Why The Wild Beyond the Witchlight is the best Dungeons and Dragons campaign of the year
Dungeons & Dragons is known for its weirdness and extravagant ideas. Abyssal demons and infamous goblins battle mages, wizards and thieves for hidden treasures and fantastic cities. Playing the game is most often associated with deploying a character, determining who your enemy is, and then participating in a long-lasting adventure campaign to kill creatures and restore some sort of order to the game. world. For the most part, the adventures published by developer Wizards of the Coast fit this formula well, and they’re engaging and fun to read and play. However, this fall saw the release of Nature beyond the light of the witches, a slightly offbeat adventure, and I couldn’t pass the end of the year without making sure to highlight it.
Witch has a few basic assumptions that make it different from your average Dungeons & Dragons adventure. The first is that the whole thing, which can easily take over 30 or 40 hours to play depending on your party, is designed to be solved without resorting to combat. D&D roots in war games mean that it has a robust set of combat mechanics, and the reality is that many of the encounters created within its framework implicitly allow violence as a last resort. It takes place in fantastic worlds where, when the situation arises, problems can be solved with swords and spells.
Witch Assumes it’s either unnecessary or a little boring. Taking place through a plane called the Feywild, a kind of fairyland, Witch looks at the conflict resolution of myths, folktales and jokes rather than epic fantasy. You can harvest truffles to be on the safe side of an informant. You can sneak into a carnival and get information from its employees. You can solve a substantial part of a campaign chapter by brainstorming a few puzzles provided by smart goats. It’s a bulky, weird form of D&D storytelling.
The second basic assumption which is augmented in Witch has to do with the way the adventure is framed. In general, without spoiling anything for those who want to play it, the flow of Witch goes like this: Players go to a carnival that travels the multiverse and learn that something bad is happening in the Feywild. They use the carnival as a springboard to fight their way to hidden lands recently subjugated by evil creatures, and they traverse these lands in order to free a fallen ruler from a trap.
In Epic Fantasy Mode, this would be positioned as a series of levels with boss fights. Frankly, most published D&D campaigns have this feeling, and it’s a familiar mode to anyone who has played D&D a lot. While we can certainly play Witch that way, there are detailed guidelines on how to not do it in the written adventure. What is more important than defeating enemies is discovering paths from one area to another and getting information from allies and enemies about the ultimate goal of the campaign. It seems to me that a group could play this whole campaign in a way that completely avoids most of the bigger, meaner creatures, meaning they could go from an interesting encounter to an interesting encounter without facing something too big or stressful (the opposite is true too, by the way; you might just make your way to the end of the mystery).
I stress this because this reliance on social gatherings, skill-based or puzzle-based dating, and a general plurality of routes through adventure means there is so much more to breathe. in the countryside. There are so many well-drawn and remarkable characters playing in the vast ocean of children’s stories, folktales, and mythology that it’s hard to choose favorites. There is a dandelion knight who tries to protect a queen bee from being captured by a Cyclops wielding a giant bee hive as a nest. There is a bandit bunny with a huge scarf who owes a witch. Children captured and stolen in fairyland can be recruited into some sort of heist-like escape. And there are at least two dozen other well-drawn and easily adapted creatures and situations that aren’t standard D&D fare for players and DMs.
I am pleased to Witch because it’s the most interested and committed to a D&D product that I’ve been in for a while, and it comes down to the game of actively shaking up some of its basic assumptions so players can get a box new and fun fairy tale tool to play with. There is nothing that I want more than more things that are like Nature beyond the light of the witches in tone and concept, providing players with a wider range of shenanigans to experience in the Dungeons & Dragons playbook.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman.