One of the tasks many of us have to consider over the next couple of months is how we’ll run D&D Adventurers League games. There are more options than before: they can be run at home, online, in store, at conventions, or anywhere you can run a D&D game! In this article, I’m going to discuss how I’m planning to handle it at my store.
The first thing to consider is what new material will be available.
- Curse of Strahd, a hardcover adventure with material taking characters from levels 1-10, taking several months to complete.
- Curse of Strahd Launch Event material, a free pdf provided to stores containing a portion of the full adventure. (In upcoming seasons, this material will be specially written for stores. For this season, it’s taken from the adventure book).
- 14 D&D Adventurers League adventures for the Curse of Strahd season (the program formerly known as D&D Expeditions), taking characters from levels 1-8, with 2-4 becoming available each month. (Exact schedule still to be announced).
Then there’s what’s already available.
- D&D Starter Set
- Hoard of the Dragon Queen hardcover adventure
- The Rise of Tiamat hardcover adventure
- Princes of the Apocalypse hardcover adventure
- Out of the Abyss hardcover adventure
- 14 D&D Adventurers League adventures for Tyranny of Dragons
- 16 D&D Adventurers League adventures for Elemental Evil
- 16 D&D Adventurers League adventures for Rage of Demons
My store runs games on Wednesday and Saturday nights. We have 2 hour slots on Wednesday & Saturday which we use to play the hardcover adventures, then 3½ hour slots on Wednesday & Saturday we use to play the D&D Adventurer League adventures.
The Program Formerly Known as D&D Expeditions
There are a number of changes to this program. It now costs money. This season will also tell a continuous story, where characters progress from levels 1-8. Although not necessary, it’s recommended that players begin a new character at level 1 and play the adventures in order.
So, let’s start with the first issue: the cost of adventures.
For the last year, we’ve collected a gold coin ($1 or $2) donation from players for every session they played; not mandatory, but highly recommended. This has gone towards purchasing copies of the hardcover adventures for our DMs. The donations go into a “gift card” account the store keeps for us, and we dip into the fund whenever a new adventure comes out and purchase it for every DM who will be running it in-store.
This program will continue this year, and be extended into purchasing the D&D Adventurers League adventures from the DMs Guild. I’m going to have to do some sums to work out if the donation will have to be extended – at present, one donation covers both sessions on the same night. I may have to make it for every session. We’ll see how it goes.
The nice thing about the hardcover adventures is that the money we collect goes to buying things directly from the store. This doesn’t work the same way with the DMs Guild adventures. To do it right, each DM running an adventure needs to buy the adventure. Thankfully, there’s a “gift” option on the DMs Guild which e-mails them the adventure link. So, we’ll buy each adventure (using the collected money) for all the DMs who will be running it using the gift option. It’s not as good for the store as us buying the printed adventures, but we’ll still be doing that, and it’s not like the store was making any money out of the old, free adventures in any case!
The second issue is when to run them. On average, we tend to get 2 new adventures released per month. So, it makes sense to run them on a fortnightly schedule, starting when the first one is released in March or April, and then running the next one every two weeks after that. Our big day for Expeditions is Saturday night, so we’ll run them then; if there’s demand, we may also have them running on the matching Wednesday.
The alternate weeks when we’re not running new content will instead be “flashback” weeks where we revisit an old Expedition. Typically, we have two tables running, so we’ll run one level 1-4 and one level 5-10 table each week. That’s the plan, anyway…
The Launch Event Program
My initial reaction on hearing that Wizards would be releasing “Launch Event” material was that they’d be doing events like the initial expanded session of Murder in Baldur’s Gate or the special event Vault of the Dracolich: a single-session adventure that introduced the new season. I was wrong: the material is meant to be played over several weeks, not just in a single day. As a result, it’ll be very similar to the D&D Encounters pdf they’ve been sending out, which has consisted of material from the hardcover adventure. The main difference won’t be visible until after Curse of Strahd, the next Launch Event will have material different from what’s found in the hardcover adventure. This one is basically just a renamed D&D Encounters release, from what I can gather.
Many stores will thus have about 6-8 weeks (12-16 hours) of material to run in their Wednesday night sessions (or whatever night they want to run it on; Wednesday is no longer required). And, starting with the Launch Event after Curse of Strahd, this will be material only available to stores. That seems really good – exclusive content will be a good driver for coming in to play. This isn’t exclusively tied to adventure releases, either: it can be for any type of D&D product.
Because we buy the hardcover adventures for our players, we won’t be using the Launch Event material for the Curse of Strahd season; we’ll just run it as it appears in the adventure. However, with future Launch Events, we’ll definitely be running them.
I really love running these adventures in full. We rushed to get Hoard out of the way before Princes came out, but in retrospect I think that was a mistake. It’s far better to allow players to play them in full (if they’re interested). So, I made the decision with Princes of the Apocalypse that we’d play through the entire adventure, no longer how long it took. (It’s still going, but “about a year” seems right). Curse of Strahd is going to be shorter, covering only levels 1-10 rather than 1-15. Nine months of play?
The trouble with running one of these adventures for a year is that it really doesn’t provide a good starting place for players who come a little way through the season. To some extent, I’m happy to have new players join in any time – it doesn’t take them very long at all to reach effective levels, which is one wonderful feature of D&D 5E. However, it’s still an issue.
My plan – as far as I can have it happen – is to stagger the start of these adventures. If we have four tables on Saturday night, then start each table a few months apart. And, given we also run them on Wednesday nights, stagger the starting points of Wednesday and Saturday nights. We also run “flashback” seasons, so we’re not limited to just running the current season. This isn’t easy, though. There’s no doubt that running the hardcover adventures is the most challenging part of our program. However, I very much enjoy the scope of the adventures!
Putting it All Together
All of this planning still needs DMs to run the adventures and players to play in them. We had a very successful 2015, so I’m moving into 2016 with the expectation that most of our numbers will remain the same. Saturday has always been bigger for us than Wednesdays, but that may change as the Wednesday program gets more popular. It’s a case of reacting to the availability of players and DMs.
So, for my store, this is how our D&D program looks like it will be in April:
5:30 pm – 7:30 pm: 2 tables, one beginning to play through Curse of Strahd, the other continuing to play through Out of the Abyss.
7:30 pm – 11 pm: 3 tables, one playing through Out of the Abyss, one playing through Curse of Strahd, the third running D&D Adventurer League adventures – alternating between flashback adventures and Curse of Strahd season adventures.
5:30 pm – 7:30 pm: 4 tables, playing through a combination of Princes of the Apocalypse, Out of the Abyss and Curse of Strahd.
7:30 pm – 11 pm: 2 tables, alternating between flashback adventures and Curse of Strahd season adventures.
The thing I really hope to achieve is to always have opportunities for new players to join the program.
So, those are our plans for the coming season. What are you planning to do?