One of the main challenges in organizing D&D Adventurers League games at a convention is determining your schedule of games. Keeping the following factors in mind can help make your convention a success.
Your convention’s days and venue hours will determine how many sessions (also known as “slots”) of play you can offer. I’ve seen the best success with sessions starting every five to six hours. That format allows for a one to two-hour break in between each four-hour adventure. If you don’t allow for a break between sessions, you’re very likely to have adventures start running behind as the day progresses, since people will need to run off to grab food between games.
A three-slot schedule following that format might have games starting at 9 a.m., 2 p.m., and 7 p.m. Venues with shorter hours may prefer a two-slot schedule with games starting at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., for example. Some D&D Adventurers League adventures, such as the introductory adventures each season (discussed later), don’t have to follow this schedule. However, most adventures fit well into four-hour slots with breaks between. Eight-hour adventures such as DDEX1-11 Dark Pyramid of Sorcerer’s Isle and DDEX2-9 Eye of the Tempest can be run in a double slot using the four-hour format.
Some conventions try to stagger their start times, for example having four-hour adventures starting at 10 a.m., 12 noon, 2 p.m, 4 p.m., etc. While that format may appear to be more flexible, in practice most players tend to end up with less flexibility. When their current game ends, several other tables are still in progress. Many players tend to just play whatever’s starting next, whether they really wanted to or not. Having all games on the same schedule ends up giving the majority of players more choices, as there will be more games to choose from at the next start time. It also tends to make the preregistration process easier for both organizers and participants to navigate.
Convention capacity depends on several factors: table space, DMs, and players. Your convention’s capacity is limited by whichever of these factors is in shortest supply. You can increase your capacity by increasing whichever factor is currently limiting you:
- If you’re limited by table space, you may not have a lot of options. However, you can try asking your convention organizer for more space. You may be able to provide historical play numbers to make your case.
- If you’re limited by number of DMs, you’ll want to wrangle more. Lack of DMs is a common limiting factor, and the next part of this series will offer some tips on how to chase up more DMs.
- If you’re limited by number of players, consider advertising more, such as by posting in social media, distributing flyers at local game stores or clubs, and getting some word-of-mouth going about any cool events you’ll have. Make sure to add your convention to the official AL Convention Map, too.
Capacity may not be the same in every session. You might be expecting more players on Saturday than on Friday, for example, and should plan for a larger capacity accordingly.
Before your convention starts, you’ll want to post a schedule. This is your initial prediction of how many tables of each adventure will run in each time slot. Doing so lets you start assigning Dungeon Masters to specific adventures and lets players start to preregister. The larger your event, the earlier you’ll want to post the schedule. Larger cons normally post their schedules several months in advance.
Selecting which adventures to run tends to be more art than science, but here are some guidelines:
- Newer adventures tend to be in high demand. In particular, if you have a premier or regional preview, nearly all your attendees of the appropriate level will want to play it. Offer enough sessions and tables so that they can. (Procedures for requesting premieres, regional previews, and even D&D Epics were discussed earlier, in Part 2 of this series.)
- There’s no point in offering a bunch of tier 2 or tier 3 adventures if your attendees won’t be able to play them. Conversely, if you know you’ll have a lot of people with tier 2 characters, try to offer several different tier 2 adventures in as many sessions as possible. Try to predict demand from attendance at past conventions in your area and the current level of players at local stores.
- As new players join the campaign and/or increase in level, some of the older adventures may see a resurgence in demand. If you find you’re short on new adventures at a particular tier, consider offering some older adventures of that tier. For example, if you know you’ll have a lot of tier 2 players but only have a couple of new tier 2 adventures, you could supplement your schedule with some of the season one, tier 2 adventures such as DDEX1-10 Tyranny in Phlan. Many players’ characters only reached tier 2 after that adventure ran in most stores, and would be eager to play it.
- Most importantly: Always have a tier 1 or introductory adventure (DDEX *-1) for new players to walk up and play. Intro adventures with their one-hour mini-missions are particularly good in a con environment, as new players can easily drop in and out. New players often have activities elsewhere at the con, on a schedule that may not match your D&D Adventurers League events. When a new player arrives at 3:30 p.m. asking to play D&D, it’s best to avoid asking them to come back at 7 p.m. If you have intro adventures running, you can slip new players into a table as soon as the next mini-mission starts. Invite them to get familiar with a pregenerated character in the meantime!
