Mary and I continue our Saturday night Splintered Realm play testing game, and we're having a great time. It is the first time I've been involved in a game that uses henchmen as a big part of the game - and it wasn't my choice! I created a cleric and dwarf to travel with Mary's elf (she's been level 2, they've been level 1), but after she cleared out part of a temple that goblins were trying to reclaim, she recruited two surviving goblins to join her, and they've become an elite fire team of archers. They take down everything! My poor cleric and dwarf will stand there wiffing... actually, the dwarf hits with moderate frequency; thus far the cleric is just siphoning xp and treasure from others. I keep telling Mary that she'll be glad the cleric is along - but she keeps reminding me that it hasn't happened yet!
At the end of tonight, I stopped tracking xp this level and just bumped everyone a level. I want to keep the play test going, but MAN it takes a long time to level. They have been through five sessions, and had earned around 1,000 xp each. That's not terrible, but it's definitely on the slow side... I'm going to go honest with xp now that I moved the elf to level 3 (which is a HUGE bump in the neighborhood of +3000 xp) while the others saw more moderate gains.
We're sticking with our dungeon crawl of the Vault of the Goblin. They activated the teleport pool into the Vaults at the beginning of session 4, and have spent sessions 4-5 hacking their way through a portion of level 1. They have overcome:
- A pack of giant rats that had a lair near the pool.
- The two carrion crawlers that lived nearby, feeding on the rats.
- A rust monster that lived at the far end of the hall.
- A wandering giant lizard (gecko)
- An ogre that was 'fishing' for giant snakes in a big snake hole.
- The big snake (5 HD constrictor) that lived in the hole.
- 5 zombies attracted by the noise of combat.
I quite like the map of level 1, insofar as it provides a number of decisions routinely for further exploration: there are magical doors (one of which they can open into a deeper section of the dungeon); magic pools that teleport you to other locations/positions within the Vaults; and one secret door so far that they found leads to a trapped hall (that they managed to set off without anyone getting hurt).
It's been a classic dungeon crawl, but it's great to be able to pick up the dice and start playing where we left off each time - no need to work out new backstory, get the group motivated, or figure out how to get them from town to the dungeon. They're there; they're exploring; they get to make a decision from a few meaningful choices (continue on, delve deeper, or check back past where they first came in and haven't explored). They know about a shadowed hall filled with dark shapes that blocks one way (deciding not to tackle that one yet) and the room they just cleared has two different ways out. Plus, they've opted not to explore the magical doorway or the magical pool yet, considering these (rightly) too challenging.
Of course, now that everyone is level 2 (and Mary's elf is level 3), we'll see if they start to get a little more confident....
In terms of game design notes, I've moved everything (except attacks) back to roll under. Mary didn't like this because her die was rolling high all night, but I think that is a function of the die, and not of rolling low as an inherent weakness... it's fun playing, and the mechanical changes I've made (skills like sense and sneak, and handling these as d20 roll low checks) has worked out well - even when I bring in the elfin cloak and boots that Mary's elf is now sporting...