D&D Encounter Changes

D&D Encounters is the currently running in-store promotional program design to introduce new players to Dungeons & Dragons with a public play experience. You show up at a store at a set time, always on a Wednesday night, and play D&D for an hour or two. It’s free for both the players (excluding certain stores) and for the DMs who are volunteering their time to run the game, but walk away with an exclusive adventure, some maps, and a couple other assorted perks.

With the forthcoming season this is changing. Rather than an adventure written just for Encounters, it will be adapting the published adventure Murder in Baldur’s Gate, the first part in the Sundering series of adventure modules designed to segue the Forgotten Realms from 4e into D&D Next. The catch is that DMs will need to buy the adventure to play it, which retails for $35 ($40CAD because WotC hates Canadians). Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in some anger.

It should be noted that game stores will continue to receive Encounter packages containing exclusive dice and maps, so volunteer DMs still receive some exclusive perks.

The Official Statement

If you don’t frequent news sites or the forums you might have missed this “announcement” as it wa only on the Wizards Play Network section of the site and seemingly aimed at stores and not everyone else. Such as, oh I dunno, the DMs who need to pay for the adventure and might like some warning that they have to drop $40.

The full announcment is here with more details here.

When ICv2 contacted WotC for clarification on this they received a “refer to our website” email. Similarly, there has been no notice on the main site, the Enounters section of the main site, and there has been no WotC presence on the predominantly angry threads on the subject, either on ENWorld or the WotC Community.

In other words, WotC is being characteristically non-responsive to the questions and concerns of its fanbase and consumers. I look forward to them forcing it awkwardly into an “In the Works” or “Rule of Three” article to address the matter two or three weeks after it was relevant.

Cons

Let’s start with looking at the negatives of the proposed change.

First, it’s pricey. DMs are already volunteering their time to run games, effectively acting as living advertisements for for D&D and now they’re paying for this privilege. Not only that, but they used to be rewarded, receiving an exclusive bonus adventure only available for those running Encounters.

While the product is often listed as a 96-page product it’s actually a 32-page adventure and 64-page description of the city. While undoubtedly some of the city descriptions will be useful when running the adventure, the product is really a fluff guide to Baldur’s Gate with an attached adventure. So DMs will be paying extra for irrelevant content.

The adventure no longer being exclusive to Encounters also means their less extra content. Players who might be playing the Sundering adventures with their home game will now have no reason to play Encounters.

The adventure was also likely less designed for the Encounters format (if designed for it at all) so there will likely be some conversion required, making for a less even and consistent play experience. Because it’s such a story based adventure (a murder mystery no less) it might be much harder to jump in halfway through the season. And if Encounters continues with the other Sundering modules, it might become increasingly hard.

It’s also potentially bad for the Sundering and the Realms. One of the selling features of the adventures is that players can report their results to WotC and their decisions and actions will influence the canon outcome of events and future of the Realms. Having the adventures played and reported via Encounters potentially skews results from dedicated FR fans to Encounter players (and potentially new players).

Pros

Now lets change tone and look at the positives of the change.

First, it supports game stores a little more. One of the big selling features of Encounters to game stores is having the game played somewhere that sells product: people have fun playing and can impulse buy product right there. Game stores are dedicating table space that could otherwise be used to sell or display product keeping the store in business. This is a big reason why Encounters has often tied a season to a recently released book. Similarly, encouraging sales via Encounters helps WotC make more money which pays for the production of the adventures and perks they’re sending out. However, with no D&D products on the shelf Encounters cannot generate sales which means it’s a big cash sink. Selling the adventure mitigates this cost.

Stores also have additional options if demand for the Encounters season is low. If not as many players show up as expected, stores don’t have unusable extra product in the store but material they can throw on the shelves and sell.

From a business perspective it also makes sense. WotC has to pays someone to write the adventures and generate the content. That’s money they’re not easily getting back. If the Encounters season uses a published module then it’s less of an expensive investment.

One of the complaints regarding past Encounters seasons with the unavailability of the content. We nerds are pretty obsessive in our acquisition and WotC makes it hard to be a collector, with RPGA exclusives, convention exclusives, Game Day exclusives, and Encounters. There’s a ton of really cool content many people would buy in stores that is only available as perks (ship Dungeon Tiles, condition cards, dice, miniatures, and of course the adventures). Tying Encounters to published modules means everyone gets the adventure content.

It also encourages Forgotten Realms fans to play the adventures. Fans of the setting who might not be in groups that use that world can still play and influence the events of their favourite world. And (if WotC advertises it enough and soon) fans of the novels can also try the game and influence the future of the novel line.

There’s also a time limit before the publication of the D&D Next FR campaign setting, they’ll need to results of the adventures submitted sooner rather than later. The more people reporting the results of the PCs actions and the end events of the adventures the more diverse the results will be and the more interesting the effects on the world can be. Plus, Encounters play has always felt fairly impermanent and unimportant. You play and then things hard reset and you start again, never really achieving anything. If you actions have a permanent impact on a campaign setting, that certainly makes Encounters less disposable.

It also has the potential to make the adventures better. Writing a module that will be on store shelves for anyone to buy encourages writers to give their A-game. It’s not some throw-away adventure that will be played once during the season and vanish. People still play published adventures from all editions. It also skirts some of the complaints of Encounters not being representational of the D&D experience and being low-narrative if you’re seeing the same content people will be using in their home games.

Plus, if they continue into the other Sundering modules it creates a longer consistent narrative between seasons, rather than the typical Encounters trick of resetting everything between seasons. People can keep the same characters and continue to play them again and again. It feels less like a series of unrelated one-shot games and more a real campaign.

Other Thoughts

Regardless of the positives and negatives, either way the effect on players is minimal. They show up and play.

I find the outrage a little interesting as Paizo’s Pathfinder Society has always charged for their modules, $4 a pop (plus ink and paper as they’re PDFs). Buying every module costs well over $100 each year and there’s no swag. A pretty stinging argument can be made about how PF players will pay to play their organized play program while D&D players have to be bribed. But I think if Paizo had the resources of WotC to send out complimentary adventures, they would.

There’s also the fact many (if not most) of the DMs would buy the adventure anyway. If you’re volunteering your time to DM Encounters you’re likely a dedicated fan of D&D who buys many of the products.

Game stores can also potentially subsidize the cost. They can purchase a few extra copies of the adventure as “store copies” that are used for Encounters, potentially rewarding regular volunteers with one of the store copies at the end of the season. Many stores already give out store credit so this might not even be a change.

Personally, I’m more irritated we had to find this out via the retailer section and that a blog broke the story (followed by ICv2 and ENWorld). This is a big change that affects the wallets of those involved. The classy thing to do is to tell us directly and explain your reasoning. We’re grown ups, we’ll understand if you talk to us like people.

Those are my thoughts on the Encounters change. You can read some other thoughts on the ICv2 follow-up.