A Few More Thoughts on Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls
So I’m still working with my Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls PDF here in Normandy, but the hardbacks look like they’re now a thing, and my plans are fomenting to get me a copy. In the meantime, I’ve been getting my gamer relaxation on (away from my gamer writing job) by reading through DT&T and finally creating a character and playing a wee solo session.
Buffalo Castle was the first ever RPG product I bought, back in the summer of 1980. 1980 was also the time I last played a whole bunch of regular Tunnels & Trolls (I played it pretty intensively for about 6 months, which is like *forever* when you’re 12 years old. 🙂 ). I loved it to bits then, so it seemed a good idea to revisit it with the 8th edition rules. I got the latest updated version from DriveThru for less than the price of a glass of wine. You know it makes sense.
I printed out a character sheet from the PDF, and pulled up a bunch of D6 on my phone’s dice-rolling app. So, yes, the technological gulf between now and 1980 was definitely there. 😉
I went ahead and rolled up a bog-standard “warrior” using the DT&T RAW (rules as written). Welcome to the world, Urng the Orphaned, 16 year old farmboy. His prime atts are what you’d expect; 6 in Wizardry and Charisma (hey, he’s 16, from a farm…), 15 Strength, 14 Dexterity, 12 Constitution, 12 Luck, 11 Speed, 9 Intelligence; +5 personal adds. He rolled 90 gold pieces for equipment, which got him a suit of light leather armour, a buckler shield, and… a cudgel. He picked up 3 large rocks from the farm and practised lobbing them at cows, then stuffed them in his delver’s pack and set off for Buffalo Castle.
Now, adventure backstory aside, I’d forgotten most of the solo choices, so I just plumbed for the “left door”, and got faced with the bored troll, Monster Rating 40. I tried talking, but with a 6 Charisma that was never really a goer, so we ended up squaring off for combat. As a warrior I had 4d6 +5 vs the troll’s 5d6 +20. Needless to say he killed me flat.
Which was a bit of a surprise. I vaguely remember the troll being a nightmare to fight, but I’d used the basic combat rules and got totally creamed. Hmmm. Okay, think. This is the first ever solo adventure, so this isn’t an Unresolved Programming Error, but a feature. What am I doing wrong?
I rewound back to the ranged combat rules. Could I lob one of my large rocks at the troll before it got close enough to attack me? Sure! That’s a Level 1 Saving Roll on Dexterity, so I need to roll 6 or better on 2d6 (doubles add and roll again). I got a neat 10. Then – and here’s where the DT&T rules are wonderfully clear – I roll my “large thrown rock” damage (3d6) + personal adds, without my 1d6 bonus for being a L1 warrior, and that damage (I got a total of 20) gets done to the troll regardless of whether it wins the combat round. As it turned out it rolled a total of 39 against my 20, meaning I took 7 points of CON damage through my armour and buckler shield (I was figuring spite damage too, but there wasn’t any).
BUT – and here’s the huge, tactical advantage to that initial ranged attack – I also reduced its Monster Rating by 20 points to MR20. Now, with the DT&T RAW a monster’s attack dice no longer change when its Monster Rating drops, avoiding the massive death spiral of 5th edition, but its adds are recalculated, meaning henceforth it will roll 5d6 + 10.
That’s considerably better, but here’s where another feature of DT&T combat comes in: its statistical transparency. In games like D&D you’re rolling a single d20, so no bell curve, and outliers are probable, so you may tend to hold out for them even when the odds are against you. In DT&T the bell curve matters, and you can see the probabilities right there on the table before you: the troll at 5d6+10 versus Urng the Orphaned at 4d6+5 is bad, however you look at it. Sure, I might get lucky once or twice, but on balance over a few combat rounds I’m toast.
So I needed to think tactically. And now I’m starting to have a bit of fun. How about the Berserking rules? I lose my double armour and +1d6 L1 warrior bonus, but I get to reroll doubles, and, most importantly, I get to roll another 2d6 even if I don’t roll a double on my first throw, as long as I’m rolling seven dice or fewer. So suddenly the troll is rolling 5d6+10 (as before), and now I’m rolling basically 3d6 + 2d6, with doubles exploding. Now I’m in with a chance!
The downside is that Berserking costs me 1d6 Strength every round. I have 15 Strength. I’m using my phone dice app so can’t be bothered recalibrating for 1d6 every round, so I just say that Berserking costs me 3 Strength per round, so I have 4 rounds of it.
It turns out it’s enough! I’m still using spite damage, which matters less to me than to the troll; it loses one point of adds for every 2 sixes I roll on my combat dice, which actually stacks up, whereas my CON reductions have no effect till I keel over at CON 0. Plus, the doubles add and roll over snowballed twice for me; I rolled 2 sets of doubles on one roll, and three on another, pushing my notional 3d6 cudgel above 20 points. Suddenly I’m not taking damage but dealing it.
The combat lasted 6 rounds, and I had to think, not just dumbly roll “attack… attack… attack…”. The bell curve and statistical transparency actually forced me to think tactically and get creative with the rules, which more opaque systems (D&Desque) wouldn’t necessarily have done quite so obviously.
I haven’t mentioned “Talents”: as a 5th edition fan, I’ve never used them before, and although I didn’t use my “Exceptional Uses of Weapons +3” in this session, I’m sure I will. One obvious use is to try and disarm a foe; I need to have a close read of the rules to find out how you do that in combat without coming a total cropper. I’m guessing that you roll your combat dice as usual, but they only count for defence; you can’t deal damage, because instead you’re making a Saving Throw (Dexterity?), probably at the foe’s level, to disarm it (and I’d get a +3 because of Urng’s talent). If I succeed, the foe is weaponless, and defaults to unarmed. I’m guessing you could do similar manoeuvres to rip a shield from a foe’s hand, even tear off bits of armour, etc. All good stuff. I need to confirm that’s how the defence would work in a combat round, but it feels about right.
Which brings me to the last point: there’s always been a difference between T&T monsters with Monster Ratings, and those statted up as “characters” (with full attributes, etc). The reason I didn’t get jiggy with all this stunting against the Buffalo Castle troll was that it had a MR, and so things like what weapon it was using, etc, didn’t feature in its combat stats. I’m still wondering how to handle that in play; it seems there’s a very big difference between combat vs a MR critter and a fully attributed critter in DT&T.
So there’s a few more impressions. The thing I liked a lot, coming back to a new version of the game after *cough* 35 years (!) is the way the rules encourage you to get creative, and how the rules fit around how you describe your action, instead of prescribing the actions you can take. I like that a lot. It feels like there’s a hell of a lot of potential for creative play.
Up next: well, I got out of Buffalo Castle with 600gp of treasure and 166 adventure points (experience points). So Urng the Orphaned is going to get an increase in his Luck attribute (from 12 to 13, for 120 AP), and some better weapons and armour. Equipment is crucial in DT&T, at least at lower levels, and it’s fun personalising characters to max effect. Then I might have a look at that middle door in Buffalo Castle, and see where that leads…