It’s true. You can win Dungeons & Dragons; you just have to go to Gen Con to do it.
From the moment that I decided to go to Gen Con this year (the first time in 10 years as a civilian on my own dime), I wanted to compete in the D&D Open Championship. I’ve helped designed past Opens as well as the scoring system used for the past seven or so years…well up until this year. And for many years I ensured (or attempted, anyhow) its smooth run when I was at Gen Con as the RPGA Content Manager. But I’ve never had a chance to play it.
When my friend Rob Watkins told me he and John Vilandre were also interested, I knew we had the start of a great team.
Over the next few months rosters for our group waxed and waned. Rob is a social butterfly (more like a social raptor) so he was definitely in charge of getting the group together. We talked about potential adds, argued at times about one choice or another, but I respected Rob’s advice. Hell, he got Mike Donais to join us, which was a real coup. Mike’s a pro at character optimization. His input would be crucial.
But as anyone who has played any form of D&D knows, getting a group together is like herding cats. This is especially true for summer games. Now compound that with the logistics for a convention game in a far-off city. Hell, I’ve not run either of my home games for over a month because my wife and I like doing some summertime things when it actually makes an appearance over the Seattle skyline.
A few weeks before the show, just prior to the characters being released, we lost two members of our penultimate roster—including founding member, John Vilandre. There was a death in the family and he wasn’t going to make it. Rob was bummed. I was bummed. We had to find two great players in record time.
Enter Chad Brown and Will Ansell. Even though they were local, I only knew them by reputation but they were glowing reputations. I’d never had a chance to play with them. I would have been nervous if it weren’t for the fact that Rob was psyched to have them. The day the characters were released on the Wizards website, the entire group sans Mike Donais (who is down in SoCal serving as Director for Game Development at Cryptozoic) met at The Rock in Renton to talk characters, tactics, rules, and item swaps at the bar. I was optimistic but cautious. I knew the group was strong enough to win the D&D Open Championship but it takes more than that.
A good group has to know their characters inside and out, but must also be willing to improvise on the spot. Its members have to work with the DM. Part D&D Open table management is letting the DM move at a speed that makes the game fun and as easy to run. A stressed DM, especially one who is stressed because you are arguing with him or her, has more potential to kill the fun and flow, intentionally or not. Oh, and then there is the dice. While you can survive a string of bad dice rolls, it’s hard to flourish with one. Layering bonuses and debuffs was my job—I was playing the leader.
Overall, I will let the stats of success speak for themselves. Out of 83 groups who participated in the D&D Open Championship this year, only seven advanced to the final. The introductory round consisted of a progression of 5 epic-level encounters; each one had to be defeated in 45 minutes in order to advance to the final. Screw on up, and you were out. We finished two of those encounters in less than 15 minutes (I think 11 minutes was our best time) and our longest encounter took 33 minutes. We played like a machines possessed.
In the final round, we had 2 hours and 30 minutes to defeat Orcus and whatever underlings he could bring to the field. And he could summon an obscene number of them. Not a one was a minion, some were elites. At the start of the session, our DMs told us that they did not expect anyone to actually kill Orcus. None of the playtest tables were able to do so.
Fuck that noise. As soon as I heard that, I had one mission—kill Orcus! And we did. Out of the seven finalists groups, only two killed the Demon Prince of Undeath. We did it in three minutes before the other group, and at 6 rounds compared to their 7.
Since success hinged on a time, and we won…but just barely.
How does it feel to be the winner of the first epic level D&D Open and the slayer of foul Orcus? Fucking fantastic! It’s truly one of the highlights of my gaming career. My teammates were solid gold. Our three DMs were real pros. The entire RPGA and D&D Open Championship team was awesome. And Dru Moore was our late night practice run DM was a contributor to our success. Finally Logan Bonner wrote an excellent couple of adventures, and some fantastically challenging fights. Thanks, Logan.
It was the crowning achievement of my best Gen Con ever. It was the Gen Con where I was rarely stressed, constantly smiling, and got to feel the joy of the Best Four Days in Gaming rather than running its gauntlet to ensure a smooth show for hundreds of fan. This time I was the fan. And I’m already ready to do it again.
It’s going to be a long year.