Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fighting Fantasy Lives!

My thanks to Scott Malthouse of Trollish Delver for his latest post on Fighting Fantasy. I had not been to the Fighting Fantasy website or even known of its existence until now. The amount of content on the website, including fan-produced material, is impressive. I bought and played a number of these books published by Dell in the 1980s; the first one I acquired was Deathtrap Dungeon and is still the one that stands out in my mind as the best. The cover of that edition by Richard Corben (shown to the right) was also one of my favorites in the series. The Baron is especially creepy and devious-looking in this portrayal. My collection of these books is long gone but not their influence.

My favorite part of the website is the Amateur Adventures page. There are 46 (yes, 46) Fighting Fantasy adventures produced by fans and available as free pdf downloads. The amateur adventure page includes a template for starting your game book and a very good article on how to create a fighting fantasy adventure from the initial idea to playtesting. This article includes comments by Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone, and Jon Green. The advice is equally useful for designing T&T solo adventures and is well worth reading. The article also includes many of the classic illustrations from the books that I remember well. I've looked through a few of the amateur adventures and most look quite good. It certainly would not take much work to run these as Tunnels and Trolls solos if one were so inclined.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Evolution of T&T: Kindred

Note: In my discussion in this post and later posts on the Evolution of T&T, I will be discussing the rules as written in the published rulebooks. Of course, the final rule in T&T is "if you don't like it, change it," so there have always been house rules.

I've always played humans in Tunnels and Trolls. It's not that I have anything against dwarves, hobbits, leprechauns, fairies, or even elves (well, maybe elves). It's just that I've always felt that humans were more likely to be the ones crawling around tunnels and old ruins in search of wealth and an early grave. But, like in any other fantasy role-playing game, players do have the option of playing nonhuman characters of several different types. In T&T you may play any kindred you like; and I mean any. Goblins, orcs, gremlins, trolls, giants, minotaurs, and more are all fair game depending on your GM (or yourself if you're playing solo). Many of these monstrous characters are listed in the 5th edition rules and by the 7th edition there is a list of 32 different monster characters to choose from including dragons and living statues. My focus will be on the main five nonhuman kindred, however: elves, dwarves, hobbits (or hobbs), leprechauns, and fairies.

When looking through the different editions of the T&T rules, it's interesting to see how these main five nonhuman kindreds have been presented each time. The most obvious way to quantify difference between kindreds is to provide attribute modifiers. What I find most interesting is that these modifiers have changed three times on the road from 1st to 7th editions.

Here are the attribute modifiers for the major humanoid kindred:

1st though 4th Editions

5th Edition

7th Edition

Kindreds can also be given special abilities that make them stand apart from humans. No special abilities are given in 1st or 4th editions with the exception of flight in fairies (in the small ones anyway). In the 5th edition, however, there are special abilities that are mentioned for each of the kindred. These abilities are not quantified in any way, but instead are presented in a mysterious manner almost as if they are rumors and legends. Here is an example:

"The pointy-eared Elves might be able to hear just a little better than a Human, but rumors that they can see to the farthest horizon, or see in the dark are entirely unfounded."

This method of presenting special abilities leaves the details of each of the abilities up to the discretion of the game master. What I like most is that none of kindred can see in the dark unlike other games. This puts all characters on an equal footing when underground or inside a windowless, ancient ruin.

Here is a summary of the kindred abilities in 5th edition:

Elf: Better hearing than humans
Dwarf: Able to appraise jewels and gems on sight
Hobbit: Good at stealth and hiding
Leprechaun: Can only be Wizard, but start with no spells other than a modified Wink-Wing
Fairy: The power of flight (Does that do anything for you?)

In 7th edition, the restriction of Leprechauns to wizards is listed as well as their starting use of a Wink-wing ability, but their lack of 1st level spells in not included. No other kindred abilities are mentioned.

As you can see, the five major nonhuman kindred have changed considerably over the last 30 years. There is certainly nothing wrong with that; rules like organisms, should change over time. In most cases I think the goal of the change was balance (of course I could be wrong).

