I thought I’d get back to what this blog is supposed to be all about–real Tunnels & Trolls fiction that developed from a real Tunnels and Trolls game–in this case a solo adventure that I ran using my Trollhalla character of the time.
Khenn Arrth in the Tree of Life
By Ken St. Andre and Dr. Sid Orpin
Long ago before the elves and dragons came to Trollworld, but after the planet developed atmosphere and vegetation there was a time when great plants dominated the landscape. The greatest of these botanical wonders were the firien trees. Their forest spread from the Dragon’s Teeth to its very Tail. But, fire and axe and sorcery depleted their number until now there is only one firien tree remaining, the greatest of them all. At one time, it was home to the elf lords of the Shindyr Forest, and after that it became the domicile of the dark elf wizard Glebus-o-Glebarriel, also known as Gnarledfingers. He vanished, but the tree remains hidden in the depths of the Shindyr Forest.
The Trollgod sent me, Khenn Arrth, to investigate this great tree. It probably wouldn’t accept me in my true Trollish form, and therefore I have taken the shape of a human warrior. As a troll, I am nothing special, but when I take human form, I can modestly say that I am a champion.
[Because this is a Tunnels and Trolls tale, I will show you, the reader, the mechanisms underlying the fiction. This information will be given in square brackets, and I’ll start by showing you Khenn’s attributes.
Khenn Arrth, level 3 Human Rogue
All characters in Trollworld have 8 attributes that measure their abilities. The higher the number, the more ability the character has in that field. Here are Khenn’s numbers:
Strength 24, Constitution 31, Dexterity 24, Speed 25, Intelligence 34, Luck 26, Wizardry 37. and Charisma 31. He has 51 combat adds, making him a fierce fighter. He wears robes of steel that will take 20 points of damage for him, and he carries a shield called a pavise that will take another 7 points of damage. The shield is usually strapped to his back unless he needs it. His main weapon is a crossbow. Khenn has three Talents, but they did not come into use, and will not be mentioned at this time. Khenn also carries the best of daggers, the fearsome sax. He generally uses his dagger for cleaning his fingernails and cutting his meat at supper.]
After days of making my way through the Shindyr Forest, occasionally showing some elven guardians my writ of safe passage from the Trollgod, I came at sunset to the remotest part of the forest. Cresting a small hill, I looked down into a green valley and saw the most enormous tree ever. The trunk was more than 60 feet in diameter, and it rose for hundreds of feet into the air. As I stared at it in wonder, the sun dipped below the western horizon and the air darkened with astonishing speed.
I made camp for the night, ready to begin exploring in the morning. I found some dead wood, called some flame to make a fire, had a filling but tasteless meal of elven waybread. The only thing that really tastes worse is Dwarven moss food. One thing you can say for the humans of Trollworld—they know how to make the best food. You’d think that elves would have learned to make their food taste better.
I walked across. There was no railing, but I had no difficulty in keeping my balance. As I reached the far side I noticed a small stunted stump of a tree growing beside the path. As I got closer I noticed that it had a kind of face in its trunk and a branch that looked almost like an arm with a hand at the end. I wasn’t too surprised when it spoke to me in a voice like the rustling of dry leaves.
“Ssstranggger! You mussst . . . musssst propissshiate the treeeeee ssspiritssss before you enter.” The tree hand came to rest in front of me with the palm up.
What could a tree, even an intelligent tree possibly want from a man—other than to not be harmed. Gold? Diamonds? Blood? I didn’t think so. I stopped to think for a moment, and to look around.
[Level 4 saving roll on Intelligence. Rolled an 8 on 2D6. 8 + 34 is 42—I needed a 35. No way to fail that saving roll.]
I looked down. I saw an acorn, or perhaps it was a firien seed on the ground. I reached down and picked it up, and dropped it into the wooden hand. The strange little face smiled and clasped the acorn tightly. I felt a little tingle—it was enchanting me, but not in a bad way. I felt better.
[Constitution and Charisma each got a 1D6 increase. I rolled poorly. Got 1 point for CON and 2 for CHR.]
The door swung open. I walked in.
I didn’t expect a rectangular room with wood-paneled walls and a floor of polished marble, but that’s what I found. Light came from dozens of small paper lanterns that gave out a warming green glow. I looked at my hands. They were green in this strange light.
