Why the awesome Dungeons & Dragons Championship should return

As a kid playing sports, I had no role other than the goat—the guy who screwed up and caused everyone to lose. When people talk about the magic of youth sports, about how they build teamwork and character and leaders, I want to wretch. All those people touting the magic of sports have one thing in common: They were good at sports. They never realize how much their talent contributed to their glowing feelings. For klutzes like me, being part of a team competition meant humiliation and scorn. “Thanks for making us lose. You suck.”

By the time I discovered Dungeons & Dragons, I had experienced all the losing I could stomach. Some of what drew me to D&D was that I could play without losing. In D&D, you can join some friends, roll some dice, and have fun. Everyone won and I liked it.

A typical D&D game stacks the odds to assure the players victory. Dungeon masters select and adjust the monsters to give the players fights they can win. DMs shy away from player-killing tactics like focusing fire. Some DMs secretly guarantee victory by making hidden rolls that they can fudge. In the interest of story, some DMs never let characters die without their players’ agreement.

I like story and I like seeing characters succeed, so I enjoy this style of play. Through a year of D&D, all the games I play will stack the odds for the player.

Except for one glorious event.

Now I will tell you how wonderful team competition can be.

Between 1977 through 2013, Gen Con featured an event originally called the D&D Open and renamed the D&D Championship. The Championship runs as a tournament, with teams of players racing to complete objectives while surviving a difficult adventure. Successful teams advance to later rounds until one team wins.  Classic adventures such as the Vault of the Drow and the Against the Slave Lords series came from this competition. Every year I played, the Championship ranked as the most fun I had playing D&D all year.

What makes the Championship such a blast? It starts with the fun of D&D,  then adds elements that most D&D games lack: challenge, high stakes, and urgency.

In the Championship, challenge is high because the odds favor the monsters. A Championship DM can do things that would cause hard feelings in a regular game. Focus fire. Single out healers and spellcasters. Coup de grâce. Championship DMs are expected to finish fallen characters. No hard feelings. In the Championship, I don’t care how tough a DM plays the monsters. Bring it on! All I care is that the DM plays efficiently.

Never tell me the odds!

Never tell me the odds! The finals of the 2012 Championship.

This challenge makes the threat of failure real, and it offers a reward: When you triumph against long odds rather than against a stacked deck, the victory tastes so much sweeter.

Yes, PCs fail sometimes. Luckily in D&D, failure can be fun too. My teammates still tell stories of some characters’ deaths.

The competition creates high stakes in the real world. At the start, everyone wants to perform well to earn a spot in the next round. By the final round, everyone plays for the glory of a win. These stakes create more suspense than anyone feels in a typical game.

Because a fast pace enables teams to complete more objectives, the Championship rewards efficient play. Players in the Championship show an urgency that casual games lack. No one disappears into their phone. No one rouses on their turn, and then makes everyone wait while they examine the map and ruminate. The event’s pace makes the game hurtle ahead. Everyone spends more time playing.

I’m no D&D-playing star, but unlike those sports teams where I found humiliation, I can join a D&D party and contribute. At last, I get a sense of what the jocks always blathered about. Sitting on a team and contributing to success to can be glorious.

You can succeed in the Championship without bringing a team. I know multiple players who have joined a bunch of strangers, and then reached the finals. On two occasions, that was my story.

Championship DMs rank as the best of the best. They must master the rules and play quickly and fairly. Only the elite can handle the intense demands of the event. We players benefit.

Last year, for the first time since 1977, the D&D Championship was not held. The Championship’s elite DMs became a reason for its demise. When Wizards of the Coast launched fifth edition, they wanted these proven dungeon masters to help run the D&D All Access program.

The organizers wanted to push the Adventurers League over the older, tournament-style play. Ironically, when Wizards launched a version of D&D that aimed to embrace all the play styles of D&D, they killed the game’s oldest style of public-play.

We saw an audience that had been divided by differences in editions and play styles, and wanted to design a version of D&D that all players could experience and enjoy.” – Mike Mearls, co-designer of fifth-edition D&D

Will the Championship return? Perhaps. It doesn’t appear among the official D&D events sponsored by Wizards of the Coast. They seem content to keep the Championship dungeon masters for the All Access event. Rumors say that some of the Championship’s long-time organizers are working to bring back the event. In light of Wizards’ tepid support and their eagerness to commit DMs to All Access, D&D’s oldest event faces a difficult chapter.

Do you love the D&D Championship? Have you played or run it? Do you want to try this thrilling event for the first time?

Related: Gen Con 2013 recap and the D&D Championship visits the Lost City Little-known D&D classics: Fez

16 thoughts on “Why the awesome Dungeons & Dragons Championship should return

  1. bester

    wow, what a blast…

    o would like to run something similar here in Spain. Do you have information about rules, and details or something similar that you could show me or send me to know how to run a similar event in a convention here in Madrid??

    thanks in advance.



