Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

1st Edition Tunnels & Trolls Session 2: Enter the Balrog

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We run an open table, so when one player left the game, a new person manifested from the ether in order to play in our second delve. Players that lost characters last time shuffled in their replacements without missing a beat. With relatively little bookkeeping, we quickly had ten characters headed back to the tunnels.

Now, I was quite vexed at this point, actually. My first impulse was to run this game more or less the same way as I would Basic D&D. But here’s the thing… the rules just don’t produce the same sort of dynamics at all. All of the things I normally lean on to make that other game work just weren’t materializing. I didn’t know where the Tunnels & Trolls rules encouraged you to go. But by playing it by the book, I was about to find out.

The players paid off the troll at the Troll Toll and blew past Ogrehead rock. They wanted to go back to the dead bodies so they could get a sword for one of their characters that couldn’t afford one. They get there and there is this giant snail with arms collecting fungus. The players try to talk to it and it gets scared and then heads off into the dark sort of forward and to the left. He moves in slow motion except when he teleports about forty yards or so at a time at a rate of about once every two seconds.

This was both too weird and too dumb and the players wanted to do something else. They burned some fungus, cast “oh there it is” to help find a sword and identity the four skeletons that were there, and then went sort of further in and to the right. Here they encountered a crude sign with an arrow and the word “treasure” written on it with the “r” turned around.

Now this was just obviously a trap. It was such an obvious trap that following up on the giant snail guy suddenly seemed like a better idea. The players want to go in the direction that he had gone, but they get waylaid by six feral baboons. The players completely outclass this group and I had to rule if these things were smart enough to run away or if they went berserk or something. I decided they just fought on because they are just that dumb. The players happily picked up ninety experience points for their trouble.

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Now they arrive in this new area where this eleven-foot-tall guy wreathed in flames sits on boulder in the exact same pose as Rodin’s The Thinker. The players carefully investigate, but one guy gets a little too close. The thing suddenly leaps up and yells, “ooga booga!”

So, I had read in the 4th edition rules that even though monsters in Tunnels & Trolls can be stated up with nothing else but the monster rating, some of them nevertheless have special powers beyond just the standard monster dice and adds. So this monster grabbed one guy by the head and started zapping him while he sprayed a sort of flamethrower attack at everybody else. (The next turn, the monster threw this dude at a wall in order to stun him for a turn.) I gave people chances to avoid the flame damage by making luck saving rolls. I got a curve ball when the new guy that had eighteens in Luck and Dexterity hauled off with a “self bow” (??) that did one die plus twenty-three adds. (!!) Now, this guy was getting flamed, so I ruled he had to make a luck save in order get the shot off. He did and then I ruled that the monster didn’t get the normal defense roll against the attack because he was distracted by his own flamethrower action.

The first edition missile rules are not at all like what the later editions did. It’s very easy for powerful monsters to just avoid missile damage altogether. This is the first time playing this game where I really felt that something in it was broken. I don’t know what I am going to do with this just yet. Probably just assign a missile defense rating on a monster-by-monster basis, I guess. (I honestly don’t want to-hit rolls to creep into this game if I can help it.)

Well, I shifted the combat to be a standard free for all melee then. The guy with the bow kept wanting to shoot into the melee which I thought was fair since this monster was eleven feet tall. However, a couple of times I gave him a roll of 10+ on two dice (doubles add and roll over) to pick up one of his combatants and use them as a human shield. I also gave him his totally unfair monster dice as a missile defense.

Anyway, after eating a “Take That You Fiend” spell in the face, this awesome monster was really getting beat down. He begs for the party to spare him, and the players are debating whether to kill him when he says he can take them to the treasure. The players end up agreeing, but they bind him and gag him and then roll him back to the sign marked treasure. They get to a tunnel entrance, and after the players take his gag off, the monster says they have to cut him loose to let him retrieve the treasure.

The Value of Traps and How to Use Them in D&D 5e - Dungeon Solvers

The players do not agree to this at all and just keep him rolling into the tunnel. Then something utterly fantastic happens. The thing manages to NOT set off a pit trap as he rolls over it. But the player character behind him sets it off and then falls down into a deep pit. Now there is a pit between the monsters and the players!

