|Successor||D&D Adventurers League|
|Type||Role-playing games, Dungeons and Dragons|
|Wizards of the Coast|
(archive of 3.5 Edition website)
wizards.com/dnd/Events (archive of 4th Edition website)
The RPGA (also called the Role Playing Game Association and the RPGA Network at various times), was initially part of the organized play arm of TSR, Inc and then Wizards of the Coast. From 1980 to 2014, it organized and sanctioned role-playing games worldwide. In 2014, it was replaced with the D&D Adventurers League.
Frank Mentzer, one of the first full-time employees of TSR, Inc., the original publishers of the Dungeons and Dragons game, conceived of the Role Playing Game Association (RPGA) in order to promote quality roleplaying and to allow fans of roleplaying games to meet and play games with each other. Mentzer founded RPGA in November 1980 primarily to run tournaments at gaming conventions using TSR's top sellers: AD&D, Gamma World and Top Secret.: 13 In 1991, the RPGA ran 179 of these events.: 152
At each tournament, a Dungeon Master and four to eight players would play a 4-hour adventure supplied by the RPGA. Each player was given a pre-generated character with a background, equipment, and some limited information about the other characters at the table. At the end of the adventure, the players and Dungeon Master would select one player at the table as the "winner" of the adventure, based on his or her knowledge of the rules and role-playing ability. All players were awarded experience points based on how well they did in competitive events, and could add to that experience point total at the next event, allowing them, over time to advance to higher levels.
Membership was originally paid by a yearly fee, and included a subscription to Polyhedron magazine (which was originally the official publication of the RPGA).: 152 In the early years, membership was largely limited to North America, but in 1989, the RPGA Network branched out into Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the U.K., Israel, and Australia.
In 1987, instead of presenting single adventures that were not linked to any previous or subsequent adventures, RPGA conceived of a long-term endeavor, called a living campaign, where the actions of the players would have an impact on the overall campaign story arc.: 13 The first campaign of this type was Living City, a series of adventures set in the city of Raven's Bluff.
Unlike previous RPGA tournament play, where players were given a pre-generated character, Living City adventures required each player to provide their own character. Previously, experience points had been accumulated by the player, but now experience points were accumulated by the player's character. Bringing the same character back to subsequent adventures allowed that character to accumulate more experience points and greater powers.
In order to have an effect on the overall storyline, at the end of each adventure, the players would send the result of their play to RPGA headquarters for compilation. Success or failure by a majority of players would result in a change to the campaign storyline.: 71 For example, if most players in a particular adventure succeeded in lifting a curse, the curse would not appear in future adventures. "The RPGA set the template for MMORPGs; adventurers existing in the same world in a sort of mega-universe".: 71–72
Living City proved to be a popular concept and "the number of Living City events actually surpassed the 'classic' RPGA tournaments — possibly as early as late 1993". In the first decade of the twenty-first century, RPGA created a variety of living campaigns. The largest was Living Greyhawk, played by thousands of people around the world from 2000 to 2008. At this point, RPGA had members on all continents of the world except Antarctica. "Creighton Broadhurst, who was in charge of the core modules for the Living Greyhawk world, explains that if a DM ventures too far off the pre-written adventure, players might get confused in subsequent RPGA adventures [...]. Writers for RPGA modules often come from within the RPGA community rather than being outside game designers. [...] RPGS writers must continually produce modules that will be used by the group. Adventures [were] released on a weekly basis".: 135
In 2002, RPGA membership became free, but the subscription to Polyhedron was no longer included as a membership benefit because the magazine had been bought by Paizo Publishing, who then published it as a section of Dungeon.: 13
In 2008, Wizards of the Coast launched the Living Forgotten Realms at Gen Con 2008; this living campaign utilized the new 4th Edition rules and replaced the 3.5 Edition Living Greyhawk campaign in organized play. The campaign ran until 2014 with its finale at Winter Fantasy 2014.
In 2010, Wizards of the Coast launched a new organized play initiative called D&D Encounters at stores in the Wizards Play Network as a D&D equivalent of Friday Night Magic. The company "supplied GMs across the nation with adventures to run on Wednesday nights. [...] Each night's adventuring contained just a single encounter. These sessions were billed as running 60-90 minutes in length". Shannon Appelcline, author of Designers & Dragons, wrote, "by running Encounters simultaneously across the nation, Wizards hoped to take advantage of social media; they envisioned people talking about the games on Facebook and Twitter on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, comparing their experiences with those of other players across the nation. [...] Overall, the Encounters program would prove extremely successful. Though neither it nor Essentials made D&D Fourth Edition into an unprecedented success story, the Encounters program was well-loved; it got attention on CNN and elsewhere and was successful at drawing players into game stores to play. Eleven Encounters seasons ran through late 2012, before the program took a short break and shifted over to a mixed 4e and D&D Next format in 2013". The transition between editions of Dungeons & Dragons was called The Sundering and it included multiple structural changes to the D&D Encounters program.
