Saturday 30 March 2019

Quiet roleplaying

Quiet roleplaying, or perhaps slow roleplaying, is something I've been thinking about lately. Often games can move a breakneck speeds, players go from one location to the next, hack up some bad dudes and find the treasure. It's a tried and tested playstyle that works. Some people enjoy gonzo elements, where their world is a little (or a lot) crazy. Some prefer high fantasy with bright shining towers, marauding orc hordes and sky-surfing wizards. Others enjoy a dungeon-running campaign full of tricks and traps.

While I enjoy all of the above, I'm putting forward an argument for quiet, introspective roleplaying. Rather than just being a style of play, it's a genre in itself. Quiet roleplaying focuses far less on combat and more on journeying through environments, uncovering the lost histories of place. It's a session spent around a campfire, allowing characters to bloom in conversation. Monsters may exist, but they are unique and rarely pure evil. They are more likely to guard places of meaning rather than locations filled with treasure. The King of Foxes guards the forest of his ancestors. Magic is low and subtle. No fireballs, but a flicker of flame from a finger. Magic users are a rarity, but they inspire awe.

Quiet roleplaying takes inspiration from celtic folklore. Omens come in threes, a magical item is unique and truly wonderful, swans become maidens.

Players won't be going on quests to save a kingdom. They will be making good with a local god, bringing water to a village in drought, finding a way to exorcise a phantom.

The GM should be asking the players how their characters feel about a given situation. Ask them to add elements to the world. What animals are around? Who do they see on the road?

Here is a list of elements in summary:

- Journeys and environmental hazards
- Introspection - with prompts by the GM
- Little combat
- Human centric
- Low magic
- Celtic folklore
- Exploring history of place
- Low treasure
- Places have meaning outside of the material
- Omens
- Sessions based in a single location
- Wilderness, not palaces
- Monsters are unique and unlikely evil

For some, this play style won't sound like much fun. It's not balls to the wall fantasy, but I think there's a place for the quieter side of roleplaying, the slowplay.

Monday 25 March 2019

Beneath Dark Elms (T&T) out now

I'm happy to announce that my latest GM adventure for Tunnels and Trolls is out now in pdf. Beneath Dark Elms is a low level forest romp where things might not be as they seem. Includes cover art by the wonderful Simon Lee Tranter.

(GMs will see what I mean. It's a different set up to the usual adventure and I don't want to ruin it.)

It's £4 over at DriveThrurpg.

"Fixing" missile combat in Tunnels and Trolls

Image: The archer by Bonie Varghese

Tunnels and Trolls has a lot going for it, but one of the more confounding elements has ever been the use of missile weapons in combat. Each edition has its own version of how pelting monsters with arrows should work and you can see why it's tricky based on the fact T&T combat is abstract.

For me, the closest rule that makes sense is in 5th edition. Player makes a Dex roll against a specific creature. If it hits, the damage occurs no matter what side wins the round. However, missiles do not count towards the HPT. I can get on board with this - the advantage of being an archer is that you can stay in cover and snipe off monsters. The disadvantage is that you have to roll to see if you hit in the first place.

In 7th edition, your missile attack counted towards the party's HPT if they make their Dec roll, which makes archers incredibly potent - too potent, and in Deluxe, well, things get even wackier by having missiles contribute to the HPT even if they DON'T succeed their Dex roll. This means if two sides of archers shoot one another and all miss, one side will inevitably take damage. Nope.

So here's the Trollish Delver method:

- Ranged combatants make a Dex SR based on distance and opponent size as usual.

- If they succeed the roll, they roll their weapon dice. This will come straight off the monster's MR or Con, armour absorbing, regardless of which side wins the round. This does not contribute towards HPT.

- The opponent makes a Luck SR based on the archer's Dex (or MR) divided by 10, rounded up (so against an archer with 23 Dex, they would roll a L2 Luck SR). If they succeed, they take half damage from the hit.

- An archer can make a missile attack as normal against a creature not engaged in melee. If they are engaged in melee, the SR to hit is increased by a level.

- An archer may choose to 'steady their hand'. This decreases the Dex SR they need by one level (to a minimum of 1) but halves damage dealt on a hit.

