As we near release of our first annual Mazes & Perils Holiday Special from Moebius Adventures, I thought it would be good to offer a bit of a playtest report on how it went when I ran this adventure at my FLGS (Petries’ Family Games) here in town this past weekend. I was invited to run something for Storyteller Day, which is a yearly event at the store mixing holiday cheer and gaming. Usually there’s a lot of the Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men, which I’ve played and even run myself a few times. And Santa Claus comes to visit of course, which is fun for the kiddos. (You can read about some of my prior experience with the Gingerbread Men in a post over at the Gamerati.)
These days, my style of GMing is what I might call “sparse.” I don’t carry fancy maps or miniatures. I don’t have props. I don’t even have sound effects. All I usually carry is some paper, books, dice, and a dry erase board with markers. Usually that’s all I need.
A Dry Run
Prior to getting everything together, I ran through the first encounter with my daughter at home. I managed to kill the two PCs within a few rounds of combat and decided I needed to trim down the difficulty of some of the battles a bit. To compensate for the overwhelming chances for a TPK, I made one simple change. I nerfed the creatures a bit.
All creatures have a certain number of hit dice (d6). In my test, I maxed their hit points right off the bat. So a wolf with 2+1 HD had 13 HP. Two of them took out a Magic-User and a Fighting Man in about 5 rounds. So when I played it at the table, I decided to reduce the HP to roughly half of their HD. For instance, instead of 13 (6+6+1) HP for 2+1 HD, I halved each die and made it 3+4+1 for 8 HP.
Hopefully that would help our poor PCs survive more than a single encounter. Spoiler: It did!
This year it was a bit sparse when we got there due to the blast of arctic air we had the night before. Snow on the ground, slick roads, and frigid temperatures kept many people home that morning. So when we arrived, there were very few folks in the store to kick things off. My daughter AJ came with me to either help with the GMing duties or play at the table if we needed another body. And I was glad she came. 🙂
Eventually we had four folks come and play… I had a good selection of pre-made characters and each player picked one. We had:
- Gandalf, the Magic-User (a father)
- Sir Lancelot, the Fighting Man (his son)
- Brother Bran, the Cleric (a regular at Petrie’s)
- Turndot, the Enchanter (another regular at Petrie’s)
- and Bobi, the Magic-User (played by my daughter)
I brought some red and green 6-sided dice to give away at the event and gave each player a pair and let them choose a d20 from a collection of random dice I had for just such an occasion. I also handed out some brown poker chips as “brownie points” – which came in handy.
After a description of the rules system, we got started in the town of Dunwick where our adventurers had just arrived. Before too long our heroes were tramping up a logging road towards their eventual destination in the village of Wollemi…
How Did it Go?
I was a bit worried at first, but our stalwart band of heroes managed to pull things together pretty quickly. They dispatched the first two encounters with ease, took some time with the third, and then something fantastic happened: They applied a ton of creativity to a problem. I was able to hand out a few extra brownie points throughout the session, which lasted about 90 minutes or so.
Why did it go better? Well, as I pointed out, I nerfed the critters a bit. That simplified things quite a bit. But it also didn’t hurt that I was rolling like crap. 🙂 If it was possible to miss the PCs, I did it all but a few times. And though they missed just as often, they had a few places where they were rolling critical hits regularly.
All in all, I think everybody had a good time. The heroes stopped the villain, saved both towns from impending doom, and everyone lived to enjoy the Celebration of Sinterklaas. Huzzah!
Any Problems Revealed?
A few, but I’m not sure if it’s due to my lack of experience running Mazes & Perils with folks who haven’t played before or not.
Problem 1: Attribute Checks
I did a lot of attribute checks. Mostly Dexterity checks to see if they got stuck in a few places or Intelligence checks to see if they knew a pertinent bit of information or saw what was going on.
In fact, I used the Intelligence check both as a Knowledge-style check (probably should have used Wisdom for those) and a Perception-style check (not sure what to use in that case).
To do an Attribute Check, we currently have the players rolling 4d6 and trying to get under their attribute score. For instance, if they had a 13 Intelligence, they had to roll a 12 or under on 4d6. It seemed that broke even quite a bit. Half the group would succeed and half would fail, no matter what kind of check I was having them try for.
Not sure if we need some additional way of handling this kind of case, or not. We really don’t have the idea of “skills” in this system, unless you’re a Thief, so it’s tough to see where the balance should be.
After talking with Vince a bit, it turns out there is the idea of the “Search” check in such instances. 1d6 and the character “spots” something on a 1 or 2. I’ll have to add that to the toolbox!
Problem 2: the Perception of Not Enough Bonuses
If you play a more modern RPG such as D&D 4e or 5e, the player characters are much more buff and succeed much more right off the bat. In comparison, 2nd level characters in M&P were pretty wimpy. I made sure to max out their HP, but ultimately I rolled randomly to get their attribute scores for each of the 10 or so characters I put together. There were a few stats around 9 or 10, but most were in the 10-14 range with a few outliers.
I used a “roll 4d6, re-roll any ones, and put them where they made the most sense” approach to ensure that these characters weren’t just going to be horrible, pitiful things right off the bat. We didn’t have time to do the “Funnel” approach favored by games like Dungeon Crawl Classics where you have each player roll up 2 or 3 characters and see which ones survive. If we were going with that approach, it would definitely be a “straight 3d6, no modifiers” technique for each attribute, rolled in sequence.
If I was using the “funnel,” I likely would also have not nerfed any of the enemies. As a result, there would have been much more blood spilled on the snow.
But even with the outliers (we had one character with an 18/74 Strength!), there was this perception like naked rolls were evil. We rolled a lot of d20s and PCs (and villains) missed often.
Problem 3: Too Much Exposition
I do need to rethink the final encounter a little. The villain at the end has a love for exposition (don’t they all?) and I could see I was losing them as soon as the talking began. After reflecting a bit, I need to do less outright talking and find some way to turn it into more of an exchange between the villain and the party before the action concludes.
But it was interesting to see the glazed look as the action screeched to a halt after encounter after encounter had marched them up the mountain without too much difficulty. It’s possible it was just me who managed to lose them, but once the fight began I felt like they all came back to the table for a bit longer.
Ultimately, here’s what happened:
- Four more people know about Mazes & Perils than knew about it before.
- Everybody, including myself, had fun running the adventure.
- I learned a bit more about playing Mazes & Perils in a less controlled environment (such as a game store).
All three are a win, as far as I’m concerned.
So a big thank you goes out to Cameron and the gang at Petrie’s Family Games for including Moebius Adventures in the list of activities for Storyteller Day. I look forward to the 2nd annual Mazes & Perils Holiday Special next year. And we’re already planning other events where Moebius Adventures might be able to participate. (Next month we’re doing a run through of The Snake’s Heart in fact, so that ought to be great.)
If you’re ever in Colorado Springs, CO, you should definitely stop by Petries!