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D&D game, feedback?

Cognisant

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I'm planning to run D&D game in a couple weeks, maybe a one-shot, maybe something more, and I've got a plan but I want to run it by you all first as to whether it's an... appropriate first session for a group of new players.

The party starts off in a town, level 2, and the only job on the board right now is investigating a well that went dry recently. When they get there it's explained that the well has suddenly become a lot deeper too, implying that the water hasn't just gone dry its drained away into some sort of cavern. The guy paying them wants the party to do a bit of scouting, he's willing to let them keep anything they find down there if it's light enough to carry back up with them in one trip but anything more substantial is his, it's his land after all.

Being considerate he's hooked up a rope ladder to a rope and pulley system with a counterweight, the party will be lowered down and when they're ready to return they can yank the rope ladder, dislodging a retaining pin, thus releasing the counterweight. This pulls the rope ladder up rapidly so all they have to do is hold on and be whisked to safety while whatever is chasing them is left trapped down below.

The party goes down and discovers a fairly humdrum cave, there's some mud, scattered animal bones, some creepy cave spiders but they're too small to cause any harm and they avoid the light of the party's torches. The party notices these spiders disappear up into large holes in the ceiling not unlike the one they themselves came in through, where these tunnels in the ceiling go is a mystery. Looking around they follow the path the water took and discover a tunnel going down with rough stairs hewn out of the rock, this staircase starts out quite steep but becomes less so as they descend. Still it's quite a long descent and the party has plenty of time to ruminate on the darkness, the silence, the feeling of being so far underground and the fact that they're still descending.

At the bottom of the stairs the tunnel opens up into vaulted ceilings, gothic architecture carved out of grey stone, the walls of these catacombs are filled with bones and skulls arranged in neat lines, there's even chandeliers made of bones. There's a complex of hallways and rooms, personal quarters, a kitchen, storerooms, a barrack, a round room that appears to have some ritual significance. Nothing attacks the party and they find sparse loot, the storeroom has a couple old bottles of wine but is mostly empty, the kitchenware is rusty, there's linens in the bedrooms but it's all very old and decaying.

In one part of this complex a grand staircase made of polished stone descends to a lower floor, a great antechamber stretches out before them or rather an indoor lake as it's flooded to a waist high level. In the center of the antechamber is a great crystal ball sitting in the water as if floating, actually it's sitting in an indent on a raised platform but that's not visible through the murky brown water. Around the room are doorways leading to a ruined library, a workshop of unfamiliar purpose, an armory with some +1 enchanted weapons and armor, a prison of only six cells, a storage room with potions and some useful magical items, and a torture chamber.

So three rooms on either side of the antechamber and at the far end from the staircase is another door leading to a throne room which is also flooded, the throne itself is on a platform that's high enough to be above the water level, on this throne is a long desiccated and now molding corpse. This corpse is pinned to the throne by an incredible sword, long and thin like Alucard's from the Castlevania animated series and strong enough to have been driven through stone, it's solid mithril with gold accents on the crossguard. The sword isn't enchanted as such but the material it's made of is inherently magical so close enough for the purpose of overcoming DR and the only things it can't cut are adamantine and plot armor. Being both wondrously light and incredibly strong it has the Reach, Finesse, Light and Versatile properties, but being wielded in one hand it only does as much damage as a regular longsword; the point being it's not inherently powerful but rather of incredible quality and no matter how great the tool it's only as good as its wielder's ability to make use of it.

Now the party could just leave but this is a game and they haven't got to fight anything yet and they just got some really nice stuff and there's this very nice sword up for grabs, like hell they're just going to walk away.

Somebody pulls the sword out of the throne, the "corpse" starts laughing and regenerating, the water becomes choppy and skeletons start rising out of it, and I hand a note to the person whose character is holding the sword telling them a voice in their head is screaming "You can't kill him, RUN!!!"

Now the game starts proper, it's a race to make it out but the water is difficult terrain and skeletal hands keep grabbing at them under the water and there's the standing skeletons who are closing in and with each passing round more of them stand up. It's going to take 3-4 rounds just to escape the antechamber and that's assuming nobody's unable to break free of the skeletons grasping at them, then they'll have to fight their way past a few skeletons coming down the stairs.

