November 10, 2009

The Children- Well of Demons


Last night was simply awful and the sad part is that it was mostly my fault.
The characters have begun to explore the Well of Demons, part of a published adventure from WotC, Thunderspire Labyrinth. The module is split into 3 parts and I have coopted the second and third parts. Originally they were set underground inside a vast city, but I am taking the two parts and making them two seperate locations, mostly above ground. Clues led the players to learn the location of the Well and since they are half demon themselves they decided to check it out, especially since there are some innocents from a local town about to be sacrificed there.
The players are about halfway through and have discovered they need 4 parts to a key to open the inner sanctum door, wherein the sacrifices are being made during a prolonged ritual. Last week they managed to get the first part and survived the ambush thereafter.

This week they entered the Room of Poor Game Design (trademark pending). To set things straight I like the module and have been looking forward to running it for some time now, but this room is full of design fail. I could have overcome the fail, but then I failed myself as well.

The room has several pillars with mirrors on them. If a character looks into a mirror (or even near a mirror) something bad happens. Type One teleports the PC across the room, which is a minor inconvenience at best. Type Two did some minor damage, which is again unimportant.
Type Three was player horror. If the attack from the pillar hit, the character was teleported to a small room with no escape. Inside was an enemy gnoll who had previously been trapped as well and a quick fight broke out; quick because 3 of the characters were sent to the Time-Out Room. And after they dispatched the poor gnoll, they...had...nothing...to...do. They were completely reliant on the rest of the party to get them out, for...over...an...hour. One took a nap on the couch, the second one did some texting and went outside for awhile to smoke, and the third one at least was able to play an NPC.
Failure (Design): Never create a situation wherein a character, and by extension the player, is forced to do nothing for an extended period of time.
Failure (Me): I should have never run this encounter as written. I should have given the players on the inside a puzzle that upon being solved would have allowed them to escape.

The rest of the party makes their way across the room slowly. One character has no eyes (they melted away when his demonic genetics began to assert themselves) but with his magical sight he can still see. I ruled that the mirrors could not attack him, but he could still see regardless. He was able to be in the spotlight for most of that night as it was basically him against the dungeon; this was a good thing.
Success: Let a character shine.

They eventually made it to an altar on the far side and retrieved the second key part. Also part of the altar was a mechanism that when touched released all the people inside the Time-Out Room. It was a simple Perception roll to notice it and most of the players near the altar have a high Perception. They failed the rolls, and then failed again when I gave them a second chance. So they left the altar and moved to search other parts of the room, leaving those trapped still trapped.
Failure (Me): If you want something to happen, make it happen. I wanted the players stuck inside to be free but relied on the die rolls to accomplish that. I should have simply stated that the characters outside notice the mechanism.

Eventually the rest of the party was released when those outside the trap were given a third chance and this time they noticed the release pad. Now with everyone the ones inside wanted to look around. The way the module was written, only a person who closed his eyes could avoid being attacked by the mirrors. The module was written with the intent that the players would be suffering from effective blindness.
Instead, the players wanted to pull up their hoods and do a narrow field of search, and thus avoid the mirrors. This would have negated the main hazard with the encounter and trivialized it too much. So I pulled GM fiat and said that peripheral vision was too dangerous and they would still be affected unless they completely closed their eyes. This sounded dumb even as I said it. I eventually let it happen but not before throwing a fit, "Sure it works but with a such a narrow field of vision it takes you a considerable anount of time to search everything and in the end you find nothing".
Failure (Design): Don't force the players into a narrow course of action.
Failure (Me): I should have said 'yes'. I should have let the players use their alternate method without being a pain about it.

We ended with the characters entering the room which held the third part of the key. I described the layout and then we called it a night. Normally I like to hand out XP at the end of an module/adventure, but tonight I handed out the amount they had accumulated thus far. I think it gave them a sense of having accomplished something despite some of them being unable to do anything for part of the night. It was also nice to have them looking forward instead of looking back at the Room of Poor Game Design.

Things Learned:
-Do not feel compelled to stick to what is written.
-If you want something to happen, then make it happen and don't rely on die rolls.
-Never have the players doing nothing.
-Always try to end a night on a good note.
-Say yes.
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