How has Encounters built a "Gaming Community" in your area?

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After every session of Encounters we tend to go for dinner as a group amoung the players who took part in the game. We discuss what went well, what was bogus, complain about our lives, and talk Dr. Who amoung other things. Tonight we went to a local bar. Only then did we realize our group tonight had 11 people in it. After eating we tend to sit around and shoot the breeze. Driving my friend home he commented "I wonder if this is what WOTC was trying to do with Encounters...build a community."

It dawned on me. Since we started encounters we have had over 20+ new people to the store take part in addition to those who are regulars. Mant of these people have not played since 2nd or 3.0. We have since created a revolving group of 10+ LFR players (since they can port in their Encounters characters). We have numerous players in their late 30s and over. We started with one table and now have at least 3. Newer players have stepped forward willing to run Encounters.

In short we have a real community, something that helps promote the hobby in a postive way and gives many of use a fun way to spend a week night togeather that does not involve beer or strippers. Although I have brought up that as an "after activity."
The first season of Encounters started shortly after we started running games on Monday evenings as well (various editions). Although we rarely have more than one table, and never more than two, we've introduced (or reintroduced) at least half-a-dozen people to D&D, many of which have found home groups through the store. These days a few of the people who come wouldn't otherwise have any place to play, for various reasons. 

Definitely a positive experience on our part.  
It saved D&D Organized play in Portland, OR.

Right around the time D&D Encounters (DDE) was announced Living Forgotten Realms (LFR) was imploding as a viable program here. The LFR judge core was both burned out and the changes to the LFR campaign rules (allowing folks to start at levels other than 1st being the biggest issue by far) and they basically quit the campaign en mass.

You could play Shadow Run missions, Spycraft, or any other games under the rubric of organized play, but D&D was DOA at that point. Pathfinder Society was non-existent in Portland (but there was a stronghold of it in the smaller cities south of us).

Enter DDE. My store was one of the first to sign-up. Besides myself and Alphastream, all the DMs were new volunteers to Organized play. We started out with 5 tables and quickly ramped up to 6. When Season 2 arrived we hit 7-8 tables. More importantly, the success of Guardian Games' program led most of the other stores in the greater Portland area to adopt DDE.

All the while that DDE has been going strong, several in-store "home games" have sprung up from DDE players and DMs connecting at our tables. I am sure that many actual home games have sprung up from our tables.

We have supplied a metric ton of DMs for PAX Prime in Seattle, most of whom had never DMed convention play. In fact two of my DMs placed in this years DM Challenge event (they were 2nd and 3rd place). When Robert, the PAX organizer for WotC gaming, was asked by Chris Tulach if DDE was successful; he stated that many of his DMs come from that program.

In my store it was the DDE DMs and players that proposed and implemented our entry for the Neverwinterize Your Store contest (sadly we did not win and have Chris Perkins DM a table at our store for the final Lost Crown of Neverwinter session).

While there were scattered tables of D&D being played in our store before DDE, it wasn't until DDE came along that large scale, regular D&D play re-established itself here.

My two coppers,

Bryan Blumklotz
DDE WPN Coordinator @ Guardian Games
I agree with the sentiments stated above. At my store, Mayhem Comics in Des Moines IA, I was not able to drum up much of a community. We had a very insular RPGA Community that was not very open to new players. Several of the players would play chaotic characters and take advantage of the new players. Most new players played once and then never came back.

With DDE, we found an influx of new players. Most of my players were not members of the store's existing RPG crowd. The new blood, combined with the exodus of the older players to Pathfinder, allowed us to grow a new D&D community. New players were no longer chased away by the more experienced players who took advantage of them. Our core group has fluctuated over time but we have a solid core of players now.

The only thing that has not been as successful is expanding the play experiences. Most of the players like the shory time window and do not really have time for longer play sessions on the weekends so I have not had as much luck expanding the program, although Lair Assault has done well for us.

