Sunday, October 15, 2023

Final Exams

Friday evening I had my last round of playtesting for the upcoming Cauldron convention in Germany. Two weeks from now I'll be IN Germany, running 1st edition AD&D for a table of complete strangers.

Slightly daunting.

I wish I could give folks a complete session report, as I know most of my readers will probably NOT be at the con. But, I really don't want to put a bunch of spoilers out into cyber-space. Oh, but it's hard! It was so much fun! Here's what I can tell you:

As I (believe I) posted earlier, my initial intention was to run THREE time slots at the con, all under the working title Storming the Forbidden City.  The title comes from the old TSR adventure module I1: Dwellers of the Forbidden City (author: David Cook). For the first two time slots I have two scenarios, adapted (more-or-less) directly from situations and maps in the adventure. They're not exactly what you'd find in the module, and (for convention purposes) they're self-contained, designed to be accomplished in the four hour time slot.

For the scenario #3, however, I created an all new dungeon: still part of the Forbidden City, still connected to the first two scenarios, still with a "snaky" theme to it...but otherwise, all new. 

And, of course, I needed to test it.

So Friday I ran it for my players. A party of seven 7th level characters (an assassin, two fighters, a cleric, a magic-user, a thief, and a ranger) and one 4th level bard (6th fighter/5th thief). The result? They made it in, penetrated to the bottom-most level, fought five monster encounters (including a running battle), set off a couple of traps/hazards, found two of the largest treasure pockets (and looted them), and got back to the stairway out just as time was expiring.

One character deceased, one character zeroed out; over 174K in treasure experience (split seven ways). The biggest, baddest opponent in the dungeon: destroyed (with a bit of very good luck), and its head mounted on a spike (by the PCs) at the dungeon's entrance. Four of the survivors (including the bard and magic-user) leveled up. All-in-all, a fairly successful delve for my players...and they'd like to continue exploring the Forbidden City, going forward.

And perhaps we will. However, as these have been convention scenarios, and there aren't enough players to fill out the ranks needed (I have only three regulars at this time), there have been a passel of NPCs accompanying the group at every stage. And I think the NPCs (not henchmen, mind you!) have had enough at this point. They're ready to take their spoils and get back to civilization (well, Portland, if you can call that "civilization"...). Plus several party members (including Maceo's bard) have been inflicted with a terrible rotting curse, and since the cleric was once again killed (in about the most horrible death this group has seen at a table), and since they are "rich," and since they were rather fortunate...multiple times! escape with their lives...

Yeah, I think I'm going to be closing the book on I1...for the nonce. The party can re-equip and re-supply in the nearest town (and hire a few henchmen) if they want to continue exploring the ancient city of the yuan-ti.

Things I Learned (and needed modifications)

Surprisingly, it turns out my last statement on the prior blog post was very nearly a lie: they encountered almost ZERO yuan-ti in the adventure, despite there being rather a lot of them stocked in the thing. Which is kind of like going to the demonweb pits and not fighting demonic spiders in some way, shape, or form. Not sure that's acceptable. 

A more robust wandering monster table may be needed. The party was not one to dither in their decision making, but they did backtrack over long stretches multiple times, and while they went through a LOT of torches, they were largely untroubled by random encounters (though one at the end had a 45% of auto-ending a PC...she made her saving throw). 

The players have a bag of holding which makes the collection of large loot piles fairly straightforward. Unfortunately, NONE of the pregens I'm bringing for the convention do, which might be problematic for any players that show up at my table. The three scenarios I've written are scaled by level (#1 is for characters 5th-7th, #2 is for 6th-8th, and #3 is for 7th-9th). Though I anticipate a full table of eight players...just based on the logistics of the con, not MY "draw" (there aren't all that many games on the docket)...if the PCs don't have a way to gather treasure, it makes it hard to level up between scenarios. And lesser leveled characters are going to get gaffled.  I suppose the solution (which I've already arrived at) is make sure there are enough pregens (and replacement pregens) of the appropriate levels for each scenario. BUT since returning players are likely to want to use their own PCs (or the same pregen from earlier scenarios), leveling between sessions does become quite important.

Mm. I'll have to ponder on that. I'm certainly not going to just hand out free levels!

Which brings up a related note that I've had since my first session: what to do with players whose characters have died? Attrition is built into the adventures: it is expected that some characters will be lost along the way. When player characters have fallen (for example, in my last playtest, we saw six of eight knocked out of action with four killed outright), my players simply took over remaining NPCs in order to continue play. In a convention game with a full table (again, anticipated simply based on logistics), there aren't likely to be "spare" NPCs available. I suppose the trick is to allow new characters/pregens to "show up" as wanderers for the players running on empty. HOWEVER...will this throw off the scaled difficulty of the scenario? At SOME point, I want replacements to be unavailable...a trade deadline, of sorts. Certainly, upon reaching a certain level of the scenario (there are multiple levels) or when there's only a certain amount of time left...say, the final 20 minutes of the time slot. Or both (i.e. whichever occurs first). And perhaps there's a finite number to replacement characters available. Yeah...maybe a mix of all three of these things (time, level, number) will be used to set the limits.

*whew*  I have to say, I'm still worried. The players did everything just about perfect...including the route they took. Oh, they made a couple-three minor mistakes, but nothing catastrophic, and they had some exceptionally good luck: their chance of taking down the Big Bad (which could have easily accounted for half the party if not all of them) was exactly 1.75%, given the method they employed. Amazing. I actually half-assumed that most groups would exercise a bit more discretion (and still die horribly)...such was not the case, and the rewards reaped were well-deserved. 

Still, knowing when to "quite while ahead" is most definitely an acquired "player skill" and my players were ready to skeedaddle after that. Two more encounters dispatched on the way out, one more NPC slain, said...they hit the exit right as the timer went off.

Would other players be as fortunate? That's the question. Is the scenario too difficult and my group just benefitted from some sweet dice rolling? Or is it easier than I anticipated and ANY bunch of halfway competent players would make out like bandits?

Well, I'm not going to have time to run another test, even if I had a second group of players (though I suppose I might try recruiting AB and Kris for a foray...hmmm). No, I think I'm going to have to let it stand as is...though with a bit more "beef" in the random encounters.

No, I think (at this point) what I have to focus on is getting my play-aids ready for the con: cheat sheets and monster rosters and lists of spells that include casting times and ranges for easy reference. Also probably need to curate the pregens spell lists a bit: for the play-test, I allowed the players to pick the MU's spells, but staples of low level play (sleep and charm person for example) are a lot less useful at this middle tier of D&D play. "X the Mystic" came in handy with a couple of his utility spells, but was otherwise ineffectual over the course of the session. That needs work.

All right, that's about it. This has been a pretty rough week for Yours Truly...going to relax for a bit, watch a little football, and decompress. More compression (I'm sure) will start tomorrow.
; )

Any thoughts or suggestions are welcome and appreciated. Thank you!

Good stuff lies below...


  1. If your pregens don't have a bag of holding then perhaps a Tenser's Floating Disk spell is needed? That might cover your spell quandary too.

    1. That's a good point, man, but it's also PC dependent (having the right spells). I wouldn't give it to ALL the pregen MUs, but I can definitely squeeze TFD onto one or two of their spell lists. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. I'm not sure watching football helped you relax at all. How do the Seahawks make that many trips to within 10 yards of the endzone and still lost.

    Good to see you making progress. It will be interesting to see what the final results are with a random group.

    1. I will be sure to report the results.

      As for the Seahawks...bleh.