For those who don’t know, in 2010, Wizards of the Coast launched an in store play program for Dungeons and Dragons called Encounters. How it works is players come every Wednesday to play through one encounter and further the ongoing story. I’ve been able to play at least some of almost every season. This season (Beyond the Crystal Cave), I’m running it at the Gathering Place in Spencer Ma (come play, we need the people). As most people know, the program isn’t perfect. Here are the pros and cons, as I see them, of the Encounters program.
It’s not new player friendly: Encounters requires a small amount of previous experience with 4th edition to run as peak efficiency. Some people may argue with this point, but when you have three veterans at a table with someone who just found out 20-sided die exist, it can be frustrating for everyone.
The sessions are too short: They tried to fix this a bit with the recent seasons, adding some okay role-playing opportunities while keeping the one fight a week model. I know it’s just supposed to be a taste, but as a player and DM I prefer to do at least two encounters per session. If they lock down stores for 4 hours a week for Friday Night Magic (another really fun thing to do at the Gathering Place) then they can justify the three hours it would take for two encounters. The way it is now, the story can sometimes get disjointed and spotty. A week between encounters starts to seem really long after a while.
The seasons are too long: Each adventure counts as one season. The seasons now last about fifteen or more weeks and each season you need a new character. The idea is to preview their new material, but they had a system for this that worked much better (the old game day program) a model that allowed continuity of character and focused on shorter, delve style adventures might be more appealing.
The adventures are incredible: The adventures they’ve been writing for this program have been really, really good. It’s a shame that players only get a taste each week. Beyond the Crystal Caves is a great example. It’s a fantastic adventure with lots of great characters and locations.
The prize support is great (especially as the DM): Everyone gets promo Fortune Cards. That’s good on its own, but as the DM, you not only get the adventure, but the season’s prize. This year it was initiative cards, one year it was condition cards, and sometimes they’ll even surprise you with a prize pack. Wizards wants people to play and, more importantly, DM, and they’re willing to reward you for doing so.
It’s an amazing way to meet other D&D players in your: Since I’ve started running Encounters at the Gathering Place (in Spencer Ma on main street, have I plugged it enough yet?) two campaigns have popped up to be played in store with more in the works. Encounters lets you know that there are others in your area that play and gives you an excuse to meet them. It helps build a D&D community around a specific location. Of all the pros of this program, I’d have to say this is its greatest strength.
It’s a great way to preview new material: While it’s not ideal, you do get an amazing idea of what you can do with the new books through Encounters. By encouraging character creation in that direction it ensures you’ll see those types of characters.
So, whether you love it or hate it, Encounters is great for the places that run it. Overall, I’d suggest going to it. It’s not perfect, but it is fun and it can lead to more gaming, and isn’t that what we all want?