Thirsty Pastimes: Post-Mortem

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little adventure, and maybe one or two of you actually try running it yourselves.

So I’m back properly now (no more confusing past/future tense), and can look back on how it all went, and what I’ve learned.

Less is More

My main takeaway from GMing at the convention was: I prepared far too much stuff. I realised quite early on that there was no chance of completing the whole thing, so skimmed over some sections, hacked others out completely, and decided to cut my losses and bring the session to a close after the second level. My big list of cool magic items? Unused.

A much better idea for a 4-hour session would be one nicely fleshed out level. Maybe 2 or 3 interesting combat encounters (potentially a few more if it’s a very simple set of mechanics like this), a bit of exploring and a few NPCs to talk to and you’ve got an adventure.

Combat is Dull

Ok, not always. But for the most part in D&D, where the two sides are standing in a room trying to kill each other, combat involves: roll dice, add numbers, compare against target number. As people gain abilities and spells things can get more varied, and you can spice it up by having environmental effects, or terrain difference etc, but all those things need rules! If you’re running a ‘minimalist’ session, most of the session will end up using the same old mechanics.

Which brings me to my third point:

Creativity Can’t Be Forced

A roleplaying game lets you try anything. Grapple a fire elemental? Lick a gelatinous cube? Use a party member as a maul? Go for it.

A game like Pathfinder gets around this by having rules for every damn thing. I was attempting to have rules for nothing, and leave it up to the players. But I think when you give people a sheet that says “here are the rules for x and y” no-one asks if they can do z.

The same goes for my awesome ‘eat a sweet to fill in a detail about your character, their equipment, or the world’ mechanic. Barely anyone actually used it, maybe because D&D teaches us to solve our problems with violence? I think it just didn’t fit well with a ‘dungeon crawl’ adventure, where the players are less concerned with character building and more with opening the next door (which then explodes in their faces).

Traps Should Be Encounters

Traps are great – fail to spot it and a shower of acid falls on you, dissolving your face. But what happens after your third trap explodes in your face? Does it add much to the game, or is it just a hp penalty for opening doors?

I realised playing this adventure that the best traps are the ones that lead to something else. You fall into a pit or get trapped in a web, and then ambushed by an enemy. The door explodes, but the fire spreads, and now you’re fighting in a burning room. After the third “you take 2d10 damage” trap, I tried to ad-lib some of this, but it would be something to prepare in more detail in the future.

The ‘Ideal’ One-Session Adventure

So if you’re preparing for a convention, or any other single-session adventure, what’s best? As I’m now an expert (…) here’s my advice:

  • Plan in terms of encounters. A fight, a trap, a negotiation, whatever. How many can you/do you want to fit in? Can they be solved multiple ways?
  • Plan for different play-styles. What if the players just want to murder things? What if they decide to play a pacifist character?
  • Be prepared to throw out the plan, and make some crap up. Then be prepared to throw that out, and do something else that seems more fun.

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