Sunday 17 November 2013

Death Frost Doom: Post-Session Retrospective

Map by Claytonian
So, I wanted to take a look at what worked and what didn't in the recent session where I ran Death Frost Doom for our group. This is my first time running a horror game, as well as my first time running a published module(as opposed to creating my own sandbox), so this was definitely a learning experience for me. Oh, and once again: spoiler warning!

Didn't Work: Pacing

I think this was the biggest issue with the session. We jumped right in and were at Pepe's(Zeke's) place within 5 minutes after character creation. But, despite the quick start, there was a lot of material before things heated up with the undead outbreak: Zeke, the hanging tree, dead body, the well, the weird stuff in the cabin, and exploring the dungeon underneath and I sensed the players were getting bored. So how could I have improved this?

  • Start out with a bang: maybe start-out the trip with a bear attack or some-such event, since I know there won't be any more combat till the end
  • Cut out some material: each of the elements of the module are great, but when your players are intent on exploring everything methodically, it can get a bit slow. I would maybe cut it down to Zeke, the body outside the cabin, and the magic picture inside the cabin. Also, perhaps provide a more direct path to the plant-monster.
  • Emphasize more which direction the susurrus seems to be coming from so the players see a clear alternative to covering every single room of the place
  • Ideally I would shoot for about 1/2 hour of build-up before they hit the zombies. And maybe re-arrange the place so the party can barricade themselves into a dead end and have more of the Duvan'Ku material there, before they make a break for it, rather than loading it all at the beginning of the module.

Worked: Swashbucklers & Seamonsters Firearms Rules

The S&S Firearms rules worked well. Firearms were a bit more deadly than other weapons, but the reload time meant that mid-combat reloading wasn't really an option.

Didn't Work: Reading Screw-Ups

The module(or at least the first edition of it) doesn't separate at all between player text and DM text. Now, I tried to prepare so as to minimize reading during actual gameplay, but DFD has enough tricks and complex set-ups that it just isn't always an option. So passages like this screwed me up a couple times:

The altar itself is waist-high on a human, with inscriptions inlaid with gold along the base reading (in the language of Duvan’Ku), “We hail the Lords of Death and Give Offerings to the Masters of Chaos.” Write this down and hand the note to the player who reads the inscription. If he reads it out loud, word-for-word, to the others, then everyone within earshot must make a saving throw versus spells. Go around the table,
starting at the reading player’s right. If that PC made their save, continue on until somebody fails a save. The first character to fail the save immediately intends to sacrifice one of the other people there on the altar.

I read the first part, started reading it to the players and then was like, "oh wait, I'm supposed to write this down for you", at which point no one was falling for it. It would be better to just have a small handout to cut-out and give to the players. This screw-up on my part was probably the only thing that kept them from making it to the Greater Tombs.