Monday 29 April 2019

Why I carry a torch for Tunnels and Trolls

This blog was originally only about T&T. That was over 10 years ago now and, as anything, it's evolved to talking about all sorts of games. However, I never want to lose my roots - T&T is near and dear to my heart and I want, in some small way, to help it succeed.

There used to be a small T&T blogosphere. The Omnipotent Eye, The Lone Delver, Trollhammer Press and The Delving Dwarf to name but a handful in the space. Unfortunately all the aforementioned are no longer updating and haven't for a few years in some cases. Even official locations like the Trollhalla community has fallen into the arms of Facebook - a place I refuse to go.

While I'm not going to turn Trollish Delver into a full T&T blog again (I have my OWN games to blather on about now) I do want to continue to carry the torch, to light the beacon of Tunnels and Trolls, because there are few now who do.

I don't want the game just to fade, but without fan support it just might do. T&T has always been bouyed by the community and when this no longer produces material then the game is at risk. Thankfully, Flying Buffalo are still putting out Kickstarters (Elven Lords, Vaults of K'horror, MSPE) and Ken is still writing (Mongoni Island, The Monster Maze of Zorr), but looking back over the past couple of years and support has been fairly minimal. This year so far there have been just two titles put out - my own Beneath Dark Elms and Ken's Mongoni Island. This time last year there had already been 8 products put out.

This is why I carry the torch. I'm passionate in helping to keep the game alive. As part of this, I'm announcing my upcoming T&T zine Phoenix. If you fancy contributing, please get in touch.

Art: Liz Danforth

Sunday 28 April 2019

Venom Vegetation for S&W and T&T

Inspired by the current run of Flash Gordon Sundays at Comics Kingdom, here's the Venom Vegetation for S&W and T&T.

Venom Vegetation is a large plant with a huge gaping maw. Unlike most plants, this one feasts on unwary adventurers who become ensnared by a particularly devious trap. The plant cast an illusionary image in the mind of its victims of a person they desire. It then overloads the senses with a wonderful aroma, enough to make their victim approach the illusion and embrace it. Once embraced, the great jaws of the plant close over its prey, locking it in and digesting it.


AC 14 (5)
SV 12
Atk Special
MV 0'
Special: The Venom Vegetation casts charm person three times per day. If successful, the victim moves into the centre of the plant to embrace the illusion, before the jaws clamp shut. The victim takes 1d8 damage per round from the acid swilling around in their prison.


MR 64
Dice 7d6+32
Armour 4 (natural)
Special ability: The Venom Vegetation can create an illusion three times per day. The target must make a L2SR-IQ or become charmed, falling under the control of the plant. Thr victim moves into the centre of the plant to embrace the illusion, before the jaws clamp shut. The victim takes 2d6 Con damage per round from the acid swilling around in their prison. Armour is only half as effective.

The Venom Vegetation cannot attack in a conventional sense.

Saturday 27 April 2019

Taking a look at Fours! 3d augmented printing by Ken St. Andre

Since I did my previous post about Fours!, the latest game from legend Ken St. Andre, the trollgod has released two more iterations building on his initial design.

As a reminder, Fours! was born from a conversation Ken had with John Wick about the minimum rules a game needs to be a functional RPG (the name question I asked myself before writing In Darkest Warrens). What he ended up with was a card-based generic system that totally works, but I did have trouble with some of the probabilities. Namely that it was fairly difficult to succeed.

The 3d edition has been slightly revamped and some extra bits bolted on by other writers. While three of the main stats have remained the same, Intangibles is now Resources (although the character sheet still reads Intangibles). The mysterious Avatar class has been replaced by Scientist, who now gets a +4 to smarts instead of Wizards, who now get a +4 to health. I'm not entirely sure on the reasoning here. With a super lite game, you have to rely on tropes to help build more information in the minds of players, so classes and stats should be familiar. I don't know why wizards should now get additional health. I'm not sure why scientist was the best replacement, but I suppose in a medieval setting you'd call it an alchemist or some variation.

