So the next morning, the party sets out. The expedition is led by Alar Vakaros, an elf from a snowy pine forest isle (Ben), and Ironbeard, an alcoholic dwarf from a ash covered isle called "The Asscrack of the World" in Dwarfish (Bill). They brought two henchmen from the crew with them:
- Shell, the shepherd and weekend warrior, who they've brought along because he is the only crew member to actually own a sword and shield, and...
- Joe, the sewage engineer who was actually just holding his cousin's place in line when he got signed up on the ship, and who came along because he has a big mouth and is querelous enough to be easily goaded into doing dangerous things. His nature meant that he could easily back himself into a corner where he had to put up or shut up.
Most of the personality of these characters developed in play. Joe, in particular, ended up having pretty good repartee with Ironbeard -- they bickered and goaded each other, often to entertaining effect.
After trudging through the swamps and robbing a corpse of a helmet and a mace (both of which Joe took), the party found the dungeon entrance in the half-sunken lower levels of an ancient colliseum. Water running uphill from beneath the door of the dungeon let them know that something was up. They entered the first room (marked with a 1 on the map) where they promptly saw an enormous, bull-sized toad sitting in front of the door they wanted to go through. The one that the water seemed to be flowing from. The toad, "Old Wog," just sat there when they came in and eyeballed them lazily. I'd decided ahead of time that Old Wog was lethargic, and altogether too well fed to be particularly aggressive (though he would, of course, fight if attacked). His stats were the Giant Toad stats from the Cook/Marsh Expert set.
And he was in the way.
So Ironbeard decided to walk up and poke Old Wog on the haunches with the tip of his axe, muttering something to the effect of "get out of the way" and trying to get him to jab him into taking a hop forward.
I gave Wog a standard (2d6) reaction roll to see what he'd do. Negative enough a result, and he'd attack. Positive, and he'd hop once forward. He hit a neutral result and just sat there.
At this point, I think Bill considered how reckless Ironbeard was and went to the dice himself, rolling a d20 vs his Wisdom to decide whether to poke the old toad again, a little harder this time. He failed his Wisdom check, and gave Old Wog a more pointed jab.
One reaction roll later, Old Wog was taking a hop forward, and the party was continuing on its way.
I doubt that scene would have played out like it did if we hadn't trusted the system, and trusted the dice. As a GM, I'm a pretty big fan of reaction rolls -- they add a certain variety and (dare I say it?) realism to monster and NPC behavior that I might not always match if I just made judgment calls for everything. I'm a creature of habit, like most people, and I know it's easy to fall into habits with monsters (like always attacking, fighting to the death, and so on). These habits are just that -- habits. They're not particularly realistic, or particularly interesting. Random results help add variety that a fundamentally habit-based creature (like me) probably wouldn't.
Here are a few other aspects of the adventure that basically came out of the dice rolls:
- Ironbeard's (ultimately humorous) inability to hit anything at all, leaving him to be upstaged by Alar Vakaros, his elven companion, and even by the henchmen.
- Speaking of henchmen, Joe in particular had a tendency to refuse to do what he was told (he failed a few morale checks when asked to do dangerous things in the dungeon), which forced the PCs to do the reckless or dangerous stuff if they wanted it done
- A horde of small, hopping frogs advanced menacingly on the party until someone decided to just start stomping on them with their boots (random encounter, result of "centipedes," fit to the theme of the adenture).
- And speaking random encounters, the generally safe, casual pace of the exploration came from the dice as well. Even though the adventure lasted 42 turns, and I checked for wandering monsters every 2nd turn like clockwork, only one random encounter actually occurred. All the rest of those rolls came up negative.
And I'm probably forgetting some. The adventure was fun -- trudging through muck and goop, keeping an eye out for weird frogs, robbing corpses, flipping through damp, rotting books, and just exploring. By any conventional definition, I suppose the expedition would have been counted as a failure -- the party didn't solve the mystery of the upward flowing waters, didn't battle the frog cult and destroy it, didn't stop the pirates or even loot the best treasures. But the rhythm of dungeon exploration, of trying to figure out how to make a torch when they've all run out, the weirdness, and the party banter meant that while the expedition would probably have been counted as a failure, the adventure most certainly was not.