Like many many others currently playing the new 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons, my table is running Hoard of the Dragon Queen, one of the latest adventures available. I am DMing a table under the auspices of the Adventurers League (AL), Wizards of the Coast’s official Organized Play structure that facilitates the mass-coordination of hundreds of tables all across the world. AL provides a basic set of common rules for all the participants in an effort to facilitate players playing the same games in different locations or traveling to play those games at different locations than their original table’s locale. This means DMs can (and often do) run tables for strangers that are visiting their vicinity, or accommodate shifting player numbers at specific venues. The rules allow the table playing experiences to be somewhat similar whether the game is being run in Oregon or in Florida, Australia or Canada.
My particular table is in southern California. I started running Horde of the Dragon Queen (HotDQ) a couple of months ago, and I’ve had a variety of different players come and go. There have been some consistent players (for the most part) but things have taken a turn lately where I am pretty much DMing for the same six players.
HotDQ is partitioned into 8 Episodes. It is for character levels 1- 8. The adventure continues in a sequel called Rise of Tiamat (RoT) that provides playable content for levels 8-15. My group of players have managed to meet weekly for about 2 hours, during which we’ve managed to make it through Episodes 1-3. Those episodes have “companion” content issued by Adventurers League to help facilitate the playing of the adventure. But from Episode 4 onward, the table shifts from being “counted” as what AL calls an Encounters table to a Casual Table. Encounters is a program AL uses to introduce new players to the game, and it is limited to PCs (player characters) of levels 1-4. There’s some confusion whether Episode 4 is technically still playable by level 1 characters as the PCs may not be at 5th level by then, but I haven’t had to deal with that, so for me it’s not an issue.
Preparation for DMs to run these adventures varies depending on the preferences of the DM. Some desire a lot of prep, some don’t. I, personally, need to flesh out the details I read in the adventure so I can wrap my head around what the players might do. Since D&D is an open-ended game, there is no telling what a team of players might decide they need to do and it’s my job as the DM to facilitate the story telling they decide to create. I guide them, of course, to follow the general plot thread that is outlined by the adventure itself, but there’s a lot of “fleshing out” that I have to do for myself to make their experiences rich and thorough.
In so doing, I’ve learned a lot of things:
1) I am not familiar with HotDQ’s campaign setting, Forgotten Realms. The adventures take place in a world called Faerun, and I have never played in that particular setting. Last time I played D&D, I was playing in a world called Greyhawk, a completely different setting with different topography, towns, cultures… In short, a very different place. Faerun has a whole different flavor, and my learning curve is going to be quite daunting. I realize how much I don’t know every time I look at HotDQ.
2) I am still learning the rules of D&D, so I’ve got a double learning curve.
3) I don’t know how to “wing it” and run a table experience from the book itself. My lack of knowledge with the setting and rules prevent me from improvising a good game in the moment.
So. One thing that neither Wizards of the Coast nor Adventurer’s League has done is provide a lot of setting information. The adventures can be run without having to know a whole bunch of backstory, but it is clear (at least to me) that a general familiarization with Faerun is a good thing. To that end, my first step was to buy an e-book version of an old campaign sourcebook printed about 10 years ago called The Forgotten Realms.
I also learned that immediately prior to D&D’s 5th Edition release, a version of the game called “D&D Next” was released that is set in the general vicinity of the world that HotDQ is happening in. So I have purchased a couple of those, namely Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Swordcoast, simply for background material.
Preparing for DMing the first three Episodes of HotDQ was more about putting together maps for the use of figurines in combat, trying to understand how AL worked as an Organized Play campaign, and simply learning the logistics of the rules. I could rant about what went wrong from an organizational standpoint, but I’m not. I’ve already done that in various places like Facebook or the WotC Forums. Suffice to say, the next campaign by AL may be a tad bit more developed and functional.
But that being said, I am now in Episode 4, and my table is moving on. Our dreams of character “portability” from one table to the next have been sorta shattered for a number of reasons, so we’re kinda “pulling in” and coming to the understanding that we’re simply going to play our table to the best of our ability and not worry about using the PCs at other places. The reality is that none of my players have decided their specific PCs will be playing in other places or at other tables, so we’re following AL rules because we want to, not because we have to. And given the more sandbox structure of Episodes 4-8, the likelihood that any table experiences will be similar (even in the same venue) is ludicrous.
So we’ve circled the wagons and are doing this for us. If new players show up and need to play at my table, I don’t know what I’m going to do. But I’m not the Store Organizer. I’m hoping it never happens. It is technically possible that my table’s players could decide to make our table an AL-legal “Homeplay” game, but that would mean it is not reported by my store as “Casual” play, and they don’t get credit for it. Potentially that means we’d also have to find a new venue to play, as they’re not going to give up their space for that. So I guess we’ll continue along with the possibility of a new visiting player being inserted into our table’s story arc (somehow) in order to play at a convenient location. I’ll deal with that when it happens.
In the next section, I will get to logistics.