Problems with the Kobolds on Level One

So we’re about eight sessions deep into Dwimmermount, and the players have really come into contact with the Kobolds on level one.

So far they’ve been:

  1. Set on fire by half a room filled with oil.

  2. Wandered directly into Guran’s room, and were it not for Neutralize Poison from their Healing Proficiency (and the room that stops time… Handy that) would have lost two PCs.

Now, I like these Kobolds. I like that they give a second door into Dwimmermount as a reward for chewing through them.

What I don’t like is the amount of reward for dealing with them. There’s just not that much down here - especially for the risk of the Crab Spiders. Save v Poison/Death is just really dangerous for them all. Kobolds fight dirty too, they use surprise and throw oil.

Is it reasonable to assume that this is just the miserable portion of the dungeon? Lots of monsters for very little reward, and most of that in copper, a horrid coin barely worth its weight?

Because I don’t think that’s sound design. My players are losing steam in the southern half of level one. They don’t like the idea of it at all. It’s making them miserable - they’re clearly frustrated. It’s a high risk, low reward dungeons segment. So far, it doesn’t make for very exciting or fun crawling.

If they plunge deeper in, they’ll find the other exit, the moon pool, the azoth spring, the dwarven cemetary. But the meanwhile of dealing with the Kobold bulwarks (and surroundings) is taking its toll on them. They’ve had eight hours (two sessions) of un-fun play leading into it. That’s two sessions too many.

I’m unsure how to fix it, either. Make it less dangerous? Make it more of a challenge to be solved? I’m partial to option number two, there, but I’m not sure how to do it.

By ACKS standards, the ratio of treasure to combat XP is quite high on Level 1. It's just unevenly distributed, which is fine as a point of dungeon design. 

The problem is that, even in an environment with multiple sets of choices, players often get stubborn about persisting with one that isn't fun for them. I think that a Dwimmermount design element that helps break this kind of inertia is the rival party restocking table. If you have a town close to the dungeon (Muntsburg is the default from the original campaign), it's likely that these rival parties are spending the treasure they're taking in that town, which is likely to generate rumors that will reach the players' ears. In my experience, the desire to get revenge on a group of unprofitable monsters is quickly trumped by the desire to get revenge on a group of rivals who are making off with "their" treasure.

Note that the biggest treasures even on the first few levels are probably too big for a small town economy to absorb, which means the rivals are carrying the low-bulk treasures on their person and stashing many of the coins somewhere nearby....

Some info about these rival parties can be seen at Grognardia, with more coming in this week's update!