Learning how to play D&D isn't always easy, so Adventures & Academia: First Class wants to change that. Tipping you headfirst into a school where young heroes come to learn their craft (and get up to plenty of shenanigans on the side, naturally), this project is gunning to provide a seamless entry-point to the game. And because it's already quadrupled a $19,850 target on Kickstarter after less than a week, the idea seems to have struck a chord with folks looking for a more straightforward route into Dungeons and Dragons books.
Considering how Adventures & Academia came about, that's only fair. For lead designer and longtime sculptor Thomas Lishman, the whole project began because he wanted to teach others how to play D&D - but hit an unexpected roadblock.
Doing your homework
Although many new Dungeon Masters would opt for the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set, Lishman felt that it made more sense to have his campaign begin a little closer to home. Namely, he would take his party back to school - quite literally.
"The school setting is perfect to introduce new players or the mechanics," Lishamn says. "Everyone's familiar with school to some extent, right? And there's such good social elements in there. It's just [the] perfect environment for role-playing and getting people to do fun activities together."
The trouble is, there aren't many miniatures out there that can serve as student stand-ins; the market is dominated by grizzled adventurers that are the pinnacle of derring-do. That leaves only one solution: Lishman would have to make those miniatures himself.
The result is Adventures & Academia. A boxset more than three years in the making and brought to life by Steamforged Games (the company behind the Horizon Zero Dawn board game), it features 12 miniatures that span D&D's classes, species, and disciplines. To keep things straightforward for those learning how to play D&D, these characters have their own pre-made - but modifiable - stat sheets to go with fold-out folios containing notes on what players can do each turn. This helps avoid combat-by-rote and serves as a reminder that fights are supposed to make players feel awesome. It's not just a case of moving into position and rolling a dice to deal damage; you can be much more creative. Want to prepare a counterattack or leap onto that nearby table before jump-kicking a tankard into your foe's face? Adventures & Academia is more than happy to comply. It'll walk you through how to do it, too.
This kind of accessibility defines the project. As an example, making sure these sheets are accessible beyond simple availability is crucial to Lishman and the team.
"We've ensured that we're actually putting all the PDFs online for the character sheets, as well as reader-accessible versions of them," Lishman explains. "Because that's something that's really important. You can have as many fancy fonts as you want for fantasy stuff, but making sure that that's accessible [and readable] for everyone who's downloading them and printing them off is just as important."
That supportive atmosphere is mirrored in the mechanics of Adventures & Academia. More specifically, 'House rules' offer a helping hand when players need it most.
"So for example, House Might will let you re-roll d20s on attacks and strength. You also get to roll your Hit die [if you reach zero HP] and essentially resurrect once per level," Lishman reveals. "Basically, all of these House benefits are to enhance the classes. Not to give me a leg up or anything, but just to make the experience more fun and more engaging at early levels. It's like providing a safety net, which is obviously great for new players. It's also fun for returning players, because the last thing you want to do is walk into a room full of traps, and that's [the end of] the character you spent ages making."
It's a similar story with the Kickstarter-exclusive Professor Winkleton - who just so happens to be a hat-wearing wizard dog (I'll give you a moment to let the magnificence of that sink in). Set aside for more experienced players or as a Dungeon Master-controlled companion, it's an all-new mini-class designed to assist students with spells and dice re-rolls. And even though it starts the adventure at a fifth level, Lishman assures me that a lot of care went into making sure the character wasn't overpowered. The professor is a support structure, not a get-out-of-jail-free card.
The same can be said for Adventure & Academia's new rival and friendship mechanic. Serving as an icebreaker that eases everyone into the experience both socially and in terms of gameplay, it immediately sets up character dynamics that are ripe for roleplay.
"So once per short rest, you can roll a d20 to protect your best friend," Lishamn says. "Or you get an extra roll to try and one up your rival."
That personalisation stems from the boxset's origin as something Lishman started during his spare time. In every respect, this is the definition of a passion project; much like settings such as The Forgotten Realms (D&D's 'default' universe and home to games including Baldur's Gate 3), it spun out of a personal idea that was never originally meant to be mass-produced. This gives it a unique sense of identity that helps it stand out from other academia-adjacent products such as Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos. Indeed, the influence of anime and Lishman's own dynamic style is baked into its DNA. This results in a bouncier, more fantastical feel.
Making sure sculpts feature a diverse heritage has also been at the forefront of Adventures & Academia's design. The idea is that players from every walk of life should be able to see themselves in at least one character, including wheelchair-using players who aren't usually represented as adventurers in fantasy. Fundamentally, it's a chance to broaden horizons in every respect.
"That's the core aspect of the whole product - making something accessible that anybody can pick up," Lishman notes. "We've had some amazing comments from people saying, 'my kids will love this'. It's the most rewarding feeling ever to see someone say that."
Because these miniatures - which are absolutely gorgeous, from what I've seen so far - can be utilised across the best tabletop RPGs and in add-on modules such as Epic Encounters, there's plenty of scope to continue your character's story beyond Adventures & Academia as well. In fact, Lishman explains that it's rooted in lore and roleplaying hooks aplenty. For instance, the founder of House Might is a sentient sword that challenges students to 66 tasks every few years. The furthest anyone has gotten in-universe is 22, so the potential side quests may as well write themselves.
For Lishman, this fast-growing mythology is a dream come true. His enthusiasm is infectious, especially when it comes to possible expansions down the line (while nothing is officially on the cards yet, Steamforged has very much left that door open). And seeing as the Adventures & Academia Kickstarter is sitting at $101,000+ after just seven days, players clearly share his excitement.
"Although I've worked for many, many cool projects over the years, including Critical Role, this has been the first one where you could feel every hour and every minute of passion going straight into it," Lishman tells me. "The most exciting thing is collaborating really closely with everyone else at Steamforged to make it become a reality, and seeing other people believe in it. I'm over the moon about the way it's going - it's been a really, really fun journey."
If you're new to D&D, then, this is one to watch; it's quite literally for everyone. We'll have to wait and see how the final product turns out, but with any luck, Adventures & Academia will be the first semester of many.
Adventures & Academia: First Class is available to back on Kickstarter until December 7 at 1pm ET/6pm GMT. While you wait for it to land on your doorstep sometime next year, be sure to check out the best board games or the top board games for adults.