Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ken's Tunnel Vision: A Review of Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls

Welcome to St. Andre's Fire
One of the most anticipated RPG releases has been the release of Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls, the last word on a game system that dates back close to the dawn of Role-Playing Games (indeed, it was the second ruleset to be published after Gary and Dave's three-booklet set – in fact, it beat D&D to England and Europe). The publisher (Flying Buffalo Inc.) did a Kickstarter to get it done and it took a bit longer than it was supposed to but the team kept everyone in the loop and they did an admirable job delivering. I will admit I'm a late-comer to the system, having gotten interested in it after I heard about the Kickstarter and proceeded to buy/trade/purchase a couple of previous editions.

The reason for coming late to the party is, since I'm an old Grog, I remember the stigma that T&T had back in the day – pale imitation of D&D, silly spell names, etc. Once I read the rules I regretted having pooh-pooed it all those years ago. Since I've been in the OSR (and gotten older) my mantra is K.I.S.S. and you don't get much simpler than this. Plus it plays fast, which I also like. Yes, there's kinks and problems but they're easily overcome. Enough, let's get to the meat of this, I'll explain the system for the new folks as I go.

First off, this thing is impressive (I have the hardcover edition – there's also a softcover and a Limited Edition version along with a PDF option of course). Beautiful cover by Liz Danforth (also the editor, developer and product coordinator). The game itself is the brainchild of Ken St. Andre and this current version is credited to Ken, Liz, Steve Crompton and James “Bear” Peters. The printed book comes in at around 360+ pages so we're not talking the slim volume like the previous versions.

The book itself is broken down into three sections. The first is the Core Rules, which is the usual character creation, Stats (STR. LUCK, DEX, SPEED, CON, IQ, CHARISMA AND WIZARDRY), Classes (3 – Warrior, Wizard or Rogue, which is actually a Rogue Wizard type), Kindred (T&T's name for Race), Equipment, Magic, etc.

The Weapons and Armor section is quite comprehensive, breaking things down into categories and referencing the Weapon Glossary in the back of the book, making getting just the right armor and weapon a piece of cake.

Plus, this game has Guns (excuse me, Gunnes).  YES!!

The game at it's simplest relies on two things: Combat and Saving Rolls. Combat is NOT segmented fights a la D&D but a battle (whether it's one-on-one or a bunch of adventurers vs. a group of nasties) of one side vs. another: each side rolls their dice (this game uses only D6's) and compares the totals. The side with the largest total wins and the difference between the two is the damage taken by the losing side, which is spread out among the participants - minus armor of course, which is ablative, so PC's gotta keep up their equipment (damage that does get through is taken off the CON stat for characters with full stats or off the opponent's Monster Rating). That's it. There are also rules dealing with magic and ranged weapons which will help or hinder in the fight but it's easily adjudicated into the mix.

There is also Spite Damage – this being damage that gets through “in spite of” defenses. Every “6” that comes up equals 1 point of Spite Damage that goes through to the target's defenses. This for both sides in a fight. Spite will get through no matter what (In previous editions, the Spite Damage rule was also used for how certain monsters use their Special Attacks instead of Spite – I like that and will probably keep using that variant).

Spells are point-based (that's what the WIZ stat is for, although it kind of makes it a dump stat for Warriors) and rely on the character's IQ and DEX to sling. The more ya gots, the higher level spells you can throw (not to mention being able to throw some lower-level spells more effectively).

Saving rolls cover the rest. All characters have 8 prime attributes and the Game Master uses them to resolve things, like a character climbing a wall, holding up under interrogation, trying to charm an innkeeper's daughter, and so on. Saving Rolls come in Levels – a Level 1 SR is 20, Level2 is 25, etc. The character's attribute subtracts from the SR. The player must roll 2D6 over the target number. The beauty part? Doubles explode (you keep the double and roll again until you stop rolling doubles). Talents (a simple skill system) helps giving you a flat +3 on the SR if the attribute being used is at least 10 and the Talent can reasonably be applied to the SR.

