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S&W Module Playtest Session: Epic Fail?

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I mentioned that I was having a playtest of a rough draft of a Swords & Wizardry module I'm writing in my Saturday post. Even though I only had two players, the session was enlightening.

The bad news is that both players found main part of the adventure, the barrow dungeon, boring. Worse, they thought even the brand new players the adventure is aimed at would find it boring. The good news is that they loved the small town they started out in with its two opposed but friendly lords and the ghosts that live in the town completely more or less accepted by its residents. (The town is just outside the "valley of the dead" of an ancient civilization.) Both of my players think that the adventure should be set in the town instead of in some old tomb in the valley as the town is much more interesting than any tomb.

The adventure is aimed at beginning GMs and players and was intended to provide a ready to run adventure in an area that the GM could expand into a campaign -- and do so in about 16 published pages. That's probably 10-12 pages of text which would leave room for illos, maps, etc, in the final product. The classic beginning adventure is a "dungeon" not a town -- and for good reason. Dungeon adventures are much easier for new GMs to handle than town adventures as there are far fewer possibilities for the GM and players to deal with.

I'm not sure what to do here. Keep the town but make the starting adventure exploring something in the town (like a just mysteriously ruined building)? Rework the burial mound dungeon to try to make it more interesting? Make the town less interesting so the dungeon seeming more interesting? Scrap everything and come up with a new adventure?

mabon5127 said...
August 19, 2009 at 5:26 PM  

Ask the players. Why did they think the dungeon was boring? I would not make something that was working (the town) not work to make the boring bits more palletable.


Arthur said...
August 19, 2009 at 5:37 PM  

I say keep the town and put the adventure in there; don't junk the thing which your playtesters were most enthusiastic about!

I reckon you have two choices:

- Put the dungeon in the town and make it intimately tied to the situation there. Maybe it's an extensive warren of tunnels deep under the old mayor's house or something. Perhaps careful observations of the behaviour of the ghosts in the town can yield clues as to what's going on in the dungeon.

- Put the town in the dungeon. Make it a lost settlement beyond the valley of the dead, make the valley of the dead the dungeon, and have the adventure be about getting beyond the valley only to encounter the town at the end and get involved in the interesting local politics you mention.

jamused said...
August 19, 2009 at 6:37 PM  

Yeah, making the part they really liked less interesting is crazy talk. What if the adventure was to stop a group of adventurers who've come into town to destroy the "evil ghosts"?

Herb said...
August 20, 2009 at 1:27 AM  

The classic beginning adventure is a "dungeon" not a town -- and for good reason. Dungeon adventures are much easier for new GMs to handle than town adventures as there are far fewer possibilities for the GM and players to deal with.

Note you said classic, not all.

Go out on a limb and find a way to make it a town adventure. Setting the dungeon in the town kinda works but why not go for more.

How about a suddenly hostile "ghost" which turns out to be something else. That something else's lair could be the dungeon part.

E.G.Palmer said...
August 20, 2009 at 10:50 AM  

What if the dungeon is directly under the town, similar to what Arthur suggests. Many ancient and mediaeval civilizations buried their dead under the floors of their homes, in the floors of churches and in catacombs beneath them. The undead might be the true rulers of the town, a circle of Elders which never dies. Or maybe to save them selves, the living provide inconvienient visitors and adventurers access to the catacombs with tales of treasure.
You could have a Lovecraftian hidden cult which worships their dead ancestors and the evil powers or gods which grant them unlife. Or they could just be amoral pragmatists who think better them than me.
In either case, the adventurers would be in a situation where they never leave the dungeon to return to their safe home base, since they are one and the same. They would never know who to trust in the village. It would be like Call of Cthulu meets Dungeon Crawl.

Jeff Rients said...
August 20, 2009 at 1:14 PM  

The playtest might have failed but I'd like to point out two things:

1) That's what playtesting is for.

2) Based upon the playtest report and your overall description, I am very interested in your ideas. Keep on it!

Robert Fisher said...
August 20, 2009 at 1:49 PM  

Every memorable story I head about B2 is stuff that happened in the Keep. But, those stories are often rooted in planning to go to the Caves or returning from the Caves.

I think the dungeon and town setup make a good symbiotic pair. I’d be wary of trying to move the adventure into the town. Especially if the town worked well as is. Try to figure out how to make the dungeon more interesting instead.

Although, it can be good to add some micro-adventure possibilities to the town. One of the things that is great about B2 is there’s little things to be encountered and done both in the Keep and in the wilderness outside the Caves.

Randall said...
August 20, 2009 at 9:44 PM  

E.G. Palmer, the Lovecraft fan in me loves your idea, but there's no way to do justice to it in the space available. As this module is for print publication, I have length limits. They have stopped a number of ideas dead in their tracks.

However, your post did get me thinking in a new direction. The original idea was to have the characters discover that while all the tombs were reportedly cleared out long ago, the fact that the tomb they are sent to was not means information is inaccurate (thereby giving the GM a setting for further adventures). Instead there is a spooky ruined manor at the edge of town that the characters explore (an above-ground dungeon), only to discover information about the tombs there. This should be fun. Imagine what it would take to be considered "spooky" in a town where ghosts wondering around is considered normal (think of the ghosts at Hogwarts in Harry Potter). I've tossed this idea out to the two players who suffered though the playtest Sunday to see what they think.

Robert: Good idea on the micro-adventures. I'll add some rumors like in the old City-State of the Invincible Overlord that the GM can use as future adventure hooks if he wants.

E.G.Palmer said...
August 21, 2009 at 12:04 AM  

Cool, Randall! That sounds good, let us know what your players think on the second go-round.

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