Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Organized Play, Part Two

 I spent a couple years involved, in small ways, with D&D Adventurers League.

It started during Season One; I had run a con the previous year that had Pathfinder Society games, and for year two, it made sense to include a bunch of the "new hotness" - 5e, by way of DDAL.  So we ran some games, they were successful, everyone was excited.  There was a lot of DDAL springing up that first year, and it was good to get in on the ground floor with the local folks who were getting into it and feeling it out.  Some nice people.

For a while I ran occasional DDAL sessions at the FLGS.  These went well, they were getting a good group going there, and I was just a sometimes DM.  Based on a look at the adventures I know I ran, this must've been Season One through the very beginning of Season Two.  I can tell you for sure I ran Dues for the Dead, The Courting of Fire, The Scroll Thief, Drums in the Marsh, and Tales Trees Tell at the FLGS, I have vivid memories of DMing that sequence.  I would still be interested in talking to Jobe Bittman about the bits that WotC cut out of The Courting of Fire.

I didn't love DDAL.  To be fair, I wasn't in love with 5e, either, but it was functional and a way to meet some new folks and maybe generate new gamers, so I was willing to put in some work.  The org-play structure of DDAL wasn't horrible, either... but the culture started to be its own thing.

It wasn't really apparent to me until later, because I stopped running games.  I could see from peeking in on the online discussions that DDAL was getting a little weird as far as playculture.  Org-play does this - it becomes its own thing, and the loudest voices will skew the idea of "normal" play.

By Season Five I was running again, and I ran the entire low-level sequence that season, including at an out-of-state con.  That was fun!  Again, everybody I met was pretty cool there.  Got to play in The Iron Baron epic, that was interesting - anytime you do a multi-table thing, it's interesting to watch the logistics.  That adventure earned my dwarf paladin the enmity of all fire giants forever!

Later at TridentCon I ran a higher-tier adventure and hated it - the weird habits the playculture was building were really obvious at that level, I don't think I had any fun running that session of In Dire Need.  I went on a business trip to Ottawa and sat in on a game at a FLGS there, and those players were hospitable and fun to share a table with.  The main issue I had with DDAL, people-wise, was some of the online loudmouths, some of the moderators and admins, and a handful of people on the local 'scene' who were cheesy, mouthy, or both.  Probably all organized play is this way.

I remember playing at a local con - this was Season Seven I think, so I'm skipping ahead - and my PC was killed.  Actually killed, no resurrection, due to a quirk of that season and the way in which he was slain.  The table went silent as everybody expected me to freak out, I guess.  I didn't freak out, I was losing characters before some of these players were born, right?  I hung out for the rest of the game, other than sneaking across the street to buy everybody at the table Wendy's Frosties.  When you lose a PC, you either drink beer or eat ice cream.  Ice cream it was.

Worth noting that in my experiences in DDAL, "faction stuff" didn't come up too much.  Occasionally it got a player a side-quest or extra info, but there wasn't much effect on the way people were playing their characters.

During Season Five, we worked with DDAL admins to write a 'Con-Created Content' adventure for use at TridentCon.  It was supposed to be a trilogy - con trilogies were very popular at the time - but that ended up being too ambitious.  I did the story outline, Jack Shear did the actual writeup, then I took an editing pass for clarity, sanity-check, and to drop in some Forgotten Realms references where we could use more.  That Poe homage adventure, The House on Weeping Quay, was eventually approved for play.  It had been changed by the DDAL reviewers a smidge from what we submitted, and surely what we submitted was dialed-back from what I originally wanted, but it was ready to go.  The map was jacked up at the time, but we forged ahead.  

I ran The House on Weeping Quay for the DMs who were going to run it at TridentCon, and I think it went okay.  A couple questions came up, we figured out how we were going to run those bits, and so forth.  At the con, the module was run I think four or five times for different tables.  And never run again.  Why?  Well, although we were allowed to publish the dumb thing through DriveThru, I didn't get proper maps done in a timely fashion for first possible release, and then after some delays it dawned on me that I didn't care about potential DDAL sales.  Would I rather put the adventure out the way it was supposed to originally look?  With some extra content?  With the original heckin' cool magic item that DDAL wouldn't allow?  And if I were going to revise it, did it even need to be 5e?  Would I be better off publishing it as an OSR thing?  It's still sitting there, waiting for a final edit and an updated manor house map.  I could put it out quickly if I had a map, I guess, and were content to release the "original DDAL version", even if it were no longer approved for DDAL play.  Nobody's clamoring for it, that's for sure.

That was the end of my DDAL career, I haven't touched it since Season Five.  Well, that's mostly true - I was briefly involved with a DDAL splinter campaign, and it was a painful couple of months.  We'll take a look at that next time we talk about organized play.


  1. Did you end up formulating an opinion about/preference between PFS versus DDAL?

    Again, thanks for writing up these anecdotes.

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