With the advent of the DM’s Guild website, the D&D Adventurers League adventures (once known as D&D Expeditions adventures) have become available to everyone to play. It’s worth writing a word or two about what they are and how they can be used.
Each adventure is a complete adventure typically lasting 2 or 4 hours (a few are 1 hour or 8 hours in length), which are intended to be played in a single session. They derive from convention games, and that is where each of them premieres – at various conventions around the world – before being released for store or home play.
They are grouped into “seasons” that have common themes and occasional ongoing stories. The stories tend to work best when played in order, but the League can’t assume players will play them in the correct order, so each is self-contained. If you play them out-of-order, then some mental gymnastics are needed to explain the wibbly-wobbly timeline – perhaps it’s a flashback adventure; something that happened earlier in your character’s career! If you’re playing them at home and not relying on a store or convention, then you can just play them in order. (For instance, one adventure might tell of the recovery of a map, another adventure might tell of what the characters do with the map. Playing the second adventure works by itself, but they work best if played in the correct order).
Think of them like an episodic TV series like NCIS or the X-Files: many adventures stand-alone and can be enjoyed in isolation, but common themes and ongoing arc stories work best when viewed in order.
Each adventure belongs to a “tier” which indicates which level characters can play them. Tier 1 adventures are for level 1-4 characters. Tier 2 adventures are for level 5-10 characters. Tier 3 adventures cover levels 11-16, and Tier 4 covers levels 17-20. If you’re using them as part of official AL play, a character who is outside the tier cannot play the adventure: A level 5 PC can’t play a Tier 1 adventure; a level 4 PC can’t play a Tier 2 adventure.
However, because the AL recognises that occasionally players might miss an adventure or two and not have sufficient XP compared to their friends to play, there is a catch-up mechanics where a character at the top level of one tier may spend downtime and gold to gain the XP needed to reach the lowest level of the next tier. It costs 20 downtime days and gold equal to their lifestyle costs to advance from levels 4 to 5. It costs more downtime to go from levels 10 to 11: see the D&D AL Player’s Guide for more details.
After the first season, typically each season starts a new thread of adventures for Tier 1 characters, while maintaining a parallel thread of adventures for existing Tier 2 or 3 characters. Season 4 (Curse of Strahd) is different, and tells a continuous story from levels 1-8: it’s intended that you create new characters for this season and play them all in order. Then, with Season 5, the League will likely revert to offering adventures at each tier.
The adventures vary a bit in quality – like every adventure series ever written, anywhere – but are generally pretty well put together. Typically, they attempt to balance the experiences on offer, so players get to experience exploration, role-playing and combat. Many of the adventures take the form of investigation stories, where the players need to solve a mystery (and so have to talk to people) and contain several combats along the way. Simple dungeon delves do occasionally appear, but the adventures are more varied than that.
To keep characters progressing at a similar rate, each adventure has a minimum and maximum amount of XP that can be attained; a typical 4-hour Tier 1 adventure might give 450 – 600 XP, depending on how successful the characters are. If you’re using them as part of your homebrew game, feel free to ignore those limits, but you can play the adventures as part of the Adventurers League even at home, in which case the limits apply.
The adventures relate to the theme of the main hardcover adventure book, but are set in a different spot in the world, and are played independently of those adventures. However, a character who has played though the hardcover adventure could later play some of the D&D Adventurers League adventures. (Indeed, it may be the best way of gaining enough XP to actually play the Tier 3 adventures!)
Here’s a few notes on the character of each of the seasons.
Season 1: Tyranny of Dragons is set around the Moonsea town of Phlan (famous as the setting of the original Gold Box AD&D computer game, Pool of Radiance). Because everyone has new characters, you can play all of the 14 adventures in order with the same characters. The first nine adventures are Tier 1, the last five are Tier 2. The early adventures are various missions you are offered in the town, most of which relate to activities of the Cult of the Dragon, which are causing trouble in the area. At the end of the season, the Cult invade Phlan, causing its people to flee.
Season 2: Elemental Evil is set around the Moonsea town of Mulmaster, a place where arcane magic is distrusted. Several stories revolve around the plight of the refugees from Phlan, as the adventurers are asked to perform missions that will aid them. Meanwhile, the cult of Elemental Evil is active around the town, and feature as threats in several adventures. Finally, another thread tells the story of a magic artefact and its significance to the leadership of Mulmaster.
The adventures in this season are split between Tier 1 and Tier 2, but it’s not like season 1 where they’re all in order. Instead, they’re mixed together. The intention is that you start a new character to play through the Tier 1 adventures, while your existing character from Season 1 plays through the Tier 2 adventures. So, the first two adventures (DDEX2-01 and DDEX2-02) you play with new characters, while the next two adventures (DDEX2-03, DDEX2-04) are for tier 2 characters and, if you’re playing them in order, are played with the characters you started in Season 1. You could play through all the Tier 1 adventures and then go back to the Tier 2 adventures in this season – a couple of events might thus happen out of order, but it’s unlikely to be that problematic.
Season 3: Rage of Demons is set around the Moonsea town of Hillsfar, a place with a tyrannical leadership that hate non-humans and have recently enacted a set of particularly oppressive laws, fuelled by the madness caused by the Demon Lords rampaging through the Underdark (as seen in Out of the Abyss). The adventures are split between dealing with this insane government and dealing with the threat of the demons in the Underdark, with the plight of the refugees from Phlan still being an element. This season is the first that Tier 3 adventures are available – two eight-hour adventures. In theory, a character who started in Season 1 will be able to play the Tier 3 adventures, characters that started in Season 2 will play the Tier 2 adventures, and new characters will play through the Tier 1 adventures.
Season 4: Curse of Strahd begins with the characters as part of an alliance to reclaim Phlan from the Cult of the Dragon, but the dark tendrils of Ravenloft instead divert the characters into that realm, where they have to deal with the machinations of Strahd. This season tells a continuous story, and it is intended you start new characters and play all of the adventures in order.
Each season is enhanced by the D&D Epics, which tell of particularly momentous events in the storyline. These adventures aren’t necessary to understand and enjoy what’s going on, but they are a lot of fun. They’re not available for general play, however: they are only playable at select conventions as they’re multi-table events with 10+ parties of adventurers all playing through the adventure at the same time.
Even if you play these adventures at home, if you choose to use the rules laid out in the D&D Adventurers League Player’s Guide for logging plays and tracking your adventures, you can use your character in stores and conventions. Playing a D&D Epic at Tier 3? Sounds good to me! – but you need to have a legal AL character at that tier.