Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Sodden Temple - Post Play

I was a little disappointed on how Friday's session went, mostly because of logistical issues.  And I think those were mostly out of my hands (I'm still thinking about it all).

First, the woman who instigated the session and who I mentioned joking about having to wear a costume was a no-show, with no contact as to why.

Second, another player emailed an hour before, to say she couldn't come. That was a bummer because it 1) she was one of the people who had never played an rpg and 2) she was one of 3 women supposed to come.  I'm always happy to get women players, I don't want my sessions to be some kind of poker night, men's exclusive.

Third, I had previously thought that with 9 people hirelings would be overkill.  But with only 5 people present at start time I said, "Okay, hirelings if you want them."  We made characters, started playing, and then two more gentlemen showed up (They had trouble finding the apartment).

One of these late arrivals is a Magic player, but neither had played an rpg.  I'm very conscious of helping new players into the game.  I try to design my handouts for that. I try to explain their choices clearly to them and give them time.  But the situation here didn't seem to allow for that.  I let the two roll up stats for two of the hirelings.  I think they were a little confused and wonder if I should have just made the other 5 people wait while I spent some time introducing these two to the game better.

Anyway, then we were finally off:

Mollie (DP)
Toral (DP)
Gail    (MU)
Archon III (MU)
Derek (F)
G (F)
+5 hirelings
(note DP = Divine-Petitioner, my version of clerics/priests)

The party had heard of a temple the earth's movement had pushed up from a local bay.  It had apparently happened months before they finally heard word of it.  They set out to try and make their fortune.

The temple's exterior was completely covered in figures carved in relief and every single figure had had it's head removed.  Inside the door they found a damp corridor with reliefs covering the walls: the same figures depicting what seem to be profane acts but difficult to tell with all the heads intentionally chiseled off.

Through a door they entered a medium sized room with a pedestal in the center.  It held a verdigrised platter with a tongue-like pointer.  From the ceiling a tubular gong.  Connected to the pedestal by a sodden silk rope, a wooden mallet.  They found the platter could be spun and had four iconic images on it.

Derek turned to one of the images and found nothing happened.  Then he struck the gong and everyone saw him become suddenly thinner, by 15 pounds.  Another spin and G suggested shooting the gong with an arrow.  A door opened in front of the party.  They passed through it.

They followed a straight passage lit by sconces.  The passage was shaking and they heard something very large moving behind a door up ahead.  A banging.  Something LARGE.  Shaking the whole HALLWAY.  They decide to open the door.

In a large room, the floor covered with thousands of copper coins, they saw what looked to be an elephant with a giant fly's head.  A GIANT FLY'S HEAD.  They decide to go in to the room.  Actually, Derek, with some difficulty, convinced his hireling to enter the room.  John's trait being "abundance of loyalty" and having a decent die roll, I allow for it.  On entering the room, he sees a stairway down and begins sidling towards it.

Derek and G enter the room and begin moving towards the stairs.  The beast seems UNCONCERNED with their presence.  G decides to shoot an arrow into it's eye.  Battle commences.  Gail still outside the door with Toral and his hirelings decides to slam it shut.  Later they decide they need to enter and have difficulty opening the door again.

Molly asks for Sanctuary and begins filling her backpack with copper coins.  A general melee begins.  G is sprayed by acid, Toral sacrifices his shield to avoid certain death, and eventually darts, arrows, crossbow bolts and a few sword whacks bring the fearsome creature to its end.

The party hears a commotion from the corridor they came in from.  A large group of cultists in black and red silk robes!  They are screaming something about the "holy beast."  One of the henchmen, wounded already dies as he lights oil poured in front of the door.  Two of the cultists get tangled in each other's robes (simultaneous 1s!) and thus the party has an opportunity to flee down the stairs.

I'll condense the rest, they go through one room, into a huge room filled with columns, blithely trek into the center of the room, are surrounded by fly cultists and ultimately prevail in battle after losing, Archon, Toral, and most of the hirelings.

I am not a killer DM.  My dungeon is not a fun house.  Why, oh, why would a party intentionally engage a huge, freakish-looking creature when given several opportunities to avoid it?  They got lucky with the creature itself, as my players always seem to do.  But what happened is that they really depleted their resources.  Divine-Petitioners in my world have diminishing returns on their miracle requests.  Both DPs blew their 70% miracle on hiding during the combat.  One of the two magic spells the party possessed, magic missile, was also blown in the combat.  And the noise had me roll for wandering monsters that brought the fly cultists, cutting off their immediate exit.

Basically it was rabble go down into the dungeon, kill and get killed.

Part of the problem is player inexperience, but part of it is just the chaos of a random party of people.  I'd tried to impose a caller early on, but the players were excited, assertive and kept forgetting the caller, so I let it slide.  Maybe I should have been more firm.

I know the idea of meeting in a tavern before a dungeon delve is derided as the ultimate cliche, but I wonder if I could have helped these 7 people have a little more cohesion somehow.  I don't mean letting them tell their imaginary backstories, as you can see from the fates of Toral and Archon that's a self-indulgent waste of time.  What I mean is a way for these players to decide on a kind of real world hierarchy, or at least decision making process, and to think a little about their goals.  I suppose I could have an NPC be the party leader, but I really don't want to do that.