“Hello, sir!” A crisp, but wooden, voice startled me from behind. I turned to see what looked like a wooden elf stepping out of a corner that I could have sworn was empty when I entered. “I am Needon, the wooden golem. Welcome to the Tree of Life!”
“Thank you,” I answered. I pride myself on being courteous. “I came a long way to be here, and to see this wonder.”
The wooden elf inclined its head graciously. It didn’t really have a face, but the impression of a face seemed to smile. “I hope the trip is worth the effort to you,” it answered.
“I’m sure it will be. I came to learn and to explore. I have already seen new things that make my journey worth while.”
“I’m glad. Let me tell you that there are some rules for exploring the tree.”
“Fair enough. Tell me.”
“First, you may not take any physical means of starting a fire with you. Fire is very unpopular with trees and their spirits, so kindly leave your tinderbox, and other such tools with me.”
“I carry no such implements. I am a bit of a magic worker, and I need no such tools.”
“Second, you may not take any axes into the tree. Other weapons will be permitted.”
I spread my hands in a palms up gesture. “I do not carry an axe. Dagger and crossbow are all I need.”
“You seem to be an ideal guest,” said Needon. “Let the doors appear and your adventure begin.” As he spoke three doors appeared in the walls of the room. “You may begin your explorations when you are ready.” He sketched a bow toward me, and then walked backwards into the corner from which he had emerged. And he vanished.
I was on my own again. I looked around carefully. I could leave by a door to the north, east, or west. I took a moment to make a plan. It was a simple plan—just go in the same direction as much as possible. I decided that I would always go north.
And I also remembered one of the Trollgod’s rules for dungeon delving. The one that came to mind in this situation was “Always search the room.” I didn’t see anything obvious, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t something useful or valuable hidden here in the entrance.
I quartered the room from side to side, from south to north. At one point I felt that I needed to propitiate the spirits of the tree again. I couldn’t think of anything to do, so I simply made up a little prayer to the spirits. At first it didn’t seem to be working, but I prayed harder and invoked other beings of nature. [Level 3 saving roll on STR needed. Rolled a 4. 24 + 4 is 28, missing the roll, but my level bonus is 3. Adding that in, I made the saving roll.]
And I found something in the northeast corner of the room. It looked just like the carved wooden handle of a sword projecting from the floor. It felt right to take it—it felt like the tree spirits wanted me to have it. I gripped the handle and pulled sharply.
With a snap like a twig breaking underfoot, something came up out of the floor. It was a weapon—a sword of sorts, but unlike anything I’d ever seen. It was all wood–just a smooth pole about three feet long and two inches in diameter, but wrapped with vines that were studded with thorns. Such a weapon wouldn’t be much good against metal, but would be hideously dangerous against flesh. I sensed for magic, and realized this weapon was enchanted. I slung my crossbow on my back and took this wooden sword instead. I’d have to carry it. No scabbard made could ever hold such a weapon.
I went through the door in the north wall, and found myself in a large circular room. The place felt like a shrine and had a numinous quality to it. There was a door behind me, and others in the walls, and there was some sort of magical shrine thing. From some angles it looked like a growing tree. As I walked around it, it changed from moment to moment. Living tree, dead tree, magical statue of an elfin woman—every time I looked at it, it seemed a bit different.
Around the circumference of the room was a runic message that just looked like leaves, but somehow spelled out a message I could clearly understand. “Pay homage to the spirit of the great tree and go in peace.” There was an image of someone kneeling in supplication before a tree.
Maybe I should have taken the form of an elf for this adventure. Although human on the outside, I am still a troll on the inside. My natural allegiance is to rock, not wood. I decided to search the room first, and pray afterwards.
I began searching, and I found some jewels attached loosely to the whatever-it-was in the center of the room. They looked like diamonds and rubies and emeralds, but they felt like wood, or perhaps they felt more like amber. Still, I thought they might be valuable back in Khazan. I took them and slipped them into a pouch.
And somehow, the magic went out of the room. The wondrous tree shrine was now no more than a rather crude statue of a wood nymph. The runic writing on the walls vanished—no more than meaningless scratches. I realized that I had made a mistake. I had been moving in harmony with the tree, but now I had violated that accord somehow. The chance to worship the tree had departed, and now there were only doors to open.
