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.


  1. Back when I was doing T&T combat "somewhat" by the book, I would let the players decide on how they want damage divided amongst each other. Now this only works well in a collaborative group of players, but it did simulate bravery and courage in the game.

    What I mean by this is...if the group was going to take 20 damage (and you have a fighter, thief, and wizard in the group) then the group may decide that the warrior takes 12, the thief takes 6, and the wizard takes 2. This would mean that the warrior tried very hard to protect the wizard and thief from the damage by throwing himself in front of it. He just blocked more hitting the wizard than the thief. This method also kept the group "all" alive longer when adventuring.

    Dividing it up equally just never fit in my mind I just picture the thief, wizard, and fighter standing in a line next to each other and play red rover.

    1. The method you describe is very reasonable. I doubt that yours was the only group to adopt this or a similar process.

      For the sake of argument, let's say I think your method gives too much 'damage distribution' control to the players. Yet the rule as written gives too little. What to do?

      If a character wants to guard a specific individual (or simply the rest of the party), the character must succeed in a Saving Roll. The amount by which the roll is made determines the amount of damage that the character takes upon himself over and above what he would otherwise sustain; the protected entity takes that much less.

      With this method, some uncertainty is introduced and a player must affirmatively have his character attempt guard others. This benefits the guarding character because of the adventure points earned for succeeding with a Saving Roll. There is also the risk of the character "biting off more than he can chew" so to speak.

  2. combats (even in AD&D) are very abstract with a simple "who is in the back and who is in the front". With that said, T&T does throw in all the shooting arrows, fireballs, and sword swings into one big number so everyone is fair game when you have all of those types of elements in battle. I guess the SR would work how you describe it as it lets the fighter "decide" to block/protect and at the same time add some variable that they may not succeed at blocking/protecting.

    When you play a game like AD&D, it provides something in the sense where the fighter is in the front and your range guys are in the back. When the battle is over, generally the fighter takes the most damage because they were in front. I just want this same situation in a T&T game and not have all the characters taking the same damage.