Thoughts on Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League at PAX Australia 2017

The last few days I’ve been organizing and running Dungeons & Dragons games at PAX Australia. We were running eight tables at the same time of D&D throughout the 30 hours of the convention, a commitment that required 23 Dungeon Masters and support staff, and allowed us to run 125 individual tables of players – or somewhere around 720 players. The actual figure will be a little less than that, as players enjoyed playing D&D and played again, but it was a great experience for us.

Last year, we ran 1-hour and 2-hour adventures in slots of those lengths. We modified the program this year to allow 90 minutes in which to run 1-hour adventures and 3 hours for the 2-hour ones. This worked a lot better, allowing most of our DMs to properly introduce people to the game and get through the entirety of the adventure without rushing. A few tables still struggled to complete them in time, but it worked for most. I expect we’ll keep this scheme next year, assuming the D&D Adventurers League releases a similar slate of low-level D&D adventures.

We found running the two-hour adventures to be challenging in one respect: they were written to be three parts of a trilogy, and the logistics of PAX bookings did not allow us to always run them in the correct order for players – if they could play them all! I’m very, very tempted to see if we can write some Convention Created Content to fill those slots, where we’re released from the problems in playing them out of order.

We also need to find the right balance between introducing the game to new or casual players, which is who the 90 minutes slots were for, and for providing devoted D&D fans a chance to play a lot of D&D at PAX. It would be very easy for only eight groups to ever get to play. We could just run the introductory adventures, but I want to reward the D&D fans as well. With five tables running short adventures and three tables running “long” adventures, it seems about the right balance. However, how many different long adventures should we run? Consider that a table can run a 2-hour adventure only about 10-15 times at PAX (depending on 2-hour or 3-hour slots), that’s not much time.

Sign-ups were crazier than last year. We had significant queues for the first time. Last year, we allowed signing up for adventures whenever you liked – including signing up for an 8 pm slot at 10 am. This led to a significant number of no-shows. This year, we only allowed booking 3 hours in advance, which led to crazy queue problems. We had much better attendance, however, and we didn’t discriminate so badly against people who couldn’t arrive at 10 am on the dot. My thinking for next year is that we start taking bookings for the 11 am and 2 pm games at 10 am, then for the later games of 5 pm and 8 pm at 4 pm, leading to two big sign-in periods (with queues), but a less confusing system overall.

One person signing up an entire group was something I got more and more uneasy about as the event proceeded, leading to a ban on the practice on the Sunday when we had half the normal number of sessions (the Con ended at 6 pm) and a great deal of demand. I couldn’t communicate this to everyone promptly, unfortunately, leading to a few disappointed players. Signing up six players who want to play together is very difficult with such limited space. Next year, I might just require that half the group is there, or keep the “everyone needs to be present” policy. I’ll think about that, and value anyone’s input.

Before you ask, the policy at PAX Australia is that you can’t prebook slots before the convention, so using Warhorn or a similar system isn’t an option.

The adventures (DDAL07-01 A City on the Edge, DDAL07-03 A Day at the Races, DDAL07-04 A Walk in the Park, and DDAL07-05 Whispers in the Dark) were well-received. If anyone was at PAX and played them, please let me know how enjoyable you found them, and what were the best and worst bits – things to consider as we create our own content. If you played only some of them, they’ll all be shortly available on the DMs Guild, and you can buy and play them at home or your local gaming store.

I ran 9 hours of D&D games at PAX and sat on the Sign-Up desk for about another 12+ hours. The games went well, for the most part. I DMed brand new players, players who had played long before but not recently, and players who were currently active. It was great.

My real disappointment? I didn’t get to DM anyone wearing a fez, as Chris was able to do. Fezzes are cool!

My delight? Being aided by an amazing team of DMs and sign-up people. Thank you very much! You were all great!

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2 Responses to Thoughts on Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League at PAX Australia 2017

  1. Jeff C. Stevens says:

    Great article! I love the feedback you give as both a DM and as an organizer. I imagine this took a lot of your time to coordinate.

    I think PAX Australia CCC AL adventures is a fantastic idea for next year! I’m certain the players would love to play AL adventures premiering at PAX Australia.

  2. Callan says:

    Some tricky logistics there. If the can book three hours in advance, does that mean they just all turned up at the last minute to sign up?

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