Sunday, May 11, 2014

Skills in Tunnels & Trolls

Art by Victoria Poyser

In a 1982 issue of Sorcerer's Apprentice, an article appeared, “Skills in Tunnels & Trolls,” written by Michael Stackpole.  More than twenty years later, it was incorporated into the 5.5 edition of Tunnels & Trolls.  In Stackpole's system, each character has a number of 'skill points' equal to his or her Intelligence (IQ).  Each skill costs one point (or more) and each skill has a minimum IQ necessary to learn the skill.

This system owes much to Metagaming's The Fantasy Trip, specifically In The Labyrinth (1980).  The 'skill point purchase' system in TFT is essentially the same except the term “talent” is used rather than “skill.”  Stackpole employs his system in Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes (1983) as well as FASA's Legionnaire (1990), co-designed with T&T alumnus Jim “Bear” Peters.

In his article, Stackpole describes only eleven skills as well as two types of “open” skills (open in the sense that they have no IQ minimum).  The first open skill is 'Special Interest' which includes
...almost anything that might be learned by a character doing personal study.  The only areas that cannot be covered...are areas covered specifically by another skill.
The other open skill is 'Occupational Skill', each of which represents “one year of an intensive training course in one form of employment.”  The other eleven skills, sorted by IQ minimum, are:
  • IQ 6 – Bludgeon, Climbing, Swimming
  • IQ 8 – Begging, Pickpocket, Treasure Evaluation
  • IQ 10 – Trapping, Trap Disarm
  • IQ 12 – First Aid
  • IQ 13 – Navigation, Plant Lore (These cost 2 points each.)
Of course, Stackpole did not intend this listing to be comprehensive, merely “a small sampling.”  According to Stackpole, “You can flesh T&T characters out with appropriate skills from other games.” (i.e., Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes and Monsters! Monsters! ).  This sort of brevity is acceptable in a magazine article, but when presented in a rules compilation, a more thorough listing ought to be supplied.

Skills have “levels” and these levels are added to an appropriate attribute for the purpose of making saving rolls.  For instance, 'Trap Disarm' would be added to IQ when attempting to identify a trap, added to Dexterity in disarming the trap, or added to Luck to lessen the effects of a sprung trap.  Upon acquiring a skill, it is 'level one'.  A skill's level increases only with experience, but a skill's experience is distinct from a character's experience.  Every attempt to use a skill – successful or not – earns fifty experience points for that skill.  The amount of experience points needed for a skill to gain a level is the same as for a character to gain a level; a skill advances to second level upon amassing one thousand experience points (or twenty attempts).  Tracking character experience is one thing, but tracking experience separately for each skill is a tedious exercise.

Regardless of the consideration of separate experience, this kind of skill system may not be suitable for Tunnels & Trolls.  In Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes it works because there are no character types, all characters are on an equal footing.  T&T has character types that define a character's abilities and pre-game background.  Imposing a skill purchase system as well seems stilted.  Stackpole notes that, “For balance, each level of T&T magic spells cost two skill points.”  Does that apply to both rogues and magic-users?  Does this mean that, upon gaining an experience level, a magic-user can only have access to spells of that level if she has spare skill points or if she opted to increase her intelligence? I'm not opposed to skill systems, but Stackpole's solution is not ideal for Tunnels & Trolls.

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