Vault of the Dracolich (2013): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 7

Vault of the Dracolich is a D&D Next adventure By Mike Shea, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, and Teos Abadia for level 4 characters.

The Living Greyhawk organized-play campaign pioneered a popular new way to play Dungeons & Dragons at conventions. In Battle Interactives, multiple tables could join together in the same adventure. The effect of actions, successes, and failures at tables could ripple to others in the interactive.

To fuel excitement for D&D’s upcoming fifth edition, the D&D team planned a gameday for stores. Vault of the Dracolich co-designer Teos Abadia explains, “Wizards of the Coast wanted to see whether a gameday could be transformed from the typical adventure format into a very exciting event: a hybrid between a battle interactive and Lair Assault.” The event proved a huge success.

“The project’s approach was a new one for Wizards,” Abadia writes. “We designers were all freelancers acting as a team, instead of writing and submitting our work separately to WotC for them to put together. Mike was the author, I was the developer, and Scott the editor (and first draft cartographer). As a result, we all collaborated heavily and all took turns scheming, writing, developing, and editing.”

During the adventure, bands of heroes infiltrate a temple of the Cult of the Dragon to recover an ancient elven staff from the dracolich, Detchroyaster. Merric Blackman describes the setup. “Vault has a number of different groups investigating different parts of the dungeon at the same time. So, from one to seven tables can play at the same time, with a DM at each table, and one further person would act as the event’s coordinator, making sure everything worked smoothly and triggering the big events that affected several tables at once.”

“The lair of the Dracolich is large enough that it accompanies four sections, ranging from a Lizardmen commune to a temple of the dead god Bhaal,” writes Alex Lucard. “Each of the four locations offers a very different experience, so if you decide to run all four parts as a mini campaign or a single party, things won’t feel repetitive.”

The adventure encourages interaction between tables. Shannon Appelcline writes, “The coordinator moves about, threatening adventurers when the dracolich tracks them down; tables briefly come together and then separate, exchanging resources and coordinating plans. Even compared with similar adventures created for organized play, Dracolich stands out for the amount interaction possible between parties. Its game-store-sized scale lets everyone share the same dungeon.

“Groups that rely solely on one strategy, whether sneakiness or smacking monsters, will probably have some difficulty. The adventure is exceptionally well-designed, and various creative approaches are required for PCs to move through the complex safely. Enemies may be defeated, fooled, or co-opted with role-playing; regardless, it will take canny and aware players to succeed.”

In an review, Vestige describes play. “There’s a breakneck rush through the dungeon to reach the staff, and then a massive climactic battle with even more to do than there are players. That’s a solid formula for a memorable day of D&D.”

In his account of running the adventure during a game day, Merric Blackman calls the experience “fantastic” and the scenario “something quite special.”

In a post, co-author Mike Shea offers advice for converting the adventure to fifth edition.

Next: Number 6.

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6 thoughts on “Vault of the Dracolich (2013): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 7

  1. Pingback: Sunless Citadel (2000): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 8 | DMDavid

  2. alphastream

    I clicked on this link ready to read about one of my favorite adventures and… seeing something I worked on here? Incredible. Thank you. It means a lot to me to see that this adventure can merit such acclaim. Truly, this is an emotional moment for me.

    We’ve tried at various times to recreate the process that took place with Vault. Scott and Mike and I really clicked together. We had weekly meetings that kept us on track and caused a furious exchange of cool ideas. Mike’s writing was phenomenal. We would talk about a section of the Vault and what it might hold, and he would return the next time with this beautiful writing that was so succinct. I learned a lot from Mike and still go back to those memories as I try to improve my writing. Scott was amazing. He has so much experience. Working with Scott is like exploring a dungeon at 5th level with a 20th level bard in the party… the AD&D kind, with all the levels in everything. His wisdom and wonderful way of working was a huge part of the success of the project. He really helped shape the experience and I credit him for how well all the zones work to bring tables together.

    A fun part of the project is that very few parts of the adventure can be clearly labeled as one person’s. The final encounter is a great example where all three of us had key ideas, wrote parts, drafted mechanics, and smoothed words. Really collaborative, and it’s been impossible so far for me to capture this same feel on another project.

    It felt important to create this experience at the time (a time when interactive elements weren’t recognized by WotC). Greg Bilsland, the excellent project manager at WotC, underscored that this was an experiment for WotC. For me, at least, it felt like the success or failure of this would register at WotC and determine how these events would be thought of internally for the next decade or so. Back then, internal playtests involved most staff members. Vault went really well internally and for many staff it was a new and exciting experience. They talked about how much fun they had during the playtest. I like to think we accomplished a lot with Vault, impacting how WotC looks at such events even today (though many more examples of fun interactives have come along since).

    A last thought on Vault, and that’s how well it has stood the test of time. Older adventures can fade from memory and see little play. It’s a shame to see one’s work be forgotten (though it’s comforting that we can roll in our experiences from old projects into new ones). Vault, however, has kept a presence. The DMs Guild helps, but even the gameday kits still see use. DMs have sent me messages on my blog or come up to me at conventions to share how they still run Vault, including for many tables at yearly cons. Like Candlekeep, the experience provided is one that DMs and organizers seem to treasure and seem to return to over time. I can’t properly express how much that does for me, as a writer.

    Thank you.

    1. David Martinez

      I think it’s amazing that two of the creators have commented on these reviews. It’s great to get your feedback on how the process worked. This sounds like an amazing campaign that would lead to many memorable tales.

  3. David Martinez

    Now I’m thinking that Deekin from Neverwinter Nights was inspired by Meepo. Deekin was a great character who I always kept in my party, despite others having better abilities.

  4. Pingback: The 10 Greatest Dungeons & Dragons Adventures Since 1985 | DMDavid

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