As they run through the complex the bone chandeliers become traps that fall on them, doing enough damage to potentially kill a character outright, all the while the walls of bones are shaking themselves apart and the skulls follow the player characters as they run past, behind them an ever growing hoard of skeletons is following at a leisurely pace, giving reinforcements time to catch up.

Running up the stairs I make them roll (DC5) CON saves every round, it takes ten consecutive rounds of running to reach the top, the skeletons are following at a brisk walking pace but will rush forward if anyone gets too close, it takes twice as long to reach the top by walking. Upon reaching the top the party is attacked by one or more (depending upon how well they're doing) giant versions of the cave spiders they saw earlier, think whip spider but horse sized and and has a grab attack that they use to pull their victims in to bite them on the next turn.


It'll be fun to see how many, if any, make it out alive.

Hopefully someone gets left behind, then I'll ask the people who made it out what they're going to do and assuming they decide to lower the ladder back down I'll wait until that's almost done then transition the PoV back to the person down below as they make their last attack and get simply pulled apart by the skeleton hoard, the characters above hearing their dying screams just before the rope is lowered.

Edit: Failing the CON save means they take a point of exhaustion.
 

Hadoblado

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That sounds potentially very good, but I would be careful if this is their first session.

Something I noticed about my own GMing was that I tend to try and set a tone in the first session to showcase my worldbuilding etc., and I think you share similar predilections. Batman with prep time. But I think the campaign is more enjoyable for the players when the writing is more of a response to their preferences than a showcasing of your own.

So to me, when you have likely lethality, high power gear, unwinnable encounters, these are all very good options but I would want to feel out my players before providing them. So if I ever end up GMing again, I think my first session will start off somewhat vanilla in order to figure out what my players actually want. Often they will make it quite apparent the degree to which they want gear, battle, roleplay, sandbox, challenge etc.

Personally, I think I'd enjoy what you've got there, though I would be annoyed at having so much magic so easily available from the start. I like lethality, and I like having meaningful decision-making surrounding how to approach an encounter, so long as vital information about the encounter is properly communicated. The way you handle the note is good in this respect, and I like that you've thought through that sort of practical issue. Depending on my mood (and how attached I am to my character), I'd either really enjoy the lethality or really hate it. Basically, I would be upset if I put a lot of effort into making a character only to lose them first session to events that are essentially outside of my control. I could see myself being frustrated I was a character in heavier armor that moved slower and therefore ended up getting stuck behind through no fault of mine beyond making legitimate character creation choices.

For a group of new players, I suspect this is too brutal. You're going to have people confused about the intent of the game (my players almost always start doing crime just to see what happens). They might assume that fights are supposed to be won, or they might approach with so much caution they never reach the challenges you set. If I were in your shoes I would push this content back a little bit until I have a better idea of both my players and their characters.
 

Cognisant

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Depending on my mood (and how attached I am to my character), I'd either really enjoy the lethality or really hate it. Basically, I would be upset if I put a lot of effort into making a character only to lose them first session to events that are essentially outside of my control
Well this is supposed to be a one-shot with no promise of an ongoing campaign and these are very new players. I remember I needed a few sessions of getting my ass kicked to stop making gimmick builds, also I wanted to try out different classes. So I figure it's better to kill them often and early then ease off once they find what they like and keep coming back to it, or if they start seriously roleplaying.

Worst case scenario if they're getting really pissed off I'll just offer to retcon the whole thing and make it a happy little goblin hunt, although knowing them the mere suggestion of going back to easy mode will make them continue out of spite.
 

Hadoblado

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Hey goblins are terrifying!


Obviously, you're going to know your table better than me, so feel free to disregard. If I were playing your game, I would be a little bit concerned about the way you talk about players' deaths being something you enact and not them, and how retconning is something you'd seriously consider doing. Makes it feel like you're writing a sandbox for yourself.

Personally, I wouldn't be happy if I died without making a real mistake, or if the game was retconned. I basically want an environment in which to play the game, and that environment can be (and is preferably) harsh, but I don't want to die without agency. Some players are okay with retcon, most I've played with aren't happy about being put in a position from which they have no chance of survival.

But yeah, it's your game and you know your people.
 

