Sword Coast Legends: The first game to get Dungeon Mastering right

Of all the games I tried at GDC, Sword Coast Legends got me the most excited. Coming from a studio of Western role-playing game veterans, Sword Coast Legends is the first game I’ve ever seen get Dungeons & Dragons-inspired multiplayer right. Neverwinter Nights, Microsoft’s forthcoming Fable Legends, and plenty others have tried, but none of them nail what makes Dungeons & Dragons work — collaboration.

I know people that have tried to be good Dungeon Masters and never quite grasped the nuance. It’s a tough balance. A good DM understands how players interact, and encourage relationships between the characters and the world. A great DM does all of that while understanding that a campaign with too much or too little challenge misses the point of growth and empowerment. D&D is about collaboration, about finding unique solutions to problems, and about adapting to new situations in unexpected ways.

Enter Sword Coast Legends.

I saw someone quickly create a new dungeon, fill it with traps and monsters, and, most crucially, modify all of that on the fly as he saw his players struggling. That’s the key. Most games that experiment with asymmetric play do it as part of a competitive experience. Sword Coast is far more interested in encouraging collaboration between people with a pseudo competitive backdrop.

In Sword Coast Legends, dungeon masters use a resource called threat to do anything of substance. They can use it to lock doors, lay traps, control monsters, etc. Threat can only be generated by hurting or hindering the players’ party; however, if the DM gets overzealous and starts killing off characters, then threat all but evaporates.

Instead, the DM is supposed to watch players closely and pull monsters back if it looks like one might fall. DMs can demote creatures to make them easier for the party to beat, or simply or wipe them away. It’s a system that directly incentivizes pushing the party to its limit, without making the experience frustrating. It makes being a great DM a skill that you can practice and hone – just like with real tabletop RPGs. Sword Coast Legends understands the dynamic relationship between Dungeon Masters and their party.

SCREEN_SCL_DM-Mode_021115_005

When I spoke to the room of developers, all collaborating on the new project, they said the hope was that some players would become exclusive DMs. “People can run through the game by themselves without needing anyone else. But we hope that those that want to play with a DM or with a party can do that whenever they want. Players are rated after every encounter, and we’re implementing an online system, so you’ll be able to find good DMs.”

Sword Coast Legends also has a campaign editor. Enterprising players can dig in and create their own game world, their own enemies, and craft a deep experience for players to experiment with. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to look at that. “It’ll be ready soon,” the devs said. “Just not yet.”

I still have a few big reservations about Sword Coast. The DM experience is, as I’ve mentioned, fantastic, but the other half of that equation are the players. In my own D&D campaigns, many of the best and most memorable moments have been driven by player response to the DM. In one particularly tough encounter, we found ourselves completely surrounded by guards and soldiers. We each had a Wand of Summon Swarm our DM had provided earlier, and my friend got the clever idea to jump onto one of their soldier’s shoulders, plunge the wand into his throat and cast the spell causing the victim to explode.

SCREEN_SCL_DM-Mode_021115_002

Typically, the game’s rules don’t allow players to pull that kind of stunt. Summon Swarm can only be cast where there’s sufficient room for the swarm to spawn. In this case our DM thought it was creative enough and funny enough that not only did he let it happen, he said that all of the other guards were so horrified that they immediately broke ranks. That’s special, and that’s not something I think we’ll see for a while yet.

I’m still very much excited for Sword Coast – I think it’s closer than any game I’ve ever seen to tapping the spirit of tabletop RPGs. It’s important to understand, however, that computers are still very poor at adapting to unusual situations. Having the kind of broad player input you’d need to perfectly match old school RPGs and then model that all graphically in real time might never be possible. This is a start, and it seems like a great start, but I’m already eager to see the next step in bringing one of my favorite games to life in digital form.

Health & Fitness

In search of the fountain of youth, beauty companies turn to tech

Beauty tech is a fairly new concept, but at CES 2019, companies such as Olay, L’Oreal, and Neutrogena were fully embracing it with all kinds of gadgets that promise to give you glowing skin.
Gaming

Here are all the awesome games you can play without a fancy graphics card

Just because you don't have a dedicated graphics card, it doesn't mean you can't enjoy some of the best games out there right now. This is our list of the best games you can play on Intel integrated graphics.
Gaming

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR has surpassed expectations and along with it comes an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.
Gaming

You're never too broke to enjoy the best free-to-play games

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially-popular League of Legends.
Gaming

Console wars are so last-gen. Check out all the games that support crossplay

Crossplay is still in its infancy, but a growing number of games support online multiplayer between competing platforms. Here's a list of all games that support console crossplay.
Gaming

Want to trick out your PlayStation 4? These themes will get you started

Personalize your gaming experience with some of our favorite themes for the PlayStation 4, including free, paid, static, and dynamic options.
Gaming

‘Mortal Kombat 11’ is even gorier and crazier than we expected

NetherRealm Studios unveiled Mortal Kombat 11 on January 17 and the game looks to be just as gory and over the top as fans have come to expect. Former MMA fighter Ronda Rousey will appear as Sonya Blade.
Gaming

Play your games whenever you want with a MicroSD card for your Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch uses cartridge-based games, but its internal storage may fill up quicker than you would think. Here's what you should consider when picking out a MicroSD card to expand your Switch's storage capacity.
Gaming

Get your pilot skills up to snuff for this week's 'Fortnite' challenge guide

The Fortnite season 7, week 7 challenges are now available. The major challenge this week requires you to visit all the Fortnite expedition outposts in the game and we walk you through how to get to each.
Gaming

Get extra life with our tips and tricks for 'New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe'

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is a much more difficult game than you'd believe based on its adorable art style and 2D perspective. Here's how you can master the game's toughest challenges.
Gaming

Find all of the secret exits and world skips in 'New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe'

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe has two distinct Mario experiences in one package. In this guide, we'll show you how to find all of the secret exits in New Super Mario Bros. U, that lead to hidden levels and let you skip worlds.
Gaming

Find all of the secret exits and world skips in 'New Super Luigi U Deluxe'

Just like all other 2D Mario games, New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe includes secret exits and world skips. In this guide, we'll show you how to get to all 12 secret exits in New Super Luigi U.
Gaming

For Netflix, ‘Fortnite’ on YouTube is a bigger threat than HBO

In a letter to shareholders, Netflix explained that it views the video game Fortnite as bigger competition than HBO, with YouTube videos of the game drawing viewers away from the streaming platform.
Gaming

Take a trip to a new virtual world with one of these awesome HTC Vive games

So you’re considering an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 25 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.