D&D Encounters Field Reports - Season Review

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Compared to the work that Eric (as author), Wolfstar76 (as RPGA CA) and the rest of the DMs and players who are giving feedback (positive and negative) on the weekly happenings, I do very little.

Programs like this live or die based on the word-of-mouth of the players and DMs playing it and the FLGS owners who make a place for this in their store.
Mudbunny SVCL for DDI Before you post, think of the Monkeysphere
I completely understand your perspective, Cruel.

Let me paint a different scenario. Let's choose all the hardest monsters in DDE chapter 1 and put them in one encounter. Let's also choose the hardest room and add in some auto-damage terrain.

Now, what should we do as a DM? Should we run it as written and not pull punches? As the certain TPK is dolled out, should we just sit back and say "sorry, I don't pull punches, this is what was given to me."? Or is our responsibility something beyond a robotic interpretation of the written page?

If an NPC would be more fun as a comedic personality vs. a gruff personality, will you make the change? If a monster is more fun and more appropriate a challenge a lower level, will you make the change?

A number of DMs out there are new to the program. Many won't know the rules in the DMG for suggested encounter difficulty (an adventure should have easy, medium, and hard encounters). Many won't understand XP values and what constitutes easy/medium/hard. Many won't know the rules for de-leveling monsters or understand the impact of recharge rates or the appropriate level of damage thresholds for certain encounters. My attempt is simply to spell out some options some DMs may not understand.

There are an awful lot of posts by players saying they had DMs that increased the damage on attacks for session 10 or gave variant powers. Some might be by mistake, but adding a die of damage is seldom a mistake. If these reports were "the DM made it much harder and that was cool," then no issues on my end. But, instead, too many are "this is an unfair program, 2d10+3 with a burst is ridiculous, I won't come back," when that wasn't the monster's damage. This just isn't the program for DMs to up the challenge... unless the table wants that.

Looking at chapter 3, most table reports suggest a lot of TPKs and near TPKs. This suggests that PCs are low on resources. We have two fights remaining. I really think the evidence suggests DMs should look at the next encounter and consider aiming for an easy fight (either at-level or below-level). Let me go a step further. What do you think players want in the final fight? Do they want to face a great challenge? Sure. Do they want to face it with no healing surges and no dailies? Do they want to win? How would it feel for them to finish the series on a failure/TPK?

There is a fine line (and sometimes a broad line) between handing a victory to players that they did not earn and keeping the challenge appropriate. The former is of no interest to me; I hate it as much as you do. You want players to earn victory and to feel the challenge was awesome. At the same time, you want the challenge to be appropriate.

If I pick one failure for DDE it is that the encounters are too hard without a fail-safe or instructions. You honestly have to spell out author intentions in adventures, as I have learned in LFR. You have to say "this encounter is meant to be very challenging, possibly causing deaths, do not pull punches," and then in another say, "this encounter is meant to be a medium challenge. While the PCs may face the threat of death, in most cases the DM should pull punches as appropriate so that they conserve resources for the true challenge in the next encounter". If you don't do that, DMs will wipe out tables and not fulfill the point of the program (fun, encourage play, encourage customers).

In the end, what we should do as DMs can always be seen and felt at the table. Are the majority thrilled and happy at the end? Are they sad and lacking the will to do this again? We can always ask them - "Hey, is the level of challenge fun? What would work best for you, more along this challenge level, a little easier, or a little harder?" It never hurts to get a reality check from players.

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Right on Alpha, for me its not -- should I fudge or not --  it is about having fun, its hearing a player cry out I'm dying and hearing dont worry I got your back, I move to him/her. Its hearing that was an awesome session -- I cant wait for next week.
I completely understand your perspective, Cruel.

Let me paint a different scenario. Let's choose all the hardest monsters in DDE chapter 1 and put them in one encounter. Let's also choose the hardest room and add in some auto-damage terrain.

Now, what should we do as a DM? Should we run it as written and not pull punches? As the certain TPK is dolled out, should we just sit back and say "sorry, I don't pull punches, this is what was given to me."? Or is our responsibility something beyond a robotic interpretation of the written page?



That comes back to my point about the the players trusting the DM to provide fair and balanced encounters. I would never put together a ridiculously over powered encounter without providing the players a way out via terrain or rp or social skills.

As a busy person with a moderately full life, I don't have time to write every combat and adventure I put my PC's through.

So, as a DM, i turn to wizards source material, which I reasonably expect to be balanced to the intended levels. I do NOT expect a professionally written product, sanctioned by the developers of the game to choose all the hardest monsters in the compendium and put them in one encounter, in the hardest room the can come up with, with auto damaging terrain, and expect me to re-write them.

And if they did, odds are, i might come to the forums and express my concern about the quality of the product.


