I think EPIC events are one of the coolest experiences you can have in RPGs and I couldn’t be more excited and thankful to get to write the first one, Corruption in Kryptgarden! I want to tell you about the writing experience and the event, but we should review the basics first.
The Adventurers League D&D organized play program kicks off a story season (this one is Tyranny of Dragons) with an EPIC adventure. An EPIC adventure is a multi-table convention event running at just a handful of special conventions. During the EPIC many tables simultaneously contribute, often in different ways, to the outcome of a challenge bigger than what a normal adventuring party could face. An example could be defending a castle from an attacking army. The players at your table might be charged with holding the main gate, while my table might be protecting the siege weapons. Either of us could fail, triggering an impact for you and others at the event. If the gate falls, perhaps extra troops show up at each table. Maybe an important enemy shows up to destroy the siege weapons. If we are victorious, the other tables see that victory and gain a morale bonus. Events can unfold in real time and move across tables. If you played last year’s Confrontation at Candlekeep you had a taste of what this can be like.
EPICs can offer special chances to impact the campaign storyline, including the fate of the Moonsea region and the Factions featured in the Expeditions program! Special rewards can sometimes be found, though choices may not always result in positive changes to your character! The challenges can be a test of your mettle – not just mechanics and tactics, but role-playing and creativity. Some of my favorite battle interactives have been those where player ingenuity, leadership, and role-playing changed a battle.
As you can probably tell, I love the EPIC program! The fun I had at previous similar events is part of it, but a big factor is my recognizing that I benefitted from volunteers putting a large amount of work into these events. One of the ways I became involved in organized play (which eventually led to freelancing for Wizards of the Coast) was helping out those designers and admins with interactive events.
The Initial Writing Process
So, how does an EPIC get written? These projects take a tremendous amount of time and involve many people. Wizards of the Coast started everything off by creating the Story Bible that defines the creative space for the Tyranny of Dragons storyline. The Story Bible is really a game-changing development, and I wish I could share more about it. At a high-level, it coordinates many avenues of play together. The EPIC has connections and draws from content appearing in the Neverwinter MMO and the official Tyranny of Dragons adventures and is better for it. The Story Bible is really transformative for D&D and hugely exciting as a designer!
Wizards contracted experienced designers to write the first adventures (more on this further below). I’ve had the experience of working on several interactive events, including co-writing Confrontation at Candlekeep with Shawn Merwin, Vault of the Dracolich with Mike Shea and Scott Fitzgerald Gray, and the Ashes of Athas battle interactive Dark Sun finale with fellow admins Chad Brown and Derek Guder. I’ll share some tips for getting started later in this article, in case writing an EPIC interests you.
I started filling up a file with ideas on possible interactive elements even before I received the adventure concept from Wizards of the Coast. Knowing the Gen Con room (and how loud it can get) I started thinking about communication. How could your table’s actions be received by headquarters and how could headquarters let your table know that some other table had done something to impact you? I bounced ideas off of the other designers and Baldman Games. One of my objectives with any writing project is to try new things, because that’s how our hobby advances. Looking at the past helps me know how a new idea might resonate with players.
Once I had the adventure concept in hand I realized the EPIC takes place in Kryptgarden Forest. I had been reading up on the Moonsea… But, I never turn down a chance for more research! That research helped me when I noticed a conflict in the adventure concept between the possible location – one part mentioned subterranean dwarven ruins while another mentioned a forest stronghold. I thought Wizards would be better served if this event felt different than the underground lair of Vault and more open and exploratory than Candlekeep. We discussed it and I received the green light to move forward with the forest stronghold.
I started another file where I jotted down adventure ideas. I spent about a week just gathering ideas and ranking them, making a note of the bits that really seemed exciting and fun. An important part of successful freelance writing is that, while we certainly want to enjoy what we write, we first want to consider the many players and DMs, the organized play campaign, and the company. I want those audiences to be better off for my efforts. My pet idea might be great, but if it doesn’t serve those audiences it needs to stay in the idea pile and show up in my next home campaign instead! I want what I write to be part of the growth of our hobby, and to repay the debt I feel I owe those who have created great organized play content for me.
