GenCon: D&D Championship Finals

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 17, 2009

I made it. My team advanced to the finals of the 2009 GenCon D&D Championship. We played it smart in the qualifying round, and even though we didn’t complete all four encounters we still advanced. The semi-finals were even more difficult and only because two characters had training in Thievery did we make it through the second round of the D&D Championship. With only eleven teams remaining, we still had a legitimate shot at winning some fabulous prizes.

The final round of the D&D championship was really just a hack and slash adventure. It was full of nasty undead. Although we had a Cleric and an Avenger, we still had a lot of trouble getting through this adventure.

The final chapter in this story was a rescue mission. The adventurer who found the fist Dragonshard fragment and had subsequent visions of how to use them to reunite the Five Nations was kidnapped. The abductors were tracked back to a ruined temple. The PCs were asked to rescue her.

The first two combat encounters were against nothing but undead monsters. Parties with strong divine characters had a clear advantage. Unfortunately the Cleric in our party focused on healing and swapped out his ability to turn undead. The Avenger didn’t really have any radiant attacks either. So we were extremely over matched against the undead while many other parties were not. But that’s just the way it works out sometimes.

During the second encounter a spell-casting undead cast a sleep spell on the party in the first round. For the next eight rounds the Cleric failed his save over and over again. Other PCs used their standard action to make a Heal check allowing the sleeping Cleric additional attempts to make his save. No luck. It wasn’t until the ninth round before the Cleric finally made his save. Sometimes the dice just don’t cooperate. This was one of those times. Meanwhile the rest of the party was getting their butts handed to them by ghouls. Before the Cleric work up, the Fighter was killed. We finally defeated the monsters (barely) but we lost the Fighter and the Avenger was low on healing surges.

The third encounter was a skill challenge. I liked that they finally threw one in, but I don’t think our DM ran it very well. We ended up failing the skill challenge. It was 12 before 3. We only got 11 before the final failure. Close but still a fail. As a result, everyone lost two healing surges. The Avenger was now going into the final combat with zero healing surges.

The final encounter was tough. Thanks to an exceptional Perception check we noticed four hidden zombies and managed to take them out before engaging the other monsters in the room. The next wave of monsters were made up of sharp-shooters and spell-casters. I questioned the DMs call regarding line of sight and what obstacles provided cover, but at that point I didn’t think we had anything to gain by arguing. It was pretty clear that we weren’t going to win the D&D Championship. Other groups were already finished and didn’t loose any PCs. When two demons entered into the melee I decided to make one last-ditch effort to at least accomplish the rescue mission.

While the Avenger, Cleric and Sorcerer drew fire from the monsters, I did a double move. Then I spent an action point to move again. It took three moves, but in the end I was standing next to the hostage. During the next round, the monsters stayed focused on my three companions and left me alone. I untied the hostage and we fled through the back-door with our lives. The other three PCs valiantly sacrificed themselves so that we could complete our mission. I can’t think of a more heroic way to end the D&D Championship.

After the finals were over, we waited for the scores to be tabulated. We all knew that our party did not have a legitimate shot of winning the tournament. As expected we did not finish in the top three, nor did we get any kind of prize. The team that did win, The C Team, won an incredible amount of D&D swag. Book, minis, dungeon tiles and an iPod touch. I’d guess they each took home somewhere in the neighbourhood of $700 – $1,000 worth of prizes.

As an interesting side note, two of the guys on the winning team were brothers I met online and teamed up with to compete in the Ultimate Dungeon Delve earlier during GenCon. They worked very well together during the delve and built character who complimented each other’s abilities quite nicely. I assume they did much the same for the Championship. Congratulations to the winners of the 2009 GenCon D&D Championship.

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1 JesterOC August 17, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Nice write up, I enjoyed it. Sounds like you guys had a great run! At least you can say you accomplished your mission. Good going!

2 Paul August 17, 2009 at 6:21 pm

Wow, that sacrifice at the end made the adventure epic to me.

3 Dax August 17, 2009 at 9:12 pm

Well, as a member of the team that came in second, you might laugh to know:
1) we only had one healer…a Shaman
2) as such, no one that could turn undead
3) Ranger was asleep for MOST of the fight with the fire skeleton
It was a great time, good luck next year, and hope to see ya there.