Well, they seemed to have fun, there were some funny moments.  I think I need to play again this Friday, to continue the emergent story and let them fully feel the consequences of their decisions if they are going to learn from them.  I'll keep you updated.


  1. That elephant fly creature is awesome. Awesome I say!

    I think you are right about the inexperience. When they tarted shooting the elephant beast, that's all I could think. "Herp derp, let's shoot it in the eye!"

    With time and experience, they will come to identify with their character and perhaps to see that foolish acts end the life of that persona.

    I hope you get to play with them again and to help them develop as role-players. :)

  2. 7 players - congratulations! That's quite an accomplishment right there with an o.s. game. I'm looking forward to hearing more about it.

  3. That sounds like a great session! Regarding attacking the fly-elephant, I find that new players gotta learn that you can't neatly take down every godzilla you stumble across, even if they gotta learn the hard way.

    I love it when new (and experienced) players take a simple situation and turn it into a total mess!

  4. doesn't sound like a bad session at all. inexperienced players tend to do stupid stuff, that's not really a surprise. :)

    apart from the ill-advised attack on the big thingie, what caused your dissapointment? the lack of hierarchy?

    i think that simply takes time to develop. when 7 people who don't know each other and don't have much experience at what they are doing attempt... well, anything really, it would surprise me if anything but chaos ensued.

  5. Thanks all. Yeah I tend to be a glass half-full guy, I am happy that we got so many people together playing. It was fun.

    @shlominus: Part of it was just when people showed up threw me off my game, but yeah, hierarchy.

    You have to keep in mind I feel like I've been competing with 4e around here. For a long time we were playing 4e on Friday nights. A few of these players were involved. And I wanted them to see how this system can feel different, more exploration, more diplomacy. But then this party bumbles into two big battles; they might as well have been playing 4e after all.

    Also, as a learning DM I'm trying to figure out if their is something I should be doing to help them cohere as a party.

  6. having played 4e is probably why the elephant monster was attacked. they probably thought "if it's here we can (maybe even "should"?) defeat it".

    maybe if you want to show 4e-people a different style you should keep combat to a minimum. maybe one of raggi's adventures, which feature fewer monsters?

    Also, as a learning DM I'm trying to figure out if their is something I should be doing to help them cohere as a party.

    i wouldn't do anthing unless the lack of coherence seriously disturbs the game. different party dynamics are fun.

    to be honest, i somewhat dislike the other end of the spectrum, when a group of complete strangers trusts each other from the moment they meet and work together perfectly. a "chaotic" party (a least at the beggining) seems much more plausible to me.

  7. At the risk of sounding (or endorsing something that sounds) trite I can't deny that my personal experience has been that Tuckman's model often applies when new groups of people are forming up for the first time.

    It sounds like your new group was at the storming stage and maybe skipped some of the forming. Either way, if you beleive Tuckman's premise what happened at your session was mostly inevitable.

    You wondered if there was something you could have done to help them cohere more as a party. Assuming you want the peanut gallery to chime in, I'd suggest that your players needed (still need?) more opportunity to "form" a party.

    The cliche "you all meet in a tavern" works for a reason. Also, the only person the cliche has ever seemed to bother in my direct, personal experience is me. Almost all of my successful campaign beginnings kicked-off with some variation on "you all meet in a tavern" with a few adventure leads made incredibly clear upfront. The players have a choice in determining their goal (do we investigate the spooky forest or raid the hidden tomb?) and can get familiar with one another while making decisions on who brings the rope and how many days rations to have rather than amidst deciding whether or not to shoot the eye out of the colossal mutant.

    At this point, the new party might just need a little nudge in terms of forming up, cooperating and taking actions that advance whatever goal they've established. Of course some players will always want to shoot the eye out of the colossal mutant because that's what they showed up to do.

  8. Hey thanks, great comments.

    @shlominus: It's a little more complicated, a few have 4e experience, a few have memories of 1e from high school, a few have no experience whatsoever.

    In fact the Eye-Shooter was one of the latter and I realize now that he had no conception of how deadly or not his arrow might be in this system. He may have thought he could get a kill shot with one arrow. Which might be possible in a system with criticals or called shots. But it just led to trouble in this instance.

    @James C.: Thanks, I know I've heard of that model before, but had forgotten about it. It sounds like norming was what I have a gut feeling I should have done. But before play, I was thinking that I wanted to get right to the exploration and decision making for new players, skipping a roleplaying intro as potentially the scariest and most stereotypical part of our game for a new player.

    Anyway, if we can meet again this Friday, they are still in the temple, their numbers weakened. I'll insist they talk among themselves about goals, plans etc. I'll even let them know they feel relatively safe from wandering monsters for a half hour or so.

  9. I think things like this tend to sort themselves out, and I'd probably take a laissez-faire approach. Part of the fun of learning the game is working these things out for oneself - the Questing Beast for most of us oldsters is recapturing the thrill of discovery and the unknown from the days when we had no idea what the hell we were doing.

    It's pretty awesome to watch n00bs turn into skilled players, but it's lightning in a bottle and I don't think anyone gets it a second time. I'd hate to risk taking that from them by getting too involved with the process.

    There may be some attrition if people decide that your style of gaming isn't for them, or if you decide that their style of play isn't for you, but that happens.