Sunday, April 13, 2014

More Combat in Tunnels & Trolls

Art by Liz Danforth

The original Tunnels & Trolls allows for three 'types' of (beginning) characters:  warriors, magic-users, and rogues; they are “modeled respectively on Conan, Gandalf, and Cugel the Clever.”  (T&T has no 'Appendix N' or bibliography;  St. Andre takes for granted that his audience is familiar with these characters.)

“Magic-users are not supposed to fight in ordinary combats, at least not physically,” states St. Andre, “though they may be doing their best with lethal spellery.”  This statement is true of Dungeons & Dragons as well as Tunnels & Trolls.  However, in the midst of D&D combat, magic-users can stay at the back of the party and be shielded by more durable characters.  In contrast, T&T magic-users are “in the thick of it” and are exposed to the same amount of damage as other party members.  Later editions specify that if the amount of damage a party sustains in a given combat turn cannot be divided equally among the party members, magic-users should be subject to a lower amount.  (e.g., If a party of three sustains 20 points of damage, it would have to be 7/7/6 split, with the '6' being applied to a magic-user.)

On the other hand, T&T magic-users are allowed to wear armor.  In addition, T&T magic-users are on equal footing with other character types with regard to the amount of damage they can sustain;  all characters – regardless of type – can survive a number of hit points of damage equal to their constitution Prime Attribute.  In last week's post, I described the concept of “adds” a character receives in combat as a result of high strength, dexterity, and luck.  Magic-users do not benefit from such personal “adds,” except when fighting unarmed or with a quarterstaff.  Later editions would permit magic-users to apply their “adds” to all weapons they are allowed to use (i.e., those weapons that inflict damage of two dice or less).

“As warriors are assumed to become increasingly skillful at defending themselves,” St. Andre writes, warriors can use armor more effectively than other character types.  According to the original rules, at the cost of destroying armor (and/or shield), a warrior may increase the effectiveness of that armor (and/or shield) by a multiple equal to the warrior's experience level.  For instance, in the original rules, chain mail 'absorbs' five hit points of damage per combat turn; a fifth level warrior may “burn up” that armor and have it absorb twenty-five points of damage.  In later editions, this rule would be removed.  Now, armor is twice as effective for warriors (of any level) than it is for other character types.

Also in the original rules, a warrior can use a weapon in each hand.  In such an instance, the warrior's strength and dexterity are compared to the combined total of the weapons' strength and dexterity requirements.  In later editions, any character would be able to fight with two weapons without considering the combined strength and dexterity requirements; however, personal “adds” would not be applied twice.

T&T characters can go berserk in melee combat; this is not restricted to warriors – “Even a magic-user...can go bananas on you.”  (In later editions, it seems that a character must be using a weapon of at least three dice to go berserk.  Since magic-users cannot use weapons in excess of two dice, they cannot achieve a berserker state.)  A result of doubles (or better) when rolling damage allows the player to choose if the character goes berserk.  However, characters with an IQ of 8 or less must go berserk under these circumstances; characters with an IQ of 16 or greater cannot normally go berserk.

If berserk, the dice resulting in doubles (or better) are rerolled and the result added to the original total.  If the reroll is also doubles, the process continues.  So, berserkers can cause much more damage than they normally would, although “adds” are not applied to damage from berserkers.  On the following combat turns, if the character is still berserk but does not roll doubles, the second-lowest die result is adjusted to the lowest die result, thereby 'creating' doubles for the berserker to build upon.  Berserkers still suffer damage like any other character.  In fact, berserkers suffer a (temporary) loss of two strength points per combat round of being berserk.  (Since “adds” are not applied, a low strength will not negatively modify damage.)  Once a berserker's strength is reduced to five or less, he or she is “exhausted” and no longer capable of fighting.  After the enemy has been defeated, a berserk character will attack his or her own party until exhausted, killed, knocked unconscious, or otherwise calmed by the wiles of charisma.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Combat in Tunnels & Trolls

Art by Liz Danforth

In the early editions of Tunnels & Trolls, Ken St. Andre includes a paragraph with the heading “COMBAT” in the middle of the section on monsters.  This is five pages before the actual combat section begins.  The placement of this paragraph in the monster section is somewhat peculiar.  It isn't about monsters especially, other than – as St. Andre begins the actual combat section – “T&T is built on the conflict between men and monsters.”