My position still remains. A professionally produced 4 edition product should not have to be dumbed to power levels of the players. Thats a 2nd / 3rd / 3.5ed mentality. where nothing was balanced to begin with and making things harder or easier on the fly had to be done on the fly.

4th may not be perfectly balanced, but the power spread is close enough that if encounters are designed correctly, I shouldn't have to fix things on the fly.








My position still remains. A professionally produced 4 edition product should not have to be dumbed to power levels of the players. Thats a 2nd / 3rd / 3.5ed mentality. where nothing was balanced to begin with and making things harder or easier on the fly had to be done on the fly.

4th may not be perfectly balanced, but the power spread is close enough that if encounters are designed correctly, I shouldn't have to fix things on the fly.



I don't think we necessarily disagree, except here. I find 4E to be incredibly swingy. My ability to look at an adventure and PCs (even PCs I know relatively well) and know whether it will be difficult or easy is surprisingly bad - and it isn't because I lack the skill. (I consider my skill here to be average, by the way)

Instead, what I find is that a number of factors can tilt how an encounter plays. I've written a few 4E things for home campaigns and for LFR. I have also playtested a lot for LFR. My experience suggests that it is incredibly difficult to know how an encounter is balanced from one or even two or even three playtests. As you increase the number you end up with better results; the truths start showing up. But, inevitably I find that there are big differences in experiences and that the results are hard to predict. A recent playtest had one cakewalk, two near-TPKs, one "this was perfect". All of the playtest groups had strong opinions and were sure that their view was correct. What is an author to do? (Sure, we can say WotC should playtest DDE session 7 times, the way one LFR author did... but that is an amazing amount of work).

I prefer this option: We accept that 4E is an incredibly swingy system. More than that, we embrace it. (There is a lot to like about this... it means we can't just take the game for granted). As DMs, we do our best to consider options and fallbacks. We consider ways to adjust the encounter, even mid-combat. We consider adjustments between encounters. I think this is the method that works best with 4E and with anything someone else wrote. I really can't see anything from anyone, even WotC ensuring balance every time or even most of the time. (Sure, steps can be taken to improve the odds, but it is very difficult if your target is something challenging and yet not too challenging).

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Adventures aren't "one-size-fits-all."

It isn't a mark of unprofessionalism or lack of playtesting or even dubious planning, but simply the nature of designing a single product for multiple consumers, all of whom have different styles, interpretations, and tastes, many of which are flatly contradictory. Some people like life-or-death drama, some people like grinding, some people like winning through negotiation and skill, etc., and then there are small nuances and permutations that vary wildly from table to table.

If an author caters to one style, s/he may alienate another, and so on. What may work perfectly for my group won't necessarily work well or at all for another group.

For instance, my group has blazed through the Encounters with little or no deadly threat, but with sufficient challenge to make them fun experiences. We've had new players and old players, and while the old players definitely do better, the new ones have been well accomodated.

One can't design a "one-size-fits-all" adventure--the best one can do is a "one-size-fits-most" adventure that can be adapted as needed to suit a particular game.

D&D Encounters bears an especial burden in this regard, as it's a single campaign meant to be played in common by a lot more people, the way LFR or DDI adventures are not. At your own home table, you have the option of playing any adventure you want, while at a big LFR event, you can often choose between various adventures. With DDE, this is it--this is the adventure presented. You either make it work, or you don't.

As I see it, the job of the author (in this case me) is to present the baseline for the adventure and all the tools necessary to tweak it and customize it--that's the job of the DM. If you aren't willing to do that, as a DM, then be prepared to have disgruntled players. That isn't unique to this case--every adventure ever published is like that.

Cheers

After a good bit of consideration, here's my feedback on the Encounters program as a whole. Hopefully it will prove useful; more hopefully it won't, because all of the underlying concepts will have been considered and/or implemented in later seasons. 

1. Square the instructions and the encounters
One of the big things with regards to Week 10 was the fact it's designed with 6 level 2 players in mind; the beginning of HLA states you should balance things with an assumption of five players. That would inherently require that everyone add more monsters. Similarly, my recollection is that the instructions tell you to play everything as written- which seems contrary to author intent. I could be wrong on that, but regardless it's worth noting just in case. 

2. Keep in mind the players you're shooting for
My understanding was that the program was set up to encourage people to try out the game, learn how to play, and meet fellow players. If a more eclectic array of experience is being planned for, it may be best to consider several different encounter builds, such as novice, adept, and expert. This could be as easy as differing instructions for how to run the monsters or adding/removing elements. 

5 3. Remember Encounters is an easy in/easy out program
An assumption that seems to be inherent with HLA is that the players will be present every week, start to finish, and have appropriate experience points. Right now we've only got one or two people who have done so. People have left, joined, and drifted in and out of the game week by week. I think only one has shown up every week, and other than a group of three who's missed two weeks, the rest have been here for less than 50% of the adventure.

