GM confidence: 3/5. This session went mostly as planned, but I really buggered part(s) of it, dragging the whole thing down, in my opinion. A rough week at work resulted in a rough week prepping, and the session didn’t get the thorough attention-to-detail it needed.
What Went Right
There were two “organizational” foci for me in this session, and those both went rather well, actually. The first was pacing: The previous two sessions went a little longer than I intended, so I wanted to keep the early parts moving in this one, and get to the climax on-time. This worked out as I intended. The second: I mentioned in the last debrief that I wanted to start addressing the individual players rather than asking intentions of the group as a whole. I did that in this session, and I think it worked out pretty well—definitely better organized. I will be using that from now on.
What Went Okay
There was a long-distance travel bit again. Other than taking a bit more time than I had anticipated deciding whether or not to rent horses—I didn’t realize anyone might not want to—the travel-planning wasn’t too painful. As to the travel itself: On the one hand, it went pretty quickly and smoothly. On the other hand, I missed some opportunities for some “color”—especially Ser Magnus shenanigans.
I was concerned about the “village meeting” being a big info-dump with no real opportunity for PCs’ input. Obviously, I didn’t want to script out a huge, multi-party argument, so I tried to distill it down to the most basic points, to deliver the necessary facts and detail the factions involved. I don’t think it took too much time, and I feel like it delivered what I intended.
The combat went reasonably well, and about as quickly as I had anticipated. I was very deliberate about describing the battlefield conditions at the beginning. I had some fun with the spells. The goblins were a bit weak, I think, and I forgot some rules here-and-there, as usual. Once again, I really wanted to get into the Fantastic Dungeon Grappling but none of the bolas hit. Behind-the-scenes: I had decided that in the abstracted larger battle the Shariff would take the same damage as the worst-off PC, and his right-hand-man would take double that—Maykew’s was the only injury, at the end.
What Went Wrong
Just to get the least-worst out of the way: I had to shoe-horn in the town crier this time, which was less than ideal to start with. And the Ferris Bueller ripoff was fine on its own. But for some reason, I just couldn’t read the lines in the proper “voice”—apparently I’ve developed a “reflex” in that regard. I meant to watch some of those scenes on YouTube beforehand, but I was scrambling to get everything sorted before the game already, and didn’t get to. I feel like it sounded terrible, so much that I’m cringing at the thought of hearing it again. A golden opportunity somewhat wasted.
It was late in the process when I decided the fairy-forest should be a High Mana area, and I didn’t (a) refresh my memory on what that actually does, and (b) figure out how that interacts with Sanctity (Clerical/Divine Magic). It’s a shame about the latter, because this would have been an ideal opportunity to explore that aspect. I’m putting that on the list of things I need to nail down ASAP. But this is also fairly minor.
Now, the complete screw-up: The “fairy traps” scene was what I am referring to as a “Skill Gauntlet”: basically, a Skill Challenge without a specific goal to achieve other than to get through it, inspired, here, by the French troops traveling through the enchanted forest in The Brothers Grimm. The intention was that for every incident, a man would be lost, and if the “save” failed, a second; also, for each failure, an additional goblin appears at the combat scene (that is, the missing troops meant the PCs’ share of the bad guys would be larger). Similarly, for each failed attempt, I would add on another incident (capped at three additional). The concept is sound, I think, I just managed to completely botch the execution. All of this could have been remedied with a little more attention during prep.
- I failed to communicate the parameters and expectations, as I had learned to do with Skill Challenges. Specifically, I failed to communicate that the “saves” were an immediate, reflexive action. This led to much confusion, and questions I wasn’t prepared to answer, like “How fast are they going, and how far?”
- The PCs’ choice of guide was going to determine the BAD for the scene. When it was under way, I forgot about BAD entirely, throughout.
- I had not nailed down how the PC’s would be “chosen” to act. I did have the “1d6” I intended to use to determine who was near enough to each other to give assistance, but while that mechanic has worked quite well for me in most cases, here it kinda made it worse. After-the-fact, I’m actually not certain what the right way to handle that would have been.
- The above point resulted in “choosing” the wrong PC for the wrong incident, resulting in spending waaaaay too much time trying to find a spell Dustan could use to rescue a guy. I ended up stepping in and putting a stop to it, but I felt really bad about doing so—taking away player agency is a big no-no.
- I had, sadly, not given any thought to what the group would do about those “left behind.” After-the-fact, I realize there was not enough urgency established to justify leaving them alone—which might have been easily remedied.
- Because of the confusion and excessive time taken to make decisions—and my mental state as a result—I went ahead and cut the Gauntlet off at four incidents, when I had quite a few more “prepared.” At least the PCs succeeded at all of them (without the BAD penalty).
In the end, there’s really nothing to be done but to try to do better next time.
- This session pulled a lot of inspiration from The Brothers Grimm, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, but most of all, the Game Knights production of Curse of Silverthorn, from which I shamelessly ripped off many elements
- Dustan’s Patron, Magister Mintôr, triggered for this session; I used him as an opportunity to hand out the first campaign “magic item”
- I’ve written a longer piece about the “Laughing Bandit” on the wiki, but the TL;DR version: he’s a ripoff from a movie-within-the-movie in The Rocketeer, which is itself a ripoff of Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood portrayal.