Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Dr. Doolittle I Presume? (Expert Adventures Part 2)

(continuation from here)

It is amazing to me how millions or more people will tune in to the same TV show on a weekly basis, but it's increasingly difficult to find a group of people to play a tabletop RPG. 'Course this is probably my own hang up...I'm not especially gregarious or out-going when it comes to seeking out new "buddies."

More's the pity as I'm doing a disservice to gaming. Those who try it seem to love it. My nephew S. certainly did!

Roland the cleric ventured forth from Specularum in his small sailing vessel, the Lucky Lady, in search of the fabled Isle of Dread. Captain Barbarosa's ship journal had said it was but seven days due south of Specularum. How much danger could they face on such a voyage?

Turns out, plenty.

It's been so long since I've played an Expert set game I completely forgot how much ROLLING is involved. In my old AD&D games, encounters were very seldom random. In the dungeon setting, one only need worry about wandering monsters pertinent to an adventure module (and I seldom if ever used wandering monsters in my own dungeon design...characters often have enough to worry about). In the Expert wilderness, wandering critters are the way of adventure.

Every day on the sea involved a series of rolls: weather (for the sailing vessel), chance of getting lost, and chance of encounter. The chance of encounter on the high seas is 33%! (2 in 6) As I have a tendency to roll 6s, Roland encountered a monster nearly every day of his journey.

Quickly a pattern was established for dealing with the encounters. Nearly all monsters were of the "large animal" variety. Roland would use his speak with animals spell, and strike up a conversation with the giant squid inevitably attempting to drag a crew man overboard (he encountered at least three of these kracken-esque monsters). I would roll for reaction (including his -1 Charisma) and equally inevitably roll an 11 or 12 (did I mention my proclivity for rolling 6s?). Eat your heart out Dr. Doolitle! Roland the "Fish Whisperer" would tell creatures where they might fight fresher meat and with a promise to 'say hit to the squid's cousin' the ship would be on its way!

Of course, giant water termites (another oft encountered creature) was a different matter. Dangerous to the ship itself and non-willing to negotiate, the standard practice became Narcolim tossing a lightning bolt over the side and into the water. I used the AD&D rule of lighting exploding like a fireball in water, and the termites would be quickly cooked, even when making their saves.

Thus after nine days, with little strenuous effort, Roland eventually found his way to the Isle of Dread and the village of Tanroa.

The villagers were both friendly and helpful, though they warned against the adventurer's fools errand in the interior of the island...there was a good reason for the 30' high wall! But Roland and his three retainers were determined to find the lost city (and the great pearl!) of which the village legends spoke, and they left after only a single night's rest. The Lucky Lady and her crew were left off-shore with instructions to await their return.

Back to rolling...at least there was no need to roll for weather, but now the monster encounter rolls came twice per day. Surprise rolls helped Roland and company to evade some encounters, but more often than not, they were surprised themselves. Not three hours past the gates they encountered the first of the island's giant inhabitants: a megatherium! This 24' tall, prehistoric tree sloth was in no mood to negotiate (snake eyes on the reaction roll!) and decided the small party would make a great dinner. While Roland looked for a different spell, Gorm waded in with his +2 hand axe and Narcolim used his ever-ready lightning bolt. Marvello drew his dagger and backed away from the sloth as it raked the dwarf badly.

Roland then determined a new tact which was to become his Plan B in all future encounters when negotiation failed: sticks to snakes! Hurling his score or so of sticks at the giant beast, he changed them into many adders. Though unable to attack until the following round of combat, enough of them bit the creature that it failed its poison save...and died. Whoa! S. was as surprised by the potency of the spell as myself...I guess that save or die thing works both ways! 12 or so snakes were created, 4 managed to hit, 2 were poisonous (50% chance), and the thing blew a save. I described how the snakes swarmed all over the megatherium, biting it repeatedly , until it succumbed from many venomous bites.

Several days later and lost in a swamp, the party was able to obtain directions from a pair of large cave bears, once again wooed by the charming (if not particularly witty) Roland. Yet another crisis averted through negotiation.

And then they got lost again. And then they found a lake. And then Roland stepped on the back of a sleeping hydra (both were surprised). He considered trying his snake charm on the beast, but instead went right to sticks to snakes. When the measly handful of snakes created failed to poison it, he quaffed his potion of invisibility and snuck around behind the thing (who needs a thief!) while Gorm distracted it with its axe. Necrolim's lightning again counted for a couple heads, and the blows from the dwarve's hatchet and the cleric's hammer were enough to bring the beast down.

"What good is Marvello?" wanted to know S. as once more the mage had sat on the sidelines. However, this time Marvello proved his worth as he had used his ESP spell to read the creatures thoughts and knew where it laired near the lake. Satisfied with the gold thus uncovered, the party slept for the night.

Still completely lost, they finally encountered a group of the humanoid raccoon-like creatures the phanatons. According to the module the phanatons are "friendly with elves." Since they are intelligent and elves don't speak "phanaton," I ruled the little monkeys could speak a dialect of elvish. Roland was barely literate, let alone versed in languages, but Marvello the Magnificent spoke elvish and was able to translate, and again earn his keep in the utility department.

Making friends with the creatures, the phanatons offered to lead the party out of the swamp and back to their tree village where they could rest and recuperate before continuing their journey.

Amazingly, after three-and-a-half hours of play and no less than ten encounters, the party was still completely intact and S. (as Roland) had made no more than three rolls of a 20-sided dice the whole game. Don't know why I bothered giving him that +2 warhammer!


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