GenCon 2013 – D&D Play Experience

I got my introduction to role playing games like many of my era, playing the Red Box back in 1979-1980.  This opened the door to a whole new world of games to me that eventually led me to play other stuff like Traveller, Gamma World and just about everything Avalon Hill put out at that time.  I owe my passion for gaming essentially to TSR and D&D.

These days I’m playing Pathfinder after my experience with a scheduled game of D&D with Wizards went sour, no GM to run the game and essentially a lack of any effort to facilitate our group.  That led me to wonder the halls where I was rescued by a Paizo volunteer that caught me peeking into their hall.  He offered to put me into a game if I was willing, ten minutes later I was looking over my pregen and pulling out my not so lucky dice (my dice are never lucky).  I haven’t looked back since, continuing to play Pathfinder every week through a local PFS group.

This year I wanted to give WoTC another look, take a chance on DnDNext for one of their Confrontation at Candlekeep sessions.  I attended the event on Friday night, instead of going to the big Pathfinder event occurring at the same time.  I entered the queue, probably about 20 people back and surveyed the game area that wasn’t very crowded with about 20-25% of the tables completely empty.  Fifteen minutes later I hadn’t moved and found myself still staring at the same empty tables, a grumbling in the queue had already started.  It was evident to all those waiting that WoTC didn’t have enough people to run the event.  I think we spent about 40 minutes in line before we were seated at a table, which was 30 minutes past the scheduled start time.


This disorganization continued as we sat at the table and the GM explained that he wasn’t very well versed in DnDNext, nor did he bring any of his supplies because he was led to believe it would all be provided – but wasn’t.  Sigh.  I did not like how things were turning out and the memories from GenCon 2012 were dancing in my head.  I glanced over to the queue which had grown since we were admitted, the faces of everyone waiting told me I wasn’t alone.  I watched as several people walked away in disgust after growing tired of the wait.  This could not be going good for WoTC.

The GM went through his brief introduction to the system, had us introduce our characters and gave us some basics about the adventure.  Once he was given the signal to begin he transformed into his role with relative ease and surprised me at his wonderful delivery and dramatic poise.  He was passionate about role playing games, this was evident despite his claim to not know the system that well.  I was quickly into the game and enjoying myself, pulled along by this masterful GM.

A third of a way through the adventure we found ourselves interacting cooperatively with the other tables near us, an event coordinator narrating key points at various moments throughout the evening.  This was getting fun.  It may not have been as fun for the table next to us, my legendary die rolling stayed true as I regularly rolled critical fails on my attacks, sending stray arrows to PCs in the neighboring tower.  Poor guy took 30 points of damage from me before the night was over.

The evening ended climatically with the slaying of the dragon, no help from me.  Everyone as far as I could tell had a great time, I know our table did although admittedly at the expense of my bad roles.  The game system seems pretty solid and much improved over 4th Ed, a system I have grown to dislike.  The GM was definitely the star of the evening and WoTC should be thankful to have him presenting DnDNext to new players.  I don’t believe I would have left the table with such a good experience, especially after the first impression, if it were not for the passionate role playing of this young GM (Brandon?).

In the end I think Wizards of the Coast really need to look at how to improve their organized play and remember this is the first impression people will have, not just of your company but of your game.  Take a lesson from Paizo and the Pathfinder Society events they run; swamped with an army of enthusiastic GMs and unwilling to turn away anyone ready to try out their system.  I believe in DnDNext, I think there is a lot of passion being poured into creating this new system.  Now WoTC just needs to find a way to infuse their events with the same passion so people leave satisfied on all levels.

I can’t wait to take another look next year, I hope Wizards manages to win me back.

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