A blog about tabletop hobby and or strategy games, with a side order of electronic turn based goodness here and there. Now with tons of retro gaming content both electronic and tabletop. Also with 20% more self loathing douchebaggery!

Monday, September 22, 2008

My Playtest Review of Tunnels & Trolls

Now that I have read the main rulebook and played out a few combats with the solo module I can add on some more meat to a proper review. Combine it with my first look/unboxing comic.

T&T uses 8 statistics for its characters. 4 affect "Combat Adds" which directly influence combat resolution, 1 does double duty as your Hit Points, and 2 are primarily based around Magic, one being your Spell Points. The other is the classic Charisma.

Character generation is based on rolling 3d6, assigning scores however you want, and if you happen to roll triples you roll again and add it to the original roll. Obviously this makes generally terrible starting characters with the odd idiot savant if triples come up on a roll. As a GM, I would probably give players the option of rolling 2d6 and adding 6. The manual does give a constructed character option with suggested power levels. If you take a Kindred (race) other than human there are multipliers to your initial scores both positive and negative. There are 5 common Kindreds which are almost sort of kind of balanced with Humans, and then 32 more with wildly different levels, some of which include full grown Dragons!

Also note that D6s are the ONLY dice used in this game. You will need a LOT of them. D6 Star Wars lots. Charging Ork Mob in Warhammer 40,000 lots.

None of the Kindreds have any actual detail or special powers outside of whatever Attribute Multipliers they have. Including what the hell they are.

Depending on your scores you then pick a class based on what you rolled up.
Citizens, which are NPC characters who have penalties to both spellcasting and combat.
Rogues, who are closer to the AD&D 2nd edition Bard than an actual Thief, capable of using spells and weapons.
Warriors, who are combat beasts and capable of taking more damage than anyone else due to superior armor skills.
Wizards, who are limited in weapons, but cast spells better than anyone else and have a lower cost to do so.
Specialists, who generally need a rolled triple and who have various special bonuses but otherwise act like another class depending on choice.
Paragons who need all 12s or better in their stats and have most of the skills and abilities of both Warriors AND Wizards.

Gameplay itself is largely broken into 3 subsections that all work together. Combat, Saving Rolls, and Spellcasting.

Combat: In combat each combatant adds up their Combat Adds to their weapon damage dice, rolls them together and adds it up, with any 6s rolled doing an automatic point of damage to the enemy regardless of who wins or loses the combat or what kind of armor is worn. This is called Spite Damage.

Your character's attributes as briefly mentioned above determines your adds. In the 4, anything over a 12 adds 1 to your adds, and anything under 9 subtracts one. Meaning a starting character has around 2-7 adds most of the time.

So a character whose damage dice was 3d6+2 with 5 adds would roll 3d6+7 in Combat. Everyone on your side of the combat normally rolls their dice and adds and puts it all together with the other side doing the same. High roll wins, and the difference in score is how much damage is evenly distributed to the losers. Armor reduces damage taken, and Spite Damage is applied on each side ignoring Armor or who won.

While this is clever and super fast, it requires a LOT of dice, and it really limits the kind of enemies PCs can fight at any given time. Its gonna take an attentive GM to keep things from being broken or unbeatable.

Monster opponents can be even simpler than having to make a character. Many modules and the monster booklets just include a MONSTER RATING. Take 100 as an MR. To find out its combat stats, its dice is 1/10th its MR +1 (Or 11 in this case), its adds are 1/2 its MR (50), and its Wizardry (we will get to this soon) is 1/10th its MR, (10), and its Hit Points are 100. Some creatures also have special effects that happen whenever their dice rolls are over a certain threshold. This could be Spite Damage at 5 and 6 on the dice, spell effects, ect. Unlike characters, monsters lose adds as they take damage, but keep their dice rolls.

Needless to say, our 100 MR monster is UNSTOPPABLE by and large to any individual low level adventurer, but 5 or 6 working together can take it down. However if its a bunch of 20 MR creatures, players may wish to engage one on one.

I find the combat system clever, but its incredibly abstract (each round is considered to be 2 minutes of fighting, and also adds in ranged combat and spellcasting as part of the total compared score), and really seems similar to the combat systems most console RPGs use. High values beat low values and you can't get out of it. If you are seriously higher in scores than your opponent you WILL win, with maybe minor scratches thanks to Spite Damage. (House ruling Spite Damage to be the minimum damage of your weapon sans combat adds seems like a fairer solution, with monster Spite Damage doubled as well.)