The modification of the Dark Sun setup to largely skip experience points is a good way to go- but there's also a question regarding the advancement; it's probably a good idea to come up with a way to let players deal with that easily too, since we are harking back to #2 and the new players.

4. Provide more information to the DMs
One  thing that kept coming up with LHA is that there's no description of monsters. While a few of them are self-evident, and others are illustrated in the adventure itself, the others are unknown. This can be difficult for a DM, particularly a novice DM or one who doesn't have access to the Monster Manuals. Even moreso if players want to roll a skill check to see if they know anything about a given creature. 

5. Use a narrative cycle to the chapters as well as overall story
With the second chapter of LHA, my store's groups ended up out of sync with the encounters. They went up against the third one and fought it using only their encounter and at-will powers, believing that a harder fight lay ahead. That made things more difficult. It also made life very anticlimactic when they fought the last room and blazed away with their dailies, annihilating everything in a matter of a few moments. After the events of the first two encounters of the chapter, everyone was expecting their 'spectator' to be more powerful.

It may be best to go with this, and make sure that the last encounter prior to an extended rest is the big one. It allows for a climatic final fight, an epilogue-ish sort of rest, and then on to the next phase. Mixing it up can be interesting, but it can also leave people stumbling when the music changes.

6. Provide more information to store owners
We'd have no knowledge about the Twitter feed save for one player keeping us up to date. Similarly with regards to the alterations to the 11th and 12th encounters of LHA. Establishing a mailing list or other means to reach store owners that is prominently made part of the whole process might be a good idea- if for no other reason than to ensure everyone's in the loop. Similarly, some sort of update to the DDI tools for D&D Encounters might be a good idea, if only to make sure that the pregens are printable via chargen and the monsters can be quickly updated and referenced.

Obviously that's not ideal for groups without access to a computer, but it'd be nice for the rest of us. And it's also an echo of an idea that someone else said earlier, which I thought bore repeating.

7. Include monster tactics
Another element that's worth including would be monster tactics, with things like directions for general movement, synergy, and/or blind spots. If a monster isn't going to use an ability, I'd much rather not see it on the stats, if only so that it eliminates potential 'oops' issues.  Prioritization might also be a good thing; in Week 10, I came to the conclusion the ooze and the minions were expendable to the others- they didn't care about affecting them. However, the rest were allied with one another and worked to help each other. 

It isn't a mark of ....



I'm not going to continue on this sub thread anymore. I don't want to derail this thread any further.

My intention has always been simply to present an opposing viewpoint to all the "Dm's should let the party win" posts, and to do so politely and with respect to all people involved. And also to educate those who hold the opposite position, that my way of playing is equally valid. And based on the responses in the session 10 reports. There are many other DM's who play the same way.

Hopefully by expressing myself here other DM's will understand that they are not the bad guys for playing an encounter as written, and organizers will recognize that, if they write it, people will play it. <-(that period bolded for emphasis)

As a takeaway please leave with these two main points as my review for season one.

1. The difficulty level of the encounters (as written, but corrected for typos) ramped up beyond what i feel an introductory level group could reasonably be expected to handle.

2.Putting the difficulty levels aside tho, The quality of the writing i found to be top notch. The encounters were very well put together. As i said in my first post on page one, the creatures have varied and sometimes complimentary powers and abilities that provide for many interesting tactical opportunities. The environments are well integrated into the encounters in a way that adds drama and tension. Each combat has been dynamic and action filled. there has not been a single standstill slug-fest. The story line has kept my table engaged throughout. As an adventure, I'd be proud to pick it up, and put my regular seasoned party through it.

Overall my review of the whole experience has been favorable. I fully support the switch to pre-gens for season two. I think it will simplify the process greatly to have characters remain static at a table, while players can move around where they want. (or not move if they want). It should allow a greater integration of characters with the story, and the authors can balance encounters and treasure/magic for abilities and characters present.

as always, thanks for listening.


I hear what you're saying Cruel, and I don't think we disagree.

I did want to make two clarifying notes to what I said above, in light of your post. I'll put it in sblock so as not to clutter up the thread. They get into my own personal theories about adventure design, and what I think about it may not be what someone else does. And that's great! We need variety and differeing opinions.

Show
1) I am not of the "let the players win" camp--I am of the "let the players have fun" camp. I *do* think they should win (simply because, if they don't, it's sort of game over and odds are they won't come back), but victories should be hard-fought and carry with them a great deal of sacrifice. Players should win, but they should also have the sense that they *earned* their victory.

2) IMO, "playing the encounter as written" is, as I've noted elsewhere, a myth.

