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Why I’m Disappointed about Murder in Baldur’s Gate

Okay, I might take some flame for this, but I can’t stay silent on the matter – I am disappointed. This is shocking because I was so excited when Wizards of the Coast announced that they were making the upcoming D&D encounters season (Murder in Baldur’s Gate) a pay product that will be marketed and placed on the shelves of game stores (and Amazon). Unable to get to a store on Wednesdays and participate in the D&D Encounters program, I have been clamoring for WotC to sell their encounters kits for several years now. Though there was a bit of controversy about the pay-for-product aspect, I was one of the people who was happy about the opportunity to pick up the product. I thought, $35 isn’t a bad deal if you get a whole campaign (season) of encounters adventure in the package!

I’m not as happy after reading this preview over at DungeonsMaster.com.

One of the reasons that I often lobbied for WotC selling the encounters packets to the public market is that we would then have the maps and tokens available to people who could not, for whatever reason, make it to the encounters night – I wasn’t the only one asking. So now they are addressing the issue and have created a product to sell – YAY! But now I find out that the packet itself doesn’t come with playing maps or tokens or even player handouts? And the stats have to be downloaded and printed elsewhere?

*sigh* Thanks for failing at this one WotC – I thought you were giving me what I was clamoring for, but instead, you gave me a shallow husk of it. To be clear, I don;t care about downloading the stats elsewhere and not printing them in the book – I was wondering how they were going to make a reasonably sized product that contain monster stats for all three systems, so downloading them from the website seems a good way to get the information out there.

To clarify, yes, there is a map of Baldur’s gate on the screen, but it doesn’t do anything to help the DM adjudicate the combat sequences. This package is meant to be played with either 3.5, 4, or next, and the last time I looked, both 3.5 and 4e used tactical combat with miniatures and battle maps. The fact that this new encounters packet is missing those items makes it that much more difficult for a DM to run the module in those two systems, even though the marketing says it can be played in any of the 3 systems. Maps and tokens have been standard with every other encounters season packet, so it was reasonable to expect them to be included with this one as well, especially since they have moved to a pay system to get the product.

Oh, but they are making maps for this product? Yes, they are – but guess what – you can’t buy them. According to this post over at the Wizards Play Network they are in the encounters Launch Weekend Kit that the store gets. Now, to clarify once again, so that I am not misleading anyone, if you read the post at the play network you find out that they aren’t actually making maps and tokens for this adventure. The maps are actually player maps: “The player maps give an image of the city of Baldur’s Gate, with key locations called out, beckoning to be visited by curious adventures.” So, still no help running the game for those of us that want to use tactical battle maps in 3.5 and 4e.

So I am now a lot less interested in buying this package. I don’t play in the Forgotten Realms, and am not interested in the Sundering Event. I don’t need any more adventures, really, because I have so many that I could never play them all. So why was I going to purchase this product? Because I wanted to support WotC for doing something cool – for making an encounters season that can be played in 3.5, 4, or next. I wanted to support WotC for releasing a new product while in development of the new system (and therefore, let’s face it, not having a big sales year). I wanted to support WotC for listening to the fans who wanted to buy the encounters seasons from Wizards of the Coast (and not the ridiculously inflated ebay prices that those kits go for). But now… the lack of maps and token, and without the ability to get the in-store kit (which has the first session adventure, by the way – “Inside the Launch Weekend kit (which we’ll describe below) will be an introductory adventure experience, but that will only cover the very first session of play”) and any playing aids at all, really, have removed all of my reasons to buy it, and I am left with more reasons to be not interested.

Does it make a difference to you? Will you still buy it? Were you angered at them charging for it? Are you excited despite having to maps or tokens? Let me know, I would like to hear everyone’s opinions on this.

Even through my disappointment, I, as always, wish you good gaming.





DM Samuel is the Editor-in-Chief here at RPG Musings as well as the podcast editor for The Tome Show. He is also a host of the gaming podcast Play on Target. He plays all manner of role-playing games and boardgames and continues to learn new games all the time (and new things about old games, too). Sam lives in Upstate New York with his wife and their game collection. You can follow him on twitter @DMSamuel.