The most striking aspect of the different nonhuman kindreds in 1st - 4th edition rules is the imbalance of their attribute modifiers. At their inception, elves were the uber-kindred of T&T. Four (intelligence, dexterity, luck, AND charisma) of their six attributes were increased from the initial roll and none were reduced. This made elves the default kindred of choice for the aspiring delver because they had no weaknesses (except for being snooty elves). Dwarves were similarly imbalanced having their strength and constitution doubled with no other attribute reduced. Dwarves were stronger and heartier than any other character option, capable of dealing more damage and taking more punishment than the other kindreds with no drawbacks (well, they were short). Leprechauns were just the opposite of dwarves; their strength and constitution were both halved with no benefit of any sort. One wonders if anyone ever elected to play a leprechaun and if they did, why? Hobbits and fairies were the two most balanced nonhuman kindreds and I think they set the stage for later development of kindreds in the following editions. Both featured attributes that were raised and others that were lowered. Hobbits enjoyed increased dexterity (x3/2) and constitution (x2) with the loss of half their rolled strength. Fairies had charisma doubled, but only a quarter of their rolled strength. They did have the ability to fly, but only with a strength of 2 or less. Any higher and they were considered too heavy to get off of the ground.

In the 5th edition rules, all kindreds acquired both positive and negative modifier to their attributes. In fact, in some cases the attributes that were modified changed from those in 1st and 4th edition. Elves retained their increased intelligence, dexterity, and charisma, but lost the increase to their luck. I've wondered why were elves considered luckier in the first place. In addition, the mighty elves were given a disadvantage (gasp!). Elves constitution was reduced to 2/3 of the rolled value. They might have been quicker, smarter, and prettier than mere humans, but at least they were now easier to kill. Dwarves kept their doubled strength and constitution, but suffered a reduced charisma. Given that charisma is generally considered a 'dump stat,' I doubt this reduced the number of dwarf warriors out there. Of course, a charisma saving roll can also spell the difference between life and death. Dwarves, typically thought of as miners, gained the ability to determine the value of gems and jewels on sight. Quite a handy ability once you try to sell your plundered valuables. Leprechauns were given new life in 5th edition. The changes are actually highlighted in the rules and the statement is made: "We hope more players will find the new Leprechauns of sufficient interest to insure their presence in dungeons everywhere." In 5th edition, only the strength of leprechauns is halved. They also gained bonuses (x1.5) to their intelligence, dexterity, and luck. That was quite a change. Tempering these boosts in attributes is their restriction to the wizard type but with no starting 1st level spells with the exception of a Wink-Wing equivalent (short range teleportation, normally a 4th level spell). In comparison, wizards of every other kindred start with the knowledge of ten first level spells. Fairies received a similar level of overhaul; their strength and charisma modifiers remained the same, but they received boosts to their dexterity and luck (x1.5) as well as a large reduction (x.25) in constitution (to be expected in such a small creature). The restriction that fairies with a strength greater than 2 could not fly was also removed. The reason given for this change was that a fairy's ability to fly was magical in nature and not restricted by physics. Hobbits, being hobbits, remained unchanged. They were already the most balanced nonhuman kindred in the game so there was no need to alter them although they did gain their mysterious abilities to sneak and hide (tricksy hobbits).