The monster keeps inch-worming into the tunnel. The guy with the bow takes a shot and it is not enough to kill it. The monster then set off a blade trap and, knowing exactly where it would go, he holds out his bonds so that it slices right through. (Truly, I had drawn all this up before this and the dice just gave this miracle to me. So great!)

The players are really disappointed when they didn’t get to either kill this guy or take the treasure. So they went back to the boulder to make sure there wasn’t some treasure there. I put a level two saving roll against luck to uncover this one and Mr. “two eighteens” delivered. The players find a rock perfectly fitted to conceal a niche.

They removed the rock and inserted a torch into the hole. They hear a snapping sound and remove it– and there’s a mouse trap on the end now! One dumb adventurer volunteers to reach in and he ends up grabbing this gem… that turns him into a minotaur! They also find 621 gold to split between themselves.

At this point everyone was keen to head out, buy new gear, and make another stab at killing the monster that got away. I don’t know what it is, but this has to be just about the most uninspiring dungeon I have ever made. Yet somehow it manages to work anyway. I feel embarrassed now that I ever thought I wasn’t creative enough or entertaining enough to be able to run people through an original dungeon. But I was struck by how a couple of fairly lame room ideas combined with some rather unorthodox rules could combine to produce some serious high-grade hijinks.

It worked better than I could have planned it.

Why does it work? It’s a mystery. But it sure does!


Cast o’ characters:

Oliver Plunkett — Warrior, Human, 15-11-12-12-11 -5, 80 gold, 3 adds, Battle Axe (4), Steel Cap (1), 605 e.p.

Laurence Plaquette — Rogue, Human, 8-11-11-10-14-9, 75 gold, 1 / 3 adds, Sword (2), Leather + Steel Cap (3), 586 e.p.

Eko — Warrior, Human, 8-4-7-5-13-8, 60 gold, -2 / -1 subtracts, Sword (2), Steel Cap (1), 252 e.p.

Calar — Warrior, Human, 15-6-12-7-10-6-3, 65 gold, Battle Axe (4), Chain (5), 252 e.p.

Boris the Brave — Warrior, Human, 11-10-10-15-8-12, 57 gold, -1 subtracts, Dagger (1), 637 e.p.

Paul Pickpocket — Wizard, Human, 9-11-12-12-10-8, 60 gold, no adds, Dagger (1), 264 e.p.

Tony — Level 2 Rogue, Minotaur, 25-8-13-18-11-39-14, 80 gold, 14 adds, Dagger (1), 1082 e.p., turned into a minotaur by a magic gem

Geezer — Wizard, Human, 14-14-12-15-10-10, 60 gold, no adds, Staff (1), 303 e.p., IOUN stone that adds +2 ST to a wizard

Tegid — Wizard, Human, 13-15-15-14-13-15, 57 gold, no adds, Staff, Dirk (1+2), 281 e.p.

Alnyn — Rogue, Human, 9-11-18-14-18-13, 57 gold, 12 / 18 adds, Self bow (1+5), Sax Dagger (1+5), Steel Cap (1), 262 e.p.


The graveyard:

Ozzy — Level 1 Human Warrior — Killed by the charge of 13 feral humanoids on 1/17/2022

Primaris — Level 1 Human Rogue — Killed in battle with 13 feral humanoids on 1/17/2022

Savus — Level 1 Human Warrior — Killed in battle with 13 feral humanoids on 1/17/2022

Jiri — Level 1 Human Wizard — Killed in battle with 13 feral humanoids on 1/17/2022

Perrin Quickwit — Level 1 Human Wizard — Swarmed by 13 feral humanoids while attempting to flee on 1/17/2022


Morose character that drinks too much and stays in town now because he is too afraid to delve:

Zebulon — Rogue, Human, 8-10-14-13-15-9. 23 gold, no adds, Dagger (1), Leather (2), 323 e.p.

One response to “1st Edition Tunnels & Trolls Session 2: Enter the Balrog

  1. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: Funcom, Solomon Kane, John Buchan, Age of Empires – castaliahouse.com

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