Game On: The Pillars of Organized Play

I hope you're having a great holiday season so far. It's been busy over here as we wind down 2021 and get spun up for 2022. Today, I'd like to talk about the pillars of organized play. What distinguishes Adventurers League play from other D&D play? What is the advantage in supporting organized play? Let's dive in. 

Community

In a lot of ways, this is the most important pillar of organized play. Community can be broken down into a few specific features that distinguish Adventurers League from other D&D play:

- Shared experiences

- Recognition

- Peer enrichment (learning/mentoring)

Shared Experiences

This is probably the most visible feature of the community pillar, and the one often cited as the reason many folks participate in organized play (our March 2021 survey reinforces this). In a home game, you have a shared experience with a few others around your table, but when you open discussions with folks beyond your group, there's a lot of variation (especially with adventures outside of published material). The relatability of experience is converse to the uniqueness of your home game. 

In organized play, there's a lot of relatability beyond your immediate table. Almost every adventure you play, thousands of others have or will also play. This helps the community feel connected to each other, and allows for stories and legends to grow around certain content. For good or ill, we're all in this together. 

Recognition

Being a part of the Adventurers League community means that you're part of something larger than just the table you're playing at right now. When you achieve something in game, praise and kudos for your accomplishments can feel more meaningful, since others have had similar experiences at their tables. Recognition amongst a group of peers, especially a larger group, is a great positive force. 

This is especially true when playing in Epics, multi-table, interactive adventures that have a large cohort of players usually working towards some common goal. Recognition earned through your character's actions at one of these events is fantastic because of its immediacy. Being the only character out of a hundred to wield the cursed sword or solve the tomb's riddle is an accomplishment that can be celebrated by the entire gathering.

Peer Enrichment

This is one of the "secret ingredients" of organized play. It boils down to this: you learn more, faster, playing games with strangers. Playing in public with different players each time you sit down for your game gives you access to different perspectives and approaches to D&D. Even when an approach or a rules interpretation doesn't work for you, it's still valuable to help you refine what you do and don't enjoy in your experiences. Home game groups can be more comfortable than gaming with strangers, but the potential to grow your D&D game becomes constrained.

On the other side of the coin, being able to mentor a newer player can breathe life into a veteran player's game experience. A great way to "recharge" is to Dungeon Master or play with a group of new players! It reminds us of our first experiences and how we can replicate the good moments and help guide away from the bad ones. 

Content

The second, and final, pillar of organized play is content. While there are tons of D&D adventures available, Adventurers League content has specific features that are appealing when compared to other D&D play. 

- "Bite-size" play

- Feedback loop

- Ease of DM use

"Bite-Size" Play

This is probably the most recognizable feature of Adventurers League play. It has its roots in convention play, which requires complete experiences within a specific time. Traditionally, this has been about four hours, although there's now a higher demand for two-hour play, especially in store environments where time is more limited. 

What this practically means is that most adventures need to start and finish within a session, making them feel more like procedural television than serialized programming. This is great for one-off and more impromptu play, as the only real requirement is a character of an appropriate level rather than foreknowledge of past adventures. In reality, most Adventurers League content has procedural foundations but often has some serialized threads to create an overarching (usually seasonal) narrative. The best adventures often feel like a good Star Trek: The Next Generation episode - fulfilling enough to be complete on its own, but with a few nods to earlier episodes or "B plots" that develop something further. Approachable for anyone, with little rewards for those that have been playing along.

Feedback Loop

This is the sort of aspirational goal of content in organized play, achieved to varying degrees of effectiveness. The promise that players often want is that their characters' actions have consequences beyond the adventure - a "living" campaign that changes with their decisions. In practice, this does occur, but on a more limited basis. Usually this amounts to playing an adventure during a specific window (a preview or premiere) and the organizers collecting results from play to pass along to the administrators. This feedback is used to inform "the campaign canon" as new adventures are released in the storyline. 

We want this to be a stronger feature within Adventurers League, but there are challenges with regards to production cycles and implementing feedback. On average, an adventure takes about six months to produce in our current cycle, meaning that feedback we receive couldn't see implementation until half a year later. We're going to experiment with other ways to deliver on this in the future (including broadening feedback intake), because it's an important part of the organized play experience. 

Ease of DM Use

This is probably the other "secret ingredient" of Adventurers League play. Our adventures are designed to be run with minimal prep and offer sound utility when referencing them during play. As a result, they're also great for newer Dungeon Masters because you don't have to read an entire book to understand how everything fits. And the consistent structure of the adventures means information is presented in the same sections no matter what adventure you've decided to run. 

In addition, public play also affords Dungeon Masters the ability to run an adventure over and over again. This increases the value proposition of purchasing an adventure on DMsGuild, as you know you can find groups willing to play it. And the more you run an adventure, the better the experience is for each subsequent group, as your cognitive load during play can be more focused on the players and their characters and less on looking up how something works.

Why Is This Important? 

I've been drilling into the foundations of organized play to figure out what the "key selling points" or "killer features" are of Adventurers League for a purpose. First off, it helps establish guiding principles in how we support Adventurers League going forward. Additionally, it allows me here at Wizards to have a handle on talking about OP as a set of important features for D&D players, rather than just a marketing vehicle for our games. As we move into the future, you can expect to see lots of decisions coalescing around either these features or broadly expanding the appeal of the two pillars - community and content - with new features. 


Thanks for reading. I hope your holiday season is full of laughter and great games. See you in 2022!

Illustration by Grzegorz Rutkowski.