Sunday, December 30, 2012

Tunnels & Trolls: Actual Play

Last night, we played Session 1 of my Tunnels & Trolls campaign on Google Plus.  The following is a summary of what occurred.

I'd helped the players build characters in accordance with my house rules below, with the added conditions that they should come up only with a physical description and personality for their character, with no background information or names.  I also told them to purchase armor and weapons only for their characters.  Any extra money would disappear, but all necessary gear and so forth would be provided.  I find that characters usually like having more money to spend on armament, so we didn't have a lot of trouble with that condition.

The game opened with all three characters waking up.  I informed them that they had total biographical amnesia, and did not know who they were, where they were, how they had got there, etc.  Each character was dressed in sturdy garments and leather boots, all of which appeared to be well-fitting but of standard issue, and never worn before.  Even their boot soles showed no signs of wear whatsoever.  They each had two large belt pouches and a backpack, also of good workmanship and with no identifying insignia at all.  Their gear consisted of:

1. A one-gallon waterskin, full.
2. Fourteen days of rations, in the form of flavored protein cubes about two inches on a side.  They come in a variety of flavors, which the players were free to define for themselves.
3. Three chemical glow-sticks, fairly large and high-powered.  I informed them they would produce light equivalent to a lantern or a little better, and were rated to last six hours.
4.  1 magnesium road flare.
5.  And one special bonus item, which they rolled for.  One character got a notebook and mapping kit, two others rolled the same result and gained lockpick sets.

At this point the players asked a number of questions.  I confirmed that their characters knew what the protein cubes and light sticks were, and that they had a modern understanding of the sciences appropriate to their intelligence score.  I also confirmed for them that their equipment was medieval in character, consisting of shields, swords, whatever they had purchased.  One character closely examined his steel cap, and was curious if it was medieval in style or like a modern army helmet.  I told him it looked pretty much like something someone in the 14th or 15th century might have worn, but on inspection he could tell it wasn't hand-forged, and had instead been machined.

I actually like this kind of thing, because it shows they're paying attention.  And I'm typically fairly careful to have an internal logic to my campaign worlds, which is susceptible to examination and inference.

They moved on to their situation.  They found that they had been laying on a stone floor, surrounded by a thirty foot diameter copper circle set into the surface of the stone.  It had no arcane sigils, and didn't produce any energy field or other dangerous effects when a spear was nudged across it.  The circle was in the center of a forty foot across square dais, which itself was in the center of a cruciform room.  The room was one hundred feet across by one hundred feet across at the widest points, and was a square with four 20 by 20 areas "cut out" of each of the corners.  It was one hundred feet high, and above that was a huge glass or crystal dome surrounded by inaccessible galleries or balconies of some kind.  The red light of sunset was streaming through the dome, enough to dimly illuminate the room.  By watching the shadows climb the wall and marking their orientation, the adventurers were able to approximate the cardinal directions.  Clever, clever adventurers.  I like seeing that kind of resourcefulness.  (In a later post, I should discuss my own personal biased thoughts on the changing character of fantasy fiction.)

There were some simple but polished stone furnishings (tables, chairs, couches) and bas-relief murals on the walls.  There was a small, partial breach in the northern wall that could have been cleared with application of sufficient muscle, probably allowing passage to the other side.  Other than that there were two doors, one in the northwest cut-out area and one in the southeast.  Both doors were barred from the PC's side.

The characters speculated that they might be the victim of some kind of Saw or Cube type of scenario, and that there might be cameras watching them.  They couldn't find any cameras.  The area was totally silent except for any noises they made themselves, and it was all spotlessly clean and free of any sign of habitation. So, they decided there was nothing for it but to explore and look for a chance to escape, or at least determine who they were and why they were there.

They eschewed attempting to clear the partial breach in the Northern wall, after examining it and concluding that it had probably been caused by something striking the other side with great force.  They reasoned whatever could have done this was likely very strong, and might still be there.  

They listened at the other two doors, and examined them in turn (they re-barred the one they were not examining.  They found that the cut-out areas were sort of like towers internal to the structure, and went up to the same height of approximately one hundred feet before hitting a ceiling.  The northwest one did, anyway.  It had a ladder of steel rungs set into the wall, descending down through a manhole in the stone floor that went down maybe thirty or thirty-five feet, and up to a height of twenty feet where it simply stopped.  The southeast tower also had a ladder, although its ceiling was only twenty feet off the ground, and the adventurers could not tell what might be above that.  It had manholes in the ceiling and the floor, with a similar ladder.  Both manholes were sealed with a thick steel plate, that on examination apparently slid in from the side.  Neither had any apparent way to open them.  The adventurers then descended the manhole in the northwest tower.

Down below, they found a dungeon that was just as clean as the arrival chamber.  It had neat, square stone corridors that were also made of polished, cut stone bricks.  The doors were mostly dungeon standard wooden planks with iron reinforcements, which were typically not locked or stuck.  The rooms usually had a small vent at ground level somewhere, about a foot high with an iron barred grating.  They were drawing a very small amount of air, detectable if one put a hand over them.  

The corridors twisted and split in an apparently random fashion (as is all too often the case!) but the rooms were generally at least 20x20 feet in size, and were used for storage.  They found rooms full of chests of cloth and sewing supplies, a room full of preserved bamboo stalks suitable for construction or other uses, a few rooms with massive stockpiles of preserved food, a game room full of various dice, card, and board games, and a billiard's table.  That room did contain some treasure, as there was one Go set made of marble and silver inlay, with pieces of polished ebony and ivory.  It was valuable, but also relatively heavy and delicate to transport.  They resolved to later obtain some cloth from the appropriate storage room to pack it in so that it wouldn't be scratched in transport.  Not that they knew where they would take it!

