Dragons and Dungeons designer approaches to building a new starter set

Dragons and Dungeons designer approaches to building a new starter set

Updated: 5 months, 5 days, 23 hours, 5 minutes, 25 seconds ago

How does Wizards of the Coast make sure that a Dungeon & Dragons player’s first adventure is satisfying? The Wizards of the Coast released a new Dungeons andamp; Dragons Starter Set earlier this year. It contains a wide range of books and software intended to help newcomers learn how to play game the popular tabletop roleplaying game. The new Starter Set had a new adventure, Dragons of Stormwreck, which brought players into the ancient conflict between metallic and chromatic dragons and featured artwork inspired by the characters that aired in the 1980s cartoon classic Dungeons and Dragons.

It was a pleasure to speak with James Wyatt, founder of Dragons of Stormwreck, about the new adventure and what Wizards had when the new adventure was built. Our first question to Wyatt, who was the author of Fizban’s 2021 dragon-focused rulebook Treasury of Dragons, was how his approach changed and the newer book would not be in traditional fashion. “Fundamentally, adventure is a kind of different concept” says Wyatt. “A book like Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons is beautiful, but I’m just getting to spout ideas until my head is empty of them.” Fizban’s has many tables with adventures hooks and scenes on them. I wouldn’t really ever spend a lot of time building them. But adventure is an opportunity to take a couple of those ideas and get them to a little more fulfilled.

Dragons are the most popular form of the word “seared” in Stormwreck Island. Dragons are also common for dragons, but one only adds to the notion that dragons are unique in Dungeons and other dragons. Since early starters include dragons in the cover and adventures, none really explored the concept of how dragons fundamentally transform the world around them. “Partially after work with Fizban, I wanted to create an adventure that focuses on dragons, and which is a real impact,” said Wyatt. “The whole adventure revolves around not only two wyrmlings, but, importantly, the impact of an ancient conflict between dragons that had inspired the island and continued to have magic effects on the world.”

(Photo: Wizards of the Coast)

While the Starter Set adventure isn’t a full-length campaign, Wyatt and other designers on his team focused less on making an adventure that balanced the three pillars of play in D&D (combat, exploration, and social encounters) than more on a handful of concepts. “If you are to brainstorm a list of things you want to ensure that starting players encounter, it would be too much for a starting adventure,” said Wyatt. “That adventure is a bit more focused than that.” Introducing D&D dragons is a big goal. You aren’t playing the game of Thrones. These are our dragons and what makes them different.”

The place to explore is chosen to give the adventure a modern-day feel. With these clearly defined and readable locations, characters could explore. However, Dragons of Stormwreck Isle evolved a bit in the face of aliens, and they introduced myconids and creature creatures that the players encounter. I don’t think we’ve ever seen myconids in an early set before,” says Wyatt. “They’re not necessarily a monster that people immediately associate with D&D’s, but they’re interesting, and an opportunity for potentially really wild and psychedelic role-playing encounters with these fungus creatures that communicate with spores.”

The adventure, at all, was a central point that Wizards wanted to explore in recent products, the idea of non-human humanoids such as orcs or kobolds are a choice between friends, opponents, and the individual personality of a person, and that encounters can be resolved without conflict. “We wanted to make sure that it was possible at least to play through this adventure without always resorting to combat,” said Wyatt, referring to the 2021 adventure Wild Beyond the Witchlight as an inspiration. As for myconids, you can create creative problem solving rather than just come to fight, which will seem to a lot of new players do not necessarily assume is necessary that combat is the right way to go, if they aren’t already indoctrinated into the way of playing D&D.

Although in the end, Wyatt said that the goals of D&D’s Starter Sets hadn’t changed much since he picked up his first Boxed Set back in 1979. “I bought this for my friend in 1979,” said Wyatt, pulling his vintage copy from a shelf. “A couple of years ago, my brother got the original box set in the Christmas present, so I desperately needed to understand how it was a game. I found out that this book helped me understand that it was a game and helped me figure out how to play it. That adventure included with this, In Search of the Unknown, was intended to teach players how to become a dungeon master. It taught you how to use that game as a whole. That’s not really the same thing as what we’re doing on starter sets to this day. From the first page, we’ll help you understand how this is, what you played, and what it meant to do that.”

Dragons of Stormwreck Island is a new set for D&D, widely available now.