To explain: I did not write the encounters to cover every nuance or possibility or tactical strategy that the monsters should use. Nor did I give a round-by-round, power-by-power set of instructions for the best way to kill the PCs--or not kill the PCs, as the case may be. Without complete and total instructions, two DMs playing the same encounter "as written" will produce two different results, because they interpret it a different way. In a very real sense, they *have to* interpret it, because there are blanks that need to be filled, some of which the author can't possibly foresee, while some the author chooses not to fill.

As such, every encounter in every print product is wide open for interpretation. They are a set of tools for the DM to present the PCs with an experience that is similar (but not the same) to that of another group of PCs. Hopefully, this encounter will be balanced and feasible and fun--an author does his/her best to make it so, but a lot depends on DM interpretation and style.

(For instance, the boards are full of discussion about the nuance and permutation of rules that one might think are iron-clad, and these are rules that have been created by R&D and playtested and worked over dozens of times through dozens of editors. So yeah, there's room for interpretation.)

That said, yes, I do recognize that the monsters and elements presented in some of the encounters (particularly 3-2) lend themselves to be put together in an extremely deadly fashion. And for some tables, that's what's fun. For some, however, the DM has to exercise his/her best judgment as to whether to pull punches or go for murder, or somewhere in between.

A box text early in the module stating that DMs should use their own best judgment would be a plus (though it would be redundant to experienced DMs), and I also rather like the suggestion that at the beginning of each encounter, there should be a sentence or two describing how difficult the encounter should be. I worry that's too controlling on the part of the author, though--I for one would rather trust the DM to play the encounter as best suits his/her table.

On that note, I'll make like Cruel there and leave this sub-topic as exhausted. It's been a very good discussion, all around--and I appreciate the chance to talk about it!


Cheers
For instance, my group has blazed through the Encounters with little or no deadly threat, but with sufficient challenge to make them fun experiences. We've had new players and old players, and while the old players definitely do better, the new ones have been well accomodated.

This is my experience precisely.

I think there are a few other parts of Encounters, other than the difficulty that should be touched on though.
  • Reknown points are awesome. Players love them. I think they were incredibly under-utilized in season 1. IMHO, each encounter should have unique (and secret) criteria for scoring reknown points, e.g. throwing a monster into the sewer in Encounter 1-1.

  • Do not tie scarce rewards to a ubiquitous mechanic. Pretty much every player that plays all 12 encounters will score more than 50 reknown points. Yet DMs were given only 1 - 2 50-point rewards cards. WotC didn't even acknowledge the problem, let alone offer solutions. I had to awkwardly tell new players that all of the veteran players earned the only rewards weeks ago. This was the single worst part of D&D encounters, IMHO.

  • Having the author on-hand was awesome. As was a community messageboard filled with players experiencing encounters at the same time. Invariably there were typos and errors, and the community and Erik did a great job at handling them. (also: Warlock with Holy Strike FTW).

  • PDF versions for organizers. Srsly. What a headache it was to manage 3+ tables with only two physical copies. There's no way Wizards is going to dissuade the pirate culture around their work if organizers have to pirate them just to run officially sanctioned events.


I'm sorry that the skill challenge week got mixed reviews. I loved it. I had a lot of fun with D&D encounters. I didn't sign up to run season 2, but I wish someone else in the area had—it looks like it'll be another good one.
I /totally/ agree with the limited rewards thing. While we do have other various prizes to hand out, the inevitable feeling of disappointment with having _earned_ the 50 points, yet not receiving the reward for it is hugely off-putting.

We toyed with just giving it to the highest people, or auctioning it off(I'll run 2 LFR mods! I'll run 3 LFR mods plus one chapter of encounters!) and so forth, but really it would almost have been better not to have them at all. Especially since our store had some core players that not only were there every week but unflaggingly helped us with anyone new who came. Yet with only 4 for the 50, they couldn't each get one.

OTOH, the renown points DID push people to try for the moment of glory thing, it did get new convertees to character builder, and it did get some folks to return when they wouldn't, otherwise. So please, next time. Enough for those who qualify.

Also second the PDF. I personally like scribbling all over my printed adventure, but when sharing said adventure, I can't do that.

  • Reknown points are awesome. Players love them. I think they were incredibly under-utilized in season 1. IMHO, each encounter should have unique (and secret) criteria for scoring reknown points, e.g. throwing a monster into the sewer in Encounter 1-1.



I like the idea about having unique renown points.  Some things I can think of come from 2-3 and 2-4.  In 2-3 players could get renown if they used the arcana check to help break and sucessfully broke the sphere or in 2-4 a player could get renown if they called out to Maerlyn for help.  This not only gives the player more reward oppurtnities but also teaches new players that a battle may consist of more than just attacking and defending.
A few other things I failed to mention:
  • We signed up about 10 new RPGA members, about 50% of our players.