That's the game, at it's simplest. The combat isn't as tactical as D&D (See my comment on Downsides below) but it feels like a big battle with flashing blades, arrows and spells being flung willy-nilly, plus there's a LOT of wiggle room for the GM to add, subtract and change it into infinity. It is virtually impossible to break this game by houseruling.

Speaking of houseruling, the next chapter is called Elaborations, and it's a section of variants, add-ons and other odds and ends for the game. For instance, in the Core Rules section they have chapters on Berserkers and Martial Arts. In Elaborations they have a Training section where those things will fit as subclasses (along with others like Rangers and Masterminds if you're so inclined) and work with the Core Rules. Also included is a section on advanced Talents where they break them down in to Broad and Narrow Talents if you want them a bit more granular and it also includes a way to get better at them.

I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the Peters-McAllister Chart and stats (cribbed from Ken's other Cool Game Monsters! Monsters!) for those who don't want to play a run-of-the-mill human, Dwarf, Elf, Hobb(it), Fairy or Leprechaun (yeah, those last two are regular races in this game).  If the GM lets you, go ahead and roll up that Minotaur Warrior or Ratman Rogue.  I myself want to give another thanks to the team for giving me a chance to sneak Gnomes and Half-Orcs into the game.

This section also includes what is referred to as The Kitchen Sink - tables, random thoughts and ideas that didn't fit anywhere else.  This is where you'll find Wandering Monster Charts (since the book doesn't include a Bestiary, it's great starting point for writing up your own critters), Treasure Charts, Marking Time in the game, Guilds, Locks and Traps and other odds and ends, even a lively, if short, discussion between Ken and Liz about The Reality of Dice.

I like this section because most of the things they show you are time-tested and make sense for the most part. Now I've said I want to keep things simple but it's great to have these options in the ruleset as they're modular and non-intrusive to the Core. That's a big plus.

The third section is all about Trollworld, the original group's campaign world. THIS was what a lot of the T&T community was looking for – and they didn't disappoint. Full color maps and descriptions of the major cities that give you juuuuust enough to get an idea or ten on how to use them.

The book wraps up with a solo adventure and a GM adventure. The solo (Abyss) let's you take a recently-deceased character and give him a chance to return to the land of the livng. The GM Adventure (Into Zorr) is a wing-ding (or should I say a barn-burner) of an adventure in where a party of PCs are hired by a fire dwarf to further explore (and do a little spying on the side) in the Fire Dungeon of Z'Tpozz (which just happens to be inside an active volcano). With precautions a party can make it through but it isn't a cakewalk. I played a short version of this (with Ken St. Andre as GM) at the North Texas RPG Con a few years ago. It's was a blast.

Also, aside from the indexes and KS acknowledgments, the back of the book includes a very (no, VERRRRRY) comprehensive glossary of weapons that I can see being used with ANY fantasy RPG.

Downsides: I had a few but talking to Ken on Facebook kinda aligned my thinking on that. For instance, I could hang with no clerics since Wizards and Rogues had access to the Poor Baby spell (the equivalent to the D&D Cure XX Wounds) and could turn undead (or anything else with the Oh Go Away spell) but it really bugged me that, combat being the way it was, I saw no opportunity for individuals to shine in combat. Ken told me there was because it's more of a matter of Saving Rolls and descriptions on the GM's and the player's parts.

That was a minor epiphany for me. I realized I wasn't taking the game on it's own terms. Instead I was trying to shoehorn it into what I was used to (aka D&D), not learning a new way to do things. Quite a paradigm shift.

I probably also should mention something about the humor, which has been a like it or hate it thing for folks in the past. I feel the game works so well I don't mind the air of whimsy and foolishness in things like spell names, puns, etc. I think it adds a bit of charm to the whole thing, although it can get a bit corny at times.

