We'll play with a short crew of lower-point delvers on 9/11.
Most of the "easy" areas of Felltower have been gone over maybe 2-3 times.
I can point the finger at cautious play. But I did some things to encourage that.
Not that this is a change from how I run games in general, but Felltower was especially lethal right from the start. We didn't have cut-rate Resurrection yet. We didn't have a lot of money for the full version. And people in general didn't want to risk their paper men. I get it, even though risking your paper man is the only thing that generates good stories. It's the root of fun. No one sits back 10 years later and says, wow, we sure didn't lose any PCs, wasn't that awesome? They do tell stories of PCs that survived despite the odds, and of exploits good and bad. Mo is dead but the Naked Crowbar Fight lives on. Vryce is probably ashes or dust but who can forget him killing a dragon? And so on.
But because people don't want their paper man dead, they tend to choose the least risky way to play even in a game that only rewards risk. Or does it?
Part of the problem, I think, was the loot requirement.
I set them low to start with, with a very gradual slope. Only very high point characters needed serious loot to get points. Allowing unequal divisions - meant to allow bootstrapping new delvers - was not a big help either.
Setting them too low for too long allowed relatively high-point characters - especially amongst that first wave - to keep getting 4 xp and then 2 xp for loot smacking around foes too weak to present an actual lethal threat, and taking loot that would be more reasonable for newer delvers. I hesitated to change them because of resistance from my players . . . the push to keep them low, because they wouldn't be able to get enough loot and the newer areas were too dangerous, was strong.
And I'm sure many people reading this are nodding their heads, saying, sure, makes sense, you should always go for maximum loot at the minimum risk. But I'll note that it has been very rare for my players to talk about maximum loot, and much more often talk about getting the minimum loot to meet threshold. The goal wasn't the big score, it was the smallest score necessary. I had to put in rules about partial hoard looting, for goodness sake, to prevent people from finding loot and then taking only enough to maximize their point gains each delve. And about re-found loot, if a delver carried money in and died and then his friends came and recovered it. That wouldn't have been necessary if the delvers had been focused on getting the most they can each delve instead of the least they need to keep advancing.
Changing them for the higher has been very helpful.
Another problem was the Lord of Spite. I still think he's awesome, but the PCs had one encounter with him and basically decided he was to be avoided like Evil Otto in Berserk. So much so that as far as I knew, they didn't know his "room" was a staircase down. The new players didn't. So they spent a lot of time trying to find a way down in a dungeon designed (as time-saving method) to pen the PCs in to the first couple of levels for a while. It worked too well. No one really wanted to open the door and find the Lord of Spite to fight so they poured over the upper few levels again and again looking for loot and a way down, in that order.
The House Limit is Three Do-Overs
I wouldn't change all of this, if I had a chance do it all again. The need to have a functioning megadungeon that I didn't have to write a good 5-6 levels worth in one go required a I have bottlenecks . . . and putting the Lord of Spite in as a wandering monster added something I don't think you get in other megadungeons (at least not that I know of offhand.*)
I would use the current XP rules and loot thresholds. I think they make the most sense, and would have driven players to push their delvers deeper, quicker, in most cases. Maybe not. They're a cautious bunch. But they'd have progressed much, much slower in that case. The other things - yeah, easier access to cheaper rezzes would have been helpful. The Lord of Spite, he'd stay, but I'd been served better to have a different style of bottleneck to the lower levels. They opend up below but open up too slowly. I'd have put in many more connections - 3-4 times as many - given a chance.
This is why, ultimately, I'm not keen on putting in more new areas, more "starter" areas, and more side delves. It really just encourages bottom-feeding as much as you can . . . not just with 250-point guys but with 300, 350, 400+ point guys. Why take the risk? Just wait for a new side area to develop so people can "build up" to areas. I think Felltower is a vibrant place to delve. The choices aren't as wide-open as they were in the initial days, but they aren't closed off. There are risks to take and rewards to reap . . . just not as many easy ones as the loot threshold made it seem there were in the past. Now a serious level of risk to gain loot is assumed, not a side effect of choosing poorly. Our player Greg used to quote a friend as saying, "Now is the time for heroes." Felltower isn't for the heroic, but now is the time for the brave. Risk or gain no reward.
* If there is some other megadungeon that has a wandering demon lord on a shallow level meant for very early play, let me know. The Lord of Spite isn't the most powerful demon lord in the game, but he's no slouch.