So I ran three more sessions of the A-series. I wanted to run only first rounds, as I liked the idea of all the scores being comparable. I ended up running just stuff from A1, mostly as it was familiar and easy. I would like to run the first half of A2 some day, but just wasn’t up for the extra challenge of running something brand new at the con, and the second half of A2 and first half of A3 aren’t super exciting to me.
Two out of three games were good sized ( 9 and 8 ) while my first group was half-sized (only 5). For that group I let them choose one extra character to bring along as a dumb henchman (dumb as in he would just attack unless given explicit instructions) and they chose Eljayess, the F/C. Interestingly they had the other cleric with them but totally missing was all the magic-user characters (Dread, Phanstern, and Kayan). I also scaled down the encounters by about 33%. Despite these challenges they did pretty well. Actually I think they were the ones to do the sewer bit, and ultimately not having a Dread Delgarth player trying to shoot fireballs in 5′ corridors probably helped them.
All in all though, I’m starting to get the suspicion that the scoring is really more strongly directed by luck than by any kind of “player skill”. I felt all three groups played pretty intelligently. That said, the last group had terrible luck against the ghouls encounter, failing both surprise and initiative thus giving the ghouls two full rounds of attacks, during which they managed to paralyze both Dread Delgarth and Karaway. They then followed this up with a miserable turn attempt from Eljayess, and by the end of it they were down to just two characters left (the elf and the dwarf) against the ghouls. They managed to squeeze out a win, but had to burn their raise dead scroll and pretty much every ounce of healing they had to go on (this was the group of 8, and I even gave them the missing Phanstern’s potion of extra healing).
Compare this to the Friday group that faced the exact same challenge and walked just as blindly into the same trap. They passed the surprise check, won initiative, and in pretty short order had half the ghouls Slowed and pretty much all of them huddled in the corner cowering against the pair of held up holy symbols. That group got almost a perfect score, by the way, only missing out as they let one of their party die along the way.
I may very well be over the whole scored tournament thing now. The one thing I do like about these modules is that the content is clearly scaled well to fit into the 4 hour time limit. Clearly with the combination of good luck and skill a party can clear through a round in about exactly 4 hours. I may down-play the scoring part in future.
As for the A-series specifically, I think I’ve likely had my fill. I could be convinced to run them if a group of players wanted to play through more of it, especially if the same group wanted to try and push through the later rounds as well. Perhaps though it would be more fun to just let them play out all the content, and if they really wanted just tell them after the 4-hour mark what their score would have been had we stopped there but push on and play it out to the end.
Actually, that’s exactly what I did for my last group, and we played about an extra hour to get them to the end room. Given that all 8 players stuck around for the extra hour, I think I must have been doing something right.