My bottom line: fun between two covers. A handsome book befitting a classic FRPG which was ahead of it's time. If you've never played, you can get (as of this writing) a softcover through Amazon or (if you just want to dip your toe in the waters of T&T) get yourself a PDF through Drive-Thru RPG or RPG Now. I also hear the group will be doing new supplemental material for so stay tuned on that front too.

Thanks Ken, Liz, Steve, Bear, and the Publisher, Flying Buffalo's Big Rick Loomis for gettin' R' done. I'm dying to play now but, knowing my group, I'll be behind the GM's screen. Which isn't a bad place to be.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Where The Blogger Meets The Road

Easier than housework...
Well, time to dust off a few things and exercise the ol' blogging muscles.  This place has a habit of not being used so it's time to use up some of Blogger's bandwith.  I'll have more very soon (like Monday or Sunday if the kids let me have use of my PC).  Next up: a review of Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls which I promise will be a bit more cohesive than my Ol' Man Grognard review.

Monday, June 08, 2015

Con Report: A Crit A Day Keeps The Fumbles Away

I've seen better heads on a glass of beer.
Okay, went to North Texas RPG Con in the Dallas area as I do every year.  left Thursday morning armed with game books, dice and other
paraphernalia, stoked up on meds for the cold I've been fighting and an energy drink.  Made it there in 3 hours.  had to wait for the room a bit but that was cool,  Here's the highlights of the lowdown:

* Didn't make BadMike's B1 game this year but had fun in Frank Mentzer's Ad-Lib Dungeon.  He took suggestions on what we wanted to see in the game and 15 minutes later he had a story.  I refer to it as "Eggs for Venger."

* Got to chew on Justin and Alana Davis's ears for a while.  I always enjoy seeing them and got a close-up look at their new kid.  Sweet boy.  I'll even forgive him for looking better in a Hawaiian shirt than I do.

* Got to spend a lot of time talking to my new best buds Richard LeBlanc (of New Big Dragon Games - and Lloyd Metcalf (Big Time Artist Bro).  Both were a font of info about small/self-publishing and self-promoting at conventions.

* Speaking of which, went to the small publishing seminar.  Very informative And I got to meet another favorite guy, Trey Causey, Bloger Extraordinaire (

* Since registration closed early this year I walked up to Doug and shoved $45 in his mitt, saying that now I was paid up for next year.  Don't forget, Doug! ;)

* Met Jeff Grubb again (I had to remind him of our first meeting 20 years ago at DunDraCon).  He and Steve Winter signed my Marvel Advanced FASERIP and Spelljammer box sets and we jawed about the past.  I love that guy.

* Had the pleasure of playing in Mike Stewart's Victorious game.  Got to play a super mage along with Mike's lovely wife Liz, Erik Tenkar and his wife Rachel plus a few more characters sitting around the table.  Mke and Liz always dress up for the game and I noticed Mike looked a bit Peter Lorre-ish in his top hat, dark glasses and frock-coat.  Oh, AND there was a special appearance by Left-enant Victory!

* Followed that with Lloyd Metcalf''s 1E game, Midnight Oliviah.  Tougher than I imagined, but we prevailed.

*Saturday meant my Savage Worlds game that evening.  I was running Mat Evans's ( The Mines of Valdhum.  Originally written for Labyrinth Lord, the group loved it (I was fortunate enough to have 3 players who are in a regular SW group and they helped me out immensely - Thanks guys). Unfortunately, this is the second year I was scheduled for Saturday night and I think I'll have to request a different slot - I know Saturday sounds like a great time, but if you've been gaming for 2-3 days already, you're kind of wiped.  And we were - we got through about 2/3 of the scenario and we decided to cut to the dragon.  BUT, the group loved it and it worked out well.

* Sunday and I got to have a great talk with Jennell Jaquays and her wife about all things gaming, living in Seattle and a bunch of stuff.  Thanks again Jennell and Rebecca.  Always charmed,

* Sunday is usually a "get packed up and the hell out of there" day but I made time to play a bit in Doug Rhea's 1E game he pulled together.

