I have continued to run Stonehell since my last post here and have continued to use Castles and Crusades to run it. While the group has not met regularly we still have managed to get several good sessions in, and have even added a player. I am happy with this, as I now live more than an hour from the rest of the group.
Last weekend I ran two sessions of Stonehell at GenCon. I took a different approach than I have in the past when I run Stonehell at a convention or other "one shot" situation. In the past, I have had a prepared adventure that is set in Stonehell. My thought process was that players at a convention would not be interested in undirected exploration. It turns out I was wrong.
In both sessions I offered the players a choice, they could either start at the top of the steps and begin exploring, or I could use a prepared adventure set in the dungeon. Both time the players made the unanimous choice to just start exploring. There wasn't even any real discussion about it. I was very happy with the results in play and will be taking this approach at conventions from now on.
I was also happy at how different the two sessions were. The first group, which contained no Stonehell veterans, followed what I have learned is a fairly conventional approach for a first-time Stonehell run. They explored the area immediately around the staircase and then headed off towards the quiet halls.
The second group, including one of my regular players, started off much the same, but then switched to a more directed approach. My regular player clued them in to the stone head on the first floor that answers questions. Like most groups that encounter the head, they asked it where the nearest large treasure is. They also asked it about finding a spell book. As it turns out, the nearest, large treasure was in a sub-level of my own design. They spent a long time looking for it, and came very close, but were unable to find it. Their quest for the spell book took them down to the asylum, an areas that none of my groups have explored extensively.
The stone head is a dungeon masters best friend for starting groups. It is a great way to reveal a little bit about what might lie in any given direction, or give the players a short-term goal that they choose for themselves.
I continue to be happy with Stonehell as a setting for adventures, both ongoing campaigns and one shots.