In the monster-section paragraph, St. Andre says, “Each combat is a unique and individual experience that must really be played by ear.”  He then briefly describes three types of combat:  missile, melee, and shock.  Missile combat, of course, occurs at a distance.  Melee combat occurs “when both parties...are all mingled together and everybody fights.”  Finally, shock combat refers to “a one on one or two on one encounter when a monster reaches the leading element or rearguard of a group.”  So, in essence, the three types of combat are largely defined by distance and movement.  Strangely, rules for movement are not provided in early T&T beyond the observation that monsters and characters may want to flee combat if they seem to be losing and injuries and encumbrance will likely reduce a person's speed.  We are also left with unanswered questions such as, 'At what point does shock combat become melee combat?'

According to the Players Handbook (p. 104):
The 1 minute melee round assumes much activity rushes, retreats, feints, parries, checks, and so on.  Once during this period each combatant has the opportunity to get a real blow in.
This is consistent with St. Andre's notion of a (two-minute) combat turn:
Combat is not usually a blow-by-blow description of who did what to whom.  Instead it is meant to be a running appraisal of how the battle is going as looked at from distinct moments in time...Two minutes is a long time in personal combat, but if you regard the 2 minutes as filled with dodging, slashing, maneuvering, warding of harmless blows, etc., it is not excessive.
Combat in role-playing games is necessarily abstract to some degree, as the above quotes plainly indicate.  In Tunnels & Trolls, combat is more abstract than in many traditional RPGs.  Basically, for (melee) combat, each side rolls a number of dice, modifiers are applied to the results, and the side with the lower total suffers damage equal to the difference between the two totals.  That's it – no initiative, no distinction of 'to hit' rolls from damage rolls, no individual character versus an individual target.

How many dice does the monster roll?  As discussed previously, monsters roll a number of dice based on their 'monster rating.'  A fraction of their monster rating is added to the result.  Damage sustained is subtracted from monster rating; meaning monsters become weaker as more damage is done to them.

How many dice do the player characters roll?  Players roll a number of dice determined by the weapons their characters use.  (Originally, a terbutje did the same amount of damage as a sax (i.e., 1d6+5).  Preposterous!  Fortunately, in later editions, common sense prevailed and a terbutje now does 3d6+5 while a sax does 2d6+5.)  Modifiers are applied to the results in the form of “adds,” which could be positive or negative based upon a character's Prime Attributes of strength, dexterity, and luck.  Damage sustained is divided equally among the participating characters.  A character's armor, if any, reduces the damage he or she takes.  Any damage that gets though a character's armor (if any) is subtracted from the character's Prime Attribute of constitution.

One argument against this system is that only one side takes damage for any given combat turn.  St. Andre attempted to address this in different ways.  One way is for the 'winning' side to take a number of hits equal to 10% of the hits they inflicted upon the 'losing' side.  Another way is for each member of the winning side to attempt a saving throw (based on the Prime Attribute of luck).  A character who failed would suffer a number of hits equal to the difference of the roll result from the number needed.  In a later edition, St. Andre would adopt the notion of 'spite damage.'  Each 'natural' six rolled by the losing side in a combat turn, would be applied as one point of damage to the winning side (without the benefit of armor).  If the damage inflicted by the winning side fails to exceed the armor of the losing side, the losing side still sustains one point of damage per 'natural' six rolled.

For some people, T&T combat may seem too abstract.  You can't please all of the people all of the time, but combat in Tunnels & Trolls is simpler, smoother, and faster than D&D and its ilk.  Players are not disenfranchised; they still make decisions and they still roll dice.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Here There Be Monsters

Art by Liz Danforth

The Dungeon Masters Guide devoted seven paragraphs to the idea of “The Monster as a Player Character.”  Basically, Gygax advised that players should not be allowed to play monster characters.  At one point, he relented enough to state, “The truly experimental-type player might be allowed to play...a monster character for a time so as to satisfy curiosity.”  At the end of an essay of discouragement, Gygax finally said Dungeon Masters can do what they want with their own worlds but still admonished, “you are virtually on your own with regard to monsters as player characters.”  This dissuasive attitude was something of a departure from Holmes' remarks two years earlier:  “At the Dungeon Master's discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be.  Characters must always start out inexperienced and relatively weak...”  While permissive, Holmes supplied no other guidance.

