I have volunteered to run The Portal Under The Stars as part of both The Con of Champions and DCC Day. The CoC game is this coming Sunday and I was looking for tips on the adventure. I've run funnels before and learned a few things the hard way, but had some questions specific to this module.
In area 1.1, I'm struggling with the door to area 1.2. I'm not sure that the party will think to wait 2 hours for the door stars to align and it's unlikely that they'll pass the strength check at level 0. I understand that I can nerf any of these things and just have the door swing open but that negates the explosive intro that is the trap.
In area 1.8 there's obviously no way they can overcome the army with braun and the alternative options for defeating them are convoluted, time consuming and obviously in a completely different room. None of this seems like it would be obvious to a party. I'm pretty experienced with dealing with parties coming up with creative ways to down foes but the sheer weight of numbers against them means that anything they come up with is going to have to either stretch believability to the maximum or more likely fail dismally.
Hey, good job on signing up to run Portal for those cons! I've run it 3 times now.
1. Be prepared to give them clues and keep the time pressure on. I had people try to pry jewels off the door (I triggered the trap), I had one find the trap (high roll) but not know what triggered it, and In two games a player happened to have an astrologer and think of reading the stars (both in the sky and on the door). I would pass out hints like "you estimate it's about 2 hours until the Empty Star reaches its zenith" (some interpreted that as meaning they have 2 hours to get in and out, until they find the door locked), or "the pattern on the door looks like what you estimate the sky will look like in x hours". I try to move things along if they mill about (and they will), like, "about one hour has passed" to give them a sense of time passing. If they don't really do anything, just finally say "2 hours have passed since you arrived, the Empty Star pulses as it reaches its highest point, and you hear a soft click come from the door". Don't sweat it if they don't fall for the trap; there are plenty of opportunities later (and you're supposed to be impartial ). Or, you could trigger the trap even if they fail on the STR check; they won't know the exact criteria for the trap going off.
2. Yeah, they should be scared; it's not supposed to be easy. I had one group pull enough jewels from the pool above to see water dripping into the chamber below but they still didn't run back to collapse the pool; they wanted to do it the hard way. One came up with the idea of jumping into the pit, wedging themselves between the edge and a clay soldier, and "pushing it over to try and trigger a domino effect"; so, I let them, and basically ruled that if these things are pushed over they collapse, and rolled a d10 to see how many more fell like dominoes; they started trying everything to push these things over and still got slaughtered (but were having fun trying things). We ran out of time before they could finish so they'll be back another day. I had another group go straight for the warlord, an obvious target, one "running on the heads of soldiers to close the distance and throw my pitchfork like a javelin"; he burned enough luck for a solid hit, and two others rushed over to finish him off. People tried to use the mini clay soldiers in the workroom to control the army; I didn't let that do anything but you could easily let it have an effect. In one game the "chicken thrower" was using the chicken to distract her opponents.
Just follow your players and you might go off script but you'll give them a satisfying game. And even failing dismally can still be a good game...
Trevor / Road Crew (Calgary)
--- Shaky, Gambler, N, AC 10, hp 1, S12 A9 S5-2 P9 I9 L9, r+0, f-2, w+0, club +0 (1d4) Shifty, Smuggler, C, AC 11, hp 1, S9 A15+1 S5-2 P13+1 I8-1 L8-1, r+1, f-2, w+1, init+1, attack rolls -1, sling +0 (1d4) The Illuminating Anhk, Elven Artisan, L, AC 10, hp 3, S11 A9 S9 P13+1 I10 L15+1, r+0, f+0, w+1, fumbles +1, staff +0 (1d4)
KIA Bailey Bramford, Beadle, L, AC 11, hp 1, S13+1 A13+1 S12 P5-2 I13+1 L11, r+1, f+0, w-2, init +1, staff +1 (1d4+1)
I had some questions for this module after running it for the first time last night and coming away with a few concerns.
First of all, I think this little dungeon is great, I like how compact yet full of dangers and mysterious nooks and crannies it is, as well as all the opportunities for creative solutions to encounters.
However, I had a bit of trouble keeping the pace swift. I think it took us around 4.5 hrs total to finish it all off, and I particularly noticed a bottleneck in the middle area with the giant granite statue trap (the one that blasts fire at the players).
1. The party split up immediately upon trap activation, equal amounts going west, north and east, and one or two going south.
2. I decided to go into initiative at this point as the description said that the statue would continue blasting flames for 5 rounds.
The problem here was I then had to describe, in turn, 3 other new areas, each of which had creatures with initiative in them. So now the party is potentially having to deal with 4 encounters at the same time, split into different groups, in initiative order.
Even using group initiative, and even when I decided to delay any activity in the funeral room, I think it took us the bulk of 2 hours to resolve all of that (or perhaps more, I wasn't keeping exact time).
So I was wondering, does anyone have any tips or tricks for generally handling a situation like this? Initiative occurs and the party splits, and runs off and triggers many other encounters, slowing the game down a bit.
Other question: how do judges generally handle the granite statue room? Was it a bad decision to go into initiative, maybe I should have just had it blast once or twice, roll a reflex save for each group in the room at the time, and be done with it?
You could have not gone into initiative, and just given enough time for each player to 'initiate' about 5 things before the fire erupted again...
Personally, if I had players run in different directions like that and go all the way into those other spaces, I'd have kept the initiative rolls, but focused on each room separately, not bounced back and forth between each location as initiative counts 'dragged' me into other spaces (unless I had a group that was really on top of keeping track of things themselves, alleviating some of the work for me). Avoids having to re-describe things, by focusing on one site at a time for a round or two, then switching elsewhere. Of course, in one case there's another door between the big room and the thing, but maybe they opened that door, too? But I think that's a fairly unique thing you had happen.
Gnome Boy • DCC playtester @ DDC 35 Feb '11. • Beta DL 2111, 7AM PT, 8 June 11. Playing RPGs since '77 • Quasi-occasional member of the Legion of 8th-Level Fighters.
Good to know, thanks for your advice! I hope to run it again soon for some other friends and I'll definitely try a less rigid approach to that room, and as you said just allow them enough time to do a few actions before the fire erupts again.