Friday 29 March 2013

1st Campaign Session Reflection Part 2: Running Death Frost Doom

Part 1 here, looking at the character creation process.

Now it's time for reflection of my running of the game, how my house rules worked and how I dealt with the players.



Running the Game

I'm sure many of the veteran GMs who write the blogs that have inspired me would baulk if they saw me running the game, there were a lot of things that need serious work. Some self reflection should help me to improve and if anyone has can link to practical moment to moment GMing advice that would be good too.

There are only a couple of NPCs in DFD, but my god conversation was awkward. Partly this is because we're all english, it goes hand in hand with not being able to relax and be silly, even among friends, and partly because we're all pretty new to the whole roleplaying thing.

I particularly struggled to give the NPCs personality and deciding what they do and don't know about the world when players are asking unexpected questions is hard on the fly. Honestly, I'm not sure how to improve on this other than practice. As we get deeper into the game my understanding of the world will improve and I should be able to quickly slot an NPC into the framework in a realistic way. I hope.

In hindsight this was an absolute mess. I essentially guessed how much time had passed, but for the most part ignored it, viewing it as unimportant. This was in part due to the lack of wandering monsters in DFD meaning there is less time pressure than in a more standard dungeon, although penalties for sleeping encourage players not to idle for too long.

This is an easy fix, a simple grid for hours and turns with some tokens is an easy way of tracking time. Tokens for time sensitive items (torches & lamps, magic buffs etc) could be easily made too, probably with drawings or icons so they are obvious at a glance. This will be placed somewhere that the players can see so they are aware of how long searches takes and feel the presence of the constantly ticking clock.

Describing the areas from written descriptions is, obviously, clumsy, while trying to memorise every area means that some important details are going to be missed or misdescribed in such a way that any traps/tricks are broken. I found this a big problem in DFD, despite reading it through a few times and trying to picture each room and set up I relied too heavily on reading things out. Probably the easiest way of dealing with this problem is by using adventures I've written or converting existing ones heavily enough that they are more mine than the original authors.

The general build up of horror that is the desired effect of DFD didn't pan out as I'd hoped. Ham fisted descriptions and the lack of time keeping were big problems, but the huge number of crypts to be explored meant that by the end my players were fed up, knowing there were more crypts with nothing exciting in them and expecting the undead apocalypse.

Changes to DFD
I had straight away decided that the vampire at the heart of the adventure was too gothic and campy, so I made a switch and slotted in a lich, a suitably intelligent and creepy alternative.

Actual Play
There were a number of missed opportunities by the players, mainly as a result of them not thoroughly searching each area. They missed the ring of invisibility in the trashed bedroom, simply looking in, seeing it was a mess and assuming there was nothing there. They also missed a potential fortune in the crypts, after smashing open a few and finding a few coins they left them, with a more systematic approach they could almost certainly got enough to level.

The players are new to the game and hopefully they will learn to be more careful and search more carefully but I'm unsure how to encourage this without being all "Why don't you check that again? wink wink". Maybe if they get lucky and find a big haul somewhere unexpected it'll be enough encouragement, then again maybe I shouldn't worry, missing treasure isn't so big a deal and basic adventurer skills will come with time.

 There was one death in the adventure, despite the unwise reading out of cursed cult slogans. Renic the dwarf fighter was killed by a mummy, the party standing and fighting it rather than retreating and using their superior speed and ranged weapons to do the job. Again, I expect tactical considerations to be something the party learns overs time as they get comfortable with the ruleset and world. Renic was cursed to never be able to receive magical healing, having (voluntarily) tattooed himself with a cursed symbol, so long term his loss was fairly inevitable.

Next up: Notes on the most recent session, the sandbox begins! (Should be a little more interesting)


  1. Whoa, was Renic against magic healing and it was part of his character's personality? Reading the paragraph just made it seem like he found the symbol, thought it was cool, and tattooed on himself being totally ignorant to it's meaning....I know that's probably not the case, but it's the scenario that first appeared in my mind. I couldn't stop laughing (I also imagined it was tattooed on his forehead).

  2. Haha no, in the adventure there are a number of spots where there are phrases carved into the walls or wherever. The GM hands the translation to the player and if the player reads it out then bad things happen to the whole party. In this case the phrase would have forced the PCs to save or be forced to tattoo themselves with a symbol that would stop them ever receiving magical healing again and could only be removed by a remove curse (if I remember right).

    The player wisely realised it was a trap but thought that the tattoo would be useful, so voluntarily tattooed it on himself. He later revealed it to an altar expecting something to happen, it was seriously hard to keep a straight face! I chuckled about that for weeks after.

    The funny thing is that in the 2nd session the same player got his PCs in trouble again, he seems to have a knack for it.