I chose the door to the north. I found myself in a short corridor, and after walking perhaps ten feet I came to a five-way intersection, and here I encountered the first sign of hostility. I offended the tree in the last room, and now it was striking back.
The creature rushed down a corridor and leaped upon me. For a moment I thought it was a dwarf, but whoever saw a dwarf composed entirely of virulent green vines and leaves? I threw it off as quickly as I could, but a leaf brushed against my face and welts rose. Poison! The whole creature was poison.
I could only guess why it attacked me, or what it hoped to accomplish, but nothing attacks Khenn Arrth and gets away with it. I began to flail at it with my new sword. Whatever this thing was, my weapon beat it down. My thorns cut it, and it wept a milky white blood. I struck and punched and kicked. And I killed the thing. At least it quit moving and attacking me.
My armor served me well in that fight, for I took no physical harm, but wherever a vine or a leaf brushed against my skin, I gained painful red welts. The fumes of the thing as I smashed it also affected my eyes. They were swelling shut. They puffed up so much that only narrow slits of eye and pupil remained unobscured.
[My foe is called a Poison Ivy Fiend, and it has a monster rating of 50. It gets 5D6 + 25 adds in combat. All spite damage counts as 2 hits instead of one. I have an enchanted sword. I get 5D6 + 51 adds in combat. The fight lasts only 2 rounds. On the first round the fiend has a combat total of 51 with 1 spite damage. I have a combat total of 69 and 1 spite damage. The creature takes 18 points of damage and drops to a monster rating of 32. On the second round the fiend manages a total of 36 with 3 spite damage. I have a total of 71. 71 – 36 is 35, so it drops to -3. The fiend is dying. I could be certain of its death by beating it a third round, but why bother? The 3 spite actually did 6 points of damage to me. Although I won the fight handily, I took 8 points of damage, and my CON dropped 32 down to 24.]
I was poisoned, but I could feel myself recovering. I considered using a spell to repair my health, but I didn’t know any spells to deal with poison. I could only hope that my underlying Trollish constitution would rapidly throw off this damage. In the meantime, my face and hands itched and burned
I had taken worse wounds, and lived to tell the tale. I continued down the corridor to the north.
I find arrived at the southern end of a long straight corridor that ended in an ironbound wooden door. About every 10 feet or so, the wooden floor changed color from very pale at my end to very dark at the other end. Between each colored section there was a much shorter gap of tiled floor. The whole thing reeked of magic. There was a sign on the wall beside me. It was written in those strange runes that I could somehow read even though I had never seen them before. It said: “This is the Corridor of Death. Please try to avoid causing unnecessary mess as you are disemboweled. Thank you.”
Someone must think he is a wit. Or, perhaps the tree spirits were taking the mocking tone from my own mind—I was no longer in their good graces.
Carved into the floor right in front of me was another message. It reads: Hedgehog Alley. Prick me and do I not bleed?”
As I stood and thought about this, two things happened. First, there was a sound of grinding gears and wood being warped from behind me. Looking back I saw that my exit to the south had been closed off and the corridor was now blocked from floor to ceiling by a section of wall bristling with viciously sharp long wooden spikes. The section of wall began to edge forward at a walking pace. If it cought up with me, I would certainly be impaled and slain.
The second thing was that slits now appeared in the walls on both sides of the hallway, and inside them I could see crossbows ready to fire. I didn’t know if the trap was automatic and I could evade all shots by getting down on my stomach and slithering down the hallway like a serpent, or if they had archers who could change the angle of fire. It was, in any event, very hard to slither with any speed while wearing robes of steel.
I decided to just sprint through the hallway and count on my armored robes to protect me.
It worked Once a bolt hit my armor and olted me to the side, but the armor held, and I was not really hurt. Everything else missed me.
Let me talk about robes of steel for a moment. They are a form of armor that I invented, and I am proud of them. Take quilted cotton and sew it in two layers with numerous pockets between the two. In each pocket put a hand-sized steel plate. Pad it all as well as you can. Yes, it is very heavy. No ordinary man could wear it, and it seems heavy even to me, but trollish strength can handle such armor. It saved me that morning.
