Successful Adventure?


At last night's gaming session (GURPS) someone started a somewhat tangential reminiscense about an adventure I ran a few years back in our D&D campaign. It was a mission to rescue a captive goddess from Graz'zt's realm in the Abyss. Some of you might recognise the basic plot from the Forgotten Realms module 'For Duty & Deity' although by the time I'd finished with it it bore only a fleeting resemblance to that rather content-light scenario.

For a few minutes everyone was talking about it, about how dreadful it had been travelling through the Abyss. They especially recalled the sense of desolation and despair they'd experienced when the party were lost on the Horrid Sea, a stagnant infinite ocean of festering meat topped up by rains of flesh in assorted shapes (some of which happened to be viable if somewhat bizarre creatures), dotted with mutant-infested islands covered in poisonous jungles that various demonic factions warred over interminably and pointlessly for possession.

Everyone agreed that it had been an awesome adventure though. It has become one of those adventures that people in my group never forget. There were many images and moments from that adventure that seem to have seared themselves into the brains of my players. I don't mean it has traumatised them - they chuckle when they recall these moments, like people can laugh about a horror movie after watching it.


At the time, when they were playing their characters in the adventure, they positively *hated* it and couldn't wait for it to be over so they could return home!

Here's the rub. Adventures generally involve characters entering some unpleasant, hostile or challenging environments. But if this is depicted really well, this can sometimes rub off on the players and affect them out of game.

The Horrid Sea episode, for example, lasted four sessions, corresponding to about four weeks of game time. The party were looking for a gateway that would take them to the city of Samora, but they had no idea where to find it and were of course lied to by creatures they asked for directions. Their 'arrow of direction' was useless as were clerical divinations.

If I had been kind I would have given them some kind of easy lead to follow. But this was the Abyss which is supposed to be a horrible place. Why should I give them an easy time?

They didn't half moan and complain about it though, out-of-game as well as in-game. Some of them became despondent and apathetic. If you had asked them at the time 'Is this a good adventure?' they would definitely have said 'No!'

So, was it a successful adventure?

What would your players answer to that question?

IMO, in order to check for success, you have to know what the goals of an activity are. If the goal was having fun (at the time) and a feeling of accomplishment, then No. If, however, the goal was instilling memorable moments and immersing the players in your world (or its abyss) then it's a Yes.
It's like a LotR LARP I was in a few years ago, that had little plot going on (for my character, at least), was somewhat confusing, and it rained at night, causing the collapse of our Lothlorien and making us seek shelter at one of the guys' home, cutting activities short. I have fond memories and a chuckle from that, even though I won't describe it as a success.
- reading a signature is silly -

Hmmmm. Not sure if your Lothlorien escapade is an equitable comparison. That's something that went horribly wrong! The adventure I was running didn't go 'wrong' - everything went pretty much as planned. Except, at the time, there were complaints that I had gone too far in seeking to build an atmosphere of despondency and hopelessness.

But looking back on it, people regard it as being one of the 'great' adventures our group has done. The party bard has made up epic songs about it and boasts about it whenever he has the chance (perhaps unwise given that Graz'zt's agents are still out there trying to track the party down.....! They have a certain amount of divine 'umbrella cover' from the grateful goddess that they rescued, but this doesn't protect them from more mundane methods of detective work. One day this will catch up with them.)

I guess what I am trying to say is that I think sometimes you can achieve greater long-term success by *not* bending over backwards to keep your players happy in the short run.

Playing devils advocate against myself, I have to ask the question - could I have achieved the same long-term result whilst keeping them happier in the moment of role-play? Do you need to grind your players down a little in order to really get that sense of immersion?

Sounds to me like an amazing adventure, and a fun one when "looked back upon". I too have placed PCs in spots that cuased horror, or dementia of the mind while inside the "box" but once out- they looked back on those adventures as "a worked for" great memory.

I always wonder myself if my PCs truly will enjoy, or are they "enjoying" these typoes of adventures during the actual play of them...and I have also seen many groups die in horrible places like these, leaving me to wonder "what have I done to the fun factor here?"

But, more times then not, these blood-chilling, or mind-bending adventures linger in the memories of my players as mile-stones or epic-turns in the campaign.

I think you were a success that night, those nights, those sessions. Why? Becuase your players not only speak of these adventures as moments of triump, but also as moments of great adversity. Those are the games that we all struggle longer, scare easyer, try harder...fight for not only our lives, but our very souls.

And a sea of flesh is fricking COOL! I almost wish I was sent there too, so I coulda felt the panic...

Very cool.

ps- And your right, you shouldnt have given them a tid-bit path to follow to escape. Never help, or take it easy on those who choose to enter Hells or worse.

People feel exhiliration when something unpleasant ends. People also feel better about accomplishments that have required effort and toil. Allowing players to endure some hardships solidifies their inter-character relationships and enhances their sense of accomplishment. Could you have achieved the same thing by keeping the the game upbeat? NO.

Emotional content is what separates the tabletop gamer from the ever growing segment of video gamers. Fear, excitement, and anger are among the most common emotions to evoke at the gaming table, while desperation, frustration, guilt, joy, love, and wonder are harder to extract from a gaming environment. In my opinion every emotion should be welcome at the gaming table and the GM/Storyteller should have all of them in their bag of tricks.

Desperation, depression, and frustration are certainly worthy of exploration. Are these feelings fun? No. There are lots of theories about what draws us to unpleasant stories and why they are good for us.

Roleplaying for me is about shared experience. LG I don't think we always have to aim for heart-pounding excitement. In my books, fun or not, your session was an unqualified success. Bear in mind that I expect that many people will disagree, which is why I think you are wise in asking the question. Most of the time a storyteller should aim for escapist fun with excitement, danger, and triumph. Every now and then I think you should go for something different like you did.