Oct 12, 2017

Considerations from Playtesting Feuerberg

I've been running a Feuerberg game since this summer (June or July, I can't remember) using Into the Depths, basically playtesting pieces of it and generating material as I go. It's a fun campaign and the players are great. That's also why I haven't been posting a ton about it, since I don't want to "spoil" anything before my PCs get to it. Playtesting always makes such an important difference to a final product when done properly, and I love doing it for my own games and for others'.

What's been discovered after four months of play

Here are some insights I've had about the Feuerberg setting while playtesting it. None of this will affect my current campaign, it'll come into play with the next iteration.

One Mountain, Not Two

Feuerberg really needs to be compressed down into one mountain instead of two, though with a number of sub-peaks and ridges on that mountain. I originally split it up into two mountains (the titular Feuerberg and its smaller cousin Himmelberg) so as to space out the content and emphasise the feeling of wandering around a wilderness as they travelled the mountain, but I think this detracts from the megadungeon feel and makes it more of a constrained overland sandbox. A good megadungeon needs its spaces and subsections to relate and interact with one another. The two mountains break that up and create two separate zones without clear relations.

Here's a crude sketch of what I think the new, consolidated, Feuerberg will look like:

Definitely not giving up my day job to become an artist

More generally, I need to consolidate locations across the playspace. No need for two weird forests when one forest with the interesting elements of both would do. I'm still thinking through the details of how to do this, but one idea is to curve the mountain and its sub-peaks slightly so that it has one large valley in front of it that includes the areas PCs start in, and two smaller valleys behind it, each of which can have a distinct theme and feel.

Make Overland Travel Harder / Make Dungeon Travel More Attractive

Ultimately, I want PCs to go into the dungeon underneath Feuerberg and use it to move around as much as they clamber over the surface. But I've set it up so that it's relatively easy to traverse the mountains (except for the death zones near the top) with lots of interesting sites to visit there, whereas the dungeons underneath the mountain are relatively unexplored and unknown. There are multiple things that I need to do differently, but one is to make overland travel a smaller and more challenging part of the game, to encourage the PCs to use the dungeon to move around.

Part of the dynamic of play should involve the ability to see interesting locations aboveground, but to require at least some underground exploration to get to them. This means more sheer, difficult to climb cliffs with interesting things at the top of them. Currently, such barriers do exist at some points, but I mainly left them higher up the mountain so as to funnel PCs towards certain areas of interest in the end-game. These should be closer to the bottom.

Make it Easier to Access the Most Interesting Locations

Feuerberg has a bunch of really interesting locations that I, as a world-builder, think are visually compelling and have set up as sub-zones with extensive exploration opportunities. I realise now tho', that I've stuck them somewhat out of the way. I was hoping to lure exploration towards them, giving PCs a reason to cross more of the overland wilderness, but I think it will actually work better to push at least a few of them closer to the PCs' home base. It'll clarify major entrances to the megadungeon and give clear options for progress.

To do this, as well as in light of the reduction to a single mountain, I'm going to move the location of the town of Hoch, which serves as the base town for the PCs, so that the PCs don't have to march across most of the map to reach the areas that I'm most interested in them exploring. I'm also going to match up a few initial quests to each of these sub-zones more clearly to provide reasons for PCs to go immediately towards them.

Other Changes

I think I'm going to tie some of the factions a little more cleanly into the history of Feuerberg, but I can't go into the details right now both because I'm still figuring it out, and because I don't want to spoil anything for my PCs. I think I'm also going to push some factions deeper into the dungeon, and pull some slightly more towards the surface or closer to the starting area so that the PCs can encounter them more easily. I'm sure as I playtest things further more improvements will be discovered.