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 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/Abilities instead – 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, Level 2 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.


Steve Crompton said...

Thanks for the review! You definitely have 'gotten' what dt&t is all about. We should have the hardcovers available s very soon in the US, as we have now shipped just about every US kickstarter order.

Smokestack Jones said...

Glad you liked it Steve. Hope to see you at NTRPG Con some time.

Mark Thornton said...

Thanks for a very good and fair review. I'm glad to hear about your epiphany :)

Liz Danforth said...

Nice to read this! And I can only repeat what the others have said: I'm so glad you worked out what we were collectively trying to accomplish here. Thank you most sincerely for your kind words all the way around.

Smokestack Jones said...

Glad you like it, Liz. It means a lot. Sorry you couldn't make North Texas last year, hope to see you there soon.

Dwight said...

You made this sound better than I've heard before. "Whimsy and foolishness" is the reason I got into HackMaster but I found people took it way too seriously. The whimsy and foolishness may be what finally sells me on T&T. Anything for a laugh.