Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2015/07/17/tabletop-review-deluxe-tunnels-trolls-core-rulebook/
What a long strange road trip it has been for the newest incarnation of the longest running fantasy RPG (under the same system) out there. Back on January 3rd, 2013 Flying Buffalo decided to do a deluxe version of the fantasy RPG, Tunnels & Trolls. I, along with 1637 other gamers jumped in on that crowdfunding initiative and together we raised $125K for Flying Buffalo, which was big bucks on Kickstarter back then. The belief was that the game would be ready for release in August of 2013. Well, nearly two years later we still don’t have a physical copy of the game but we DO have the PDF which came out in early July! Now it’s not like Flying Buffalo has kept T&T fans hanging. There were multiple reasons for the delay besides the usual underestimation of time it takes to complete something. Every Kickstarter has this problem) but there was also sickness and other issues that kept the final product at bay. To their credit, Flying Buffalo kept releasing a lot of adventures for the system along with a Free RPG Day Quick Start Rules set for DT&T. You can take a look at my review of just SOME of the Kickstarter backer freebies here. Even though the game has been delayed, I’m more than received my money’s worth. Of course now it is time for the main event. How does Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls hold up?
Well, quite nicely actually. For longtime T&T gamers, the rules are about 90% the same. The only real big change is that the game is more player friendly in that a lot of negative adds (things that negatively affect your dice roll have been removed) and there have been some changes to the positive adds (things that are beneficial to your dice rolls). Other than that the game is pretty much as it has been for a long time. Only the first 165 pages of this mammoth tome are devoted to the game’s core rules. The rest of the book is dedicated to optional rules (Advanced Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, if you will), information about a campaign world and some adventures. The game is fairly easy to learn, especially if you are a long time gamer. For people brand new to gaming some of the methodology and mechanics might seem a little odd, but the game is heavily invested in its 1970s OSR roots and a few concepts like how magic works and levelling up may take two or three read-throughs as it is very different from your typical RPG< regardless of genre. Perhaps the most important thing you'll note is that Tunnels and Trolls does not take itself very seriously. While the game can certainly be dark and lethal, the game is more comedy-action than GRIMDARK and that is one of the reasons that Tunnels & Trolls is as much fun to read as it is to play.
Chapter One is simply an introduction to Tunnels & Trolls, along with an explination as to how the book is laid out. Chapter Two is only a single page long and is a general overview about how to play a RPG. The next chapter is two dozen pages long and it’s all about character creation. Instead of assuming everyone reading this has PLAYED T&T in the past (which is mostly likely NOT the case), I’ll give a quick break down of stats and classes. Vets, you can skim ahead.
Okay, T&T has eight stats: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Speed, Intelligence, Wizardry, Luck and Charisma. So some very similar stats to D&D. you also roll 3D6 to get your starting stat, which again, is similar to D&D. However if you roll a triple of any number with your dice (says three 4s) you get to roll again. You can keep rolling until you stop getting doubles. So there is a possibility of having a starting stat of say 36. If you roll three 6s, three 3s and then a total of 9 on your next roll, you start with a stat of 36. That’s pretty powerful, right? That’s how it goes in T&T. After that, you get your combat adds. For every point in a physical stat over 12, you get +1 to your personal adds. Physical stats are STR, CON, DEX and SPD. So let’s say that 36 was in CON. You would get +35 adds in addition to anything over 12 you had in the other three physical stats. If the 35 was in IQ (Intelligence), you would not get the bonus to your combat adds, but you would get any for stats over 12 in the four physical attributes. Combat adds are used with your dice rolls in combat and the more you have, the more powerful your attacks will be. This is a nice change from games where only STR adds to damage and attack rolls. With T&T you can have a high SPD and DEX and be a better fighter than someone who is pure brute strength.
There are three basic character classes: Warriors, Wizards and Rogues. The first two are self-explanatory but Rogues are not necessarily thieves ala most other RPGS. In T&T, rogues are simply people who are jack of all trades. They are adventurers but without any formal martial or magical training. As such they can do both, but not as well as the other two classes. There are also Specialists which are simply people in the other three classes who rolled a triple for a stat in character creation. This comes up more in the optional rules though.
