Category: D&D

5E Adventure Review: Bedlam at the Benefit

Bedlam at the Benefit is a 2-hour D&D Adventurers League-legal adventure for Tier 1 characters released as part of the CCC program. The adventurers are sent to raise money for a children’s hospital, but things go wrong, and they must rescue the guests and themselves from a chaotic incursion.

This adventure is brilliant. The role-playing section that begins the adventure is glorious; it structures the role-playing brilliantly, allowing meaningful interactions with the NPCs, while still allowing those who don’t enjoy role-playing to participate. The story is exciting, and the use of a skill challenge to reveal details about the plot as the adventurers track the kidnappers to their lair is inspired. It also provides a few moments of potential horror – the final encounter, in particular, can be terrifying.

Two things detract from this brilliance.

The first is that many of the checks and battles are too difficult. A Neogi potentially deals 36 damage a round. One Neogi against a party of 3rd-level characters is, in itself, challenging. A Neogi, a Gibbering Mouther and 6 Neogi Hatchlings against the party? That’s too much for many parties. The scaling for “Very Weak” (1 Neogi and 4 Hatchlings) is even more absurd. If the party have a lot of area-effect attacks, it might go well for them. If they don’t – then I pity the poor fools! I reduced the difficulty of this encounter significantly in play.

The main skill challenge sets a base DC of 16 and says a group of five must pass ten successes before they fail five times. A 3rd-level character has a +5 bonus to their best-trained skills or a 50% chance of success. If you flip a coin ten times, will you get ten heads before five tails? It seems unlikely. The structure of this challenge is excellent, but the initial DC is too high.

The second is the lore on the Chained God. The use of the Chained God as the ultimate adversary is a great idea, but the characters “remember” a lot of lore about the god during the descent into the underground tunnels. Unfortunately, the history of the Chained God in the Forgotten Realms is almost non-existent, and it’s very, very unlikely that any of the heroes have heard of him – or know anything further. This probably won’t affect your appreciation of the adventure, but it felt wrong to me.

While running the adventure, it’s likely you’ll need to adjust the difficulty of encounters to challenge your group appropriately.

Despite this, the overall story and structure of the adventure are superior. The encounters all have a purpose, and it flows well. The adventure is a good example of the amount of story you can tell in 2-hours; though it may underestimate the time needed for one of the combats.

The detail given to the NPCs doesn’t overwhelm the DM, but presents information that makes the role-playing meaningful, and each of the sixteen characters is distinct and memorable.

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed this adventure. It’s ambitious, and it realises its ambition excellently; the role-playing encounter by itself is worth the price of admission. Strongly recommended.

OD&D Review: The Dragon’s Secret

The Dragon’s Secret is a 52-page adventure written for the Swords & Wizardry system by Jennell Jaquays, one of the great game designers who started in the early days of role-playing games. Swords & Wizardry is a variant of the original D&D rules published by Frog God Games, and as such, I’ve chosen to tag this review with the Original D&D tag. Conversion to 5E statistics requires some work by the Dungeon Master; some monsters are in the 5E Monster Manual, but others don’t exist in 5E lore at present, and the DM must create those.

Jaquays created the original dungeon was in the 70s during the early days of Dungeons & Dragons. The adventure shows a portion of her original notes for the dungeon; they are not dissimilar to those in my short dungeon from last week, by which I mean they’re short and undetailed. This presentation expands that significantly. Each encounter breaks down its elements into Backstory, Lore, Secrets, Curios, Treasure, Denizens and Tactics/Roleplay sections. The descriptions of these sections are brief but effective. This format makes the adventure very readable and easy to run.

The adventure features a wilderness section and a dungeon, with the dungeon being the main attraction. The backstory for the dungeon is that it was once a cathedral built to honour a gold dragon and that dragon’s lair. Little features like the “dragon” really being a greedy rogue polymorphed by her partner to bilk the locals add to the amusement of the backstory. The dragon is long dead, but her treasure remains. The ruins of the cathedral feature a host of unsavoury personages and monsters, some of which are wanted by the law. The adventure provides four reasons for the players to enter the dungeon. I’m very glad to say that they’re not all the same reason phrased differently; you can choose one that suits your players. And yes, one is to find the dragon’s hoard.