  • Of the remaining players, half of those dusted off old MTG DCI cards to play.

  • Only one player was new to D&D. Everyone else had at least some experience.

  • Our local weekend LFR home game group gained several new players.

  • There is a local convention this weekend, and several new players expressed interest in attending.

I think the event was an incredible success. It really pulled the community out of the woodwork.

I’ve attended all 11 (!!) of the first 11 sessions as a player.  I think D&D Encounters is an amazing success.  The store where I play is packed to the gills with players every Wednesday.  Here are the things I especially like about Encounters:


-It is friendly to new players.  I hadn’t ever played 4E and hadn’t played any version of D&D for several years.  I showed up and was immediately welcomed into the action by friendly organizer/DM/other experienced players.  Very cool.  Several players with no experience have regularly attended as well.  So they must be also having a good time.  The more experienced players do not seem at all frustrated or annoyed by newbies.  On the contrary, the more experienced players have gone out of their way to help the new folks out (at least at my table.)


-It is a great format for people who love the game but have limited time.  I’m a full-time worker with a variety of obligations.  2 hours on a fixed weekday fits my schedule perfectly, and I bet I’m not alone.


-Organization is excellent.  I’m really impressed with how smoothly everything runs.  DM and players show up on time ready to play.  Store accommodates the large group with extra tables.  Play is run in an orderly manner and everyone has fun.


-Integration/promotion is very good.  Between the D&D Facebook posts and the hints that show up on the front page of the D&D Encounters website each week, I’m excited when Wednesday rolls around and a new adventure awaits.


I really only have two suggestions.  First, the weekly recaps posted on the D&D site haven’t been updated for a few weeks.  I enjoyed the weekly recaps because the store where I play is pretty loud with a lot of activity and I sometimes miss a description that is part of the plot.  And for those who have to miss a session, I bet the recaps are useful.  Second, I’d probably have one Wednesday off between seasons to give folks a little time to wind down from the previous season and gear up for the next.        


Great job to all organizers, DMs, and players.  Well done.

Encounters has gotten me into D&D.  I last played at 12 yrs old back in 1989 and that was w/ ODD books borrowed from my uncle.  I have now since purchased the DMG and PH PH2.  I think that was the major aim of the event, in that regard it is a success.  I have noticed that I am not the only one a few others show up and seem to be getting into the game.

I was looking for online RPGs and noticed a banner on my hotmail account for the Encounters and called my FLGS and that was how I started.  So I think the marketing was effective.

I like the pre-gen characters.  I would prefer to play a guy from my own imagination but I didn't have the books or CG so I couldn't but the variety was good and I am now a fan of Warlocks.

The terrain has been interesting especially this last week May 26th as it presented a lot of strategic variety?  How do you handle the skirmisher and artillery with the canyon in between and the ladder?  Good stuff.

It has taught me that I need to get into a serious game.  I joke and talk but I want to play and when it is your turn don't be talking to some cat about your new magic deck then proceed to take 10 minutes to decide what to do.  I want to role play and hit stuff and don't want to wait around for BS.

I think the role playing part has been reduced in this as there is little opportunity to do so.  I missed the first 5 weeks so maybe there was some early.  Just by looking at the Dark Sun pre-gens they have a background so maybe it will be emphasized more in the next encounter which I applaud. 

The amount of errors in the publications is amazing to me.  All the glossy pre-gen cards, the maps and the books aren't cheap.  I'm shocked it was sent to the printers with so many errors.

Overall it has been fun, met some new people and plan to continue playing.  I appreciate the free adventures but feel that such a large company should have better quality control. 
Should Mudbunny or Wolfstar be reading this (very likely), a reminder:

The main website D&D Encounters page here needs an update. First, there used to be someone updating each week through week 8 with a brief summary. That stopped, leaving the page looking out of date and hurting the program's image.

Second, the information should now be updated to summarize the end and then to provide info on the next session (perhaps linking to Chris Tulach's recent article, which itself pointed to this old page).

Third, the Tulach article mentioned the D&D Community Group, but I'm not sure if it has great summary information for the Encounters program. It is really the forums that seem to have the info.

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@Alphastream - I have poked the relevant people.
Mudbunny SVCL for DDI Before you post, think of the Monkeysphere
@Alphastream - I have poked the relevant people.


Muchas gracias!

Follow my blog and Twitter feed with Dark Sun campaign design and DM tips!
Dark Sun's Ashes of Athas Campaign is now available for home play (PM me with your e-mail to order the campaign adventures).

