Last Wednesday, I ran the 6th delve into the dungeon beneath Trelleborg. I hadn't really expected more than a couple of players for a mid-week game, but found myself with six of them at my table - four returning and two new.
Because it was a weeknight game, I decided that I would basically hand-wave the trip to the trap door in the tower, with some bits here and there for atmosphere. That came back to bite me in the butt.
It seems I forgot the rule that says anything the DM says, no matter how trivial it might seem to them, will be seized upon by at least one player, thereby turning an insignificant description into the main focus.
The atmosphere I added was that it felt like someone had been there (the ruined tower). It seemed innocuous to me, but of course, I have nothing to lose either way.
The players, on the other hand, felt something terrible might be up.
Rather than going into the tower, they decided they needed to go and check out the camp site from Session 5. After that turned up no merchants (although it did turn up some unusual finds- like large damp spot caused by a large amount of blood, a trail with wagon wheel ruts (which they didn't follow) - it was clear to them that an ambush had been laid inside the tower (despite no evidence for that). Even when they found footprints going in, they found some coming out, so an ambush wasn't a forgone conclusion. Yet, when they saw the trap door down was wide open, that was it - one player suggested they sweep the entire 1st level.
Ordinarily, I'd be happy to let them do this - it's a good approach for a dungeon crawl, but we had limited time and i had two new people who wanted to roll some dice and kill something. Never mind that the first level is entirely clear of monsters and only a wandering monster roll would have any chance of bringing anything.
Fortunately, during my session prep i made notes that the doors of the rooms in the hall approaching the stairs down had been burned down. Since doors in the opposite direction weren't, and once they were satisfied the black metal goblins hadn't come up the elevator (the trap the party's thieves had set was still there), they put their tank back in the closet and proceeded down to the 2nd level.
Still, it wasn't until they started debating a course of action in a crypt that a wandering monster roll brought them into contact with some ghouls and the new people started to maybe get a sense of investment in the game. Especially when a TPK was nearly the result (a handful of the party were paralyzed).
I think this was my biggest failure this session - assuming I could get them into the action without any delay with just a little hand waving and descriptive atmosphere. As a result, I'm sure at least one of the two new people was bored for a good bit. I'm not sure how to resolve this - I want them to understand that the 1st level may at some point repopulate, but it hasn't yet and at the same time, I like the caution they're showing - death has been established as a real possibility, and most of the world has been shown to be evil. They care about their characters surviving (or at least seem to) and they pretty much trust no one they encounter beyond the town.
On the up side, once again, I was happy with how I had included clues to the presence and/or effect of traps - the players were quite creative in defeating them, and i think that was some of the most fun this session from my point of view. Most of them could have resulted in a number of fatalities, and they lost no one (to traps) because they made good use of the clues and the environment to defeat the traps.
The treasure haul was nice (they defeated a mummy who had a nice haul, but here was treasure in some of the burial spaces too), and everyone went up a level at the end, which brings up my second issue: The treasure, which was so scarce in sessions 1 and 2, is starting to feel Monty Haul-ish to me.
I need to go back and make sure I did my calculations correctly - I am using random generation from the Basic book, but I give 1 XP per silver, so I divide the gold by 10 to get the same XP but 1/10 the gold. Except I think I left the silver as rolled, when it too should be divided by 10 to get the correct XP amount.
I'm running another session in mid-July and one at the beginning of August. Plenty of time to study up on more GM techniques and try to improve things.