    1. DM David Post author

      Hi Bester,
      I’ve never run a Championship, just played in them, so I don’t know how they’re currently run or scored. C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan shows the scoring system used when this adventure served in a tournament. For more recent examples, a couple of Dungeon Crawl Classic adventures like Crypt of the Devil Lich and Palace in the Wastes show the scoring systems used in the DCC tournament.

      Thanks for commenting!


  2. Mark

    I would love to see the Championships back, and I would definitely be interested in trying it for the first time! What a great even to “train” for! Motivation to really master the rules and play strategy.

    I can totally relate your childhood experiences and I thank you for sharing. As a DM for my 10 year old son and his friends it’s a thrill to create a bastion of fun and success, that involves the team work without the finger pointing and blame.

    1. DM David Post author

      I know first hand that it’s great to see a son and his buddies take to the game. I have twins with no interest and one boy who seems to love it as much as I do. Thanks for sharing!

    1. DM David Post author

      Hi John,
      I’m happy you liked it. Nice to hear from my first commenter!


  3. all

    In the entire world wide web and beyond, where can “old school” guys and gals go to get actual postal service shipped real paper magazines, articles, catalogs. A fellow olde tymer lives and works where there is no internet access (yes, these places exist) and wants good reads on a favorite interest and can also get me what to order from any catalogs. I’ve found some very interesting websites, blogs, archives, and so forth but very little with paper catalogs and tangible paper printed literature. We are from the days when there were printed maps done at the library and everyone owned several tiny nubs of pencils to map their journeys in d&d. I am currently searching for a printable city state of the invincible overlord map – one that can be printed in in about 6 or 8 pages that I can print and then send via mail. Suggestions? Thanks!

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  5. David Buresh

    Little bit of thread necromancy here, but hello! I was the team captain for the group who took home the Championship in 2009 at GenCon. We called ourselves the C Team (not to be confused with the far more successful and famous C Team now being run by Penny Arcade), and consisted of a pick up group for three Canadians and two Americans.

    We were playing 2nd level D&D 4th Edition characters, and were allowed to design our own characters. My buddy and I (the Americans) were playing a Human Fighter (Whirlwind) and a Human Warlord (Bravura) respectively, and we joined up with a trio from Canada who had a Barbarian, an Invoker, and a Sorcerer. I explained to them the strategy of the Bravura Warlord (Literally, “Go big or go home.”), and we went to town on the first mod.

    The modules were each written to allow players to effectively out-think themselves, and generally designed to make playing smart and safe take too long. Our group, on the contrary, refused to play safe and blitzed through encounters at an insane pace. Our lack of a rogue nearly did us in during the final encounter of the second module, and we barely made it into the finals (catching all of us off guard).

    We blew through the final module at a breakneck pace, utilizing high mobility, heavy aggro tactics up and down the board. The Barbarian would cross the board and eat the enemy ranged attackers. The Fighter would cross the board, and lock down the boss. My Warlord would cross the board and hand out free attacks like they were expired candy that were dangerously addictive. This left our Invoker and Sorcerer unbothered in the back, raining destruction down on anything which looked their way. We finished the module successful, feeling good about it and proud of our accomplishments. It was a good time, and we had made some serious friends in the process.

    When they called everyone back an hour later to make the announcement of the winners, we felt we were probably a solid 3rd place. They announced the third place winner, then the second place winner, and neither were our team, so we were literally in the process of handing out “We did our best,” and “We had fun,” and “It was a blast!” when they went to announce first place. I will always remember how the announcer included the “And in first place, the team who beat the final encounter in only FOUR rounds,” and how the entire room just started glancing around in shock and surprise. Except us. We just did the quick count and went “… Four rounds? We beat that encounter in four rounds…” And then they announced our name, and it was awesome.

    I may have donated the stack of D&D 4E books to my college gaming club, and sold most of the miniatures, but I still have the engraved iPod Touch and the custom “D&D Open Championship” dice box. And I am still friends with those random Canadians who took a chance on a pair of crazy Americans with a plan.

    Good times.

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  7. Christopher F Gandy

    Never played the Championship – but was a regular participant in RPGA tournaments back in the day (both as DM and player). Same idea, but instead of TEAM progression to higher rounds, it was individual role-playing (often even more than team success) that moved you on. And you didn’t get to min-max a character – every RPGA module had 6 (yes, the optimum table number for me will always be a DM and 6 players) pregen characters complete not just with stats, but also with background, relationships/opinions of the other 5 characters, and sometimes individual goals/ulterior motives. The PLAYERS at the table voted on who did the best job roleplaying and who moved forward. Do well enough in “standard” RPGA tournaments, and you became qualified to play in Seniors and Masters events, where the “competition” started off a bit higher, and the roleplaying and FUN grew as well.

    Man, do I miss those days and those games. Made some of my longest lasting gaming con-friends sitting at those kinds of tables, seeing some of the best roleplaying I have ever seen. (To include many of the “live play” webcasts of today.)

    Bring back ALL of those – story games are for home and long-lasting campaigns. At a CON, give me competition. 🙂

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