- If an archer is met in melee combat, they can fire point blank, but they would also take the full damage the attacking creature rolled.

- In a solo adventure, missile combat can be used  prior to the first round of combat before the opponent attacks. The opponent doesn't get a Luck SR. The range is always considered to be point blank (L1SR).

Hopefully this helps make missile combat a little more even.

Friday 22 March 2019

How to get started with Tunnels and Trolls

If you're new to the tabletop roleplaying hobby or have only played D&D, you may not have heard of Tunnels & Trolls. It's a shame, really, considering T&T was so ahead of its time on release, being the second roleplaying game to be published. Ultimately, T&T is a simplified roleplaying game that uses just six-sided dice rather than the usual mix of polyhedrons.

Tunnels & Trolls, created by Ken St. Andre and published by Flying Buffalo, is now in its eight incarnation and the game's still going strong with fan support. Today I wanted to talk a little about what T&T is and how you can start playing.

How is Tunnels & Trolls different to Dungeons & Dragons?

T&T might have the alliterative ampersanding title that matches its closest rival, but the game is anything but similar. For one, it's much simpler to play, owing to its universal saving roll mechanic. While it seems old hat now, the T&T saving roll was revolutionary - a universal roll for anything you want to do. A saving roll isn't the same as a D&D 'save' - it's more like a check, but can also be used as a save. Roll 2d6 plus your attribute to hit a target number (i.e. 20 for a first level check). Much simpler than having several types of saves and percentiles for abilities.

Combat is the other major difference, and man is it different. In T&T, combat is abstract. All players roll their characters' combat dice and the GM does the same for monsters. The side with the highest total wins, doing damage equal to the difference of both rolls. It's mind-shatteringly simple and it's a lot of fun. No, it's not as balanced as D&D. Nothing about T&T is balanced, but it's fun as hell.

Finally, the third big difference is the number of classes and races, which are called types and kindred in T&T. In fifth edition, there are three key types - wizard, warrior and rogue. A rogue is not a sneaky thief - it's a rogue wizard with fighting ability and limited spellcasting. In later editions there are different additions here, including ranger and paragon, but ultimately they do all boil down to these three types. Kindred, however and super varied. The key kindred are human, elf, dwarf, hobb, leprechaun and fairy, but there are loads more including minotaur, vampire, uruk, troll and even dragon. As I say, balance isn't really a thing in T&T.

What edition do I start with?

Both D&D and T&T have a wide number of editions and 'in between' editions to select from. The first edition is pretty rough and ready, but I'd argue it's easier to get into than original D&D, but I've not met many people who still play this edition. Generally, people are split into three camps: fifth, seventh and Deluxe (eighth).

Fifth edition is a fan favourite. Released in 1979, two years before D&D's B/X edition, fifth edition cemented what T&T is and has barely changed since. It's a simple, rules-lite game with the 'death spiral' combat rules, meaning opponents lose their dice as their get injured, leading them to become weaker as the fight progresses.

Seventh edition is pretty much the same, but with a few rules tweaks and no more death spiral. Deluxe is essentially the master version of the rules, with lots of bolt on rules should you want it, but it's all optional. In effect, each of these editions are pretty much compatible with one another.

As a new player, I would start with 5th edition to get your feet wet. It's inexpensive to buy in PDF form and won't take you long to read cover to cover.

What about published adventures? 

I'm not going to pretend that T&T has anywhere near the adventure output of D&D, but it does have its own unique take on adventures. Here are some of the classics of the game:

However, where T&T really shines is in its range of solo modules. That is, ones that you play on your own without a GM. There are more solo modules than GM ones, which probably gives you an indication as to the types of gamers T&T players are. Most of these are tough and you'll likely go through several characters before you best them. Here are some classics:

  • Naked Doom
  • Arena of Khazan
  • Blue Frog Tavern
  • Sword for Hire
  • Gamesmen of Kasar (a personal favourite of mine)
  • Mistywood
  • Deathtrap Equalizer

There are many, many more recent additions by some fantastic writers, and they're never particularly expensive. 

How can I get started right now?