While the adventure doesn’t have a wilderness map, it does have random encounters that can occur around the cathedral. Each has a paragraph describing why the monsters are here; some are linked to the dungeon, others are just wilderness predators. The most notable encounter is with the “fowl folk adventurers” – anthropomorphic bird creatures. I first encountered “duck” adventurers in the RuneQuest RPG, for which Jaquays wrote several significant products, but the range of birdfolk is expanded here with a goose and a crow also present. The capsule descriptions of their personalities – only a paragraph each – are brilliantly done; giving enough information to role-play without overwhelming the DM with information. For instance:

Dor of Duckmarsh: He’s the band’s leader and a bit of jerk towards others, despite working well as a team. He is often condescending towards non-ducks. No one’s ready to stick a shiv in him over it… yet, but none of the others consider him a friend.

The dungeon consists of three main levels with a total of 34 areas. There is a wide variety of encounter; traps, tricks, monsters and puzzles. The traps are varied and occasionally quite deadly. There are many innovative uses of illusions; in one room, the walls appear to move towards the characters, but if the characters move to the centre of the room to evade them, they’ll fall through an illusionary floor into a pit trap! Which then hides a second pit trap – and there are zombies as well!

This feature of the original dungeons – areas with unusual tricks to challenge and entertain the players – is very strong in this adventure. Does it make perfect sense? Not really – but I’m a fan of the old funhouse dungeons such as White Plume Mountain, and this adventure amuses me greatly. Jaquays describes her earliest dungeons as being “monster hotels”, which gained more interesting areas during development and play – and this is based on a very early adventure. Jaquays notes it was possibly written in 1976 or before! The work of the mature game-designer is evident in this presentation.

The writing is full of humour. Asides such as “What’s worse than zombies and spiders? Zombie spiders!!” bring a smile to my face. There are not a lot of opportunities for role-playing with denizens of the dungeon, but there are few rogues who have sought shelter there that give the players a chance to converse with someone other than themselves.

The maps and artwork are rendered attractively in black and white. As noted, the writing is of high quality, although a few minor editing errors have sneaked into the text: a misplaced apostrophe here, a missing word there. Occasionally, the layout stumbles, with a full-page textbox intruding between the start and end of a paragraph, or some art otherwise breaking the flow.

The product ends with a couple of new player character races for Swords & Wizardry – fowl folk and aardvarks – and a small selection of new monsters. It also includes a handout for one of the major puzzles.

Sidebars in the text describe a few homebrew rules. I note that one is the “deadly” rules for falling damage, which makes a 10-foot fall inflict 1d6 damage, a 20-foot fall inflict 3d6 damage, and so on (6d6, 10d6, 15d6, etc.) This method of dealing falling damage was intended to be used in early D&D but was removed during editing – causing much puzzlement to players when reading the thief-acrobat in Unearthed Arcana, which assumed that the rule was in the Players Handbook!

The adventure is available in both print and pdf from DriveThruRPG. Overall, The Dragon’s Secret is an entertaining dungeon, with many features to challenge players. Highly recommended!

5E Supplement Review: Moonshae Isles Regional Guide

The Moonshae Isles Regional Guide presents an introduction to the folk (or Ffolk) and factions of the Moonshae Isles, a storied part of the Forgotten Realms. The Moonshae Isles are an archipelago inspired by British Isles mythology: Druids, fey and a lot of invasions.

I was first introduced to them, as were many others, by Douglas Niles’ book Darkwalker on Moonshae. I revisited it a couple of years ago. It’s not a flawless book by any means, but it’s a significant book: the first novel set in the Forgotten Realms. And, for all the problems with the novel, it tells a compelling tale. The setting and characters are excellent.

In the timeline of the Forgotten Realms, we’re now about one hundred years past the events of that first novel. Shawn Merwin, Robert Alaniz and Eric Menge have crafted this guide to get players up-to-date with the current state of the Moonshae Isles. They do an excellent job. The Guide uses 27 pages to detail the locations, cultures, gods and peoples of the isles. The authors have focused on giving you a sense of the history of the region and the current state of affairs. The area is full of unresolved conflicts, which makes it a great place in which to set adventures.

The “Golden Age” of King Kendrick is now history. The Ffolk, the heroes of the original book, are only just hanging onto one or two islands in the archipelago. Northmen, Fey, the Stormmaiden’s followers and the Amnese all have control of the other islands. However – and this is something I appreciate – not all of these forces are evil. Some are mercenary, some may be the good guys, and their ambiguous motives allow DMs to construct complex adventures that feature interesting interactions.