4 Zachary August 17, 2009 at 9:19 pm

I’m curious–how much did roleplaying figure into the tourney, and advancing?

Thanks–sorry you didn’t win, but sounds like you still beat a lot of other folks.
.-= Zachary´s last blog ..Gen Con Booth Grades =-.

5 Dixon August 18, 2009 at 8:40 am

These recaps have been excellent. Thanks so much. It’s such an art to create these sorts of write-ups with the right amount of detail, not too much (describing every last hair in the dwarf’s beard), not too little (we fought monsters, it was tough).

If anyone else is inspired to tell some adventure tales, let me know!

6 Ameron August 18, 2009 at 8:50 am

Thanks. Not winning prizes sucked, but I was happy to make it to the final round.

The last ditch effort to save the hostage was the only thing we could think of to muster some kind of victory. If this had been a home game I’d be recruiting a new party to go back and recover their bodies in order to bring them back to life. They deserve no less for their heroic deeds.

Congratulations to team d21 for their second place finish. I’m glad (in a weird way) that our group wasn’t the only party to have PCs sleeping for multiple rounds.

Role-playing was non-existent. This was my #1 complaint about the Championship. It was for all intents and purposes a dungeon delve, something my character was not built for. I’ll be posting an Open Letter to Wizards with my feedback about the D&D Championship later this week. I think you’ll find it good reading.

I’m glad you enjoyed my recaps. I try not to give away too many details just in case some of the readers end up playing these adventures down the road. However, I need to give you enough context to understand what happened. I’m happy that you think I’ve found the right balance.

7 Zachary August 18, 2009 at 10:13 pm

Hey, thanks for the response!

I think that’s often a failure of organized play, both within and without the RPGA.
.-= Zachary´s last blog ..The OSR and Gen Con =-.

8 Jon Stern August 19, 2009 at 1:57 am


Just thought I’d throw in a few comments. I was one of the brothers that played with Ameron in the Delve, and then lucked out to win the Championships with the C-Team.

Although I spent a fair bit of time optimizing characters for the Delve, my brothers were both fairly new to 4th Edition (for one, it was his first time) and we were just looking at the tournament as a chance to play a game with a good DM. We each made our own characters and I just helped tweak them to make strategically sound. One built a Gnome Sorcerer and the other a Goliath Barbarian. I convinced the Sorcerer to switch to Halfling for the better stat bonuses, and helped optimize the Barbarian a little. I decided to play a Human Invoker, mostly because I wanted to try out a Controller after having decided it would be a poor choice for the Delve. We met at the mustering area in search of a Leader and a Defender and found two guys from the Boston area with a Bravura Warlord and a Tempest Fighter, both Humans.

I had taken Avenging Light which can be used as a basic attack, so we were able to make good use of the Bravura benefit, gaining extra attacks every time we used an Action Point. After the first adventure, I retrained out a feat for Action Surge, and had the Sorcerer pick up Acid Orb which could also replace a basic.

By the time the third adventure came around, we were a well-oiled machine. Although we had no Cleric or Avenger, my Invoker could hit three separate targets at Range 10 with Hand of Radiance, doing 1d4+9 points of radiant damage, and giving them -2 reflex until the end of my next turn (power of the moon). The sorcerer could then hit them easily with Blazing Starfall, and my Rebuke Undead could send out anti-undead burst 5 explosions of radiance. The first encounter was a cinch, as was the skill challenge. Unlike some teams who had come with well-optimized combat strategies, our randomness worked in our favour as we had most skills covered. We passed the skill challenge with only 1 failure, which my +12 insight check was able to negate. The ghouls were tough, and both the Warlord, Fighter, and Barbarian were asleep and two of them failed multiple saves and were at significant risk of being eaten. We knocked one ghoul off the cliff, and the fire skeleton was killed after getting off a single sleep spell which, fortunately, did not hit either myself or the Sorcerer. We took out the Ghouls just in time and the Wight’s were a simple matter once the Fighter got up in their grill.

The last encounter, however, was where we really showcased what our team could do.

