Sunday, September 6, 2015

Night of the Walking Dead

I'm thinking back over the time I ran Night of the Walking Dead for a new group of players. It was an unqualified success; I don’t think I’ve ever gotten actual applause before at the end of a session!

Night of the Walking Dead is easily my favorite adventure from the Ravenloft era. The premise is interesting, it covers the three main ”scenarios” of D&D-style play (wilderness exploration, village exploration, and a ”dungeon”), and most importantly it can be finished in one 4 1/2 hour session if you keep on target.

I did, however, make some changes to maximize the module’s potential for this group: Instead of arriving there through the mists the characters were shipwrecked there with no signs of their fellow travelers. In retrospect, this was a really great choice because throughout the adventure they wondered if they would find anyone else from the wreck or if they would find out what happened to their ship–that turned out to be an adventure seed that could blossom into a further campaign hook later down the road. (The party was comprised of a paladin, a wizard, a druid, and a cleric.)

- One thing I did to speed up the pace of the game was to cut one of the monster encounters in the swamp. One is enough, really.

I also changed the nature of the encounter I did use; in the adventure the characters are supposed to be attacked by a crocodile, but I re-skinned the croc to be a tentacled swamp beast. This also proved to be a good change as the unknown nature of the thing that attacked them had them wondering if it fed into the mystery at the heart of the adventure.

- When the characters encounter Luc in his floating house out in the swamp he’s just sitting there in catatonic silence. I had him forlornly plucking at a banjo–this meant that the characters could here his creepy music as they approached, which set them on edge and initially made them deliciously afraid of the harmless Luc.

- Mordu was the hit NPC of the village; I really played up his craziness and made him a bit of a conspiracy nutter who believed that a swamp cult was responsible for the village’s curse. I also played up his red licorice consumption; you see, the red licorice left behind at the scene of the crime is a literal red herring, but it actually started to creep the players out as to how obsessed with the candy certain villagers are. If a ”plot device” like that exists in a game, might as well make it weird and wring every last drop of paranoia out of your players.

- Actually, maybe Brucian the priest was the hit NPC (see below). Since his religion isn’t specified in the module (other than that it is good), I had him serving three Beast Gods. Since those beasts seem evil, it caused the players to initially distrust him, but they eventually came to see him as their best ally in the village. The arc from distrust to friendship was really interesting to watch and made for some great role-playing.

- The dinner party scene is far too good (and potentially gory) to leave up to a chance visit to the plantation house. I had Jean invite the players to dine at the plantation house after they ransacked his house in the village. He was aware that they had been in his house because the adventure specifies that he watches them from a hidden passage as they search his home, so this fit perfectly. Since the players had sorted out the mystery at this point anyway, I had Jean explain himself in true supervillain fashion. He also coaxed them to eat human flesh and join him on the path to ghouldom.

- I had the town’s priest and the constable accompany the characters to the old cemetery for the final showdown with Marcel. This seems like something those NPCs would actually do in defense of their village and I thought that the characters might need the backup. They didn’t need the extra hands, as it turned out, but by the time they got there they had emotionally invested enough in the priest that when his neck was snapped by a zombie they were all a bit shocked and dismayed. (The constable almost snuffed it as well, and he never managed to hit any of the bad-guys in the final fight anyway.)

- Some oddities in that last scene: if the players scout around the old cemetery instead of raiding each tomb they will quickly realize where the main action is and avoid ALL of the monsters in the other mausoleums. That’s player skill as opposed to character skill in action, I suppose.

- Despite being tough to kill, Marcel does kind of crap damage. Also, I changed his deathly aura thing into a miasma that caused black pustules to break out on the character’s bodies when they failed a saving throw. This was nice and gruesome.

- The cleric’s player decided that his character was going to stay in the village and take Brucian’s place as the spiritual leader of the community–that was some excellent role-playing.

Good times in the Domains of Dread.