So the first playtest of UNTITLED VIKING HORROR SCENARIO ground to a halt somewhere in the midst of the fourth session. A cross-island trek turned into a desperate and unfocused speculation huddle, and when it became obvious that I was running out of in-game ways to frame their information I decided that maybe I should excuse the audience, turn up the house lights and get some feedback.
Now, the biggest and most immediate part of the problem was that I turned what should've been the one sane GMC into a PC. It looked like a good choice at the time; the number of players in attendance fluctuated from two to four people during the playtest, sometimes even mid-session. The shuffle probably wasn't helping their collective memory either. So I needed to introduce a new PC quickly, and handing them a just-met NPC seemed the quickest way to do it. In retrospect, this was the only GMC capable of explaining the scenario setting's immediate past.
The second issue, which the post-game kibbitz brought up, was that the fictive context wasn't clear enough. The keystones of the genre weren't in place. They were reading events as forebodings of hypothetical doom, rather than actual doom happening all around them. The scenario is supposed to be a survival horror episode; the players had ended up in an Arkham Horror mindset. Instead of trying to escape as soon as possible, they were looking for solutions that involved returning to a previous equilibrium.
Third, some handouts to accompany the complicated descriptions might have been useful, especially the maps that were present in-game. Good Latin translations of the map text for verisimilitude might be tough, but I guess Google Translate can work in a pinch… it's not like any of my players know it.
On the good side, they reacted positively to the action sequences, especially the big, crazy dramatic opening. "Oh shit, we're going to die," is exactly what I wanted to hear. Even the random crazy mutant random encounters seemed to rile them up and freak them out.
So it blew up, but I feel pretty good about it, since I now know exactly what I have to fix.