Round 1
My 23 passive perception automatically revealed the hidden zombies and the Sorcerer with Improved Initiative immediately dropped a Blazing Starfall on two of them. Double Crit! The both died instantly to zombie weakness. We weren’t even sure if they were minions (they weren’t). The archers scored one hit and then the Warlord was up. He used Athletics to repeatedly jump over the shallow water (difficult terrain) and run right past the archers (no opportunity attacks with crossbows). He ignored the wizard and ran right for the girl, triggering the demons. He used an Action Point to get there and ended up behind them, setting up a flank for the Tempest Fighter. The Barbarian used Combat Sprint and Athletics to run past the archers and immediately charge the Wizard with Howling Strike. A good damage roll left her bloodied and he used an Action Point without the Bravura advantage to drop a 3[W] Avalanche Strike into her, killing her before she could even act. This triggered his Swift Charge ability, and he rammed an archer from behind. The Fighter locked up flanking on the demons and they traded hits while the Zombies took a measly two steps in the difficult terrain. Acting last, I used my Tenser’s Floating Disk to hover over the water and blasted the remaining Zombies and an Archer with Hand of Radiance.

Round 2
The Sorcerer, Warlord, and Fighter focused on one of the Demons, bloodying him significantly. The Archers dropped their crossbows in favour of Halberd’s and knocked the Barbarian prone. I continued to blast Zombies and an Archer.

Round 3
A Demon fell to Hammer and Anvil and the Fighter’s “basic” attack, and the Barbarian and Sorcerer managed to take out the Archer I had weakened, and wound the other two. I bloodied the Zombies. Only the Barbarian had taken significant damage.

Round 4
The Barbarian took out an Archer and the Fighter dropped several attacks into the remaining Demon, leaving him bloodied. The Zombies continued their useless advance and I began my turn with four foes on the board: two Zombies, an Archer, and a Demon, all bloodied. I examined the board for a moment, then moved into a position to be able to hit the Demon and the two Zombies and launched my Hand of Radiance attacks against the Zombies and the Demon. The Zombies perished and the Demon activated his resistance against my radiant attack. I was about to end my turn and then had a thought. The scoring system was kept completely secret, which I think is really silly as we were not sure if using Action Points, healing surges, or short rests would be counted against us. We had tried to avoid using them whenever possible, and never took more than one short rest between encounters. But we also had a suspicion that the number of rounds would be a tie-breaker of some sort.

Even though we were at no real risk at this point, I realized that I could probably finish the combat a round early with an Action Point. After running it by the team, we agreed it was a good idea. I drank the potion of clarity (one d20 reroll) I was holding and spent the point. I launched a powered-up +4 to-hit Thunder of Judgment 2[W]+8 thunder damage into the demon, killing it, and used my free basic attack to take out the Archer with Avenging Light. Simple as that. 4 rounds.

Our judge came by later and told us that the score was very close and that using the action point in the 4th round was a key factor, which was cool to hear. It was kind of surreal to hear them announce our names as the winners as we had entered the tournament with no expections. We ended up taking home three copies of 5 books, 6 adventures, 8 huge minis from Legendary Evils, a complete set of the PHB2 power cards, a nice wooden box, and an iPod Touch. Not bad for a bunch of rookies. I’m not sure what I’m gonna do with all that stuff since we mostly just use the PHB and Character Builder for our home games, but it’s still really cool to win, and it was fun experience to play d&d in a competitive setting. It was kind of cool that a random group of characters could play efficiently and take him the top prize. I do think they should publicize the scoring criteria (I’m not really sure what’s gained by keeping it secret), and at least try to ensure that DM speed, preparation, and rules knowledge is roughly consistent.

I think that one of the players from Boston is planning to write a full Con report on the d&d boards if anyone’s interested, but I figured a quick summary of what worked for us would be cool to write up. And hey, if anyone wants some discounted product, let me know. I’m not sure what I’m gonna sell or keep, but we’re brothers and frankly don’t need three copies of everything. If anyone’s interested, let me know and I’ll post a list of the books we received. I live in Montreal but can have things brought to Ontario (Ottawa, Kingston, or Oshawa), or BC (Victoria) fairly easily without shipping costs. One of my brother’s lives in Victoria I have friends that live/work in Ontario and occasionally commute.