Tunnels & Trolls also has different character races than most games. You can choose from the usual human, elves and dwarves, but T&T also lets you play as a faerie, leprechaun or Hobbs (hobbit). Finally let’s talk character levels. In T&T your level is your highest stat divided by ten and rounded down. Sound confusing. Well let’s do this as an example if your highest stat is 3-9, you are 0 level character. If it is between 10-19 (most starting characters), you are a Level 1 character. If you are the example we looked at earlier where you have a 36 stat, you are a level 3 character. So on and so forth. Stats raise as the game goes on (you buy increases with Adventure Points, T&S XP equivalent) and so it is up to the player as to what level they are. If you try to make a balanced character your level will be less than your friend who only puts his increases into the same stat every time, but you’ll have a better chance of surviving a myriad of things. The choice is up to you!
Now let’s get back to the quick overview of the chapters. Chapter Four is about equipment for your characters. This is a lot of lists and mechanics. Weapons, armor, poisons and more can be found in Chapter Four. Chapter Five is a look at Saving Rolls, which are how you avoid danger. Essentially you are given the target number then you subtract the specific attribute that applies to the saving roll. So if you need to make a Dexterity based saving throw with a target of 30 and you have an 18 in your DEX – you need to roll a 12 or higher on two dice. Like with any 2d6 rolls in Tunnels and Trolls though, if you get doubles, you get to roll again and add the new roll score to your previous one. Lots of simple addition in this game! Chapter Six is a list of talents your characters can pick up as the level up and/or start the game with. There are certain talents only Rogues can get, but otherwise this is pretty straightforward.
Chapter Seven is about monsters and how scaled back they are stats-wise compared to PCs. Chapter 8 is “Combat” and it’s probably where you will spend the bulk of your time with this book until you have the basics down pat. Essentially though both sides roll 2d6 and add up their personal adds and other factors. The side with the highest total hurts the side with the lowest total with the damage generally being the difference between the two rolls. That’s a very brief explanation of T&T combat and you’ll actually want to read the book for a better understanding but that’s the mechanics in a nutshell. There explinations of different types of combat here too. Magical, berserk, martial arts and more. Again, you will want to read the whole chapter as combat is notably different from many other RPGs.
Chapter Nine is “Magic” and it’s here you’ll learn how spellcasting work and receive a massive list of all eighteen levels of spells. I know, it is a unusual number of levels, but T&T is a very unique game. You’ll also want to read the spell names. Nothing shows off the sense of humour inherent in Tunnels and Trolls like the magic spell lists. You have names like “Take That, You Fiend” and “Better Lucky than Good.” There are also some spell names which are sure to provide an immature reaction like “Blow Me To…” This chapter also shows how characters learn spells, how you know if a character can cast a spell or not, how spell points (WIZ) recharges and more. Magic-users are extremely powerful in T&T so like chapter eight, you’ll want to spend a lot of time in this section of the rulebook if you are new to the game. You’ll go into the book not knowing the word Kremm and you’ll walk away with it being second nature to you by the time you’ve had a few T&T games under your belt. Finally, Chapter Nine contains information about magical items, wards, power storage batteries, and how to create your own spells. Like I said, you’ll spend a LOT of time re-reading this chapter.
Chapter Ten is “Putting it All Together” and it’s essentially wisdom for GMs on how to run a good cohesive game that everyone has fun with. Simple but sage stuff. Then you have Chapter Eleven which are a few pages of spell appendices and you’re done. That’s the rules. Well…mostly. Remember the rules are only the first 165 pages of the Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls book. Now it’s time for the “Elaborations” which are optional and/or advanced rules you can either use or ignore in your T&T game. The book assumes you will NOT use any of these for a list of reasons provided at the start of Chapter Twelve but you’re more than welcome to if you think any of these will improve your game.
