Friday, January 28, 2011

Evolution of T&T: Character Types

Since it's creation, Tunnels and Trolls has been dominated by only three different types of characters which are defined very broadly as warrior, wizard, and rogue. The details of what each of these types means for specific characters is left up to the player to decide. A warrior could be a barbarian, viking, knight, samurai, pirate or any other kind of person who makes his/her living fighting. There really is not a need to codify each and every subtype of warrior, and T&T has never tried. That's one of the things I like about the system. But despite the relative adherence to these three classic types, the game mechanics associated with each type has changed from the 1st to 7th Editions. There have even been some new character types added and some name changes. Overall the changes to the Big Three appear to have taken place to create a sense of balance; although I could be and very well might be wrong. Warriors, for example, have gone from having completely undefined abilities simply summed up as "they fight", to having carefully coded, numerical advantages in combat over other character types. Below is a run through of the character type descriptions and abilities from the 1st through 7th Editions of Tunnels and Trolls.

In the 1st Edition, the various rules for the three different character types are scattered throughout the text. Finding them all is a bit of a challenge, but below is a summary of the different abilities of each type. The three character types in 1st edition are warrior, magic-user (yes, magic-user), and rogue which are modeled after, in Ken's words, Conan, Gandalf, and Cugel the Clever.

Warrior: Choose if Strength greater than Intelligence or Luck. Warriors may not cast spells under most circumstances, although they may use enchanted items. This is all that is said about warriors.

Magic-user: Choose if Intelligence is greater than Strength or Luck. Magic users are limited to 1D weapons (i.e. daggers, slings, javelins in 1st Ed.) and get no bonus adds, personal or weapon, in combat although they do get negative 'adds' for low Strength, Luck, or Dexterity. Magic-users start knowing all 10 first level spells which are powered by expending their Strength attribute. They can use magic staffs, however, to reduce the Strength cost of spells and may cast spells of a lower level at lower Strength costs (i.e. It's easier and therefore costs less Strength for a 3rd level wizard to cast a 1st level spell). At 5th level, magic-users may start to create their own spells (at a cost of course).

Rogue: Choose if Luck is greater than Strength or Intelligence. Rogues can fight and use magic but start with no spells and must be taught each spell by a magic user. There is no mention of rogues being able to use staffs or cast low level spells at reduced costs. Rogues can only advance to Level 7. At that point the player must choose to become a 3rd Level magic-user or a 5th Level warrior to continue advancing but in doing so loses either their fighting or spell-casting abilities.

I found a few things interesting in reviewing character types for 1st Edition. The first real surprise was the use of the term 'magic-user.' I had thought Ken always used the term 'wizard' for spell casters. Second was the relative lack of explanation for the abilities of warriors other than the reference to Conan. I was unable to find any reference to the 'double armor' rule of later editions. As it is, warriors and rogues have the same fighting abilities in 1st Edition, but rogues get to cast spells. The only disadvantage to being a rogue is that you can only advance to 7th level before having to give up your hard-earned abilities in one of your callings and lose several levels. At first glance, this seems to be a means of regulating the power of rogues, but it seems odd that a person would suddenly forget their years of training and experience in fighting or wizardry. Another interesting note is this statement: "Changing character types is frowned upon, but it possible." Really? The rules go on to explain that while warriors cannot change types, magic-users and rogues may become whatever they want. In doing so, however, they loose all experience points and are reduced to Level 1 characters. A heavy price.

In 4th Edition the rules for character types are fairly similar (and once again hard to find) but there are a few significant changes.

First, the rules for combat are expanded. In the combat section, new rules for making warriors special come to light. Warriors are now assumed to be more skilled in defending themselves with shield and armor. As a result, in 4th Edition warriors gain the ability to 'burn' armor. If they so choose, warriors may elect to multiply the number of hits taken by one piece of armor (or full suit) or shield by their level number but at the cost of completely destroying the armor. This is a rather high cost for this ability and is really only useful for buying some time for help to arrive. It is also kind of useless to 1st level warriors. If I was running a warrior using this rule, I would be carrying three or four shields with me at all times. Of course, this is what ancient warriors actually did. Warriors also gain the ability to use two weapons at the same time. It is interesting to note that the 4th Edition rules state that only warriors may do this. To do so a warrior simply needs the Strength and Dexterity of both weapons combined, although Strength can be lower at the risk of eventual exhaustion.

The second big change is with rogues. Now a 7th level rogue may opt to become a warrior or magic-user OR to continue as an 8th level wizard-warrior IF he/she maintains a Strength greater than Intelligence and has the required IQ and Dexterity to cast any spell as a magic-user of the same level (for example, Level 8 spells require a 24 IQ and 15 DEX). This explanation is in the experience progression table and is the only explanation available in the rules. Rogues are also clearly defined as characters with the ability to cast magic but who lack formal training. This is an important distinction from other definitions of rogue that equate them to thieves.