26 Responses to “Why I’m Disappointed about Murder in Baldur’s Gate”

  • I doubt I would ever have bought this product regardless of what it did include. I don’t mind them selling their encounters materials. It actually makes sense to me. They gave the “product” away for free once, now they are “reprinting” it and giving those people who missed it a chance to experience it. I’m one of those people, I can’t get to a store to play Encounters.

    I completely agree that not including the same maps and tokens is a horrible mistake. You need these things to play D&D. I wouldn’t say I’m angry, because like I said, I would probably never make this purchase anyway. I just don’t know what is going on at WotC these days. One bone-head move after another.

  • Greetings,
    First off, I enjoyed the article and I have found you to be an insightful commentator over the years on both blogs and podcasts. I say that only to clarify that I mean no disrespect in this comment, in case the vagaries of Internet communication may make it seem that way.

    I have run the Encounters program at my local store since its inception. I feel like the Encounters modules should have been exclusive to stores, with the caveat that they be made available for sale at a later time. This balances exclusivity and availability.

    As to the specifics of this season, I feel that the MiBG module exists in an awkward place. It is trying to service too many masters and do too much. Because of the diffusion of focus, the module does nothing well. The module attempts to service three editions, which means it cannot focus on any one edition well. The module attempts to be a commercial product, with all of the financial limitations and obligations that entails, while trying to be a useful tool for an organized play program.

    In many ways, I feel like WotC did not have a plethora of good options. In order to sell an Encounters style module, with counters and maps, the price point would be too high. An Encounters module is a slim paperback book, with several maps. The maps are expensive and would drive up the cost of the product, leading to complaints. Including multi editions stats would drive up the page count, also increasing costs.

    It seems to me that WotC tried to play with the format to create a marketable product. Whether or not they succeeded is a matter of individual opinion.

    I am sorry that this product did not meet your expectations, though I appreciate hearing a different viewpoint from my own, so thank you for taking the time to post your opinions,

    Good Day

  • As someone who only plays D&D Next and had run theatre of the mind for 6 months, I have no problem not getting tactical maps. I’m really sad that there is so much negative publicity for this amazing product. There are 20 years of D&D products without tactical maps.
    I feel not discussing the great story or fabulous adventure design is doing a disservice to the product.

  • I’ve already preordered it. I think $35 is a bit steep for the content it includes so I don’t mind at all picking it up from Amazon for $20.

    I own practically all the 4e adventures but have yet to run any of them. I use the adventures for inspiration and on occasion, I may pull one encounter out and tweak it for my own campaigns.

  • They have marketed this game for use with 3.5e, 4e, and DnDNext – if it was just for DnD Next I would have no problem with a theater of the mind game, since that is the way that DnDNext is intended to be run. But 4e, and to a large extent 3.5e, use battle maps and tokens or minis. Having 20 years of products without tactical maps is fine, I own so very many of them… but as I said, that has nothing to do with this product being labeled for use with 4e but not providing maps or tokens. I didn’t force them to market it to all 3 systems, they chose to do that and it is disappointing to me.

    Note that I am one of the people who lauded this product when they announced it – even though the pay-to-play-or-run aspect of it had a lot a detractors, I stood up and said that it is a good thing none-the-less. Even having to pay for it. But now I find that the marketing for it is a bit misleading – is it really playable with 4e? Or is it not? I don’t know.

  • Thanks, everyone, for your thoughtful and well spoken comments!

    I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Greg Bilsland has responded to me via twitter and said

    1) that he would see about getting some tokens and maps released for download to use with the product. They may be re-used from previous battle maps, but still, it’s a step in the right direction.

    2) The lack of maps is due to the open ended nature of the adventure, and said that they didn’t want to produce an expensive set of maps and tokens, drive the price up, and have included some things only usable by 1/3 of their audience.

    3) Murder at Baldur’s Gate is meant to be for more advanced DMs – they reasoned that 14 seasons of encounters were written for beginners and that this season they could use a change and that a product for more experienced DMs was what they wanted to produce.

  • Let me also add that I asked Greg, “So… is there no tactical combat and so no need for maps? What about 4e combat?”

    And he responded: “Tactical combat is at the DM’s option. We figure people can use dungeon tiles, older poster maps, and vinyl maps to set up encs.”

  • I can see your perspective. If what made you wish Encounters was sold was getting your hands on the shiny maps, then sure, this is a letdown.

