Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Goblin Lake

Last night I played "The Goblin Lake," a solo adventure included in the free "sampler" of the Tunnels and Trolls RPG from Flying Buffalo. From what I've read, this free edition contains a subset of the core rules -- enough to understand how the game plays and to try some solo adventures. Even though this game is probably older than me, and I have been trying several RPGs through the years, I still hadn't experienced Tunnels and Trolls, so here are my first impressions.

The system
The game system has some features that are usually associated with more recent narrative-driven games, such as a uniform task resolution mechanic and a fast, abstract combat system. On the other hand, it also has some "old school" elements such as rolled character attributes and "shopping list" character inventory, complete with an encumbrance system.

I found the combat rules especially interesting. Close combat is simultaneous, and with a single check it is possible to determine if either fighting character gets hurt and how much damage they suffer. Damage is subtracted from the target's constitution attribute or monster rating, which has the effect of weakening monsters as they take damage. Each combat round lasts for two minutes in the game world. The result is a freeform, abstract combat system that may not appeal to everyone, but certainly gives a lot of freedom for narrative interpretation. Instead of describing exactly what you want to do, then check for success, you can simply state who you're in combat with, and narrate the results. Defeated a foe in a single round? That surely sounds like a "critical hit," even though there are no rules for such events. Speaking of which, this system can be very deadly, specially for unevenly matched opponents.

The solo adventure
"The Goblin Lake" is a solo adventure written in 1979. It is structured as a set of numbered paragraphs that describe scenes or encounters, like "choose your adventure" books.

Following the given instructions, I created a scrawny goblin named "Glor." Since he had a low Strength score and only average Luck and Dexterity, I chose to make him a wizard. The adventure plays like a ruthless GM: on my first try, Glor went to search for the rumored Goblin Lake, following an underground stream. Suddenly, as he walked down a path on the cave, a goblin's voice ordered him to halt. He turned around, casting a light spell to better see his surroundings, and this prompted for a hail of stone darts and arrows that killed him. Lesson learned: don't paint a target over yourself.

Glor II didn't fare much better. As he heard the goblin's shouts, he ran towards the underground lake avoiding the arrows, and dived down. He dived deep and was attracted by something shining at the bottom of the lake. Coming closer, he found several corpses and as he explored for the source of the light, some tentacled monster grabbed him and had him for dinner. Lesson learned: don't take unnecessary risks.

Glor III finally reached a happy ending, amassing 1005 experience points -- enough to reach level 2! Most of it due to avoiding combat (which makes sense as he was a weakling) and thanks to having access to a "Knock Knock" spell as a wizard.

These three runs didn't take more than 20 minutes total. Bad choices can end your game quickly, but all that I faced were fair (not like, "there are two equal doors in front of you, pick the wrong one and you die") as long as you consider your character's abilities and the situation they are in. Overall, an authentic "old school" experience.

Tunnels and Trolls was a surprise to me. From what I've read, it has been evolving incrementally through the years, keeping its core rules more or less the same on each edition. Compared to other games of similar age, it is much lighter on the rules and focused on narrative -- a style of game that so far I believed to be much more recent.

Another interesting aspect of Tunnels and Trolls is its explicit support of solo gaming. The book clearly refers to solitaire play, and the abstract rules also help by giving more way to the player's imagination. There is also a large amount of material designed for solo play in this system. Due to its characteristics, I expect that Tunnels and Trolls should mix very well with the Mythic GM Emulator -- something I intend to try after I get the full version 7.5 rules PDF.

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