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

The long-running MMORPG Neverwinter obviously owes a lot to Dungeons & Dragons. The game is set in the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting of the Forgotten Realms and adapts the tabletop game into an action-focused MMORPG that any player can enjoy. Of course, the game's designers are D&D experts too, with lead designer Randy Mosiondz having 36 years of DM experience in addition to an impressive resume of game design. spoke with Mosiondz via email about his experiences as a DM and how that has helped with game design, along with the challenges of adapting D&D storylines for an MMORPG such as Neverwinter. Obviously, Neverwinter has seen a ton of changes during its 8-year run. How do you keep new content and storylines both fresh and engaging for existing fans and also welcoming to new players?

Randy Mosiondz: A lot of it comes down to providing new experiences for players. This could be new locations in the Forgotten Realms, new stories and villains, new monsters to fight, or new gameplay elements. We also work closely with Wizards of the Coast, and often reference Neverwinter versions of the modules they put out, such as Curse of Strahd, Elemental Evil, Rise of Tiamat, Descent into Avernus, etc. We also do original storylines inspired by Forgotten Realms history and new D&D books.

What tools from being a D&D DM have come in handy when approaching video game design? Have any elements from your home games made it into Neverwinter?

Mosiondz: I've found that a lot of D&D DM prep work is very similar to content game design for Neverwinter. Map designs start off with rough paper sketches (sometimes on grid paper) or their digital equivalent. Breakdowns of encounters are very similar into terms of pacing and escalation, while adding in varied gameplay and thematic rewards.

And yes, there are certain minor characters and callbacks that have made it into Neverwinter.  However, only the people who would have played in my home games would recognize and appreciate the references!

(Photo: Cryptic Studios)

What is one thing that both new DMs and veteran DMs tend to overlook when prepping and running games?

Mosiondz: I think sometimes DMs have a very clear vision of what they want to run for their game. But what's equally important is how the player characters fit into the setting.  Players sometimes put a lot of detail in their characters, and they should feel that they belong and are integrated into the world.  One specific example would be if a bandit killed a player character's lover then you, as a DM, could have that bandit be a henchman of the big bad in your campaign. It's important to make a campaign personal, a story that you and your players can tell together.

Mosiondz: We've seen Neverwinter adapt several D&D campaign storylines, including Tomb of Annihilation and Descent into Avernus. When you decide to adapt a storyline for Neverwinter, how do you decide what parts of that campaign gets placed into the game?

When we do an analysis of a tabletop module for conversion to a Neverwinter module, it really comes down to story impact paired with action gameplay, as well as resource availability. First, we try to identify the key story elements to break out from the module that serve the action-gameplay style we have established in Neverwinter.  Players invest a lot of time building up their characters in Neverwinter, so we want to make sure we provide enough challenges to show off their investment.

For resources, we've built up a good resource library over the years, but sometimes there are distinct visuals in the tabletop module that are unlike anything we've done before. So, we have to figure out what kind of new environment kits are involved, what kind of new monsters, sound effects, animations and break it down into what we can do with a mix of new and repurposed assets.

Mosiondz: An interesting wrinkle in D&D's newest adventure Wild Beyond the Witchlight is that it can be approached with a "no combat" approach. Do you think Neverwinter will ever attempt a storyline that's not focused on combat?

We certainly have some talented storytellers in our studio, so it isn't outside our means. However, as mentioned earlier, Neverwinter is very focused on action gameplay. That means while we may have some quests that may not directly involve combat, we are not a heavily narrative-focused game. So having storylines that are not focused on combat would be a big shift for our core player base.

Neverwinter is free to download on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.