Sunday, August 2, 2015

In Doom's Wake Autopsy

Art by Jez Gordon
This weekend, I ran the piratical/Sargasso Sea adventure I've been going on about for a group I've never really gamed with: my girlfriend's regular group and a friend of her's from work. This was most of the group's first time playing 5e--indeed, several's first time playing D&D in years.

In brief, it was a large (7 members) and eclectic party, with two gnome spellcasters, a human cleric, a dragonborn fighter, a human fighter, a halfling thief, and a aquatic elf bard. They were drawn into the adventure by the promise of reward and the desire to save kidnapped children after a pirate assault on the coastal town of Raedel.

While overall, I intended to play the pirate's and their layer for a degree of horror, the broadly played miserliness and cowardice of Raedel's town fathers probably started things off on a humorous tone, as did the Rabelaisian portrayal of the alcoholic sea dog, Saltus Crimm, who took care of the sailing in the PC's borrowed pursuit ship.

Pretty much what Saltus Crimm looked like

Some of the player's were inclined to sympathy with the pirates, after hearing the legends regarding Ylantha and meeting the townsfolk. I had expected either a murderhobo indifference to morality but keen interest in treasure or a heroic desire to save innocents (or a mixture of the two) to motivate, but hadn't counted on the PC's possibly wanting to reach a settlement with the pirates. Of course, this sympathy didn't stop them from slaughtering pirates at every opportunity, so I don't know if an alliance was ever a real concern.

The crowd coming from mostly a non-D&D background had at least one interesting effect. There was no real dungeoncrawling-style investigation motivated by greed. They wisely avoided places where the danger to reward ratio seemed too high, but thorough searching for hidden treasure wasn't typically on their minds. I probably should have dangled some relatively easy to find items in front of them to condition them to look rather than assuming seeking out material reward would be a goal.

Something I noticed in my regular 5e game was well on display here: the 5e blaster cantrips make magic-using classes pretty tough in ranged combat. An encounter where the ranges were a hindrance to both the pirates and the fighters with light crossbows was like a shooting gallery for the warlock with an eldritch bolt. The large size of the party meant the opponents were never really able to concentrate their fire on the wizards, either. If I run the adventure again (or complete it with that crew), I thing a few more pirate spellcasters are in order to make it a more even fight.

Overall, I think the group enjoyed it and I know I did. It was both a fun session and a good test-drive of the scenario.

7 comments:

Jon Bupp said...

One thing you can always count on is the players not doing what you expect!

Gus L said...

I remember when I first started running ASE again for a group that was mostly new to tabletop RPGs. It only took one encounter with Deliverance style halfling bumpkins for things to go full murderhobo where the answer to every problem as sword and magic missile. I did notice though that when they lost a character or two, when deadly traps started showing up, when they realized that killing all day long wouldn't give them XP and that money was the only way to gain levels the party quickly got pretty canny. It was fun watching the progression from confusion/characterization, to violent hooliganry and finally into cynical treasure hunters.

Trey said...

@Jon - True that.
@Gus L - Heh. Yeah, I guess gold=XP will eventually make people come around.

Dr. Theda said...

good Sir Bupp, said it best....
Your players will seldom do what you expect....
spent endless hours planing for any possible decision the "Party" might "choose"...
.....One time they decided to head on down to the one town that we had not had the time to "flesh-out"... so had an evil mage bring down an asteroid upon it...

Joshua Dyal said...

Is there some reason why the active search for treasure is to be encouraged? It seems to be a given that this is desirable, but given that almost the entire body of literature on which the game is predicated do not feature that paradigm, it seems refreshing to play with gamers that don't have that hardwired into their playstyle due to years of conditioning.

I tend to go the opposite direction and try to wean players off of the dungeoncrawl for profit way of playing rather than introduce it to new players.

Trey said...

@Joshua - Well, not the entire body of literature. See "The Jewels of Gwahlur," "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis," and _The Hobbit_, to name a few. Overall, I'm not particularly married to that playstyle, but desire for loot drives exploration you might not normally get. It's exploration I was after, here.

Chris C. said...

"the Rabelaisian portrayal of the alcoholic sea dog, Saltus Crimm"

That alone sounds like a ton of fun!