Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

REVIEW: Saving Fang from the Pits of Morgul by Ken St. Andre

This is one of those things that just needed doing. I mean… can you imagine an edition of Tunnels & Trolls not being supported with solitaire adventures? I know, shudder to think, right? Well, thankfully with the “Deluxe” edition being in the works these past few years there was plenty enough reason to get this one nagging detail taken care of. And by the progenitor of this iconic game no less!

So… how is the only adventure designed especially for the first edition of Tunnels & Trolls? Well, in keeping with the line’s traditions it’s lavishly illustrated. Even better, it’s loaded with dash and charm. And I must say, the gratuitously captivating “Cherry” adds far more than her share of pep to the proceedings. But the best thing about it is that it does a great deal that the monstrously large Deluxe edition of the game does not do:

  • First, it takes you into Troll World and gives you a glimpse of the city of Khosht and what it’s like adventuring in its vicinity. After reading in the Deluxe rules that this was the first city developed for the game and that it was even the city that got burned down via the premise of Metagaming Concepts’ Monsters Monsters!, I have to say that I’m thrilled to have (in effect) gotten a guided tour of the place from Ken himself.
  • It illustrates how a Tunnel Master can use a couple of higher level non-player characters to throw one or two novices into more of an epic scenario. You don’t have to play out the details of their actions; you can use them to provide a frame that allows the low level characters to focus on the part of the adventure that depends on them! This is a neat trick and I’m glad to have it incorporated into my game mastering arsenal.
  • It shows how combat situations can be broken down into multiple parallel encounters. The various editions of Tunnels & Trolls suggest this sort of thing, of course… but it’s great getting a glimpse into how an old pro applies these suggestions in an actual gaming situation. I am much less likely to simply total and compare the combat results of the players and the monsters now.
  • It has both a set of fully stated and defined monsters and some fleshed out NPC characters to go with them. ( know… it’s crazy to me that the big Deluxe book doesn’t quite do that, but the ghouls, skeletons, zombies, and necromancer are really useful to someone that is flat new to the system.

Ken St. Andre is a very gracious referee. He’s no Monty Hall, sure… but he allows players of this dungeon to take whatever equipment they want from the lists in the first edition rules. Even better, he grants players of the Rogue character type the option of selecting any first level spell they like right from the beginning. (That’s really nice of him. While that is standard operating procedure in the Deluxe edition, in the first edition rules there’s no telling how long it’d take a rogue player to scrape up enough funds to convinces a wizard player to teach him something…!)

Playing this out strictly by the first edition rules, I am convinced now more than ever that the streamlining of the Deluxe edition is (for the most part) spot on. In my game, I dutifully looked up the monsters’ dice ratings each time I did damage to them. (The dice progression is not only much more predictable in the latest version of the game, but they keep their dice rating throughout the combat, so there’s nothing to rethink there.) I also applied the rule of the monster only getting one quarter of their rating in adds starting with the second combat round. When the monster dropped below ten hit points, I was even rolling zero dice for them. You just don’t lose anything by dropping this sort of extraneous detail.

Now, I’ve lost many a player character in these Tunnels & Trolls solitaire adventures previously, so I expected the worst. I probably didn’t have to be so paranoid, but I took every measure to see to it that the guy I rolled up was competitive. In this case… that meant playing an elf. Here he is if you want to use him in your game:

ST 12
IQ 14 + 7 = 21
LK 15 + 7 = 22
CON 10
DEX 8 + 4 = 12
CHR 6

Type: Rogue
Kindred: Elf
Level: 1 (First Edition rules)
Weight Possible: 1200
Experience Points: 0
Languages: Common, Elvish, Trollish… and seven others?!
Combat Adds: 10

Spells: Take That You Fiend (costs 6 strength to do damage equal to IQ)

Bastard Sword (Weighs 75, does two dice damage… may spend one strength to go two handed and do three dice damage instead.)
Dragon Venom (Weighs 10, 20 applications, quadrupals edged weapon damage before adds.)
Light Crossbow with 20 bolts (Weighs 105, 2+3 damage)
Chain Mail (Weighs 500, takes 5 hits)
Steel Cap (Weighs 25, takes 1 hit)
Shield (Weighs 300, takes 2 hits)
Total Weight: 75 + 10 + 105 + 500 + 25 + 300 = 1015

