Sword Coast Legends packs powerful campaign creation options

Last Updated July 5th, 2021

As a long-time fan of tabletop roleplaying and the video games the hobby has inspired, I’ve had my eye on Sword Coast Legends since it was announced earlier this year. Back in May I had a chance to get some of my questions about the game answered by Nathan Stewart, Brand Director of Dungeons and Dragons, and Dan Tudge, President of n-Space and director of the game.

E3 was my first chance to go hands-on with Sword Coast Legends, in addition to seeing the game’s campaign creation mode in action, and the whole experience was among the highlights of the show for me. 

Digital Dungeon Master

As any fan of Dungeons & Dragons knows, the role of the Dungeon Master is the foundation of a quality game experience. And while Sword Coast Legends will have a single player story campaign (that ties into the larger narrative and worldbuilding going on surrounding D&D’s recent 5th-edition relaunch), it’s the game’s playable Dungeon Master features that set it apart from similar games like Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age: Origins, and the recent Pillars of EternitySword Coast Legends sets out to finally bring the fun of creating and running a dungeon, adventure, or full campaign from the DM perspective into the digital world. 

In the demo I saw at E3, we had a chance to see elements of a campaign being assembled before our eyes. Producer Tim Schwalk took on the role of DM, and set about creating some characters, quests, and set pieces that would ultimately lead the party into a spider-infested dungeon. 

The campaign creation options available in Sword Coast Legends look to strike a good balance between sheer power and ease of use. Creating non-player characters to populate your quest world is done through a menu system that allows you to start with some quick pre-set options before diving in and tweaking every nuance of the character if you so desire. You can create both individual named characters — either allies or villains — or character types you plan to use over and over again. Tim’s campaign involved some spider-themed cultists, and we saw him go into the menu and adjust the colors of their robes in a system that looks to be capable of very intricate customization. 

DMs will also have the option to create specific quests for players to find, and the quest creation menu allows for the selection of quest triggers, locations, and the specific written dialogue a quest-giver will use. This system will have some necessary limitations, as it will have to deal with concepts and triggers that actually exist within the game, so it will never be capable of the wide open flexibility or improvisation of pen and paper D&D. That said, there did look to be a LOT of options and power within this quest creation menu, and seeing it had me itching to try my hand at turning some of the adventure ideas I’ve had over the years into something playable. 

Setting up adventure scenes looked a lot like furnishing a house in The Sims — albeit with a decidedly medieval bent to the decor. DMs have a huge selection of props at their disposal, and every one can be given specific names, triggers, or associated traps. Want a quest to pop up if players approach a blood stain on the floor? Sure, you can do that. Want opening a chest to set off a cloud of poison? Of course you do! Once again the tools here look to be both robust and easy to understand, and I could easily see this sort of framework helping a lot of wannabe DMs craft their first adventures.

Sword Coast Legends looks to be capable of supporting campaigns as intricate and broad as a particular DM desires. While it might be wise for novice adventure creators to start small, ambitious storytellers should be able to create in-depth campaigns with branching narratives and secrets for players to discover. And since multiplayer Sword Coast Legends will make it possible for players to rate DMs, it will be really interesting to watch the stars that emerge from the game’s community after launch. 

Time to actually play

Though creating a campaign looked like a ton of fun, the real action in Sword Coast Legends comes in the four player and one real-time DM multiplayer mode, which we got to try out in the second half of the demo. After the new ideas on display in the campaign creation section, the actual gameplay as a hero felt much more familiar. I took on the role of the moon elf cleric Illydia, and fell into sniping enemies with my bow and trying to keep my party members alive with healing spells without any trouble.

If you’ve played other isometric party-based RPGs in the past nothing on the player side of Sword Coast Legends is likely to shock or wow you, but I thought the developers did a good job of making a game which specifically feels like Dungeons & Dragons​. The presence of iconic spells, abilities and enemies lends the game a classic theme, and the adjustments to a real-time system feel natural and well designed. Though the use of cooldown timers rather than short and long rests was controversial with some fans of the tabletop game, the timers feel exactly right in practice. 

Running through a dungeon operated by a real-time DM was a great experience. Though it isn’t really a case of the players against the DM — wiping out a party in the first room of a dungeon won’t be much fun for anyone involved, after all — therew as a liveliness and energy that came from knowing we were battling foes set up by a real person in real time, rather than static, pre-planned encounters.

In our game, one room in particular became the site of repeated showdowns, with new enemies reappearing over and over again as the DM spent his “DM loot” on new challenges. As the time for our demo ran short, he was even able to adjust on the fly and bring the level’s miniboss into that same chamber, making that room the site of the climactic battle rather than the more elaborate chamber that had been previously designed for that encounter.

Postgame

After the demo I tried to get confirmation whether or not it will actually be possible for DMs to make quests and campaigns that don’t require an active real-time DM to run, but was told that’s something that’s still being hammered out. While it would seem odd if it wasn’t possible to set up DM-less quests and dungeons, it’s clear the true multiplayer Sword Coast Legends experience is designed around the real-time DM. 

The central concern now for the title is the question of the player community. While it’s easier to gather five people together online than in person for a game of D&D, it would be a real shame to see the game flounder due to a lack of quality real-time DMs or player-created content. It remains to be seen exactly what sort of matchmaking features the developers come up with to encourage the growth of the game community, but if they can pull it off it will be great to see a powerful, fun, and officially licensed new way to experience digital D&D. 

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