D&D Adventurers League
|Type||Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition|
|Wizards of the Coast|
|Award(s)||2018 ENnie Awards |
Best Organized Play - Gold Winner
2019 ENnie Awards
Best Organized Play - Silver Winner
|Website||yawningportal.dnd.wizards.com (current website) |
dndadventurersleague.org (archive of previous website)
In 2014, Wizards of the Coast changed the name their organized play program from the RPGA to the D&D Adventurers League which coincided with the launch of 5th Edition. Initially, the in-store organized play program was divided between D&D Encounters and D&D Expeditions. Similar to the 4th Edition program, D&D Encounters continued to be run on Wednesdays. Participating stores had access to a "digital edition of an existing for-sale adventure product for the entirety of the storyline season". D&D Encounters was focused on low-level play with short sessions; once a group finished the adventure, they had the option to migrate their campaign to the corresponding hardback adventure module or to a D&D Expeditions adventure. The D&D Expeditions program was envisioned as the living campaign successor; initially, the program was going to be called Living Moonsea as the story was set in the Moonsea region of the Forgotten Realms. D&D Expeditions were designed to have longer sessions and show the regional impact of the current season's storyline. Additionally, there was a convention program called the D&D Adventurers League Epic; this was a "massive D&D session in which multiple tables work towards the same goals".
In 2016, with the 4th season of organized play, Wizards of the Coast retired the D&D Encounters & D&D Expeditions programs when they opened the D&D Adventurers League up to any organizer, rather than just limiting it to participating stores. Adventures were now available for purchase via the Dungeon Masters Guild and groups could play online or in private non-store groups. The D&D Adventurers League now divides organized play into four categories: Seasonal Campaign, Historic Campaign, Masters Campaign, Alternate Campaign. The Seasonal Campaign features the most recent published hardcover adventure module along with adventures published on the Dungeon Masters Guild which correspond to the storyline. The Historic Campaign features the back catalog of previous seasons. The Masters Campaign "is structured like a lot of 'living' campaigns in the past, and has an ongoing narrative that is broken into story seasons, all set in the Forgotten Realms". The Alternate Campaign is focused on a separate ongoing storyline set in Eberron.
The D&D Adventurers League requires both players and Dungeon Masters to keep official logs of their play experience and it includes an additional ruleset for play in order to facilitate the ability to "drop in or out on a session by session basis". This includes unique rules on experience points, magic items and gold. In 2018, "the admins of the Adventurers League announced a sweeping overhaul of the rules, designed to change how players earn XP and treasure". Several magic items were removed from the game, and players now gained "advancement checkpoints" and "treasure points" which they could trade for level advancement and magic items respectively. In 2019, with the 9th season of Adventurers League, these checkpoint rules were replaced with new character advancement and magic item rules and then adjusted in 2020 with the 10th season of Adventurers League.
This unique ruleset also governs character creation. Initially, players were limited to the character creation rules in the Player's Handbook (2014) along with a single other "officially allowed book of their choice". "This was done to allow DMs to ensure their games were balanced and avoid abuse of multiple rulesets". In 2021, the rules for character creation changed to allow players to use any of the following sourcebooks: Player's Handbook (2014), Volo’s Guide to Monsters (2016), Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (2017), Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (2018), and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (2020). Additionally, "setting-specific AL campaigns [...] have access to books created for those campaigns like Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide or Eberron: Rising from the Last War. Each Seasonal campaign will [...] allow the use of character options from the campaigns’ associated hardcover book". In September 2021, character creation rules for adventures set in the Forgotten Realms were adjusted after community feedback. Changes included the option to start at a higher level and the ability to use any treasure of a monetary value during a session with unused treasure converted to its gold value at the end of a session.
In March 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wizards of the Coast suspended in-store events in North America, Europe, and Latin America. In October 2020, Wizards of the Coast announced the ticketed D&D Virtual Play Weekends series organized by Baldman Games. This monthly event uses a convention style format and includes the option of either Adventurers League legal games or non-AL games.
