Sunday, May 29, 2011

Solo Design Part 8: Run Away!

Heroes never run.

Yeah, right; that's true of the dead ones at least. The truth is even the greatest warrior, rogue, or wizard may someday meet an opponent that is just too tough to beat. Unfortunately, this realization often comes only after combat has begun. In this instance, it's best to know when to pack it up and run.

In GM run games, retreat is always (or almost always) an option. A GM can easily assess the situation and decide if retreat is possible. With a good plan by the players and perhaps a saving roll or two it should be allowed. Solo adventures should also include the option to run from a fight if it is possible given the situation.

Unfortunately, providing the option to run from a fight and smoothly integrating it into the adventure is not always an easy task. The mechanics are simple enough, but coding such an option can produce a cascading series of consequences that requires several new paragraphs to account for that option. For this reason, the option of retreat is typically not offered in most solo adventures. I'm sure this has led to a number of dead delvers, although a creative player may go ahead and 'write in' an option to run rather than face eventual and certain death after a long series of dice rolls.

So how to do it? The first thing is to provide the option in any combat situation as long as there is a clear path of retreat. If the delver is in a locked room, has just fallen into a pit filled with zombies, or is standing on a narrow ledge with giant rats on either side, then retreat is not really an option. But if a fight is happening in a corridor, what's to stop the delver from turning and running the other way? But don't make running automatically successful. Require a Saving Roll on Dexterity or Speed. Maybe the character even has a Run Away! talent to apply. The level of the saving roll should reflect the difficulty of escaping the opponent (obviously). Is it fast or slow? Does it have extra long arms to reach out and grab the fleeing delver? Are there more than one opponent? Does the delver have to get around the monster to make it out a door? You should also consider the environment and its effect on the likelihood of losing that monster that is in pursuit. A Level 2 Saving Roll is usually good in most situations, but if the delver is fighting a zombie in an open corridor, turning and running should likely only require a Level 1 Saving Roll. Trying to run from something that can fly across an open field may require a Level 4 or 5 Saving Roll.

Failing the saving roll could simply mean that the delver has to keep fighting, but it can also have more interesting consequences. You could penalize the delver's next attack by some or all of his/her personal adds; no adds for Dexterity and Speed for example. A major failure indicated by rolling a 3 could have even more catastrophic results. Perhaps the delver tripped and fell while trying to run? Maybe the monster now gets a free attack? That delver better have some good armor.

If the delver makes the saving roll and manages to escape, then you have some new problems to deal with. Where and how far does the delver run? When given the choice to run, you should provide a direction as well; out the door behind you, back the way you came, down the passage to the right, etc. This makes it clear where the delver will be going. The simplest way to deal with this, although not the most satisfying in my opinion, is to send the player to the paragraph which describes the adjacent location. This may be right outside the room where the delver was just being pummeled by a gang of goblins. But why don't they just walk out the door and continue the beat down? In order to avoid this sort of issue, you may want to make the delver run as far as possible, perhaps to the last cleared room or an established 'safe zone' of some kind. A die roll could also be used to randomly determine where the delver manages to lose his pursuers and is able to stop running.

The next issue is what to do with that monster the delver just ran away from. If the encounter was random, then you can easily assume that the monster randomly wanders away from the scene and the delver may never see it again. No problems there. If it was a set encounter, however, you should leave it there waiting for the delver to return. If there is anything special about first encountering the monster (say it was hiding behind a curtain), you may need to add an "If you've been here before..." line. This line can then send the player to a new paragraph that redirects him/her to different paragraphs if he already defeated the monster or ran away. If the delver ran, then the monster is ready and waiting. See what I mean about cascading consequences. Another interesting but more complicated idea is to have the monster move to a new location or go out looking for the delver and become a wandering monster. Doing the latter is fairly simple; you can direct the player to use the monster as the very next wandering encounter or, if there is a wandering monster list provided, to replace one of the wandering monsters with the newly unleashed beast.

I'm often trying to come up with ways to make solo adventures as flexible as group adventures. Adding the option to run is one simple way to do just that.

Here is an example of including retreat as an option:

1. You open the door and enter a torch-lit room. If you've been here before, go to 7. There is another door in the wall on the opposite side of the room. It may be one step closer to freedom. Unfortunately, standing in front of the door are three large, ugly goblins each wielding an axe and a shield. The one in the middle steps forward and points at your with his axe. "That's him," he says."Get him boys!" All three goblins charge toward you. If you stand and fight them, go to 2. If you turn and run out the door you just entered, go to 3.

