September 28, 2011

Riddleport Session 23 – Dragonspawn Bitchslap

Riddleport Map

For the first time, the PCs deliver a major blow to a faction in the city, and they do it on purpose.
‘Till now, the group has been reacting to things happening to them and around them.

Things were different this time. They had a goal, made a plan and executed it as a team. Unfortunately, their chosen enemy had a few surprises in store for them.

Calistril 27, 4708AR

The Chalice Bastards, as the PCs are called by the locals, head back to the recently discovered caves under the city. They return to the harem-like chamber to confront the short, turban-topped man they encountered before.

The PCs wanted answers. The bad news: the man is gone. The good news: his harem isn’t. The characters use all their charm and guile to weasel information from the ladies and learn the man’s name is Epherion and that he is a smuggler lord.

Then the PCs learn that one of the girls is actually Felicia, Gaston Cromarchy’s daughter. Gaston is Riddleport’s leader. The PCs ponder over the implications of this as they return to their inn.

Gang Duties

Vigor and Crixus speak with Rictus (their vampiric patron) trading the info gleaned from the caves for their weekly payment. Rictus agrees to forgo another payment if Epherion is killed.

The PCS also sell Rictus the Rod of Lordly Might found as treasure awhile ago. Back when they were first level, I’m sure none of the characters in their wildest dreams thought they’d ever give up an item like this willingly. But their current debts and obligations weigh heavy.

The rest of the party goes to see why Wren is late with their fence money, only to find her dismembered in her apartment. The group investigates the grisly scene and find a note written in blood by her hand that says “Saul.”

Further investigation and NPC interaction ensues. The group learns Epherion is staying at a nunnery of Shelyn, which also happens to be HQ for the drow faction. Rictus tells them their top priority is to find Igwilv’s Prize in the caverns.

We Challenge You

With most of the session spent exploring and roleplaying, there’s time left for one encounter. We decide to play a bit late to fit it in.

Long story short, Vigor the paladin picked up a negative level a few sessions ago. When he asked for relief from his church, they said if he killed the dragonspawn leader, Akiku, his glory would be restored.

So, the PCs concoct a plan to whack the faction leader. They do some investigation and learn he would be susceptible to a personal challenge from Rictus, lord to lord, to an arena match between their champions.

The PCs arrange this and plan an ambush for Akiku as he travels with his entourage to the arena for the noon spectacle.

Battle!

The Bastards open up with an ambush in the streets – a retinue of dragonspawn pass by and Akiku follows five minutes behind with four dragonspawn animals as an escort. He is slain quickly, his corpse illusioned to look like a covered wagon, and is then dragged back to the inn for “processing” by the PCs.

The paladin’s glory returns and the PCs quickly gear up for their arena battle. Though the leader is dead, honour compels them to complete the challenge against the dragonspawn champion. The session ends as the PCs grimly head to the fight.

Post Game Analysis

This session played in late June and ended Season One of the campaign.

We have a brief discussion at the end of the session. The players are frustrated by the lack of party cohesion and purpose.

In a previous RPT issue I talked about there being good stress from challenging play and bad stress from poor GMing, campaign structure or gameplay element.

While the players love the content of the campaign – survival in an evil pirate city factioned-up by eight crime lords and their monstrous allies – they dislike the constant party friction from all the personal side plots and different directions everybody wants to go.

In my mind the irony is that, in a campaign with freedom to do whatever they want, the PCs choose to disagree. :)

However, the problem is my fault for not working with the group on more integrated backgrounds from the beginning, with mutual and multiple goals for the PCs to pursue as a group.

Further, in this campaign I’m holding the cards close to my chest. I want the PCs to work at gathering information and untangling all the faction and NPC relationships and plots.

However, in a group of six PCs where each has their own circle of NPC contacts, side plots and goals, it’s difficult achieving the unity needed to successfully interact with NPCs. When it takes a lot of party discussion to decide which NPCs, locations or clues to investigate next, gameplay slows.

That structure is my fault. Plus, I’m also paying for not spending more time before campaign start designing various game elements, such as key NPCs and locations. In a sandbox campaign, it’s essential to do a certain amount of prep so you can lead the PCs better with clues and information if they get stuck.

We ended Season One with great feedback and keen interest to resume play in the fall, but with a slightly different campaign structure to keep gameplay rolling along fast and furious.

Resources Used

No new GM aids or tools used this time. Primarily the 1st edition AD&D module, Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, Monster Manual V for the dragonspawn, and Pathfinder Core Rules. Oh, and my lucky dice, of course.

GM Advice

I’m very glad the players had their heart-to-heart with me. It’s important everybody has fun. Our discussion revealed the game needs to change a bit for the return of maximum fun to Riddleport.

