Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Descent into Avernus - From a Dungeon Crawl Perspective

Cover of Descent Into Avernus
With the basic ideas behind dungeon crawl style play covered, I'll be taking a look at the current state of contemporary Dungeons & Dragons adventure design and how it succeeds or fails to deliver a Dungeon Crawl or Classic Play experience.  Specifically I'll be looking at the recently published Wizards of the Coast ("WotC") campaign book "Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus" ("Descent"). My goal isn't to attack or denigrate Descent or the play style it supports, but to discuss where and how it follows design principles that support classic play, where it departs from them and to what effect.  I may also be able to offer some ideas that will help others run the adventure in a more classic way emphasizing: dungeon crawling, player choice, and open worldbuilding.

Fairly typical of WotC's contemporary adventures Descent is a 200 plus page series of adventures that make up a campaign that will take characters from 1st to approximately 14th level.  It's designed for many sessions of play and an epic scope. The campaign is the product of a large team of authors, designers and artists including D&D's current creative leads Mike Mearls and Chris Perkins. It's also nice to see that much of the cartography within is the work of Dyson Logos, a blogger and map maker who I consider to be broadly part of the same community as All Dead Generations and whose distinctive cross hatching style is inspired by classic map design.

Descent is an epic story, and this is it's first goal, and the first way it departs from classic sensibilities.  Organized (as are the vast majority of contemporary WotC adventures) into Chapters Descent is a linear narrative where the players follow and unfolding danger, overcoming challenges and gaining power as they go. It's writers don't countenance players deviating significantly from the chapters, their order and the consequences or events of each.

Old Games

Let’s talk about old tabletop roleplaying games - specifically the kind of games played in the 1980’s and recently depicted in the nostalgia...