Kindred experienced another pulse of evolutionary change with the release of the 7th edition rules. Elves, never ones to left out, lost their increased dexterity but regained their increased luck and doubled their magical energy with the official addition of the Wizardry attribute. Why the switch from increased dexterity to increased luck? No idea, elves are mysterious. Dwarves also experienced a shift in their attributes; their charisma was no longer reduced (did they start showering and shaving?) but instead their luck was reduced. This change is a rather significant one because it reduces the number of personal adds, the T&T quantification of fighting prowess, of the standard tough dwarf warrior. Hobbits, a species that experienced no change since their appearance in 1st edition, gained increased luck. They also received a new name: Hobbs. Oh well, they'll always be hobbits to me. Fairies once again were increased in their attributes making them even more viable as characters; in particular wizards. The dexterity and luck modifiers of fairies were increased to x2 and the new Wizardry attribute was given a x2 modifier. The major problem with fairies before this was that their low strength made them poor fighters AND wizards because strength was needed to power magic as well a provide personal adds. With a doubled wizardry attribute now powering a fairies spells, and doubled dexterity and luck providing personal adds to make up for lost strength, these become very potent characters. The attributes of leprechauns remained unchanged from 5th edition. As I mentioned previously, there is little to no mention of special abilities of the different kindred in 7th edition. This aspect of kindred appears to have been left entirely up to the game master and player. The exception is for leprechauns who are still restricted to the wizard type and have a natural Wink Wing ability. Their lack of starting first level spells, however, is not mentioned making leprechauns much more appealing as characters.

Just as an example, I rolled up a character and assigned the rolls to attributes in order. I included Wizardry from the 7th edition rules, but left out Speed to keep Personal Adds modifiers constant. Here is the human version:

ST 11...IQ 15...LK 7...DX 11...CON 16...CHR 9...WIZ 14...ADDS: -2

Not too bad. A rather unlucky, but healthy wizard perhaps. His low dexterity will prevent him from casting higher level spells, but he can work to improve his finger-work with some practice; if he survives.

Let's see this same character as an elf through the different editions:

1st/4th..ST 11...IQ 23...LK 11...DX 17...CON 16...CHR 18...ADDS: +5
5th.......ST 11...IQ 23...LK 7....DX 17...CON 11...CHR 18...ADDS: +3
7th.......ST 11...IQ 23...LK 11...DX 12...CON 11...CHR 18...WIZ 28...ADDS: +0

There's no question that in 1st and 4th editions the elf is somewhat over-the-top. I imagine most adventuring parties were composed of a large number of elves. In 5th and 7th editions, this is tempered somewhat by the reduction of CON; but with a good starting roll it is not a great disadvantage, especially with the addition of the WIZ attribute in 7th edition which is doubled. There's also the fact that in 7th edition your starting level is dependent on you attributes (a topic for another post). So the majority of elf characters will always start at a minimum of 2nd level providing added bonuses.

Now here's the dwarf:

1st/4th..ST 22...IQ 15...LK 7...DX 11...CON 32...CHR 9...ADDS: +8
5th......ST 22...IQ 15...LK 7...DX 11...CON 32...CHR 6...ADDS: +8
7th......ST 22...IQ 15...LK 5...DX 11...CON 32...CHR 9...WIZ 14...ADDS: +6

This makes a pretty solid warrior regardless of edition, and in particular in 1st/4th editions. In 5th edition he's a bit unlikeable and would certainly not be leading any negotiations you'd want to succeed. I wouldn't want to stand near the 7th edition dwarf in a thunder storm; this character also highlights the fact that the negative modifier on luck can reduce the combat effectiveness of the dwarf to counterbalance their extremely high strength. The presence of a 2x modifier in two attributes also guarantees that most dwarf characters (Citizens, Specialists, Warriors, and Paragons) will start at level 2 in 7th edition.

The sneaky hobbit:

1st/4th..ST 6....IQ 15...LK 7...DX 17...CON 32...CHR 9...ADDS: +0
5th......ST 6....IQ 15...LK 7...DX 17...CON 32...CHR 9...ADDS: +0
7th......ST 6....IQ 15...LK 11..DX 17...CON 32...CHR 9...WIZ 14...ADDS: +2

As I've mentioned, the hobbit started with a good balance of positive and negative modifiers. His high constitution makes an armored hobbit almost unkillable (almost). With the addition of increased luck in 7th edition, hobbits are even more potent characters as this easily offsets their reduced strength when paired with their already heightened dexterity.

