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Any Advice for an Adventurers League Newcomer?

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
I'm a long-time DM for this game, having run games for every odd-numbered edition of the game since the mid 1980s (and a two-year stint into Pathfinder). Our current homebrew 5E campaign is coming to an end, and I am starting to put together the next 5th Edition campaign for all of my friends to enjoy.

Normally, I create a big document of house rules, describing what materials are/aren't allowed, what variants and options can/can't be used, etc., but it has gotten pretty exhausting over the years. So this next time around, I think I will use the D&D Adventurers League rules, and leave it at that.

Does anyone have any advice for a D&D Veteran/DDAL Newcomer like me? What should I expect? Any parts of it I should look out for?
 

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pogre

Legend
I started running AL the last few months, and I am a veteran DM like you. I started as a favor to some friends who needed DMs for conventions. A little bit to my surprise, I really enjoyed it.

It is a different play experience from a home campaign. However, I think you will be pleased by how much agency the DM retains.

The main difference for me is I had to let go of some of my minor preferences and allow every legal build into the game. Gnomes do not exist in my homebrew, nor do monks - I had to read up on the monk class to prepare.

After having run quite a few of the adventures I will say the quality of the adventures varies widely.

The nice thing for you since you are running a home game you can pick and choose a little more. However, I think my next home campaign will be an AL content legal campaign. It allows players to try different character concepts and let's people come in and out of the campaign without disruption.

There are new rules for the next season of AL that are meeting with some resistance from veteran AL players. It is a constant refrain I hear from them. I'm going to give the new rules a shot and see how it goes.
 

cooperjer

Explorer
I'm not a veteran DM, but I've spent years running other games. I have run AL for about 1.5 years now. I've also been running 5e at home since it's release. As you said, it's nice to have a box to work within that prevents some game options from consuming a lot of DM time. In my home game, I've spent days analyzing the difference between Fighter fighting styles to address a player concern. In AL, I don't care. I run it as written. However, some rules are odd. Why is a ranged attack at disadvantage against a prone giant? I house ruled that one, but in AL, run it as written.

There are a few thoughts to keep an eye on. 1) Ensure the players are aware to not roll HP, 2) Ensure the players are familiar with the PHB +1 rule and how that impacts character choices / options for spells, 3) Ensure the DM and players are aware the optional maneuvers in the DMG (charge past, tumble, flanking, disarming, etc.) are not officially allowed, 4) Ensure the DM plans time slots according to the adventure, 5) Ensure the players are aware of what they can do with downtime days, and 6) Ensure the DM keeps an eye on AL Facebook pages and / or the AL webpage for news.

The next season's rules will be an attempt to drive play towards making great story and deemphasize collecting gold and treasure. In the current draft of the rules, there seems to be a lot to track for the player. Expect changes from the initial draft. Those draft rules are linked at the bottom the WotC page with white text inside a black bar, found here: http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/news/changes-dd-adventurers-league-rewards
 

Keravath

Explorer
In general, DDAL rules are the same as those in the books. There are a few changes but the biggest difference is in the available content.

1) Character creation is limited to the PHB + one other source book. This means that some combinations are not permitted in DDAL. Characters can only be created using point buy (not rolled stats) and average hit points are always taken on leveling up.

e.g.
Yuan-ti pureblood hexblade warlock ... since the yuan-ti is from volo's guide to monsters and the hexblade is from xanathars.
A bladesinger must be an elf or a half-elf.
If you play a casting class from Xanathars .. shadow sorcerer or hexblade for example ... they can't use the booming blade or green flame blade cantrips since they come from the sword coast adventurers guide.
You can't use the half-elf variant races from SCAG with class archetypes from Xanathars

... basically the only content available to your character at creation must come from ONLY PHB + 1 source ... it is possible to learn spells from other sources but only if you learn them in the adventures you play.

Which leads to the next constraint :)

2) Only the hardcover adventures and DDAL approved modules are acceptable for DDAL play. The DM has a fair bit of lattitude with how these play out and managing the roleplaying but they can't add treasure, magic items, or increase the XP rewarded by the module. There is more flexibility in the hardcovers but the DM still can't change the content and remain DDAL legal. A DDAL legal character is one that can, theoretically, be played at any DDAL table at home, a game store, a convention or anywhere else.

3) The third difference is log sheets. Every session a DDAL character plays is logged. This includes the name of the module, the DM and their DCI number, the date, starting and finishing XP, gold, renown, downtime and magic items. Anything special or notable occurring in the module like story awards are also noted.

4) Mundane items that drop in a module or adventure can not be kept by the characters. They are considered unusable. Only the specific treasure listed or items specifically purchased from the PHB by the players can be kept.