As some one who has been playing since '84 it is refreshing to see so many new faces in the hobby again. I like that our player pool grows and changes over time. Many other communities around other RPGs have remained very stagnant at our store but DDE has really opened up the hobby.

My only regret is that we can no longer get the D&D Basic Set from Wizards. This was a great intro product for new players and it would be great if we could see the return of that product to the shelves.  That all-in-one box experievce is invaluable for new players looking to break into the hobby. 
The purpose of Encounters, at this point, is clearly to sell books - and support the retailers who sell 'em.  It's modeled on M:tG programs that have been successful for years.

Community-building is a positive side-effect, though, I agree.  We've made some new friends at encounters, and brought friends into it, too. 

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Tony,

Does it really matter that the program "was made to sell books?" I actually want WotC to sell books, DDI subscriptions, fortune cards, and whatever else folks want so they can continue to publish D&D. I do not think this is a bad thing.

Having talked with Chris Tulach before and during the launch of DDE I can tell you that building a D&D community was actually a design goal of the program.

When I approached the "old guard" Living Greyhawk/Living Forgotten Realms folks about DDE and the potential to bring in new players and DMs I got the cold shoulder here in Portland. They couldn't be bothered with casual play.

That last two words is the genius of DDE, casual play. This is really the first program that is targetted at capturing new players and DMs that don't have time to invest in long running, hard core gaming mode. Its hard to play LFR casually.

Frankly, I think that LFR, Ashes of Athas and all the other living campaigns need to reexamine how they create and deliver play experiences to different audiences.

For example, I think that LFR should create mini-seasons of LFR that can be played in 4-5 2 hour sessions like encounters. This would be perfect for in store programs during the weekdays. I think that they should in parallel offer convention play that targets 4-5 hour play as well.

Without the ability to play casual mode, you are going to limit the size of your audience. If the LFR store play brings in new DMs then its only a hop, skip and a jump to running longer scenarios.

All in all, I am quite pleased with DDE and Lair Assault. If WotC makes money doing it, more power to them.

Bryan Blumklotz
DDE WPN Coordinator for Guardian Games.
For example, I think that LFR should create mini-seasons of LFR that can be played in 4-5 2 hour sessions like encounters. This would be perfect for in store programs during the weekdays. I think that they should in parallel offer convention play that targets 4-5 hour play as well.


That has actually been announced a while back. The writing director for the intro series is actually looking for new authors that want to contribute! (Persons interested should check the LFR Group).

On the Ashes of Athas side, we've considered various options. Our core audience likes the traditional 4-hour adventure as a way to get deeper story. We've also had surprising acceptance with new players. Part of that may be that with just 9 adventures a year (which are available for home play during limited windows of time), it isn't that hard for a group to find time to play them even if you play D&D only periodically.

That said, your points are good ones, and we continue to examine different ways to do this and we speak to Wizards about it. We try not to be blindsided by the past nor by our workloads, though that is certainly a challenge. It can be hard to find what works best. For example, PAX East saw tons of Encounters play and PAX Prime saw far less (mostly Delve play with a very successful 4-hour special). It can be hard to figure out the right combination. We don't want to leave casual players out, but also don't want to leave experienced players high and dry. Many traditional RPGA players left for home games or Pathfinder when LFR first came out, feeling the writing style was far too casual, without deeper story. LFR has changed to improve those aspects. And, indeed, we see comments on these forums often where experienced Encounters players want to keep playing their PCs, experience higher levels, and get more story depth. I suspect organized play has made a huge leap forward in having a reliable Encounters causal play program, but has not sufficiently provided programs for all of the demographics. I think that is an achievable goal.

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I wish we could do encounters here. No retailers do it
I wish we could do encounters here. No retailers do it


Have you or one of your friends offered to DM a table for a store? If you can recruit a table worth of players and a judge the store might change their tune.

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).

No. Might have to try that