If you're super impatient and want to get to playing in minutes, MetaArcade have a Tunnels & Trolls Adventures app where you can play a solid catalogue of solo adventures, including some of the classics I mentioned above. Just create your character and dive in. 

Setting: Little Spout

Art: Valeriya Volkova

Little Spout is an impossibility colourful village, where each resident wears bright primary colours crafted from the dye of the jib jib fruit. Little Spout rests in a humid region where the rainy season lasts for months on end. Food markets hang over the edge of waterways, where the only access to purchase is by canoe.


The villagers

Most villagers are human, but live to 130 years old on average, making it an elderly population. They speak the language Papo, which was given to them by the clouds. Some notable villagers include:

  • Farsi the powder shaman: covers naked body in bright powder to more easily commune with sky spirits. She fears the spirits are no longer talking to her. They need an offering of a basilisk's eye.
  • Pun the silent: a mute guard. Skin like leather. Has seen graverobbers around the ancient boa monument.
  • Helia the cook: always seen in front of a bed-sized frying pan. Needs swarri spice for the rain festival. This can be found in the surrounding jungle where the lion people live.
  • Tok the mudkisser: kisses the ground every hour to venerate the earth, as Tok's family has done every generation. Wants to marry Farsi but needs a bunbun fruit from the tallest tree on mount ketha.

Magical items

  • Love locket: embossed with a hand in the clouds. Anyone who touches one holding the locket has a 20% of falling for them.
  • Boa tattoo: covering the back or full arm. Grants the strength of a boa (+2 to strength based activities and damage).
  • Frog amulet: little jade frog. Allows the wearer to become a frog once per day. Lasts for 2 hours or until cancelled.
  • Fermented jib jib: wrinkly yellow fruit. Pungent. Heals disease instantly.


  • Lion people (Khoola): HD3, AC4(15), SV12, MV9, Atk spear (1d8), AL N, Special Poison (Save vs poison/1d4 extra damage). Lion-headed humanoids. Green fur. Territorial.
  • Shade demons: HD4, AC5(14), SV11, MV18, Atk claws (1d8+1), AL C, Special Shade (AC3,[16] at night). Appear on moonless nights. Lanterns lit to stave off. They take hearts.
  • Gargamo: HD7, AC4(15), SV7, MV8, Atk Two bites (2d8), AL C, Special Engulf (Save vs engulf/1d8 per round until saved). Giant reptile with bird beak. Resides in mountains. Bathes in mud pools. Beak made into a drug.

Monday 18 March 2019

Tourism in fantasy roleplaying

I've been watching a lot of shows where people travel the world with a certain gimmick (by train, without using flights). It got me thinking about tourism in ye olde fantasy games.

The way I see it, you'd get some specialist tourism businesses. Jungle guides, desert exploration, mountaineering and 'extreme tourism' - descending into ancient dungeons for a real 'hero experience'.

Vindardum's Wild Dungeon Adventures

Ever wanted to be a real adventurer? To experience the wonders and dangers that real heroes face on a daily basis? Ever wanted to explore the ancient world beneath your feet? Vindardum invites you to an experience you will never forget.

For just 2000gp, you will spend three days delving into the most incredible ancient dungeons alongside trained adventurers who will guide you into the darkness. Discover treasures, new creatures and immerse yourself in history like never before.

Please note that while Vindardum makes safety the main priority, the nature of descending into dungeons is dangerous.

The Red Lion Jungle Company

The steaming jungles of Kathawalla are among the most beautiful places in the world, which is why the Red Lion Jungle Company is here to guide you through it. For just 1000gp, you will stay in a jungle tree hut with waiter service, a three course dinner and tours of some of the most amazing areas of the jungle.

Your tour guides will be fully trained in navigation and combat to ensure you have a fun, safe journey in the wild.

You can see areas becoming tourism hotspots. Whole economies fed by the coin of what are essentially holidaymakers. PCs could make some sweet coin signing up to help with these operations.

Saturday 16 March 2019

Solo report: The Beetle

Occasionally I like to run a solo game. It allows me to play rulesets I've never had chance to look at and I can do it all on my own time.

