with beautiful fantasy artwork throughout, although the cartography of the city of Neverwinter itself appears very crudely drawn. (They should have called Todd Gamble or Rob Lazzaretti for help!) Oh well, you can’t win them all and besides, the rest of the book is very aesthetically pleasing.

I would later sit down with the book and spend some time reading about the various locations within Neverwinter as well as the interesting characters, and devilish enemies in this setting. One of the first things I noticed that I liked more than any previous products was the nice clean lay out of the pages. I was able to quickly flip to any page and find just what I was looking for. As A DM I really appreciate ease of use when it comes to reference books. The last thing you want to do when looking for vital information is have the gaming group pause and wait for a response. The game needs to have a smooth flow and ebb which keeps the group (DM included) immersed in the fantasy.

Overall I think the WOTC Neverwinter team has done a great job. I will review the Neverwinter Campaign Setting in its entirety in a future article so come back to NERD TREK to check it out.

 

Fortune Cards

This new product I was very excited about. Laura explained that this product was an accessory to the tabletop RPG. (Finally cards in D&D!) “They give you extra in game benefits and add a level of unpredictability to the game. You never know what you’re going to get.” Laura smiled as she handed me a pack to flip through.

How does this new system work? I’ve included the basic rules as shown in the pack for you all to read:

HOW TO PLAY

You can use all the cards of one or more DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Fortune Cards boosters as your deck.
Each player brings his or her own deck to the game.

At the start of each encounter, shuffle your deck and draw a card.

You can play one card per round. It requires no action to play. The rules on each card state when you can play it and what effect it has. A card takes effect just once unless it states otherwise, and you discard the card when its effect ends.

You can have only one Fortune Card in your hand at a time. At the start of each of your turns, you can do one of the following:

✦ Discard the card in your hand and draw a new one.

✦ Draw a new card if you don’t have one in your hand.

✦ Keep the card that’s in your hand if you haven’t played it.

BUILD YOUR OWN DECK

You can also build and play with your own customized deck of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Fortune Cards™. Each card in the Shadow Over Nentir Vale™ set belongs to one of three categories: Attack, Defense, or Tactics. The card’s face displays its category.

A custom Fortune Card deck can contain any multiple of 10 cards (10, 20, 30, and so on). For every 10 cards in your deck, you must have at least 3 cards of each of the three categories (Attack, Defense, Tactics), as shown in the table below.

Deck Size Minimum Cards per Category

10 3

20 6

30 9

And so on.

I received a couple packs of cards from Laura after the interview to take home. Tossing them in my Bag of Holding, I wouldn’t get the chance to really take a look at them until PAX had concluded. Ripping open the packs, I smiled getting that feeling that washes over you when you get to try something new for the first time. My mind rushed back to my first booster pack of Magic the Gathering cards.

The new D&D Fortune cards look pretty basic which is what you want when you’re trying to keep pace with an exciting combat encounter. They provide special benefits that you may use in combat to obtain an advantage. Here are some examples of the cards I received:

ATTACK: Vicious Damage
Play when an enemy succeeds on a saving throw to end ongoing damage.

The enemy must reroll the saving throw.

ATTACK: Recall Power
Play when you use a daily attack power.

The power is not expended. Expend a higher level daily attack power instead.

TACTIC: Roll with the Blow
Play when an attack hits you or an ally.

That character shifts up to 3 squares as an immediate reaction.

DEFENSE: Quick Switch
Play at any time.

As a free action, you can stow one item and draw another.

 

These cards look like a lot of fun to add into the game. My first thought was that this would give the PCs an unfair advantage over the enemies. I changed my viewpoint when I realized that I could throw these cards out to the PCs more often than magical items and give the PCs an extra strategy to consider during combat. Even though I run D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder and not 4th edition I can still work most of the cards into my games with only minor adjustments.

Another idea I had was to also allow some of the enemies to have such cards that they also will use against the PCs to keep things balanced while providing additional flavor to combat.

Overall I am pleased and impressed by this new concept by Wizards of the Coast. Years ago I used cards to represent magical items and other special abilities. Perhaps I should have marketed that concept!

 

Neverwinter Comic Mini-Series

Laura also announced that the same week as PAX Prime 2011 was happening so was a new series of comics being unleashed upon the unsuspecting fans of the Forgotten Realms.

Titled FORGOTTEN REALMS: THE LEGEND OF DRIZZT: NEVERWINTER TALES, it will be a five part comic mini-series. The series is written by R.A. Salvatore who is joined by his son Geno Salvatore as co-writer. This series of comics has just launched and is available through IDW Publishing.

 

Legend of Drizzt Board Game

The Legend of Drizzt Board Game comes out in October. This is part of the Adventure System Board Games by Wizards of the Coast. These games are designed as a co-op experience with no DM required! In this game you get to play as Drizzt and his companions!

“It contains scenarios also set around the city of Neverwinter. You will be getting a lot of Drizzt and his followers through the novels, adventures, comics, and board game.” Laura repeats the Neverwinter theme driving it into the soft tissue of our brains. It’s OK- it’s Forgotten Realms, hammer away!