I want to emphasise how well-written the descriptions are. A location or culture may only get a few paragraphs, but they are to the point and provide an excellent overview of the importance of the feature. In particular, they provide information useful to the DM and players for using them in a Moonshae Isles campaign; plot hooks and adventure ideas abound. You’ll still have to do a lot of work to turn them into adventures, but the inspiration is here.

A further 22 pages of the work detail player options: new backgrounds and organisations to which that characters can belong. There’s a list of Moonshae names – very useful! – and a special Moonshae trinket table!

The Organisations are particularly interesting, as this book isn’t just for general play; it’s also an introduction to an Adventurers League campaign in the Moonshae Isles. Those of us who have played in regular Adventurers League games are familiar with the regular five factions – the Harpers, Zhentarim, Order of the Gauntlet, Emerald Enclave, and Lords’ Alliance. Those factions aren’t as relevant in the isles, and so seven new organisations are presented for adventurers to join. These exist alongside the regular factions, so you could conceivably belong to both an AL faction and a Moonshae organisation at once.

The organisations are:

  • Defenders of the Earthmother
  • Harbingers of Liberation
  • Initiates of the Flame
  • Kendrick Loyalists
  • Moonshae Trade League
  • Sarifal Faithful
  • Wardens of the Deepshaes

Each organisation has a description of its goals, why characters might want to join, and its politics and resources. This information is not that detailed and is of less use to non-AL players than those playing the adventures that Baldman Games is organising.

I found the backgrounds more interesting. They are:

  • Breasal Scout
  • Hero of the Ffolk
  • Llewyr Wanderer
  • Marked by the Beast
  • Northland Seafarer
  • Sarifal Outcast
  • Touched by the Fey

The backgrounds tend to be more specific than those you find in the Player’s Handbook, which is a good thing. I’m unsure of how “Marked by the Beast” will play; it puts a history of lycanthropy in your background, which has no real game effect but should affect your personality. Generally, however, the backgrounds provide a lot of good role-playing potential.

The layout, maps and art in the book are of very high quality, and the writing and editing likewise. As a lovely nod to the past, Douglas Niles, the originator of the Isles, wrote an introduction to the book.

The book does not feature new spells, items or monsters. I’m fine with this, but some may feel their lack.

Overall, this is an excellent overview of the Moonshae Isles. At some point, I plan to play some of the BMG adventures seen in the area, and I’m very interested in how the ideas in this book inspire the events in those adventures. If you’d like to explore a new area of the Forgotten Realms, I strongly recommend you get this supplement!

On the Importance and Challenges of Organised Play

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!

A Home Adventure

Adventures I don’t design for publication?

They don’t need so much text!

The premise? Goblins are raiding from an old keep (the upper floor is destroyed). However, the goblins are plagued by an old summoning circle in the basement, which keeps letting loose Abyssal Maws! They’ve got a deal with some ogres to keep the maws in, but they’d prefer to get rid of them all-together.

So, the goblins see the adventurers as saviours, but then betray them when they try to leave.

Crafting Magic Items – and the Effect on the Campaign

Some things you learn through experience.

When I first played Dungeons & Dragons, while AD&D 1st Edition was the main edition, I got very frustrated by the magic item creation rules. Too vague! The DM had to do too much work! Where do you get those ingredients anyway?

I understood that crafting magic items was an important part of the magic-user’s abilities – the book told me so! – and though I didn’t have the 12th level magic-user required to craft those items, it didn’t stop me thinking about how the rules worked.

I discovered I wasn’t alone in thinking that the crafting rules could be clearer because, with the release of D&D 3E in 2000, there was a new, simple-to-explain system for crafting magic items. All the wizard need was enough gold, access to the correct spells and to spend a little XP!

Oops.

It turns out that allowing players to have exactly the items they want causes a few balance issues. If every fighter wears magical platemail, a magical shield and a cloak of displacement, then the mathematics on the system gets out of hand, fast. Yes, I could increase the attack bonuses of the monsters, but then I slaughtered every party member that couldn’t wield those items.