Today I ran the upcoming edition of Romance of the Perilous Land using my own simple hacked up solo rules that I call Solo Cubes. It uses a d6 as an oracle, offering answers to questions (yes, yes but, no and etc). Anytime you get a 'but' or 'and', roll three Storycubes and interpret. I also use a raft of random tables to give me names, towns, items and more.

I rolled up a barbarian, Brec, at level 2. He's an artisan, worshipper of Cernunnos, and Escose native (far, far north). He was approached by a renowned merchant called Erynn who was going to travel to Orofaise to the south west. He was making a delivery of a special suit of armour to Dindraine, daughter of the king and hunter of the Questing Beast. Problem is, Erynn believed that thieves were watching him and would take the armour. Berc agreed to accompany him for 100gp, but Erynn stipulated that should they get list, Brec would get nothing.

On a frosty morn they set off on a 6 day journey to the city. On the first night they had no need to camp as they found a highland inn in which to rest. The inn was actually the meeting place for a group of cunning folk - all members of the Fellowship of Enchanters - a group in league with King Arthur and Merlin. The host was gracious and even supplied a (weak) potion for Brec's journey. They told him that brigands weren't really dangers in these parts - a recent crackdown had seen many arrested. Bless those Escose guards.

After bidding the friendly wizards farewell, the duo made their way past an ancient watchtower. Brec halted when he spotted tracks leading up to the tower. He identified them as Pech tracks - gnome-like creatures who blend heather to make strength potions. This was an ancient race not to be trifled with. "We should watch our backs," warned the barbarian, "A band of Pech would make short work of us." (These are HD4 beasties with a pretty ferocious attack - even one would be tough for Brec).

Shortly after they spotted a man fleeing across a bridge. Behind him were four Pech, hungry for blood. The two ducked behind cover. Brec felt guilty, but they would surely all be killed if they tried to intervene. Unfortunately, while three chased the fellow off, one Pech remained to guard the bridge. Not good.

"We mean you no harm," Brec said gently. He would try to charm his way across (not a bad cha 12 for a barbarian). He even rolled fairly well.
"The sorcerers," said the squat, bulky creature, "I will let you cross if you slay them." He was obviously talking about the cunning folk at the inn. There was no chance Brec would do that. Drawing his longsword, he leapt at the creature with a battle roar, rage in his eyes. The scrap was bloody and eventually Brec fell unconscious.

Brec woke up in a soft bed, a bearded man looking over him. He was back at the inn. The cunning folk had scared the Pech away and taken him in for the night. Thankfully Erynn was there too. Brec owed his lives to the fellowship and would see them repaid in one way or another.

The bridge was now overrun with Pech, so they had to find another way. Brec knew of a route through an abandoned town, a derelict victim to the dragonwar. It was 7 hours out of the way, but he didn't fancy another fight with multiple Pech.

The burned out town was eerily silent, but Berc could see nobody following them. They made good time through the town and decided to camp in the ruins. That night, when Berc was keeping watch, he spotted several people moving in the shadows. "Show yourselves," he boomed. Three leather-clad men with blades drawn stepped into the moonlight. "The armour," one said. Berc smirked and launched at them. The first was instantly decapitated while the others put up more of a fight. Blades danced, clashing in the silent air. The next fell, gutted by the barbarian longsword. The last threw down his blade. "Who sent you?" Brec cried, his blade at the assailant's throat.
"The Beetle," he stuttered. Brec came to regret what he did next. With a flash, the final assassin was dropped. "This armour better be worth it, merchant."

The proceeding days were uneventful, travelling the wilderness. In the final days they found a camp. It had been wrecked and blood was everywhere. A wolf feasted on a body, but soon padded away. "They could be in league with this Beetle," Erynn said. Brec nodded. "Not doing much now though." He spotted a locked chest. Smashing it open he found a metal moon ornament. Suddenly he could hear whispers and voices and soon realised that he was hearing the animals around him. "This could be useful," he said, stuffing it in his pack.

"You shouldn't steal," came a voice. A masked figure had entered the camp. He was dressed in black and the mask was pure white. His armour resembled a scarab.