I don't want to teach Ken to suck eggs - he's a far better designer than me, but I'd have perhaps had power, resources, smarts and spirit, with health being static, but each class getting its own bonus to health. Spirit would be force of will, resolve and magic, and useful for wizards.

I really appreciate Ken writing a short piece in the document about failing forward. He's obviously recognised that failure is more common than success and has made it a feature of the game. That's a very Ken thing to do. There are also some example spells and science examples (science is a lot like magic in Fours! very Arthur C Clarke), which are also a welcome addition. The edition also includes a random adventure ingredient generator, which I like.

I really like Fours! It's a breezy game that I think could be built out more and ironed out, but it really hits that lite sweet spot I like. I particularly love the advice that Ken gives about using the deck to determine the chances of anything being a reality in the game world. The example he gives is a player wanting to buy a drink and having to pull their suit to determine whether they actually have the money to pay for it. This really allows for some great emergent roleplaying opportunities.

Before I sign off, here's my Fours! character.

Red Tonya
Warrior (clubs)
Power 10
Smarts 3
Resources 1
Health 6

Stuff: Scimitar, rope, mail, dirk, map, torch.
The most important thing about this character is that she can both swash and buckle.

Pay what you want for Fours!

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Why Tunnels and Trolls is so important to roleplaying

I'm not going to say that it's a crime that Tunnels and Trolls isn't more popular, but it's a damned shame. What makes it worse is that it's one of the most important roleplaying games ever conceived and a work of genius. Why? Let me tell you.

The year is 1974 and two visionaries - Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson give metaphorical birth to a highly unusual game. But for some, Dungeons and Dragons was overly complex and relied a bit too much on its wargaming heritage. One of these people was Ken St. Andre, a Phoenix librarian without a background in miniatures gaming, but a healthy love of science fiction, fantasy and comic books. Ken loved the idea of a roleplaying game, but didn't like D&D's execution, so in 1975 he released his own version. Originally Tunnels and Troglodytes, Tunnels and Trolls was arguably the second roleplaying game on the market (it gets a bit hazy here because Empire of the Petal Throne was self-published in 1974 and released by TSR in 1975 - but this was still based on D&D rules).

T&T re-invented what the roleplaying game could be. Instead of tables, funny dice and complex rules, Ken created a ruleset for himself and his friends that felt a world away from D&D. He introduced a universal mechanic in the saving roll that could be applied to any situation. The Monster Rating invention allowed GMs to create monsters on the fly with just one number and some imagination, and the stripped back class system was much simpler than in D&D. T&T was indie before indie was a thing.

While D&D became more rules-heavy through subsequent editions, T&T remained refreshingly simple, which was partly due to Ken's ethos of wanting to make a game that the players can own. T&T has always been about empowering players to create their own rules in their own worlds - a mentality that has become much more prevalent in the indie gaming scene more recently. My own home game probably isn't the same as Ken's or Steve Crompton's or whoever. Mine are a splice of 5th, 7.5, Deluxe and my own ideas. There are few games that remain as maleable.

I can't go on without talking about the humour instrinsic in T&T. The first edition was nothing like D&D's. It was sprinkled with in-jokes, cartoons and an informal tone. It wasn't to the same professional standard as the other game, having being typed up and 100 copies created, mainly for friends. Granted, there are some dubious things written in the 1st edition, and the spell name Yassa Massa is infamous in T&T circles, but this approach solidified the game as one that you didn't have to take too seriously. Unfortunately, some of the silly spell names have held the game back from gamers who are probably a bit too po faced, but it was this kind of design mentality that immediately set it apart from competitors (plus, I've always thought magic missile was dull as dishwater, while Take That, You Fiend was far more evocative. I can see a curmudgeonly wizard booming the latter). There's something in the game that makes it feel incredibly light at the tabletop, that encourages a creativity I've not seen in any other game. My own players will attest to this. Maybe it's because characters are a little more throwaway, being so quick to create, so it's not such a huge deal if they die. But maybe it's that perfect mix of easy rules and humour that brings out the best in people at the table.