2. The goblins quickly surround you and attack. Each goblin has a MR of 30 (4D+15) and can take 5 hits. You can try to run out the door behind you at the end of any combat turn by making a L2SR on DEX. If you make it, go to 4. If you fail, then you must continue to fight, but you lose any adds you receive from DEX for the next combat turn. If you manage to kill all three goblins, go to 12. If your CON is reduced to 0 or less, then the goblins pick your lifeless body clean of valuables laughing all the while.

3. As the goblins rush you, you turn and try to run back out the door. Make a L1SR on DEX. If you make it, go to 4. If you fail, they catch you before you can get out the door. Go to 2.

4. You manage to break free and bolt out the door. You rush down the passage and you hear the heavy stomp boots behind you. The goblins are in pursuit. Make a L1SR on SPD. If you make it, go to 6. If you fail, go to 5.

5. The goblins manage to catch up to you and you find yourself cornered. There is no escape now; you must fight to the death. Each goblin has a MR of 30 (4D+15) and can take 5 hits. If you manage to kill all three goblins, go to 11. If your CON is reduced to 0 or less, then the goblins pick your lifeless body clean of valuables laughing all the while.

6. You are much too quick for the goblins and manage to outrun them. The sound of stomping boots behind is replaced by cursing and eventually even that eventually fades away into the distance. You eventually make it back to the four way intersection. You decide that heading back to the north would be a bad idea. If you go south, go to 20. If you go west, go to 30. If you go east, go to 40. Whichever way you go, you should choose quickly; those goblins could always catch back up with you. The next time you encounter a wandering monster, if you roll an odd number on the Wandering Monster Table you stumble upon the three goblins and should go to 80.

7. If you fought and killed the goblins, go to 8. If you ran from the goblins, go to 9.

8. The bodies of the three goblins you killed still lie on the floor. They are exactly where you left them, but they look stripped clean and a bit gnawed upon. There are two doors leading out of the room. If you go north, go to 60. If you go south, go to 70. If you search for hidden doors, go to 13.

9. There is no sign of the goblins that were here before. The room is a simple square chamber, no more than 20' square, with bare walls. There are two doors leading out of the room. If you go north, go to 60. If you go south, go to 70. If you search for hidden doors, go to 13.

Monday, May 23, 2011

May's Lone Delver

This one is a little late for May, but time has been short lately. Here is yet another illustration by Liz Danforth from the T&T 5th edition rulebook which features a heavily armored female delver. This is another scene that is open to interpretation. From my view she appears to be in a rather tight spot. The open chest may hold great riches, but she seems to be succumbing to whatever strange gases are coming from the two burning braziers and filling the air around her. She may have stooped down to open the chest only to have been overpowered by the gas. Are the skulls those of previous delvers that have fallen victim to this trap? The eye socket of the skull on the right has a jewel inside. Perhaps the chest is full of similar jewels? Whoever owns the treasure may place them in the cleaned out skulls of those who would try to steal it and places them around the chest like a trophy or a warning. This lone delver seems to have ignored the warning.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Solo Sequels

I was wondering what T&T players thought of sequels to solo adventures or series of solo adventures that were linked so that a character could progress from one to another within a set world. Most solos currently out there are stand-alone adventures. There are exceptions to this general statement. One is Tom Grimshaws' three part Secrets of Saxon series. The first two are available in TrollsZine or for download from his excellent T&T website, Tunnels of the Trollamancer. Ken St. Andre and others have done sequels of a sort in the original Flying Buffalo solos as well. In some solos, you may find yourself sent to another such as Arena of Khazan or Naked Doom if you are unlucky enough to be arrested and sent to 'prison.' So examples are out there, but I am wondering if this is something players would like to see more of in solo adventures.

Why am I asking this question? Two of my solos, The Tomb of Baron Gharoth and Temple of Issoth have potential for sequel adventures. I did come up with some basic outlines of these sequel adventures in my mind as I finished each of these solos and I intentionally left the endings a bit open. If you've played either of them, you understand what I mean. This is not to say that these solos are not fully resolved when you finish them, but there is room for more to happen.

