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Master, Dungeon Master #9

#9 : Taking Dungeons & Dragons on Location

As a store owner with a game play space, organizing events is a daily affair. This past weekend I had the privilege of taking the Twenty Sided Store Dungeons & Dragons experience on the road to Boston for PAX East 2015.

In this article I will go over the similarities and differences between producing an organized play event for a convention, versus running in a store.

PAX East 2015

If you have never been to PAX East, it is a 3-day gaming convention held every year at the Boston Convention Center. The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) primarily focuses on video games. The main floor is dedicated to large immersive booths that feel nostalgic – like being a kid at a theme park.  Since I am not much of a video game player, I spend most of my time in the Table Top area. The Table Top area seems to grow in popularity every year at PAX East and somehow PAX manages to squeeze in a couple more booths and gaming tables dedicated to Board Games, Role Playing Games, and Magic: the Gathering each year. This year they cut the food court in half, and brilliantly laid out the booths for the consumer and gamer alike. Our booth was conveniently located across from the PAX board game tables, with the bathrooms directly behind us, and the exits to the food trucks just down the hall.

The Booth Layout

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

Last year was my first time organizing an exclusive D&D booth for PAX East. In order to maximize the amount of gaming tables in the booth, we had no room for a DM VIP backstage area. I felt we could improve a couple things with the booth this year, so I decided to turn the entire booth into a private room. This was a huge success.

We hung curtains around the whole parameter of the booth. In between slots the DMs could relax while getting their tables set up. During the games the

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

curtains also helped to cut down on a lot of the exterior noise.

From the outside, we piqued curiosity – everyone wanted to know what was going on behind the curtain. For a big convention we managed to create a private and intimate gaming experience.

 Madame Freona’s Tea Kettle

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

We ran Defiance in Phlan which is an introductory adventure for D&D Expeditions. It is set at Madame Freona’s Tea Kettle, a place in the Moonsea region of Phlan in the Forgotten Realms. Adventurers from all over the world meet at the tea house to find work. The booth was decorated with artwork by Robert Taylor depicting Madame Ferona and her daughters, as well as local adventuring heroes and their exploits. Doilies and tea cups decorated the tables and a hanging wooden sign out front, with a tea cup, let adventurers know they had arrived.

Image courtesy of Robert Taylor

Image courtesy of Robert Taylor

Once adventurers entered the Tea house, they could be swept away on any one of five different missions that the module presents. I chose Defiance in Phlan because it had a great theme, allowed us to run many short slots, providing more opportunities for players to play D&D throughout the weekend, and was a great introduction to D&D for new players. The module also allowed each DM to show a different play style approach with each mission, providing a lot of flexibility. We advertised that this event was beginner friendly and backed that up with an inviting decor, as well as an approachable, informative, and friendly staff.

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

Behind the Scenes

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

One thing I learned from last year, was that I could not coordinate this all on my own and DM. It is important when you go on location to have a crew that you can totally trust. This year I had 4 dedicated coordinators and a team of 17 DMs that devoted their time and energy to giving the best possible experience they could. We had players coming up to the booth saying that playing with us was the most fun they had at PAX this year!

Over the course of 3 days we ran 15 slots and seated 512 players. A majority of the players were new to D&D or RPGs in general, or had never played 5th edition. A delightful surprise, however, was the number of returning players from last year excited to play with us again this year.

The Team

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

I first brought on Ken Breese as scheduling coordinator. He has great production skills. I recently hired him for the Elemental Evil season to help organize events at the store and I felt this would be a great experience for him to assist me at PAX. He managed all communications between the DMs and coordinated with Russ Morgridge, our local Boston coordinator. Ken made sure people knew where to be when, and was available to answer any questions that anyone had regarding schedule, planing, prep, rules… you name it, he was on it!

