Sunday, April 27, 2014

Magic in Tunnels & Trolls

In Tunnels & Trolls, spell-casting ability is considered to be “psionic.”  Warriors lack the ability.  In the section called 'The Logic of Magic', an amusing typographical error reads:  “Warriors can't spell cat.  It's not a matter of stupidity.”  Rogues and magic-users both possess the ability, but only magic-users have been trained in magic.  With regard to rogues, the rulebook states, “while they can be taught individual...spells, [magic] never becomes second-nature to them.  Rogues learn specifics when taught without really understanding the general framework for magic.”

Magic-User characters begin the game with all ten of the 'Level One' spells.  Magic-users learn higher level spells from the wizards' guild, “which is a universal and quietly powerful organization throughout”  The guild teaches new spells to magic-users at set prices based upon the level of the spell.  A rogue can only learn spells from a magic-user willing to teach a spell to the rogue.  This is done via the 'Level One' spell named 'teacher'.  The rulebook informs us that “Magic-users are entirely justified in charging rogues whatever they can get for teaching them spells.”  I do not see any prohibition – not even in later editions – against rogues learning the 'teacher' spell.

Unlike Dungeons & Dragons, a spell caster's experience level correlates the level of spell he or she is capable of casting; second level spell casters can cast second level spells, third level casters can cast third level spells, etc.  In later editions, a character can learn spells greater than his or her level, but the wizards' guild does not permit spells to be taught except to magic-users of appropriate level.  Otherwise, spells of a given level require the caster to possess a minimum amount of Intelligence and Dexterity.  'Level One' spells require an Intelligence of 10 (and later editions also require a Dexterity of 8).  'Level Two' spells require 12 Intelligence and 9 Dexterity; the wizards' guild charges magic-users 500 g.p. to learn one of these spells.  'Level Ten' spells cost 4,500 g.p. and require 28 Intelligence and 17 Dexterity.  The attribute requirements may seem excessive; however, they are reasonable given the rate at which T&T characters increase their attributes.

Casting a spell also requires an expenditure of Strength; in effect, this turns T&T magic into a spell point system.  The berserk rules and the rules for using weapons with less than required Strength also use the Strength attribute as a measure of endurance.  The combat rules tell us that “Whenever a character's strength drops below 5 in combat, that person passes out.”  Also, “If strength should ever be reduced to zero, you have burst your heart and killed yourself.”  This does not bode well for non-human characters that start the game with limited Strength.  In later editions, characters do not fall unconscious until they reach 1 Strength and any Strength loss beyond that point is applied to Constitution instead.  Of course, in later editions, Strength is no longer used to power magic; a new attribute, Wizardry (or Power), has taken its place.

The Strength cost associated with spells can be reduced by using “magic staffs.”  These 'staffs' reduce the Strength cost of each spell by a number of points equal to the magic-user's level, but the final cost is never less than 1.  A standard magic staff costs 100 g.p., but any magic-user can make a makeshift staff that will burn-out after handling a number of Strength points equal to twice the magic-user's Intelligence.  Lastly, there are deluxe staffs:
Deluxe staffs cost 500 gold pieces, have been fabricated by 17th level wizards, are alive, have a name, and are (almost) indestructible.  They retain knowledge of every spell cast through them, and if their master is slain and the staff comes into possession of a lesser mage, the staff may sometimes take command of the magic-user, in effect using him as a bettery [sic] to provide power for the casting of spells.  At the G.M.s option such spell casting may not always be appropriate or desired.
(In later editions, the cost of a deluxe staff is 5,000 gold pieces.  Such are the effects of inflation.)

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Another Tunnels & Trolls Post

Art by Liz Danforth

The original Tunnels & Trolls has a familiar assortment of Prime Attributes:  Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Constitution, and Charisma.  Forsaking Wisdom, T&T includes Luck as a Prime Attribute.  “The names of the attributes are really self explanatory,” writes Ken St. Andre, “with the possible exception of Constitution.”  St. Andre explains, “When the character is hit, hurt, or wounded, it comes off his constitution, and when constitution reaches zero, he is dead.”  Also familiar is the procedure for determining the value for each attribute:  roll 3d6.  Optionally, 'size' and 'weight' can both be determined by rolling 3d6, with size ranging from 4' to 7'2" and weight from 45 lbs. to 350 lbs.

For non-human characters, attributes are modified by certain multiples.  For instance, a “hobbit” character's strength is halved, constitution is doubled, and luck is multiplied by 1.5 – also, size and weight are halved.  There are no special abilities listed for non-human characters with one exception.  We are informed that, “Fairies with a strength greater than 2 are too solid and heavy to fly.”  How fast can a fairy fly?  No information is given.  Can elves see in the dark?  No information is given.  Can dwarves detect slanting passages?  No information is given.  The 'D.M.' is left to his or her own devices with regard to non-human character abilities.

In the Men & Magic volume of the original Dungeons & Dragons, experience is explained as follows:
As characters meet monsters in mortal combat and defeat them, and when they obtain various forms of treasure...they gain “experience.”
Tunnels & Trolls provides a more comprehensive system.  Similar to D&D, characters receive experience points for slaying or subduing foes and for bringing treasure (mundane or magical) out of the dungeon.  However, experience may be gained in other ways as well.  When a character returns to the surface alive he or she gains one hundred experience points times “the deepest dungeon level he penetrated.”  This falls under the category of “daring.”  Characters gain experience points for successful saving rolls.  “Multiply the saving roll by the dungeon level” to determine the experience points gained.  Even failed saving rolls can generate experience if their failure causes injury to the character – “multiply the number of hit points...times saving roll for e.p.”  Finally, spell casters get experience for...casting spells; more powerful spells garner more experience.

