“Why Did It Have To Be Snakes?”

Turns out this will be my last, or second to last, post about the Serpent’s Skull adventure path. The reason the last recap took… three months to type is because the game’s been slipping away for a while now.

Part of it is on the player end. We started with a large-ish group, six, went down to five after three sessions, back up to six for another three, down to five for three months, and ended up at four for the last half-dozen sessions. This would all be work or school related time conflicts, thanks to the power of scheduling. Four would have been doable, but there’s been a recent spate of no-games because half the group is missing, and in the next few months, we should have one player going on an extended vacation and two others busy at conventions.

But a large part of it is on my end. After soldiering on for two and a half months, I realized I just wasn’t giving the game the effort it needed, not keeping up the wiki, writing up props/handouts, or spending time planning. So after some thought, I decided to take the sickly thing out behind the shed and put it down. Something I should have done back in February, but since we had just reached the “good” part of the Path, I figured to keep pressing on and trying to find more players, maybe switching the game’s time slot.

Between all the constant changes, the group feeling that had been built on Smuggler’s Shiv started to shrivel up and die on the vine, and so we never had a great case of party cohesion or unity. This is the first game I set up with random strangers I met on Pen & Paper or Meetup.com, and in many ways it showed—in the lack of cohesion or tactics, which eroded into brief spates of inter-party conflicts, in and out of game. Not how D&D is supposed to operate, since it leads to TPKs; the D&D game is designed to work with each party member pulling their own weight and operating like an effective (killing) machine.

Instead, we had a division between the optimizers and the people who “just made characters” and called it good. Several of the players were critical of everything—someone roleplayed too much, someone roleplayed too little, someone was stat-crunching, etc. One guy ended up as little more than a chair-warmer, talking twice as much before the game started than he did during a given session. Working to entertain the party began feeling like work.

Meanwhile I grew critical of the players. Few players bit on the roleplay hooks, and I got bored with generic, repetitive combats existing in a void; not much happened outside encounters, and those didn’t have the same texture or tactical dynamism as in the earlier sessions. Things had been more interesting back on Smuggler’s Shiv, then fell into a rut during the next two modules that bored the hell out of me.

And by the time I found more eligible players, the game was all but dead. Not that I should have considered installing fresh blood into the toxic environment, but still.

So here we are, finally getting to the part of the Path I’ve done the most planning for, the parts where I figured to start divorcing it from the canned adventure and expand out a glorious excursion against the Serpentfolk empire taking the players to level 20 or higher… and it’s just not worth it. When I’m only running once a month, I stop caring, not doing the planning or prep I should have done, and that’s not something an invested GM does.

So a big disappointment that the game collapsed, considering my hopes for the entwined third act—modules three and four, plus change. I don’t take it personally, since game death happens often enough, and the ICONS game I’m running has been some of the most fun I’ve had behind the screen in years—and the players have given very supportive feedback. I still hope to use the Serpent’s Skull notes and plans I’d worked out, but at this point, I’m taking it as a learning experience and putting that far on the back-burner for a while.

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