They had to fight a few creatures during their explorations.  They were attacked by a swarm of voracious beetles the size of an adult hand in the cloth room, which had infested one of the chests.  They didn't like the look of that fight, and so they distracted the beetles with a Cloud of Dust spell while they fled and shut the door behind them.  That seemed to work. They also fought two pairs of skeletons, and were assaulted by tiny wooden men that burst free from one of the grates and "came at them like a spider monkey."

The tiny wooden men were unnaturally strong and resilient, and were almost as hard to beat as the skeletons were (I personally think that monsters in T&T tend to be a bit too tough, although maybe that's just part of the vibe, but I wanted these to be dangerous, comparable to goblins.)  In any event, they looked like the poseable wooden mannequins that artists use.  The fights weren't too hard, but they gave the players a chance to familiarize themselves with how combat works in T&T, and get a feel for when it's appropriate to use spells and when it isn't necessary.

The party reasoned that the mannequins were maybe the cleaning crew, and that they used the system of vents and grates to get around.  The players also noted that they had seen no signs of anything living or intelligent (other than the beetles) and were also seeing signs that the complex they were in might be quite large.  This seemed to creep them out just a tiny bit, which I also enjoyed a lot.

They returned to the arrival chamber to rest for an hour or two and regain their Spirit Points (used to cast spells), which seemed wise because they could bar the entrances.  While there, they did some further exploration.  One character searched the stone furniture, and found a small slot on the bottom side of a stone couch that had a very large, very complicated steel key.  Another checked the murals.  The eastern one pictured a tornado destroying an army of misshapen monsters, the southern a meteor storm destroying a burning forest, the western a kraken in the ocean, and the northern a mine entrance going into the side of a mountain face, in a snowy forest.  One player immediately said, "air, earth, fire, and water."  I gave him 50 bonus AP on the spot.  I hadn't expected anyone to catch it that quickly.  

The party explored a little more after the break, and encountered a trap, which dealt damage but inflicted no casualties.  I think that a little damage and inconvenience from traps is healthy for an adventurer.

So, a few final notes:

The players were engaged, interested, and willing to examine their surroundings and try to make inferences from what they found.  They made at least a few clever guesses and observations, some of which were correct and some of which were not.  But all of them were reasonable, and that's what I look for.

I may need to tinker a little more with the way I'm awarding XP.  Right now I'm giving double XP for any Spirit used, and double XP for monsters.  I'm giving 5x XP for most saving rolls, which I think I may need to adjust.  I want the PCs to advance quickly, and be able to buy at least a couple attribute points after every session.  However, the proportions might need to be changed a bit.  I'm thinking of drawing down the SR awards to 1x, 2x, and 5x depending on the importance of the SR instead of 1x, 5x, and 20x.  I think I might also triple instead of double monster XP, and also maybe triple or quintuple instead of double the XP from spending Spirit to cast spells.

The reason for that is that spellcasting actually carries its own penalties, in the form of lost Strength, and so making it more attractive in terms of XP gain makes it a more interesting choice.  Obviously, I wouldn't grant XP for random spellcasting done outside of an adventuring context, but the PCs are kind of stuck where they are, so almost anything they do might have some risk attached.  If only the risk of suddenly being attacked in their supposed safe room, and finding they have no Spirit and much reduced Strength.

The problem with SRs is that big ones might represent too much of a windfall.  If someone DAROs and gets a 19 on the die, on an SR3, and it's a Stressful SR, then they might get nearly 300AP right there, which is an individual award.  If I reduce the AP gain from SRs and increase the AP gain from combat, where awards are divided evenly among the party, then there's still an incentive to have your PC take some of the risks, but the characters should stay overall closer together in terms of advancement.

I've also considered awarding AP only for failed SRs, which tickles my imagination but is probably not actually a good rule.  Then, success is its own reward, and AP are a balm for failure.  If the PC survives, anyway.

Comments, welcome, especially by anyone who was a player!


  1. I really enjoyed it, and thanks to you and my fellow players for a fun experience. I thought the XP/AP awards were a bit on the generous side -- but you'll get no complaints from me on that. I think at this stage we actually need a little extra insurance against a TPK. :-)

    I found the mix of fantasy and modern elements intriguing. It added to a sense of mystery over where we were and why we were there. Magic works, so this obviously isn't a vanilla modern world, but the things around us are of a more sophisticated make than you'd see in a medieval setting. And everything's *clean*, so that rules out pure medieval right there!

    I'm tending toward a theory that we're in some kind of testing ground, either for entertainment purposes or to determine our suitability for some much more difficult task.

    More later. Just wanted to get the first few thoughts out.

  2. I was a player.

    We have biographical amnesia, and we may be in a "dungeon," but there are many, many clues to tell us we are not in a medieval setting. The clothing is obviously manufactured very precisely. The protein bars are far beyond medieval fantasy, as are (probably) the quality of some of the cloths we found.

    We can't help but feel we are in some kind of arena, placed there for someone's pleasure/entertainment. So far, my character wouldn't have a problem with long as he doesn't die.

  3. I guess one of the next to-do items is finding the key that'll fit those locked doors. The key we already have probably doesn't fit, so we'll need to turn the rest of the place upside down.

    Now that we know there *are* traps in this place, it's probably time to add a little extra to our usual safety routine for opening doors and such. Come to think of it, maybe one of those bamboo poles could be used for something like that, assuming they aren't too unwieldy.

    I know 2 of us got sets of lockpicks on our extra equipment rolls. What was the other thing? One of us had a different roll, but I can't remember what he got.

  4. The other player got a mapping kit. The bamboo poles are on the order of ten feet long.