"So you're the famous Beetle," Brec scoffed. The figure nodded before twirling his blade and charging the barbarian. Brec deftly dodged the blow and went into a full rage. He struck the assassin in the chest and sunk his blade inside. "We won't stop," the Beetle coughed, "Mordred sends his regards." His body flopped to the ground.

The rest of the journey went without issue and they arrived in Orofaise in tact. Erynn paid Brec the agreed money and went on his way.

Brec remembered his time with the wizards and reflected on his own place in the world. He hadn't thought much about the doings of Camelot up in Escose, but clearly these were dark times. Perhaps he now had a purpose. Maybe Camelot should be his next destination.

Sunday 10 March 2019

Celebrating 10 years of Trollish Delver

I'm happy to be celebrating a decade of this blog today. Over the last 10 years Trollish Delver has grown from a dedicated T&T resource to a small press publisher just shy of 1,000,000 visits.

So it's time for a bit of naval gazing, so I hope you'll indulge me for a bit while I do so.

March 2009 - I was in my third year of university. I'd already been playing roleplaying games for years at this point, but Tunnels and Trolls was a bit of a new discovery for me. Getting involved in the community after a chat with Ken St Andre and Tom K Loney spurred me on to start Trollish Delver. I figure I could talk about T&T solos, rules and make up some of my own shit.

After graduating, I eventually formed a gaming group with old and new friends where we played the brand spanking new 4th edition of D&D. This gave me fuel for more gaming subjects, broader than just T&T.

I always wanted to experiment with the blog, with subjects I covered. I'd go onto talk about comics, videogames, boardgames and nerd adjacent stuff, but the posts that resonated with people were the RPG ones. I also realised that I wanted to try my hand at design.

In March 2011 I published my first pdf adventure for T&T - Forest of the Treelords over on Lulu. This was followed by solo Depths of the Devilmancer. They're both fine - clearly amateur, but fun. But I wanted to continue making game items. Well, I wanted to make a game.

This happened in February 2012 when I set the first iteration USR into the wild to download on 1km1kt. It was pretty well recieved, but I knew not a whole lot of people would be playing it, so I set up on DriveThrurpg as Trollish Delver Games and published USR, along with Depths. This is when things started to get serious for me.

Fast forward to 2019, after 1261 blog posts, an award, 50,000 publication downloads, several freelancing credits and my first big publisher book on its way, I consider Trollish Delver to be a successful endeavour. But even more importantly, I've made some great friends along the way who have helped and inspired me to keep posting and keep writing books.
So I just wanted to say a big thank you for all of you who have read Trollish Delver from the beginning, and those who have joined me along the way. Here's to another 10 years of creation.

What I love about: 4th edition

I consider myself an OSR chap, but today I wanted to take a look at the oft maligned Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition. Specifically, the stuff on really like about it. Onwards with the heresy.

Encounter building
Look - I don't believe that every combat should be balanced for the players. That said, 4e makes it super easy to put together appropriate (or inappropriate) fights. Everything just slots together nicely. Minions add some cinematic flavour to combat, with one hit kills and the roles allowed for a multitude of monster types.

Attack variety
While I do think that all the utility, daily, encounter and at-will powers were ultimately too much, I love the way that they make every class feel powerful and exciting. I don't hate bards using charisma for attacks, I really don't. You're never just thwacking away with your sword. I feel Gamma World got it right with just a few powrrs. If I were to clone 4e, I'd use GW as a template.

Simple rules
Going from 3rd edition to 4th, you can see how much effort they made refining and making the rules clearer. The 3e books are dense, with small type and easy-to-miss rules. 4e is formatted much more clearly and got refined some of the more confusing elements of 3e.

Stat blocks
Having everything you as a DM need in a stat block is time saving gold. There's no looking up spell lists - the mechanics are right there for you to use. I can't tell you how much of a relief this was when I first took 4e to the table.

Casters a relevant at low levels
Time was that you had a squishy as hell caster that would shoot off a couple of spells and be done for the day (I'm not against this - I'm an OSR chap, remember). In 4e casters could do awesome things every combat, casting rituals that don't run out. For those new to the game, this made much more sense than Mr Vance nicking your only spell for the day.

Image: Wizards of the Coast