Are we Finally Getting the Dungeon Master Game we Deserve?

Are we Finally Getting the Dungeon Master Game we Deserve?

Many of us nerds for life have at least experimented with pencil ‘n’ paper RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons , so it’s no surprise that video game designers have been trying to re-create that kind of experience since the dawn of the digital age. It started with the idea of the game designer being the dungeon master (DM), who creates an adventure and leads a player through it. When online gaming became possible, though, developers have been striving to offer players the chance to step in and use game-building tools to become dungeon masters themselves.

Although various games (from various Neverwinter games to the modern Shadowrun RPG) have provided us with limited dungeon master tools, I have yet to find a toolset that allows players to easily create and run a game for friends. Most toolsets have required coding skills or have simply been difficult to learn and clunky to operate.

Enter Sword Coast Legends . This newly-announced game promises not only a full RPG created by veteran developers, it aims to give players the tools they need to actively DM a game without knowing how to code. It’s set in the popular D&D Forgotten Realms universe, so there’s already a wealth of content and lore for adventure creators to work with. It uses the fifth edition of the D&D ruleset, which was tailor-made for video gaming. Heck, it’s even scheduled to come out this year.

If this sounds too good to be true, I don’t blame you. I’ve been through this song and dance before, too. Still, online technology has come a long way since the original Neverwinter Nights , and making a user-friendly set of DM tools is now more of a social and interface issue than a technological challenge. I’m excited to follow the development of Sword Coast Legends , and I hope it does the things it needs to do in order to get dungeon mastering right:

The tools need to be easy. Really, really easy.

From building areas to designing encounters to creating dialogue, DM tools need to be extremely easy to use. Objects should snap to floors, walls, and furniture so nobody cusses and pounds the keyboard when that book won’t stop floating in the air. There should be well-sorted thematic sets of buildings and objects, and a way to quickly populate a room with appropriate objects so that less-important areas don’t look empty. Dialogue choices should be easy to write using a simple flowchart/hyperlink system. Characters should be intuitive to make, and encounters easy to drag and drop onto the map. The faster and more user-friendly it is to create a cool adventure, the more people the toolset will attract.

There must be accessible documentation and proper tutorial text.

This has been the biggest failing of previous attempts at DM tools for players. If there’s any documentation at all, it’s been woefully incomplete or difficult to find. Developers have relied on players to create wikis, but that’s just not good enough. If I can’t find instructions within the toolset to do basic things like making an NPC who gives a quest and asks a simple question of the party, I’m out.

Are we Finally Getting the Dungeon Master Game we Deserve?

There has to be an excellent system to find and rate player-made adventures.

Don’t leave this to a fan site. Sword Coast Legends needs an interface with excellent searching, sorting, and rating tools. There should be plenty of categories for creators to check and people to search for, including one for mature content—because you know that’s coming. Players should be able to write reviews, and the Sword Coast community managers should actively promote the best of the player-made adventures, switching up promoted adventures regularly.

Players should never be locked out of adventures due to additional content.

Adventure creators will always want new assets and settings from the Sword Coast Legends team. They’ll beg for the cool stuff they need to make their dream adventures. “Come on, give us the Dales!” they’ll say. Expansions and DLC asset packs are absolutely a good idea to help keep the game growing, but not at the cost of fragmenting the community. Charge for official campaigns and for the ability to use new assets while creating an adventure. Let everybody experience player-made adventures no matter what official assets they’re using. Nothing drives people from a community faster than seeing a laundry list of things to buy before they can try out the latest player-made adventure.

Hopefully the developers of Sword Coast Legends have these ideas in mind. I’m dreaming of a game that gives us the dungeon mastering tools we’ve always longed for and fosters a strong community of both adventure creators and players. Not only could the game, if successful, foster an enthusiastic community that lasts for years, it could redeem the Dungeons & Dragons franchise after a long dry spell in video gaming.

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