This is a great game for families. My wife enjoyed the Neverwinter Nights computer games but has never been very interested in joining my friends and I for tabletop D&D games. My son is 9 years old and although shows much interest in the D&D RPG, still has a tough time with the vast amount of rules required to play a fair and balanced game. The Legend of Drizzt Board Game would be a perfect introduction to my family or anyone who has not played D&D or is not yet old enough to fully grasp the concept of tabletop role-playing games.

 

D&D Encounters:

D&D Encounters is an in-store play program started by Wizards last spring. It is the most successful in store play program D&D has ever had. It is a weekly event that gathers D&D players into one central location in local gaming shops.

Each session all players and DMs run the same story. Thus, players who live in different areas can share their experiences online through Facebook with others who are tied into the D&D Encounters program.

Neverwinter has now been introduced into D&D Encounters to bring the new setting full circle.

To get involved in this program you can visit Dungeonsanddragons.com and enter your zip code. A list of local participating stores will come up where you may call and find out what day and time the session will be happening. You can show up with no experience required and get right into the game! If you have always wanted to play but don’t know anyone, don’t be shy- come on down and meet others who enjoy creativity and adventure.

 

D&D Lair Assault:

D&D Lair Assault is a new hybrid version of D&D Encounters for those who crave a dangerous experience. This program is very difficult and for people who want to take their game to the next level. Traps, encounters, and challenges that push the limit are what D&D Lair Assault is all about.

Players should expect to lose some characters in this game. The adventuring party will need to strategize ahead of time to take on the challenge or die in the process. Shelly Mazzanoble (author of Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress) offered first-hand experience on D&D Lair Assault. “It is very, very challenging. We play tested it in the office, my character was dead in 17 minutes. I think that was a new record for me.”

There is an expectation that this particular program holds the DM in a more adversarial role. Never before have players been set against the DM in Dungeons & Dragons. This game should be interesting and even tempts me to try out D&D 4th edition and visit my local store.

 

Everything I need to know I learned from D&D

After speaking with Laura we jumped into a conversation with Shelly Mazzanoble, author of “Confessions of a Part Time Sorceress”. Despite the fact that this book was written for women, I still had picked it up from the library upon its release and read it through. I think I was hoping that my wife would show some interest in the book and subsequently join my friends and I on an adventure. No such thing happened, it turns out my wife prefers adventuring in offline RPG computer games but no further.

I enjoyed Shelly’s first book and was excited to hear that she had just finished yet another! When I told her I was a fan she handed me a copy of her new book: “Everything I need to know I learned from Dungeons & Dragons” at which point I promised her a review. I’m reading now so as soon as I finish this book I will be sharing a review on NERD TREK with all of you. If you can’t wait that long I’ll toss up a link where you can buy the book on Amazon.

 

Once we finished speaking with Laura and Shelly we were escorted to the Atari booth where one of the developers of a new Facebook game entitled Heroes of Neverwinter waited to greet us.

 

Heroes of Neverwinter

Developer: Atari (Wizards of the Coast)
Single player/Turn-based RPG
Platform: Online (Facebook)

Heroes of Neverwinter is a fantasy RPG experience which will soon be available on the Facebook platform. As of this posting, there has never been a Facebook game as advanced as Heroes of Neverwinter.

Atari is running a closed beta which we had the chance to partake in.

We started in our own city which we were able to control and build shops. Adventures are posted on a board in the middle of the city which you can click on and check out whenever you would like. Once ready you can add the adventurers you would like to take by finding them in taverns and around town or importing your friend’s characters into your game. Your friends can then watch your adventures through their characters eyes if they wish.

When we left the city we were presented with a colorful world map which instantly made me smile. Despite the changes that occurred in Forgotten Realms over the past 100 years or so, much of the land remained the same. Some old favorite locations were still available to adventure in. We jumped into a forest and instantly found ourselves attacked by bandits. As combat began I yelled outloud and probably scared the crap out of the developer explaining the game! “This style of combat is just like the old school SSI Gold Box games from TSR!” I exclaimed aloud. He looked at me scared at first, then smiled and nodded. “Yeah, exactly! Well, there are a few cool new features and of course the graphics are better… but yeah- its turn based combat.” I love turn based combat. I know Perreault likes his combat fast and messy, but man- I love my strategy!

At this point I was already sold. It’s free, will be available on Facebook, I can play with my friends, go on adventures, and there’s turn based combat? Sign me up! Unfortunately Atari is only in the closed beta right now, but they assured me that they would squeeze us in since we’re media. That means a detailed review with screen-shots coming soon (pending Wizards & Atari’s approval first of course!)

 

Conclusion

Overall it looks like Wizards of the Coast is taking the bull by the horns and pushing a marketing strategy across the board.  Neverwinter will be seen in D&D tabletop products, cards, novels, comics, video games, board games, Facebook games, and even in local gaming groups at shops across the nation.  This might just be the Phoenix that Wizards has been looking for to burn the bad stigma off their wings and rise from the ashes in a burst of flame, torching the night sky with the brilliance of creativity and new found fans.  Good luck Wizards, more than just the fate of the realms is riding on Drizzt’s shoulders this time around!  😉

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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games / AdventureAWeek.com, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.