In a League of Their Own: D&D Adventurers League

As you know, this year I‘ve been getting back into Dungeons and Dragons after somewhat of a long hiatus. Mostly this has been as a Dungeon Master for my children and nephews, playing through a mixture of homebrew content and official modules in the comfort of our own home. While this has been a lot of fun (especially seeing them discover that spark I had so many years ago) I have to admit that I miss playing the game with my own characters.

Not having access to a regular play group (one of the main reasons for my previous absents) and been the only experienced player/DM in our household, I didn’t really have a way of taking part as a party member with my family. Luckily for me, there is more than one way to find a game these days, so a few weeks ago I decided to rectify this issue by attending my local D&D Adventurers League in an attempt to scratch that player itch.

For those that might not know, D&D Adventurers League is Wizards of the Coast official organised play program (similar to Magic the Gathering’s FNM) which allows players and DMs without a regular playgroup to meet up and play games together with supported campaign modules. These modules are inspired by the latest expansion books, such as this upcoming season that allow you to explore the misty domains of Ravenloft (D&D’s horror-based realm) and supports players at all levels of experience.

Games are drop in affairs, with people been able to join straight in with a table of players and take part with minimal fuss. Groups are divided among the different tiers of experience, so players of 1st to 4th level play together, while 5th to 10th are grouped with one another and so forth. If its your first time you can either bring along a 1st level character (built with some limitations as per the Adventurers League rules) or play a pre-generated character that the venue will provide.

My local group had recently started meeting up again now the country has begun to open up, and luckily for me their regular meet up day happened to be on one of my rare days off. So, I had a place to play, now all I needed a character to play with. Sure, I could just use a pre-generated one, but where would be the fun in that. My original plan was to try out a Half-Elf Monk, since I painted the model last month and rather enjoyed the idea of jumping around, kicking enemies in the face. But as I finished building the character, I remembered an often-forgotten rule of D&D. Allows bring a healer.

Never underestimate the value of a Cleric.

I started having awful flashbacks to adventures past, with everyone wanting to be the heavy hitter or spellcasting powerhouse. These tales all ended the same way. With everyone in the party bleeding out on the floor because no-one wanted to play the support class. And that was when we all were supposed to build our characters together with some vague semblance of synergy. Who knows how bad this problem could be when we’re all just thrown together? So just in case, I also drafted up Dargan, a level one Dwarf Cleric so we would have at least one player with a healing spell.

So, the day comes, and I arrive at the venue. Most of the players were welcoming, though this was made somewhat awaked as we were sticking to social distancing rules. I took my seat at the table, ready to get started. And… we had two no shows. Strong start, I know. We ended up getting merged with another table that was in a similar position, and after a bit of DM juggling, we were ready to get started. We made our introductions and surprise surprise, no healer. I quickly grabbing Dargan’s character sheet and we began our adventure.

The game was a lot of fun, with everyone getting a moment to shine. As I expected, I ended up saving most of the players at the table at least once, starting off in the first round of combat when our DM critically hitting our Tabaxi Bard and knocking them out. In true fantasy style, I ran in and healed them before crushing their assailant with my warhammer. We were able to carry the day and collect our rewards, and we all had a blast while doing it. Plans where quickly made to attend the next week, and I look forward to seeing how far I can take Dargan before I end up biting off more than I can chew and become a smear on a dungeon floor.

It is worth noting however that despite having a lot of fun playing the game itself, there were a few issues I came across with Adventurers League. Firstly, the fact that we were all very different players brought together for a module meant that we all had wildly different approaches to the game. For example, I love to get into the roleplaying aspect of D&D, putting on accents and getting into character. But not everyone has that sort of commitment. Some players are more into the Game part of RPGs, focusing more on the tactics of a situation rather than the narrative tale. This is not a bad thing, just different. Our table ran the full gambit of player types, which can make the game fell a little awkward at times. Despite this, we all got on rather well for the most part (more on this later).

Secondly, because everyone has such widely varying characters, it can lead to imbalanced party compositions. For example, apart from the Bard, I was the only spellcaster at the table and everyone else was very much built to be combat orientated. This meant the chances of solving our problems without resorting to violence was almost non-excitant. Sure, we killed anything but in front of us. But most modules have at least some level of non-combat encounter incorporated into them, and can be difficult to get round without a lot of effort.

This brings me to my last issue, and that is the fact that we had a murder hobo at the table. Murder hoboes (or Sociopathic Looters as I like to call them) are players that in the best-case scenarios like to solve all the problems with violence, and in the worst-cases will activity seek conflict because “that’s what a chaotic character would do”. Killing and looting is all that matters to them, and they are not afraid to kill an NPC or two if they can get some loot out of it. Now to be fair, playing this kind of character can be fun in the right setting, such as a villainous one-shot. The issue is that if everyone at the table is wanting to take the diplomatic approach, but one player decides to be aggressive, it will ruin any chances of avoiding combat for those players.

This happened in our game as our Bard was trying to avoid a conflict (which I was doing my best to help them with) but it was all ruined because one player decided to throw a vial of explosives into the mix. Luckily, we were able to get through this, but it can spoil the mood of the whole table if it happens too often. The gent who was doing it seemed like a nice enough chap outside of the game. The issue is that he had a way he wanting to play that didn’t gel with the rest of the table. Again, in home brew games this is not as much of an issue as everyone will usually be on the same page during the campaign. But in an environment like Adventurers League with so many different players it is bound to come up now and then.

After a long day of adventuring it was time to grab a well deserved drink.

Despite these issues however, I still had a lot of fun, and I am looking forward to getting down a few more times in the next couple of months for some more adventures. I am especially looking forward to the new Ravenloft modules, and playing some creepy horror themed games of D&D just in time for Halloween. Here’s hoping Dargan is up to the challenge.

Well, that will about do it for todays article. As I say, I rather enjoyed my Adventurers League experience, but I would love to hear your tales of D&D AL. Do you have a group you attend regularly? If so, what do you enjoy or find difficult about playing in organised events? Let us know in the comments below or contact me directly over on Twitter @TenguPlaysGames. While you are down there you can help us out by liking and subscribing to the site for more D&D, MTG and GW content.

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