The Molasses Swamp

Currently my “home game” is being run by another member of the group, but to date the Lord of the Rings RPG campaign he has been planning has not had its first session. But when a free Tuesday night came up after a long holiday break, a lot of players wanted to get together. After some discussion on our Facebook group, the consensus was that another member of the group (neither I nor the LotR guy) would run a one-shot D&D adventure using 6th level PC’s.

Photo of the group using a Prisma app filter

I was curious about how this would go for several reasons. First, the group had not been jelling very well lately, and I only had some theories as to why. Second, it had been a VERY long time since I had been a player. Third, it was theoretically a one-short adventure, and since this was both the group and the gaming session context for which I was planning one-shots, I wanted to see the results.

Let me give full credit to the GM, who was given literally one day’s advance notice to pull this off and had to scrounge the internet for an adventure he thought would fill but not over-fill one three-hour gaming session. He also had six players, four of whom where playing PC’s that they had never used before, and two of those four were teenagers (one of whom was VERY young in so many ways). So before I start critiquing how it went, I just want to say that the guy had very little prep time and a lot to handle.

The core concept was pretty straightforward: two daughters of a nobleman are kidnapped and hauled away to a haunted manor by forces unknown. Previous rescue attempt failed, and now the PC’s are being brought in as out-of-town heroes. For me, that says “time limit” which is why I adopted a certain, “no chit-chat, no dilly-dally” playing style for my dwarf fighter (chosen because there was no melee combat tank in the bunch). That format got me eating a lot of traps, exploding runes, and getting popped in the face by monsters, which after a while got frustrating for a party that had no rogues in it (druid, bard, sorcerer, wizard, and ranger, in addition to my fighter).

And as far as I can tell, the adventure had about six or seven encounters, two of which were roleplaying heavy, and one of which was a library full of books that the PC’s could go through. Which they did. All of them. Slowly garnering the small perks or curses available therein. Or rather, a couple of PC’s did, which the rest of us waited around wondering if the nobleman’s daughters had been eaten yet. That encounter was such a “molasses swamp” from Candyland that later combat encounters were hand-waived because he was pressed for time.

In the end, we didn’t finish, which means we are now into a two-session adventure, with hopefully the same players showing up next time. Again, I’m not blaming the GM, but I did learn some big lessons here.

To determine the number of encounters, “[number of hours you want to play] + 1 or 2” may be a pretty good formula. You can always add encounters in (random monsters, etc.) but it is harder to scale back.

Limit skill rolls. This bugs me in RPG sessions period: multiple players rolling separate skill checks for basically the same outcome. For example, three different PC’s all searching a room, hoping statistically that one of them will roll well. That means you have three different GM/player interactions as you adjudicate each roll, which slows things down and ameliorates the risk of the skill check failing. It also encourages that player who has to have his PC involved in everything rather than spread the spotlight around a bit.

Risk/reward tempo. The library really was where I thought things broke down. I don’t fault the GM (who is using pre-made product) or the players either. If continually turning the crank produces results, especially good ones, why stop turning the crank? A quicker risk, a quicker reward, and then moving on.

Anyways, these are just my thoughts. For all that I had a pretty good time, especially getting to hang out with my daughter Macy, who makes these games less and less often.

Comments welcome!

One comment

  1. The too many people rolling for the same thing is a total trap. It essentially guarantees both success (perception) and failure (stealth). A few of the systems I like playing and running these days have a single PC ‘lead the attempt’ and they can be assisted (usually only by 1 or 2 others). If you are helping then you will suffer the same ill effects as the leader.
    Blades in the dark has some amazing mechanisms. One of them is ‘clocks’ which are circles divided into pie fragments that fill in to have things happen. Using them often visually cues the players of their progress or the approach of problems. Probably would be a great thing in an adventure like this. 8 parts to the clock. You want to search the library AGAIN? fill in another pie part to the 2 you already have….

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