As promised, I’ll take a stab at writing a sort of report from a player’s perspective on the Insect Shrine of Goblin Hill playtest refereed by Jim Raggi. We played our first game session yesterday, and had five players participating. The system used was Goblinoid Games’s Labyrinth Lord, a Mentzer edition retro-clone. I’ll concentrate on what was going on at the table instead of what happened in the game. Some basic information on the module is, however, included, so to a prospective future player of this module, there might be some spoilers.
Of the players, two were from Jim’s regular game group, and as such already familiar with the rules and the type of game being played. I and the rest of the players (two guys from my regular gaming group) were the new faces here. Two of us had played the Finnish version of the Mentzer basic set back in the late eighties, whereas the third one of us was still learning to walk and talk when it came out. His experience with D&D was mainly AD&D 2nd edition, and D&D 3.5 edition. The rules system is, however, simple enough to explain and start playing from the get-go.
We started out with character creation. The abilities were rolled straight up 3d6, with a re-rolling of the whole set if the total ability bonuses were less than +0. None of us rolled very high scores, with a total average ability bonus of around +1. As the class requirements aren’t very stringent, this allowed us to pretty much decide who’d play which class of character. We ended up with the following group of miscreants: Groosh, the brave but gruff Dwarf; Utz, the somewhat amoral Fighter; Pudgynero, the pot-bellied Thief; Brother Ragnar, the pious Cleric of the All-Seeing Sun-God, and my character Skelg the Frail, the Magic-User. The whole process of character creation was easy and fast. The most time consuming portion of character creation was spending the starting gold. One of the players commented, that the existence of an “adventurer’s kit” with backpack, bedroll, flint & steel, and such, might speed up this part of character creation somewhat. The atmosphere was laid back and friendly, with a lot of casual banter and getting to know the other participants.
The main difference from my normal gaming groups would be, that there wasn’t a lot of emphasis placed on character backgrounds. It was basically just: “You’ve adventured together for a while now, and gotten to know each other.” (As the characters were started at 2nd level). I don’t really see this as a fault, however. Its actually more of a feature of the gaming style, where the focus is firmly on what the characters are doing in the now, and what their plans are for the immediate future. The relative two-dimensionality of the characters also served as a springboard for creating characteristics on the spot, during actual in-game conversations. For example, it was established, that the dwarf snores loudly, to which the dwarf player’s reply was: “Dwarves do not snore. We rumble!”
Actual play started with a brief description of the setting; a trade route through a wilderness region between two kingdoms. The characters were on their way to an inn run by a group of former adventurers about half-way between the kingdoms Barodone and Pasland. The inn had become a sort of hot-spot for adventuring parties heading out into the surrounding wilds. The resident NPC-characters were painted in broad brush-strokes, but with enough detail to bring the setting to life. Almost immediately, the player characters were getting bombarded with possible adventuring opportunities ranging from discovering the whereabouts of a lost trading caravan, to exploring an abandoned tower about a days journey from the inn. The characters decided to eat well, rest for the night, and head out towards to tower the next morning.
Here the main difference from some of my own games was, that since the narrative didn’t provide an obvious direction, the players were actively asking around about adventuring opportunities, and making decisions on where to go next. There were no road signs pointing to The Dungeon. Instead there were, on a rough estimate, at least half a dozen possible ventures to consider.
During the night, Pudgynero the Thief had had an encounter with some sort of pixie looking for “Long-legged big’uns to help with a problem with one of their own”. Apparently, a wild man had taken control of the animals, which had turned bloodthirsty and dangerous to the fey folk. As the fey wood was in the same general direction as the tower (and the abandoned village, and the possible whereabouts of the lost trade caravan), we decided to give the wee chap a helping hand. Turns out the wild man was a poor sod of an adventurer who’d come into the possession of a cursed ring, which had turned him feral, and given him the power to control carnivores. The wild man, and the beasts he was controlling were dealt with swiftly and quite easily. The Sleep spell in this edition is killer, albeit its balanced out by the fact, that after that particular combat, my character was out of spells, reducing him to a feeble-bodied middle-aged man in robes carrying a dagger and some darts.
Something interesting came up during the fey woods incursion. The characters came upon a large bird’s nest, and the Thief player decided he’d pull the nest down from the tree using his grappling hook. When I asked for the rationale for this, the player said: “There must be something up there. I know how Jim thinks, and, well, as this is D&D, you’re allowed to use a certain amount of meta-game knowledge.” I was a bit baffled by this, but since I was the guest here, I decided I’d just sit back and observe. Sure enough, the nest contained a clue about the lost wool trader’s caravan.
After helping the faeries we decided to continue towards the abandoned village and the tower beyond. As we didn’t have any kind of map, and none of the characters were local, we had only the directions given by the innkeeper and the faeries to go by. To our surprise, we came upon the tower first, without even finding the village. Since it was getting late, we decided to investigate if the tower would make for a safe place to put up camp.
The fact that we didn’t have a map to go by gave me as a player the impression, that getting lost in the wilderness was a very distinct possiblity, which added to the verisimilitude of the gaming experience. Something that wouldn’t have happened if we’d been using an accurate map of the area, meticulous player notes, and survival skill checks to get where we were going. This is a good thing, as in more games than I can recall, wilderness travel has been reduced to little other than “you travel for two days, and then you’re there”.
To the surprise of no-one, the tower wasn’t unoccupied. The beastie on the top floor was a tough nut to crack, and cost us the lives of two player characters. The rest either dead or unconscious left the Magic-User sans spells as the last man standing, with only a single dart remaining. As the mortally wounded beast charged, the fate of the entire expedition hinged on a to-hit roll of 15+ and a d4-damage roll of 3 or more. For a moment, there was only the sound of six people holding their breath and the rattle of the dice (or it might have been just me😉 )… which came up as a 16 and a 3. Total party kill avoided by the skin of our teeth. Time to gather up the loot, load the bodies on horses, and head back to the inn to recuperate, and recruit new adventurers for the next game session.
That was it for the actual gameplay. There was some light post-game banter, some commentary on the module, and the decision to play the next session the same time next week. All in all, I consider this a very positive gaming experience, and I’m looking forward to discovering the secrets of the gaming world, and the future fate of my character, Skelg (formerly known as) the Frail, the Griffon Slayer, as well as continued observances relating to differences in gaming culture. Who knows, I might even pick up a trick or two myself.