Over the last four years, I’ve been running hardcover adventures using Adventurers League rules in our local store. Mostly weekly, though for a bit over a year, I was running twice a week. There’s not that much that would be *too* different if I was running them for home play.
For the most part, the groups playing those hardcovers were constant throughout. Occasionally, a new player would join in, but mostly the same players were playing at the end as those who started the game.
Most of the problems I’ve had with running hardcovers using AL rules disappear with the revisions. In particular, the new magic item rules mean all players get a chance to get useful items, and I can give “XP” for role-playing sessions.
Our one-shot games (those that use CCC, DDAL and DDEX adventures) provide opportunities to play for people who don’t have ongoing games. They also allow players who have higher-level characters to participate. Tyranny of Dragons and Princes of the Apocalypse do end! And those characters can get played again.
At the D&D Epic we ran on the weekend, some players used 20th-level characters that had made their debut in Hoard of the Dragon Queen four years ago! They were thrilled to get a chance to play those old favourites again!
The most important thing about Organised Play for us? It’s the community it builds. It provides a central gathering point for the Dungeons & Dragons players in Ballarat. Without that, we end up splitting apart, playing just at home with our friends, and with little crossover.
When I moved to Ballarat, I had no friends in the city. I didn’t play a game of D&D for three years. I only got back into it because I’d made friends at the local Magic: the Gathering club and they proved to be interested in playing D&D. Although the club did have D&D players, they weren’t running Organised Play. They played homebrew games, and they were a clique. I didn’t know any of them, and I never got to join in.
A few years later, with a new game store in town, I dipped my toe in the water and started running Organised Play games in the Living Greyhawk campaign. I advertised, and some players showed up. Some didn’t remain to play LG games with me, but we became friends. I’m still playing with them in our home games, fifteen years later!
My interest in Organised Play increased once the D&D Encounters program began in 4E. It took a while to get going in our area. Eventually, we had two tables going each week! It grew during the playtest. When 5E was released, we’d grown to four whole tables every week! At present? We’re hosting seven tables every Wednesday and a similar number every Saturday. We had nine tables for the Epic last Saturday!
Is Organised Play for everyone? Not a chance! But it provides a way for people to meet, to interact. Lots of our players play home games together, and they find new players at the Adventurers League sessions. If someone wants to learn how to play D&D, we’re running games that new players can join. If someone moves to the area, they can meet other people with their interests easily. If someone is moving from town to town, they still have the opportunity to play games with a continuing character.
I’ve heard so often of people stopping playing D&D when they finish university. They go into the workforce and lose touch with their groups. Without a place to reconnect with the game, they may not come back.
This, for me, is why I’m so supportive of Organised Play: To allow players to meet other players and to give them games they can enjoy.
It’s important in an OP campaign to have a form of rules to govern play. Although we should rightfully give a lot of trust to the DM and players, there are limits. If a first-level character turned up at my table, dual-wielding vorpal swords, I’d be concerned. There needs to be a baseline. It can’t be the DM just arbitrarily banning stuff at the table – that isn’t sustainable and leads to a lot of bad experiences. The challenge in writing the OP rules is to be as light as possible while still keeping the abuses to the minimum.
This gets more difficult when you realise how much D&D has been changing – and even more since 5E was released! The experience D&D gives has broadened. The D&D community has more voices – it’s not all about gold and killing monsters. Some of the changes to the AL rules are due to this. Others are due to the light touch on rewards proving to be too light, with abuses arising from it. And others are due to a desire to try telling new types of stories.
It’s important to remember that, when you consider the D&D community as a whole, it’s made up of players with very different tastes. Even within the Organised Play community, they vary wildly.
“In the olden days”, D&D games at conventions were ALL pregenerated characters, tailored to the adventure. They gave great experiences. Some of my friends have been talking about how great they were and would like to see more of these. I would too! However, one-shots all the time isn’t so great for weekly play. Having pre-generated characters isn’t great for players who like building their own. If you only play one-shot adventures, you don’t grow attached to your character over months or years.
The “Living” Organised Play campaigns were born out of the desire to keep those continued characters. Over time, they pushed aside the one-shots with pregenerated characters – at least, as officially offered by the RPGA/DCI/Wizards OP. We’ve occasionally had versions of those old-style one-shots with pregens. Rrakkma and Under Speculation have been the most recent examples from OP, although neither has really taken advantage of the roleplaying aspects of the game – providing challenges that relate to the personalities of the characters. Those adventures are a challenge to write well, but there are many talented designers who have provided many for conventions over the years. Even if Wizards aren’t supporting them specifically, the games still exist.
You give up things no matter where you play D&D. In a home group, you can tailor the game as you like it, but you don’t have the same connection to the community as we do in-store. For the “Living” campaigns, you get to keep your character from week to week as in a home game, but your influence on the overall story is diminished. If you only play one-shots at conventions, you get to meet lots of new people and experience a great variety of styles of play, but you don’t have an ongoing character. Some people play in several ways – I myself have a homebrew game as well as running sessions of Adventurers League play in our local store.
Even within “Living” campaigns, there are many ways to approach it. Ask Teos “Alphastream” Abadia about his experiences organising “Ashes of Athas”; it’d be a completely different response from the AL admins experience organising the Adventurers League games. Every form of D&D play provides different experiences, and some of the things we “lose” by choosing one might not be that important to us! (If you run a published adventure, you make allowances for how it’s constructed. Same as in Organised Play).
The most important thing for you to do? Find the style of D&D game you enjoy. Try a few, if you can. I’m happy with my homebrew and my Adventurers League games – I hope you get to play in great games as well!