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The Role of Rules in the D&D Adventurers League

The D&D Adventurers League is an organized play campaign in which players all around the world play the same D&D adventures. In contrast to home games of D&D, in which pretty much anything goes, in organized play, players all expect to play the same adventure, regardless of who is DMing and where they are playing.

Nonetheless, D&D has always been a game in which DMs have a lot of power to determine what happens in the game. This two part article explores the limits of that power within the context of the D&D Adventurers League.

Organized Play Means Playing Common Adventures by a Common Set of Rules

Just as the name implies, the D&D Adventurers League is a league game, in which everyone plays by the same rules, whether they always play in the same place or play all over the world. Characters within the League are portable, so a player who visits another area or moves there or who plays in an online game expects to be able to play his or her character there without having to make any modifications and without having to learn any local rules.

Even players who never wind up playing anywhere else or with any other DMs expect to have approximately the same experience as players in other locations, so when they discuss their games in social media and other places, they are discussing a common experience in which they faced the same challenges and had the same chances to earn the same rewards.

Page fourteen of the D&D Adventurers League Player’s Guide recognizes this commonality, stating:

The D&D Adventurers League is like a large shared world campaign….Unlike a home game, where the Dungeon Master makes all the campaign decisions, the administrators of the D&D Adventurers League set the rules and structure for it. These individuals are considered official voices for the D&D Adventurers League on certain topics.

The League and the campaign administration achieve commonality and portability in two ways: 1) by having everyone adhere to a common set of rules without local variation, and 2) by having DMs run adventures as they are written, with minor variations dictated by the circumstances.

In the Adventurers League, We All Play by the Same Set of Rules

The Player’s Guide for the D&D Adventurers League sets out the common rules of the D&D Adventurers League for the structure of the League and organizing, running, and playing games. Players, organizers, DMs, and store owners must adhere to those rules to achieve the common campaign experience. If they do not, they are playing, running, and organizing home games, which are fine, but which are not D&D Adventurers League games. If you or your local DM finds you have mistakenly failed to adhere to any of the League’s rules, simply correct the error to keep the game and your character legal! If you want advice on how to address or correct a difficult rules violation, contact your local or regional coordinator or the campaign staff or post the problem on an appropriate social media site. Organized play is admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea. If you find the rules of the Adventurers League to be too restrictive and do not intend to follow them, you should consider playing a home game instead.

  1. Rules for the League

The rules for D&D Adventurers League are set forth in the current iteration of the D&D Adventurers League Player’s Guide. A new version is contemplated for each storyline season, so the next one will likely come out in early March 2015. Rules about organizing and running games and the structure of the campaign, such as where you can play, what rules you can use, how to handle disruptive behavior, the paperwork everyone must maintain, how experience and rewards are distributed, the code of conduct for games, and the various play programs are found in the Player’s Guide. Additional rulings by the campaign staff on these subjects are official and must be followed. The campaign staff will update them between Player’s Guides in the Frequently Asked Questions sections of If you have questions about the League’s rules, you can ask them in the global Facebook and G+ communities for the D&D Adventurers League at and, respectively. You can also ask them on the campaign’s other official social media sites and in the Wizards community forum regarding the Adventurers League

  1. Rules for Players and Characters

Each storyline season, the Player’s Guide will set out a slightly different set of rules that characters created during that season can use. The first (and current) storyline season is Tyranny of Dragons. Page three of the Player’s Guide, under the heading “Allowed Rules,” tells us that Tyranny of Dragons storyline characters can only use the following rules, see image to the right:

  • Part 1 Characters snippetD&D basic rules (all rules except rolling ability scores and hit points, some alignment restrictions)

  • D&D Player’s Handbook™ (all rules except rolling ability scores and hit points, some alignment restrictions)

  • Hoard of the Dragon Queen™ appendix A [which sets forth some special character backgrounds for the season]

In addition, characters must follow the rules in the D&D basic rules and the Dungeon Masters Guide for any magic items that the characters receive. There are exceptions to the common rules, but only if a player receives official documentation from the campaign permitting the exception, such as a League certificate. These restrictions mean that Tyranny of Dragons season characters cannot use material from the current Monster Manual and Dungeon Masters Guide or any other rule source without campaign documentation. For example, characters cannot use the versions of familiars and animals in the Monster Manual and can neither buy the poisons listed in the Dungeon Masters Guide nor use the downtime activities listed there that are not in the Player’s Handbook or the basic rules.

  1. Rules for Dungeon Masters

Rules for DMsMany of the rules issues that have arisen in the D&D Adventurers League to date are the result of a misunderstanding of the rules to which DMs are subject. DMs must use the rules in the D&D basic rules, the Player’s Handbook, and the Monster Manual. Under “Rules for Dungeon Masters,” page nine of the Player’s Guide also permits limited use of the grid rules from the D&D basic rules and the Player’s Handbook:

The variant rules for “Playing on a Grid” in the D&D basic rules and Player’s Handbook can be used if you and your players wish. Dungeon Masters should feel free to use the Dungeon Masters Guide to help run games if they so choose. However, D&D Adventurers League play does not use any other optional or variant rules as presented in the Dungeon Masters Guide.

That section only permits DMs to use the grid rules from the D&D basic rules and the Player’s Handbook, not the expanded grid rules and variants thereof found in the Dungeon Masters Guide. In fact, the quoted section does not permit DMs to use ANY rules from the Dungeon Masters Guide this season (other than the magic item rules, as discussed above). Instead, it merely suggests that DMs read the sections of the Dungeon Masters Guide that explain how to run games.

Rules contained in the Dungeon Masters Guide may be permitted in future storyline seasons by future versions of the Player’s Guide. Until then, the Dungeon Masters Guide can only be used in D&D Adventurers League games to look up magic items and for general advice on how to run games. This rule was necessary in part because the book was still in editing when the D&D Adventurers League started.

More on the Role of Rules for Dungeon Masters and DM Empowerment in an upcoming article.

Art Severance

Author: Art Severance

Art started out as an English as a foreign language teacher, became an radio and radar repairman in the U.S. Navy, and then became a maritime and transportation lawyer. Those are his day jobs, his true passion is playing roleplaying games, especially D&D. He started playing D&D over 30 years ago after seeing other kids playing it on a bus on the way back from summer camp. Usually the DM, he's played and run games from his parents' kitchen table, friends' dorm rooms, East German apartments, Austrian gardens, conventions in many corners of the U.S. from Florida to Nevada, a hotel room in Bahrain, barracks, and a guided missile frigate. He's responsible for two LG adventures and one LFR adventure. You can usually find him on Thursday nights doing what he loves most, playing D&D in his home office in a Los Angeles suburb with his husband Al, their dogs Wednesday and Luigi, and several close friends.

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