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Community Spotlight: Will Doyle on Writing Epic Adventures

If you play the Adventurers League, you’ve likely faced foes penned by Will Doyle. This UK game designer and cartographer has written some of the League’s most beloved modules, such as Cloaks and Shadows and Outlaws of the Iron Route, and co-wrote Season 7’s hardcover adventure Tomb of Annihilation.

As if that weren’t enough reason to shake your fist at this evil mastermind, Will also designed Season 7’s EPIC adventures: Peril at the Port and Drums of the Dead. Epics unite tens of tables of players, adventuring together to fulfill one common goal. With wandering NPCs, extra challenging monsters, perilous sub-quests, each table’s actions affecting others, and victory against the big bad dependent on the success of the whole… Epic events – organized at conventions of any size or even your friendly local game store – are adventures of the grandest scale.

In today’s Community Spotlight, Will, who has written about Epic design on his blog Beholder Pie, shares how his approach to writing Epics has evolved.

Epics Must Feel Interactive. Although Will says this sounds obvious, the easiest pitfall is designing an Epic where everyone simply is playing the same adventure instead of collaborating on a big joint effort. Some of Will’s techniques for adding an interactive feel include…

  • Locked Quests: Will likes to include maps with different regions and quests tied to each region. For example, a castle map with tunnels, courtyards, and throne room. Some regions might be pertinent to furthering the mission but locked until another table completes their quest… complete with a big fanfare announcement!
  • Boons: Those who’ve played Season 7’s epics are familiar with boons. Upon completing missions, tables receive a boon handout they can reward to their neighboring tables. For example, if one table captures a catapult, they can reward another table the ability to fire the catapult. This adds interactivity without adding a lot of fuss for the Dungeon Master to track.
  • Wandering Characters: Epics often include a “wandering” big bad who jumps from table to table, causing mayhem and damage. In his recent Epics, Will has experimented adding non-combat characters, such as a puzzle character or a social interaction character.
  • Victory Points: The simplest way to add a sense of interactivity is to tie completed missions to victory points, Will says. As the victory points hit certain thresholds, special events happen.

Have a Clear Goal and a Clear Theme. According to Will, it is important for Epics to have one really cool goal, the simpler, the better. In Will’s Reclamation of Phlan, that goal was “kill the dragon,” and in his Drums of the Dead, it was “kill the lich, find the antidote!” Will also likes his Epics to have a strong theme, often being inspired by films. Drums of the Dead, for example, was inspired by zombie films, and in keeping with that theme, Will looked for ways to ensure there were big zombie hoards constantly attacking so players never feel safe.

It’s Gotta Feel EPIIIIIC. Will always searches for ways to elevate all aspects of his adventures to a truly Epic level. Does a draft feel like it could be a normal adventure? Does it feel low-key? Amp it up!  In his Ark of the Mountain, Will based the adventure around two massive sky ships duking it out in the air. That’s pretty epic.

Turn Up the Difficulty Dial. It’s OK and often expected for Epic adventures to be more challenging than your typical module… as long as it is signaled well that players are about to enter an extra dangerous bit. Will likes to create tougher encounters and monsters while including tricks to defeating their power bit by bit. For example, Will might add orbs scattered around the battlefield that give off bursts of necrotic damage every round. This gives players a choice: Do they attack the main monsters or split their forces to deal with the orbs? In addition to making the encounter more difficult, this gives the party options in battle and asks them to be more strategic.

Choice is Important. When players sit at the table, Will likes them to have a decision to make. By giving them several quest options, Will allows them to tailor their Epic experience to themselves. Although Will says he’s always tried to include different “pillars of play” beyond combat, he’s challenged himself to imagine an Epic where players could choose to avoid combat completely. In brainstorming different types of roleplaying encounters, Will pulls inspiration from drama courses and improv games. “Part of that for me is when you’re designing one of these, you develop a kind of formula,” Will says, “But part of that formula is always, ‘Break the formula.'”

The Adventurers League Community Spotlight features members of our community accomplishing cool things and sharing their tips to make your AL experience equally cool. If you know someone who makes your AL community better, e-mail [email protected] to tell us why they should be featured in the next Community Spotlight.

Lysa Chen

Lysa Chen

Associate Community Manager at D&D Adventurers League
Repping the Adventurers League on the East Coast! Jersey girl Lysa designs flowers by day and shapeshifts into a freelance writer and Dungeon Masters Guild Adept by the light of the moon. Her D&D portfolio, interviews, actual play appearances, and other creative pursuits can be found on www.lysachen.com.
Lysa Chen

Author: Lysa Chen

Repping the Adventurers League on the East Coast! Jersey girl Lysa designs flowers by day and shapeshifts into a freelance writer and Dungeon Masters Guild Adept by the light of the moon. Her D&D portfolio, interviews, actual play appearances, and other creative pursuits can be found on www.lysachen.com.

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2 Comments

  1. It is always amazing to me to see innovative and creative people at the top of their game talk about their process. Thanks, Will and the AL admins, for sharing it. It is valuable information not just for AL creators, DMs, and players, but for any D&D fans to digest.

  2. Peril at the Port and Drums of the Dead are really really fantastic. Will has really advanced the design “science” of Epics and I am eternally thankful for that. What he has designed will be analyzed by those of us who love such events for decades to come. Truly, these (and his earlier work as well) are classic interactives. Thank you for all of your hard work, Will! I hope someday all of the past Epics will be made available on the DMs Guild so that these creators can be properly compensated for the incredible time it takes to write one!

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