If you do all that, then you can run DDAL content at your home table and folks can play the characters anywhere. It can work pretty well for hardcover content. On the other hand, if you like running your own content or throwing in your own encounters and rewards then the adventure and characters won't be legal for AL play. For the current play in AL, other than character creation, the rules and rewards basically follow the same pattern as the PHB and DMG outline so there isn't much difference in actual play.

However, the coming season 8, starting on August 30th has a number of changes to module rewards planned. These address some deficiencies in the fairness of the current system when playing DDAL with a more or less different group of people at every seating. However, there are some strong opinions out there on the effect on the immersiveness of the experience.

A quick summary of the changes (which are more or less published at the back of Xanathars).
- instead of earning XP, players earn advancement checkpoints based more or less on one checkpoint for each hour of play. Levels 1 to 4 require 4 checkpoints to advance to the next level while the other levels require 8
- similarly, characters earn treasure points at the rate of 1 treasure point for every 2 hours up to level 10 and 1 treasure point for every hour afterward. Magic items are acquired by spending treasure points and there is a table listing prices for some items. Instead of one person acquiring a specific magic item at the end of a module (which is the norm in AL), all the players in the module unlock the ability to spend treasure points on the magic item.
- gold is only awarded when you advance a level. The amounts listed in Xanathars are quite low and will cause problems for wizards and others with higher character maintenance costs. Hopefully, they will address some of the issues before going live with the revised system.
- the players do not get to keep anything that is found in the module. This is the other main point of contention. From a character perspective, a lot of the modules offer a gold piece reward to entice the characters to participate in the mission. However, under the new system, the characters don't actually get to keep that gold or other rewards. This is a problem since most modules include rooms with encounters and treasure that were originally placed in the modules to increase the XP and gold rewards. Since characters are awarded advancement points and can not keep any gold from these encounters, there is a very reasonable question about why the player would explore different areas (risking the life of the character) when they will literally receive no reward for either the encounters or the treasure found. The player might as well just focus on achieving the primary goal of the encounter and ignore secondary goals that don't offer any rewards.

(the last point is a bit of meta-gaming ... many folks just like to play D&D and can look past the fact that the format won't allow the character to keep what they find perhaps by just pretending the character does get to keep it but spends it on everyday stuff .. and their savings after leveling up is represented by the gold reward when leveling. On the other hand, some folks who play AL can be quite mercenary and the "LOOTZ" that their character actually receives is very important to them. For these folks, this change substantially impacts why the PLAYER wants to play. AL has a wide variety of people with different interests and reasons to play ... and any particular random table can have seven players with very different motivations and interests so it can be challenging coming up with a system that keeps everyone happy).



-------------------

As an example of the kind of play that the new system is trying to address. The current AL magic item system is designed to try to fairly distribute magic items. When you play a module, the first choice for the magic item that drops (there is usually only one) goes to the character with the fewest magic items. If they don't want it then the characters with the next fewest and so on. If more than one character with the same number of magic items would like the current item then a dice roll is made to randomly determine who receives it.

This system is actually pretty good but it is broken in a few ways.
1) Modules can be played with anywhere from 3 to 7 players. Obviously, your chance of getting the magic item is much higher if you play in a group of 3 than one of 7.
2) Tier 1 goes from level 1-4 ... characters typically start off with no magic items. This means that by level 4 the chances of receiving the magic item in a tier 1 adventure drop alot since there are often lower level players without magic items.
3) Magic items can be traded. Many players prefer to take items that their current character can use. On the other hand, other players will roll on any item that drops (if they have a lower count of magic items) particularly if it is an item that might be in high demand. They do this so they can trade it for something they might actually want. However, other players in the game might well have been able to use the item for the character in the game itself and may not have easy access to trading. Some players can find this situation very frustrating because some items that might be very useful for a particular class might only drop in a limited number of modules (only one in some cases ... and the only way to get it if you don't receive it in the module is by trading). This fundamental conflict and frustration found by some players is probably one of the bigger motivators behind the treasure point system. Any magic item that drops in a module that character has played is potentially something you can buy.
4) "Griefing". Imagine a game store with a reasonable number of different players. They come each week, sign up to play a module, have some fun and maybe walk away with some treasure. Now picture another player whose enjoyment mostly comes from the magic item that can be obtained at the end. They love walking out having won the magic item whether the character can use it or not. They bring a level 1 character and play it until it wins a magic item then they create a new level 1 and do the same the following week. The problem is that even with a relatively large group of tier 1 players, most of the tier 1s will level up and acquire magic items. After a while, the odds are good that this one player will receive the magic items from most modules played to the frustration of the other players at the table. It is completely fair under AL rules and who is to say what should be fun for each player. The new system tries to avoid this sort of situation as well.
 