Not only did Tunnels & Trolls allow player characters to be monsters, but Ken St. Andre designed a T&T compatible game where player characters could only be monsters.  This game – Monsters! Monsters! – was published three years before Gygax advised against the concept and one year before Holmes' minimal concession.

The original Tunnels & Trolls did not have descriptions for monsters.  Dungeon Masters – yes, the original rules referred to Dungeon Masters – were expected to design their own.  However, monsters in T&T were defined by a number called 'monster rating'.  “Very puny monsters...have ratings below 30,” St. Andre wrote, “Very powerful monsters might have individual ratings up in the hundreds.”  The number of dice rolled for a monster in combat was based on its rating (eventually simplified to monster rating divided by ten).  On the first 'conflict turn', half of the monster rating was added to the dice total.  On subsequent conflict turns, only one-quarter was added.  Damage was subtracted from monster rating; as monsters suffered damage, the damage they were able to inflict was reduced.

Monsters! Monsters! was “produced and edited” by Steve Jackson and was published by Metagaming.  Monster ratings weren't a part of M!M! ; each monster was a character and was defined by attributes just like “normal” player characters.  A player could choose a type of monster to play or draw a random playing card; each of the 52 monsters on the monster table was associated with a specific card.  A character might be a balrog (king of diamonds) or a slime-mutant (two of hearts) or even human scum (two of clubs).  As the mention of 'balrog' suggests, various literary monsters were provided:  From Tolkien, along with balrogs, there were hobbits (technically 'black hobbits' due to their categorization as monsters) as well as orcs (and half-orcs); Tsathoguas from C. A. Smith; shoggoths and night-gaunts from Lovecraft; Snarks (misspelled 'Shark' in the Monster Glossary) from Lewis Carroll; shadowjacks from Zelazny; and M!M! demons were inspired by L. Sprague de Camp's works.  The table provides attribute multipliers for the various monsters.  (For instance, a yeti multiplies its strength by four while a gremlin multiplies its constitution by one-half.)  These attribute multipliers allowed detailed monster creation in T&T and also provided means to create non-human (but non-monstrous) player characters types like elves and dwarves.

Experience points were awarded in M!M! for expected behavior like acquiring treasure and killing or conquering enemies, but also for obtaining attractive captives of the opposite sex (“No points for ugly people”), destructiveness (including “wanton cruelty” and “general rottenness”), and sating one's appetite.

Just as 'normal' characters went dungeon delving in T&T, characters in M!M! were expected to raid settlements.  To this end, a sample farming village was mapped and described, the inn of the village was mapped and described in greater detail.  Attributes were supplied for various residents (with names like Desmond Mudminder, Bolinger Zangala, and Gort Glibtongue).  While these residents are targets in M!M!, they could easily serve as typical non-player characters in a traditional game.  St. Andre encouraged Game Masters (thus called in Monsters! Monsters! ) to create their own settings for monsters to invade.  St. Andre mentioned he designed Khosht, a city with a population of  20,000, for use in his games.

From St. Andre's Monsters! Monsters! Introduction:
So it was only natural that the monsters should come out of their tunnels and dungeons to strike back at the smug world of Men, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, etc., who had been so greedily despoiling their homes and treasures...A monster lives by a completely different code of ethics, affording a splendid opportunity to get rid of the impure and perverted impulses which affect most of us – impulses it's hard to express while playing a hero.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A True Tragedy

by Alex Haglund for the Daily Egyptian

Dave Trampier is dead.  In a sense he died in 1988, when he severed all contact with the gaming community and dropped off the radar.  I mean, when an artist stops creating art, there is death of a sort; a death of creativity, a death of expression.  Wanting to disassociate from TSR is one thing, but to stop creating is something else entirely.  Sure, it was his choice and I am not going to speculate upon the circumstances, but I do bemoan the result.  Whatever caused him to withdraw did not affect just him but deprived his fans – deprived the world – of twenty-five years of his art.  I hope he is in a better place.