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

The worst thing about any convention is waiting in a long line for hours only to find out that by the time you make it to the front of the line the event is full. There is so much to see and do at a convention that we wanted to minimize the amount of time people waited for the event. With only 6 tables we new we would fill up fast and have to turn plenty of people away. Luis, owner of Twenty Sided Store, came up with a brilliant solution for taking pre-registration. Players could sign up for any slot throughout  the weekend and were told to be at the booth 15 minutes before the event seated. If a player was not present at  the time of seating, their seat would go to the next person waiting in line. Nobody had too wait long to find out if they could get into the event, and anyone that was pre-registered was guaranteed a spot. This greatly minimized the number of people lining up and was much easier to manage. Since we sat all 6 tables at once I was able to micro manage and give a more personal experience by placing players with their friends. I was even able to chat with players a bit to find out what they’re preferred play style was so that I could fit them with the appropriate DM. I had one group of players who said that loved 4th edition and wanted to see how 5th edition dealt with combat, so I made sure they sat with a DM that was running a map and grid, rather than theater of the mind.

IMG_0479_1

Just like at the store, at a convention, the show must go on. On location we do not have access to a printer and only have the materials we brought with us, so we have to think of everything and be prepared for any situation. Russ Morgridge offered to take care of most of the printouts. Brittany Fullen, an archeologist by trade, and my most trusted ally when it comes to making sure we have everything we need, made sure our packing lists were packed, and nothing was left behind.

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

For me, it is important to make sure that each table has the bare minimum of what is needed to run a game. These materials stay in the booth and are available to anyone at any time running a table. I made sure we had battlemaps, wet erase markers, a set of dice, an area map of Phlan, and a copy of the module for each table. We also provided the basic pregens with printed out spell sheets for players and Adventurers League logsheets for recording their game.

If DMs wanted to create their own pregens, bring Dwarven Forge tiles, or enhance their game in any other way – that was totally encouraged, not required, and up to each individual DM to make the experience their own. We had pencils and a pencil sharpener in the booth. “X” cards for each table, and handouts with the code of conduct to ensure a fun and safe gaming environment for all. One thing I had not planned for, but it ended up working out really well for us was the fact that the back tables were along a hall which made it really easy for a person using a wheel chair to pull right up to one of those tables and play.

What Did We Learn

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

Image courtesy of Lauren Bilanko

With every event I learn something new or try to think of ways to improve. What I noticed this year by having pre-registration is that, at a convention, players show up early or on time. In a store we always factor in a half hour for sign ups and registration, but at PAX East we did not need to allot that much time for mustering. We were definitely able to get everyone lined up and seated in under 15 minutes.

Surprisingly we had very few no-shows. I think we averaged about 1 no-show per slot over the course of the entire weekend. The slot with the most no-shows was the late slot on Saturday when a big concert was scheduled.

Dear Master, Dungeon Master,

I played at your booth at PAX, and really enjoyed playing D&D. How do I find more games like this?

You can visit Wizards of the Coast website and enter your zip code into their Event Locator to find a store or convention near you running Adventurers League games. Additionally, the D&D Adventurers League hosts a convention map that will show conventions that have D&D Expeditions near you.

Can I create my own character for next time?

Yes, you can download the D&D Adventurers League Player’s Guide to  walk you through building a character for organized play. You can also download the basic rules for free which includes all the main races and classes. If you would like to try out some other races or classes you can purchase the D&D Players Handbook at your local game store. You can even transfer the experience gained from your Defiance in Phlan pregen to your custom built character. If you are in Brooklyn, NY you should visit us at Twenty Sided Store.

I am an event organizer and I am looking for someone to help organize D&D tables for my events, do you have anyone you could recommend?  I am looking for someone with experience that I can trust.

The D&D Adventures League was formed for this very purpose. You can get involved by contacting your regional coordinator and they can help you find a good fit in your area. The AL coordinators are there to help support store owners and event coordinators with specific details on sanctioning a Dungeons & Dragons game – no matter how big or small your event is. We worked with Russ Mortage to help coordinate the Boston crew, and if you are in the Northeast region you can contact Cindy Moore who will help you find someone in your area.

Lauren Bilanko
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1 Comment

  1. There are some great ideas here! Thanks for sharing! And I’m totally stealing the “X” cards for my Encounters tables!

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