Feeling that my players had gotten a little complacent with all their zig-zagging through the swamp in their hovercraft and snorkel-equipped jeep, I decided to throw a truly terrifying creature at them to bring back a little of the fear that they used to feel when they set off into the mucky-muck. I have been setting this encounter up for a while by occasionally mentioning the legend of the Swamp Turtle, a giant, two-headed snapping turtle that is widely held to be at the apex of the swamp food-chain. I felt it was the perfect time to throw the encounter at them, because the session so far had been combat-free, focused on negotiations with many of the power groups that the PCs were hoping to turn against the Warangutans and Julius Corple.
For the second session in a row we had a very small turn out for various reasons (sickness and school commitments chief among them) and the jeep was being driven by Dataan the robot, with Bozko the shapeshifting plant riding shotgun and Richard "Don't Call Me Dick" the dragon-man standing behind the twin heavy machine guns on the back of the jeep. The sun was setting behind the clouds as the jeep was climbing up a small hummock in the drizzling rain (it is early fall in the Willing Mate valley in the campaign). The low hill shuddered, then rose up out of the water. Dataan brought the jeep to a halt and the party realized what was going on as two huge heads on thick necks emerged from either side of the "hill" and turned towards the jeep, massive jaws snapping. The jeep was parked on the armor plated back of the Swamp Turtle! Neither of the two heads (the second head takes the place of a tail) could quite reach the jeep where it perched on the center of the shell. The party instantly thought of the plastic explosives that they had just received as a result of their meeting with Flipsham Eggwar, the leader of the Ooh-Oh Monks. Bozko pulled a four pound chunk of C-4 out of his chest cavity where he had been storing it and declared that he was inserting a detonator in it and was going to stick it to the shell.
Not so fast! Time to roll for initiative, I said with a little glee in my voice. I should mention here that I use d20 rolls for initiative, diverging from the Mutant Future rules (which follow Labyrinth Lord's B/X style d6 roll for initiative). I can't say exactly why I use d20 for initiative - I grew up playing 2e with its d10 initiative rolls, so it isn't nostalgia, and I am not a big fan of 3e which is where I first encountered the d20 used in this manner. I think it is just because with a large party and many combatants, I like the finer granularity that a d20 provides for initiative. In any case, the party all rolled pretty decent rolls, and I declared that I was going to use my once a session d30 roll for this initiative check! The look on the players' faces when I grabbed that big ole die and let it fly was priceless. As it turned out, I got a 17 and Bozko still beat me!
Bozko (after a brief out of character interlude where he asked if his character would know anything about what the most effective way to shape a plastic explosive charge was and I told him no, you are a mutant plant from the Mutant Future, what the hell would you know about plastic explosives?) slapped the putty-like explosive charge down on the shell of the turtle and pressed it into a cone shape. The turtle, angry at the annoying chunk of steel that sat just out of reach of its snapping jaws, rolled over in the swamp to dash the jeep into the cold waters.
At this point the party was pretty certain they were going to be swimming while dealing with a creature that looked like it could swallow them whole and not even notice it, not to mention that they would be within the blast radius of the explosion if they detonated the C-4. Yup, things looked pretty grim. I figured that with a little creative thinking and the use of all their technological artifacts they could probably escape without incurring a TPK, but I certainly didn't foresee them KILLING the damn turtle! The thing had nearly 400 HP for Jeebus's sake! I thought at the very least they would lose the jeep, as I was going to have the turtle attack the jeep next round. What happened was one of those great moments where the dice gods smiled on the players.
Dataan tried to ride the jeep up and over the corner of the shell as the turtle rolled, in an attempt to keep the jeep from being spilled into the swamp. I have been using a dexterity check mechanic for particularly tricky driving maneuvers, so I told Dataan's player that he could roll a dexterity check. I told him that he would have a significant penalty to the roll, but I wasn't telling him what that penalty was. I had already made up my mind that he would have to roll a natural 1 to successfully drive the jeep up the shell as it was rolling and crest it at the perfect moment to be able to descend to the other side and end up on the stomach of the turtle.
The die rolled, and rolled, and... came up with that perfect 1! Many people decry the fact that older editions of D&D do not have a unified mechanic for resolving situations like this. Why should some things like attack rolls call for a high roll, while other things call for a low roll? I personally like this. How many times have you cursed that unlucky "1" when it pops up its ugly little head on an attack roll? Isn't it about time that the down-trodden "1" gets to bask in the same glory that its big brother the natural "20" gets?
Dataan floored the jeep and rode off the turtle before it could roll again. Once the jeep was clear, Bozko pressed the remote detonator and the C-4 exploded, raining chunks of turtle shell and flesh over the swamp. Looking back from the jeep, the party realized that they had failed to kill the monster and it was crashing after them, gaining steadily with its huge strides. Richard unloaded on it with the heavy machine guns, scoring some hits on one of its heads, but hardly slowing it down at all. Bozko turned his body into a hang-glider and jumped off the jeep, never one to stick around when fleeing might save his bark. The turtle had closed the distance and was about to catch the jeep, but I ruled that Richard could have one more round of attacks with the heavy machine guns. These guns can each discharge a whopping six shots per round, so Richard was rolling twelve attack rolls.
This time, he rolled up a storm and scored a ton of hits (I don't remember exactly how many, but he rolled ridiculously well), including a critical that he rolled excellent damage with. He just managed to do enough damage to drop it, and it fell dying, massive jaws clenched just short of the rear of the jeep. This was very lucky, because even one round of attacks from the turtle would have crushed the jeep. The party cut off all the parts of the turtle that stuck out of the shell, then tied it to the jeep and slowly towed it across the swamp to the home of the badders where they gave the shell to the those master armor crafters to make turtle-plate mail. The badders are eating turtle soup even as we speak!
Note: The two-headed snapping turtle was inspired by a very similar but much smaller creature created by
DMH and posted in this amazing thread over at rpg.net. If you have not already check this out, he has created hundreds if not thousands of mutant monstrosities for use with the Mutant Future game. Thanks, DMH!