The misunderstood leprechaun:

1st/4th..ST 6....IQ 15...LK 7...DX 11...CON 8....CHR 9...ADDS: -5
5th......ST 6....IQ 23...LK 11..DX 17...CON 16...CHR 9...ADDS: +2
7th......ST 6....IQ 23...LK 11..DX 17...CON 16...CHR 9...WIZ 14...ADDS: +2

Again, why would anyone play a leprechaun in 1st and 4th edition? By the 5th edition, however, leprechauns make very effective wizards with heightened intelligence, dexterity, and luck as well as a constitution equivalent to humans. With these changes I'm sure their numbers swelled the ranks of adventuring parties everywhere. The addition of the wizardry attribute in 7th edition also helps them overcome their reduced strength and maximizes their spell-casting abilities.

Finally the fairy:

1st/4th..ST 3....IQ 15...LK 7...DX 11...CON 16...CHR 18..ADDS: -8
5th......ST 3....IQ 15...LK 11..DX 17...CON 4....CHR 18..ADDS: -1
7th......ST 3....IQ 15...LK 14..DX 22...CON 4....CHR 18..WIZ 28...ADDS: +7

The 1st/4th edition fairy is very disappointing. Sure he's pretty, but being musclebound for a fairy with a ST of 3, he can't even fly. The fairy improves considerably in 5th edition; the increased luck and dexterity significantly increases his personal adds (although they're still negative) even though his constitution has been quartered. But by 7th edition we have a formidable wizard or rogue on our hands; a flying platform hurling TTYFs over the heads of his larger comrades and into the ranks of goblins, frogmen, or zombies.

So as you can see, the five major nonhuman kindred have changed considerably from 1st to 7th editions of T&T. While many of these changes might be considered minor, I think the examples I presented above illustrate how significant they really are to the game. Having analyzed these kindred in such detail, I may stop playing humans. My next 7th edition character may just be a leprechaun.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Evolution of Tunnels and Trolls

I have the fortune of owning copies of the 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, and 7.5 editions of Tunnels and Trolls. I look through these rule sets from time to time looking for new ideas and changes in the system. It's amazing how often I find things I never noticed before as well as discover elements that disappear. It's also striking how much the rules have actually changed since the 1st edition of 1975. The core of the rules, the Saving Roll, has remained relatively untouched but every other aspect of the game has been modified, tweaked, or completely overhauled. Some elements have been removed and new ones have been added. While some have stated that the 7th edition rules were too much of a deviation from the true spirit of the game laid out in 5th edition, the same could be said of the 5th edition over the 4th.

I'm going to start a series of posts discussing different elements of the rules that have evolved over the various editions. These posts will be mixed in with my usual posts on rules elaborations and complications, my various thoughts on solo design (I certainly won't refer to these as advice), the occasional solo narrative (whenever I am able to get back to playing), and the other odds and ends I post on an irregular basis. I hope everyone enjoys them, and as always feel free to comment. First up will be nonhuman kindred in T&T.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

RPG Now Doctors Without Borders Bundle

RPGNow and DriveThruRPG are offering a bundle of $730 worth of RPG items for only $25 through October 25th. All funds raised from this bundle will go toward flood relief in Pakistan and help provide medical care, clean water, food, and other necessities. The bundle includes a lot of great items including one of my own, House in the Hills. There are plenty of different complete rule systems (like Dragon Warriors), adventures, clip art, and supplements for a variety of genres (fantasy, scifi, superheroes, horror, zombie apocalypse, and modern to name a few). This is a great opportunity to have a look at products produced by a multitude of independent publishers for very little money and the money you do spend will go to a good cause. As of now RPGNOW/DriveThruRPG have raised over $15,000 in just over 24 hours. To have a look at the list of items included and order the bundle, go here.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Giving Shields Their Due

My post on 'Equipping the Lone Delver' generated a good deal of discussion in Trollhalla, in particular over the relative value of carrying a second weapon versus a shield. In the discussion on Trollhalla there were some interesting ideas thrown around regarding house rules for dual-weapon wielding and shields. In this post I'm sticking to shields; I'll comment on house rules for wielding two weapons in a future post.