At least in 3E, there was that XP cost. It’s not that much, it did give the crafters some pause in just creating anything they wanted. Pathfinder got rid of that XP cost. The results, based on the two campaigns I ran of it, were not good.

I’ve somewhat cooled on crafting magic items due to my experiences in 3E and Pathfinder.

However, it’s still something I want to include in the game. This time, I wouldn’t abrogate the responsibility of the DM in keeping the game balanced! I scanned the 5E rules and then went back to the AD&D rules. How did they work again? Then I got distracted by the rules for creating a new spell. Why did I get distracted? Because those rules are better than those for crafting magic items. The basic method? Get a laboratory, spend time in research – with a chance of success each week. Repeat until the spell is researched. For a magic item, I see it as using the research method to determine how to create the item – special ingredients and spells needed, etc. – then use the other process to allow the crafting of the item.

The rules for crafting an item I can adapt from those given in the 5E rules and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. The idea of using bits of monsters in magic item creation – ghoulish though it might be – has the benefit of promoting adventure. Why does the wizard go out of the lab? To find components for magic items! This form of crafting does assume a different form of the game: one where the players drive adventures rather than adventure coming to them. (I feel early D&D was more aimed towards going in search of adventure, while later versions were based more on adventurers being swept up into a story, but that’s a generalisation that isn’t universally true).

The idea of the campaign where the players choose which adventure they wish to experience is one I repeatedly approach, with varying degrees of success.

The other aspect of this method of crafting items is the idea of time management. If the character is crafting items or researching spells, they’re not available for adventures. This brings up the potential for players creating multiple characters and choosing which one goes on an adventure depending on availability!

In a recent session of my Greyhawk game, the players discovered an old manuscript that described how to construct a couple of magic items, alleviating the need for research. The items still need special components to craft, as well as crafting time, but the research isn’t necessary.

If the campaign continues down the path of offering the players more freedom as to what they do – rather than saying “this is the adventure, go on that one – do I institute training times to gain levels? Perhaps not!

Incidentally, one of the items the ancient manuscript described was the staff of life. What’s a staff of life? Well, it wasn’t in AD&D or 5E! I thought it was, but it’s only a 3E item! It permits the casting of heal and raise dead. I’ll have to think about how I implement it in 5E – I may go back to a non-rechargeable staff in its case!

Addendum: I think the best form of crafting items is brand-new items from the minds of the players. “This sounds cool? Can I create it?” The research then becomes the way where they discover if it’s possible – with the DM working out how to implement it in the game without breaking the game!

5E Adventure Review: Cauldron of Sapphire

Cauldron of Sapphire, the penultimate Tier 4 adventure of Season 7, is a superb adventure. Robert Adducci crafted what I believe is the first regular-series DDAL adventure to get Tier 4 right – and yes, I do include my own efforts in that. (I don’t include the special Epics or Author-Only adventures, as I haven’t run those yet!)

Cauldron, like my Eye of Xxiphu, mostly takes place underwater, but raises the challenge by putting the characters near a volcano. This means that they must also deal with superheated, acidic water! The visuals of the adventure are excellent. I delighted in an early scene where great masses of pumice rose up from below as the party descended.

Most of the encounters don’t immediately begin with an attack and provide opportunities for role-playing. My players delighted in that and caused much chaos amongst their foes. Not every monster has the same motivation, and the characters can save some from corruption. The adventure isn’t “everyone lives!”, but it does offer a lot for players of all types.

The imagery gets more disturbing as the adventurers get closer to the conclusion; there are serious forces of corruption loose. The great ur-demon Dagon can potentially make an appearance as the climax. The choice of monsters reinforces the theme of corruption, and it’s great to see the use of a sibriex from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. My group found the combat encounters – those the party didn’t talk their way past – challenging. It was also nice to have an adventure where the conclusion wasn’t the players facing Red Wizards and casting multiple meteor swarms!

As with many D&D Adventurers League adventures, the structure is mostly linear. Unusually, there are no maps at all. It’s well-written for the most part, but somehow omits the nalfeshnee stat block, a monster that appears in a couple of encounters. The WotC mandate of not modifying the printed stat block in the adventure but instead noting changes in a sidebar was frustrating, once again. Robert used reskinned monsters well.

There are a lot of environmental hazards present in the adventure, and the number of moving parts can make running combats tricky. However, the results were well worth it.