Looks like it worked.  The site is updated now.  Good job!
Thanks for that go out to Trevor Kidd for passing on my poke to the relevant people.
Mudbunny SVCL for DDI Before you post, think of the Monkeysphere
I tried searching around and didn't find anything:

We have a LOT of turnover. ~ 16 players that attended 2-8 sessions and earned 12-25 points, but only two that hit 30, and none that hit 50.

Is there official word on what to do with leftover unearned Rewards cards?

- Give them away until they're gone, trash them, send them back, add them to Season 2 treasure hoard, etc.?


My thoughts:

A) I made it clear what it takes to earn the higher-pointage cards to help increase the likelihood of repeat players, something that encouraged several of them to show up far more than most and giving away leftover 50s and 30s to people that didn't earn them suggests that they needn't attend regularly in future seasons, just more than everyone else.

B) I don't want to just throw them away.

C) Someone mentioned in another thread that he gave away extra cards to the DMs in addition to their normal prizes, but we only have two DMs over the course of the Season, should I give them each a 50 and a 30 and throw away the rest? Should I give them each a stack of 30s to do with as they please? Isn't this suggesting to them that talking new players they know into joining in for Season 2 is potentially taking prizes out of DM pockets? - I especially dislike this given the known secondary market for RPGA campaign cards in the past.

D) I guess my preferred method would be to have a D&D Encounters treasure hoard and anything leftover from any season goes in there (both players rewards cards and extra DM rewards if we only have one DM) and let players who hit the 30 & 50 totals in any season pick from anything left in the "dragon's hoard" of the appropriate point allotment while letting DMs pick from any of the DM rewards still in there, but not the rewards cards, in the order of most tables run to least tables run.


So I guess

1. Is there official word, as there is with Magic rewards?

and if not,

2. What are other organizers doing & why?

Come check out and add to the LFR Wiki, part of the Forgotten Realms Wiki.
2. What are other organizers doing & why?

I wish I had your problem.  Last week I had 3 people hit 50 renown points, so one of those people is not going to get the option to get the 50 point card.  I am bringing a bunch of other stuff to give away to the people who will qualify, but not win, the 30 point cards.  I am lucky that I have a few extra RPGA Reward cards and some duplicate copies of Game Day adventures to reward regular players.  Almost every one of my players has been a regular, with only 3 people not showing up 75% or the time.

I think your option D matches what I am doing.  I suspect it will go over well with everyone.
What makes me sad - no more compiled magazines: http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/27580349/Dungeon_and_Dragon_Magazine_PDFs&post_num=24#495423645
2. What are other organizers doing & why?

I wish I had your problem.  Last week I had 3 people hit 50 renown points, so one of those people is not going to get the option to get the 50 point card.  I am bringing a bunch of other stuff to give away to the people who will qualify, but not win, the 30 point cards.  I am lucky that I have a few extra RPGA Reward cards and some duplicate copies of Game Day adventures to reward regular players.  Almost every one of my players has been a regular, with only 3 people not showing up 75% or the time.

I think your option D matches what I am doing.  I suspect it will go over well with everyone.



I think everyone's problem with limited rewards by tier is that they've never seen them in action. WotC (and seeing their success, many other companies) have been doing the same with card game rewards for over a decade with fantastic results.

I think there will probably be some grumbling as D&D players aren't used to it and because there's only one season so far so only one set of limited cards, but after a half dozen seasons there will have been enough cards out there so that players have had many chances to get cool stuff, understand how to get cool stuff, and understand that only 2 people getting the really cool stuff is just how it is.

I also really like that we wait until the end of the season to see who all hit 50 and let them roll off with the high rollers getting the cards. This sidesteps a potential problem of people letting party members go down, etc. to get renown bonuses early and deals with the need for finals, etc. to determine "top 2" that would work in a card game but not D&D, all in one elegant rule.

I would just reinforce to your players that the cards are a "cool, limited edition reward" that they are vying for a chance at, reinforcing that there will be 3 new cards every season, they can only use one at a time, that no one is expected to have them all, and that trading is not only okay, but encouraged.



Come check out and add to the LFR Wiki, part of the Forgotten Realms Wiki.

D) I guess my preferred method would be to have a D&D Encounters treasure hoard and anything leftover from any season goes in there (both players rewards cards and extra DM rewards if we only have one DM) and let players who hit the 30 & 50 totals in any season pick from anything left in the "dragon's hoard" of the appropriate point allotment while letting DMs pick from any of the DM rewards still in there, but not the rewards cards, in the order of most tables run to least tables run.




I'd go with this.
Could someone post what the 50 point card does? 

Our store had about 15 players qualify for the 50 point card and only 5 cards to hand out.  No hard feelings -- we had a "roll off" for the 50 point cards that was fun and fair.  So I ended up with a 30 point card even though I had 60+ points.

If someone could post what a 50 point card does I'd appreciate it, just for curiosity's sake.

