GenCon 50 AL review


That guy, who does that thing.
First, an admission -- I didn't participate in all the AL games available at GenCon 50 in Indianapolis. I did play in a Season 7 Intro adventure, and also played through the Hulberg modules produced by Baldman Games for the D&D Experience track. As such, this review will be a bit limited in scope.

Let's start with the Season 7 intro mod. Those of you who've played previous seasons' intro mods will recognize the format -- five mini-scenarios able to be completed in 1-2 hours giving minimal XP and no permanent magic items as rewards, but that can take beginning characters from level 1 to 2 in a low-level friendly series of adventures. It's a solid premise. Unfortunately, it was undermined a bit this year when someone decided that, instead of restricting the adventures to level 1-2 characters, as usual, that this season's intro would be playable by any tier 1 character, meaning the adventures could be played by as high as level 4 characters. (When I played the mod, our table in fact did have two 4th level characters along with four 1st level characters.)

Those of you who've run tier 1 adventures with characters at both ends of the tier already understand the challenge of putting characters of wildly varying level together like this, so I won't go into too much detail on that problem. The real issue here, though, is that, unlike a regular tier 1 adventure, where the mod is 'optimized' for level 2 or even level 3 characters, these adventures were clearly designed for level 1 characters. This is a problem because the advice given in the adventure on how to adjust for party strength is a highly blunt instrument and it doesn't really give you as the DM an idea of what kind of party your encounter is really geared for.

Let me explain in more detail: when determining what your party strength is, you basically do a calculation based on average level and number of players and come up with a value. For the kinds of groups you're going to see at a convention, particularly at GenCon this year, the values that matter end up being 'average', 'strong', and 'very strong'. Unfortunately those labels don't really tell you what level the new encounter is 'optimized' for. If the main adventure is optimized for level 2 parties, then you can 'guesstimate' that 'strong' is likely equivalent to a level 3 party and 'very strong' level 4 (and thus the encounter should be challenging for PCs of those levels in the party), it's harder to know that when the main adventure is optimized for level 1. And while a DM with enough experience and access to the Monster Manual could reverse-engineer the XP budget of the adjusted encounter and likely figure out what level the party should be at, keep in mind that at most conventions, your really experienced DMs are not running the 'newbie tables' where the intro adventure is being played.

The paragraph above is a long-winded way of saying that, while you as DM know that the higher you crank up the difficulty of the adventure, the more you have to worry about the level 1 characters at the table, in this specific adventure you don't easily know how high you need to crank the difficulty to provide any challenge to the level 4 characters, and cranking the level too high means that your level 1s are in major trouble. At our table, one of our level 1s was killed outright by the first attack in the first combat encounter, and only the DM's decision to rewind the adventure and change to a different attack let the character survive. (One fairly simple change that would help, though not solve the issue: include a parenthetical in the encounter adjustment text that would indicate the 'new' optimized level of the encounter. So, in a level 8 adventure, the "Strong: add 2 bugbear sneaks (9)" text would now indicate that the encounter is suitable for a level 9 party and might be preferable to the "Very Strong: add 1 bugbear sneak and 1 bugbear chieftain (11)" text even if the party has otherwise done all right on Very Strong to this point in the adventure. This would at least give newer DMs a visual cue to just how high they're cranking the level up when they boost the difficulty of an encounter.)

Neither that issue, nor the now traditional 'having to explain the rules to new players' discussion (how many times do I need to explain that the Ring of Jumping doesn't allow you to exceed your movement allowance?) affected my enjoyment of the adventure enough to ruin my fun, so it was a decent session.

The D&D XP run, on the other hand, was very enjoyable. Those of you who have played or heard of the program, it's the four-session block of adventures where you play at the same 6-person table, with the same DM, running through a traditional three-module series plus a 'convention special'. You pay a premium for the experience, but the theory is that the benefits are worth the expense. This year, I'd say it was.

Start with the environment. All the AL games were run out of a large conference room in the JW Marriott, and I have to say the room was as suitable a place for massed D&D games than any I've participated in at GenCon. The acoustics were great, deadening sound from other tables and allowing the DM to be heard locally without too much stress, and though the Experience tables were only separated by partitions from the other AL tables running adventures, that was enough in this room. I wouldn't have a problem if BMG decides to try to keep that space for the forseeable future.

