I've seen a few things in the Wizards' site and understand Adventurers League is a way for everybody to play as a massive multiplayer around the world, but there's a bunch of different things that can confuse new players. So I'm asking for people who play to explain: how does Adventurers League work? and what's the difference among "Encounters," "Expeditions," and "Epics?" What about playing the modules "officially" tracking experience and items with the Adventure Log Sheet?


Note to future readers: "Encounters," "Expeditions," and "Epics" were the names of various AL products/programs during seasons 1-4 (2014-2016). -nitsua60

Organized Play.

D&D Adventurers League is an "organized play" system.

Playing

Local stores host games (often with volunteer DMs, sometimes with paid ones). Players play point-build or array-build characters in whatever adventure is being run. Character's experience total is tracked, and players can drop-in/drop-out on a session by session basis.

Ideally, it works best if the adventure has the same 3-7 players week after week, but that's not a requirement. In fact, that's often a problem to arrange.

A given character can only participate once in a given adventure. If a player wants to play it again, they can use a different character.

DMing

From the DM perspective, the DM gets his marching orders from the store. The store either gives him the download password or gives him the adventure to run. The DM then runs the adventure at the store in the allotted time for the first 7 players who sit down for it.

Wizards keeps track of total player numbers - they do this using the DCI numbers. The store records your DCI number, and reports it to Wizards.

All your XP is tracked on forms that you bring with, not by Wizards.

Store Coordinator

The store needs to have a coordinator - they keep track of who played, and make certain the DM's have allowed adventures to run.

At present, that's a pretty decent selection. As season 3 is about to begin, all the season 1 and 2 adventures are legal for season 3 play, as is Lost Mine of Phandelver (in the Beginner's Set). So, on day 1 of season 3, there are over 30 adventures the coordinator can choose from.

The coordinators schedule the events - there are certain restrictions on scheduling - and upload the DCI numbers of those who played in those events. They also serve as a safety net - if a player or DM is acting inappropriately, the coordinator can toss them from the event.

For full credit, events are supposed to have their results entered within 24 hours of completion. Note that, for MTG tournies, that includes the winners, but for D&D, it's just who played.

What the Various Elements Mean

Encounters: Play of the "big module" for the season in its reduced form, covering levels 1-4, on Wednesday nights at a FLGS sponsored public game. These modules are coded DDEN, and are released 1 per season. Tends to be about 10-20 weeks of play, depending upon DMing style and player behavior.

Expeditions: play of any of the expeditions modules at an FLGS sponsored public game or at a convention. These modules are coded DDEX, and there are more than a dozen per season. They tend to run 3 to 10 hours of play each.

Casual Play: Any other store or club sponsored public event use of the DDEX and/or DDEN modules, or of the hardcover big adventures, that is being reported to Wizards. Can include store reported home play, and play of the hardcover versions in store.

Epics: convention modules not available to the stores. They look to be set for 4-8 hour play blocks. The modules are coded DDEP, and while generally unavailable, leaks have happened.

Home Play: a limited exception to the program, certain modules can be played at home without reporting. It is only allowed for the hardcover modules (At present, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Rise of Tiamat, Princes of the Apocalypse, and Rage of Demons) and the Lost Mine of Phandelver boxed set.

Note: Some of these definitions are taken from non-public sources, namely the instructions to stores on how to report events. The rest are from the Season 3 Player's Guide.

Benefits to Store

Wizards cuts stores discounts based upon total DCI number using events - Magic Tourneys and Open Play events, as well as D&D Encounters, Expeditions, and Casual Play events.

They also expect that Encounters brings people into the stores. Further, some casual players will show up to play, and decide to buy dice, minis, snacks, or even rulebooks.

Benefits to Players

You can almost always find a D&D Encounters or Expeditions game to play in.

You get to play with people before you decide to invite them to your home game.

The adventures are in fact pretty good.

Because there are numerous pregen characters, plus the option to use characters built by the basic rules (which are free online), it's a chance to have new players find the game by showing up and learning to play at the FLGS.

There also is the opportunity for community awareness. Having D&D played in public really helps reduce the stigma of D&D. When people see it is something that can be played in public, not just in the basement, it helps dispel a lot of the myths.

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    I'm going to bounty this question and have deleted my own answer as the restructuring of AL by WotC has largely mooted both our answers. While your answer was absolutely correct at the time, now the downloads, the need for a store and passwords, "marching orders," expeditions/encounters/epics divisions... all things of the past. – nitsua60 Mar 6 '17 at 2:10
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    Not all, only the passwords. Epics and Encounters are still present. The season 5 overhaul mostly affects GM's. Delete your own if you choose; better there be an out of date answer than no answer, tho, and as I'm pretty much about ready to rage quit AL play due to the Season 4/5/6 changes... – aramis Mar 8 '17 at 6:58
up vote 14 down vote
+100

Basics

The D&D Adventurers League is the official organized play program run by Wizards of the Coast for Fifth Edition D&D.

Typically, AL games are run in game stores or at conventions, but home and online games that follow the AL rules are also legal. The actual logistics of play can vary widely, ranging from a regular home game with a consistent DM to online games with randomly assembled players from around the world or perhaps most commonly to regularly scheduled in-store games with a cast of players and DMs that vary from week to week.

The rules for AL games are described in the current season's D&D Adventurers League DM's Pack and D&D Adventurers League Player's Pack.

Logging

A notable difference between AL play and non-AL play is the use of a logsheet. Each adventure that a character participates in has an entry on a tracking sheet that records what adventure it was, who DMed it, how much experience and gold the character acquired, any magic items found, etc. This allows some rudimentary auditing of a character, although to be clear it is all on the honor system, with no centralized tracking of what adventures any given character has participated in.

Content

A variety of adventures are legal for play in AL games, including Lost Mines of Phandelver from the D&D starter set, all the hardcover adventures released for D&D 5e by WotC, a wide variety of adventures released for the AL by WotC on the DM's Guild, multi-table Epic adventures that are available for play at conventions and large stores, and a growing selection of Convention Created Content that has been written for conventions by third party authors and approved for league play by WotC.

History

Note that previous versions of the AL program made a distinction between "Encounters", which were short weekly games that were run in-store (typically they were modified versions of the early chapters of the current hardcover adventure) and "Expeditions", which were the 4 or 8 hour adventures that were expected to be run at conventions.

Today that distinction has been removed. The "Encounters" type of adventures have largely been replaced by people simply running the hardcover adventures in stores, and the "Expeditions" (although they are no longer referred to by that name) are the main adventures that AL releases for play, both in and out of conventions. Both types of adventures used to be made available free to stores by WotC. That is no longer the case, and stores that wish to run the adventures are now expected to purchase them on the DM's Guild.

  • Here's a quick attempt at describing the current AL system. Please let me know what you think should be added or expanded upon and I'll look into it. – Garrett Rooney Mar 6 '17 at 2:44
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    Looks great--the only thing I might add would be a brief description of "what came before"--there may be three years-worth of material out there that uses the terms Encounters, Expeditions, mentions free downloads and passwords from coordinators, and that now just serves to confuse. – nitsua60 Mar 6 '17 at 12:53
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    Also, I think mention of the AL logsheet (and a link to one, maybe) would be good. As that's basically the core element of AL these days. – nitsua60 Mar 6 '17 at 12:54
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    Updated some stuff to account for comments. Could maybe use some formatting help if people are motivated. Let me know what you think. – Garrett Rooney Mar 6 '17 at 13:05

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