The rules for magic-users remain mostly the same. There is a more detailed explanation about the 'rules' of magic and the training involved. More importantly, in 4th Edition it is stated that magic-users may receive positive personal adds when fighting bare handed or with a quarterstaff, a 2D weapon (they were previously restricted to only 1D weapons). While this greatly increases the fighting ability of magic-users, this new rule is never fully explained. Does this not apply when using a 1D dagger, for example?

The arrival of 5th Edition and the wonderful editing of Liz Danforth put all of the special rules for each character type in one easy to find section. It also marked some changes to character types and the emergence of the new uber-type, the warrior-wizard.

In 5th edition warriors gain the ability to double the normal protective value of any armor or shields without penalty or 'burning' due to their special training. No more trashing armor to take some extra hits. Of course, this is the only special ability warriors get except for being able to use any weapon they can get their hands on (which rogues can also do) and front row seats to any fighting that needs to be done (which rogues often avoid). Interestingly, the use of two weapons at once is no longer discussed in the 5th Edition rules. In one of the combat examples, however, a rogue (Reethe Tigersclaw) is described as fighting with a gladius and dirk; so this fighting style now appears to be at the disposal of other character types even though it is not actually discussed.

Wizards (formerly magic-users) change a little in 5th edition, but mostly just in name. Wizards still start with 10 spells, use their Strength to power them, and can reduce the Strength cost with staffs and experience. Wizards may also still invent new spells at 5th level. As far as weapons, wizards may not use weapons with more than 2 dice which are still mainly daggers (the number of dice used for most weapons just went up in 5th Ed.) but also quarterstaffs, slings, very light bows, javelins, crowbars, batons, and foils. There is, however, no restriction on wizards using positive adds, personal or weapon, in 5th Edition, and they can use whatever armor they wish without restriction. Presumably they can also fight with two weapons at once if they have high enough Strength and Dexterity. This makes wizards much more useful and versatile on the battlefield.

Rogues still have the ability to use any weapons and armor they can afford and can learn magic. They just cannot use either as well as warriors or wizards; so not armor bonus, no starting spells, and no inventing new spells. New restrictions to rogues were also written in 5th Edition. Rogues can no longer use magic staffs and may not cast lower level spells at reduced strength costs (they could do both of these in 4th Edition). Finally, rogues can longer use spells above 7th level; they are just too complicated to be taught. This is an interesting change from the old 'Rogues can only advance to Level 7' rule. They can still increase in level, fight, and cast spells; they just won't be casting Death Spell #9.

Finally, there are the brand new warrior-wizards. These are interesting creatures indeed. To be a warrior-wizard, all of a characters attributes need to be at least 12 when rolled (before changes due to kindred). Warrior-wizards are born, not made as Ken says. Warrior-wizards, true to their name, start knowing all 10 first level spells and may use magic staffs. They do find casting lower level spells easier, but not to same degree as wizards (reduce 1 ST cost per 2 levels above). They are not able to create new spells, however. On the fighting end of things, warrior-wizards get to add 1 to the hits taken by any full suit of armor or shield beings used. Not great, but it's something.

The 7th and 7.5 Editions treat types identically, so I will treat these as one edition (7th) here. The 7th edition marked a lot of changes to the T&T rules including some new abilities for the standard character types, the renaming of one, and the arrival of two new types: citizens and specialists.

Warriors in 7th Edition still get double protection for armor and shield, but they also gain some new offensive abilities. Now warriors receive bonus adds equal to their experience level finally giving them them the ability to use their weapons better than a rogue. Two-weapon fighting is still not mentioned, but it is generally accepted that all character types can do this if they have the necessary Strength and Dexterity.

Rogues are still able to use any weapons and armor their attributes allow and cast spells. In 7th Edition, rogues even get to start with one 1st level spell. However, rogues still cannot use magic staffs and do not get to reduce spell casting costs as they increase level. On the other hand, rogues gain a special Talent (new to 7th Edition) called Roguery which is equal to 1D6 plus the highest of their Intelligence, Luck, or Charisma. This is nice because Roguery can be used in place of any saving rolls based on those three attributes giving rogues a potentially nice edge in tight situations.

Wizards still cast spells in 7th Edition. However, in 7th Edition they start knowing 20 1st level spells; twice what they had in earlier editions. Wizards still get to use staffs to reduce the energy cost of their spells, now coming from their Wizardry attribute as opposed to Strength, and can cast low level spells at lower energy costs when they reach higher levels of experience. Wizards also retain their ability to invent new spells at 5th level. Wizards are not as restricted in their choice of weapons in 7th Edition. They may still use any 2D weapon (there are even more choices this time) and get pull personal and weapon adds. But they can also use 3D or higher weapons like a broadsword or a pike with the loss of any combat adds; they are also unable to cast spells while using these weapons. It's a gamble, but if your wizard is out of spell-casting energy and the only weapon in reach is an axe you might as well go for it.

Warrior-wizard are renamed Paragons in 7th Edition; I suppose this was done to make them more annoying and snooty. Paragons still require a 12 or higher in all initially rolled attributes. When fighting, Paragons now get double armor protection like warriors but do not get the new bonus combat adds with each level. As far as spell-slinging goes, Paragons start with all 20 1st level spells and can use staffs to full effect. They can also now create new spells, but not until they reach 10th level. It is unclear in the rules whether or not they still get to reduce lower level spell costs at higher levels of experience (it's not mentioned).

