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Author Topic: [Tunnels & Trolls] From the Lair of the Wyrm to Florinburg and Back  (Read 1623 times)
John S
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« on: February 11, 2010, 01:23:27 AM »

Background

My daughter and I have been experimenting with storytelling and roleplaying games off and on since she was four years old. She is nine now, and she loves fantasy and adventure literature. A few years ago, we made a few ongoing adventures in which we experimented with the rules from TWERPS, and later Sorcerer (very lite!) and Trollbabe. A few months ago, my wife got us a 4th Edition D&D boxed Starter Kit, and joined in the game as a Dwarf Fighter.

After playing through the intro adventure, it was clear that the potential for continuing adventures with the Starter Kit were sharply limited-- it came without character creation or advancement rules, and the premade characters could only be advanced to the Level 3. I've heard that WoTC is releasing a more comprehensive starter set, but at the present $120 for the core books is too much of an investment for us to see if the game holds long-term interest.

I thought it was pretty cool that my wife enjoyed roleplaying, which had never interested her before, and we wanted to continue the story of their adventures. I thought Trollbabe would be a great game for this, since Trollbabes are all about Fighting and Magic-- I wrote about that on the Adept Press forum. Over time, it became clear that their goals for roleplaying didn't fit with Trollbabe's Story Now mechanics, and Ron suggested that we try out Tunnels & Trolls.

Choosing an Edition

I had a Barnes & Noble gift card and no knowledge about the controversies over this, so I ordered the Mythical Sixth Edition, which was the only one they carried. Then I learned about the IP issues with Outlaw Press. It was no wonder that our book arrived without cover art.

From what I've read online, the differences between 5th, 7th, and 7.5 editions are important to people who know the game, but I couldn't parse the conversation without playing it first. I guess 6e is supposed to be 5th edition mixed with the authors' favorite house rules. Anyway, I'm bringing this up in case I start talking about a rule or concept that reads differently in different rules. I've seen a 7.5 boxed set at my local game shop, and I'm interested to compare it when I get a chance.

Prep

I haven't planned a dungeon delve since I was a kid, so I browsed the web for T&T inspiration before creating my own dungeon. Before our book arrived, I read through the abridged rules and ran a character through a few solo adventures to get somewhat fluent.

Before playing, I warned the girls that they should create a couple characters, since delvers are likely to die. They both created two characters and set off for the Lair of the Wyrm (pdf), which seemed like it would be a simple adventure to start off with. My daughter actually ran both of her characters through separate solo adventures first in order to get a feel for the game, accumulating a little bit of extra gold and Adventure Points along the way.

I amended only a few things from the adventure as written: I dialed back the difficulty of some of the saving rolls, and I assigned an MR for the Wyrm that seemed reasonable to pit against four Level 1 characters:

* Skah, the female Dwarf Warrior
* Phoenix, the male Faerie Wizard
* Celes, the female Elf Wizard, and
* Locke, the male Hobbit Thief (Professional class)

(I recently introduced my daughter to Final Fantasy III (6), and she named both her characters after characters in the game.)

Session 1: You are at the Wyrm's Lair

We didn't start off with the characters meeting at a tavern or anything, I just narrated that the characters heard rumors that a dragon-like creature had marauded this region a thousand years ago and it became a barren waste. If they can find the wyrm's lair and confirm that it was dead, they could take its treasure and maybe people would settle in the region again. They were happy to launch their characters straight into action without flailing about trying to figure out what to do.

So they scaled the outcropping of rock, went in the cave, and... flailed about trying to figure out what to do.

Celes used her light spell (Will O' The Wisp) to illuminate the room, they found the chest that contained the key, and then they each failed a long series of Level 3 Luck Saving Rolls (to spot the trap-door leading deeper in, and they all had low Luck scores), punctuated by a few exciting encounters with various poisonous vermin.

GM Lesson 1: Sometimes it's okay to coach new players on what options their characters have

Like a spell called Oh There It Is, which would have revealed the trap door right away. Since I'm not completely fluent in the spell list, I didn't think of it at the time. I just let them continue searching, spending Arcane power (which we call Mana), occasionally rolling on the encounter table, and telling them that a few more hours went by. Finally, I told them that the characters were getting hungry, and they chose the character with the highest Dexterity (Celes) to climb down to the mule in the dark and get their rations.

That's when Celes was fatally stung by a scorpion, and they decided to return to the town to bury Celes, recruit some more adventurers-- they were particularly interested in rolling up some kind of healer and maybe an expert on poisons --and to get some more provisions. They were keeping track of the Adventure Points earned by each Saving Roll, and we were also using a 6e rule that awards a "chip" to the party each time they roll a 6 on a Saving Roll; at the end of each session, the chips are added up, multiplies by 100AP, and divided equally among the party. This gave them each a meaningful sum of AP for the session. (More on this later.)

