Calling a single game of Tunnels & Trolls with my 11-year-old son Jack the start of a “campaign” is overstating things, but I think he’ll want to play again and it gives me joy to write about these things, so here we go.
As mentioned in previous posts, Jack wants to role-play but has several times bounced off the side of D&D. After some prodding, we broke out Tunnels & Trolls, and in no time at all Jack had created Calanon, a slightly stout eleven combat wizard with startling, all-white eyes and natural talents for language, leadership, and smelling danger.
Ken’s whacky 7.5 character generation rules made Calanon a Level 3 character straight-out-of-the box, owing to Calanon’s Wizardry score of 30, leading to a little bit of head-scratching as I puzzled out the actual cost for Jack to cast spells. He’s 3rd level, so he should be able to cast his first level spells with cost reduction, and he’s a specialist mage, so he should be able to cast up to 3rd level spells without having to pay to learn them (and also at half cost!) … but at the same time his starting Dexterity and Intelligence limit him to just his 1st level spellbook. Hmm. I ruled that Calanon would have to improve his Dexterity from 10 to 12 before he could cast anything at 2nd level, despite his 3rd level character status.
Fortunately that’s about as convoluted as anything gets in this rules set, so it wasn’t long before our game was under way. Jack gravitated to the colorful map included in the 7.5 box …
… so off-the-hip I grounded him in the world by putting Calanon on a ship inbound to Port St. Andre, a Khazan crown colony that I decided was trying to establish itself on the wooded island southeast of Buffalo Castle and north of Pirate Island. I narrated him through his arrival at the quay, then walked him through the muddy streets of a thriving port stockade fort. Calanon found an urchin to serve as guide, sorted out a potentially bloody argument between a couple merchants who had gotten their carts tangled up in a boggy town intersection, got himself outfitted, and scored a room at the local inn.
A search for work led him to the city watch’s fort near the north gate, where he impressed the Captain of the Guard by defeating a thuggish soldier and so won a contract to kill some orcs that have been raiding local settlements. Undismayed by the prospect of collecting orcish ears to earn his bounty, Calanon set off into the woods, which closed in dark and wild a scant few hundred yards beyond the gates of Port St. Andre.
The woods were thick with danger, as you would expect, with Calanon’s “dangersense” talent saving him from an early demise at the jaws of a wolf. A bit of marching brought Calanon to a woodcutter’s camp, where all the workers had been slain; picking up a trail at the camp, Calanon trailed what he figured to be about a half-dozen orcs who had raided the camp. Fortunately for Calanon, he didn’t come upon them all at once, but was able to defeat a single, wounded orc that had straggled behind the pack.
Being low on health, and with night falling on the woods, Calanon claimed his bloody bounty of orc ears and hurried back to Port St. Andre for the night.
In the course of the game — which couldn’t have taken more than an hour, including character generation — Jack got to brawl with a guard, fight off a wolf, and basically murder an orc (ah, roleplaying!). He interacted with street urchins, merchants, city guards, shopkeepers, and dying woodcutters. He explored a thriving frontier town, plunged alone into preternatural woods, and tracked down orcish raiders. Calaran cast several spells, piled up a couple hundred experience points, twice improved his Dexterity, and unlocked the second level combat spells that are his natural heritage. He nearly died a couple times, but emerged victorious and on his way to great things or sudden death in a future game.
Only time will tell! But it was a great start, and the game flowed smoothly from one improvisational encounter to the next. Jack’s imagination seemed set free by not having to sort through complex rules or deal with tactical battle maps. He was just transported to another place through the remarkable magic of a role playing game, and for all that his encounters were cliched, they were new to him, and we had a fine old time.