Kickstarter to revive Tunnels and Trolls, the sillier, more casual early cousin of D&D

Stefan Jones sez,

One of the problems faced by early enthusiasts of Dungeons & Dragons was a severe shortage of the actual game. Tactical Studies Rules wasn't up to the job of supplying sufficient copies of a game that burst out of its traditional audience of miniatures wargamers. I remember photocopied sets of the first printing were ubiquitous at gaming hang-outs.

There was an alternative. Long before I was finally able to get my hands on a "white box" edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I was able to get my own copy low-rent competitor, Tunnels & Trolls.

Ken St. Andre's creation was sillier and far more casual than D&D, but you could use it to create adventures just as satisfying. Its basic design also made more sense than Gygax & Arneson's mutant offspring of miniature's rules: The characters' attributes played a direct role in game mechanics.

T&T never had the success of Dungeons & Dragons, but it was responsible for one major innovation (paragraph-based solitaire adventures) and has been through several editions. (One of the works of game writing I'm most proud of is Dark Temple, an epic solo adventure published back in 1994.)

After several years of being out of print, a new edition of T&T is in the works. To fund the development work, the original artistic and design team has put together a Kickstarter, with plenty of interesting reward levels and swag.

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls


      1. Hmm, so what you’re saying is that the fulfillment of the desire must therefore lead to happiness. Makes sense. Thanks Buddha.

        1. Actually, the first noble truth is “Life is suffering (dukka),” which I think is pretty self-evident, so I’m down with that one.

          “Suffering is born of desire” (often translated as “attachment”) is the second noble truth.

          But yes, a corollary to that truth is that happiness comes from the attainment of desire. That’s why, strictly speaking, Buddhists don’t pursue happiness (in the conservative, Therevadan perspective at least). They aim for cessation/nibbana, which is the end of suffering.

          Equanimity is also higher on the list than happiness.

          1. Actually, the first noble truth is “Life is suffering (dukka),” which I think is pretty self-evident, so I’m down with that one.

            Not sure that an evaluation of the quality of life that was made two and a half millennia before most people had running water is entirely valid. Although life might still be suffering for many people, and there might still be some suffering for almost anyone, I see no reason to take a 2,500 year-old pessimistic view of life.

            Just let go of desire and revulsion and enjoy life.

  1. T&T was the first RPG I ever owned (it only needs one book so it was a cheap alternative to That Other Game) and it’s still my “go to” when introducing someone new to the world of roleplaying games.  Fun and fast with light rules and written with a sense of humor, the rulebook itself is fun to parse through.  If you can find a copy; the rules are often out of print.

    Anyhow, I’m looking forward to this.  Looks like it’s already well over the Kickstarter goal so they’re adding in bonus stuff.  If you play roleplaying games, you should totally check it out.  If you don’t play but want to start, this looks like a great place to do so!  T&T has a lot of solo adventures still in print so you can play those until you get some friends together.

    Disclaimer: I’m backing this. :)

  2. The same people ran “StarWeb”.  A sort of text-based Ur-WOW where you had to mail in the instructions for your Galactic Empire every few weeks.  Inter-Relay Chat was handled by 3×5 index cards that you sent in with your instruction sheets.  They were addressed to the rulers of any other empires which your printouts identified as having had First Contacts with your own.

    1.  There is a lot of “Oh Please Do It!” talk of that on the Trollhala forum of offering M!M! a Stretch Goal.

      (“Monsters! Monsters!” let you play a monster going on a surface raid. You got experience points for eating people.)

  3. One of the projects in the publishing pipeline is a book of 1980s game notes and proposals from Ken St. Andre.  He’s a hilarious, smart guy and I think that it does a disservice to T&T to knock it in comparison to D&D. 

    It’s a pretty smart game.

    1. Neither do I, not really, but I guess I’m thinking that the game is no sillier than D&D.  Though the packaging doesn’t help my case…

  4. For a long stretch of my youth my friends and I played D&D a minimum of four days a week, usually for hours at a stretch. I never saw Tunnels & Trolls, but heard it spoken of disparagingly by at least one of my gamer friends. Which is unfortunate, because I can see the need for a D&D competitor.

    Then again we didn’t need a game that was “sillier and far more casual than D&D” because we were usually pretty casual when it came to the rules, and brought a lot of silliness to the game ourselves. I once spent an entire evening playing a cleric as Gilbert Gottfried.

      1. We didn’t limit ourselves to D&D, and actually rotated through at least half a dozen different role playing games (including Ghostbusters, Call of Cthulu, and Doctor Who) on a regular basis.

        I became a fan of Gottfried as the result of another part of my misspent youth: the discovery of USA’s Up All Night, hosted Friday nights by Gottfried, Saturday nights by Rhonda Shear. I preferred Gottfried, which is probably a sign that I need professional help. 

  5. I’m PRETTY sure I still have a Grimtooth’s guide to traps from Tunnels and Trolls sitting on my bookshelf.

    1. I’m *very* sure I’ve never forgiven the person who borrowed and didn’t return mine.  (I still have all the sequels, but not the original.)

    2. I had a lot of fun drawing those traps in the Grimtooth books!  We ended up doing 7 in the series and Nercomancer Games did a big “best of” collection in 2002.  Grimtooth was actually created by Liz Danforth as cartoon for the Tunnels & Trolls Magazine Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Then it fell to me to illustrate him and his traps. The screams, the blood…fond memories.  ; )

  6. Can anybody who has played it comment on the quality of the rules?  I see lots of talk about “lighter” and “funnier”, but how does that translate into the combat system?  You can roleplay with your friends anytime you want, the purpose of these books is to give everybody something to ground them and maybe even keep some semblance of balance.  If a RPG has badly designed or badly balanced rules it’s a waste of time.  No DM wants to have to rewrite half of the core game mechanics on the fly just to make the thing work, yet so many RPGs are broken in fundamental ways, especially when they’re cheap knockoffs. 

