Eye of the Beholder
Hear ye, hear ye! Fans of Dragon Age: Origins take heed: if you're looking for more cooperative role-playing to tackle with your buddies - and I'm assuming you've already put 900 hours into Divinity: Original Sin - then take a five-foot step towards Sword Coast Legends. Based off of Dungeons & Dragons' 5th Edition ruleset, this game has similar stylish designs as DA:O - and the same pause-and-go combat to boot - complete with all the genre staples you've come to expect.
At GDC 2015, I had the chance to check out an extended demo of the game, complete with a party of four distinct heroes, loot and player customization, undead hordes, and plenty of witty banter. But what really got me jazzed was the game's dungeon master mode. That's right, without needing any sort of special modding know-how, you can whip up a fully customizable adventure for your friends (or strangers online). Click ahead to learn the tools of the trade.
The dungeon master can set traps, spawn enemies, and tell stories
Just like your typical Dungeons & Dragons campaign, it's the job of the dungeon master to create a fun and exciting adventure for players to enjoy. Sword Coast gives you all the tools you need to make a single dungeon - or an entire campaign - with no need for extended charts and graph paper. In the demo I saw, the developers showed off some of the tools at their disposal when working with a single dungeon, including traps and ambushes.
The ambush in question involved a lone, totally-innocent-looking Drow standing on a bridge, just waiting to get beaten up for juicy loot and experience points. When the players approached the Drow, however, that triggered the ambush, which automatically spawned a whole mess of giant spiders on both sides of the bridge. The dungeon master set all this up in real time, moments before the players entered the room. He also went ahead and locked the door leading further into the dungeon, just to be a jerk.
The players see the GM as a "magical wisp"
It's interesting to note that, to the players, the dungeon master's icon appears as a soft ball of white light, which the developers described as a "magical wisp." If you happen to see the wisp flying around in the area you're currently exploring, chances are a nasty surprise is not far behind.
The GM wants to challenge, but not overwhelm, the players
While dungeon masters are omniscient, their powers aren't limitless. Just as a mage requires mana, the dungeon master relies on 'threat'. You start out with a lot of it, but nearly everything the DM does requires some, from spawning enemies to setting traps. A good dungeon master will earn more threat by providing a suitable challenge for players, one that pushes them to the edge without resulting in a string of party wipes.
As a matter of fact, if a dungeon master does decide to go all "rocks fall, everyone dies" on the players, that dungeon master actually starts to lose treat. And once the threat is all gone, the dungeon master's reign of terror (and rocks) is over. The developers emphasized that designing the role of the dungeon master is a balancing act. On the one hand, they want the DM to be lethal and encourage adversarial play, but on the other they don't want the DM to just create a string of impossible challenges (which they could easily do if left unchecked).
The GM also receives loot
Naturally, as the players explore and kill monsters, they are rewarded with sweet, sweet loot. And so is the dungeon master. This loot takes the form of new tricks to play on the players. In the demo I saw, the GM stumbled across a special amulet that let him summon a zombie hoard on command - which was a type of monster he didn't otherwise have access to.
The GM cannot award specific pieces of loot
As I mentioned earlier, the dungeon master's powers are not limitless. In addition to requiring threat to harass - I mean, challenge - the players, the dungeon master also cannot award specific pieces of loot to those players. That's right, no handing out free Vorpal swords to every would-be tomb raider that crosses your path. As the developers noted, the potential for game-breaking exploits is obvious.
This wouldn't be so much of an issue if games were confined to just you and your friends - because if it's just you and your buddies, then who cares, right? But Sword Coast wants players to take their DMing skills online as well, and create quests for players who don't have a DM of their own. And they don't want every dungeon to be "The Dark Caverns of Free Vorpal Swords."
To enjoy with great interest
Clearly, I'm excited for the DM features in Sword Coast Legends. Designing encounters seemed quick, easy, and intuitive - and for an added bit of hilarity, the DM can also assume direct control of powerful boss monsters, should they feel the need to command this personally. Of course, the developers also noted that, if you wanted, you could ignore all the DM stuff and just play the entire campaign with the AI. You know, if you can't take the pressure. BAAWK BAAWK BAAAAWK!!
Excuse us, that was brash. If you're looking for more great GR+ stories, then be sure to look up Is there any place for cutesy mascots in modern games? or try 12 interesting things we learned at GDC 2015.