Have you ever been a low level adventurer nervous about the possibility of a chest being a mimic? Wizards of the Coast and the Adventurers League team want to ensure that is no longer a concern in season 8 game play. Yesterday the official rules for season eight were rolled out for AL, and they change the entire focus of game play, essentially making an entirely new game for players to play. I will dive more into the changes here, but my conclusion is that they have taken roll play out of D&D and turned it more into an exercise of book keeping.
The first major change that this season brings around is a brand new experience point system. This is the change that I am most accepting of, but not necessarily happy about. Players no longer will gain experience for their character to level up. Instead players will be able to get 1 advancement point towards their leveling progression per hour that AL deems the module should be played, if the DM deems it acceptable based on the progress made. Now this poses two problems. First, you will always have parties that enjoy taking their time in adventures, especially in hardcover campaigns. We enjoy roll playing with the NPCs, exploring the land and doing side quests. If Adventurers League determines that the chapter should only take a set number of time, and we take two-three times that time we could potentially make absolutely no progress on our characters for weeks. This gets worse when you factor the gold rules I will discuss in a minute. This means players are encouraged to railroad through campaigns, not taking the time to roll play or interact beyond the bare minimum. Second, the DM deems whether players have made progress. In most cases this will not be a problem, however when playing at things like conventions with new DMs, there will be a lot of variety in what progress is. Some DMs will just choose to not give out advancement points if a player makes them angry or they are unhappy with the choices made.
This is especially concerning for players who play evil adventurers. The example given for a reason to not get experience is this, “your party might complete an epic quest and save all the land, receiving a bonus check, or they might choose to let all the innocents burn in favor of sleeping in” (D&D Wizards). Now will most parties sleep in and let the world burn? No. However some could take this implication that if a player lets innocent people die, they do not deserve experience points. Players who play evil characters in D&D no longer have the motivation of gold (more on this later) so there may be cases in which they let innocent people die. Their DM can consistently punish this action because of their ability to decide whether players get their experience check points. This discourages roll play of evil characters in AL play unless the player is playing with a DM they are familiar with, going against the purpose of Adventurers League providing consistent game play.
All that being said, the experience check point system is the best of the changes they have made. Returning players will be frustrated to see how they will need to convert all of their characters to this new system. Despite boasting that the changes would simply math and make it more accessible, players are given a convoluted six step progress to find their new experience that is both complicated and math heavy. It requires finding the difference between your current level and the next, finding the percentage of the way that you were to reaching the next level, and turning that into a faction dependent on the level you are at. Then you can decide to level slowly and divide again if you choose to. However, on their instructions it is not worded clearly, and it took me multiple readings to even understand what they were saying. Beyond their poor instructions, this will also be very time consuming for players who have many characters.
Enough about experience though, lets get into the real meat of the problem: how they are handling treasure. We are going to divide this section into two parts the first being magical items and the second being gold. In Adventurers League play, players will no longer be able to obtain magical items directly from adventures. Instead players are given one treasure point per two experience check points received. Players then can take these points and purchase one of the items they have seen in a previous adventure. As long as they spend their points on the tier that they earned them in. For instance, if a player saw held onto their points to purchase a plus 3 weapon, they would be unable to use any points they gained from the first 3 tiers on that weapon. Instead they would have to spend those points based on the tier they obtained them. It seems like plenty to keep track of. Players will need to have a chart for each character noting each magic item that have seen, and noting at what tier they got their treasure points.
D&D has also released a banned list of items to go along with this change. It forces players to get rid of those items for 12 treasure points in return that must be spent at the applicable tier to their character. While this might not be bad for tier 3 & 4 characters, players who are at tier 2 with some of these items are very upset as the list of acceptable magic items are very bleak. Beyond that, many players specifically built characters and have back story behind some of these items that are suddenly now gone. I feel bad for players who have worked hard to get their items, sometimes putting in over 50 hours of play to reach this one item and now have had them ripped away. Additionally, for story adventures that need special magic items (I am looking at you, Princes of the Apocalypse), the party is considered to have those items at all times but they turn into dust at the end of the adventure. Players cannot have them specifically, and I could see this causing conflict if players want to use them throughout the adventure because unlike the current system there is no system in place to determine who in the party holds that item.
My biggest problem with the treasure points though is the lack of theme from them. Adventurers often adventure for magic items, gold and glory. WotC has taken two of those things away effectively for characters who enjoy the role play experience. Rather than going into a crypt and finding wondrous items and treasure players are now given a token and told to go shopping later. It almost feels like players are going to Chuck-E-Cheeses and given their tickets for playing, and when they are all done they can go up to the prize counter and pick their prize. It seems cheap and non-thematic, completely against a role playing game.
Beyond magical items, players are also not allowed to keep any non magical items that are found like swords, shields, or armor. This is not a change in rules, but is important to remember for the next section: Gold.
