Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tower of Death Playtest Report

I recently (on 7/18) ran a "beta" version of The Tower of Death, the home-brewed module I will run twice at OSRCon in a few weeks.  Of course, I cannot reveal any specific details of the module here, but I did want to jot down a few comments about how the playtest session with members of my home Labyrinth Lord group went a couple of Mondays ago.

- We had three players altogether, two of whom are regulars in my group, the third being the wife of one of our players, a charming lady with whom I have played Mutant Future before. In other words, a well-experienced group for the most part, though small enough that in order to increase play flexibility (as well as the chances of party survival) I asked two of the players to run two PCs each, for a total party size of five.

- The PCs were all generated using straight Labyrinth Lord rules, i.e., 3d6 in order for attribute rolls, but with some trading of values for prime requisites allowed as per "Choosing a Class" instructions on LL p. 7.  I did not require players to keep PCs whose initial attribute bonuses added up to less than zero.

- Since The Tower of Death assumes a party of third-level adventurers, all PCs were summarily leveled up to Level 3, and also given a choice of two magical items, one from each of the following two lists:

List A
+1 weapon
+1 ring of protection

List B
potion of healing
potion of climbing
potion of speed
scroll of ward against undead
scroll of ward against magic

I also hand-waved giving slightly better armor to PCs whose initial gp rolls wouldn't afford them at least chain mail.

- As Spawn of Endra has noted in his own comments on the session, there were some PC deaths early on, in large part because I forgot to remind the players at the outset that the "Shields Shall Be Splintered!" house-rule was in effect.  In theory, at least one of those early deaths could have been averted by invocation of this rule, had the key players been aware of it.  However, we improvised a new rule about reinforcements, saying that new PCs could be substituted in for dead ones, but that they had to come from the nearby village of Kerkymer Hill, thirty minutes distant. This system for reinforcements worked out well, and might be the way I'll go in future convention scenarios, perhaps in lieu of allowing Shields to be Splintered.

- All in all, I thing the group had a blast playing this scenario -- I know I certainly did.  The session was melee-heavy, but perhaps that is to be expected for a convention module.  I admit that The Tower of Death is densely stocked, but this is because there is a clearly defined goal (or, more accurately, a set of four interrelated goals) and a (real-world) time limit placed upon the PCs' ability to succeed.  Thus I wanted the scenario to feel deadly and bursting with danger and to be somewhat bloody and fast-paced.  Of course, there are some features that reward good dungeoneering and exploration skills, as my playtesters found in the second half of the session, once they discovered a key locale using such skills. 

- My playtesters had just under four hours of actual play time, and were able to achieve two of the four major objectives in the scenario.  I rate that as a successful performance.  It has been my aim as I designed The Tower of Death to make all four objectives achievable in that real-life four-hour window, but I do not know if I have accomplished that or not.  It is hard to gauge such things with precision.  My players achieved their successes with cunning, and did not waste any time, but they also were not quite as methodical or thorough as some parties might be, so it is hard for me to say what the "average" expectation for party success should be for the scenario.

- That said, I intend there to be a sliding scale of success for The Tower of Death.  For OSRCon play, I plan to reward standard xp bonuses for monsters defeated and treasure found, plus an additional +3000 xp bonus for each of the four main objectives achieved.  Rated according to this scoring system, my playtest team earned 16,165 xp + 6000 bonus xp = 22,165 points!  I guess that is now the gold standard to beat, so look out OSRCon players! 

- To conclude, I want to commend and thank my playtesters for their great game play at this fun session.  We got to explore multiple areas of the dungeon and I learned a lot about how the stocking density affects the pace and the deadliness of the adventure.  I also saw that the primary scenario goals are at least partially achievable during a four-hour time-frame.  Thanks!

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