Good ideas do matter. The best way I know to come up with good ideas is to devour the ideas of others regularly. I try to play a ton of organized play from many different RPG companies, I study classic adventures whenever I can, I play different types of games, I play under different DMs, I play with different people at conventions, and I read great fiction. That exposure fills me with ideas and helps me understand how my take on those ideas (and a few original ones) will play out at convention tables. When in doubt, I steal from Indiana Jones movies!
The outline I provided came back with a few requests for changes, all reasonable. One final submission and I was approved for writing. Managing the pace of my writing is a critical key for me, so the schedule isn’t hanging over me. That can be tough with a wonderful wife, two incredible kids, and traveling for work. On this project I had the right time to let ideas develop. I did ask for some extra time based on the later start I had and an extra day so I could personally run a playtest.
Writing the First Adventures for a New Edition
I had heard legends about the challenges faced by designers writing adventures for new editions. This was my chance to live the dream and write without a single XP value for any of the monsters in our early draft of the Monster Manual! I mined the resources the campaign provided, including a draft of Lost Mine of Phandelver, some Alpha playtest encounters, and a few other draft materials. Based on that, I guessed at the proper number of monsters in encounters and the types of creatures that would be fun and a suitable challenge. All of it led to the first playtest… where I promptly had a TPK (total party kill) in the first encounter. I improvised adjustments for the rest of the playtest, then refined the changes and provided that to Wizards.
I ended up running two more playtests and even ran pregens by myself against specific encounters to test lethality. I also spent some words on providing troubleshooting, adding in some optional encounters for tables that need more challenge, and instructing DMs in achieving the right balance.
The Three Pillars and Providing a Story Larger Than One Table
While combat is important for an EPIC, and I worked hard to provide cool challenges, I was also really interested in the other two pillars. The early parts of the adventure would stress exploration and provide a real feel for a forest corrupted by a growing evil presence. Players will have options, and the material is designed to encourage DMs to riff off of the choices made by players and reward creativity. There are chances for players to engage in deep role-playing and for that role-playing to impact the interactive. The key to making this happen was to create several tracks in the adventure. Early on you have a chance to select a track, which should end up matching the style of your group. This also cements the feeling that the interactive is larger than you, because other tables are actually doing other things (and even on the same track the experience can vary based on the party’s choices).
Understanding the necessity of Development is a big part of successful freelancing. Admins and even Wizards will take a look at our work and change it. I really like development work, so I understand why it is important. The designer can be too close to what they have written to see it with fresh eyes and make the changes to bring critical improvements. With experience we can write in ways that help the developers, as well as include explicit notes that help them decide on important issues. I had a chance to see one of the later drafts and I loved the admins’ changes. Adventurers League has some great admins. I know Wizards of the Coast will have added further quality to the EPIC experience.
The EPIC had some amazing developers and editors. Robert Adducci (Community Manager) has been amazing helping the player base hear about and get excited about the EPIC. Bill Benham (Resource Manager) ran the tight schedule, fielded issues, and offered advice. Travis Woodall (Content Manager) was the first to wrestle my words (and wordiness) and hammer the EPIC into shape. His work was excellent. Claire Hoffman is one of the most qualified people in all of organized play and made tons of contributions. Shawn Merwin ran playtests. Alan Patrick and Greg Marks likely shaped the work as well. I can’t thank them enough. Chris Tulach, who leads organized play for Wizards, is the Superman of organized play. He made the final changes to the adventure, drawing upon decades of experience. If you enjoy the EPIC, please make sure to thank these heroes.
What You Will Experience
In Corruption in Kryptgarden your characters can learn firsthand information that is central to the Tyranny of Dragons storyline. Why is the Cult of the Dragon in Kryptgarden Forest securing a hobgoblin stronghold? With what dark organizations are they in league, and how does this impact your Faction and the Sword Coast? What terrible force has corrupted the forest and why is the corruption spreading? What plan has the Cult of the Dragon set in motion?
This is your chance to enter the deadly forest, uncover information vital to your Faction, foil the Cult of the Dragon and their dark allies, and leave your mark on the future of the Sword Coast. As you battle, the hundreds around you will do so as well, the results of your actions intertwining. The fates of all will be impacted by your skill, your might, and by the decisions you make. I won’t kid you – this event could end in failure with evil brutally triumphant, so I urge you and your PCs to be the best heroes you can be. As Gary Gygax wrote, “It is certain that both vast treasure and horrible death await, so you must gain the one while cheating the other. Fortune and the gods must smile upon such an undertaking.”