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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I've thought about running AL games. I use them for a home game a ran for my kids and kids of a friend, starting with "In Volo's Wake."

I enjoyed it but even though I've been running 5 for 3 years now, I'd be uncomfortable running AL games.

In my home games, I pretty much follow the rules as written, but I also rely on and trust the players to help with the rules. In particular, I don't really audit their character sheets and my players know the class-specific rules and spells better than I do. I focus on the adventure content and the features of the NPCs and monsters I run. Also, by "pretty much" I mean I will often just make a ruling and look up the rule later. I don't worry about getting rules 100% correct unless the answers decides a life-and-death situation for a character. Many AL DMs I've played with play far more frequently than I do (AT LEAST once per month, usually more) and so the rules are always fresher in their minds than in mine. I think that would frusterate many AL players.

If you are running AL rules for your home game, then you really don't have to worry about getting the rules 100% right. For my at-home AL games, the only big difference was logging involved. The new rules will make the tracking of experience and leveling even easier, though I never found it that much of a chore.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Most everyone has hit the high points. Old season modules are cheap. Now nothing says you can not dm Adventure League with your friends. I would wait for unitl waterdeep heist drops. That way all the screams would died down and the players guide, dm guide and faq would had be fully edited.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
The main difference for me is I had to let go of some of my minor preferences and allow every legal build into the game. Gnomes do not exist in my homebrew, nor do monks - I had to read up on the monk class to prepare.
Yeah, I can already tell that this is going to be painful for me as well. I don't care for dragonborn or tieflings, personally, and the monk class has always stuck in my craw...it'll take some getting used to.

I'm not a veteran DM, but I've spent years running other games. I have run AL for about 1.5 years now. I've also been running 5e at home since it's release. As you said, it's nice to have a box to work within that prevents some game options from consuming a lot of DM time. In my home game, I've spent days analyzing the difference between Fighter fighting styles to address a player concern. In AL, I don't care. I run it as written.
This is pretty close to my reason for switching to AL rules. For years, I have struggled over the core rule books and the endless parade of splatbooks that come out every other month, trying to manage player expectations with mixed amounts of success.

Some players believe that anything published is (or should be) legal in the game...especially if they paid money for it. And there are players at my table who will scour the internet for "best warlock build" or whatever, then campaign relentlessly for the broken, unbalanced, halfling SorLock hex-boom-blade sneak attack-Lucky-Lucky monstrosity they found.

I understand where both groups are coming from, I really do. But this requires me to spend countless hours trying to find and check balance issues with and within the plethora of game materials of widely variable quality. Not easy, and not fun. I want a fixed set of rules to point at that will prevent such arguments, curtail abuse, and encourage creative character builds.

The next season's rules will be an attempt to drive play towards making great story and deemphasize collecting gold and treasure. In the current draft of the rules, there seems to be a lot to track for the player. Expect changes from the initial draft. Those draft rules are linked at the bottom the WotC page with white text inside a black bar, found here: http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/news/changes-dd-adventurers-league-rewards
Thanks for the link. I'm not sure how I feel about these draft rules, especially the part about "experience checkpoints" and "treasure points." Looks like I've got some careful reading to do over the next few days, but the short of it is that we do not use milestone experience, and my characters usually get to keep whatever they find in the adventures. That might be a bridge too far for us. Keravath helps me break it down:

In general, DDAL rules are the same as those in the books. There are a few changes but the biggest difference is in the available content.

1) Character creation is limited to the PHB + one other source book. This means that some combinations are not permitted in DDAL. Characters can only be created using point buy (not rolled stats) and average hit points are always taken on leveling up.

e.g.
Yuan-ti pureblood hexblade warlock ... since the yuan-ti is from volo's guide to monsters and the hexblade is from xanathars.
A bladesinger must be an elf or a half-elf.
If you play a casting class from Xanathars .. shadow sorcerer or hexblade for example ... they can't use the booming blade or green flame blade cantrips since they come from the sword coast adventurers guide.
You can't use the half-elf variant races from SCAG with class archetypes from Xanathars

... basically the only content available to your character at creation must come from ONLY PHB + 1 source ... it is possible to learn spells from other sources but only if you learn them in the adventures you play.
This sounds amazing. I love it already.

2) Only the hardcover adventures and DDAL approved modules are acceptable for DDAL play. The DM has a fair bit of lattitude with how these play out and managing the roleplaying but they can't add treasure, magic items, or increase the XP rewarded by the module. There is more flexibility in the hardcovers but the DM still can't change the content and remain DDAL legal. A DDAL legal character is one that can, theoretically, be played at any DDAL table at home, a game store, a convention or anywhere else.
I plan to write my own adventures, so there will be a bit of a learning curve on my end to make my adventures DDAL legal. I'm sure it'll be fine after I have the first couple under my belt.