In the Tunnels and Trolls rules as written, any character can use two weapons as long as they have ST and DEX scores equal to or greater than the combined requirements of the two weapons. The advantage of using two weapons is that you get the full dice and adds of both weapons. The obvious disadvantage of using two weapons is that you cannot use a shield. In my post on equipment for solo adventurers, I indicated my preference for using two weapons over a shield. My reasoning was that the extra hits generated by a second weapon effectively protect a character as well if not better than a shield; they also increase the likelihood of winning a combat turn. I did not mean to malign shields in any way. They are certainly useful pieces of equipment; especially in real combat. But given the T&T combat mechanics they are simply less useful.

In reality, however, shields are used for more than passively deflecting damage in combat. In trained hands, shields can be used to hit and stun opponents, intercept incoming projectiles, deflect blows aimed at nearby comrades, or even overlapped to form impenetrable walls or formations (the classic Roman testudo). Of course, all of these additional uses do require special training.

As I said there were a number of suggestions for house rules for shields, both those that have been employed and those that were just thought up. Here are just a few of those ideas. Sligo suggested that a player could make a Saving Roll on Speed each combat turn at the level of the attacker; a successful roll would mean the shield took double the number of hits. Khalfrrd mentioned that shields are really parry weapons and as such they should reduce the number of dice the opposing side rolls. The number of dice would be doubled when attacked by missile weapons. In addition, if two or more shields were interlocked, the opposing side would lose an additional die for each pair of shields. Mahrundl had an interesting idea that shields could be used to absorb one or two more points of spite damage. This idea was elaborated on by Khayd'haik who suggested that a shield can absorb a number of points of spite damage per combat turn equal to the hits taken; however, if a shield is used to absorb spite damage it cannot be used to absorb normal damage that combat turn. Also, each point of spite damage absorbed reduces the armor value of the shield by one. The idea that any shield could also be used as a weapon was commented on by Toad-Killer-Dog who mentioned that all shields served as 1-die weapons in his house rules. Knorrrsk, on the other hand, suggested that each shield provided combat adds equal to it's armor value.

Ken St. Andre also chimed in on the subject stating that in T&T shields always provide protection, even when slung across your back; the rationale being that a large piece of metal or wood strapped to ones body will offer some protection from incoming blows just like body armor. I had not considered this possibility before, so I went back and read through the various editions of the T&T rules. In the 1st and 4th editions, it does indeed say that slung shields provide half their hit value in protection. But there is no mention of this rule in either the 5th or 7th edition rules. Of course, the possibility of using two weapons is never explicitly stated in the 5th edition rules either (although it is hinted at in some of the notes in the weapons tables). If the slung shield rule were incorporated, a character could wield two weapons and sling a shield and get the best of both options; provided he has the strength to carry it all.

Incorporating ideas from the members of Trollhalla, including Ken St. Andre, with some of my own, I have come up with this list of house rules for making shields more appealing in T&T. In all examples I am using the 7.5 edition rules for armor values.


Hits Taken When Slung: Shields take 1/2 their hits taken value, rounded down when slung. (Ex. A target shield (4 hits) takes 2 hits when slung. A buckler (3 hits) only takes 1 hit when slung.)

Absorbing Spite Damage: Any shield can be used to absorb 1 point of spite damage per combat turn; however the number of hits taken by the shield is permanently reduced by 1 as a result.

Combat Adds: Warriors and paragons (warrior-wizards) receive bonus combat adds equal to the hits taken by the shield.

Protection from Missiles: Warriors and paragons (warrior-wizards) equipped with a shield may make a SR on DEX to deflect incoming missiles. To determine the SR level, subtract the number of hits taken by the shield from the number of dice of the projectile [Ex. A warrior with a buckler (3 hits) is fired upon by an uruk with a crossbow (5 dice). If the warrior can make a L2-SR on DEX, he will deflect the crossbow bolt.]

Protecting Comrades: Warriors and paragons (warrior-wizards) equipped with a shield can elect to allow an ally fighting on their shield side to make full use the doubled hits taken value of the shield. The warrior wielding the shield may not use the shield to absorb normal or spite damage that combat turn.