    I would argue that for most, the point of Encounters is to bring people together at the gaming store, bolstering that store. That means community and store revenue, ultimately creating a stronger brand and a stronger WotC. (A profitable WotC means the ability to do greater and grander things. We can compare what WotC does to what other companies don’t do to see many examples of how WotC’s revenue results in many special things other companies can’t offer)

    Any program needs adjustment over time and small changes can have great impact. (For example, try to really pick out the differences between the insanely successful Encounters and its failure of a predecessor, the Delve Night program – it is really hard to pinpoint the exact differences).

    This season in some ways is similar to Season 12, Against the Cult of Chaos. In that season, PCs had fairly great freedom to pick what they would do each session. What that really meant was which encounter they would face. The choices drove the plot, revealing secrets in a different order than another table might learn them. It is very likely the most well received season of Encounters ever.

    The MiBG season takes that concept and pushes it further. It’s a shame that so many conclusions are being made of the season without seeing the product, because the product is excellent. It provides the adventure and the city setting and a DM screen designed to help run the city. The adventure itself is episodic, but with a very open format. Think of it as each week being a week in the city, where certain events will happen and where plot elements could be revealed. Add to this a faction concept, where the allegiance(s) of the PCs can color/drive information/events. Within that week, there could be several possible things to do. Some the PCs may not uncover, while others may not interest them (or be as critical). For any one of those things they choose to do, they have a lot of freedom in how to do them.

    As a fake example, one week a Lord charges the PCs with investigating the disappearance of a noble. The PCs have some leads to follow, and the adventure presents information on them. Following one lead, the PCs learn of a crooked salesman who may have answers. The PCs can now decide what to do. Do they leave this be and follow other clues? Do they go to the salesman’s shop and consult him? Do they set up an ambush to attack the salesman on the way home? Do they enter the home while the salesman is away to search it?

    This season tries to create that kind of open play. Providing a map (such as of the street through which the salesman will walk home) would suggest that DMs should funnel the PCs into that choice. Providing all the maps would be almost impossible (though we could as a community probably take a look at various maps that may apply).

  • Good thoughts!

    Actually, I didn’t solely want previous encounters seasons to be available solely for the maps. They were a nice benefit to the package but it wasn’t the only reason. I wanted the stories and the plotlines and the NPCs and the everything. I also liked them because many of them were either generic or Nentir Vale based, not Forgotten Realms based.

    And therein lies the issue for me. I don;t give a squat about the Forgotten Realms, honestly. And I don’t want a product that focuses so heavily on the Realms because I don’t like or care about the Realms. To me, this product just adds a whole bunch of new canon to an already over-bloated setting with 30 years of canon behind it. This is, of course, a personal bias of mine, and I fully own and accept that bias.

    I still may buy this product, if only to support the company that makes one of my favorite games of all time. But it is much much less a “must buy” for me and instead is a “maybe if I can find the $$” for me.

  • As a side note – I have run 4E combats many times without a tactical map while still keeping the combat tactical. In fact, I did it in our last game when I forgot to bring the right adventure and had to ad-lib an encounter.

  • That is true – it is possible. About 10% of my 4e sessions have had at least one combat without a tactical map. However, it is not optimal in the 4e system unless the encounter is specifically set up to have no battle map.

  • Very disappointed in what they are putting out, it feels half baked, like the old 1e modules that had the blank rooms.

    And I would have gladly shelled out some cash for this product, when I thought it was a complete effort.

    Now it just seems like I’m paying for the story, which I often edit/change/customize anyway.

    Stats I have to download, and maps I have to make up on my own. Why don’t I just finish the trifecta and just write my own story.

  • As a new DM starting encounters with some Co DMs at the store… I got The pre release introduction Adventure and i gotta say kinda like kinda loathe it… Pros The set is awesome I could use this as an introductory adventure for almost anything… Cons They didnt quite make the maps have a clue, i would like to have had Maps… but we shall see what come.

  • I’m just going to make some tiny corrections about what you’ve said in the article (that I honestly may have misread). I’m planning to DM this season (my first season of Encounters as a DM or player, so I’m a little worried about this “for advanced DMs” thing, but I guess I can deal), so I’ve had some access to the early materials already.