- Two-hour adventures such as DDEX2-11 Oubliette of Fort Iron and DDEX2-12 Dark Rites at Fort Dalton can either be scheduled back-to-back in a single four-hour slot or run in one slot each. If you run them back-to-back, make sure you are confident in the pacing skills of the DMs who will be running them. If you run them in separate four-hour slots, your players won’t get as much adventuring done. However, you’ll have fewer pacing problems, and players will have some extra time at the end for meal breaks, vendor browsing, or the like. Scheduling two-hour adventurers in four-hour slots works particularly well in the last slot of the day, since ending a bit early can be a welcome respite for gamers who can tend to fade toward the end of a grueling convention day.
- Eight-hour adventures often draw well, even if they aren’t the most recent adventures. These adventures can be challenging for stores to schedule, so it’s likely that more of your players will not have played them previously. As I write this in the middle of season three, I’m seeing tables of DDEX1-11 Dark Pyramid of Sorcerer’s Isle (an eight-hour adventure from season one) fill up in a heartbeat wherever it’s offered.
Seminars can include topics like an Introduction to the D&D Adventurers League, DM Training, a Q&A with campaign staff and volunteers, and talks by a guest of honor. It’s often challenging to get good attendance at seminars that conflict with games in progress. Scheduling seminars at the same time as games may work at some of the very largest conventions, but you’ll probably want to try to schedule any seminars so that they don’t outright conflict with games. There are a couple of ways you might do this:
- Schedule seminars during the breaks between sessions. This works best if you have a two-hour break so that folks have time to run and get some food, then come back and listen to the seminar.
- Schedule one of your gaming sessions primarily with two-hour adventures. Then most of your games will end early, and people will have time to grab a leisurely meal and come back for a seminar before the next gaming session begins.
- If you have an odd block of time on the first or last day of your convention, you could adjust your times on that day so that there’s time for a seminar.
- If the D&D Adventurers League is one of a spectrum of offerings at a larger convention, there may be a seminar room that has a variety of topics running throughout the day. This room can be a good place to offer an Intro to the D&D Adventurers League seminar even if it conflicts with your existing games, as your target audience (new players) won’t already be playing. For best results, be prepared to have a couple of tables of intro adventures starting immediately after your seminar, so players can go straight from the seminar to an adventure if they’re interested.
In an ideal world, players would sign up to play all the adventures that you schedule for them. But in reality, player demand will often diverge from your initial expectations. The way to know how much it diverges is to have a preregistration process. There are various different preregistration systems available.
I’m partial to using Warhorn to organize larger events, as it has several features helpful to event organizers. Organizers can easily add or remove adventures, increase or decrease the number of tables for an adventure, contact people who have signed up re: changes that may affect them, and allow people to waitlist for specific adventures (and thus see where you have a shortage or surplus of DMs). In addition, players can list their characters’ classes and levels, which can help to balance tables. Many veteran gamers are familiar with Warhorn, and may search it to find upcoming events to attend, so posting your event there can help to increase your attendance. Newer players, however, may have difficulty using it.
If you’re not a Warhorn fan, there are plenty of other options. Some larger conventions have their own online event preregistration systems as part of the convention website. Smaller conventions may use Sched or EventBrite, which have fewer D&D organizer tools than Warhorn but are simpler for new participants to use. If your convention is mostly drawing players affiliated with a particular store, you may be able to tap into any organizing site the store uses. For example, if the store has a meetup group or a Warhorn site for a recurring game day, it may be the easiest place to post games and organize sign-ups.
Regardless of what preregistration system you use, you can and should use it for feedback, adjusting your initial schedule as you observe ongoing sign ups. Player sign ups trickle in over time. As they do, you’ll be able to identify any mismatches between what’s scheduled and what players want to play. You can then make adjustments, such as cancelling a table that nobody’s signing up for and adding a table of something that has a waiting list. Be mindful, however, of cancelling tables when your convention is still several weeks out. Tables that appear empty today may fill up as people continue to register in the coming weeks. Plan to have enough DMs for the players who have not yet registered. You’ll often want to line up a few more DMs than you think you’ll need.
You may wish to save room for new players that weren’t aware of your preregistration system to wander in on-site. If all of your tables fill up from veterans who know how to preregister, then you won’t have room for new people to join. To accommodate such players, consider having some tables and DMs scheduled to run tier 1 or introductory adventures beyond those that fill up on your preregistration system.
To run all the games you’d like, the number of DMs necessary may seem daunting. As mentioned earlier, a shortage of DMs is frequently a limiting factor in scheduling tables. Therefore, it’s common for a convention organizer to also wear the hat of DM wrangler. The next part of this series will provide suggestions for how to wrangle those elusive DMs.
- Lord of the Arena:Chad Kaski - January 27, 2016
- The D&D Adventurers League Convention Organizer’s Survival Guide Part 3:Scheduling Adventurers League Games - December 2, 2015
- The D&D Adventurers League Convention Organizer’s Survival Guide Part 2:Convention Activities - November 12, 2015