Again thanks to all the organizers, DMs, and players for making this so much fun.
Could someone post what the 50 point card does?



it's name was Strength in Pain and after the PC took ongoing damage, the player could use that card to end the ongoing damage and gain 5 temporary hitpoints.
Well, season is over. Finally time to do the review.

I think we have to call it an unqualified success here in MA. We've consistently run 3-4 tables a night, maxing out at around 22 players one night and over 40 people who have played it over the entire season. We've signed up a bunch of new players to DCI/RPGA, we've brought complete newbies into the game (between 5-10 I think), we've gotten a few people to DM that hadn't before, we've brought a bunch of people that do play D&D together and we've had a ton of fun. The store seems to love the Encounters and there's excitement about playing D&D.

There's lots to learn from the season though.

1) Rewards. We ran out of rewards for what everyone earned. We had 9 people earn enough for the 50 point renown and about 16 people earn the 30 point reward card. We only had 4 and 12 to hand out. I think the players were very gracious and we rolled off for the cards. Both are nice but I think that the program several underestimated the play level distribution.

And that's not counting the fact that we ran out of the 10 point card completely. I ended up giving mine away to someone last night. We need more rewards cards, at least.

2) One encounter per session. Great gimmick but even players that played all or most of the sessions had forgotten what was going on. 12 weeks is a long time to keep remembering all of the plot, such as it is, for what is essentially a 3 session game. We ended up trying to do summaries each week but even so, there's a lot to cover and different tables remember things or did things differently so keeping that straight gets rough. Either give a summary that can be read for each session or chapter that hits the key points needed to keep the plot "together" or list the major plot points somewhere so the DM can remind players. The website for DDE being kept up to date with summaries would be good too.

3) Leveling. This is a lesson I think that Season 2 has already dealt with but if we do something like Season 1 again for purposes for entree to LFR (or another D&D campaign), I think it might be best to simply allow for XP to be counted at the end and level all PCs the same throughout the session.

4) Challenge level. While I personally believe that the challenge level hasn't been outrageous, it has been high. That's not a bad thing, but I think as an introductory game it needs to be carefully considered and written. More notes for "DME"ing the game or how to scale or change it based on party and player strengths would be advisable. Keep in mind that this would help -both- the experienced DM and the pickup/newbie DM that some games will end up with. Since this is an introductory game, keep in mind that it is an introductory game for both the players and some DMs and write accordingly. Support for your DM will translate into support for your players.

I saw the Fury of the Wastewalker's suggestion about how to run some encounters and changing things up. A note about that. "Toss some minis on the table and go" is -not- a viable or advisable suggestion to make to DMs. Especially given critiques of the level of challenge so far, with that sort of variability added, you will see the "killer" GMs get worse. I suggest that in future scenarios that if you want to allow for RP vs Combat, that both options be presented fully, even if fully is simply a set of stat blocks and short tactics suggestion for the "optional" combat. I think that the Season 1 session 3 skill challenge/optional combat rider was almost perfect in this regard.

5) Format: The 2 page, side by side format for the majority of the encounter sessions was great. It made reading/finding stuff fairly easy. However, for the RP and flavor segments, it would be really helpful if the page/paragraphs for each encounter was referenced in the combat section. Especially if there is some setup text or flavor text to be referenced. It would be nice if it could fit in the same 2 pages, but I understand the space constraints.

6) Errata/Updates: These really need to be twittered or published somewhere. The twitter buffs already have everyone reading twitter, put the updates in a link somewhere there. I know, more stuff to do, but it will save some hassle. Sure, this may result in some spoilers, but I think it will be worth it. Or publish them to #dndenc-gms or something.

7) I don't think we should allow "Level 2 Magic Items" into the treasure. Pick an item, deal with the fact that it won't apply to everyone and move on. With pre-gens we could probably even have "assigned" treasure bundles. Sure, it isn't what you'd do in a home game. This isn't a home game.

If I think of more, I'll update this.

Great job, thanks again everyone (eriksdb, WotC!)
Good points, tirianmal.

I'd like to reinforce the idea that the adventure really needs to be more explicitly detailed. The hardest thing for neophyte DMs is to just "wing it" in a way that is consistent and fair. IMHO, D&D Encounters assumed a level of familiarity with the rules (both from the PCs and the judges) that wasn't really present.

In one case I had a guy volunteer to DM, but since I was familiar with him or his style—and because he had never DMed for the RPGA before—I didn't feel comfortable seating players with him.

I'm hoping that D&D Encounters Season 3 reads more like a "how-to-D&D" tutorial for DMs.
I agree that some "how-to-DM" guidance would probably help a great deal. As I was writing, I kept this focused on new *players*, when I might have considered new *DMs* as well. (New *players* was, after all, the stated goal.)

