Prove Your D&D Superiority

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 14, 2010

When I play games, I play to win. I want to be the best and I want everyone else to know that I’m the best. For most table-top games there is a clearly defined way to identify the winner. In fact many games – including Monopoly, Scrabble and Chess – all have tournaments or championships to crown the best of the best.

When it comes to D&D it’s just not that easy. How do you prove to the guys at your table, and more importantly other gamers, that you are the best at D&D? I’ve given it a lot of thought and I’ve got suggestions for determining the best of the best once and for all.

Before the hardcore extremists start blasting me in the comments section below I want to address role-playing before going any further. When I talk about being classified the best at D&D I’m really talking about the combat side of the game. I’m not trying to belittle role-playing or imply that it’s any less important than the combat. But since role-playing is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to measure and score in a competitive scenario, I’m only focusing on combat in this article.

So you think you’re the best, do you? Well here’s how you can put that to the test. The next time you’re playing D&D, work under a timer.

I’ve played a lot of D&D and nothing was more challenging then the games I’ve played under the pressure of a deadline. Knowing that your most difficult enemy is the clock adds a whole new level of excitement to D&D. It’s not something I’d recommend doing all the time, but if you’re looking for a way to prove your D&D superiority, this is a good way to do it.

Begin by having the DM set the clock. I’d recommend starting with 60 minutes to complete each encounter. After you’ve played a few one hour encounters and lived through them, try moving to 45 minute encounters. To make things even more exciting and difficult try to complete four or more encounters in a row, all of them with the clock running. Don’t blow all your resources too fast because you can’t take an extended during timed games. If you get lucky and actually finish an encounter with extra time on the clock there is no additional benefit, so don’t rush needlessly.

This exact set-up has been used successfully at D&D conventions to determine the best players for years now. The Ultimate Dungeon Delvefrom the 2009 GenCon challenged a party of five level 5 PCs to complete six, 45-minute encounters. Finishing early provided no additional benefit as each encounter was measured separately. So if you completed the first encounter in only 25 minutes the extra time could not be carried over into a subsequent encounter. Speed isn’t as important as good resource management.

By working under the clock you have to really pay attention to what’s going on around you. You have to know your own character and what he’s capable of doing. When your turn comes around if you’re not sure what to do, delay or pass your turn all together. It’s more important to keep things moving than to waste time looking for that perfect action.

The D&D Open Championship is run in much the same way. All three days of the 2009 D&D Open Championship had the party of five trying to complete four, 45-minute encounters. The party began as level 2 but advanced to levels 3 and 4 during subsequent rounds of the tournament. If the party survived the day’s tournament they got an extended rest and were able to level their PCs.

The 2010 D&D Open Championshipwas a two day, epic tier event. On the first day the party of five level 25 PCs had to complete five, 45-minute encounters. On the second day the PCs were level 30 and they had 2 and a half hours to complete one encounter which included a battle against Orcus himself.

No matter how good you think you are at D&D, you haven’t been put to the test until you play a timed adventure.

I challenge you to try playing a timed game and see how you hold up. Start with a full party (five or six PCs) in the heroic tier. Have the DM set up between four and six balanced encounters. Each encounter should have an objective or goal beyond just killing the monsters. Although killing all of the monsters should equate success if the party decides to go this route. Make sure that the goal is clear or at least that the players have a reasonable chance of figuring it out early in the encounter. Now start the clock.

Begin easy; put together four, 60-minute encounters. See how the party does. Let them try to complete the adventure as often as they want until they actually get it. If they enjoy the challenge, which I believe they will, change it up the next time. Let them run the same scenario again with less time during each encounter, or create something completely new.

There is a very good chance that PCs will die during any adventure with timed encounters. During the tournament if a PC died the surviving party members were allowed to continue. However, that dead PC was out of the game, unless someone had adequate resources to bring them back to life. During the level 2 game Raise Dead wasn’t an option, but during epic play it was par for the course.

If a PC dies during a timed home game it’s up to the table to decide on how best to handle things. No one wants a player to watch from the sidelines because he got killed during the first encounter. I leave it to the DM to decide how best to proceed in this situation, but I’m thinking the dead character comes back in and the remaining players either give up healing surges of take a time penalty.

Timed adventures are extremely difficult. The Ultimate Dungeon Delve was only completed three times during the entire 2009 GenCon. Personally I think six encounters without a short rest is extremely difficult and most players are not used to pushing that hard. Perhaps only five encounters is a more reasonable goal.

Players need to be mindful of their healing surges. Everyone who I spoke with after playing in these timed games agreed that healing surges were the most valuable in this kind of game. Because you have a time limit you tend to be a lot more direct and take chances that you wouldn’t normally take. The result is that you often take more damage during each encounter then you’re used to taking. Surgeless healing can mean the difference between survival and death.

