Wednesday, April 7, 2010

D&D Encounters is an Excellent Entryway Into Organized Gaming

Those of you following my Twitter and Facebook streams know my updates on Wednesday evenings have been more peculiar than normal. That's due to me live Tweeting the weekly D&D "Encounters" adventures from Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica.

If you are unfamiliar with it, "Encounters" is a series of 60-minute weekly episodic gaming sessions. The current season is twelve weeks long and ends on June 2, 2010; it takes place in Undermountain (a famous dungeon in the Forgotten Realms campaign setting).

One key purpose of "Encounters" is to introduce new players to organized play. Currently, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) supports one organized play campaign entitled Living Forgotten Realms, or LFR. Organized play is a key component of corporate strategy to keep gamer involvement in D&D high and represents the primary form of gaming at conventions. "Encounters" serves as an excellent gateway to organized play for several reasons.

First, "Encounters" introduces a time constraint on gameplay. Each session is 60 minutes long and encompasses one encounter (usually a fight, but occasionally a skill challenge); in order to finish in a timely fashion, players must learn to pay attention and begin to prepare their next actions ahead of time. These skills are critical during strictly timed convention or tournament play and are difficult to introduce in home games. The time limit is generous, however, and affords the GM and players ample roleplaying time. This function is key, as a lack of roleplay is often cited as a reason folks choose not to play at conventions; learning how to fit roleplay into a timed event provides another important skill for convention players.

Additionally, "Encounters" introduces the importance of keeping accurate game records between sessions. Many home games only require that you track your xp and treasure. Organized play requires additional record keeping, such as adventures played, awards received, and sometimes ongoing status effects. "Encounters" maintains hit points, healing surges, action points, and power usage from session to session; players acclimating themselves to this additional record keeping will be ready for the needs of organized play.

Finally, "Encounters" introduces one of the more terrifying aspects of organized play: random players. Over the first four weeks of the program, I have DMed for or played with 15 different people. Naturally, this variety introduces many play styles and personalities; I think this a good thing and is one of the reasons I enjoy organized play so much. However, players used to home games with only friends often find this transition difficult or unpleasant; the "Encounters" model helps folks adjust to playing with a lot of different people.

In short, "Encounters" is a fun and time-friendly way to introduce players to role playing, D&D, 4th Edition, and organized play in one feel swoop. Sounds like a great tool to me.