Today I went by my "friendly local gaming store" to see if they'd received the materials for the upcoming D&D Encounters and D&D Lair Assault seasons. They didn't, but that's not the reason for this post.
The owner of the store told me that Wizards of the Coast is apparently cracking down on stores. Apparently there's a problem with people sanctioning events and not actually running them, and since the creation of the materials actually costs them money with no direct return they need to somehow control it better. the owner of the store said that they will be required to sanction events and have people actually sign up and play, or else future materials might not come and the store's standing in the grand scheme of things might suffer.
Think about that for a second... If you don't get players, you don't get future materials. If you don't get materials, how are you supposed to get players? It's a textbook example of a catch-22.
I don't know how it is in the rest of the country, but Miami is not a hot bed of gaming aficionados. Sure there are a few D&D games going on at the store on Wednesday and Thursday, but these are small close knit groups that have known each other for quite a long time. A newcomer - like myself, at one point - has a hard time joining these games. In addition, these groups decided they didn't want to play Encounters or Lair Assault for whatever reason... So what does someone do to participate?
I remember a long time ago when I volunteered to DM a game of Lair Assault at the store; I sat there all day and had only two players show up. We couldn't run it with so few people, so the entire day was a wash.
One of the big problems is that, according to Wizards of the Coast anyway, D&D Encounters *must* happen on Wednesdays. There's no way around it; the date is such a requirement that, last I checked, you can't even try to schedule the event on any other day of the week through the Wizards Event Reporter or the WPN website. Wednesday, quite frankly, is a terrible day to do anything... Those of us that don't have 9-5 jobs most likely have school that day and the next. As a parent I would have a hard time letting my son spend four hours or more at a game store in the middle of the week.
And now Wizards is seemingly threatening stores: I don't care how you do it, but get some players playing or else we won't send you the good stuff.
I thought about this a bit, and have a few suggestions:
- Allow the sanctioning of any event: I think this can be done already, but WPN doesn't talk about it much. They continue to push the products they publish, and just don't have a framework for anyone who decides to play their own campaign. If WPN encouraged this sort of play with some sort of reward, players may participate more without being restricted to either the Encounters season or the Lair Assault Of the Month.
- Allow the availability of Encounters and Lair Assault materials to anyone, even at a price if necessary: If I want to start running Lair Assault, I have to prepare for it: register as a WPN Event Coordinator, wait for WotC to call the store and verify information, get approved, sanction the Lair Assault event, wait for the materials, and then run it at the store. That took me upwards of several weeks, which is not practical for a spur of the moment game I may want to run (like if I just showed up at the store). There is no framework for someone who wants to play it whenever, wherever. I would be willing to even buy the Lair Assault set from Wizards themselves (instead of paying $100+ for it on eBay).
- Allow anyone to be an "independent" event coordinator: Right now it's not possible to register as an event coordinator without being associated with a store, so if I am registered in store "A" it's not possible for me to report events in store "B". Let people who want to run your games do so, and give them the support they need without tying them to a store.
- Allow events to be run on any day: I have yet to hear a valid reason as to why Encounters must be on Wednesday. Magic the Gathering has "Friday Night Magic", which is a prime date and probably one of the reasons MtG is so hot. At my FLGS, they get 100+ people on each Friday easily. If I was able to run Encounters on Saturday without WPN calling me a heretic, I would; for now I have to report the Saturday players on Wednesday's entry - which appears as "Delinquent" in the Wizards Event Reporter until I d0 - and that just doesn't feel right.
- Let the store, not the event coordinator, get the materials: Right now Encounters and Lair Assault materials get sent to an individual on behalf of the store. If that person goes in to the store, picks up the materials and disappears, the store no longer has the tools needed to run the session even if someone volunteers. I've lost count as to how many times I've walked in there willing to run a session but not having the tools to do so. If the stores themselves can get the materials, they can hand them off to anyone that walks in the store ready to DM.
- Do not threaten to cut off your customer: Telling a store that you will not send them materials if they don't have the customer base is a really bad idea; they need the materials in order to get the customer base in the first place. If trust is an issue, have the store or the event coordinator pay for the materials until the store has sufficient players to merit getting them for free. Do not tell them you won't give them materials; the more you do that, the less they'll actually be able to do what you want them to.
In the meantime, I'm hoping the next season's materials come soon... But I admit I will probably not run it at the store myself. It's virtally impossible on Wednesday, and on Saturday it's hard to fill seats (especially with the 800lb gorilla that is Magic the Gathering taking up most of the play area).