Tuesday 8 May 2012

Retrospective: Sea of Mystery

Sea of Mystery was, I think, G. Arthur Rahman's first and only solitaire contribution to the Tunnels & Trolls game. Published by Flying Buffalo in 1981, Sea of Mystery was number 14 of the original solo line and one that's perhaps overlooked. 

For one thing, the cover, while nice, is boring. There's some blonde guy staring off into the sunset as he stands on his boat. It doesn't really evoke the mystery that the title alludes to, but as a piece of art Ken Macklin did a nice job.

Editorial duties fell to the legendary Michael Stackpole, someone who I wish would contribute more to T&T. I notice that Liz Danforth was down as a playtester, which I imagine she did for more of the older books.

Interestingly, Rahman encourages the player to go in without any weapons, promising that they will find some along the way. Whether any nervous first level delver would follow this advice remains to be seen. 45 combat adds is the maximum you're able to take into the solo, so this is one for new players.

Sea of Mystery was very different to its predecessors in its execution. The adventure is closer to a sandbox than anything else and therefore doesn't have much of a plot. Something that really stands out about its structure is the lack of branching decisions. There are more instances where the loss or success of a saving roll determines your next course of action, but there are more narrative choices to make, such as whether to help a baroness escape or leave her.

I quite like the introductory blub about the treacherous Sea of Mystery and find it quite evocative. If only Mesgegra was used for the cover:

Sea of Mystery . . . The name echoes through your memory. You recall your elderswarning you that if you were bad the Sea witches would come and take you away. Whenyou grew older you heard the pirates and slavers of the Sea cursed by a thousand differentvoices. In late nights under full moons your fellows told tales of carnivorous plants, thedreaded Mesgegra vampire-demon and islands of beautiful amazons waiting for lost males

The basic premise is that you're a sailor, either ending up with merchants or pirates. Random rolls determine what happens to you and one decision can have multiple outcomes as a result. In this way, you can play the book over multiple times and end up having many different adventures, which is really Sea of Mystery's biggest strength. Replayability was never something that previous solos attempted, so Rahman was an innovator in this respect.

Sea of Mystery is available to download as a PDF from DriveThruRPG or as a physical book from Flying Buffalo.


  1. Sea of Mystery was a formative influence on my solo writing. I found the sandbox approach very mush suiting my style. I do try to have the plot branches driven more by player choice than by dice.

    The influence of Sea of Mystery is especially strong in my Sailing the Wine Dark Sea which includes three main story branches each with half a dozen or so subplots. Replay ability was definitely on my mind. I added an over arching narrative story.

    I agree that this solo deserves more attention and respect than it gets. It also played a big role in showing that T&T could be used for more than just dungeon delve style adventures.

    1. I must read Sailing the Wine Dark Sea - sounds intriguing

  2. Rahman also wrote the T&T solo Jungle of Lost Souls which was published by Judges' Guild. He also penned several articles for the T&T house magazine, Sorcerer's Apprentice. Perhaps his biggest contribution to gaming was the co-design (along with his brother, Ken) of the board game Divine Right. G. Rahman was a frequently published author in gaming circles during the 80s.

    I agree with your analysis. Sea of Mystery is a very good T&T solo. The reasoning behind the weapons magically appearing in your hands in the routes along the mysterious Sea was to get around characters wielding some of the more preposterous weapons one could acquire in prior T&T solos. Play this one by the rules, it will be much more enjoyable.

    --Marek of Gull

    1. Thanks for enlightening me - I didn't realise he wrote Jungle of Lost Souls. I'll have to take a look at it.

  3. How funny!! I never put the writer together with the products. I have played Sea of Mystery and Jungle of Lost Souls together for many years. My PCs must cross the Sea of Mystery and to land in Jungle of Lost Souls. Divine Right always has been my favorite strategy game. Thanks for pointing out the obvious. I really need to consciously think about authors of my favorite products.

    BTW, in 5ed Sea of Mystery was never for beginners. One combat or a simple storm at sea would end my early characters. I would place Sea of Mystery at Level 3-4 for 5ed (unless they travelled solos regulary and were "pumped" up). Now in 7ed, sure an experienced Level 2-3 PC.

    1. I think if you're not actively going in with weapons then beginners are really not going to survive this, but if it's marketed as a 45 add solo then usually that means lower level (by that I mean 1-3). But yeah, you're right about 7e.

    2. For both Scott M. and Brian Penn --

      I have a 5th Ed. Level 5 mage (62 adds) character; I have long "discarded" Sea Of Mystery (though it intrigued me) as a viable solo for this character because he was "too advanced". Hearing that the solo is more viably geared for levels 3-4 gives me renewed hope! In your opinion, could it conceivably offer a good challence to a level 5, 62-adds mage?