First Play Test!
Carl and I always worry about the "Ugly Baby Syndrome" whenever we create something... you get too close to your work and wonder if you aren't just feeling the affection of creation rather than being able to objectively review the thing you have created.
So as the first module was scheduled to be play tested, we worried a little about the quality of the module. Turns out it was worry that while not wasted was misplaced... the play testers thoroughly enjoyed the module and can't wait for the next in the series! They appreciated the sense of mystery, the buildup, the new monster... all of the little seeds that we as writers hope will find fertile soil in our players' imaginations but frequently just get overlooked in the rush to grab the treasure. I would like to sincerely thank the group I have (I hope happily) hijacked from their regular GM and let them know we are looking forward to playtesting our next module just as much they are! Colin, Sam, Klaus, Brad, and especially Lacey- thanks you guys for being such great players and such good sports!
The only negative feedback I received about the module wasn't really about the module at all but more about my Game Mastering style! I can live with not being the world's greatest GM- I have no illusions about my ability to "spin a yarn"... I'm a stickler for rules and I try very hard to be fair and never arbitrary, to let the dice decide the fate of the characters. But I really am terrible at voices and personifying an NPC. This group plays normally under our regular GM Colin, who is a master of voices and excellent at making us believe he is every one of the thousand NPCs we have encountered. It's hilarious to hear a dwarf barkeep speaking in a gravelly Cajun accent! A gnome bigshot who sounds suspiciously like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas... it's amazing and fun!
I'm a numbers guy.. the whole world can basically be boiled down to equations in my calculator brain. I'm not saying I'm not imaginative- I wrote the first module after all...well let's be honest- I provided a framework for Carl to fill in the details! It's just that I believe that there is a balanced equation at the heart of most games. D&D is no different in this regard... and the folks over at WotC have provided me with all of the critical variables I need to solve these equations. Given that- I have programmed an adventure "balancer" that allows me to review the encounter details and know precisely how difficult the encounter will be. I can then look at the character levels expected in the adventure and know pretty well how well they will fare in any given encounter, vagaries of the dice notwithstanding.
As authors of adventure modules- we believe that adventuring is not really a wargame but rather a collaborative story generation by a group of normal people (normal being a relative term here). So our modules are designed to challenge the PC's, not defeat them. The key is the balancing of the encounters and the timing with which each is presented. Each encounter taken separately can be a simple calculation... but when you string 10 of them together, the outcome may be very different for the party who finally fights their way to the end boss, bedraggled, wounded, exhausted, out of spells and potions... and is expected to defeat the most difficult encounter in the adventure. We make sure we have taken all of this into account by using the basic information provided in the DM's Guide and building a far more complex equation with factors in the accumulation of damage or degradation of the PC's "power" as they progress through the adventure.
In our play test- the players were cautious, wary, and sometimes surprised. A couple of times players were near zero on their HP, and at the end boss a PC was knocked unconscious. Nobody died but there was a very real sense of danger... and for us that means "Mission Accomplished"! We want the adventure to be memorable, something the group will fondly remember and talk about sometimes..."remember when Thumper drank the roof rum?"
Another play test with another group on the same module is scheduled for this week... hopefully we have the same positive results as we did with this one!
The image at the top is concept art done by Kallie Black.