Cognisant

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No you’re right this is good feedback, I should be making a sandbox for my players not writing a story for myself and this dungeon is pretty much a straight railroad.
 

Grayman

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Yeah definitely more sandbox but I like leads and hooks or else we, players, randomly end up randomly going directions wondering wuts they point? Wut am I supozed to due? Definitely kill npcs though. Maybe get them loved first!
 

Glaerhaidh

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It works if your group is into structured exploration with combat. Anyone interested in talking or storytelling is going to be disappointed. A meeting prior to the game is recommended. One where you gauge everyone's gameplay needs and the type of content they need before confirming that they want a dungeon crawl.

I also notice a pronounced lack of logic puzzles that would leave some players overly preoccupied with drinking and eating everyone's snacks as the game wouldn't have anything crunchy in store for them. All this elaborate visual setup and design and the only trap is the sword? There should be tons of hidden rooms, random levers or traps. Try to make getting the swords or items require problem solving or team effort, it may be fun.
Imho any problem that requires talking to other players or thinking is better than a problem that requires stat checks or dice rolling. Maximize the former, minimize the latter and the fun will increase.

There are potential problems with this scenario for players totally new to rpg's. They have no idea what exploring is or what playing is for that matter. Every bit of unstructured content is confusing for new players generally. They could use a few small quests to get used to what they're doing.

What's the reward for playing through this scenario? Gear and surviving? There should be more stuff to do within the scenario because there will be no continuation so try to make the gameplay more interactive or rewarding. What use is surviving or gear if there won't be another game to use it?

Survival is generally effective if players are motivated by either attachment to their characters or by beating other players. They usually can't form attachment to their characters after 1 game even if that game develops the story or they have a chance to get used to their character which isn't the case in your scenario. Are they competitive, do they enjoy getting better results than the rest? If so then survival will motivate them.

Gear is a good reward if the players care about power ups, if they don't or they have no cool applications for said gear then they won't care. Most people want gear for its own sake so that's ok.

70% of the players I know would want to play this scenario, but would be disappointed that there is no continuation given how they just escaped with their lives and have this fine gear. Although the same 70% have no expectations of any sort and is just happy with the prospect of a social hangout.
 

Hadoblado

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Putting this here in answer to a similar question "what makes a campaign good?".

Four days ago I just jumped into a level 11 pathfinder campaign with some friends. This is their first campaign. It's always interesting to see this sort of stuff, to see how decisions made early affect gameplay later.

The DM is ad hoc, will plan out some traps and fights maybe the night before but wings most of it. I like this sort of style though I tend towards more structure. He's painted himself into a corner by handing out very powerful items to make up for the party's lack of experience, which turns every fight into either a near TPK or easy clean-up based on whether the party walks into the fight prepared or not. They've even gone above and beyond, grabbing powerful features from other editions to tack onto classes. The druid in particular has a version of shapechanging that allows them to exceed expected power levels turning into huge+ creatures in addition to having a powerful animal companion and full spellcasting.

For the sorcerer, this isn't working out. They like blasting and save or suck spells. Everything they fight has saves that are too high to reliably fail, and have hitpoints too high to be meaningfully affected by AoE. I've run into this problem before in 2e (where with the addition of house rules and homebrew everything we fought was basically immune to magic). My fix is to use spells that don't require saves, or influence the fight through means other than damage. But they're a new player who isn't particularly experienced in these kinds of games, in a class which rewards commitment to playstyle. I've tried explaining how to judge the contextual value of spells but they're happy blasting.

The rogue somehow keeps on being the frontline. They have some powerful items, but they're not built to tank. I think they're winning initiative due to high dex, and then they don't see any opportunities so they step forward. The druid uses spells at the start of combat and the paladin has bad initiative, so the party sort of just works this way. Luckily for the backline, the animal companion seems strong and fast, but it undermines the role of the tank if they're outclassed by a secondary class feature.

For me coming in, I'm struggling to figure out how to improve the health of the game. If I improve the party's ability to engage on their own terms, they will destroy everything. They also don't seem to have the best grasp of these sorts of considerations. They were all super confused when I wanted to keep a leader alive for questioning, or when I send out a scout to gather information (though they liked it when I countered enemy invisibility and stuff like that).

I'm putting together some ideas now for the DM.
 
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