I managed to pick up the new campaign setting out from WotC while on holiday and I think I will echo what many have said, this is an amazing book. It’s chock full of story hooks and adventure ideas all squeezed into a pretty small landscape within the Forgotten Realms. There is a lot going on here in the book and I think WotC has really set the bar high for other campaign books to follow.
Themes – Aside from the nuts and bolts of the setting and locales, I really like the inclusion of character themes. Immediately players have an option to include something in their background that can align them with particular factions in Neverwinter, and give them some motivation or goals. For the DM, they immediately can have some hooks and adventure ideas to reel in the players. I could easily see the first session being folks just rolling up their characters, seeing what themes they might pick up, brainstorming their background a bit, and giving the DM a checklist of ideas to take the campaign off in a certain direction. It really has the potential to effortlessly mesh the main adventure story with the characters.
Heroic Tier – Looks like WotC has been digging through the character builder a bit and come to realize that people like the heroic tier. Some might consider it limiting, but I think it was a great decision to put a cap on the expected levels for the region. I think it gives the DM a broad assortment of villains, movers, and shakers in Neverwinter and allow for a lot of possibilities right from the start. Honestly I like heroic tier. I’ve yet to dabble much in the paragon tier (and haven’t even tried epic). It just seems that the high end of PC levels makes for a very different type of D&D game, with truly epic threats becoming a bit too large in scale for me. Clawing up through the heroic tier seems more manageable and engaging.
Lots of Tidbit Info – Much of the book is scattered with sidebars giving more detail and ideas to the DM. It breaks up the main text well and is a great way to disperse some story ideas without overwhelming the DM. Clearly outlying the goals of a particular villain is a given, but having that additional sidebar on the same page giving suggestions and ideas for adventures is a huge plus.
Politics and Factions – There are a lot of different groups vying for power in Neverwinter and the book does a pretty decent job of laying out the different relationships each has with other groups. There are a lot of options with the potential of enemies becoming allies for PCs (and vice versa). It’s a shame something like this wasn’t done with the other campaign settings. It really gives the DM a foothold in the politics of the region and allows options for that kind of game. Of course all of this could be skipped if you wanted a traditional hack and slash campaign, but it’s nice to have this type accessible.
Another thing I enjoy is that much of Neverwinter is dynamic. There are guidelines for the DM if certain groups take control (or if particular villains get defeated), so the landscape of power can change. There are also a ton of different groups in the region. So much so, you could run 2-3 different campaigns focused on different factions, and still have a lot of territory to explore. I could easily see a dual campaign going with different groups running simultaneously in Neverwinter. Paths might cross and outcomes could have an effect on the story for other groups, but you could also have such intersections a rare event. Things are that broad with the factions in the region and it allows for a lot of replay.
Embracing Wild Fantasy The underdark, demons, abysmal creatures, and the Shadowfell, it’s all here. You can have that gritty explore the ruins and tame the wilds kind of campaign, but it also allows for some pretty unusual locales. I especially enjoy the inclusion of Evernight, effectively a shadow version of Neverwinter, which throws down the framework for a planar campaign. Pretty fun stuff here and I’m glad that the book gives out a ton of ideas breaking away from the more traditional fantasy themes of past books.
Revisiting Forgotten Realms – I think Forgotten Realms as a 4E campaign setting sort of got a bad rap. Granted a lot of the canon of previous editions was thrown under the bus, but I got what WotC was going for with the new Forgotten Realms. They really wanted to push the points of light theme and it works.
Still, it seemed that each additional campaign setting that came out got better and better in presentation and material. Forgotten Realms seemed to have been kicked to the curb. That’s really a shame as there’s a lot of flavor with the underdark, spellplague, and constant demon incursions. As a high fantasy setting, it invokes a lot of imagination and seems to pull the right strings for making a ‘classic’ D&D campaign. I’m happy to see WotC hasn’t abandoned this setting completely. Hopefully they’ll look at sketching out more regions and groups through DDI content and other books.
To wrap up, I think the Neverwinter Campaign Setting is a great book, especially if you are looking at delving into a Forgotten Realms campaign. There is a lot here, and a DM should expect not to try and digest the whole thing from the start. Rather, I feel it is better to work with small pieces of the game world and run with it. There are so many options and ideas, you can easily revisit Neverwinter and run a different campaign all together the second time around. A good buy if you are looking for some inspiration in your game too.