"Oh cool... So you're STILL working on this?" -- A guy at GenCon

"If I see Drah-koo-lah, I will. kick. him. in. the eye!!!" -- My 4 (almost 5) year old daughter. She GETS it!

"Meatpie Forever!" -- A playtester at GenCon 2013

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bringing the Hammer Down...

I ran a group through the proposed 0-Level sample adventure in Transylvanian Adventures. I feel the playtest went well, despite a few bumpy spots. The adventure needs some sprucing up but I was surprised at how easily everyone figured out what was going on. I thought the scenario would be too complicated but the sub-plots seemed obvious to the group after they'd explored the cavern in full.
I don't want to give too much away because a lot may change with the adventure before it's done. But I'll hit some High Points, What Went Right and What We Learned below. First off, the cast members…

The Survivors

  • Berthold the Albino Artist: Survived, just barely, by fleeing the cavern in the last room.
  • Clara McMillan the Alcoholic Vacationer: Though spending much of the adventure in a drunken stupor, Clara successfully navigated the cavern and made it out alive.
  • Sybilla the Scout: Used her wits and her shortbow with a bold confidence to emerge from the cavern unscathed. Her low-cut hide dress and shapely figure saved her from one of the Hunchback's crossbow bolts. Cleavage Rule, for the win.
  • Tito the Outlaw: Showed the guile and drive to make it through the caverns.

The Dearly Departed

  • Matilda the Inventor: Died by falling from a tree. She rolled a 1 while attempting to climb it.
  • Willie the Bondsman: Died after being shot in the back of the head by Fergus -- who rolled a 1 while firing a Musket.
  • Jeffery the Local Hero: Shot dead by a Hunchback with a crossbow.
  • Jacques the Unlucky Inspector: Eaten by Frankendog.
  • Mary Lynne McMillan the Student: Also eaten by Frankendog, while clutching a stack of love letters to her bosom. We'll never know who broke that poor girl's heart.
  • Father Grasu Teodorescu the Clergyman: A rather lecherous priest who proved an ample late-night snack for the Frankendogs.
  • Fatima Ganoush the Bellydancer: Yet another life claimed by the surgically enhanced jaws of the Frankendogs.
  • Fergus the Consumptive Pioneer: Shot dead by a Hunchback armed with a crossbow.
  • Sir Hugh Manderly the Explorer: Died after inhaling a vile poison left as a welcoming gift by the cunning Dr. Frankenstein.
  • Ariel the Local Beauty: Her 15 Personality proved quite enticing to the Frankendogs, who mistook her for an appetizer.
  • Albert the Miscreant: Full bellies all around for Dr. Frankenstein's pets as the Frankendogs claimed another meal.
  • Dr. Haephestus the Tinker: When faced with one of Dr. Frankenstein's vile monstrosities (no, not a Frankendog) Dr. Haephestus was overcome with fright and fled. Only to slip, fall and crack his skull open on the cavern floor.

High Points

  • Clara as an Alcoholic made the 0-Level Disadvantages worthwhile all on her own. As you might have noticed, not all characters have the option to take a disadvantage. But those who were capable of doing so were some of the most memorable cast members.
  • The party had a fun time with Dr. Frankenstein's creations. They didn't quite get it at first. And tried several different things… like Turning them. Ultimately they figured it out. But had lost several members beforehand.
  • The party pieced together the sub-plot at the end with no prompting and no additional information on my behalf. That was a good sign to me. The sub-plot is very Hammer Horror inspired and it was nice to see how ingrained that type of fictional arc was in the overall psyche of the group, despite only one player having seen Christopher Lee as Dracula thirty years ago. No one else in the group was familiar with the term "Hammer Horror".
  • The game played like DCC with some reskinning. I thought this was encouraging because it's what I intended. I don't want 2nd edition Ravenloft. I don't want Call of Cthulhu. I want something with the trappings of Gothic Horror that is as much fun to play as DCC and other games inspired by the "world's most famous roleplaying game". In that endeavor, the playtest was a pretty big success. I did notice a few things that need changing and I'll list them below.
  • The Fear rules worked like a charm. Easy. Simple. And even though they only came up once, when they did it was memorable and pretty awesome. See Dr. Haephestus above. I think that should also indicate how TA differs from something like Call of Cthulhu. There aren't Sanity Checks around every corner. Fear can happen. But it isn't going to be a driving component of the game. It'll be sort of like a mental "fumble". When it comes up it's pretty hilarious but it won't be a factor more than a handful of times in any adventure. 
  • Women roll different dice than Men on the Fear table. The effects Fear can have on Men are far more disastrous and embarrassing. Women are more likely to faint and swoon.
  • Three words that made Dr. Frankenstein's creations memorably awesome: Slasher. Flick. Teleportation.

What We Learned

  • The 0-Level characters were too well-armed. It may not look like it with all the "death by Frankendogs". But they were. They killed the Frankendogs fairly easily with their weapons. Each other too. The Frankendogs just kept coming back for more. It's like these guys had never seen Evil Dead. I need to tone down some of the weaponry available to 0-Level characters.
  • I need one more really awesome trap. One of them was really good. It's just a character got a lucky roll. I hate rolling for "Spot" and that's why. I won't be making that mistake again in this adventure. The other traps were okay. One would've taken out about three party-members if it would've gone off (which it didn't). The other killed the Inspector.
  • I need to telegraph the final room sooner in the adventure. It's only about 9 rooms. Pretty linear with one shortcut that bypasses two rooms. Not as flashy as Portal Under the Stars but it had a good atmosphere to it. One more trap and a reorganization of the cavern rooms and I think we'll be good.
  • Four 0-Level characters per player was unwieldy for this game. I think it works with DCC, having a small army of peasants. But it beggars belief that such an odd cadre of  party-members would hazard their way into the wilds of Transylvania. I think Transylvanian Adventures would benefit by having two 0-Level characters per player and by having mechanics in place that would make those 0-Level characters a little more survivable. Something that better models, say, Van Helsing's party at the end of Dracula. A party of 8-10 instead of 16-20. I'm going to work on that.
  • Transylvanian Adventures needs to outline the character story arc better. It isn't the "adventurer conquerer king" sort of story arc that's familiar to fantasy roleplayers. Characters won't be acquiring gold, buying castles and setting up kingdoms. But it isn't the Call of Cthulhu descent into madness, either. There are a few different types of story arcs, each involving a different kind of emergent play. And I don't think any of them are part of the contemporary lexicon of roleplaying. I could also see an episodic type of game getting tiresome after a while, especially with TA. I need to give thought to what the overall end goal of playing a TA character would be. This section might wind up in the Transylvanian Grimoire. But I think it would be good to know and illuminate the idea of "what's next" in broad strokes to give some guidelines to the type of emergent play TA is driving towards.

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