Another solo that I am currently working on (very slowly) is designed to have multiple sequels. It's a nice, basic ruin crawl adventure with some good twists and turns (at least I think so). But once you finish the adventure, there are still more ruins to explore. I am thinking of this as a sort of solo 'megadungeon' where you can take a character from adventure to adventure within the same small world; assuming the character survives of course. Over the course of the adventures, the challenges and rewards get greater and you learn more about an ancient civilization.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

Solo Review: A Traveler's Tale

A Traveller's Tale is a T&T solo by Ken St. Andre which is a revised version of the solo The Mad Dwarf first published in 1982. In A Traveller's Tale, your character is heading toward the city of Khazan with a pack full of treasure won from a recent adventure. You running through the wilderness in the depth of winter and suddenly find yourself being stalked by a pack of dire wolves. With the weight you're carrying you have little hope of outrunning them. Up ahead you spot a building with smoke rising from the chimney. Could this building be a refuge or is it just another death trap waiting to lure you in? My bet was on the latter, but it beats being eaten alive by wolves.

I made five different attempts at A Traveller's Tale using five different warriors of various strengths and weaknesses. I did not use a rogue or a wizard, since their spells would have been of minimal or no use as stated in the instructions. My adventures lasted an average of 15 minutes, ranging from 5 to 20 minutes. Out of these attempts, three warriors were killed but two managed escaped with their lives and a large amount of gold. The instructions for the solo call for a character with less than 100 adds. This is a bit vague, but I would recommend between 50-60 adds. Of course, there are several situations where adds alone won't help you. To get the most out the the adventure, a well-rounded character with fewer adds will fare better. If you're strong and lucky but dumb, you probably won't survive.

The concept for A Traveler's Tale is simple but well-executed and fun. The solo throws you right into the adventure, running for your life with no need for any complex back story or accepting of any quests. You're in the wilderness being chased down by wolves and see a house. You either enter or you don't. It's a concept I also used in House in the Hills; except the house there was much less welcoming. Whether you enter the house or stay out to face the wolves, the adventure stays simple. But despite the simplicity of design there are a lot of choices to be made, especially if you enter the house. It can be tough to fit a lot of options into a few rooms and Ken does so here quite well.

As usual for Ken, the writing in A Traveler's Tale is excellent. The writing really sets the mood for the adventure. It's tough to figure out what is going to happen and Ken's writing does a good job in not giving anything away. Ken's voice is obviously present and there is a good amount of humor. Did I expect to encounter anthracite used as a description for taste? No, but I loved it. That and the description of the dwarven dancing girls.

The presentation of A Traveler's Tale is pretty good. I only have the pdf version, so I can only really comment about the self-printed copy that I used. You can print the solo as a nice little booklet by folding double-sided pages. It's very legible even when reduced to this size. My only issue is that with the very large margins, you only get two or maybe three paragraphs per page. This make the booklet thicker than it really should be considering the length of the solo. A Traveler's Tale is well illustrated with original artwork by David Ullery, an up and coming artist in the T&T community. The cover illustration is one of my favorites. There are about nine major illustrations for the 40 page booklet, but these are dissected into smaller pieces (a closeup of a single face for example) so that almost every page has some art. Overall the quality of the art is very high, although it does get a little repetitive after a while. A Traveler's Tale also includes a nice random treasure generator at the end of the book which includes tables for different varieties of jewelry, statues, and gems that you could use for other adventures once you've finished the solo.

Editing of solos is always important; it's extremely easy to miss problems when you're trying to string together a large number of paragraphs. There are only a few typos in A Traveler's Tale which is nice. You'd likely miss them if you were not looking. I did encounter a couple of major problems while playing however; they were not fatal but they did require some searching. In two paragraphs you are forced to fight, however the details of your opponents (dice, adds, CON, armor) are not given or only partially provided. You can find these in other paragraphs within the solo, but you have to know where to look. For your information, the dwarf has a CON of 36.

Over all I would recommend picking up a copy of A Traveler's Tale. It was a lot of fun to play and does not take much time so it's great for a quick dose of T&T. The cost is low, only $2.99 for a pdf (my personal preference) from RPGnow or $8.95 for a printed copy from Flying Buffalo. Of course, it you want an autographed copy you should join the elite at Trollhalla and get one from Ken directly.


Now I present the adventure of one of the survivors of A Traveler's Tale, Aughmos Fyc, warrior and gambler extraordinaire. You might recognize this character as one of the pregenerated characters I provided for Temple of Issoth. He is a bit more seasoned at this point, having survived more than his share of horrors. If you don't want to spoil any of the surprised in A Traveler's Tale, you should probably stop reading now.