3) The third difference is log sheets. Every session a DDAL character plays is logged. This includes the name of the module, the DM and their DCI number, the date, starting and finishing XP, gold, renown, downtime and magic items. Anything special or notable occurring in the module like story awards are also noted.
My players are pretty good at tracking this stuff with cloud-based tools that they can all access with their cell phones and whatnot. I'll just set up a Google Doc and call it good.

4) Mundane items that drop in a module or adventure can not be kept by the characters. They are considered unusable. Only the specific treasure listed or items specifically purchased from the PHB by the players can be kept.
Hm. Not liking this at all.

However, the coming season 8, starting on August 30th has a number of changes to module rewards planned. These address some deficiencies in the fairness of the current system when playing DDAL with a more or less different group of people at every seating. However, there are some strong opinions out there on the effect on the immersiveness of the experience.
Uh-oh.

A quick summary of the changes (which are more or less published at the back of Xanathars).
- instead of earning XP, players earn advancement checkpoints based more or less on one checkpoint for each hour of play. Levels 1 to 4 require 4 checkpoints to advance to the next level while the other levels require 8
- similarly, characters earn treasure points at the rate of 1 treasure point for every 2 hours up to level 10 and 1 treasure point for every hour afterward. Magic items are acquired by spending treasure points and there is a table listing prices for some items. Instead of one person acquiring a specific magic item at the end of a module (which is the norm in AL), all the players in the module unlock the ability to spend treasure points on the magic item.
- gold is only awarded when you advance a level. The amounts listed in Xanathars are quite low and will cause problems for wizards and others with higher character maintenance costs. Hopefully, they will address some of the issues before going live with the revised system.
- the players do not get to keep anything that is found in the module. This is the other main point of contention. From a character perspective, a lot of the modules offer a gold piece reward to entice the characters to participate in the mission. However, under the new system, the characters don't actually get to keep that gold or other rewards. This is a problem since most modules include rooms with encounters and treasure that were originally placed in the modules to increase the XP and gold rewards. Since characters are awarded advancement points and can not keep any gold from these encounters, there is a very reasonable question about why the player would explore different areas (risking the life of the character) when they will literally receive no reward for either the encounters or the treasure found. The player might as well just focus on achieving the primary goal of the encounter and ignore secondary goals that don't offer any rewards.
Okay, I literally hate every single bit of this. I'm unreasonably angry about them, even. Can't keep any of the treasure you find? Gold is meaningless...and worse still, you only get paid at level-ups? Shopping for magic items with a weird treasure-point system?!?! Nope. None of this will work at my table. There will be riots. I will be overthrown and replaced by the Santa Claus halfling SorLock. AS I DESERVE.

I'm going to have to do some soul-searching. It doesn't look like DDAL is going to work for my group after all. *sigh*

If you are running AL rules for your home game, then you really don't have to worry about getting the rules 100% right. For my at-home AL games, the only big difference was logging involved. The new rules will make the tracking of experience and leveling even easier, though I never found it that much of a chore.
Whew. Okay, I can work with that. Thanks for talking me back down from the ledge. I will be the only DM for this group, and these characters will not be considered DDAL-legal for other games. This will give me a little more latitude on how to tailor the game to my players and their preferred styles of play.

Unfortunately, it creates an exception and I was hoping to avoid those. I wanted to be able to tell my players something along the lines of "we are going to use these rules, no exceptions or arguments," but that can't happen now. I'm back to picking things apart, looking for issues to resolve, and scratching my head over how to resolve them.
 

pogre

Legend
Okay, I literally hate every single bit of this. I'm unreasonably angry about them, even. Can't keep any of the treasure you find? Gold is meaningless...and worse still, you only get paid at level-ups? Shopping for magic items with a weird treasure-point system?!?! Nope. None of this will work at my table. There will be riots. I will be overthrown and replaced by the Santa Claus halfling SorLock. AS I DESERVE.

I'm going to have to do some soul-searching. It doesn't look like DDAL is going to work for my group after all. *sigh*

Perhaps just using the current rules as is could be a solution (ignore season 8 changes) - assuming your players do not want to port their PCs into other AL games. If you are writing your own adventures they cannot use the PCs in other games anyway.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
Perhaps just using the current rules as is could be a solution (ignore season 8 changes) - assuming your players do not want to port their PCs into other AL games. If you are writing your own adventures they cannot use the PCs in other games anyway.
Thanks Pogre, that's a brilliant solution...I think I'll do just that.

Excellent advice, everyone. I don't think it gets said nearly enough: the ENWorld community is the best gaming community on the Internet.
 

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