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,). 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so about "D&D The Board Game": that 4E D&D is essentially an incredibly complex miniatures game where roll-playing has superseded -role- playing.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 , 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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!
 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.