Playtesting the Stench
If the game session last night has anything to teach me it is that you can’t underestimate the value of a playtest with a diverse group of players. I had a group of four and we played the initial element of the Stench of the Sea adventure module I have been working on. I think we may have worked our way through about two or three pages of the module proper. Given that we played for two hours, that might say more about the focus of my group than the practical longevity of the game. However, the game did support that length of play with locations, people and a combat encounter, so the text of the adventure did add into the mix.
Big bonus for me – I personally made the most of the character cards I had prepared before the session. Having worked on these over the weekend, the litle cards helped me a lot as a quick point of reference. I could have done with a slightly better table set-up, as I kept losing my place with the cards. However, when I did find them, they meant I could quickly check the name and spot the scant notes on the character. I now know that I need to do a little rewrite and make the cards far more trait-centric. If I present a card with a generic view of attributes and a list of keyword attributes, I will have created something good. I need to keep the keywords and phrases pithy and pointed, but I was already going about it the right way.
I used the player map, though they largely ignored it – favouring discussion with a goat farmer they met on the way into the settlement. After that conversation, the trip gravitated towards the tavern/inn, where they met Colm, the owner, and picked up with gossip they could about the location.
Big bonus from Paizo for me – I like the Gamemastery Face Cards: Urban Npcs card pack. I used clear card sleeves to insert the NPC portrait and slipped the card from the Stench module behind it. I could show the players what the character looked like when they first met, and had the relevant trait information immediately accessible on the back. The portrait card provided some immediate focus and then we could carry on playing. I will definitely invest in more of these to enhance the immediate sensory feedback of my sessions. I could, however, benefit from some coaching on accents and making NPCs sound different, instead of all lapsing into something akin to a deranged West Countryfarmer.
I will write up the whole of the session, as it reveals very little about the adventure itself. Seriously, in the space of two hours the characters met many of the locals and interacted with the environment of Brinwan, but little more. We had just started to negotiate how much it might cost the settlements de facto leader to employ the player characters for a little dangerous investigation work.
Extra value bonus around adventure pace – I have a new section of guidance to write for inclusion in the adventure module on pacing. If you want punchy and combative, you should stick to the encounters as written and nothing more. Like the way you describe an in-game journey, with the beginning and end taking focus and the between rendered in rapid narrative, a fast pace needs to do the same. If you want something steadier, character focussed and diplomatic – then you very nearly ignore the read out text and encounters, allowing the characters to interact with the locals and find their own way with the world. You don’t ignore the adventure by any means, just don’t jab it at the players like a pointy stick.
A good solid session that delivered incredible value. I have more to write and much to tweak, but if I came away from a playtest with nothing to do, I’d suspect a lack of attention on my part.