    The ‘first session of the adventure’ that you mentioned isn’t really the ‘first session of the adventure’. It’s part of a D&D Game Day event that is an introduction to the Encounters season (at least, that’s how they explain it in the materials). Also, that adventure IS included with the MiBG pack, but it contains a little less. I’m not sure what is missing in that version, but it can’t be good, seeing that I found just about everything in that adventure to be very helpful.

    Unfortunately, you are correct about the shelf-bought adventure not containing any grid maps, but if you’re signed up to do the D&D Game Day, they give you a large grid map of the courtyard to play the intro adventure on. On the flip side, there’s (yet another) map of the city (with fewer points of interest than the player maps, strangely). I don’t know why they couldn’t have included this in the on-the-shelf adventure; it’s a little disappointing.

    I’m just making sure people get all the right information.

  • @ Sam G: Note that Greg Bilsland, in his response to me the other day, specifically said this module was for more experienced DMs. I am curious to hear about your experience as a new DM (or Co-DM) running this. Would you be willing to write a review of it after the first two sessions or so? I would like to know how much prep time you had to spend and which ruleset you used and stuff like that. I would post your review here as a guest post, if you agreed.

  • @ Jacob Zimmerman: Thanks for the clarifications, I appreciate it. So the DnD Game Day kit that you are referring to, is that the same as the Launch Weekend Kit that I mentioned in the article? It has some player maps of Baldur’s gate (not battle maps, just small town maps), the first session introduction, some dice, and a poster advertising the event. I didn’t know there was a map of the courtyard in there as well – interesting. Though if it is a great help to a DM, I wish they would have put it in the for-sale product. Please let me know how it goes – I am really interested in feedback about this.

  • I have the module. I paid my $35 expecting that I would be receiving a ready to run package with an awesome story.

    Instead of at least meeting those high expectations for the forst commercially released modulein about ayear (or maybe more), the package does not even begin to compare with the previous release in the op program “Vault of the Dracolich”.

    No maps (either small maps in the book or play maps for encounters),
    no encounter setups ( number of opponents & descriptions of rooms),
    a railroaded finish that is decided before the players actually start.

    It was the visual aspects of 4e that brought me back into the fold 3 years ago to run encounters. I had left Dnd sometime in 2e for other systems – basically the maps brought me back. This is one aspect of RPG support that hasbro has done very well. Now it appears they are abandoning their last area of strength to piazo.

    I am deliberating whether the the time required to fix the problems in murder is worth it.

    Multiple maps for potential encounters would need to be prepared for potentially 2-3 tables.

    The modules god/avatar plot would require major revision to make it less of a railroad and somthing the players could impact. Why have the players chase all over the city to have an ‘extremely’ limited impact on the outcome? (Yes – i would inform the players this was happening so those players who care about FR would be able to give informed consent)

    I personally care naught about the gods of FR, they are just clerical batties as far as I am concerned whose every appearance takes away player control. The overarching mega-plot of this and presumably subsequent Sundering module has limited interest to me.

    The plot therefore has to stand on its own and while it starts with an interesting premise, the preordained finish fails to deliver on its potential.

    The work as it now stands is incomplete in the extreme and mediocre at best.

    I just do not understand how such an incomplete package could get through development and playtesting. I do not think those people considered the encounters environment in their decision making at all.

    I am very disappointed in Murder in Balder’s Gate. At this point I think it will just gather dust on one of my RPG shelves. Perhaps someone else will be willing to buy one of the remaining copies and run it as written for encounters.

    I fear that my assessment at this point is that it is unsalvagable for 4e without a large infusion of time & effort. Having only run a few 5e sessions I am reluctant to express an opinion on that format. And I have never run anything in 3.x.

    Having paid $35 for an incomplete package I am presently unwilling to use my time to fix the descrepancies in Murder in Baldur’s Gate.

  • What I don’t get is how we can get (comparatively) amazing adventures like H1-3,P1-3, and E1-3 for $30. Each with 3 double sided maps, and tons of content. But Murder in Baldur’s Gate is $35, you need to download most of the information, and no maps or anything else?

    It’s a slap in the face and I’m not going to take it. I’m abandoning Wizards like a sinking ship. They don’t care about the players, why should we care about them?

