Over the weekend we did some impromptu delving with Heron Prior’s Trolls Will Be Trolls, one of the winners of the 2010 One Page Dungeon Contest. Because the New York Red Box crew doesn’t normally mess around with it, I broke out Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition and we ran a bit of that.
one-paragraph review of a one-page dungeon
“Trolls Will Be Trolls,”which also appears in Fight On #10, features the lair of Stencheye, a Troll matriarch and witch-doctor, and her seemingly infinite brood of Trolls, Half-Trolls, and Devil Trolls. There are scant plot hooks, but the map is nicely non-linear. NPC’s include Stencheye herself (I gave her max hit points and the spells of a 6th level Cleric), a Hill Giant with the head of a pig, a spriggan named Droopteats, and my favorites the Scragglebeard Brothers, “a pair of insane, lecherous Dwarven warriors” who number among the Troll Queen’s lovers. My one regret about the adventure as presented is that it’s extremely monster-heavy, particularly with Trolls who aren’t the critters you’d immediately associate with a “let’s defuse this confrontation with some RP” strategy. Otherwise, you can see why it won “Best Lair” in the 2010 contest: it’s a great little dungeon with some pretty ferocious enemies.
what happened in play?
The two players, a 7th level Mage and an 8th level Fighter, recruited nine first-level Fighter hirelings, and decided to raid the lair searching for the fabled Horn of Gwall, a mystic relic of the primordial God-Mammoth. They did pretty good, overall: the Mage had scored a mirror of life-trapping during random item rolls, and played it pretty hard, and a squad of melee dopes, even first-level melee dopes, kept things moving right along as the main Fighter carved up the harder opponents. Eventually they ended up getting so interested in setting up an ambush that they got trapped in an ambush themselves, and ended up fighting on three fronts before the Mage used suggestion to get on the Trolls’ good side. We left them there, about halfway through the dungeon after 3 hours of play… I think with a full party they probably could have pulled it off, with a few losses.
Incidentally, I ran this using the 2e PHB and DMG, but using B/X for monsters, and never noticed any problems: the Troll write-up, at least, has barely changed.
2e: this step-child loves redheads
Man, I don’t know what the fuss over 2e is all about. Or rather, I know what it’s all about and I think it’s bollocks. Limiting yourself to just the Core Books from 1989 or so, it’s a pretty awesome version of Dungeons & Dragons.
Here’s where I agree with the h8t0rz:
The 2e DMG isn’t a compendium of the craziest random crap you can imagine, and Zeb’s writing doesn’t exude personality the way Gygax’s did. (Then again, the personality exuded by Gygax’s writing in 1979 is extraordinarily off-putting.)
And a lot of the 2e art stinks. 2e exchanges the incredibly awesome pseudo-amateur art of 1e for a blander and more professionalized style, and the art in both of the Monstrous Compendiums is downright bad: at first I was like, “Why are all these of monsters in silhouette?” and then I’m like, “Bring the silhouette back, that’s a terrible picture.” And speaking of monsters, the loss of demons & devils to the SNL Church Lady is an unfortunate marketing misstep, but which may have been the result of TSR’s delusions of mass-marketing this thing to kids again, the way the D&D fad caught on in the late 70’s/early 80’s.
More critically, the game is far too coy about what it’s about: killing things and taking their stuff. It’s almost the exact same game as 1e and B/X but it’s far less open about what it’s trying to do, pretending to be all things to all readers. Again, maybe that’s the marketing folks talking: this game is for doing anything! After marinating in the Old Ways for many years, it’s clear what this thing is good for, but that was a lot less apparent to me when I was 13.
These books were edited. By a sane person. Who knew how to edit things. I cannot stress this enough. I read a sentence in the 2e DMG and I don’t think, “Please Uncle Gary, if you let the girl go I promise I won’t freak out over your compound-complex-super-subjunctive-passive-voice-pluperfect word stylings.” Instead I think, “Oh, right: that’s the rule, right where I thought it would be. Okay, back to the game.”
(Please understand: massive Wookiee life-debt to Gygax which I can never repay, yadda yadda, just saying WTF with the style in the 1e DMG.)
Also: the class mechanics are more-or-less streamlined. I know some people get bugged that the Ranger gets d10’s for hit points instead of d8’s, and that Druids don’t get a 3rd level spell at 3rd level. But I dig rationality. The Bard class is interesting, no longer the mangled Frankenstein’s Monster of 1e nor yet the hopelessly music-is-maaaaaaagical of 3e. And oh man, build-your-own-Thief is a godsend.
The other thing I like about 2e is that it’s pretty easy to customize for a particular setting. “Okay, in this world, you’ve got the Base Four classes plus Paladins, Illusionists, and Necromancers. You’ve got some Norse-worshipping Viking priests up north, who have a slightly different spell list, and the Illusionists and Necromancers hate each other and have been waging fraternity-house style pranks on each other for centuries. And these dudes over here, they’re like fishermen, so if your character comes from that village you know fisherman-related skills.”
(I’m not a big proficiencies guy, and if ran a 2e game I’d just handle this with a handwave, but I do like the effort to reflect culture in the game, however crudely. Fighters from over here ought to play a little different from Fighters over there.)
Perhaps not surprisingly, this emphasis on easy customization gave rise to a lot of really evocative settings: Time of the Dragon, Spelljammer, Dark Sun, Planescape, Al Qadim, and some great Historical Setting books. In time, market pressures caused each of these to bloat terribly (well, not Time of the Dragon) but the initial setting books were great stuff.
I’m not vouching for all of the optional rules: morale looks hella-complicated, the build-your-own-class tables are messed up, and individual initiative is a headache. (I am intrigued by the “Different XP rewards for each class” rules, though.) But the core 2e rules are very close to my idealized Dungeons & Dragons: the clarity of B/X with the “big boy” monsters & classes. Throw in some inspiring settings, and I’m in hog heaven.