Cauldron of Sapphire is a superb adventure and, even if you don’t play in the D&D Adventurers League campaign, it’s worth examining its techniques. Strongly recommended!

5E Supplement Review: Waterdeep Primer

The Waterdeep Primer is a 24-page document compiled by Jason Hardin that introduces the reader to key facts about the City of Waterdeep, an important city in the Forgotten Realms. With the upcoming adventure season revolving around this city, this is a way to learn some lore before the official release.

The primer covers the history of the city in four pages, the geography in six pages, and most of the remainder deals with factions, societies and groups of power. Covers, contents and bibliography take up five pages. The bibliography is very important, as it shows you the primary sources to gain more information on the city, albeit in previous editions.

Details on each topic are necessarily brief, but informative. The writing is clear, with enough details to pique the reader’s interest. I liked that it describes notable establishments and particularly liked the descriptions of education and mages academies in the city.

The primer only mentions a few characters of Waterdeep and doesn’t give detailed descriptions of them. We won’t know about most of the characters currently in Waterdeep until the adventures get released, as most of the characters we know lived about one-hundred years before the present time in the Realms – since 4E’s release, we’ve only learnt a little about who lives in Waterdeep these days.

The product serves as a reference for both Dungeon Masters and players. There might be a couple of secret factions a DM wouldn’t want their players to know about, but for the most part its information should be common knowledge.

If you’re unfamiliar with the city or want a quick refresher on the setting, this should suit your needs. Recommended.

5E Adventure Review: Ghost of the Mere

Ghost of the Mere is an adventure for 12th-level characters, set during the time of the Tyranny of Dragons. It’s designed so it can be run as an additional quest during Rise of Tiamat. You’d benefit from owning Hoard of the Dragon Queen for information on Castle Naerytar.

The adventure sets up an interesting situation where the characters are sent to stop the black dragon of the Mire of Dead Men but must deal with a rising undead threat at the same time. The adventure’s structure isn’t linear. The interaction with the various characters in the adventure, including the lizardfolk Snapjaw, a captured Dragon Cultist, and three hags, allows the play to take several paths.

Most of the play surrounds three key locations: Castle Naerytar, the ruined Uthtower, and the Dragon’s Lair. There’s a focus on running the big dragon battle well, and the locations are interesting places to use.

The encounters can be very challenging for the players, with a lot of moving parts.

The main problem I had was trying to work out the shape of the adventure. The adventure assumes the characters begin by talking to the lizardfolk of Castle Naerytar; however, an introduction for the characters that explains their mission and sends them to the lizardfolk is missing in two of the three hooks. There’s also a lot of text. Lots of background details, occasionally in places that disrupt the flow of the adventure. It’s not easy to read.

It’s sort of a sandbox, as it doesn’t dictate how the adventurers must approach things. There’s no map of the swamp, but the key locations have maps.

There’s a lot of ambition in this adventure. It demands work from the DM to pull it together, but there’s enough here to make it intriguing.

D&D Adventurers League Changes: Gold

When I first played D&D, using the AD&D rules in the early 1980s, every gold you earned gave you XP, and thus gain levels. You also gained XP from killing monsters, but based on what I observed from the published adventures and comments in the Basic and Companion rules, about three-quarters of your XP would come from treasure. (Some players did away with this, but there was a lot of treasure in the published AD&D and D&D adventures, as analysed in this old EN World thread).

The sums were much larger from what we expect today. A second-level fighter had probably gained about 1,500 gold pieces to reach that level; a tenth-level fighter? Likely about 200,000 gold pieces for their next level.

The question then becomes, on what do they spend their gold?

These were the activities proposed at that time:

  • Employing henchmen and hirelings (and armies)
  • Building strongholds
  • Training for the next level
  • Researching spells and crafting magic items.
  • Taxes, tithes, living costs, etc.
  • Replacing and upgrading equipment
  • Spell component costs
  • NPC Spellcasting

Variants of these costs have continued through the years since in D&D campaigns. They typically didn’t work that well, and you’d have a lot of gold left over.

So, what do you use gold for in the D&D Adventurers League?

Henchmen and strongholds don’t work within the structure of the campaign. Training costs are no longer part of D&D (for the most part), and the lifestyle costs don’t come up that much (and aren’t that significant).

That leaves research, magic item crafting, equipment, NPC spellcasting and spell component costs.

