On his web show The Spoony Experiment, host Noah Antwiler had a video called Leaping Wizards in which he described an AD&D module he DMed for the RPGA.

Basically, one encounter was ridiculously easy (three first level wizards try to go melee versus six second level optimized melee characters, and all they had prepped was Magic Missile which wouldn't kill a single hero if they all dealt max damage to the same target). Since the player characters were bulldozing through the module already, he made a small change by modifying their spell loadout to Sleep, Charm Person, and Ray of Enfeeblement to make the encounter more challenging. The players did indeed find it more challenging and memorable and although the PCs won, the dice were hot on the DM side and two player characters were killed.

After the game, Noah had this discussion with the RPGA regional coordinator (modified from his retelling for clarity):

RPGA Regional Coordinator: Some of the players told me that two of them died.

Noah: Yeah, there was this one encounter with mages and they died in that fight.

RC: But...no...that shouldn't happen.

N: What do you mean?

RC: Players aren't supposed to...well, what am I trying to say?...Those adventures are balanced so that players can finish them.

N: Yeah, but I found it was a little too easy. The spell loadout and three wizards...

RC: That's as it was written. Did you play it as it was written?

N: Well, I changed the spell loadouts for the wizards because they sucked and it's not logically what wizards would take. They weren't even ridiculous spells; every Wizard has Sleep.

RC: But...you changed it? You can't change it.

N: Oh...well, sorry.

RC: No, you don't understand. Do you know how upset players get when their characters die?

N: But that's D&D. Characters are at risk of dying.

RC: But not in the RPGA.

N: When characters die, players are upset, but that's how the cookie crumbles. You know, play smart and you won't die, but sometimes shit happens, it's how the dice come down.

RC: We can't have that. We can't have you killing characters.

N: I didn't go down there trying to kill player characters...I just set up an encounter—that really was stacked against the bad guys—and that's how the dice came down. I wasn't really being unfair here, the adventure said they were trying to kill them, it said they were trying to secure the prisoner, and that's what I did, I sent two guys to take care of the only guy who was standing and the other guy was trying to free the prisoners.

RC: We can't have you DMing games if you are going to be killing player characters.

And ultimately they did ban Noah from DMing games in the RPGA. It was his belief that this was unfair, especially as a consequence for something as simple as changing three first level wizards' spells. That said, the RPGA coordinator seemed to be more upset that his changes made the encounter potentially lethal and did indeed kill two PCs.

While I understand that this happened back in the AD&D era and the regional coordinator doesn't represent the RPGA as a whole, I'd like to know: is Noah's experience typical of the RPGA, either in the past or in its modern form? Can a DM be banned from the RPGA for making the module more lethal, especially if they kill player characters?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this some cleverly camouflaged satire or real-life comedy? Am I the only one who thinks this entire story is completely and utterly crazy? Maybe its my lack of experience with any kind of organized-play from the US/RPGA... but wut? So, some organization is actually checking up on how GMs are GMing their campaigns, and is then berating them for changing the official adventure? And for PCs being killed? I can't even begin to grasp what is going on here... \$\endgroup\$
    – fgysin
    Jun 1 '16 at 11:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fgysin I think that the RPGA regional coordinator was informed of how the game session went by one of the participants (although it sounds like they were all okay with the outcome), then he chose to have the conversation above with the GM. Although per the answers below, it sounds like berating them for changing the official adventure (and allowing PCs to be killed) certainly can happen. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 1 '16 at 16:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @fgysin organized play is exactly this, a set of separate DMs that should provide the same experience to every player of the same module. It should not matter who my DM is because every single one of them should provide the same experience, so that it won't matter whose game I join. Otherwise, it'd be full of "our DM had us expend more resources than theirs", which is important since players don't always play at the same table. I'm more worried about the "make sure they don't die" - it cheapens winning. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Sep 24 '17 at 0:43

The RPGA is what D&D Organized Play used to be called, and is the oldest/largest organization of the sort, started by Frank Mentzer in 1980. Like the newer Pathfinder Society, it organized games at conventions and other venues and sponsored various ongoing public campaigns. I started an RPGA-affiliated gaming club in Memphis, TN in 1999 (the FORGE) and was a coordinator for the RPGA's Living Greyhawk campaign from 2000 to... Uh... 2006 sometime maybe?

Is the anecdote you cite true? Maybe, though given a quick review of the person involved's TVTropes page, I suspect they may not have been so calm and rational of a victim in this discussion as they claim.