    Sometimes if the setting is interesting enough people will port the characters and monsters over to a better designed system, but that’s a lot of work and if your setting is “D&D but a little funnier” then there isn’t going to be much motivation to do it.

    Basically, first edition D&D was pretty rough around the edges, a little spare, and had some braindamage.  I’m quite dubious about a cheap knockoff version of it. 

    1. The thing about Tunnels and Trolls and the hundred failed “heartbreakers” is that they are usually an improvement on D&D in some way.  Because early D&D was so unclear and possibly broken it had a lot of room for improvement, so people did.  Once everyone saw that the horseless carriage was possible they all wanted to build a better one. 

    2. Having read the ruleset and being a veteran player of many, many RPGs I can say that it is entirely rubbish.  The ruleset is a couple of pages that give a system for resolving only the simplest of combat encounters in a way that is constantly lethal, exceedingly random, and totally lacking strategy of any sort.  It also lacks rules for anything at all outside of direct combat.  Perhaps the newer version of the game is something else entirely, but based on the rulesets I found online it is something most veteran gamers could cook up in a few hours of brainstorming.

      1. Sky Roy, the rulebook for T&T edition 7.5, the last edition of the game before the Deluxe edition now in the works, is 170+ pages. You probably shouldn’t base your opinion of the game on the “couple of pages” you found online.

    3. I still have my copy of mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes, essentially the same system as T&T, but in a more modern, non-magical setting. I remember how easy the rules were to learn and I remember some of them off the top of my head 30 years later. “Doubles add and reroll.” The system isn’t a cheap knock off so much as a streamlined set of rules. When I first learned Advanced Dungeons and Dragons at the age of 12, I thought that Tunnels and Trolls and regular D&D in a box were inferior games mostly because they weren’t as complicated and also out of fanboyism. 

    4. The combat system is very simple, completely lacking in crunch:  each side rolls some number of D6, and adds some number of “adds”.  The side with the higher total does the difference to the other side, with successful direct damage attacks like missile weapons and spells getting through no matter which side has the higher total.  Melee damage is divided between members of the side, with most of it going to the guys in front, and then armor subtracts from individual damage.

      Players (and named monsters important enough to have detailed stats) do damage based on the weapon they are using, plus adds based on their ability scores.  Nameless monsters have a Monster Rating that serves as both their Hit Points and the damage they do: MR/10 (rounded up) D6, plus MR/2 (rounded down) adds.  Most nameless monsters don’t have armor.

      The result is rolling huge numbers of D6 on each side and quickly summing them up with the adds. 

      If the players have the higher total, the monsters will take damage, which lowers their Monster Ratings, which gives them less dice and adds in the next round of combat, and the death-spiral accelerates from there.

      If both sides are about even, or the monsters roll a little bit higher, the players’ armor will hopefully soak up the difference, while spells and missile weapons wear down the other side to the point the death-spiral starts.

      If the monsters rolled much higher, the surviving players should retreat. ;)

      Enemy selection as a GM is about figuring out in advance what the likely damage output of the characters will be, and selecting MR that does about the same average damage.  Or less, if you want an easy encounter, to teach the system.  Or more, if you want the players to solve the conflict with something other than combat.  It’s pretty clean and mathematical, once you figure it out.

      Clearly, the game isn’t about the realism of the combat, but the role-playing and problem-solving, with occasional punctuation of combat thrown in when parlay with encountered monsters (who typically dislike death as much as you do) breaks down.

      Of course, once players understand the system, you can complexify, and allow clever things like breaking the combat into independently resolved sub-melees, or cutting some enemies off from the fight by confining them to a tight space, or otherwise taking advantage of the terrain… bringing more opportunities for problem-solving and roll-playing further into the combat part of the game.

      So, really, it depends on what you want out of a game, and what “role-playing” means to you.

      If you want a crunchy, realistic combat system, and role-playing means fight scenes where you make clever use of the stuff on your character sheet, and a session is a couple of big fights that take all night to resolve in gloriously epic detail, this is not the right game for you.

      If you want combat to be simple and over with quickly, so that you can get back to role-playing part, where characters talk to each other, outwit traps, outwit monsters, and solve puzzles, with a system simple enough that you can teach it to your kids as their first RPG, then T&T is ideal.

  7. Except for the main rulebook, I always get player-made T&T stuff online. It’s been kept up really well by all the people that play it, so I’m surprised to hear they need a kickstarter campaign to revive it. Looks cool though.

    1. Rick, the kickstarter isn’t to revive the game. It’s simply to get a newer updated version into print with a lot of extras that Flying Buffalo couldn’t normally expect to do on the company nickle.

  8. Do not fund this!!!1! Thisis what turned Tom Hanks into FOrest Gump!! Don’t make your kids Gump dumbies just two play a game!!

  9. OMFG.  I played this game way back in the day.  I was introduced to it by a childhood friend who owned an Atari 2600 and preferred Cracked magazine over Mad.  I’ve always liked that it was playable as a stand-alone single player, making it attractive to the geek that was so antisocial that you couldn’t even get a D&D campaign together.

  10. Oh wow…I just went digging in the closet and unearthed my “justifiably infamous forth edition” of T&T.  Ah, the yellowed and greasy-kid stained pages, my horrifying attempts to color Liz Danforth’s illustrations, penciled-in rule changes (Zappathingum –a level seven spell — was permanent? Madness!) and the completely inexplicable MAD ‘OBBIT…

    I could just smell the seventies oozing forth.

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