So, after a ton of preparation, we came to the big day. Friday. The Guild's grand one-shot....excitement, no?
No. No, not really.
Y'see, we had a few problems.
1) Announcements Usually, large guild events are supposed to be announced well in advanced, so that the gamers can clear their schedules for a raucous night of gaming. Such was not the case this time. A desperate e-mail went out on Tuesday, calling for an end-of-semester guild meeting, as well as one-shot info. RSVPS only trickled in...which led to...
2) Lack of gamers I did my best to recruit for this game. Lionel, Ebbs, Nick, and Jules all gleefully joined in, and we picked up three more throughout the week. I was expecting two more, but they flaked out on us, which led to greater problems, as you'll see later on. Without a definite gaming group, we were at a definite loss.
3) Design flaws I really tried to do my best to try to make this game as fun as possible. The backgrounds I wrote up were interesting, and made for some nice inter-party conflict, but we never got so far as to experience any of them. Because of the lessened number of gamers (7, compared to my expected 10), we didn't even get through the first battle. Three of the PC were killed at the headwaters of the River Styx, which left the quest as kind of a moot point.
I felt bad, mainly because I forgot one of the key rules of both teaching and GMing--Monitor and Adjust. I should have adjusted the encounter on the fly, to make it more accessible to the party that I had, but we rolled on with the monsters, and Dr. Gearbox, Z, and Theodore all bit the dust because of it.
4) Poor party design/tactics I realize that everyone wants to play "their fun character", but at some point, something has to give. The party descending into the Abyss was made up of the following: a Reaping Mauler (grappling specialist), a Warlock (basically an Arcane sniper), a Rogue/Bard (diplomat/skill monkey), a Dragon Shaman (a commander-type), a Tinker (good for blasting), a Paladin (light healing and tanking), and a Jade Phoenix Mage (fighter/mage hybrid).
The party lacked the following: any type of Area of Effect support (wizard, sorcerer, etc), a full-time Healer/buffer (cleric, druid), a heavy damage dealer (rogue, barbarian, etc). Even tanking was limited to Jules' ordained champion...which doesn't say much.
Honestly, I didn't use tactics that were all that unnerving. The giant they fought took point and smashed things, while the two demons in the back cast their spells. Pretty standard. While being well aware that the monsters were above standard difficulty--perhaps even too much so--is it too much to ask that someone in the party can cast Fireball? Or Heal? I mean, the rules are built around the standard party of Fighter/Wizard/Cleric/Rogue--one would figure that, at least some point on the line, we'd get some of those. Not so much in this game.
5) Timing I had expressed my frustration about this one, upon leaving the apartment before the game. In the e-mail sent out, I had included everything that someone would need to build their PC--stat array, gold available, sources they could use...the works. I had also asked for an rsvp describing their character, so that I knew what the group would look like.
Nick, Lionel, and Dan arrived with their characters ready. Jules needed to pick spells, while Ebbs had to build his constructs. The others had nothing. We didn't start the game (which was scheduled to begin at 6), until 8:45. There's nothing more frustrating to me than knowing that you could be gaming, in a time when there's nothing to do but wait.
6) Blackfall I really tried to make this game like the Blackfall games of old--lots of skullduggery, and lots of character backstabbing. Only one problem--Blackfall is a city, while the Underworld is a giant dungeon. Dungeons mean combat, and lots of it. Yes, I know--D&D is a combat filled game. However, it's a social game, too, and that's what drove Blackfall at its core. Too much combat, planned even from the very start, meant too much dice-rolling and not enough fundamental, person-on-person fun.
In a city, you can get away with not killing anyone--there are guards, there are other adventurers, and there are mercenaries, all waiting to take a piece out of some interloper who thinks he has a right to swing a sword around. Take that social stigma out of the equation, and it's all about the combat now.
I'm being very negative here, I suppose, for no good reason. Everyone at the game had fun, and enjoyed the long night in the Science building, which is what matters. What makes me most frustrated, though, is the fact that this is the second game in six months, DMed by me, to have failed. Am I losing my touch? Am I not as good as I once thought I was?
Blackfall, originally, was a masterpiece. Parts I through IV each had their own individual, if sanity-blasting charm. My players loved running the gauntlet of a Blackfall game, seeing who would survive this time (Adam, by the way, has the record! He was the only one to survive Blackfall II!).
Saltmarsh was just as good. I had 'em hooked, even buying into their group's slavery and imprisonment. Hell, I had most of the group turning slowly to Lawful Evil, thanks to all of their dealings in Hell.
But now? Well, it looks like I'm going to be running Pirates of the Underdark, as soon as Jules' Eberron game wraps up. I just hope I can get back in shape over the break, to give the people what they want!