Neverwinter’s Lead Designer on How Dungeons & Dragons Informs Game Design

When a Dungeon & Dragons-inspired game called Neverwinter went into open beta in late 2015, lead designer Cory Butler was tasked with designing the enemies and dungeons to match D&D’s tone. In 2016, he left his job as an engineer at Google to work on bringing Dungeons & Dragons into gaming culture.

Dungeons & Dragons has been a part of art and culture since the early 1970s. In Neverwinter, players can explore lore-laden dungeons of terrors from lorebooks within the city itself or through adventures with friends in one player co-op mode.

The “neverwinter bard” is a class in the MMO game, Neverwinter. Lead Designer of the game, Cory Butler, talks about how Dungeons & Dragons informs his design.

Dungeons & Dragons has undoubtedly influenced the long-running MMORPG Neverwinter. The game is based in the Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting and transforms the tabletop game into an action-oriented MMORPG that anybody can enjoy. Of course, the game’s creators are D&D specialists as well, with head designer Randy Mosiondz boasting 36 years of DM expertise as well as a long list of game design credits. By email, I chatted with Mosiondz about his experiences as a DM and how they’ve helped him with game design, as well as the problems of translating D&D narratives for an MMORPG like Neverwinter. 

: Obviously, Neverwinter has seen a lot of modifications throughout the course of its eight-year existence. How do you maintain new material and stories both fresh and entertaining for current followers while also making new gamers feel welcome?

Randy Mosiondz (Randy Mosiondz): A lot of it boils down to giving gamers fresh experiences. This might include new Forgotten Realms settings, new villains and storylines, new creatures to combat, or new gameplay mechanics. We also collaborate closely with Wizards of the Coast, and often refer to Neverwinter versions of their modules like Curse of Strahd, Elemental Evil, Rise of Tiamat, Descent into Avernus, and so on. We also create fresh narratives based on the history of the Forgotten Realms and new D&D books.

What skills from your time as a D&D DM have helped you in video game design? Have you incorporated any features from your own games into Neverwinter?

Mosiondz: I’ve discovered that a lot of D&D DM prep work is extremely similar to Neverwinter content game creation. Rough paper drawings (often on grid paper) or their digital equivalents are used to create map designs. In terms of rhythm and escalation, encounter breakdowns are relatively similar, but bringing in a variety of gameplay and thematic rewards.

Yes, certain small characters and references from Neverwinter have made it into the game. The allusions would only be recognized and appreciated by those who had participated in my home games!

(Photo courtesy of Cryptic Studios)

When it comes to preparation and running games, what is one item that both novice and experienced DMs tend to overlook?

Mosiondz: I believe that certain DMs have a very clear idea of what they want their game to be like. But how the player characters integrate into the world is just as crucial. Players invest a lot of time and effort into their characters, and they should feel like they belong and are part of the universe. For example, if a bandit murders a player character’s sweetheart, you, as the DM, may make that bandit a minion of the great enemy in your game. Making a campaign personal, a tale that you and your players can tell together, is crucial.

Mosiondz: Several D&D campaign tales have been adapted for Neverwinter, including Tomb of Annihilation and Descent into Avernus. How do you pick which elements of a campaign to use in Neverwinter when adapting a tale for the game?

When we evaluate a tabletop module for conversion to a Neverwinter module, the narrative effect combined with action gameplay, as well as resource availability, are the most important factors. First, we strive to isolate the important narrative components from the module that support the action-gameplay style that we’ve created in Neverwinter. Players spend a lot of time in Neverwinter developing their characters, so we want to make sure we give them enough challenges to justify their commitment.

We’ve built up a decent resource collection over the years for materials, but the tabletop module occasionally has unique images that are unlike anything we’ve done previously. So we’ll need to work out what type of new environment kits are needed, as well as new monsters, sound effects, and animations, and then break it down into what we can do using a combination of new and recycled materials.

Mosiondz: The fact that D&D’s newest adventure, Wild Beyond the Witchlight, may be explored without battle is an intriguing twist. Do you think Neverwinter will ever try to tell a tale that isn’t about combat?

We have a lot of fantastic storytellers in our studio, so it’s not out of the question. However, as previously said, Neverwinter is primarily an action game. That implies that, although we may have certain tasks that aren’t strictly combat-related, we aren’t primarily a story-driven game. Having non-combat stories would be a significant departure for our core player base.

On Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, Neverwinter is available for free download.

Neverwinter is a game that has been around for years. The newest expansion, “Neverwinter 2021,” was recently released with new content and updates. I spoke with the lead designer of the game, Tyler Thompson, about how Dungeons & Dragons informs their design. Reference: neverwinter 2021.

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