Tonight we had our Arena of Xagyg game, and it was fairly successful. The idea is a treasure retrieval boardgame like dungeon. It went off much like I had pictured it. It's my personal feeling because we were using the pathfinder ruleset that expectations about the game were different from what the game actually was. I can say it played out very much as I had intended. As to whether that's a good thing or not is still under disscussion.
The general idea is to create a 1st - 3rd level pathfinder character, and retrieve a set amount of treasure based on your level. Every 2 turns new, increasingly powerful wandering monsters enter the arena which is made up a variety of Geomorphs. A play report will be contained in this post, and the rules and resources in the post following.
The game began with the players working in a similar configuration to the first game. The rogues paired up, and the paladin and alchemist paired off on their own. The Alchemist was the new pc of the player who's fighter died last time.
Both the Alchemist and the Rogues moved to 'chambers' rooms, designated with the differently colored tile, with two monsters and more valuable treasure. Inside these rooms were two animated footstools, an ice elemental, a cave scorpion. The scorpion was the green stone, the footstools were red stones, and the ice elemental was blue.
This sort of tied them up for five or six rounds. The footstools (being CR 1/2) were barely a threat to anyone, though the players spent several rounds hitting them, their hardness made them immune to much of the damage that was done. Five or six rounds is a long time in this game. They were finally making some headway and grabbed the treasure out of these chambers when the CR of the wandering monsters started increasing and out came a white dragon.
Let me take this opportunity to say a DC 13 save is hardly ever missed. Many of the opponents in tonight's game were ice creatures that were vulnerable to fire, and yet I think every time the players attempted to take advantage of that (with elixirs of flame breath and the like) the enemies made their saves. 1/2 of 150% damage is not that impressive.
Meanwhile in the central corridor, bad luck was being had. The blue dice are representing a larger medium sized elemental doing a whopping D6+4+1d4 damage. On my rolls I was averaging 11 damage from the ice elemental's attack. But due to the high player armor classes (player average was 20? 21?) I only hit when I rolled a ~17 or higher, so not nearly as threatening as you would think. Regardless, on the large red die, you can see what sort of luck the flanking rogues were having.
Checking back in with the paladin, we can see she ran into the room containing a medium ice elemental to get the treasure, (followed by the red stone, representing our faithful stool). There is a secret door in this room. Secret doors contain unguarded treasure. During this fight, she drank a potion of secret door location, allowing her to spot and open the secret door. She then bullrushed the elemental once, grabbing the treasure, and again next turn to flee the room. During the hubub and chaos, she made it to an exit rune intact and with enough treasure, for the second time in a row.
Things were looking grim for out two thieves. One of the rogues opened up a room and ran in to grab the treasure, then running out and leaving the area and slamming the door behind him- trapping the cockroach swarm inside. Both thieves realized that neither of them had enough treasure to make it out alive. They took one look between themr, and in front of the monsters started flinging alchemist fire back and forth at each other. A short disagreement erupted over who rolls the damage for the second round someone is on fire. Is it the person taking the damage? Is it the person who is on fire? It was an issue, because, well, a player had set another player on fire. Personally, I knew better then to get involved.
You can see the half-orc rogues laying into each other on the left, while the cockroach swarm pours out from underneath the door, and the peanut gallery of two ice mephits and a medium ice elemental watch. Empty rooms are marked with poker chips, and possible traps are marked with raised tiles.
Soon enough one of the rogues went down, shedding his treasures everywhere. The other low on hit points, ran around the corner failing his perception roll on that trap. Was it a reflex save trap his rogue skills would help him survive?
No. Swinging axe trap. Rolled a 27 to hit. He had 2 hit points left. The trap did 1d8+1.
However, he was a half-orc, and was able to drink a healing potion the next turn, but alas, it was not enough. The monsters came around the corner and finished him off.
Players survived: 1
Players dead: 3
I had originally set out to design Xagyg Arena for a couple of reasons. I wanted to do a boardgameish dungeon crawl without spending seventy dollars, I wanted to have something quick and re-playable that didn't require much beyond initial setup, I wanted something that was very tactical in how to accomplish your win - not just something with one local peak of strategy, but something of an environment where strategy was dependent on the opponents you faced, and I wanted to have something that was an homage to the lethality of old school dungeons and Tower of Gygax.
In the post game discussion, several of the players seemed dissatisfied. It was sort of my intention by the way I constructed the game (accumulate a threshold of gold and escape before the dungeon gets over-run with monsters) that the goal, like in old school play, should be treasure acquisition. I commented that it seemed to be a better strategy what with the every increasing monster flow to duck in and grab the treasure and run out, rather then to try and 'wipe out' the current slew of monsters, so as to take them out 'one by one' and have the board cleared. I also think, perhaps, they were more excited by the idea of 3.x combat which is not what this game was about.
I ran an 'epic pathfinder' game, where each session was essentially like a big console strategic role playing game like Final Fantasy Tactics, or Disgaea. Although this was great fun for the players, it was not very much fun for me at all. One of the players said something akin to (and I'm paraphrasing here) "It's like you build a giant beautiful delicate porcelain structure and we are a band of rabid monkeys that run in and tear it down while throwing shit all over it." This is more fun for me, because it's really a race against time - i.e. I'm not handicapped by having to make it consistently fair. There's an explicit timer. You have to retrieve approximately 4 treasures, and by turn 20 the monsters get tough and start filling the dungeon. That's when things get unfair. Better hurry. Exciting.
The things they were saying to me, "Near the end of the game there were too many monsters," and "It takes too long to kill everything and clear out the rooms," and "I want to explore more of the dungeon," were like a list of my design goals. Have monsters overrun the dungeon after a certain threshold. Time it so that if they are fast they can grab an extra treasure or two. Make it so the dungeon *can't* be cleared.
They did make several key points. Monsters of all kinds should drop some kind of loot - something for those going to the effort of killing them. I also think I could have better informed them of what an effective basic strategy is (like last week, when I intentionally failed to mention that spending an extra 15 gold to bring along a cold iron weapon, and perhaps, I don't know, being able to do area damage were good ideas) and perhaps out ideas could have been less in conflict.
Things worked pretty much exactly as I had imagined they would. Is it the best way they could have worked? I don't know. If it had been me, I would kick down doors and grab the treasure, and not worry about taking out anything that isn't directly in the way of me doing that. And if everyone does that, I think I see a situation where the tactics aren't about how to kill the monster the fastest, but specifically, how to screw the people you're playing with (by pulling the monsters too them) and use the combat options to maneuver around the battlefield (control spells for wizards, acrobatics for thieves, combat maneuvers for fighters). I have a feeling there's a lot of unexplored strategic depth in the 'small environment, competitive against other players, collect the gold and escape' game. I'm looking forward to trying it off and on in the future.
Players, comment with your thoughts. Also, anything I missed from the recap.
Readers, any opinions? I'll be providing our rules and accessories so you can try this out at home if you want.