January 29, 2010

The Pros of the New "D&D Encounters" from Wizards of the Coast

Perhaps the tiny grognard gremlin inside me has escaped, but the recent announcement of "D&D Encounters" from Wizards of the Coast left me feeling a bit sick for a few minutes. But then I thought about it, and what this new program represents, and realized that it's not such a bad thing. In fact, this might be exactly the type of thing the whole hobby needs to appeal to a whole new generation of gamers.

D&D Encounters is a new organized play format that WotC is rolling out nationwide starting in March, 2010. It takes the convention-style "Dungeon Delve" format, and extends it to a regular weekly game that takes place at your local hobby shop or gaming store. The announcement of D&D Encounters was made yesterday at the annual D&D Experience Convention (DDXP,[1]). Our friends over at Critical Hits published a nice synopsis about it as well (they are live covering the convention!). WotC has also launched an info page on D&D Encounters that outlines the nuts and bolts of D&D Encounters if you like.

Here's the thing though - there's been lots of talk in the last year or so about "D&D The Board Game": that 4E D&D is essentially an incredibly complex miniatures game where roll-playing has superseded -role- playing. True, WotC is trying to balance/counter that sentiment with books like the Dungeon Masters Guide 2 [2], but nonetheless at its root 4E D&D is just a complex miniatures game. Some naysayers will no doubt see D&D Encounters as the next step away from D&D The Role Playing Game and towards the direction of D&D The Board Game. I personally don't share that point of view - and here's why.

The Pros of D&D Encounters
  1. Familiar Format For New RPG Players. People who have never played an RPG can more easily connect with the hobby if it is presented as a miniatures game. D&D Encounters will no doubt be combat heavy, and therefore basically a skirmish style miniatures game. New players, looking to find out what D&D is all about, can jump right in and start rolling dice. It's a tangible experience - you can see the miniatures on the table top, your character's powers are defined, the rules of the game are clear cut and orderly. Whether this is how your in house 4E D&D game is played or not (mine are much more story driven), the D&D Encounters organized play format can introduce the game to novices in its most basic context: D&D is about killing bad guys and helping friends.
  2. Local Connections. D&D Encounters provides players with the opportunity to connect with gamers from their local area, on a face-to-face basis. This builds communities, and gaming groups will no doubt spring up as a result.
  3. Low Commitment. Players new to the game, or even curious about the game, can easily drop in and play through one or two encounters in an evening. If they like the game, they can come back for more the following week. Or skip it entirely.
  4. Support for your FLGS. Your local gaming hobby shop has had a tough time to survive in the last five years or so. I've written before about things you can do to help support your local shop, but D&D Experience now gives you and tons of other curious people reasons to head down to the local shop and participate in games. Getting people in the stores gets people to buy stuff in the stores and not on Amazon.com. This keeps the local FLGS happy and in business - which in turn keeps it alive as a center point for the local hobby gaming community. I applaud WotC for coming up with D&D Encounters for this reason alone.
  5. It Appeals to the Younger Generation. Grognards need not apply. If the D&D brand is going to survive they need to figure out a way to appeal to the masses of tweeting, texting, facebooking teens who barely have time to sit still to eat breakfast let alone play a 4 hour game of D&D on a regular basis. If WotC fails to do this - the D&D game won't make it in 10 years, or it will be marketed to people at retirement homes (that would be awesome!). The D&D Encounters organized play format has all kinds of features that are aimed at appealing to younger teens and college age "young adults" (read:young whipper snappers!). Tangible trinkets, prizes, and rewards with in-game benefits for playing in D&D Encounters are all signs that WotC is trying to lure new players to the game table. Plus, you have the D&D team pushing D&D WizBook, Facebook connections, and actively Twittering - these just reinforce WotC's connection with a new, gadgeteering younger generation of gamers.
I never personally was interested in the RPGA or campaign spanning organized play - but for some reason the 'take it or leave it' approach to D&D Encounters has me intrigued. Sure, I won't get mind exploding story-lines that I'll be recalling 10 years from now out of it - but I'll still get to hang out with some old and new friends, roll some dice and have a fun time while I'm at it. It will be interesting who shows up on the launch day at my local store - I might just have to go check it out.

What do you think about D&D Experience? Last grasp at staying relevant? Or spot-on with what the D&D community needs to boost local gaming? Leave a comment and let us what you think!

[1] http://baldmangames.com/ddxp/index.htm
[2] The DMG2 offers lots of additional content, rules, and support for story driven campaigns, and for players who are looking for more role-playing in their games.


  1. "Local Connections. D&D Encounters provides players with the opportunity to connect with gamers from their local area, on a face-to-face basis. This builds communities, and gaming groups will no doubt spring up as a result."

    I think that all of these are great points, but this seems the most critical. Well... 2 and 4, which I think are heavily related.

    It's been a real struggle for the FLGSs and for tabletop gaming in general to survive in the light of all the WOWs of the world. This seems like a great way to get people face to face and show folks that there's something that they're missing out on when they're on the other side of the planet behind a monitor. (Please note that I'm not saying that WOW and the like don't have their place... just that it's apples and oranges.)

    Good points sir - thanks for sharing them!

  2. I posted some more involved thoughts on my own blog, but I thought I'd drop by and post something directly here -- I wanted to make clear that I think you have some very good points, for the kind of play style that WotC seems interested in promoting for 4e D&D. Which isn't so much my thing, but lots of folks enjoy it, and if it gets more people slinging dice and having fun that's all to the good.

    And yeah, point 2 is absolutely key. If this turns into a way for gamers to network and meet people to start new campaigns with? Rock on, is all I can say.

  3. There are benefits to shorter game sessions for older adults too. We often have more going on in our lives...kids, possibly elderly parents, social activities, possibly political aspirations, work, and so on. Making time for a 4 hour session, let alone the all-nighter sessions we used to pull, is increasingly difficult.

    A short game session like this seems right up my alley.


By submitting your comment below, you agree to the blog's Terms of Service.