To Slay a Dragon: Post-Mortem

Context

I was contacted to write the second act of To Slay a Dragon after its very successful Kickstarter campaign. It was a fairly brief entry, but I was charged with capturing some of the essence of old-school hex-crawling adventure in the Pathfinder system, within a (fairly generic by design) plot and setting developed by the director.

One of the big challenges I faced here was in capturing what was “fun” about certain old-school game design without rejecting the newer elements, and without losing sight on the ultimate goal of slaying the dragon at the end of the adventure.

The excerpt presented here is a description of the “time pressure” mechanic I used to keep the party generally focused on their search. The dragon antagonist knows the party is searching for the implements of her destruction, so she is actively wreaking havoc on the countryside – the closer the party gets to a full armament (having “all the stars”), the more likely it is that they will lose important safe zones and allies.

What Went Well

I’m overall very fond of the dragon dice mechanic, and the efficient and compact way it works to keep pressure on the party. It forces an interesting player decision in that the players must weigh going to face the dragon under-equipped, or the chance that she will destroy another beloved village (and, potentially, important NPC). The act overall works pretty well in being a “generic hexcrawl,” complete with injury mechanics and rules for getting lost that help make up for some of the Pathfinder system’s failings in that respect.

What Could Have Gone Better

The “getting lost” and “getting injured” mechanics still feel like a lot of bookkeeping. To a certain degree, that’s OK in an “old-school hexcrawl,” but the result has just been a lot of folks not really using the mechanics. The “supply pouch” and “tool pouch” mechanics also suffer from players ignoring them, for broadly similar reasons. I was perhaps too dedicated to recreating that feel, so I didn’t innovate much beyond making it a bit easier to track. The truth is that the party is not often at risk of starvation or death out in the wilderness, and that’s unfortunate.

I also could’ve honed the “discovery” aspect of the hexcrawl a bit better. A glaring omission is any way to randomly determine if there’s anything interesting in the hex. Random encounters work, but they’re not a key component of the fun, just sort of “a thing that happens on the way.” My understanding of what makes for interesting traversal has grown a lot since this adventure!

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