SO, another successful con.  The trip back was tedious but short.  Thanks again to BadMike and Doug for putting on a great four days of gaming (Origins was also this last week but I think we have more fun in Texas).  Great to see all the old gang and meet some new cohorts.  On to 2016. dammit!

P.S. to the SW guys that were in my game: I seem to have lost the contact info you gave me.  Could you email me at  Thanks.

What Condition My CON-dition Is In

Went to North Texas RPG Con this weekend.  Had a great time but I'm still decompressing over it (that and I'm still fighting a cold).  I'll have my report later this week.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

D&D 5E: Powered By The OSR

Saving Throw In A Can
Okay, before I shoot my mouth off, Happy St. Patty's day everyone.  I don't drink beer, but I think I'll have a Mountain Dew in honor of the day, or put some green dye in my soda can.

A while back I lamented about how that 5E made it harder to find a game played with previous editions or clones.  I worried about how 5E was going to abolish the OSR and all sorts of gloom and doom was going through my head.

Well, I think I made my peace with all that.

I have come to the conclusion that 5E will only strengthen the hobby as a whole.  While I don't want to really invest time and money in DMing the game, this edition, more than any other, will bring more new blood to this pastime I love so much and that's a good thing in the end.  The attention to what worked in the past, the games' encouragement of role-playing and character development and the ease to which older material can be adapted makes this a winner in my book.  I still have problems with certain areas of the rules (such as the way they try to encourage developing backgrounds for characters, something I'd rather let happen organically in play) but I can understand why they did it (most players new to the game need a bit of guidance in that area, something us old grogs had to do the hard way).  I also like the foresight the developers had in making things modular (such as the aforementioned background development, which is easily removed if desired).  Someone at WOTC said that this edition was shooting to be the game closet D&D, something to play with the family on Game Nights, like Monopoly or Scrabble.  A perennial.  I think they may have done it.

So bravo WOTC.  I think you have a winner.  I'll be over at the table on the other side of the room running Basic D&D, lifting my can of Pepsi in salute.  Well done.

...and I didn't even rag on Ascending Armor Class.  How about that.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Of Worlds Savage: Shivering Timbers and Rolling Bones

Got me a campaign.  Hope the Bennies hold out...
Well after talking about it about a half-dozen or more blog posts ago I'm finally running a Savage Worlds Campaign.  Note I said campaign.  This is a first for me as (full disclosure) I've never GM'd a campaign before.  99.9% of my DM/GMing has been as one-shots, occasionally running two sessions at a time.  Not only that, the SW system is all new to us so it's a learning experience all around.

To keep the learning to a minimum I decided to use a published setting, Pinnacle's 50 Fathoms.  The players enthusiastically jumped into the pirate genre and are now running around on Torath-Ka, an island something like a Lost World with bloodthirsty natives, violent apes and dinosaurs.  They're currently looking for their lost captain (using a map delivered by an NPC which is also a treasure map) they've been beat up a bit but gave back better.

As I said, this is a learning experience and I have learned quite a bit so far, not only about the system but GMing as well (hard to believe I've been playing/DMing since '81) and a few things have crystallized for me.  In SW you don't worry about NPCs and cannon-fodder as much as other games so it gave me a chance to deal with other aspects of the system.  It's also refreshing that I can throw more red shirts at the PCs and not worry about the bookkeeping (I'm taking this part slow).  I may also get into the mass combat rules down the line - they look fast and furious like the rest of the game.

Now that some of the GMing duties has been eased up, I can let the players sandbox more.  In the past, and as I've said in a previous post, I've always worried about railroading the players - I don't want to lead them by the nose but I need SOME kind of structure.  I find with SW I can loosen up the story to the point where it feels more like a give-and-take between the GM and the players.  I still do a Beat Chart (as I talked about in a previous post) but find I can loosen it up and move stuff around to accommodate the players actions and still keep track of things.  I now refer to the Beat Chart as a Story Framework to reflect those changes and to remind me to keep it loosey-goosey.

