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.