Now… as you can see here, going with the elf kindred is basically just free attribute points. In this case, the bump in Luck even went straight into my combat adds! The lack of a WIZ attribute meant that the same resource that paid for exerting myself in combat was paying for my spell. And yeah, I did end up using the bastard sword two-handed on occasion because that extra die in combat was well worth the fatigue it cost. And finally… I did go the full munchkin and took in the Dragon Venom with me. I wasn’t sure how well that stuff would have worked against undead, so I didn’t actually use it in play… but man, that stuff is awesome. Of course, that one item was worth more than the loot I took out of the dungeon, but seriously… what adventurer is going to turn up his nose to such gifts?

One thing I wasn’t clear on was how the armor provided protection. Now… my assumption is that it works like damage resistance in GURPS. But the first edition Tunnels & Trolls rules talks about how they merely add to constitution. The implication seems to be that the armor is destroyed as soon as the player applies his damage to them! Is that really the intent of the game designer…? I’m not really sure. If it is, adventurers are liable to go through a lot of armor!

Now… I gotta say one thing about Tunnels & Trolls combat here. It really seems to me that a lot of the times in one-on-one combats, it’s really only going to turn out one way. In GURPS, anybody can get lucky and do serious harm even to a Navy SEAL. But the three fights I played out when I ran myself through this one…? I don’t think I was ever in much danger. I think some of the issue with this would be ameliorated if the monsters in a situation were diverse and the players had to allocate their characters to different combats without knowing the exact ratings that their foes had. But still… this is very different from Moldvay Basic D&D where the players can be outclassed, but gain initiative, drop a single foe, and then watch the bad guys flee due a failed morale check.

And another thing… the “big gun” spell of first level Tunnels & Trolls is not an “I win button” like D&D’s Sleep. It’s more like a bigger better Magic Missile! The tone of the gameplay is very different as a consequence of these contrasting design choices.

As friendly as the Deluxe rules are overall, I have to say that playing this solitaire makes me a lot more comfortable with the idea of running the game. Looking at the notes for running this as a GM adventure, I think this is probably a better introductory scenario than what is included with the big fat rule book. (Note that the stats in the back are all for Deluxe edition anyway, so the designer may well have anticipated this particular use case!)

And while I’m glad I gave first edition a shot, I can say that I’m sorry to put the spartan spell descriptions and incomprehensible “Advanced Weapons Chart” behind me. On the other hand, a pruned down version of the Deluxe edition’s weapon list might be a good idea. The weapons and armor lists on the new GM screen looks a lot better to me if I’m going to be walking new players through the process of creating characters…!

There were a couple of errors in this product. In my play-through, I went to a location where I got my weapons back even through I had never lost them. Also… the experience point award for the monsters looked different from what the rules seemed to indicate. And there is a magic item in this thing that is not completely defined and which doesn’t come with an appropriate first edition style experience point award. In fact… there is one section that describes some of its effects… but you cannot get to that location of the text! This did not ruin things for me, though… and given how good everything else about this adventure is, I can still recommend it for people that are just now breaking out their brand new Deluxe Edition rule books. Experiencing the iconic city of Khosht through the virtual refereeing of the system’s original designer is well worth the price of entry. And of course, I’ve already raved over the value of the first edition reprint.

So check it out!

The big puzzle with some of these classic solitaire adventures is figuring out the best combination of equipment purchases to optimize your chances. I attempted to do that before I’d read that Ken was giving me whatever I wanted. For what it’s worth, I don’t think I would have had a harder time getting through things without the fancy gear. Here’s the stuff I originally picked out:

Weight Carried: 220 + 250 + 25 + 1 = 496
Gold: 140 – 75 – 50 – 10 – 5 = 0
Battle Axe (4 dice)
Leather Armor (2 hits)
Steel Cap (1 hit)
Curare (3 applications)

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