In addition, I'm actually starting to use Encounter Charts (in the past I get so wrapped up in the story I forget them).  AND, the players really like things like Bennies which lets them influence the story to an extent.

In fact, (Bold Statement time), I think I've found my RPG Soul Mate.  For me it fits like a glove.  I cringe a bit saying that, with my love for D&D, but Savage Worlds feels natural to me.  I won't say I'll not play or DM D&D ever again but for now Savage Worlds is it.  Time will tell.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

New Year's Here - All Right Then...

Goin' forward, I hope to eat more french fried potaters...
Well, here it is February and I'm just getting to this New Year's post.  Weird, huh?

Anyway, don't think much happened this past year - did a show, more gaming, the usual.  Started a new podcast (Brain Storm Think Tank) on WGP with my friends Vince Florio and Erik Tenkar.  It's a bit different - it's only about 30 minutes long and it offers ideas for GMs for use in their role-playing games.  I like the 30-minute format - it's easier to do and folks like the smaller chunks of info (Over at THAC0's Hammer we also have a Brain Storm segment - it was orignally Cory's idea so we just kinda spun it off).

I also started a video series on You Tube - Ol' Man Grognard, a 5-15 minute series on gaming from the viewpoint of an ol' fart like me.

Well, that's about it for the New Year's report.  More as I think of it.  Mmmm-hmmm...

Monday, November 03, 2014

Five The Hard Way

This was something I ended up putting on Facebook. It belongs here.

BAM!  Right in the Saving Throw!
I have come to the realization that, with the release of 5E D&D, it's quite a bit more difficult to fight for using the older editions. At first I thought that, well, that's going to happen when every new edition that comes out. BUT 5E gets quite a few things right as far as the Old School mindset is concerned (I didn't say EVERYTHING - just enough for me to notice and want to steal). SO, my resistance to embrace the new edition boils down to two reasons why I won't DM it:

1) Sill too much chrome - yes, I know most of the optional rules are just that - optional. But (having dealt with this before in 2E) it is a rare player that won't want you to use this new skill and that character build and I get tired of saying "no." Besides, if I'm going to strip to rules down to the bare bones I might as well use an earlier edition (which I already own). which brings me to my second reason:

2) I don't want to buy another edition. Yeah, I know you can get the PDFs of the core mechanic for free but from what I've seen so far, it's still not the complete game and at $50 a pop for the three books (online discounts be damned) I'd rather build up my library of earlier editions (which, as I said, I already own) which is (usually) WAY more inexpensive on the used/retroclone market than those books and any of the glut of supplements/modules that are sure to follow.

So there it is. My take on it. Don't know why I put it on Facebook first. I blame no caffiene.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

NTRPG Con 2014: Thundarr, Drunken Vampires and Ballick IV Lives!

Giving The Devil His Doo-Doo.
And coming in dead last, my North Texas RPG Con report.

My gaming buddy Brad Hand and I took off in the wee hours Thursday and got to the hotel around 9. We had lunch with the special guests (the hotel's restaurant has pretty good food) then off to schmooze. Did my share of gaming, talking and spending (too much) money but all in all I had a great time. Here's the highlights:

* Sitting next to Jennell Jaquays at the luncheon and having to sheepishly explain why I dropped her game when she switched systems from T&T to Runequest 2. Not one of my finest moments.

* Playing in BadMike's B1 game (my fourth year) and, by some miracle, having the dog I bought at the beginning of the adventure survive the game. I'm still convinced that it was due to Liz Stewart's character watching said pooch while I was trapped in the second level of the dungeon due to a rockslide. But what the hell, Ballick IV lived! Thanks Liz!

* Following Vince Florio around Saturday so's we could get interviews for our podcasts.  Oh boy.

* Having a really nice talk with Andrew Larius, who was one of two people who came to the con this year from Ireland.  He told me that 1. they came here specifically to go to this con from hearing about it on the Save or Die Podcast (yay Mike, Liz, Jim and me) and 2. this is the first American convention they've been to, a first and a feather in Doug and BadMike's cap.