These house rules make shields much more appealing in my mind, especially for warriors, as it should be; they are the ones trained in the use of such equipment. They are also not overly complicated so they shouldn't slow down game play by requiring multiple additional die rolls or charts to reference. My thanks to the member of Trollhalla for all their excellent comments and input.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Art

I've added this new piece of art featuring a lone delver from the Tunnels and Trolls 5th edition rulebook to the sidebar. I plan on changing this picture about once a month. This piece is by Rob Carver and is one of my favorite from the 5th edition rules, but all of the illustrations from that book form the basis of my personal image of the T&T world. What I love about this illustration is how much is going on despite the fact that it is a seemingly simple picture of someone stopping to read a map.

We have a lone warrior (or perhaps a rogue or even a warrior-wizard) squatting over a map next to an open chest. Also on the floor around him are three rings and three skulls. The delver appears to be in a temple or tomb, given the elaborate mural on the wall in the corridor beyond the archway. The mural depicts warriors attacking demons, undead, and other monsters. The monsters seem to be falling before the warriors, so this may be the tomb of a great hero and the mural depicts one of his (or her) victories. Turning our attention back to the delver, we see that he has some skill at picking locks; a padlock hangs open on the latch of the chest (or maybe he found the key?). The delvers prize consists of the three rings lying in front of him and the map he is studying. But then there are the three skulls. Were these also in the chest or are they the decapitated heads of the guardians of this treasure? Looking at the closely, the eyes of the skulls almost seem to be staring at the map as well. What is most striking, and steals the show in my opinion, is the trail leading from the chest to the bearded skull on the right. These are not the harmless heads of defeated foes, they are alive and mobile. But are they helping the delver or attempting to harm him? Are they the remains of three wise sages with knowledge to share or terrible beasts that slay the unsuspecting delver (but how)? I think this might be worth some more thought. I'm planning on 'fleshing out' these skulls and submitting them to Troll Hammer's Creature Feature. We'll see if they are friend or foe.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

New T&T Blog and Solo Links

A new Tunnels and Trolls blog, Troll Hammer has been started. This blog will include a regular Creature Feature consisting of detailed write-ups of original monsters for T&T 7.5 edition. These monsters will be submitted by the members of Trollhalla. The first entry to the Creature Feature is by someone named Ken St. Andre.

I have also added three links in the two free solos sections. These links are courtesy of Mahrundl over at the Trollbridge.

The first is an online solo called The Murren Moors designed for three characters. The adventure takes place in a swamp and includes a nearby castle that the player can return to in order to rest, recuperate, buy new weapons, or hear rumors. It's a nice touch. This is an old solo, apparently, having been written in 1998. Mahrundl stated that this solo was once on the defunct Castle of Otranto Tunnels and Trolls site.

There are also two new Free Print solos available. The first is a solo by Tim Lowell entitled The Warren which originally appeared in The Hobbit Hole #14. In this solo the player must save a colony of moles from a merciless band of ogres. The second solo is Down in the Sewers where you undertake a mission in the sewers for the Rat Catcher's Guild. Doing what I wonder? This nice site also has a number of interesting supplementary material for Tunnels and Trolls including a potion list, a talents list, and a very useful chart summarizing all of the rules for each character type in the 7.5 rules.

I have not played any of these solos so I can't make any recommendations. I've only given them a quick once over to see what they were about or if there were any interesting mechanics. But more T&T solos are always a good thing.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Public Domain Friday Returns

I thought I should post something just to get things started again. What better way that to post another piece of public domain art? A ruined gate in the wilderness. Where did it once lead? What else is left of the ancient structure? Perhaps a stairwell leading down to a dark and foreboding dungeon? Another building beyond the archway may still be intact and ripe for exploration. Or does the archway itself lead somewhere? Perhaps back in time to when the building was not in ruins? This is a great scene with which to start an adventure. There are so many possibilities.