Researching brand-new spells? Not a good fit for DDAL play. The equivalent ability is wizards scribing scrolls into spellbooks, which still exists.

Crafting magic items? Not a thing in default DDAL play (or in many D&D 5E games).

Replacing and upgrading equipment? That’s something. But once you have your platemail, most of the costs are pretty trivial.

So, on what do the high-level adventurers of the D&D Adventurers League spend their money?

  • Wizards scribing spells into their spellbooks
  • Potions of healing
  • Spell component costs
  • Living costs (only when coupled with downtime activities)
  • NPC Spellcasting (Raise Dead and Restoration spells, primarily)
  • Special events (Fai Chen’s, Faction Rewards)

From that, you can probably see the problems with the economy: Most of the uses for gold are for spellcasters; wizards in particular. The special events don’t even occur for many players. You have characters that need a relatively small amount of gold, and some characters that need a larger amount of gold.

Meanwhile, the amount of gold being given out in D&D Adventurers League games? It was huge. Not so much at Tier 1, but in the later tiers, most PCs would accumulate far more money than they needed. The guidelines for how much gold to give out in a DDAL game weren’t as nailed down as the XP awards, and tended towards giving out a lot!

Gold is interesting when you don’t have enough to do everything you want, but can do some things. If you need to choose between casting heroes’ feast or buying two potions of supreme healing, you’ve got an interesting decision. If every time it is “I do both and still have more than 10,000 gold pieces!”, then there’s no decision to be made.

The suggested method that the D&D Adventurers League want to use next season is this: You don’t gain gold from adventures. Instead, whenever you gain a level, you gain gold according to the tier you’ve achieved. Tier 1: 75 gp. Tier 2: 150 gp. Tier 3: 550 gp. Tier 4: 5,500 gp.

When we discovered that, howls of surprise and dismay began. This change breaks immersion for me more than any other that has been proposed. I’m fine with the abstraction involved in advancement checkpoints and (magic) treasure checkpoints. This gold one feels more wrong.

Part of that is due to the way a typical DDAL adventure goes: You go on a mission, and you get rewarded for it. That’s still how it works for advancement and treasure checkpoints. However, the gold reward delayed until you level? That feels weird, and I’m far from the only person to note this.

Mike Mearls had this to say on the subject:

We’ll see how it plays out. If the amount of gold and how often you earn it is an issue, we’ll make changes. For instance, we could pretty easily tie a GP reward based on the tier you gain in addition to each treasure check earned. So, if an adventure gave 2 treasure checks, it would also give 2 * that tier’s GP reward packet.

Having gold rewards at the end of adventures (or sessions, for hardcover play)? That feels better. It still doesn’t fix the “we found a hoard of treasure in this hardcover and couldn’t take it” feeling, but at least gold rewards would be more constant.

It should be emphasised that the rules are currently still in draft form, and Wizards and the admins are still gathering feedback. While some things are unlikely to be changed, others are – and I think the gold rewards will be one of those.

The other aspect of the dismay comes from how low the rewards are. If I plug in the suggested treasure from hoards in the DMG, I get the following approximate values:

Tier 1 7 hoards (Challenge 0-4) 150 gp per level
Tier 2 18 hoards (challenge 5-10) 3,000 gp per level
Tier 3 12 hoards (challenge 11-16) 15,000 gp per level
Tier 4 8 hoards (challenge 17-20) 175,000 gp per level

That’s a bit of a gap compared to the suggested rewards in the DDAL! Now, I’m fine with them being lower due to fewer things you can spend money on compared to a home campaign. However, the difference in rewards at Tier 2 and 3 is surprisingly large.

Strangely, though the amount of money available to characters has sharply diminished, the number of things they can spend money on has increased! The new rules make spell scrolls and a small selection of potions available for purchase, and the list of spells you can get NPCs to cast for you has also increased.

I like that spellcasters can get scrolls. I like that all characters can get potions. I just wish they’d have enough money to do this!

Copying spells into a spellbook is also an issue: at present, it costs 50 gp per spell level to do so. That would take most of the money for a level-gain for one spell of the appropriate level for the first two tiers.

Although I like having less money in the game, a few things about this proposed method strike me as rather odd!

EDIT: For some reason, lifestyle costs remain (and must be spent when you spend downtime). Odd. I’m not sure how much that adds to the game.