Gold is the absolute worst change that AL made this season. Players will now only get gold when they level up. For the first tier players will get only 75 gold per level, the second tier is 150 gp per level, third tier is 550 gp per level and fourth is 5,500 gp per level. This hinders almost every single class but renders wizards and clerics essentially useless until tier four. Both of these classes generally have high cost spell components for their essential spells.
Let’s take a closer look at Wizards. Wizards have two main functions in which they make use of gold, copying spells and casting spells. Copying spells at a first level takes 50 gp per spell. Meaning that players who choose to use their class ability to copy spells at low levels will have almost no money left over for healing potions or casting those spells. Some spells like Find Familiar cost money each time the wizard casts it. Players low levels players will only be able to cast find familiar 7 times, if they do absolutely nothing else with their money. Some spells like Continual Flame cost 50gp each time cast, and some spells like Leomond’s Tiny Chest (4th Level Spell) cost 5000gp. Meaning that while a player can get a spell at 4th level they will not actually be able to cast it until almost their 17th level of play. Those are not the only spells that have a cost associated either. This also means players must choose between being able to cast spells or copy them because there is not money for both. Not only did D&D AL get rid of the gold needed to cast spells, they also just outright banned a handful of favorite spells from the wizards list and changed how others work. It seems these day that Wizards of the Coast hates Wizards.
Gold is not just going to affect spell casters though. Players who count on mundane armor will also be disappointed. Players whose goal it is to get plate armor will not be able to afford it until 11th level, and they will only barely be able to afford it then. If players spend money on anything else, they will not have enough money for plate by the time they are Tier 3. By that time, players will be able to have already afforded +2 Magical armor instead. It just does not make sense thematically or mechanically. Players also won’t be encouraged to spend money at taverns, bribing people or in any other role play or thematic way because every single point of gold counts.
The most punishing change however is when you think about spell casting services. The cheapest spell that will save players from death is 500 gp. Meaning that it cannot be afforded until after 5th level. Players who die who cannot afford spell casting services can go into treasure point debt to pay for them that the appropriate level. It will cost 4 Treasure Points to Raise Dead or at a minimum 8 hours of play. Who does this punish the most? New players. Players who have never played Dungeons and Dragons are likely to die in their first few adventures when hit points are few and encounters tend to be deadly. These players could quickly go into massive treasure point debt if they die more than once while they figure out the game play. This also means new players will not be able to gain magic items putting them at a larger disadvantage as they get into higher tiers. Also, due to experienced players being able to keep their previously earned gold, new players will be at a disadvantage playing with players that potentially have 2-3 times the amount of gold they could make in a lifetime. This is going to scare off new players from playing and goes against the policy of Adventurers League being a way to try out D&D in a welcoming environment.
In the past when new players who were poor died, they could count on a faction to raise them from the dead. However, now that won’t be possible. Why? They decided to get rid of factions for all non-faction agent backgrounds. This is a minor change in many ways, however it could have a major impact on multiple players role playing. Many of my characters are committed to their faction and have their entire plot and story based on their actions in their faction, despite not having a faction agent background. As of August 30th they will be kicked out of their faction for no apparent reason and I will have to completely rewrite their stories and for some of them, their bond and character build.
This is a relatively minor detail except for one major problem. Evil characters were only allowed if they were Zhentarim or Lords Alliance. Players who are not faction agents who are these alignments are now being forced to change their alignments to neutral. Many players who choose evil do it for a very specific character. It is at the core heart of their character design, so being forced to change alignment is devastating to their role playing of their character.
Overall, all of these changes hurt the role playing aspect of Dungeons and Dragons which is in fact, a role playing game. Players are now discouraged from taking on random encounters because they will get no experience any way, there is no reason to seek out chests or to go into dungeons because they won’t get gold, magic items or any treasure, and they can’t be doing it for the glory of their faction. That leaves me with the question, why adventure anyway? The changes massively hinder both role play and mechanical use of many of the classes. It is disappointing to say the least, so much so that multiple people have brought up considering whether WotC purposely made these changes to kill Adventurers League so they can easily transition to sixth edition. While I am not going to say that is true, it does make sense given the scope of the changes and the deaf ears to the complaints that have been risen BEFORE this was even released. Hopefully the outrage will bring about changes, but I am not confident.
With Adventurers League switching over to being an exercise in book keeping, many players are unsure of how to move forward. Many players do not just want to log hours to get items and gold, which is essentially the entire new system. Some players will switch over to only playing homebrew, but for players who regularly attend conventions these changes mean that they have to continue to play, or just not attend conventions. The whole ecosystem of D&D at conventions relies so heavily on Adventurers League that it will be interesting to see how the changes impact those D&D heavy conventions.
Those are my major complaints with the rule changes. I am sorry it was very long, but I felt there were many problems to discuss, and it goes beyond them just banning a few magic items. Sweeping changes are bound to upset the balance, and it was done with poor communication. If you want to read all of the upcoming changes go to this page: http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/news/changes-dd-adventurers-league-rewards. Make sure that you read all three of the documents at the bottom as well, as each introduces different changes. The new rules go into effect August 30th.