After 25 years GMing, I had a new experience on Saturday. Running the same scenario in two back-to-back sessions only 20 minutes apart. It proved a very useful play-testing experience.
As part of our demonstration day at Chimera I was running two D&D 3.5 sessions whilst Mike demonstrated miniature painting and Rob talked about how miniatures are sculptured. The D&D sessions were open-table games so anyone could join in and the crowd at Chimera is fairly young; mostly of them only just teenagers or under. This was a novelty for me as I’ve never gamed with people that young even when I was in that age group. Fortunately there were a couple of older players as well to give the groups some commonsense.
The adventure was called The Savage Island,and I had spent the last week writing in preparation for Saturday. The aim of the adventure was a 2 – 3 hour scenario I could run for 1st level characters, to show off our range of 28mm miniatures. However, I needed a very flexible adventure that I could modify for higher level characters (Bearded Devils are not ideal 1st level D&D monsters) and draw to a suitable finish with five minutes notice.
The end result was a sandbox adventure with the characters marooned on the eponymous Savage Island. Having been cast adrift by pirates and managing to steer their open boat through the reefs and waves to shore, the party now needs to find food and a means of escape. As a sandbox adventure, there is no fixed way of tackling the problem and depending where the party goes they could run into the always hostile Forest Walkers, the possibly hostile Quorakon or a host of other little encounters.
Two fixed ways off the island are provided along with a Deus Ex Machina solution of an Imperial Navy vessel turning up on a rescue mission. This structure gave the party flexibility in what they do and me a way ending the game quickly if we run out of time.
The sandbox format proved to be a real winner in this situation. Two players from the morning session wanted to be part of the afternoon session so they could explore more of the island. As I was there marketing my miniatures and adventures, it is a really great endorsement that players want to keep playing. It also ensured that the afternoon group didn’t follow exactly the same path as the morning group.
The mix of ages and skill levels varied between the two groups and it placed different requirements on the adventure. The morning group was younger and mostly wanted to run around hitting things whilst the afternoon group was more interested in the exploring the island. Oddly it was the morning group that was more challenging to GM as I had to ad-lib encounters to satisfy their blood lust. The more experience and older group stuck closer to the scripted path of the dungeons and I could rely far more on my notes.
One straightforward lesson I learnt was prepare more pre-generate characters. I had planned to for a party of four with six pre-gen characters but the morning session had eight players and the afternoon seven. I also need to give the pre-gens as much attention in their creation as I do the adventure. Several mistakes and short-commings were found during play and whilst easily fixed, getting something as basic as a 1st level D&D character wrong is not a good advert for a games company.
The Rest of the Day
One thing is very clear from my experience is that GMing in those situation is a full time task. Having seven or eight players wanting my attention meant that I could not really take in what was happening elsewhere in the store.
Rob’s demonstration of sculpting and Mike’s painting lessons got good crowds but I was completely unaware of them at the time. It was the great support of the Chimera staff who took control of the situation that made everything possible. If I had been jumping up-and-down to give Rob or Mike the support they needed it would of seriously detracted from the D&D.
So I owe Mike, Andy and especially Leah a big thank you for all their support before and during the event. They made this event possible and made sure everyone – the players, the shop and 6d6 – got as much out of the day as possible.
A very rough draft of The Savage Island will be posted sometime this week and a more refined version in a few weeks time.