Hey, good job on signing up to run Portal for those cons! I've run it 3 times now.
1. Be prepared to give them clues and keep the time pressure on. I had people try to pry jewels off the door (I triggered the trap), I had one find the trap (high roll) but not know what triggered it, and In two games a player happened to have an astrologer and think of reading the stars (both in the sky and on the door). I would pass out hints like "you estimate it's about 2 hours until the Empty Star reaches its zenith" (some interpreted that as meaning they have 2 hours to get in and out, until they find the door locked), or "the pattern on the door looks like what you estimate the sky will look like in x hours". I try to move things along if they mill about (and they will), like, "about one hour has passed" to give them a sense of time passing. If they don't really do anything, just finally say "2 hours have passed since you arrived, the Empty Star pulses as it reaches its highest point, and you hear a soft click come from the door". Don't sweat it if they don't fall for the trap; there are plenty of opportunities later (and you're supposed to be impartial
). Or, you could trigger the trap even if they fail on the STR check; they won't know the exact criteria for the trap going off.
2. Yeah, they should be scared; it's not supposed to be easy. I had one group pull enough jewels from the pool above to see water dripping into the chamber below but they still didn't run back to collapse the pool; they wanted to do it the hard way. One came up with the idea of jumping into the pit, wedging themselves between the edge and a clay soldier, and "pushing it over to try and trigger a domino effect"; so, I let them, and basically ruled that if these things are pushed over they collapse, and rolled a d10 to see how many more fell like dominoes; they started trying everything to push these things over and still got slaughtered (but were having fun trying things). We ran out of time before they could finish so they'll be back another day. I had another group go straight for the warlord, an obvious target, one "running on the heads of soldiers to close the distance and throw my pitchfork like a javelin"; he burned enough luck for a solid hit, and two others rushed over to finish him off. People tried to use the mini clay soldiers in the workroom to control the army; I didn't let that do anything but you could easily let it have an effect. In one game the "chicken thrower" was using the chicken to distract her opponents.
Just follow your players and you might go off script but you'll give them a satisfying game. And even failing dismally can still be a good game...
Trevor / Road Crew (Calgary)
Shaky, Gambler, N, AC 10, hp 1, S12 A9 S5-2 P9 I9 L9, r+0, f-2, w+0, club +0 (1d4)
Shifty, Smuggler, C, AC 11, hp 1, S9 A15+1 S5-2 P13+1 I8-1 L8-1, r+1, f-2, w+1, init+1, attack rolls -1, sling +0 (1d4)
The Illuminating Anhk, Elven Artisan, L, AC 10, hp 3, S11 A9 S9 P13+1 I10 L15+1, r+0, f+0, w+1, fumbles +1, staff +0 (1d4)
KIA Bailey Bramford, Beadle, L, AC 11, hp 1, S13+1 A13+1 S12 P5-2 I13+1 L11, r+1, f+0, w-2, init +1, staff +1 (1d4+1)