Thursday, October 29, 2009

Insect Shrine Playtest Session 1

Five players came over last night to play Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill. I had only met two of them before, so I decided it was a good primer for the system (we're using Labyrinth Lord to run this, and to my surprise one of the new guys already had a copy of the new hardcover!... which I promptly inspected to see how the LotFP ad in the back turned out) to make characters at the table.

I decided to start everyone at second level, and rolls were done 3d6 down the line, and if total ability score modifiers added up to at least 0 the character was kept. We ended up with a fighter, cleric, thief, magic-user, and dwarf.

The first half of the session was establishing the "home base" of Gorsamfeld's Inn. This place was established some years back by a group of adventurers that had slain a dragon and then settled down. Various rumors about the environs, and adventure hooks, were conveyed both by Gorsamfeld's boasts and stories (he settled down as an innkeeper to win his adventurer-hating wife, and built it in the middle of nowhere so he could still have contact with those living "the life") and some of the randomly generated inn guests.

After that establishment phase, we got down to it. Following the pleading of Tillywink the faerie (The Exploring Power, don't you know), they had an audience with Puddlesquash, Mover of One Million Twigs, and sorted out the mysterious situation concerning one Percival Dudliman. (I play my faeries like Petalwing from Elfquest, to the eternal dismay of my players, I think...)

From there they investigated an oddly constructed, oddly placed tower. No, not The Tower, but I would have been tempted if I didn't know that four people at the table owned it. ;) They overcame the griffon thereupon and succeeded in recovering its valuable eggs, but at a high price: The thief and dwarf met their doom, while the fighter and cleric were rendered unconscious. It all came down to the magic-user and his last dart. Very close call.

Things I need to revise based on this session:

The advice for running the Inn. I wrote the darn thing and I was quite tempted to try to present everything involved and I was in danger of getting lost. There are two dozen described NPCs that live and work in the place, and a random table of inn guests that are present at any one time. It's overwhelming to try to describe it familiarly and intimately like the PCs are regulars on the set of Cheers or something (did I just date myself with that reference?). I believe the included scope and variety are good so as to provide many possibilities for the Inn portion of the adventure, but encouragement to narrow it down depending on referee tastes and what the PCs are doing might be in order.

Include some of the dialogue I came up with for Gorsamfeld to further establish his character. He runs the "home base" and is quite interested in interacting with the PCs so I suppose further characterization in print might be wise. The line that the players seemed to like (talking about boastful adventurers) went something like this: "Many have claimed to have gone to the tower, but none of them have mapped it, you know what I mean?"

Also, include specific possible plot hooks with the random inn guests. I know what the adventure is and how I hope to progress the action in this area, and I know how certain types of inn guests might encourage this. Perhaps communicating that in the descriptions might be helpful to referees...

Comments from players:

Not expecting the open "sandbox" aspect of the adventure.

Surprised that neither the "Insect Shrine" nor "Goblin Hill" were seen, or even hinted at in the adventure thus far (aside from some graffiti in the tower, but without the players having been told that we're running Insect Shrine that wouldn't have seemed at all relevant). But I've always been of the opinion that there should be a logical reason why an adventure location hasn't already been solved/cleared out (especially an area intended for lower level schlubs). "It's not on the map and nobody talks about it so nobody knows it's there," is an excellent way to explain why people haven't looted a location!

Labyrinth Lord characters are fragile! Of course, it was the guy with 4 total hp that was left standing at the end of the Tower fight, and the PCs did kind of easily deal with the issue the faeries had, and while the tower combat might have been tough under normal circumstances, if players don't use the resources they have available I'll hardly feel sorry for them if they find some things difficult. ;)

The plan is to play the Shrine adventure again next Wednesday, subject to the official LotFP proofreader's approval, of course.

But yeah, we actually started to play Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill. It's real! It's really real!


  1. And beware! In the possible inn encounters, there is a metal band! (all dressed in black and smelling like freshly digged earth, what else could it be?)

    About characters' fragility, yes, we could have played it better. But I still think your dice are unfair. Hitting 5 times out of 6 when you need 11+ to hit, it should be forbidden...

  2. If you guys would like to purchase some perfectly-balanced GameScience dice as a Christmas gift for me, I wouldn't complain. :D

  3. I really enjoyed the sandboxyness of the start up, which helped getting into character, establishing a base of operations, and introducing some of the locals. So, at least in my case, the module wouldn't have benefited from a more direct lead-up to the actual Insect Shrine. I do agree, however, that the Inn might be a bit too detail-heavy for someone not intimately familiar with the material. Might be a good idea to include some advice on different playing styles. "If you want your players to get to the shrine fast, do this. If you like sandbox-play, throw these hooks at them instead."

    Also, love the fragility of the characters. Its completely different from, say, 3.5, where you're basically playing superheroes from the get-go. The fragility forces you to think about tactical situations in the game, whereas in 3.5 you'd just work out the mechanics instead.

  4. Posted on my own blog about the game session.

  5. egarding the richness of the Inn description, remember that the location may be reused as a base for future adventures, in which case such depth will be more useful than it is in a one-off playtest. Perhaps you can present a simpler table for one-offs, and then an expanded one in an appendix. Or perhaps you can merely present one static set of NPCs for the purposes of this scenario, but provide the tables for when/if the players return at another date. Or perhaps it already walks along these lines, and you just need to clarify it. Anyway, just a suggestion.

    As an aside, I think I've found a use for Death Frost Doom. I'm about to start a Rogue Trader campaign, and one of the worlds in the sector used to be the home of an eldar death cult...