How Sword Coast Legends Won Me Over With Dungeon Master Mode

When I first saw Sword Coast Legends back at GDC this year, I thought it was nice, neat, good, all of those harmless adjectives we use when there's just not much to write home about. It was a four-player dungeon crawler with the typical Dungeons & Dragons fantasy fare released in time to capitalize on the revival of classic RPGs like Pillars of Eternity. A thirty-minute demo showed a four-man group with a fighter, a rogue, a cleric, and a wizard moving from room to room in a cavernous dungeon, crawling with spiders, loot, and undead. Pinch me if you haven't heard all this before.

But I knew that Sword Coast Legends had one trick up its sleeve, one that it was ready and eager to reveal at E3 this year: Dungeon Master mode. Back in the day, I was a rookie dungeon master myself, creating catacombs with traps, ambushes, and objects with intricate descriptions in case one of my fellow players was curious about its properties. So the thought of revisiting those days in digital form scratched my nostalgia enough to give the game another chance to compel me. And well it did.

In a nutshell, Dungeon Master mode gives you so many tools and features at your disposal that you not only feel like a tabletop dungeon master, but an actual game designer. You can tailor environments to your liking, with the demonstrator showing off a literal cabin in the woods where players can walk into the house to find a dead body face down on the floor among well-placed blood splatters. Carefully looking around the room will lead to clues and a questline that can lead to faraway places and a dungeon already crafted by the Dungeon Master.

It was at this time that I decided to take the reins and discover what being the Dungeon Master would be like. The developers had already created a set of cultists and spiders that I could plop into the stony, underground dungeon at will, but add some comedic flair, I decided to follow a Canadian theme (it was late in the day, I admit). I named one of the tougher spiders “The Canadian Moose” and placed a column in the middle of the room, which when clicked, displayed the following message: “You know what country to blame.”

Knowing that the other players in my session were mostly developers, I decided to show no mercy. Before the players reached the room with the main cultist, I dropped freeze traps, poison traps, and plenty of eggs in places where they wouldn't have enough time to crack them before spiders hatched all over the place. In another long hallway, I placed glowing mushrooms and decorative eggs to disguise the spider eggs to confuse them. And once I accumulated enough DM threat, which builds over time, I made sure to make the final room extremely difficult by pairing the giant boss spider with other bosses of my own. It was at that point that the developer watching me the entire time told me to back off a bit, which I begrudgingly did for the sake of the other journalist in the room. (You owe me, stranger!)

I can already see myself spending hours crafting campaigns: towns with bustling NPCs and underground fighting pits, sandy beaches with undead pirates and buried treasure, a labyrinth that requires players to answer irritating riddles, and a land of friendly demons who have an obsession with cheese. Those of you who have secretly wanted to create a quest in fantastical lands (say, in Skyrim) can now do so (or at least get some practice) and for those who don't particularly care for Dungeon Master mode will still benefit with all the extra content that the community will provide.

Sword Coast Legends will launch on PC via Steam sometime in 2015. You can pre-order the title off the official website for $34.99, as well as pre-order a Digital Deluxe Edition for $59.99 or a Limited Edition for $239.99. Campaign versions for both special editions cost more but come with more copies of the game so that you and up to four players can play for a much lower overall cost.