So what is in “Elaborations”? You’ll find the concept of training, which actually determines a character’s starting age. There are more abilities added to each class, such as weapon of choice for warriors, racial magic for wizards and rules for Specialist classes. Chapter Thirteen gives you new races to play as. Many of these are usually monsters or antagonists and there’s a huge list of options. You have vampires, werewolves, gnomes, gremlins, minotaurs, lizard people, ghouls, trolls, dragons and even demons! It’s pretty crazy. The reason for all these different races is Monsters! Monsters! – the sister game to Tunnels & Trolls where you play the bad guys. Chapter Thirteen essentially fold the concept into DT&T along with a description of their races and how to play them. Very cool.
Chapter Fourteen is about languages. It’s four pages long and gives both a list of languages in Tunnels & Trolls as well as how you learn them (mechanics-wise). Chapter Fifteen is “Extended Talents” and is essentially a continuation and more in-depth version of Chapter Six. Chapter Sixteen is “Accessories.” Here is a frank discussion on using miniatures with T&T and how the game was never designed for that. Nonetheless the creators talk how miniatures and various computer programs or apps can be integrated with the game. It’s an interesting read. Finally we come to Chapter Seventeen which is entitled “The Kitchen Sink” since it is a massive hodge podge of odds and ends that simply didn’t fit anywhere else. There are lots of charts, a page on guilds, commentary on dice and more. It’s short, but the topics are quite varied. It feels disjointed but at least the chapter is named appropriately.
At this point we are done with the rules parts of Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls but there are still two more sections. Yes, this is a HUGE book. The Trollworld Atlas is the next section of the book and it easily could have been a supplement on its own. Sixty pages go into the Trollworld Atlas. That’s more than a third of the pages devoted to the core rules section. It’s that long and detailed. If you use your own homebrew you can skip this section but for everyone else, this is a fine look at the fluff/creative side of the game. There’s a timeline, maps, world history and continents shaped like animals. It’s a lot of fun to read and there’s even a 16 page color gallery slapped in the middle.
The last eighty (!) pages of the book are devoted to Tunnels & Trolls adventures. I was really happy to see the sheer amount of adventures in the book as these days only Chaosium includes actually adventures in the Core rulebook. This is a great slice of old school. There is a traditional GM led adventures where one person takes the role of GM and guides other players (that use characters) through adventures. There is also a Solitaire adventure similar to “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. It is with the Solitaire adventures that Tunnels & Trolls really has made a lasting name for itself over the decades and it’s fantastic to see some of each in the core rulebook. The adventure doesn’t include any beginner adventures though, so don’t look for a simple adventure designed to help teach you mechanic. In fact the very first adventure in the compendium is “Abyss” and it is designed for after your character dies. The next “Into Zorr” is a GM led adventure for four to eight characters between Levels1-5. “Into Zorr” is used in conjunction with the TrollWorld Atlas and give you a taste of the official world for T&T. It’s extremely long and will take several play sessions to get through. It’s a mini-campaign in its own right.
So 2,500 words later, we’ve had a nice long look at Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. It’s pretty fantastic if you’re a longtime fan of the game. Younger gamers or people new to T&T with this latest incarnation might be a bit stymied at first with how different the game plays (and reads) compared to most other high fantasy RPGs, but the game has stood the test of time for a reason. It might not be your favorite RPG ever, but it’s one you’ll definitely have fun with and even laugh out loud because of at least once. I really enjoyed what was here and think Flying Buffalo’s team did an excellent job. If you didn’t take part in the Kickstarter and you’re a longtime Tunnels & Trolls fan, you’re going to want to snatch up DT&T as soon as it is available to the general public. Newcomers can afford to be a bit more hesitant. Like with any core rulebook I suggested getting the PDF or playing a few adventures with people that know the system before making a large financial commitment to any system. The good news is that T&T is VERY affordable compared to most other gaming systems (especially on the PDF front) and so if this review has piqued your interest you won’t break the bank trying out Tunnels & Trolls.