"D&D Encounters is an exciting, weekly campaign that plays out one epic encounter at a time. As you defeat enemies, solve puzzles, finish quests, and perform heroic deeds, you’ll earn Renown Points that you can use to get exclusive rewards. Each session only takes 1-2 hours to play, so it’s easy to fit your game in after school or work. And each week there’s a new and exciting challenge. Jump in anytime!"
Easy enough. Not everyone has the time and/or luck to have their own home campaigns. In my estimation, this Encounters biz is a direct offspring of Magic the Gathering leagues and Living Campaigns. What about the Ghost Tower? Their ad says:
"Over sixty years ago, a group of bold adventurers calling themselves the Silver Company delved into a mysterious tower that appeared in the ruins of Castle Inverness. The result was tragic."
That sounds like the Ghost Tower I know!
"Now, six decades later, an ambitious young cleric named Aldus Splintershield seeks to make a name for himself and his clan by founding a new town in the ruins of the infamous castle. And so he has hired you, brave adventurers, to guard against whatever perils may arise from such an expedition."
Hm. So its set in the ruins of Inverness, but not necessarily the Ghost Tower. I wouldn't bet against it though, because as D&D Encounters is a series of weekly, um, encounters then the story would awful bland if it was one attack after another in the same location. It is good to see that it isn't a rehash so much as a storyline extension of the original, sans any Greyhawk reference of course.
"So prepare yourself and guard against the worst. For in the Nentir Vale, the worst is always on the way."
The Nentir Vale as best as I can guess is the default world of D&DE. Is this the fate of Greyhawk material in 4th edition? To be dropped piece by piece into new settings such as Nentir Vale? Possibly, but more on that later. The organized play enticements are more eye-popping to me. Remember, I do play in a 4e campaign and in a game store no less. Yet, if I had to play it through D&DE each week, I'm not sure I'd be able to stick around for long. It's too many new tricks for this old dog:
First off there is the new Fortune Cards that Wizards is pushing for organized play (It's optional for home use otherwise). It looks like a must have if you're playing in D&DE. In fact, I'm fairly sure its a requirement in some cases to participate at stores. You build a deck of 10-30 cards (note that boosters are 8 cards each, you can do the math) and so it goes you draw a new card each round for some random element that can be played in combat.
" These cards give characters fun, temporary benefits that feel different from the benefits gained from powers and feats, without adding undue complexity to the D&D game."
As most 4e combats I've been privy to run longer than 10 rounds, you'll need plenty of fortune cards. As for complexity, 4e is already rife with complex feats and powers, so 10-30 more one-shot powers shouldn't be too much more to buff a character right? Okay, how about a buff for the buffs? Yes, there is also something called "Twitter Buffs" that further add complexity to the Fortune Card buffs. I kid you not.
"Every week, Dungeons & Dragons® Encounters™ brings new adventure. And every hour, D&D’s @Wizards_DnD Twitter Channel brings you a new way to interact with your game. Get your D&D Fortune Cards ready and watch for tweets that will bring the two together.
Twitter Buffs will allow you to do even more with your D&D Fortune Cards—follow @Wizards_DnD"
Okay then! So now those with their smart phones handy at the game table can keep checking for special buffs while they wait for their character's next turn. I can barely stand that kind of distraction in home play but if it's integrated into play? Yikes. But that's not all! There is also Rewards and Renown Points.
"Players, as you progress through each season, you’ll earn Renown Points you can use to get exclusive Fortune Cards. Dungeon Masters, as a way of thanking you for your invaluable work, you’ll get exclusive game aids you can’t find anywhere else."
That's correct, earn points for a chance to earn more cards to improve your character so that he can earn more points and so on. That's incentive enough for the journeyman gamer. Hey and bring in a new player for 2 extra points! Wizards has this down to a science.
Anyhow, gripes about collectable card games aside, the parting out of Greyhawk in 4th edition continues. But really, it's only come full circle if you think about it. Sure, Greyhawk was originally Gygax's homebrew world but a lot of the classic mods that we associate with the published version were at first tournament modules written by other authors, that got pieced together into a nascent world that became 1st edition Greyhawk. So the fact Greyhawk classics like Inverness may be seeding new storylines in 4th edition is fine in essence. Greyhawk icons have stood the test of time and its easier to revisit those than create new ones. But from a setting legacy standpoint, there has to come a time when the Greyhawk is given the spotlight again, or else the next generation of gamers, whom I assume Wizards targets with programs like D&D Encounters, may never know that their favorite adventure spots, like Inverness started not with Nentir Vale but another obscure fantasy world.
Update: 4/25/2021: I added a link to the 4E adventure now only available on DMsGuild.