9 Jon Stern August 19, 2009 at 2:10 am

Oh yeah, I meant to comment on the lack of role-playing also.

I played in the Championships about 15 years ago and there was a role-playing component in the scoring. Although the d&d events I played in this year really felt more like board games than an rpg, I still think this is the way to go. A fair and objective scoring system is more important for a Championship event than for a typical LFR game, and it’s very difficult to quantify something subjective like role-playing across tables and with different DMs. Still, they definitely should publicize the scoring system ahead of time so that people don’t show up with role-playing characters for a hack and slash game, and also to enable informed tactical decisions during the competition.

10 Rich August 19, 2009 at 2:51 am

I was on the C-Team, third brother to the two brothers you met in the Delve.
I can also attest to the utter lack of roleplaying. 4e is still very exciting, but more akin to a board game than an rpg (imo).
I also played in the inverse tourney (NASCRAG) and I highly recommend it if you grow weary of the hack ‘n slash.

Nice rescue, btw! Our Warlord (I think he was a Warlord) must have read the same book on heroics; he barreled past the demons to get to the hostage while the rest of us were still on the bridge with the archers. Well, most of us. Our barbarian pulled a ridiculous combat charge to kill the sorceress in the first round. Before the second round was over the Warlord was crying “VIP secure!” from all the way down the hall. I actually entered that combat without my daily – I had already used a Chromatic orb to tear apart the flaming sleeper skeleton, terrified it would wreck the party with area attacks. Frankly, I think they could have finished that last encounter without me. All I did was soften up the sorceress with an Acid Orb and then clean up a few errant (and very slowly moving) zombies that our party had just plain ignored.

Right now my wife is playing with the Championship ipod Touch. I can hear Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” playing from the living room…

11 skallawag August 19, 2009 at 10:48 am

Jon Stern/Rich – Congratulations to you both! Personally, I’m glad to hear that the controller class made a difference on winning the phat loot! Four rounds is really fast!

12 Ameron August 19, 2009 at 12:36 pm

@Jon Stern / Rich
Wow, what a recap. Thanks for sharing. I’m glad you could provide us with a breakdown of the party’s classes/roles. That’s the #1 question my friends were asking me.

13 Jon Stern August 20, 2009 at 2:36 am

If rounds matter, I have to say that the Bravura Warlord is really strong. Probably the key to our success. We had limited healing available, but were able to drop foes much quicker thanks to those extra attacks. Other than that, the classes we used were pretty interchangeable. You definitely want some characters with ranged attacks since they will certainly have some enemies in hard to reach places.

14 Rich Redlund August 23, 2009 at 7:13 am

I was on team D21 and our team build was:


We were considering using a Warlord for the extra attacks but had opted of the better healing and versatility of the Shaman, which did come in handy a few times (the spirit companion was pretty useful).

Congratulations C-Team! We hope to see you guys back there next year!

15 Ameron August 24, 2009 at 12:55 pm

@Jon Stern
I agree that at least one character has to have decent ranged attacks of you’re going to be in big trouble. This is good advice for any party, not just those participating in the D&D Championship.

@Rich Redlund
Welcome to Dungeon’s Master, Rich and thanks for the comment. I see your party was made up of defender-striker-striker-striker-leader. This seemed to be the formation that led to the greatest success in the D&D Championship and the Ultimate Dungeon Delve. Those poor controllers, they just aren’t getting any love.

16 j_king August 26, 2009 at 12:22 am

Great post. Sounds like Gen-Con was exciting and the competition fierce!

I’d give you bonus points for creativity under pressure if I was judging the game. 😉

.-= j_king´s last blog ..Skirmisher: A D&D Miniatures Table Top Utility =-.

17 Ameron August 27, 2009 at 8:13 pm

Thanks. You can be my DM any time. As far as I’m concerned creativity should always be rewarded and the “rule of cool” should almost always trump common sense. 🙂

18 James July 5, 2010 at 11:47 am

Very exciting write up, considering you were a random 5 man party I think you guys did amazing.

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