Last night was D&D Encounters at Tabletop Game & Hobby, my FLGS for nearly 20 years here in Kansas City. Yes, that’s right. I’ve been giving my hard-earned cash to Phil Kilgore, the proprietor there, for my entire gaming career. Even when I was living in Dallas and then later in the Army, I made it a point to go by Tabletop as often as possible to see the shop and give him a little of my dough, even if I wasn’t gaming at the time.
I was at the store yesterday hanging out (like you do at a game store…) and a customer I didn’t know walked in and shopped for a while, purchasing some dice and Pyramid of Shadows, I think it was. Regardless of his purchase, I saw that he was a 4E player and like you do at a game store, we started chatting and I found out his group has a distinct lack of GMs and they were starting a round-robin rotation for which of the members were going to be running a game, and that was why he was purchasing the adventure. We chatted some on that, and I suggested he come by the shop that night for March of the Phantom Brigade, that he’d have a blast and his buddies would want to come the next week.
Paul (names changed to protect innocent gamers) took me precisely at my word, because at 1800 not only him but two other members of his gaming group walked in through the door at Tabletop and expressed a desire to “just see what this is all about.” They had no characters in hand, no dice, and really looked like they were kinda unsure about this whole Organized Play thing. Their numbers also brought us to the point where we had exceeded the possible limits of one table and had to split to two tables (which is a great problem to have).
I really, REALLY enjoy building characters, for the record, and I had built a metric buttload of pre-generated characters, putting the character sheets into plastic sheet protectors and bringing a bunch of dry erase markers with me so that anybody using my pregens doesn’t have to write on the sheet itself– they just use the dry erase on the sheet protector and wipe off at the end of the night.
So instead of letting Paul and his buddies John and Ringo (names changed) just hang back and observe, we pooled our dice and handed them the 3-ring binder of pregens and they sat down at the table with us. Paul had expressed when we talked earlier that day that his guys were kind of “in a rut” and I told him frankly that the Organized Play system might be a good thing for his players– shake them up, get them playing with people and characters they’d never otherwise get to (like the gnome bard that scampered all over the other group last night). And by the end of the evening, they were obviously having a BLAST, getting into the game and cheering along with everyone else when the dwarven invoker dropped 3 minions in one attack and then Paul’s eladrin mage blew the head off a badguy with a well-placed critical hit immediately after.
Here were guys that epitomize the Organized Play experience that Encounters is trying to capture: people playing home games who might otherwise have never come to a WPN event, brought in by word of mouth and who walk away talking about the characters they’re going to play next week. Getting people who love the same game and are part of the same hobby together in the same place to learn from each other and play with people they’d never get to otherwise. Expanding your gaming horizons and having a BLAST doing it.
In my opinion, that’s what the whole Organized Play thing is about. Well done, Wizards. Well done indeed.
This morning I got an email from Paul (though now that I look at it I see that it was sent at 0111 in the morning!) saying this:
“The guys and I enjoyed last night and may have [John]’s brother come with us next week. I think this is just what we needed for multiple reasons.”
How’s that for awesome?
One of the issues we ran into last night was that my super-amazing burlesque dancing girlfriend was there gaming along with me, and we were the only people at our table who had custom-built Fortune Card decks. The other four guys (John, Paul, Ringo and a dude I’m gonna call Lefty) showed up with no characters, dice or what-have-you, let alone with a custom built deck of Fortune Cards. So we were at something of an impasse. My Honey and I didn’t want to give up our decks and nobody have cards at the table, and the rest of the guys at the table wanted in on the mini-buffs that Fortune Cards can bring.
So we came up with a solution, and I think I’m going to use it when I GM next week: we pooled the extra cards that everybody at the session–from both tables– and each player who didn’t have a deck drew their cards from the “group deck” we had created.
This worked exceptionally well. The players (myself and my Honey) who were more experienced with the Fortune Cards helped the guys who weren’t along and everybody got the benefit of the cards.
I’m GMing next week, and I’m thinking of picking up several boosters and specifically bringing a Group Deck for those players who don’t have (or can’t afford– we *are* in a recession after all) the Fortune Cards to play. I’d likely build it as a 30 card deck or something, and weed out some of the less beneficial cards, but for the most part it would be a mixed bag of cards. This can decrease the benefit-per-turn ratio for the players, but having the cards there so they can play along with everybody else would be worth the benefit (and investment from me). The look on the new players’ faces was great, starting their turn, reaching with some trepidation for the Group Deck to see what Fortune had in store for them that round.
Having a Group Deck as backup saved what otherwise might have caused animosity or resentment at the table from happening, and kept everybody at the table feeling like they were on the same playing field. I also think it might be a great way to implement Fortune Cards for a home game: nobody brings a personalized deck. Instead, each player can buy a certain number of boosters and contribute to the Group Deck. If a player leaves, simply shuffle the deck a few times and deal back that number of cards.
If you’re an Organized Play GM or the GM for a home group who is looking askance at the Fortune Cards or just not sure how to implement them, I suggest this tactic. It worked very well for our game last night and I think it might work well for you, too.