Level progression is the same for all three character types.  While T&T has an experience point/level system similar to D&D, the effect of T&T 's system is different.  In D&D, experience level defines a character's capability; in T&T, experience levels are only a means to an end.  For the sake of example, look at how adventure modules are rated.  The 'difficulty' of a D&D module is often expressed in such terms as “for 3 - 5 characters of levels 4 - 6.”  While T&T modules may refer to levels, they are most often classified in terms of adds (e.g., “up to 45 adds” or “up to 110 adds”).  “Adds,” as mentioned previously, reflect a character's (melee) combat effectiveness.  For each point of Strength, Dexterity, or Luck over 12, a character has +1 add; for each point of Strength, Dexterity, or Luck under 9, a character has “–1 add.”  In T&T, the benefit – and essentially the only benefit – of gaining a level is to increase Primary Attributes.

When gaining a level, one of the following options is selected for a character:
  • Add half of new level number to Intelligence (round up)
  • Add twice new level number to Luck
  • Add half of new level number to Dexterity (round down)
  • Add new level number to Charisma
  • Add new level number to Strength
  • Add new level number to Constitution
  • Add half of new level number to Strength and half to Constitution
At the discretion of the 'D.M.', any of the first four options can be applied while the character is still in the dungeon; the last three options cannot take effect until the character leaves the dungeon.  So, upon reaching fifth level, a character could add 3 to Intelligence or add 10 to Luck or add 2 to Dexterity or add 5 to either Charisma, Constitution, or Strength or...  For the half Strength/half Constitution option,we are not told which way to round.  Perhaps that option can only be selected upon reaching even levels or perhaps the remaining point can be assigned to either attribute.  In any event, we see how an increase in level can change a character's adds.  Assuming our fifth level character has at least a value of 12 in Strength, Luck, and Dexterity, the improvement option selected can increase adds by 0, 2, 5, or 10.  Thus, 'personal adds' are a better measure of a character's effectiveness than experience level.

I conclude this post with a quote from St. Andre about experience in T&T.
This is a game of growth, and it is hoped that while your paper alter egos are growing in power and wisdom, you will too.
I guess he's speaking figuratively.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Comic Book Creatures

Numerous comic books are in the public domain and many of them are readily available on the Internet.  They are a tremendous resource for role-playing games in terms of ideas, characters, or even just visual aids.  Without further ado, here are ten peculiar creatures certain to enhance any gaming experience.

Amazing Adventures #1; 1950, Ziff-Davis;
Art by Alex Schomburg
Horrible Triangular Monsters

“Utterly impossible...and yet... ALIVE!”

These bizarre entities come from the fourth dimension.  Some are hostile, others are friendly – but which is worse?  Their touch causes accelerated aging.  The rainbow-like 'stream of time' affords protection from these freaks.

Watch out, I think the blue one likes you.

Amazing Adventures #1; 1950, Ziff-Davis;
Art by Wally Wood


While exploring the jungles of Venus, be wary of the alluring darterfly – “It shoots poison darts!”  The ant-person in the illustration is about to learn that the poison is quite lethal.

Operation: Peril #2 (Time Travelers feature);
1950, American Comics Group; Art by Ken Bald


Another denizen of Venus is the beast of Tarv.  Notice how the long, ropy appendages prevent the protagonist from getting close enough “to strike a telling blow.”

The Green Planet; 1962, Charlton;
Art by Charles Nicholas and Vince Alascia


Humans colonizing the planet Klorath encountered a species of monkey-cats called punta.  Although adorable, their touch burns.  At first, the humans attempted to exterminate them, but somebody came up with the idea of wearing protective garments.  No more problems!

Weird Tales of the Future #4; 1952, S. P. M.
Publications; Art by Basil Wolverton/Ed Robbins

“Skull Gliders”

You know those comic books where the cover depicts a scene completely unrelated to the contents of said comic?  This is one.

The name “skull gliders” is just something I made up.

Notice the cranial seam on the subject at the bottom right.

Captain Science #3 (Brandt Craig feature);
1951, Youthful Magazines; Art by ?


Horns, claws, fangs, and a studded tail – natural weapons for every occasion!

Why is it called a griffon-ape?  I don't know; maybe somebody named Griffon discovered it.

It's not very sporting to shoot the playful fellow in the eye.

Target Comics vol. 1 no. 5 (Spacehawk feature);
1940, Novelty; Art by Basil Wolverton


This ooze is known to infest the caves of Neptune.  It can devour just about anything and an “old-fashioned flame gun is the only kind of weapon that monstrosity respects!”

The grasping, hand-like pseudopods add to the creepiness.

Lightning Comics v. 2 n. 2 (Congo Jack feature);
1941, Ace Comics; Art by Mark Schneider


Ozixes (ozices?) appear to be large (man-sized) leopards with crocodile heads.

This particular specimen was kept in a pit by the green molemen where it perfected its techniques of 'slavering jaws' and 'snorting steam'.

In the words of Congo Jack, “This baby means business!!”

Midnight Mystery #6; 1961, American
Comics Group; Art by Pete Costanza

White Apeman

In the remote mountains of Rajasthan, legends persist of a huge, white ape-like creature.

Certainly, it possesses prodigious strength, but this strange simian also employs a powerful “hypnotic glare” capable of physically hurling an adult tiger through the air.

Forbidden Worlds #28; 1954, American
Comics Group; Art by Sheldon Moldoff

Beasts from the Berg

“What are they?  Beasts that've been preserved in the icebergs since the dawn of time -- or invaders from outer space?”

“Beasts -- Invaders -- What difference does it make?  They're here!”

There's really nothing more I can add to that.

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.