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?