Adventurers League has a lot going for it, but it can easily lead to railroading. As DMs, we pick some adventures to run, probably within a given storyline like Rage of Demons or Tyranny of Dragons. Then we tell players which adventure we’ll play that session and they get to experience it. This doesn’t have to become a total railroad, of course: in many adventures, the result can depend on their choices, and the hardcover adventures have largely attempted to provide this sort of experience within themselves (to varying degrees of success). But maybe we have some ways to improve that.
What if we do it a different way?
What if we peppered a regional hexmap with the adventures that happen there, and let players choose where to head, without naming specific modules? That is, we set up a sandbox of modules but only using modules that are for AL play. Unlike just running one of the hardcovers, however, we can include other adventures (e.g. DDAL/EX and CCC stuff) from the entire AL content catalog. (Given the Death Curse in Season 7, CCC content merits very careful consideration, though.)
Note that each storyline season already locates those modules in specific geographic regions like Phlan, Mulmaster, and Hillsfar. We could possibly include other AL modules that don’t officially take place in that region, at least for some of them. For example, stick the Sunless Citadel in some canyon nearby and relocate Castle Naerytar (HotDQ chapter 6) from the Mere of Dead Men into a swamp in the region. Place rumors and other hooks to the modules and run them each as one-offs. The players then choose which locale to visit or event to investigate based on the hooks they’ve been offered – including in previous adventures.
Their world won’t suddenly become quite as dynamic as it otherwise might: after all, the modules themselves present fairly static situations. It does break things up from the default setup, though, allowing the DM to provide a world with avenues of opportunity rather than fixing things into a linear structure with no room for variation.
Is it legal?
I think so. From the Adventurers League FAQ v6.0 page 14:
Can I run single chapters of the hardcover adventures as one-off adventures?
Yes. You may not, however, run individual encounters as one-off adventures. This rule is designed to facilitate play—not teh lewtz.
As long as we stick to that restriction, then we should be able to kitbash an AL campaign together this way (at least for Tier 1 and potentially Tier 2). And by focusing a bit more on DDAL modules, we can minimize the impact of the “one hardcover at a time” rule in AL. From the same document, page 11:
These adventures typically use the following ranges and can be played by characters of a higher level, provided they are within the adventure’s level range when they begin playing the adventure. A character is only “playing” one hardcover adventure at a time. For example, a character that starts playing CoS and then jumps over to an SKT game and advances outside of the level range for CoS can’t play that adventure anymore. This rule only applies to other DDHC adventures.
I recognize that this diverges somewhat from the storyline design for AL. Players show up to their session, character sheet and log in hand, expecting to “watch the next episode” of the season. For weekly store and one-off convention play, that method makes perfect sense. I don’t think anyone should change Wednesday Night D&D at their FLGS to this method. But many AL groups outside those environments have relatively consistent composition from one session to the next. Some of my groups don’t necessarily include the exact same four players every week, but I do have a “stable” of around 10-15 folks who sign up. The sessions cap out at 7 players, naturally, but some folks play nearly every week and some folks play much more irregularly.
Most of the players take their characters to other games, of course, and that’s part of what makes AL fun: portability. I could open up a game tomorrow that included Tier 2 (levels 5-10) adventures and have a whole new stable of players, who have gotten through Tier 1 content but have had difficulty finding stuff past these entry-level adventures.
What if it isn’t? Well, then, you have a pretty standard sandbox campaign and you can turn it into an Unearthed Arcana playtest or add some homebrew material…
What do you think? Is this workable? Have other folks tried it and learned any useful lessons they could pass on?