  • I think this discussion, and the opinions expressed about this product, really highlight the stylistic preferences within the community. As someone who likes to change and shape encounters on the fly, I felt that most 4e adventures “wasted” too much time on tactical encounters and maps. I wanted more area maps and more time spent on NPCs and locales, as well as metaplot.

    @Galahad: I think your comments really highlight the differences in taste that create very different expectations. In looking over the module, I feel that it has a very open ended structure that is designed to allow the plot to unfurl organically at each table. This allows for a customizable play experience. While I see this as a strength, you see it as an incomplete product. As to your comment about “running it as written”, the very nature of the module makes that moot. MiBG does not have one set way to run the module.

    @Matt: Your response seems to highlight what is, in my opinion, one of the worst sins of fandom: fan entitlement. It is one thing to say “I don’t like this product. I am not going to buy it.”; it is quite another thing to take personal umbrage at a publishers choice. The idea that a product that does not cater to your personal tastes is a “slap in the face” stinks of entitlement. When you start seeing corporate publishing choices as personal attacks, it may be time for some self reflection. It may also be time to reign in the hyperbole a little. Who knows, you may feel better in the long run once you stop taking things so personally.

  • @Brent – I agree that this discussion highlights the differences in play styles and expectations for a gaming product.

    But what I think it highlights even more are two things:

    1) The play style encouraged by 4e D&D is extremely different from the play styles of other editions of the game. Of course, we all already knew that, but this puts it in our faces front and center.

    2) Because of that difference in play style, it is very very difficult to create a product that will meet the expectations of 4e players and the players of other editions.

    However, WotC has chosen to market this product as a 4e compatible product and then did not provide any of the items that traditionally make it possible to run the game in that edition.

    I think that saying it is a 4e compatible product is just simple lip service so that they don’t have the appearance of running away from 4e as fast as possible. I mean, they can’t just say it is meant to be played with D&D Next and 3.5 and leave 4e out, that would seem weird, so they include 4e, but it isn’t really a product that supports 4e.

    So… why not just say it is a D&D Next product and leave the 4e and 3.5 out? I understand it from a business perspective – one never wants to give the impression that one’s business is eschewing a segment of their regular customers, I get that, and I remember when the switch from 3.5 to 4e happened and a lot of 3.5 players felt abandoned. They don’t want a repeat of that with 4e players. But honestly, making a product that says it is compatible for a system that it is really not compatible with is bad form, misleading, and actually IS making some 4e players feel abandoned.

    Now, let me also say that I have been playing RPGs since 1982 – I’ve played every edition at some point or another, though some more than others. I have played and run adventures that were open ended and also railroady ones; I have played and run ones with lots of combat and ones that have very little combat; I have played and run ones that had lots of tactical maps and diagrams and player handouts and also ones that didn’t. I am flexible in my gaming and can adapt to whatever is needed to make something fun for the group I am playing with. But when an adventure says that it is one thing and actually isn’t that thing, it creates a lot more work for the DM. 4e DMs will find that this module will be much more work than previous encounter seasons.

    Disappointment happens when one’s expectations are set and then the item doesn’t meet the set expectations. By saying this product is for 4e they set an expectation that the product doesn’t deliver. Whether we like it or not, the expectation for 4e is maps and token and set encounters. When a product doesn’t deliver that even though it says it is for a system in which that is the expectation, it is bound to disappoint. Even if it is a great module otherwise.

    Also, quick question for those of you that have the product – does it say anywhere on the package that it is for intermediate DMs and not beginners?

  • I have the module.

    No mention of gamemaster experience requirements anywhere in the prodict.

    I would have been happy with a set of inset maps in the adventure books.

    Maps are one of the strengths of hasbro. Not using their strong suits (even if only as optional material you download) seems to be giving away one of hasbros advantages.

    I only bought the module to use it in encounters. Now I have to do as much work with it as if I were using it in a home game. I feel like hasbro wants 4e to disappear. I like the visual aspects of 4e. I dont really care about any other aspect of 4e but taking out the visual aspect deminishes the game somewhat for me.

    I really liked vault of the dracolich. I blew up the supplied map by 278% so we could play on it. I used dwarven forge scenery to recreate the center section of the map. We played all the entry points and the parties eventually killed the dragon. (In doing so forfeited escape). The maps and DF added to the adventure greatly. I just dont see why they are being eliminated.