Jennifer Grouling Cover, in the book The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games, highlighted the constraints of RPGA weekend conventions. She wrote, "Because members of the RPGA move from one adventure to another, often with different players, there must be some attempts to maintain consistency in the world and the plotlines experienced. Thus, the DM of an RPGA game does not have the same flexibility that other DMs enjoy. In addition, time is often a constraint. [...] The constraints of the RPGA convention meant that the DM needed to convey certain information about the world and the story for these players to move on to other games during the course of that weekend that would build on this adventure. Therefore, rather than exploring whatever areas of space and elements of plot interested this particular gaming group, there was a pressure to cover certain storylines".: 82–83
Shannon Appelcline, author of the book Designers & Dragons, wrote, "the ultimate success of the Living City can probably be attributed to its close attention to characters and continuity. [...] However, just before the events really exploded in 1992, it was increasingly obvious that the series of Living City tournaments had become a massive campaign. [...] Meanwhile, the Chemcheaux magic shop began to appear alongside Living City tournaments, allowing players to trade their gold and unwanted magic items for stuff they actually liked. By Gen Con '93 Living City characters and their stuff had become important enough that the RPGA started logging what people had earned, to prevent cheating. [...] Meanwhile, continuity was coming into the Living City tournaments too, truly making Ravens Bluff 'alive'. [...] By the time that the Living City events surpassed the 'classic' RPGA tournaments, they had become a very different sort of tournament. They were focused on continuity of characters and continuity of setting, with adventures that were widely available and which would be run again and again all over the world. This would be the model that would take the Living City successfully into the 21st century and that would be repeated many times over the years, for Living Death (1997-2007), Living Greyhawk (2000-2008), Xen'drik Expeditions (2006-2008), and others".
In 2019, Christian Hoffer, for ComicBook.com, highlighted the D&D Adventurers League Epic as "the closest you'll get to a MMORPG raid in D&D, and it's a really unique experience that everyone should try". Hoffer wrote, "Besides competing with con-goers for a limited number of slots, another potential pratfall to playing at conventions is that they don't have control over who they play with. [...] A bad D&D experience can really sully a person's opinion of the game, and conventions can have a higher risk because you'll likely be playing with people you've never met before. [...] You'll also need to keep in mind that many D&D games have 'hard deadlines,' as the DMs need to run multiple games in a single day. As such, expect for your DM to railroad the story a little bit, or at least try to keep you focused on your main tasks. While exploration and discovery are part of every D&D game, you probably won't have time for a leisurely shopping trip during a convention D&D game".
Other organized play
In 2016, Scott Thorne, for ICv2, believed the restructuring of the Dungeons & Dragons organized play could be problematic. Thorne wrote, "From where I sit, WOTC just wiped out five years of D&D OP development in one day as it eliminates the two things that made the program successful and made it a viable competitor with Paizo's Pathfinder Society program. [...] Without the Encounters brand, and with WOTC allowing, even encouraging, stores to run events on other days of the week, the Encounters brand, which many stores have spent much time and money building upon, will vanish within a few months. A major reason for Friday Night Magic’s decades-long success is that it gets scheduled every Friday night. [...] Under the Encounters program, stores ran the same adventure every Wednesday night. [...] Now, given that WOTC encourages stores (and other locales) to purchase and run scenarios from the Dungeon Master's Guild, players have no idea what any given store has running. [...] The consistency of the program has gone out the window".
In 2018, Christian Hoffer, for ComicBook.com, highlighted the "controversial" rule changes implemented with 8th season of Adventurers League. Hoffer wrote, "instead of players divying up treasure that they can sell in exchange for gold, players instead earn 'treasure points' that can be used to purchase specific items. The concept behind this system is that players can spend treasure points to gain items they want instead of trying to exchange items they find in dungeons or treasure hoards. [...] One of the biggest controversies surrounding the new changes was how the game deals with gold. Players no longer earn gold for completing adventurers, and some players (especially casters) felt that this hurts how they add new spells to their arsenal and cast certain spells. However, admins pointed out that players can still convert treasure points into mundane items that can then be sold off, which would give them more gold than the current system".
In 2020, Jacob Bourque, for CBR, highlighted that the seasonal structure the D&D Adventurers League "irks some people, [since] the AL organization as a whole generally will dictate the module for the league in a season. This may not be a players first choice of adventure, and it will generally be a recent release from Wizards of the Coast". Bourque wrote that role-playing is minimized which "may also irk people. Part of D&D is the roleplaying experience, the acting and the social element of D&D. Quite a few people who go to AL view it as a more competitive version of D&D, though happy to play with first time players, the emphasis is definitely on the mechanics of the game. If players are willing to play a much more tactical D&D game with a lower emphasis on story and roleplaying this shouldn't be too much of an issue though".
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