Enter a Realm of Enchantment
When Monsters threaten the village of Crystalbrook, it's up to adventurers to track down where they're coming from. The investigation leads them on a journey across planes. In the Feywild, the heroes must explore an enchanted island garden and unravel the plot of a foul hag, before she and her fiendish companion can perform a ritual to seize control of the island.
"Beyond the Crystal Cave" is a Dungeons & Dragons adventure designed for the winter 2011 season of the D&D Encounters official play program. This season incorporates character options from Player's Option: Heroes of the Feywild, and it comes with three full-color maps, thirteen ready-to-play encounters, and information on the D&D Encounters program.
"Beyond the Crystal Cave" (2011), by Chris Sims and Steve Townshend, is the adventure for Season 7 of D&D Encounters. It was released for play in Winter 2011.
Continuing the Encounters. Like its predecessors, "Beyond the Crystal Cave" is an adventure for the D&D Encounters organized play program. For the first time ever, players are given one week to create characters collectively; after that, "Beyond the Crystal Cave" contains 13 sessions of play. Each session includes a single encounter, meant to run 2 hours or less. The encounter-sessions are themselves organized into 3 chapters. Characters get to take a short rest between each encounter and an extended rest after each chapter.
Season 7 ran from November 16, 2011, to February 15, 2012.
Not the Only Organized Play in Town! The D&D Encounters program was the best-known and best-supported organized play program of the Wizards Play Network (WPN) from its launch in Spring 2010 onward. However, on September 1, 2011, a few months prior to the release of "Beyond the Crystal Cave," WPN premiered a second organized play program: the "D&D Lair Assault." These sessions were intended for more experienced and competitive players, while Encounters was intended as (new customer) outreach.
D&D Lair Assault is a new Wizards Play Network in-store program that pits tactically-minded players against a super challenge where the difference between victory and defeat is dependent upon your game knowledge, ability to adapt, and a little bit of luck. You’ll pit your wits against some of the most difficult encounters you’ve ever played. Each challenge is a mega-encounter that plays in just a few hours, but many will need to make more than one run at it in pursuit of victory. D&D Lair Assault challenges are available for a few months, and stores can schedule their sessions at any time during that period.
The first Lair Assault was "Forge of the Dawn Titan" (2011). The program continued alongside the D&D Encounters through seven seasons, the last of which was "Into the Pit of Madness" (2013).
About the Encounter Format. Designer Steve Townshend includes some designer notes in "Beyond the Crystal Cave" to warn GMs about what they're getting into: "I tried to push the envelope as far as I could in order to make the most involved Encounters season of all time. Too ambitious, perhaps. But I put my heart and soul into it." That effort certainly shows in the adventure. Ever since "March of the Phantom Brigade" (2011), Encounters designers had been striving to make the Encounters be about more than just combat. Townshend took that idea and knocked it out of the park.
Where previous seasons of Encounters organized individual sessions into roleplaying followed by combat, "Beyond the Crystal Cave" doubles up the roleplaying by instituting a "roleplay-combat-roleplay" formula. There's also more puzzle solving here than ever before, including the trope of collecting keys throughout the adventure to open a "lock" at the end.
Even the combat isn't as simple as it was in previous seasons. Skills and clever tactics can be used within combat, such as in a fun and noteworthy battle against bears during week 5. In addition, it frequently turns out that the PCs shouldn't actually kill their opponents, whether because they might have useful information or because they might be charmed! So, even when combat occurs, fighting until the bitter end isn't always the answer.
As with a few of the previous seasons of Encounters, "Beyond the Crystal Cave" also provides some interesting links between individual encounters, giving players the opportunity to make real choices that affect how later encounters will play out.
Love It or Hate It? "Beyond the Crystal Cave" was generally seen as an innovative season of Encounters that really changed up the formula. Many described it as the best season of Encounters ever. However, this wasn't the sole response to the adventure: Some players thought that the roleplaying introduced too many NPCs and that the intricate storyline introduced too much complexity for a game that was played out on a (slow) weekly basis. Finally, some players just didn't like "Beyond the Crystal Cave" because it wasn't what they'd come to expect from Encounters.
In any case, because it was quite different from what came before, "Beyond the Crystal Cave" was really a "love it or hate it" season that raised different emotions in different players.
About the Product Tie-In(s). As with other recent seasons, "Beyond the Crystal Cave" was theoretically "Essentials-only." It also supported the Fury of the Feywild Fortune Cards (2011) and offered three more freebie cards: Cavern Oracle, Crystalbrook Blood, and Glittering Crystals.
However, Season 7's primary tie-in is to Player's Option: Heroes of the Feywild (2011), the second of the three Player's Option books for D&D 4e. Encounters players were encouraged to make characters with ties to the Feywild, and could even gain benefits from doing so. Much of the season is also set in the Feywild itself, making "Beyond the Crystal Cave" a very nice complement to "Dark Legacy of Evard" (2011), which was primarily set in the Shadowfell.
About the Homage. "Beyond the Crystal Cave" is a very purposeful homage to UK1: "Beyond the Crystal Cave" (1983), a classic AD&D adventure produced by TSR UK. The authors return to some of the same locations that appeared in the original adventure, giving them new context by explicitly placing them within the Feywild. This Encounters season also largely mimics the gameplay style of the original adventure by putting plot first and thus ensuring that combat isn't an end-all and be-all. The biggest difference between the two adventures is that the original was villain-free, while Sims and Townshend introduce some new villains for the Encounters version of the adventure.
There are also some Shakespearean differences. The original adventure referenced a few different Shakespearean works, but was primarily based on Romeo and Juliet (1597). The Encounters adventure also has some elements of Romeo and Juliet, but focuses more on The Tempest (1623) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (1590s).
Expanding the Points of Light World. "Beyond the Crystal Cave" was perhaps set in the Points of Light world, but if so, the connection is even looser than in most of the Encounters seasons. Neither Crystalbrook nor the Sildaine Forest appears on any maps of the Points of Light world.
Expanding the World Axis. In Chapter 4, the players are transported from the Crystal Cave to Porpherio's Garden, which is a part of the Feywild. In Dragon #405 (November 2011), editor Chris Perkins comments on the connections between the Garden and the Feywild, saying, "You could say that [the original] Beyond the Crystal Cave was the first official D&D adventure set in the Feywild. Granted, in 1983 no one knew the Feywild existed!"
About the Creators. Having previously authored Season 3's "Keep on the Borderlands" (2010), Sims was an old hand at D&D Encounters. He'd return for Season 8's "The Elder Elemental Eye" (2012) and Season 14's "Quest for the Crystal Staff" (2013). Townshend was also the co-author of Heroes of the Feywild and would return to write Season 11's "War of Everlasting Darkness" (2012), the finale to the 4e run of Encounters.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.