However, the game encourages clever players to try out crazy ideas and stunts in combat and anywhere else, this is called the Saving Roll. (SR) In Saving Rolls, you roll 2D6, add the attribute applicable to the situation, and beat a target number based on a Level. (A level 1 roll is 20, and it generally goes up from there in increments of 5.) If you roll doubles, you roll again and add the dice together, but on your initial roll a 1 and a 2 result on the dice equals automatic failure. These Saving Rolls are done to pretty much do anything in the game not related to basic combat. Cast Spells, Resist Spells, Ranged Weapons, avoid traps, and so on. Its smooth, fast, elegant, and I like it. If your roll fails but your character's level would bring it to the needed score, it is added on. So if you rolled an 18 for a level 1 SR and were level 2, you would pass the SR.

However your character as they level up gain Talents, which are specialized attribute checks you get an extra D6 to roll to SRs that affect that particular situation. Like Thievery would be a Dexterity talent when thief type SRs could be required. When you gain the talent you roll the D6 and whatever you roll becomes your PERMANENT modifier with that talent. It never gets better, but you keep collecting them.

Spellcasting is basically a SR that uses this game's Spell Points, called Wizardry. Spellcasters must know the spell they wish to cast, and meet the requirements for casting it. Decide if the spell is being boosted causing greater effects but being harder to cast and using more Wizardry, then make an Intelligence SR. If the target, friendly or enemy has a higher Wizardry score your spell does not affect them, but can be used to drain them of Wizardry at the same cost as the spell you just cast. Yes, even healing spells don't work on someone with a higher Wizardry then you. ( I would house rule this and let beneficial spells always work on targets. That's kind of a stupid rule in my opinion.)

Adventure Points (AP) are gained as your characters do things in the game with a fairly large list of what they get points for, which roughly seems to be almost anything they do. While its a good way to encourage players to do things, it could be a pain for the Gamemaster to constantly calculate, and players to constantly add and erase. (I would house rule it into a set AP per session, based roughly on the listed AP gains in the book.) APs are spent to boost the 8 attributes, and character level is based on how high your highest attribute for your class is. Character levels provide a number of small but essential bonuses depending on class, but don't really matter to the amount they do in D&D. Advancement is more subtle and detailed, with characters getting a little better each adventure as opposed to the nothing then all at once setup of a D&D like level system.

As is the case in most RPGs, there are laundry lists of items and equipment and spells for players to acquire with some small descriptions.

However the game's biggest asset is also its biggest flaw: Its so light and streamlined it really requires a good GM and clever players. Its stupidly simple if you just play by pure mechanics, and most of the it is left to GM fiat to determine. There are a couple of examples and ideas, but its mostly a rules light toolkit with a very small amount of setting information which amounts to the included map and a timeline of the gameworld.

The included solo module is a prime example. Its not made for low level characters at all, and if you don't have the right character you will die in minutes. Even making the recommended Troll or Minotaur Warrior with a whopping 28 combat adds and 3d6 damage won't help when the random monsters average a 150 MR or so. With a good GM clever and creative players could defeat these monsters by running away, parlaying with it, bribing it, or any number of things. In the solo game with just a couple options the monsters are just impossible for a starting character.

Tunnels & Trolls was one of the first RPGs after D&D and much of it's qualities and new ideas have been taken over by later games. This version is of course the most complete version of the system, and a hell of a bargain for experienced GMs looking for a fast, rules light RPG that is newbie friendly on the player standpoint, provided they aren't in the D&D 3.x+ "I NEED RULES FOR EVERYTHING" mindset.

The writer Ken St. Andre basically tells you its your game run it how you want. As a system to do fast narrative games it looks to be pretty excellent. As a massively deep crunchy game to appease power gamers? Not so much.

That being said, I look forward to running this game for my players. Its very much a toolkit styled game ala White/Brown Box original D&D except with a much better game system, light years better writing, artwork, layout, and value.

On my scale of Bad, OK, and Good (with Very Good and Very Bad being for special cases) I give this game Good.

Go buy it!

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