I have thrown down the gauntlet and laid out the framework for players to prove their D&D superiority. I challenge you to get a group together and try this kind of timed adventure. If prospective DMs think that creating this kind of adventure is too overwhelming, borrow from the Dungeon Delve sourcebook. It’s full of excellent, well-balanced encounters. If you decide to use the three level-appropriate encounters right from the book that only leaves you with one or two more to create yourself.

Have you even played in a timed game? How did you do? Do you agree that playing under a deadline is a whole new D&D experience? What tips might you suggest for other players coming at this challenge for the first time?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lahrs December 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm

I have never played a timed game, but it might be interesting to try during Encounters. We couldn’t do a five game marathon, but it still may be fun to try. What would you suggest as a penalty if they do not complete it? The only thing I can think of is to lose surges, but they have a difficult time with those as it is. Maybe they can regain a surge instead if they make it under the time limit. That shouldn’t be too unbalanced.

In my opinion, the best player isn’t the one who can do it the fastest, but does the best in their role. A defender who successfully controls the battlefield through their auras and marks, keeping the party alive is a ‘best player.’

2 The Red DM December 14, 2010 at 11:38 pm

I used to prove my superiority by absolutely rocking at the D&D Trivia Game, but seeing as the questions were almost all about 2E, I probably wouldn’t be so hot at it today.

3 Acheron December 15, 2010 at 9:23 am

I agree with Lahrs, it has to do with the role the player has, you can’t expect a bard to be the ultimate killer when what his class exceeds at is pumping up his allies and being very flexible, he won’t be able to match the Barbarian as a damage dealer (specially in low levels) or the Wizard in the high levels, right?

How do you (combat-speaking) measure the superiority of a player that doesn’t exceed in bring his enemies to pulp, like the Bard or the Cleric

The time challenge seems very good I will probably see the Dungeon Delve sourcebook for insights on how to balance the encounters and how much to push players in each encounter and will probably use already created ones to test them and see results, with just a few changes to balance them, for example my current party has a brutal melee combat.

4 Ameron December 15, 2010 at 10:07 am

@everyone
Let me clarify, when I say “the best” I’m not saying the best all-around D&D role-player. I’m focusing on the combat mechanics. There are plenty of gamers I’ve met that think they’re all high-and-mighty because they have an optimized character and they rule the battlefield. Playing in a timed encounter is a way to test the mettle of these kinds of players. You think you’re awesome? Prove it. See if you can be just as awesome when the clock’s running.

@Lahrs
Funny you mention D&D Encounters. I’m in the process of organizing the Dark Sun Encounters (all 15 encounters) to be run in three marathon session and we’re seriously considering using a timer to add an extra level of excitement. Of course, we wouldn’t use the clock until the combat began. You don’t want to eliminate or belittle the role-playing. Not that there was a lot of opportunities for RP in those adventures to begin with.

Unless you’re playing for keeps I agree that you need a way to bring dead players back into the action. I wouldn’t necessarily reward them for advancing within the time limit, but I’d certainly ask the group for a sacrifice of some kind to allow the dead player to join back in the fun.

I agree that playing the role your class is designed for is certainly a worth criteria for determine the best.

@The Red DM
I remember that game. In fact it’s still on my gaming shelf. It might actually be a lot of fun to play it again and see how many of those AD&D 2e questions I’d still get right.

@Acheron
Remember that D&D is a co-operative game. Everyone has a role in combat encounters. The expectation isn’t for everyone to just deal damage, that’s the striker’s job. If you’re a Bard or Cleric you need to know how your powers as a leader will ensure that the party as a whole can obtain victory.

5 Sunyaku December 15, 2010 at 2:47 pm

I really like the idea of timed games– in my home campaign the players are currently under the “game time” gun, trying to complete a series of tasks in an adventurer tournament within a week. There are some minor benefits to completing early, but there are bigger penalties to leaving tasks incomplete.

As far as bringing out the chess clock for putting REAL pressure on– I think this will have to wait awhile for my group. Nearly all of the players are new, and we’ve only played through about 8 encounters so far. We are slowly increasing encounter speed as players become more accustomed the game. I think I’ll wait a few levels, or for a very special scenario to implement the clock.

6 Latoya Bridges December 22, 2010 at 2:47 am

I used to prove my superiority by absolutely rocking at the D&D Trivia Game, but seeing as the questions were almost all about 2E, I probably wouldn’t be so hot at it today.

7 Githyanki May 31, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Really like this, interesting and hithero unthought-of subject matter for me – does anyone know where I could read “battle reports” of these sorts of games?

(Second to last paragraph – you’ve put perspective and you mean prospective)

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