Our DM was good. He probably wasn't any better in terms of rules knowledge or understanding of the adventures than our DM from last year's Experience, but he got better ratings out of us, at least partly because of our gaming schedule. At the Experience, you play four sessions, but none of those sessions are scheduled for Sunday; as such, one of the other three days of the convention you're obligated to play two adventures. Last year, our double session was on Saturday, and consisted of the final core adventure and the Special, and the combination of playing the marathon session and doing so on Saturday when the first couple days of the con had already taken some of our stamina made the day a long, sometimes fractious affair. It was clear that some of us, plus our DM were feeling the stress of a long convention, and it ultimately hurt our experience and our opinion of our DM. This year, we ran the double session on Thursday, when we were still fresh -- it was the first two sessions my wife and I played, and our two buddies had only played one earlier session -- and it made a big difference both in our mental state and in the friendliness and sharpness of our DM. This isn't strictly a criticism of the program -- some track is going to have to double-session on Saturday just to make the timing work out -- but more as advice to anyone planning to play in the Experience next year: try to avoid the track that schedules the double-session on Saturday for the best experience.

Another change was that, instead of running the three core adventures and then the Special, this year's Experience ran two core adventures, then the Special, and then the final core module. The change was made because BMG realized that, since last year's conclusion to the Hulberg series occurred in the Special, and the Special wasn't being released on the DM's Guild, folks who played the modules as released to the guild wouldn't get the intended conclusion and would instead get an ending that felt clipped and incomplete. As such, they moved the series conclusion to the final core module and ran the Special as purely a convention special, which I think works better for both constituencies -- since the Special no longer has to serve as the story conclusion, it can focus on the things that make for a cool Special, and people who pick up the series later on DM's Guild don't have to worry about getting an incomplete story. A good call, and one I'd recommend for other CCC publishers who may not have considered it.

One of the highlights of the Experience had little to do with the adventure, though -- while we were moving through the first encounter of the first adventure, none other than the Baldman himself, Dave Christ, started walking through the Experience play area handing out copies of "Lost Tales of Myth Drannor", i.e.: the AL admins' Super-Secret Project. While the adventures in that product were described as DDAO modules, they're not actually any of the DDAO modules that have already been announced in the AL Content Catalog -- they're a new series of six short (2-hour) modules that are all related and all take place in and around the Myth Drannor/Hillsfar region of the Cormanthor Forest. Obviously I haven't had the chance to play them yet, but a first reading looks encouraging, and being able to get the modules as a paper-bound bundle was a nice perk of being at GenCon 50. Thanks to the admins and to BMG for making this happen.

I won't spoil the Hulberg modules by revealing too many details, but one peeve has to be mentioned -- part of the reason I was so interested in playing this specific track was that I'd played the Hulberg modules the year before and had a story award for completing them; I was, naturally, curious to know how it would fit into the new adventures. As it turned out, it didn't -- a BMG worker came through and asked us how many of our characters had the story award, but nothing happened or was otherwise awarded based on the existence or absence of the award. It was the only really disappointing part of the experience of the D&D Experience.

I understand that Jeremy Crawford took some time out of his personal GenCon experience to visit the AL room and even ran some AL tables; I didn't see him or get to play at any of his sessions, so I hope someone who was fortunate enough to do so can chime in. I don't recall hearing about any other WotC people at GenCon, but if some were, I'd be glad to hear about them as well.

Lastly, it was nice getting to spend a few minutes chatting with Greg Marks (skerritthegreen) and seeing the camaraderie of AL players gathering from around the country, reuniting for another tilt against the unknown. GenCon 50 has me looking forward to what's coming down the pipe, and awaiting next year's GenCon with pleased anticipation.

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There was a special full page cert as part of the Hulburg special you should have received (which version depended on you having, or not having that previous story award from a prior Hulburg trilogy). Did you not receive that? If so we missed that (our bad) - send me who your DM was (as we are aware of one or two who did not give them out) and your contact info to me at thebaldman <at> and we'll take care of that.

The Bald Person


First Post
Thanks for the insight, Pauper. I DM'd a group through the Hulburg tier 3 DDXP track at the show... appreciate your thoughts on it and the event!


First Post
I had the pleasure of playing at Alan's table.
It was a very good adventure series, fairly difficult in that I was uncertain about a potential TPK a few times but we had a balanced party and a great GM. I just hope that there is another tier 3 option for Hulburg next year to keep the same characters playing.
I'm looking forward to the posts on the in game effects of the tar stones for future play.

Overall, Baldman put together a much better venue and an excellent experience !

Mull Ponders

I played in all 5 min-adventures. Had a blast. Probably half my tables mates were pregens, saw one level 3 at the final adventure. The DMs were very good to great, which to me says that if these people were my DM in a long running campaign I would be fine with that. As Pauper said, the JW location was much quieter than when I last played at Gen Con in 2015. Mustering always worked out, I had generics for one round, they still managed to fit me and everyone else in. Baldman did a great job.


I'll also kick in that I thought the gaming space was very good this year (better than it's been in years). It's a little out of the way from other stuff happening at the convention, but in my opinion, it is worth it for the better gaming experience it helps to provide. I too would be pleased to see BMG stay there in the future.

Bonus: They also kept the gaming area nice and cool this year!

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