…Don’t talk about Adventurer’s League. Apparently. I’m being harsh. Everyone know’s it’s Wednesday Nights, which is at least good branding, if nothing else. Also, it being a bigger deal than I thought it was is probably… good?
Let me start from the top. I recently had a Dungeons & Dragons 5E game I was playing in go on hiatus, and with no other gaming in site, I decided to check out 5E’s organized play option, “Adventurer’s League.” My original plan had been to DM at a local hobbyist store, but the organizer never got in touch with me so… I did the somewhat shitty thing and decided to go and play at another FLGS. Hey, if it comes around to it, I can always go back to Plan A.
First things first, as soon as I introduced myself to the organizers at Backup-FLGS, I got quizzed on the character I had rolled up. Had I read the Player’s Guide specific to AL? Had I used any of the new races? What kind of ability distribution did I use? I guess it was necessary, given that AL prides itself on consistency and everyone starting at the same place…
Which went right out the window, because as soon as I sat down, I was informed that everyone else was starting at Level 2, because they had attended the super special Session 0 CharGen session, while I was stuck at Level 1. Thanks, guys. Way to welcome the new guy. Oh well, they got theirs; AL apparently prohibits you from gaining more than 300 XP over the course of three weeks, so I was the only one that got XP at the end of the adventure.
Anywho, I sat down at a table with seven(!) other players and got ready to roll. Now, I get it. You’re always gonna have more players than DMs, so large player counts kinda comes with the territory. However! One of the player’s at my table was the organizer himself, who said as much that large table-sizes be damned, he was going to play instead of DM. Now, I’d think that if you were a DM, you’d want to DM. And second off, you’d want to DM especially if it meant keeping the table sizes down! Oh well. Ask me about that again after I’ve been DMing for a bunch of randos two months straight and I’ll probably have a different opinion.
I lucked out in that no one at my table was an enormous douchebag, and we all had some laughs and a fun time with the game. Things got off to a rough-ish start, thanks to the entire town we were set to meet up in disappearing off the face of the earth thanks to some Illusion Magic. We spent some time screwing around, trying to figure out what was up, but eventually we got into the swing of things.
We ran through a (pitifully underpowered) encounter, but I could put that down to either the DM not scaling it up or some pretty decent tactics (two spellcasters sneak up, cast Sleep on half the baddies, someone’s owl familiar unlocks the cage keeping a bear trapped, and then yours truly casts Minor Illusion to spawn the sounds of a wounded bear cub where the remaining baddies are camped).
Things petered out after that, we screwed around in town for a bit longer, eventually got a hook to go check out a haunted tomb, and hit our stopping point for the night.
I think the main lesson I took away for my own DMing is (1) always try to set your table count low if you can help it and (2) failing that, keep the game moving. In a large game, you pretty much need to go from encounter to encounter to encounter to keep people engaged. Or, rotate through and ask everyone what they’re doing. Or maybe not! I was honestly happy with my level of contribution to the game, but I feel like we could have probably done more if the DM had kept the game moving.
In regards to keeping the game moving, I think it really comes down to be up-front with the players where the guardrails are. No, you don’t need to haggle with the constable over how much you’re getting paid, because the loot is set by the module and you get what you get. Want to tie up a baddie? Okay. He’s tied up. You don’t need to roll 5 billion checks to see how strong the ropes are. The bandits are that-a-way. The old tomb is this-a-way.
To me, DnD really comes alive in the tactics and creativity of problem-solving once your given an interesting (not necessarily combat-based!) encounter. As a DM, if there’s going to be theatrics and fluf, I prefer it come from the players interacting with each-other, like one other (elf) character nagging at me about how great elves are to my (half-elven) character. YOU’RE NOT MY REAL DAD ELODIN. Not from standing around talking to So-And-So the Pickler about whether or not the Orcs in the South he’s heard about are the same ones we just captured. Gimme the hook. Show me the rails. Choo-choo, let’s do this!