As a D&D player who is deeply immersed in both official and non-official play, this debate seems not only neverending but also like a consistent competition…
“Well, we get to play at conventions!”
“Well, we get to choose whatever race/class we want!”
Let me tell you a little secret. Both types of play have their pros and cons, and whichever one you indulge in at the end…it’s ultimately your choice and either way you’re still playing D&D.
For those who haven’t indulged in both, what’re the real differences between the two? In my opinion, they range from subtle to substantial. Let’s go over a few of the more major changes a person may experience when alternating between the two methods of play.
Point One: The Content
Adventurer’s League is only permitted to run official content be that Hardcovers, Convention Creation Content (CCCs), adventure modules (these are the most popular), and other official released content like Epics. All of these materials must be purchased. This can be a major downside adding to the cost of playing tabletop RPG games. However, the content itself is usually perfected and is also what one would find at a convention or otherwise official event. However, this means you may not make up your own world and scenarios and use it within AL play.
This gives homebrew play an automatic – and obvious – advantage. You can create an entire world, any scenario you wish, and any circumstance and thrust players into it. You can allow them to explore, extend and create without boundaries besides your own. For some, however, this may seem daunting and a bit overwhelming.
In the end, I thoroughly enjoy AL content for the most part and it takes a lot off the DMs shoulders, which is nice, especially if you have a busy schedule. But, you can still run this content in homebrew without the constraints of AL.
Point Two: Character Creation
As previously discussed in a blog post (Found Here), there are many ways to determine character ability scores.
Not in AL.
You can either “Point Buy” or use the “Standard Array” with AL legal characters. Anything else is not legal in official play. This tends not to be an issue, especially for people like me who prefer point buy over all other methods to determine ability scores.
Continuing further from this, you are open to utilise any class, feature, background, or race in homebrew play – as long as it is accepted by your table’s DM. In AL, this is once again not the case. You are limited to utilising only official Wizards of the Coast materials to create your character in their entirety. You may use the Player’s Handbook along with one other official text to create your character. So if you want to use the PHB and Xanathar’s, you may, but you cannot also use Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Only the PHB + 1 additional resource is accepted.
At first glance, this seems incredibly limiting. I find it refreshing, it creates a fair playing ground, and allows for smoother gameplay. You’re not stopping mid-combat to question, “Oh, I didn’t know you had that racial trait,” or “That’s an ability your class has?” Everything you need to know about the races or classes are at your fingertips (and they legally have to be literally at your fingertips in the form of official books). There is never any second-guessing or pausing the game or need for the DM to overrule any of that. I find this creates a smoother running game than that I’ve experienced in completely open homebrews before.
Point Three: Integration
For the ever-changing world of tabletop gaming, I believe this is a really vital point. When you’ve learned and have become used to Adventurer’s League play, you are able to easily integrate yourself into any homebrew of the same edition.
Myself, I integrated from 3.5 Homebrew to 5e Adventurer’s League before attempting 5e Homebrew. 3.5 to 5e itself was a lot to get used to on its own. Then, when I began running and playing homebrew in 5e, I realised how open the worlds can be…and how confusing, in some cases, where anything truly goes. I enjoy the rule constrictions of Adventurer’s League. All good games have rules. I find the ability to morph and modify every single rule in homebrew cheapens the experience. Many, many disagree with me at this point which I completely understand.
Point Four: Fair Play
One of the largest selling points of Adventurer’s League is that it is true, fair play. You can attempt to achieve this in homebrew but it is much more difficult. Why? Can’t the DM simply ensure fair play? Even for the best of DMs, this can be difficult. You have to vet every skill, every racial trait, every class, and all the combined mechanics.
Adventurer’s League takes all that effort out of you and sorts it itself. Once again, making the DMs job a whole lot easier.
Personally, I run two homebrew campaigns, two AL campaigns, and I play in one 3.5 homebrew. Each homebrew I do run, I attempt to do so with relatively close-to-AL rulings, so as to keep the gameplay as consistent as possible.
In the end of simple comparisons (to which there are plenty but I believe these are the vital four), I can state that I much prefer Adventurer’s League play overall homebrew. Not only because the flow of the game is natural, preconceived and cohesive, but I find the gameplay to be much smoother and the ability for the best part of D&D is still equally available – the role-playing.