* Getting roped into Frank Mentzer's small board games.  Hive was okay, but Cathedral was a blast, even though I suck at it.

* Playing the Dungeons and Dragons Tower of Doom video game. Man that manticore is tough.

* Playing Thundarr in Sniderman's ( Thundarr game Saturday morning. Even more fun was watching Matt Evans (Odinist on Dragonsfoot and my regular DM) play Ookla, tear stuff up and fly through the air, with a generous push from Princess Ariel.

* Studiously avoiding the auction as there's a lot of cool stuff there and there's a few others with WAY deeper pockets than I.

* Running, for the first time, a scheduled convention game.  The Castle of The Howling Dead, a Basic D&D/RC scenario, was a great success.  Having my friends Justin and Alana Groshong Davis there was a treat.  Of course, also having FulOnGamer at my table guarantees at least an interesting time.  Afterwards, I handed the Davises one of my copies of the Rules Cyclopedia with Frank Mentzer's and Jeff Easley's signatures.  They did great and it was my way of paying it forward a bit.

* Missing the midnight auction due to being sucked into playing Edition Wars with FulOn and Matt.  Hope I catch the auction next year - although I did spare myself the sight of BadMike live dressed in devil's horns and a cape (I also heard he was going to wear a matching Speedo - dodged that bullet).

* Being gobsmacked when Zach Glazar walked up to me prior to my game starting, pressing an Attoral Broodsource mini in my hand and saying he was too wiped to play in my game.  Wow, thanks Zach - you should bow out of my games more often.

* Playing Cthulhu Wars with Sandy Peterson before we took off home Sunday.  Fantastic minis for the game but it was just as confusing as it looked.  It's kinda like an eldritch version of Risk.  Not my kind of game but folks say it's great.

Once again, a great time was had by all.  I ran my first convention game (something I intend to repeat next year), Ballick IV survived, I got to play Thundarr and no broken shoulder this time (although during my game I DID, in my excitement of getting around the table to draw the map, manage to trip on FulOn's backpack and faceplant on the floor).  Thanks go to Mike Badolato (BadMike) and Doug Rhea for again putting on a helluva show.  I hope to attend (and not hurt myself) for the next 10 years.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2014: If It Ain't Broke, You're Not Tryin'

Thanks Red.  Keep it comin'.
Amid the ruckus that comes with having 4 grandchildren in the house I take that short walk into 2014.  On the whole it was a decent year, with some gaming, DVD buying and Not Enough Convention Attendance.  Oh well.

The podcasts are rollin' along.  Save or Die got another host to fill the empty seat that was Vince.  Jim Wampler, author/artist of Marvin the Mage and All Around Swell Guy have joined Mike, Liz and myself on the mic.  In addition, Jim is also hosting a new podcast focusing on Dungeon Crawl 
Classics (not my favorite game, but very popular) called Spellburn.  Give a listen, it's pretty good.

Did some acting here at the end of '13, playing Scrooge in Jewel Box' version of A Christmas Carol.  With a fine script, great cast and masterful direction, I didn't want it to end.  Surely one of my favorite productions.

On the gaming front, we finished up our Basic/RC campaign and Matt decided to switch to Labyrinth Lord (with some stuff from the Advanced Edition Companion).  We're having a great time with it, as we try to clean out Dyson's Delve.  Lotsa luck with that.

I also managed to get in a bit of Tunnels and Trolls gaming in plus a raucous session of Ghostbusters (also managed to trade for a copy of T&T 7.5 - still waiting patiently for the release of Deluxe T&T).  I continue to be fascinated by the flexibility that is T&T (although I need to work on house-ruing it to allow for more player agency).

Got a lot to look forward to this coming year - NTRPG Con, more gaming, the usual.  As for resolutions, I'm inclined to just say that I resolve to Make It To This Time Next Year.  Some years are like that.