    Mapless rpg might work for some of you but I gm’d through the 70’s & 80’s – we dreamt of having maps and visual addons like we have now.

    At this point I am thinking that Star wars or pathfinder might be a good alternative to mapless 5e.

  • Also running this season. I hadn’t even considered that some might be irked by a lack of tactical maps.

    I suggest (if available) reusing the maps from the Lost Heir of Neverwinter season of Encounters. If this isn’t an option, a wet-erase vinyl map would suffice for some quick skirmishes. I might try my hand at making done for this season in Photoshop if the demand is there.

    Bottom line, I really don’t think this style of adventure is well suited for grid combat. Not when it’s entirely possible to have up three or so fights in each stage. I say give “theatre of the mind” combat a try.

  • Thanks for your comments!

    It’t not that I can’t give theater of the mind a try – I can, and have, and I run theater of the mind in several of my games (including several 4e sessions in the past) – its the expectations that are the problem. The expectations of a 4e adventure is that it will have tactical combat with maps and minis. I just think the product is marketed in a misleading manner – that’s all. Of course I can spend time and get out my vinyl maps and dungeon tiles and set up whatever I want – that’s not the issue.

    I will say, to those following this conversation, that I do plan on getting the book so that I can review the content rather than the marketing and materials (or lack thereof).

    Thanks for reading!

  • Ok… as being a student of design on some level, I agree that maps for the city should be included or more abundant maps of the city should be placed in the product… but at the same time, I am (but rarely do) have ways and means to make my own maps, that are usually better (not always) then some of the marketed maps found in DnD products.

    I have a feeling, from listening to some podcasts from Wotc that they are taking a view of ‘do it yourself’ like in the old days on DnD editions 1 and 2.

    So, they just work on ‘textual content’ instead of making a perfect product (I know that is subjective) everyone would be proud of. I personally don’t care about the artwork of the product so much as detailing the important plot, event and ‘adventuring’ points that most consumers would want.

    I can make my own maps for the adventure.. but do I want to… not really. So, I see it both ways.

    Now, tokens/counters I already have all the ones I would ever need I expect. I collected previous 4e products so that I could have as many tokens/counters as I would ever need. So, I am not feel severely cheated on the subject/product.

    Can someone tell me though, how does the story play out? I don’t mind railroading if it is a good idea… and my Players don’t necessarily care one way of the other if the ‘structure’ or the module is railroaded or open sandbox… but I am curious as to what happens that is the climax of the story?

    What is the God climax sundering stuff in regards to the adventure so far? Is it not exactly what we think as ‘interesting’ or just interesting to some segment of the DnD Next (Sundering Realms Event) typical players?

  • I am not sure – I just got my copy in the mail yesterday and haven’t had a chance to read through it yet. I have promised to do so and give it a review separate from the maps and minis aspect. I’ll post it as soon as I get it done.

  • I have DM’ed every Encounters season so far and some of the players I still have each week were those same players who showed up at the first Encounters session so many years ago. During this season they have been going away extremely happy with the session. They love how they have so much impact on the story line and what happens. They love all the varied maps and puzzles and props I have been pulling out for it. It’s great to see such extremely happy players. So what is wrong you might be asking? The problem is that I am getting burned out. I spend soooo many hours creating the adventure that they play. The booklet Wizards gives is primarilly an idea book. It does not outline the details of any combat like the old 4e Encounters books did. I now have to do all of that. The stats for the ‘monsters’ that they have you print out from the web site are so few. My players would get extremely tired if that was all they ever faced. So I have to bring in new ‘monsters’ and create yet more stuff to have enough material for the players. In the opening sessions, where the players decide who they might like to work with, it was a nightmare to prepare. While I am good at running things on the fly I do NOT like to. I like to be prepared with things for the party to do. Maybe that is just me. If future encounters seasons are more of these open ended wishy washy idea books I think I will have to bow out. I just don’t feel like pouring in 20+ hours of work each week for a game session that lasts 3 to 4 hours. I do that for my home campaigns but I can’t do that for this too. So if any Wizards people are out there reading this please please please – give us more worked out encouters. DM’s need some time for other things too! Oh yes – new and cool MAPS keep us coming back and working hard!!!!