Aughmos Fyc, Human Warrior Level 2
ST 30 IQ 25 DX 30 LK 48 CON 30 SPD 30 CHR 20 WIZ 20 Adds +90

Equipment: Saber, bank, scale armor, backpack, flint and steel, 3 torches, small sack, second-aid kit

Aughmos heard the howling of the dire wolves again. They were definitely getting closer. Every now and then he caught a glimpse of their massive forms through the sheets of falling snow. Aughmos's pack dug into his shoulders. The weight of the gold inside was proving to be too much for his failing strength. He was going to have to make a decision soon. Suddenly he spotted a building ahead. Thin tendrils of smoke rose from the chimney, suggesting warmth and safety. Aughmos gathered up the last of his strength and ran for the door.

Aughmos made it to the door. An old sign showed a dwarf holding an axe and sticking out his tongue. Odd, Aughmos thought. Despite the strangeness of the sign, Aughmos knocked on the door. The door flew open and out stepped a grimy looking dwarf holding a large mug. His face was covered in hair, as with most dwarves, but he also had a jeweled patch covering his right eye. The dwarf snarled at Aughmos and said, "Come in or hit the road! It's cold out here and I hear wolves." Aughmos was not sure what to think of the obviously drunk dwarf, but he seemed less dangerous than a pack of dire wolves.

Aughmos entered the building. Inside was a large chamber with a low ceiling. There was a bar covered in bottles, vials and barrels. Hanging above the bar was a painting showing nude maidens dancing in the moonlight. Several darts were stuck in the picture. A large pot of foul-smelling stew simmered over a fireplace on the other side of the room.

"It will be 10 gold pieces to stay the night. Food and drink are extra!"

That seemed a bit steep, so Aughmos tried to haggle with the dwarf. Eventually Aughmos was able to convince the dwarf to include the food and drinks in the 10 gp price. Aughmos handed the dwarf the money and then went to stand in front of the fire to get warm. Standing by the fire, Aughmos started to get drowsy. The dwarf continued to drink and started to mellow out a little. Looking at the bar, Aughmos decided to join him. The drinks tasted awful, but Aughmos started to feel better and better after each one.

"Whatcha want to do now?" the dwarf asked. "We could play darts or I could bring out the dancing girls?"

"Dancing girls?" Aughmos asked. "That sounds like an excellent idea."

The dwarf stood and staggered through a curtain. You then hear him pounding on a gong. Suddenly you hear three dwarvish voice singing. Three female dwarves come through the curtains and begin to sing and dance before you. They wear very little and their dance holds Aughmos spellbound. After a long while, the dancers finish and run back through the curtain. Aughmos felt strangely different from watching the dance.

"Time for bed!" the dwarf said. He grabbed Aughmos's arm and led him to a cramped little room filled by a massive bronze bed.

"See ya in the morning crowbait," the dwarf shouted and left.

Aughmos stood alone in the room looking at the bed. It was certainly made for a dwarf. His legs would hang off the edge. Aughmos stepped up to the bed and gave it a closer look. As he looked at the footboard, Aughmos noticed that there was a razor sharp blade hidden inside of it. If he had stretched his legs across the footboard, they would have been sliced off. Aughmos felt the anger build inside of him. He drew his saber and left the room to find the dwarf.

The dwarf stood in the main room. He looked surprised but angry to see Aughmos. He quickly picked up an axe leaning against the wall and charged. Aughmos raised his sword and met the dwarf half way. In a quick exhange of blows, the dwarf was dead. His head lay on the floor near the fireplace. His body flopped against the bar.

"Serves you right," Aughmos said coldly as he sheathed his sword. Now that he was alone, Aughmos began to search the inn. Aughmos checked the bar first, but only found more of the dwarf's foul booze. After having one more drink Aughmos resumed his search. He eventually found the gong the dwarf used to summon the dancing girls. Aughmos considered ringing it, but decided against it. Better to just bed down in front of the fire for the night with his sword close at hand.

Aughmos woke in the morning refreshed. The wolves should have left by now, he thought. Looking over the carnage, Aughmos picked up the dwarf's axe and plucked the jeweled eye patch from his severed head. He then picked up his heavily laden pack and set back out into the wilderness headed for Khazan.