Monday, February 18, 2008

Tunnels & Trolls, Why Not?

Every now and again I like to crack this guy open, usually for no damn good reason, which I often find is the best reason; go make sense of that (I'll wait here). It's often a great reminder of how simple, straightforward and pantsless gaming can be; T&T is fairly easy to learn, easy to run, malleable in its rules and explicitly welcoming of silliness.

T&T is meant to be fun.

I hauled it out the other night not because I needed to be reminded of these things but because I saw it sitting on my self and said, in my dumb-guy voice, "Oh, wow, T&T." Specifically, I pulled out the 30th Anniversary Edition pictured to the left, but I have the 5th edition too. No, that's not really salient, is it.

Anyway, it's fun to goof with this game because, as I said, it welcomes you to goof with it. It's so wide-open as to beg for creativity and interpretation on your part -- kind of a sword-and-sorcery Traveller, really, in that sense.

I especially like its approach to monsters. Y'see, in T&T, monster have one stat -- Monster Rating (MR). It can range from 1 (if you feel like not challenging anyone) to...uh...well, as high as you want it to be. From this number, the monster's combat stats and hit points are figured; it's all-in-one. Nowhere does it say you can't give a particular monster a special attack, or trait, or blah blah blah, so...if you want to, you go right ahead and do that.

So let's say that I have a MR 15, uh...let's say it's a crab. Yeah, sure, it's a big yellow crab as big around as a card table, and it has big blue pincers why not. It smells vaguely of the sea and of vaseline (?!), and it inhabits the tide pools, sea-caves and beaches of...uh...the Ragged Coast. Sure.

Let's call it a Queen Crab, if for no other reason than the name has the word "crab" in it and "king crab" was taken. Maybe it has pink feet, look like slippers.'s where a hassle might occur. A Queen Crab has MR 15, right? is it different from any other critter with MR15? Say, a MR 15 Thunder-goat, perhaps. Or a MR 15 Goblin. Mechanically, they're all the same -- they roll 2 dice and add 7. Where's the fun in that?!

A-HA! The fun is in the fact that T&T combat, like everything else in T&T, invites improvisation and storytelling. Combat rounds in this game aren't blow-by-blow; one side rolls its combat dice, the other side rolls its combat dice, totals are compared and the loser takes the difference in damage; players and GM retroactively narrate the events of the fight. What is so simple and straightforward in theory ends up being rich and nuanced in practice, as players and GM describe the fight in a much detail as they like, taking into account, say, the differences between fighting a thing with snapping pincers and one with explosive horns (what'd you think a Thunder-goat was, anyway?).

Come to that, the "Saving Roll" (read "attribute/skill checks") rules for T&T facilitate crazy combat tricks with which to spice up your fights. Want to get a few free hits on that Queen Crab by flipping it over with your foot and wailing on its under-carapace? Make a SR on Strength! Wanna draw the Goblin leader away from the pack so the party's wizard can cast Freeze Please on him? You can make a Dexterity SR to herd him away as you're fighting, make a Charisma SR to call him out with insults, make an Intelligence SR to observe and time the rythm of his attacks...whatever.

Now the differences between a crab and a goblin, as foes, regardless of their mechanical similarities, come clear.

Oh, my, yes.

Oh. And if you ever start looking at T&T and say, "Hey! How'm I supposed to make a cool character with only...what, four, five classes?", consider the brilliant but jaw-droppingly simple concept of talents, introduced in the 30th Anniversary Edition. Let's just say that, the other night, I created an Elf Barbarian (at my wife's suggestion) simply by rolling up an elf warrior and giving him the "Barbarian Might" talent. he's...not real good at it, since I made it Strength-based and his Strength is only an 8, but...well...

...hey, he'd be fun to play.

If you want some ideas of how loco you can get with this thing, do yourself a favor and check out The Hobgoblin's Tavern and The Tunnels & Trolls Archive -- my favorite bits therein are the magic items at the Tavern (check out the 'Yankee Rose' sword) and the combat rules at the archive, where you can find a nice, fast, logical system for called shots.

Then, go check out Eposic's T&T Section, where there's much to see -- and where you, too, can fight the Ugh Monster.

...Wow! I bloggered!