Anyway, organized play campaigns, for good and ill, do revolve around running the scenarios "as written" and it's discouraged to change them; the rule is "run them as they stand." This was even stronger before the Living campaigns where most of the RPGA tournaments were actual competitive events — like I was in a group that took the silver at the RPGA Masters Tournament at Gen Con in the early 2000's sometime. Those adventures, sure you needed to run them as written, it was a scored tournament. The AD&D 1e C series modules were RPGA adventures first — C = Competition.

But even Living modules are expected to be run largely as-is since there is campaign-wide fairness concerns in play.

In any incarnation of organized play/RPGA I've been affiliated with, though, "killing PCs" has never been a big deal per se. Changing a scenario once, either. Although keep in mind that fan groups of this sort, like nonprofits, are often run by not super stable or professional individuals and so conflict can escalate, especially back in the day before the companies involved were more professional and concerned about their image. We certainly dealt with one clinically insane and conflict-prone RPGA person back then. No one I know has ever gotten "banned from the RPGA" unless it's part of them being intractable psychos and getting to loggerheads with someone else who is an intractable psycho who is a RPGA official — so with gamers involved, yeah, it happened from time to time.

Today in D&D Organized Play or Pathfinder Society? No, killing some PCs or "whoops, I changed the scenario and now I realize I'm not supposed to" won't get you banned (with an obvious exception if you manage to act like a complete jerk). Though if you "INSIST on your RIGHTS to run SCENARIOS how you WANT" they are going to boot you, because that's not their format, and if you don't want to run their format then you should go run your own games.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I mostly agree with you but I think its an overgeneralization. Certain things (such as D&D Encounters) are clearly meant to be run "as written" but other games, particularly less intentionally competitive games, such as the Living Campaign often encourage fudging with the scenario. In fact, its pretty much the only reason modules use a GM. Just saying. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 20 '14 at 4:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ That is not correct in my experience. Even in living campaigns you are not supposed to change encounters or "fudge." I personally am fudge-friendly but when I was helping run Living Greyhawk it was made very clear by the higher ups that was NOT the expectation. Since you are getting money and gear and XP and other stuff "permanently" there was a strong culture of fair (rigid) play. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 20 '14 at 14:33

In short, yes.

I first met Noah Antwiler back in Gilbert, AZ when he was running games at an old game store there called Waterloo Games. He was a cheeky young teenager who thought he knew all the time what was fair for everyone.

I met a guy years later, named John Smith (not an alias) who changed a module because he hadn't bothered to read it before running it. Later, when I got ready to run the same module, I found his biggest mistake from the module and lodged a complaint. Apparently he didn't realize that a certain NPC was expected to join the heroes, early in the adventure, and without her being there, the party would run into more problems.

In Noah's case he is a know it all, convinced that he is always right. In John's case I was told that he admitted that he made a mistake.

The point is, that as a GM running modules for organizations such as RPGA, it's vitally important for people to recognize that you represent that organization, when you run games for them. If you go against their game rules, then argue the point as why you think it's fair or not, they are going to, 99% of the time, boot you out, because they have to do what's best for the organization.

If you fail to understand that, then you really need to go spend the time and effort building up your own game and organization; don't come in and expect to make everyone else follow your rules. It's their business at stake, not yours.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While this is an answer to the question (and because of that I haven't downvoted it), its personal nature makes me uncomfortable. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 23 '15 at 20:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ You didn't appear to actually say -- did John Smith get removed from the RPGA or not? (Without that information it's unclear what the nature of the point really is, when you say "the point is". Did John stick around despite his change?) \$\endgroup\$ Aug 23 '15 at 23:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ So both Noah and John were booted? Your anecdotes are left a bit ambiguous. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    May 14 '16 at 7:16

Killing a player character didn't get you kicked out of the RPGA back in the day, but it did earn you a reputation as a dick DM who killed characters. If you didn't spare players' characters from their poor decisions or bad luck, you were typically put on an informal blacklist as word spread of your DM misdeeds throughout the regional convention scene.

Players would talk garbage about you and everything you were involved in until you eventually decided that participation wasn't worth the headaches caused by everyone giving you the stinkeye at game events.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How do you square this ("DMs didn't get banned") with the example in the question of a DM who did get banned? \$\endgroup\$ May 31 '16 at 16:14

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