Although my daughter's character was killed, she seemed excited to roll up some new characters, and immediately began purchasing equipment with an eye to building a more effective delver.

Session 2: Welcome to Florinburg

Between sessions, I rolled up two new characters that might present themselves as candidates if the party advertised their vacancies. One was the expert on poisons I mentioned: Vino, a cunning, overconfident, and nervous fellow I based on Vizzini from The Princes Bride. I used the Professional class template for Vino, giving him skills in Poisons and Mechanical Traps. I could picture him helping the party a lot, but also having his own schemes and probably getting himself killed. The second was a Dragon Loremaster that I based on the wizard Howl from Howl's Moving Castle (the literary version). His name was Albus Wormtongue, and I gave him Dragon Lore and Savoir Faire as his Professional class skills. I didn't know how the players or characters would react to these figures, but I thought it would be fun to play them in a few encounters.

I also created two inns, The Dancing Dwarf and The Dingy Haystack, and an adventure supply store called The Golden Gibbon, and wrote down the names of their proprietors, which gave me instant personalities. I also noted that if they stayed at The Dingy Haystack, the more affordable place, that they'd have to make a Saving Roll on Luck to wake up when large rats robbed them by night. (My daughter immediately predicted this when they arrived in town and I named the Inns, so they stayed at The Dancing Dwarf.)

Reading and playing Trollbabe has enriched my preparation for this kind of open-ended character-driven setting a lot (by "open-ended", I mean not enclosed like the dungeon). Obviously, I wasn't setting Stakes or Consequences for their visit to Florinburg, but I did generate the list of male and female names for random NPCs that has such immense utility. To keep it in the T&T spirit, I added numbers to the list, so I could select the names with dice, but in practice I just grab a name when there is suddenly a need for a named character.

Since only one of the characters had a bedroll, and only one of them brought provisions, which were already spent, I made them roll Saving Rolls on Constitution* once a day for the journey home in order to fend off fatigue-- every time they missed a roll, they lost a point of Strength. For characters without bedrolls, the Saving Roll increased by one level of difficulty each day without food or good rest. Luckily, the journey to Florinburg was only three days.

They arrived at The Dancing Dwarf Inn before burying Celes, and Alice the innkeeper told them that they couldn't bring a dead body in her inn. "What do you think this is-- The Dingy Haystack?"

The next day, they decided to ask Waldak at the Golden Gibbon to spread the word that they were looking for fighters for their raid on the Wyrm's Lair, since my daughter had rolled up a Human Warrior, named Cyan, to join their party. Applicants could meet them at The Dancing Dwarf.

They planned to spend four days in town healing and recovering from fatigue, and I told them that if they didn't want to do anything, they could just make Saving Rolls on Luck each day to see if anyone responded to their ad. As it turned out, they were visited by both Vino and Albus on the same day.

They declined to hire Vino because he asked to be paid for his services. I thought about making him greedy up front, but I decided that he would only ask for the rate in the rule book, which turned out to be around 40gp a week, plus supplies, and loot. Reflecting on their financial situation, the party said "thanks but no thanks", and he said he'd be staying in town at The Dingy Haystack for a while if they change their mind.

When Albus arrived, at first they weren't convinced that he would be useful, but he worked his charm and persuaded them that the stuff he knew would give them an edge. When they asked how much he wanted he said "money is no object!" Seeing how much he wanted to come for the learning, they asked him to pay them to tag along, and he said he'd get back to them. Heh heh, the GM thinks. Mr. Savoir Faire knows how to get some money, but there may be strings attached.

On what was prospectively their last day in town, I wanted to give my daughter a fight scene to introduce her knew warrior to the party. Skah and Phoenix were out on a walk, and they found the Mana Temple, the place where Phoenix can buy and learn new spells. On their way back to The Dancing Dwarf, they saw two goblins and a large orc walk in ahead of them. When they go in, these guys start some senseless mayhem, and I mention that Cyan is there, and it can be a fight if they want one.

Mind your Monster Rating

I wasn't sure how to set the Monster Rating for these dudes, so I gave the orc 80, and the two goblins 10 each. When I saw the results of the first round of combat, I thought better of it: they would have killed the party in the first fight. What I had hoped would be a scene to lightly introduce the combat rules to the players was instead a primer for me on Monster Math, and how to select an appropriate Monster Rating for the power of the group. Hearing the ruckus down the hall, Locke came in and used some Saving Rolls to get an edge, and I surreptitiously reduced the MR before rolling dice for the next round. Since this was supposed to be a sandbox experience and it wasn't a fair fight, I let the first-round Faerie fatality slide.

Advancement

We ended our second session after that scene, and I added up the chips. Adding these points to the running total from all their Saving Rolls gave all the characters who survived from the first session almost enough to level up! What?!