I personally would be concerned that dwelling over-long on that sort of information could come off as pedantic to those who have DMed before, but if we could boil what was needed into a sort of "one-page DMG," that would be cool.

If folks here want to take a shot at organizing such a list of "For DMs New to the Game" advice/rules/guidance, feel free!

Cheers
There are two sides to DM guidance. One is the guidance as to the intent of the adventure. It may be the medium-to-experienced DM that needs this the most. Can they make changes? What kind? To what purpose? I am 100% sure that Erik saying we should DM for fun had a direct and positive influence on how people judged the rest of the season. That needs to be explicit in the adventure. Judge for fun, make changes to adjust difficulty for fun, do it for the players. It is better to be too easy than too hard, etc.

The second set is tips around DMing. I think these can be provided in the encounter without sounding insulting. The truth is, most experienced DMs are happy to read these... they usually foster ideas that they run with. I think we saw this on the boards. One person posts about how they might make x change and you see someone else post that they used it. The ones that didn't like it ignore it, but might make their own change. That is good.

The program really needs to look at the purpose, which is fostering more play and bringing in new players. Attract and retain.

If I look at Undermountain, the biggest fault was probably this lack of information about what to do with difficulty. You can see from countless posts that too many DMs did not do what was in the interest of the program and the players.

If I look at Dark Sun, this same issue is there. In addition, it lacks a lot of the nice information that Erik provided to make this a more vivid RP experience. Undermountain is better at setting up each encounter, providing more RP hooks, more interesting bits, more ways for the DM to describe things. The perfect example is the very first session. Compare Undermountain and Wastewalker... which one does a better job of introducing PCs, helping the table feel welcome, helping the PCs understand the story, etc.?

Future DDE seasons need to take a look at that goal of attract and retain. Wastewalker reads like one of those adventures the DM is supposed to polish and make better. Isn't this an intro program? If so, that polish needs to already be in place, with potential hooks for more. It needs to be clear and appropriate for brand new DMs, who the program should also attempt to attract and retain.

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There are two sides to DM guidance. One is the guidance as to the intent of the adventure. It may be the medium-to-experienced DM that needs this the most. Can they make changes? What kind? To what purpose? I am 100% sure that Erik saying we should DM for fun had a direct and positive influence on how people judged the rest of the season. That needs to be explicit in the adventure. Judge for fun, make changes to adjust difficulty for fun, do it for the players. It is better to be too easy than too hard, etc.

The second set is tips around DMing. I think these can be provided in the encounter without sounding insulting. The truth is, most experienced DMs are happy to read these... they usually foster ideas that they run with. I think we saw this on the boards. One person posts about how they might make x change and you see someone else post that they used it. The ones that didn't like it ignore it, but might make their own change. That is good.

The program really needs to look at the purpose, which is fostering more play and bringing in new players. Attract and retain.

If I look at Undermountain, the biggest fault was probably this lack of information about what to do with difficulty. You can see from countless posts that too many DMs did not do what was in the interest of the program and the players.

If I look at Dark Sun, this same issue is there. In addition, it lacks a lot of the nice information that Erik provided to make this a more vivid RP experience. Undermountain is better at setting up each encounter, providing more RP hooks, more interesting bits, more ways for the DM to describe things. The perfect example is the very first session. Compare Undermountain and Wastewalker... which one does a better job of introducing PCs, helping the table feel welcome, helping the PCs understand the story, etc.?

Future DDE seasons need to take a look at that goal of attract and retain. Wastewalker reads like one of those adventures the DM is supposed to polish and make better. Isn't this an intro program? If so, that polish needs to already be in place, with potential hooks for more. It needs to be clear and appropriate for brand new DMs, who the program should also attempt to attract and retain.


Well said!

As a vetran DM of over 20 years, I always find it amazing that some people feel advice is not welcome.  At worst one can always smile and nod "Yes!  I've been doing that forever", and better yet you might smile and nod and say, "Hell, thats a great idea, why didn't I think of that years ago?".  Of course people will differ in there DM/play-styles, but by and large advice is usually universally helpful.

When you plop advice into a module like these, you help focus the vetran and novice DM's alike.  I think stating the intents of each encounters and the like can only be helpful and DDE continues to grow.  I find myself quite often writting "tactics" in my notes (or at least my head) when I run my own adventures, similar to what we see in most modules.  "Yep!  I've been doing that for years!"
Well, there is a line to be drawn. I would have thought the "err on the side of fun, rather than exactness" would be blindingly obvious, but then, that's me as a DM. Also, consider brevity and space: one can't just write the entire DMG at the beginning of every module.

That said, if we can come up with a set of brief guidelines that will be helpful to starting DMs, we should totally do it.

Cheers
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