I'm not trying to say that one game is better than the other - I'm a huge fan of early D&D editions, but D&D is having its time in the sun at the moment so I wanted to talk specifically about T&T. This is a game that had the biggest weapons table ever (jambiya and pilum, anyone?), a game that had solo play before Fighting Fantasy was a thing, a game where you can become a gremlin wizard, a game that cast away those wargaming shackles and forged a new path for roleplaying games forever.

Monday 22 April 2019

The Cult of Unknown Knowns

Braskin Radle could never accept anything he was told. It began innocuously enough. His father, a cow farmer, explained to his ruddy-cheeked offspring where milk came from, but Braskin couldn't believe this were the case. A delicious drink coming from one of those dumb animals - absolutely ludicrous. No, milk surely came from a milk spring in the ground, Braskin hypothesised.

Now at 34, Braskin is a much bigger thinker. Birds were created by the king to sprinkle a magic dust onto the populace to keep them placid. The blue sky was obviously the backside of a mega dragon, with rain being its...toilet. The king isn't even real - he's a troll in disguise. Once branded the village fool, Braskin found himself with a following. He'd talk about his theories in taverns and some people latched onto his way of thinking. Yes, it seems far more plausible that the sky is a dragon's arse.

It began as a small meeting group. A handful of humans, dwarves and a couple of elves came together in a pub back room to talk about how the world was probably no more than a week old and they were living in some kind of time loop. As more people became interested the group grew into 50 people, all of whom venerated Braskin. He named them The Society of Unknown Knowns and through the donations he was recieving built a reservation in the country just for them. He figured that they were the only people he could trust, so living with them made sense.

One day, a dwarf called Groggin referred to Braskin as the High Wod, a corruption of 'word', and the name caught on. Braskin told them that modern clothing was made to control their minds, so they all wore clothes made of leaves.

It was 4 years until Braskin hit on his most brilliant realisation yet. That he and his society didn't actually exist. They had never existed. But it was their duty to be brought into existence in what he called The Grand Birthening. The society nodded in unison and asked for a blessing. "How do we become born?" Groggin asked.

"Ah, well, that's tricky," said Braskin. "But I'm pretty sure it involves speaking to a god.

"Right," replied the dwarf, "And how do we do that?"

"Oh, erm," the High Wod thought for a moment. "Well, to get a god's attention we'd need to do something big. Something drastic," a smile crept over his face. "We have to kill the king and drink his blood, I reckon."

"Blimey, very good, your worship."

Saturday 13 April 2019

Celebrating Basic 5th Edition rules

I'm a big fan of 5e D&D. It's a fantastic ruleset, but it still has some unnecessary bloat (for me) that has been prevalent in the editions since 1e. However, I do think the free Basic rules are the best version of the 5th edition rules. Sure, you don't get the customisation of the main rules, but I'm old school - customisation is for the birds. Give me a dwarf with a hammer and I'll have a great time.

So I'm going to celebrate Basic 5e in some of my blog posts (I also enjoy the term O5R). This is all about using the free ruleset for everything. Classes are Fighter, Rogue, Cleric and Wizard. Races are Human, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling. All those extra rules in the core books - tossed out. You don't need them. You've got 6 backgrounds, too. That's plenty of customisation without getting bogged down.

There's the added bonus that Basic 5e is free, but unlike a starter set takes you all the way to level 20. If you wanted to spice up your game with free, official settings, then why not have a look at the Magic the Gathering settings Wizards put out? All free to download, adding new elements to your basic game. You could play a campaign for years just using this ruleset and a setting.

Friday 12 April 2019

James Smith has passed away

I woke up to some incredibly sad news today that James Smith of the Dreams of Mythic Fantasy blog has passed away at the young age of 50.

I didn't know James well, but we chatted online occasionally and I was always thankful when he mentioned me and my work on his superb weekly OSR ├▒ews roundup.

You can read the official announcement here.