Citizens are an interesting new addition to 7th Edition. Citizens are the average people that populate your fantasy world. They have no special training in combat or spellcraft. While Ken does not advocate their use as player characters, I think they would be fun to try. Maybe you want to play a merchant, a blacksmith, or a tailor; this is role playing after all. As far as game mechanics go, citizens may use any weapons or armor in combat, but they only get half of the usual combat adds for their attributes. Here's what really interests me though, citizens can cast spells. To cast a spell he/she knows, a citizen needs to make a saving roll on their intelligence and dexterity (as opposed to just intelligence for wizards). But they can cast spells. Citizens also get Talents like other types, which is likely where one of these characters would excel in a game.

The second new type in 7th Edition are called Specialists and includes three subtypes. Specialists are described as "mutants or savants born with an ability bordering on the supernatural." Specialists include Specialist Mages, Rangers, and Leaders.

Specialist mages are wizards that cast only one type of spell. You get to be a specialist mage only if you roll a 15 or better on your Wizardry attribute. In 7th Edition, there are now four different "schools" of Wizardry: Combat, Cosmic, Conjuring, and Metabolic each with it's own group of spells. A normal wizard can cast spells from any of these schools, but has to pay to learn new spells above the first level. Specialist mages can only use the spells from one of the schools, but they have an innate understanding of all of the spells of that type. Therefore, once a specialist mage reaches a new level of experience, he/she knows all of the spells of that level in the school of specialty. In addition, the specialist mage casts the spells at one-half the energy cost of a normal wizard. This can obviously make for a rather potent character.

Rangers are essentially exceptional archers according to the rules. You get to be a Ranger only if you roll natural triples in Dexterity and get a result of at least 15. That's tough. What can you do as a Ranger? When using any missile weapon (I assume this means thrown weapons like spears and daggers as well as bows) the Ranger only needs to make a Level 1 saving roll on Dexterity to hit as long as the target is in range. That's 150 yards with a heavy longbow. Of course, with a minimum of a 15 Dexterity to start, a Ranger only needs to roll a five or better on 2D6 to hit any target. Nice.

The final Specialist is the Leader. Leaders are charismatic and persuasive individuals and therefore require natural triples on Charisma resulting in a 15 or better. Leaders only need to make a Level 1 saving roll to convince others to do what they want or believe what they say; no matter what. That could come in handy if you're surrounded by a few dozen armed orcs and you're naked except for a necklace of orc teeth.

So there you have it, the history of character types in Tunnels and Trolls. This has a much more linear progression than the history of character kindreds, so I have to think that these changes were thought out and planned in each edition. I have to say that I am rather happy with the way the types are finally presented in 7th Edition. They each have their own special bells and whistles, but it's still not too much to require multiple tables, charts, and equations to refer to when playing. There are some things I would add, two-weapon fighting for warriors only for example, but that's why we have house rules.


  1. Nice break down, and thank you for doing so. I'm a solid 5th edition man myself, not out of any edition loyalty; simply, 5th has served me well for years so I've seen no reason to "upgrade". For the same reason, I have not seen the need to buy any D&D products beyond 3rd edition, and these days when I play that game, it is via retro-clone. As to my beloved T&T, I have been curious about the differences between 7/7.5 and 5th. Between your break down and Tenkar's review of 7th done a couple of months ago, the two of you may have piqued my curiosity enough to pick up a new edition.

  2. I grabbed my copy of 7.5e on ebay for a bit less then retail price. I have copies of all so far (1st and 3rd are reprints).

    Best part of 7.5? Spite damage that "procs"... special attacks for monsters keep group play fresh IMO. Spiral binding rocks for reading. The box is packed to the brim.

    My ideal edition will be a FrankenTroll of 5.5, 6, 7.5 and some houserules ;)

  3. While I played 5th edition years ago, I've been a 'lapsed' gamer for over 12 years. One of the things that the Old School Rennaisance has done was reinvigorate my love for non-AD&D systems (T&T, BRP, The Fantasy Trip). I bought 7.5 to get back into it, and surprisingly, I love it. There's so much of 5th that I forgot that I was seeing it with fresh eyes and I'm loving it.

  4. I must confess that I disagree about the value of the Citizen Type. I think it's bloody useless and I think it looks more than a sudden whim than something designed and tested in play.

    Right now I'm trying to gather enough spare time to assemble my FrankenTroll. Your summary will be quite useful. Thanks!

  5. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Andreas, I agree that the citizen type has flaws. Ken himself states that he did not intend players to use it; it's purpose was mainly to help flesh out NPCs. But I still think it might be interesting to play; with some modifications of course. Perhaps the citizen could be talent based, starting with three talents (one more than the rogues two). While limited, the citizen can still use any weapon and cast spells. That combined with a good selection of talents would make for an interesting character. How about an alchemist, hunter, or scholar? While not good for solo play, they would make a good and useful addition to a adventuring party.