What Do I Know About Adventurers League? Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide (September 22nd, 2021)

On September 22nd, a new D&D Adventurers League Forgotten Realms Player’s Guide was released. Before I dive into this, I wanted to do a quick refresher on personal involvement in Adventurers League. I played a lot during the Rage of Demons season and dropped in and out during the Curse of Strahd, Storm King’s Thunder, and Tomb of Annihilation seasons. I have played at various conventions at different times, including playing some of the Border Kingdoms events at Gamehole Con, as well as some of the original Eberron season. I also spent some time running Adventurers League during the Rage of Demons and Storm King’s Thunder seasons.

You may be able to surmise from this that more recent changes to Adventurers League are not things I can discuss as an active participant. That said, part of why I haven’t been more active is that the rules have been increasingly difficult to casually engage. I have friends that played on a weekly basis who have also transitioned their 5e games to being on Adventurers League games because the AL rules made the game feel much less like the core D&D 5e experience. Your experiences may vary, I just wanted to make sure that I laid a bit of that groundwork.

Recent Changes before The Most Recent Changes

There have been a lot of drastic changes to Adventurers League since its inception with 5th edition. Early in 5e, most of the rules involved tracking adventures played, magic items handed out, and when and where you received XP. In a lot of ways, it was a standard D&D 5e, with extra bookkeeping. The biggest rule in this era that might be different from home tables is the Players Handbook +1 rule, which restricted character creation options to the Players Handbook and one other book.

Perhaps one of the biggest changes happened around the time Xanathar’s Guide game out. The book has a whole section on shared campaigns, which introduces options like treasure points, standardized monetary rewards, and advancement points. This was a big disconnect for a lot of players, especially when playing through the hardcover adventures. The exact rules from Xanathar’s Guide were never implemented as written, but a modified version went into effect for Season 8 of Adventurers League.

Later changes included limits on the number of magic items a character could have and player facing character advancement. The most recent set of rules involved having different rules for different campaigns within Adventurers League, walling off certain characters from certain campaigns depending on where that character had been used for adventures. This included having multiple separate campaigns within the same campaign setting. This last set of changes did involve the dialing back of the Player’s Handbook +1 rule.

I think it would be fair to say that from the time Xanathar’s Guide game out, there have been significant changes in how AL worked every year. Even the separate Eberron campaign changed rules from the initial set of adventures to The Oracle of War campaign.

Also, I will fully admit I may not have captured the full nuance of the various changes, because while I have read every document that came out for AL out of curiosity, I haven’t participated regularly since before the Season 8 rules went into effect.

The New New Rules

This current guide is meant to simplify how all AL campaigns in the Forgotten Realms setting will function. The Oracle of War Eberron Campaign and the newer Ravenloft Mist Hunters campaigns have their own separate rules, but this new set of rules seeks to streamline different seasons and special campaigns set in the Forgotten Realms into one set of rules.

So what is do these rules look like?

The short form is that it looks a lot like the original Adventures League rules, but with some “greatest hits” from later season development.

  • Start a character at 1st or 5th level
  • Use rules from a list of books that are defined for the Forgotten Realms campaign, without a +1 consideration
  • Only use characters for adventures that match their current tier
  • Choose to level up or not at the end of sessions
  • Receive magic, treasure, and story awards as detailed in the adventure, without a meta-structure restriction
  • Only use a limited number of your total magic items per adventure
  • Come back to life or remove an ongoing curse or disease between adventures as desired
  • Trade equal rarity items with other players
  • Get a set amount of downtime which can be used to gain levels, copy spells, brew potions, scribe scrolls, or trade magic items

Effectively, this means you can keep everything you find, but you have a limited range of those resources you can use in an individual adventure. You may level up quickly to the “cap” of a hardcover adventure, but if you want to keep playing, you stop leveling up, but you don’t give up on rewards that you have received.

If you don’t want to play 1st level adventures, you can jump straight to 5th level, which allows you to skip some of the “fast leveling” introductions there were written for earlier adventures. While you are still doing some bookkeeping, the special downtime costs for resolving issues like disease outside of an adventure are removed, meaning downtime is much more focused on gaining something, rather than mitigating something.

I know that many of these items address what I have heard as complaints in the past. I know not being able to gain treasure that exists in an adventure was a big sticking point for some players, and the cost of returning to life, especially without dedicated allies, could make a character unplayable. While the Players Handbook +1 rule limited potentially abusing character combinations, it was becoming increasingly prohibitive since new lineages often couldn’t use new class options. Having limited treasure wasn’t as much of a problem for characters that didn’t rely on spellcasting (unless they could use heavy armor), but it did penalize wizards, especially, as well as higher level spellcasters with expensive spell components.

Final Thoughts and Future Wishes

I like this document. It feels straightforward and workable. At the same time, it doesn’t address some aspects of play, such as factions, which are going to be detailed in a companion Dungeon Masters Guide to come out in mid-October. While this may be enough to get people to create their characters, it may be premature to overstate the streamlining until we see guidance on running past adventures and what the DM needs to do to manage play.

I like the idea that each campaign setting can have its own discreet play culture with their own rules. I also think it is important to allow characters in the same campaign setting to be portable to other stories in that setting.

I know not everyone agrees with this, but I have always felt that the purpose of an organized play program is to broaden your base of players. In fact, I’m not sure why you have one to cater only to invested players. That said, you need that invested player base to interact with new players to make sure you have enough players and DMs to make a program viable. I think the best way to do this is to make sure you don’t have to jump through too many extra hoops beyond just learning the game to engaged with organized play.

Given how often fairly major changes were made to the rules in the last few years, I really hope this set of rules can be used long enough to see how well they work, rather than changing them based on the perceived, versus actual, problems that may arise from them. I also think it’s worth noting that any extensive rules to limit potential cheating or abuse are going to fail, because people can, you know, just cheat.

I’ll be looking forward to seeing the updated Dungeon Masters Guide for AL in October.

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