It really shocked me to see them advance so much during there "town" session. On one hand they seemed to have a lot of fun interacting with the characters there, and they made a lot of Saving Rolls, which they were diligent to record the experience for. Except for my failure at Game Balance in the last scene, we all enjoyed it a lot.

On the other hand, it didn't seem like they had endured enough peril to earn Level 2. For the third session, I decided that "chips" would only be awarded for sixes rolled on Saving Rolls in scenes of potential peril, which would include anything in the dungeon setting or traveling to and fro through wild places.

That night, my daughter and I took her new character through the solo adventure in the book (she asked me to referee), and we got a much better handle on the combat rules, Monster Ratings, and developed a few creative ways to use Saving Rolls in combat. We played our third session last night, and I'll write about that soon.

As I write this, one thing that jumps out at me may be the main reason that the dungeon was a bit flat while the city came to life: the vividly-conceived NPCs. The Wyrm's Lair has hazards, and maybe even personal history, but characters don't jump out of the adventure as written (and certainly not in our first session). When Ron recommended Tunnels & Trolls, he suggested focusing on "problem-solving, funky/thought-puzzle traps, and interactions with really solid NPCs" (emphasis mine). I dropped the ball on that part by using such a barren setting for the first adventure. I customized the Saving Roll levels and Monster Rating of the adventure, but I didn't add any humanly-recognizable characters or conflict, even humorously, to the dungeon. Hmmm...

How do you bring solid, rich characters into a dungeon setting? Ron's T&T threads helped, and so did Jesse's last post on the Dungeonbabe & Dragons thread. I guess the most important skill is to not worry about making any kind of sense, and just use the purely imaginative sense of fun as a guide.

Coming soon: "Greetings fellow adventurers. I am a Level 6 Shih Tzu Warrior."

* We call it Health, probably a legacy of my GURPS experience. In fact, we dumped the Speed attribute, since I couldn't imagine a Speed Saving Roll that couldn't be dealt with using Dexterity. I guess this is a capricious decision, since it makes as much sense to use the D&D, GURPS, or Sorcerer attributes, or something completely arbitrary. But I've also heard that house rules are a major part of T&T culture, and that you're not really playing T&T until you get under the hood a little. Nevertheless, the set we use seems to be working well with the T&T rules and the world we're imagining: our attributes are Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Charisma, Luck, Health, and Mana (ST, DX, IQ, CH, LK, HT, and MN).
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Eero Tuovinen
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2010, 03:54:44 AM »

Interesting to read about the sixth edition - I haven't know much about it, as I've only read and played the 5th and 7th. Does anybody happen to have experience on both the sixth and some other editions? The Speed attribute is a pretty clear-cut thing (I don't use it either, it's simply not very interesting as an element of fiction), but that sixes-translate-to-xp thing sounds like an interesting variant.
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Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
Finarvyn
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« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2010, 07:56:03 AM »

Sounds like a fantastic game. T&T is a simple system, and kids can learn how to play in a hurry!

I'm partial to 5E, myself, but many of the guys I know are really into 7E. (I've had 5E for years and got a first-run autographed-by-Ken-St.Andre copy of 7E when it first came out. I play 5E while 7E sits on my shelf and looks pretty.)

The thing I like best about 5E is that it was supported essentially unchanged for about 15-20 years, so most of the solo adventures can be bought and run with zero conversion. I'm told that you can run them with 7E also, but I'm not too familar with the kinds of tweaks needed to make it work properly.

If you want to engage in some T&T discussion or ask questions about T&T, you might try the TrollBridge (a fan forum devoted to T&T and run by myself).
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Marv (Finarvyn)
Sorcerer * Dresden Files RPG * Amber Diceless
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OD&D Player since 1975
John S
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« Reply #3 on: February 15, 2010, 11:07:19 AM »

Thanks for the words of encouragement! I may post more about our AP when I can-- It's given rise to some very funny situations and characters: My daughter's favorite scene was when Locke the hobbit met Albus Wormtongue and he asked to speak with Locke's parents. My favorite part was when my wife was looking over the equipment list and said "Studded leather armor? I'm not buying that-- who do they think I am, the Village People?" They also liked running into Houndini, a Shih Tzu warrior I mentioned before, and finding out that the goblin language is consists of guttural burps.

Marv, thanks for pointing out Trollbridge! I posted some adventure notes and questions about planning a T&T "dungeon" and Creative Agenda.
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Finarvyn
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« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2010, 05:03:41 PM »

Glad I could help!

This is a great gaming site, but the philosophy here is often different from the old T&T style gaming and I thought the other site might give you more specific information to match the rules you are trying to play.

Glad you like the TrollBridge. :-)
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Marv (Finarvyn)
Sorcerer * Dresden Files RPG * Amber Diceless
Forge Member since 2004
OD&D Player since 1975
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