[Two saving rolls were needed on DEX. Level 3 followed by Level 4. Rolled a 17 to make the first and a 6 to fail the second by 5 points. The game says plate armor can take the hits for you, and robes of steel, which can take up to 20 hits of damage count as plate armor. Although I missed the second saving roll, the armor stopped the bolt.]
The next part of the corridor has a sign that says simply “Be Lucky.” In front of me was a long checkerboard of sections colored in white red and black. Each sector was 3 feet long and 6 feet long, and there were six of them.
I looked behind me. The wall of wooden spikes advanced inexorably. It was halfway through the crossbow gauntlet that I just survived. I decided on a zigzag strategy and more speed for the checkerboard obstacle course in front of me. Starting at the left edge of the hallway, I kicked it into gear and ran forward.
I ran forward right into a lightning storm. Bolts of static electricity leaped from ceiling to floor all around me as I dashed down the hall. Missed me, missed, missed, missed, aagh—it hit me and I staggered. Blue sparks ran up and down my armor, and all my hair stood on end. But I kept going, and suddenly the lightning was behind me. I had been lucky.
[This trap did not depend on saving rolls. Lightning would strike one of the three squares each time as I passed by. I rolled 1D6 to see if it would hit me. I rolled 4, 6, 4, 5, 1, 5 and it hit me on the 1. My CON dropped to 22.]
Once past the lightning field, I found another message. This one said, “Step Lightly.” Suddenly the corridor in front of me transformed itself into a swiftly flowing river. I wondered if it was an illusion, but if it was, it was very good. I reached down and felt the water. It was cold and wet.
Scattered in what seemed a random pattern were a number of stones that just reached the surface. They were slick with lichen, and wet, and offered precarious footholds at best, but looking behind me I saw that the advancing wall of wooden spikes had almost caught up. I plotted my leaps, and dashed forward as swiftly as I could.
On the fifth stone, my foot slipped, and I thought I was going into the river, but I managed to bring my other foot down on the same stone, then twist and contort my body until I caught my balance. Three more steps and I was across.
[This feat required 8 saving rolls, 4 level 3s on both Luck and Dexterity. I needed only a 4 or better for Luck, a 6 or better for DEX. Counting my level adds, the only thing that could really take me down would be a natural fumble. For Luck I rolled a 21, a 10, an 8, and a 6. For DEX I rolled a 4, a 7, an 18, and an 8. Under 5th edition rules I would have missed the first DEX roll, but with the 7th edition rules, I could add my level to a missed roll. 4 + 3 is 7. I avoided falling in the water.]
There was one last message waiting for me on the other side of the stream. This one said, “Have faith!” Blocking my path was a chasm at least 100 feet deep and 12 feet high. The other bank looked slightly higher than this bank. There was no bridge.
I could try to leap the chasm, but that would show a great lack of faith, and if the tree spirits wanted me to fall, I would fall. Perhaps I could get back in their good graces by demonstrating some faith in them.
I closed my eyes and stepped into the chasm, and started to fall . . .
About a foot. It was a bit of a lurch, but no worse than walking down stairs. Opening my eyes about halfway, I looked down and saw nothing beneath me, but I kept on walking, and quickly reached the other side. As I stepped up, I felt a wave of approval from the tree spirits, and I finally felt better about myself. [Charisma bonus awarded here. Roll 2D6. I rolled a 3.]
I had reached the end of the corridor of death—a little singed and with a dent in my robes of steel, but still very much alive. I looked back, and could see a door at the far end. There was no wall of thorns coming to impale me. It occurred to me to tempt fate and walk back, but nah, that’s never a good idea.
I opened the door in front of me and found a long wooden hallway. Nothing molested me in that hallway, and a few minutes later I passed one last door, only to find myself in a forest glade so far away from the Tree of Life that I could no longer even see it. The air was darkening. What seemed to be at most an hour had been the entire day inside the Tree of Life. There was a camouflaged lean-to not far from the back entrance, and inside it was a large bowl of fruit and nuts. Inside it was one more sign in that strange tree-runic—The tree finds you acceptable. Eat freely and be healed.
I have to admit that I’m normally a rock-eater, but that was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had. Then I used my magic to heal my wounds. As the sun sank, I lay down and slept, losing myself in cool green dreams for the night.
In the morning I took my bearings and headed back to Trollhalla.