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A Look Back at Gen Con
Design & Development
Bart Carroll

What’s this—didn’t Gen Con wrap up back on August 7th?

True enough, but now that we’ve returned and recuperated from the show (and have started to work off all the steaks and shakes and assorted other convention grub), we’ve had time to look back at all that transpired. And so we wanted to take this opportunity in Design & Development to share some of our efforts at the show—what we planned, what took place, and what we took away from the best four days in gaming.

In no particular order:

1. D&D Open Championship

Earlier this year, we invited you to contribute encounters that would go into the D&D Open Championship. Five winners had their submissions worked into the adventure, with Logan Bonner overseeing the ultimate design.

With our Neverwinter campaign underway, we wanted to tie the championship with the fate of the city—in this case, going back to the eruption of Mount Hotenow thirty years prior, which destroyed much of Neverwinter. As the adventure began, each team of 5 players heard the following:

It’s been a long adventure for the crew of the North Wind II. Out of a sense of revenge, the Eight Finger gang kidnapped most of the ship’s crew and spirited them away. It took a long time for you to track them to the Neverwinter Woods, and more than a little risky effort to free the captives.

After all that, a night of celebration at the Shining Serpent Inn in Neverwinter was long overdue. Now, you and the rest of the crew have taken rooms upstairs, ready to sleep the day away as the sun rises.

Suddenly, a rumbling snaps you out of your celebratory mood. The sound is deafening, the timbers of the inn cracking and splintering as they shake. Through the windows, a great cloud of ash looms. Jets of lava arc up into the sky from the peak of Mount Hotenow in the distance.

The city is under assault from the deadliest forces of nature. Reaching the North Wind II promises escape along the water. It’s a long trip for a tired crew, but it might be your only chance for survival.

The volcano has erupted, and the teams not only had to escape in the North Wind II, but bring along enough of their crew (or replacement crewmembers) to sail the ship. As part of the two-round, single elimination tournament, teams had to survive the following six encounters:

Encounter 1: Out of the Inn. Rumbling earth, a deadly rain of lava, and a pair of rampaging fire elementals awaken the adventurers at their inn. However, their escape is complicated when one of their own crew members snaps in reaction to the disaster, calling on devils that threaten to destroy them all.

Encounter 2: Over the River. To cross the lava-filled Neverwinter River, the adventurers take the only path available to them: a fallen tower that hangs precariously between the riverbanks. Inside, vicious gargoyles and a fire archon attack, even as the lava below creates a deadly hazard.

Encounter 3: Through the Streets. In the chaotic streets of Neverwinter, the adventurers run into their old enemies—the Eight Finger gang. Can they take the gang down and escape the roiling cloud of deadly ash that threatens to smother the city?

Encounter 4: Down in the Underground. The party ducks into the sewers to avoid the ash cloud. A troll and its vicious pets lurk here, feeding on stragglers they grab during the chaos.

Encounter 5: Onto the Docks. Nothing stands between the crew and their ship–except for a few more members of the Eight Finger gang, plus an elemental cataclysm that tears the ground apart around them. Even after escaping those threats, the characters must have saved enough crew members to allow the North Wind II to sail to safety.

Encounter 6: Shipwrecked. A volcanic dragon descends from the clouds, forcing the North Wind II to be beached on a small island. The island’s residents are already enough of a threat before the dragon and its followers attack, leaving the adventurers fighting for their lives.

Near the end of the adventure, assuming teams managed to safely board their ship, they were treated with the following description of Neverwinter’s destruction:

The North Wind II pulls away from the dock, Neverwinter disappearing into the distance. Massive chunks of earth continue flying into the sky, and a great cloud of ash enshrouds the city. Smoke from the mountain hangs heavy in the air, darkening the sky, yet you and your crew are safe—a worthwhile reward after a long, violent morning.

For an excellent write-up of the event, also be sure to read Dungeon’s’s report.

2. Seminars

Each year, Wizards runs a number of seminars—this year (as with past years) taking place in the Indiana Ballrooms of the Marriott Hotel. As a quick note, attendance at these seminars was free. That said, we wanted to make sure that attendees who officially registered for the seminars were seated first. Those without tickets were then allowed to claim any open seats, or take standing room along the sides or back of the seminar room. We felt this method to be fairest for everyone involved, and we’ll likely continue to employ it at future seminars.

Regarding some of the specific seminars. Greg Bilsland ran the D&D Live Game, with a merry band of R&D members in the role of the party, and the entire audience in the role of their players. For those able to attend, we hope you enjoyed your participation—and that your sensibilities were not overly offended!

