Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Twenty-Eight Adventures, Part 19: Dark Legacy of Evard

Welcome back! My apologies for the interrupted blog posts; the last three weeks have been very busy for me. First my partners and I at Sasquatch Game Studio launched our Primeval Thule 5e Kickstarter, then I headed out for a family vacation at Glacier National Park, then I came home just in time to head out to GenCon. Time for blogging has been in short supply lately!

I’ll talk a bit about Glacier and GenCon in future posts, but this week I wanted to revisit our 5e Thule Kickstarter campaign and provide a bit of an update. We are over 200 percent funded, topping $30k with just about two weeks to go! Naturally, we’re using that support to make Primeval Thule 5e the biggest and best product we can. Right now someone who pledges in at a level that includes digital rewards will receive not only the Primeval Thule Campaign Setting book, but also PDF adventures by Rob Schwalb and Steve Winter, along with a Thule 5e Gamemaster’s Companion that will include new Thulean monsters and additional adventure sites and hooks. And, if the campaign continues to go well, we’ll soon be adding a Player’s Companion to provide additional spells, narratives, and other character-creation info for Thulean PCs. If you’re looking for great new 5e content, this is a good place to start. Here’s the link:

OK, on to my next adventure retrospective!

#24: Dark Legacy of Evard
In late 2010 I was assigned to work on D&D Encounters Season 5. The Encounters program was a sort of “outreach” content plan designed to provide D&D players with a weekly D&D game at their friendly local gaming store. Basically, you show up and play for an hour or two one night a week, and over the course of three or four months, you’ll play through the adventure currently being shared by all other people participating in the current Encounters season. It was a very successful program for Wizards of the Coast and brought many thousands of gamers out every week. My job as the designer assigned to the next Encounters season was to create a fun, episodic adventure that would keep ‘em coming back for another 13 sessions.

While I came up with the storyline, some of the big elements had already been settled on before I began work on the adventure. So, I was given the marching orders to create an Encounters season that was more of a ghost story than a dungeon crawl, something that revolved on the story of Evard. Evard, like Mordenkainen or Otto or Bigby, was a name that had been around in D&D since 1st Edition. However, while those other mages had actually been characters played by real people participating in the earliest D&D campaigns, Evard was mostly just a name associated with a spooky spell or two. Toward the end of 3rd Edition, the character had emerged a bit more in the lore that was developed around the school of shadow magic, and Evard finally showed up as something more than just a name—the creator of the school of shadow magic, a dark, sardonic personality who dabbled with sinister magic and mocked those who disapproved of his studies.

Thinking about the idea of spooky magic, a dark wizard, and an adventure intended to showcase overtones of horror in D&D, I hit upon a simple question: Who’s buried in Evard’s Tomb? (Yeah, it’s a version of the old New York joke about Grant’s Tomb.) And when I realized the answer was not the obvious one, the story of Evard’s old rival Vontarin, the town of Duponde, the reckless young mage Nathaire, and Evard’s terrible curse all fell into place. I borrowed a bit here and there from Clark Ashton Smith’s excellent fantasy horror stories about the haunted province of Averoigne to polish up the “feel” of the setting and story. (In fact, the name Nathaire is from one of the characters in “The Colossus of Ylourgne.”)

The Encounters format was very tough to work in, because you couldn’t assume that the DM running your adventure would have the same players at his table every week. Likewise, you couldn’t allow for the adventure to be tackled out of order—people would be talking about their experiences in Week X, so if some table played out X+3 on that week, they could spoil the story for other tables. That was tough for me, since my design taste runs a lot more toward sandbox-style adventures where people can engage whatever story thread they find and follow it as long as they want. For Dark Legacy of Evard, I had to embrace a much more rigid storyline—I couldn’t let the players make a decision in Week 3 that would make the Week 5-6-7 content irrelevant. So, I decided to make it the most flavorful and suspenseful linear narrative I could manage. If you can’t give players the chance to make a lot of big choices, you can make sure you deliver a riveting story instead.

Going by what I saw of people writing up their Encounters season responses, my approach seemed to work well enough. Dark Legacy of Evard was well received, and people seemed to really groove on the spooky setting and the old story of Evard and Vontarin. Based on the number of people participating in the Encounters program, Dark Legacy was probably the most widely-played of my adventures since Forge of Fury. You can still find it on if you’re curious (it’s for 4th Edition D&D).

Next Week: Thornkeep, my first non-WotC adventure!