So, I encourage you to stay open to player feedback:

  • Ask for it often
  • Best time to get it is after a session while details are still fresh
  • Do not get defensive or take things personally (probably the hardest thing to do)
  • Repeat feedback back to your group to make sure you understand what they’re telling you
  • Act on it, but make small tweaks over time instead of sweeping changes all at once
Gerald

I’m glad to see I’m not the only one with this problem!

In my campaign, the players have also expressed frustration, primarily with a feeling that there is a lack of motivation for their characters to continue with the plots that exist. We attempted a fix, player guided, a few months ago. I think we made great progress and solved some specific issues but it didn’t resolve the problem completely.

I have also tried very hard to provide a great deal of freedom for the characters. As well, the goal of this campaign is to provide an epic storyline – but epic storylines need to have a beginning and it appears that the start-up is taking too long.

So we had a long discussion about what we saw as the problem and what could be done to fix it. The end result is that three of the four players are going to bring in new characters – tied in to the original plot line so we aren’t having to do a complete re-start – and my job is to provide a driving force to move the plot.

During the discussion we came up with a statement to clarify what had to exist to solve the problem. Our statement is that we require a “very strong driver, preferably external, pointing all characters towards the same urgent goal.”

I think this statement will be of great help to me in ensuring that I build the campaign that everyone requires to have fun.

    Johnn Four

    It’s great you communicate so well with your group, Gerald.

    I’m still not sure what the problem is with our groups. If players feel a disconnect from the plot or each other, they have more connection options in their control than in any other type of game. I think the freedom scares them and the responsibility wearies them. It might also be a permission structure thing where they are used to the GM micro-managing things.

      Gerald

      The concern the group had initially was quite valid – the campaign didn’t have an epic feel to it and it was entirely due to how I had structured and communicated the events.

      I think there were a few things which led to this problem, the first being that we playing in a new and unfamiliar way. I am separated from the rest of the group by a considerable distance (about 2 hours each way). In the past, we would set aside one Saturday every 3-4 weeks and I would drive in for a full Saturday of gaming, usually 11 or 12 hours. Now, most of the group has children so we decided to play online every Sunday – which is working out very well but it means we usually play about 2 hours at a time.

      So the dynamics of weekly play vs. huge sessions, combined with a decision to start at 3rd level instead of 1st should have meant a change in how I ran the campaign. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize the impact these decisions would make.

      However, I do have to admit I have struggled to understand the current problem. An outside force dictating to the characters what must be done, even from a very high level, is something I have been striving to avoid, yet it is what the players have been consistently asking me for since our first discussion. I’ve tried to put in enough drivers to allow the characters to be self-motivated but had no success with that.

      I’ve decided that I have to simply accept that my players wish to have this storytelling element in place and if it means that everyone will have more fun then I do not need to understand why this makes the game more fun.

      While I believe I would be happy as a player in the campaign as it currently stands (and I can’t truly know), the change in the campaign certainly fits many popular examples from fantasy literature.

      And if everyone will have more fun, including me, that’s job number 1.

Johnn Four

Cool beans. My players wanted something similar. As one player put it, “I come here to explore and roleplay and clobber stuff. If I need to create goals and motivations and plot, that feels like work, and I already have a job.” That’s paraphrased.

Last session I revealed 50% of the story/mystery and assigned a patron. To me that seemed rushed, unsubtle and clobbersome. I had originally planned to mete out clues slowly and let the PCs put the pieces together.

But, everybody loved it. “We can relax and game on now.”

It makes my job easier, in the end, due to greater PC predictability, so it looks like a win/win. Time will tell.

Keep us posted on how your game goes.

Daniel

I appreciate you doing this and taking time to listen to our comments. It is great that you are making improvements so that we could enjoy the games more. Thank you for the effort and for listening.

Gerald

Well, after a rough couple of weeks with some honest conversation we’ve got the ball rolling again with last week’s session.

I too have had to deliver large chunks of storyline through NPCs to push the campaign forward to a position where everyone was happy with the game. Our last session was a basic dungeon delve as a part of the new character introduction which worked out well.

The agreement we seem to have reached is to make the campaign more like a series of modules. Each section will have
- specific, known goals
- introduce or use a clear set of guiding NPCs and
- a driving requirement to complete the tasks assigned

It’s not the campaign I envisioned, nor is it what I had expected would happen with this group of players. All my players are mature, long-time gamers who have played in multiple campaigns over the past few decades, so I expected that my style of a complex, somewhat self-guided, epic storyline campaign would work for them. But, for whatever reason, it did not.

But the primary goal is being achieved – we are all playing the hobby we enjoy and we are all working together to ensure that the time spent is as pleasurable as possible.

And that’s what it’s all about!

Johnn Four

Wow, your comments could have applied exactly to my campaign recently as well! Did you cast mirror image on my group?

Eric

Are you still playing Riddleport Johnn ?

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