Also, Mike Mearls led the D&D Product Preview seminar, in which several key announcements were made. First, that the Dungeon of Dread boardgame had been removed from the product catalog. Second, that the Lords of Waterdeep boardgame will appear in 2012, as more of a European-style game as compared to the recent D&D Adventure System (Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon, Legend of Drizzt) games. And third, that next year would see a return of miniatures—with themed sets and rules for a skirmish game. Perhaps most exciting of all, these skirmish rules will undergo a round of open playtesting—as mentioned in the seminar, these playtest rules will be made available, for free online (in the days to come).

Videos for the R.A. Salvatore interview have now been posted to YouTube (along with our Conquest of Nerath learn-to-play). And of course, The Tome Show remains an outstanding place to find complete podcasts of most of the seminars.

3. Neverwinter Mass Adventure

For those who aligned yourselves with Bregan D’aerthe, we (covertly) salute you! Of course that’s because it was my own personal faction choice, as well as R.A. Salvatore’s (who actively campaigned for folks to sign up at his seminar). Jarlaxle and his mercenary band of drow ended up as the ultimate winners, a newfound influence over Neverwinter that will later materialize during this season of D&D Encounters.

I spoke about the mass adventure in the latest D&D Alumni column—how a small group (which included Toby Maheras, Chris Tulach, James Wyatt, and myself) wanted to organize an social media event at the convention. Very early on, it was decided that QR codes would allow for a scavenger hunt, taking participants on a search across various places around the con (including Scotty’s Brewhouse, discussed below).

As Chris sagely decreed, there needed to be sufficient codes to engage participants, but not so many that they’d be overwhelmed trying to complete the hunt and take them away from gaming as much as they could at the con! We wanted the hunt to be a supplemental activity folks could take part in, that would both connect our various locations around the convention site and also tie in with the overarching Neverwinter theme.

Tying the hunt to Neverwinter led to the creation of the factions (we had originally discussed anywhere from 2-5), with 3 voted on as an optimal number. Making sure that each faction had a distinct identity and connection to Neverwinter led us very quickly to New Neverwinter, Thay, and Bregan D’aearth (or, as some have viewed it, Good, Evil, and Neutral; or Fighters, Wizards, and Rogues).

James Wyatt developed the story behind the mass adventure, further connecting events happening between the D&D Game Day (Gates of Neverdeath) and the D&D Encounters season (Lost Crown of Neverdeath). The crown, we knew, needed to be prominently featured. Its supposed arrival at Neverwinter took place during the Game Day adventure, and of course the Encounters season centers around its recovery. So, not only were participants searching for the hidden QR codes, but their chosen factions were involved in the power struggle within the city—and would influence who gained ultimate control of the crown. It helped that a physical representation of the crown itself was commissioned and paraded through the convention on its way to display in the booth.

For those that chose to participate, we hid 5 codes throughout the convention. For those who wished to commit even more time and effort into the mass adventure, we also provided for additional codes. Hidden at variable places throughout the con (and hinted at in our Twitter channel), finding these extra codes unlocked a greater prize for participants… and a greater choice. These participants could claim a T-shirt from us (always welcome con swag), or they could forgo their shirt in favor of awarding their faction more points! (An early suggestion was for Bregan D’aerth followers to either claim the shirt or subtract points from other factions.) It was satisfying—and surprising—to find that many participants chose the points as their ultimate prize. They believed enough in their faction to make this sacrifice!

We hope you enjoyed the Mass Adventure. There were plenty of lessons we learned along the way, and options we’d love to expand for potential future versions (how might gamers at home, who couldn’t make the trip to Gen Con, participate?).

So please—so send us your thoughts, feedback, and suggestions.

4. Scotty’s Brewhouse

One of the QR codes led folks to Scotty’s Brewhouse—also the site of the D&D pub trivia event, emceed by the always capable Mike Robles, and won by the Lords of Tyr.

For those who visited, Scotty’s featured a D&D-themed menu, with descriptions written up by members of R&D. As a final note, I can attest to watching Trevor Kidd, from, the Community Team, attempt to eat Bigby’s Crushing Burger.

And yes, he failed.

(47 Kbs PDF)
Bart Carroll
Bart Carroll has been a part of Wizards of the Coast since 2004, and a D&D player since 1980 (and has fond memories of coloring the illustrations in his 1st Edition Monster Manual). He currently works as producer for the D&D website. You can find him on Twitter (@bart_carroll) and at
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