Tunnels & Trolls Enlightenment

Sunday , 16, April 2017 Leave a comment

It’s simultaneously the most marvelous and the most aggravating aspect of the really old role-playing games. Every time you pick up the rule book you can stumble across something that you never saw before!

Just as the latest example, in the combat example from section 2.31 of 5th edition Tunnels & Trolls, an elf rogue has cast Take That You Fiend in the first round of combat at a cost of six strength, dropping from 26 to 20. In the opening of combat round two, the combat example says this:

Rethe prefers to expend no more sorcerous strength, and fights with sword and dagger. (Her ST is currently down to 20 so personal adds are only +19). For the gladius she rolls 12, +2 for weapons add. The dirk rolls 6, +1 for weapons add. Plus 19, her total is 40.

This is sort of a double whammy right here. In the first place, I hadn’t realized that T&T’s rules allowed for such an easy solution to dual-wielding. Especially at higher levels, a character’s combat adds are by far the most important factor in fighting prowess. If a player wants to give up the use of a shield in order to get a little more combat power… the system just keeps takes it in stride.

Why is that a shocker…? Well in games with more granularity in the combat system, it always takes some fiddling by the game designer to make this sort of thing actually work. I never imagined that it could just work… without any rules tinkering at all. And because I never came across a little sidebar breaking this out explicitly, I assumed that it simply could not be done.

(Maybe it is in fact in the text somewhere and I read right past it– that can certainly happen with these old games.)

The other thing going on in this example is that they are recalculating combat adds after spellcasting. Which means that characters are losing strength every combat round due to using a weapon too-heavy weapons? They’re losing combat adds every single turn and probably even going negative at some point…! I just boggle at that because I’ve been playing this game wrong for a good couple years now. Embarrassing! (That’s like not knowing the spell spoilage rules from Expert D&D. Agh!)

Why is this such a huge deal…?

Because this makes fatigue absolutely brutal, for one thing. But note that fatigue doesn’t work quite like you would think either. (And yes, I’m interpolating a GURPS concept onto a game that doesn’t actually have it by even using the term “fatigue” at all.) You don’t lose ST by hauling loads of treasure around. The new rules for the Speed attribute indicate that being burdened will necessarily slow you down. But the rules for carry limits way back in section 1.3 limit the amount of time you can haul heavy loads by the constitution attribute!

Another reason this is huge is that it makes sense out of the evolution of the game… which can inform how you go about setting up your Tunnels & Trolls system. (And yes, you do have to do that, especially with 5th edition. You’re going to end up running it a little different than everybody else and that’s fine. If you can’t handle that… go play first edition AD&D. By the book. I dare you!!!)

First, this makes the introduction of the Wiz attribute a much bigger deal than I previously thought. Handing wizards an alternate power source to strength obviously means you’re not going to have arbitrarily tough spell-tossers anymore. Having them no longer lose their combat ability as they cast spells not only makes them play differently, it also takes out a lot of in-game bookkeeping.

The second thing that this uncovers is even adding Wiz to the game failed to take care of this issue sufficiently. Later editions also remove the penalty to adds for strength, luck, and dexterity below nine. So this artifact of the only game rules…? It wasn’t just patched over. It was nuked. Two different ways.

I actually like the additional variability that new characters get with the penalties for low attributes. It just makes the results of 3d6-in-order that much more colorful. But I can see now why it would have been done. At any rate, the key to wrapping your head around just what exactly the older games were is never where you’d expect to find it. Consider this nugget in section 1.2:

Characters and players should speak for themselves. But, with everyone trying to talk at once a game can rapidly degenerate into a shouting match (that can be fun sometimes, too), so it is recommended that the GM keep the number of players in his party small– two or three players with up to four characters apiece is ideal.

With the exception of players of the infamous Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, hardly anyone is going to think to pick up this game up and play it this way nowadays. This is one more way that T&T is subtly different from its chief competitor which would have (relatively) elaborate rules for running your PC’s henchmen, which gain experience at half rate. Though T&T does have rules for slaves and hirelings. They aren’t rolled up as “real” characters are, though. They’re built! And their rates are a function of the total of their attributes!

That’s kind of wild, really.

Thinking about it, this actually makes perfect sense. You’re talking about a game where monsters can be defined with a single number– the Monster Rating. Why would you waste any time coming up with PC-level granularity for hirelings?! And just like the rules for dual-wielding being so natural, the auxiliary characters don’t hardly even need to be spelled out… a game in which everything is derived from the six prime attributes gets a point-build system for “free” as well.

That’s positively brilliant. There’s way more to this game system than it is typically given credit for.

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