Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Comparing First Edition Tunnels & Trolls to the Deluxe Edition

“Please realise that more than almost any other game still in commercial production, Tunnels & Trolls (and MSPE) is flexible and utterly independent of endless rules books; Ken, Liz, Mike and company having delivered all that you would ever need to stimulate your group’s imagination while laying a solid foundation off which to build your own games.” — Kyrinn S. Eis

It really does surprise me how excited I am about this game. It’s exactly what I needed in my life all those years ago when I was struggling with Gamma World third edition as a twelve year old that didn’t quite comprehend role-playing games. As much as I love that dear old train wreck, it seems to me Ken St. Andre had a much better grasp of how to take zany, wide open wa-hoo adventure and put it in a format that a novice could actually run and comprehend.

There is very little in the new Deluxe edition rules that I feel that I absolutely must change before I could play it. Honestly, some of the nuance of first edition hurts my head and I just don’t always want to dig back into it to figure out what exactly they were doing back in the seventies. However, as far grasping the spirit of the rules goes, I have to say… a close reading of first edition really is essential– especially given just how many things have disappeared from the latest version of the game. In fact, there are places where I think some unnecessary interpolation is required in the Deluxe rules… but the original game goes a long way towards filling in the gaps.

Here then are a few comments on first edition that I noted after giving both rule sets a close reading back to back:

  1. The first section of the rules after the introductions is some advice on how to “dig” a dungeon. The original Tunnels & Trolls was a game for people for whom the $10 and three booklets of OD&D was too much complexity and too much expense. It was a game for people that had no experience with either Avalon Hill or miniatures gaming. The use of only six-sided dice was an intentional design decision that meant that it was a game for all the people that would have been unable to get ahold of set of fancy polyhedral dice. While it was more comprehensible to a wider audience than original D&D, nevertheless… it still required a great deal of creativity to run. The referee was required to create an entire adventuring scenario as a first order of business– and with only the most spartan of advice to go on!
  2. Just how exactly a rogue gains his spells is somewhat ambiguous and varies across editions and gaming groups, but the intent of the original rules seems to be the rogues buy spells from player character wizards for whatever price they ask for!
  3. Tunnels & Trolls referees could not afford a fancy Monster Manual like what became de rigueur for that other game. Monsters could be created with the same attributes as player characters or they could be defined with a single number: the Monster Rating. There was no hard and fast system for how to do it– but there was a whole lot of enthusiasm for doing it however you wanted. One odd idea here is it was taken for granted that they way monsters were developed or that monster ratings were interpreted should change as after the first level of the dungeon. For instance, monster damage results might be multiplied by their dungeon level so that people would not have to roll fist-fulls of dice in order to keep up with them.
  4. One critical change: the monster originally got half of its Monster Rating as “adds” on the first round… and only a quarter of its remaining hit points on subsequent rounds. Presumably its dice would have been dropping as well, because they could not defend themselves when they got below ten! While no one has been keen on keeping up with this amount of math and chart lookups– the dice the monster gets for its monster rating is kind of wonky– nevertheless, having a cutoff point where the monster will beg for mercy and possibly even ask to become a henchman is a nuance that’s now lacking from the Deluxe Edition. (Note that a player character’s charisma would come into play when a subdued monster attempted to revolt against them.)
  5. Combat was assumed to be “theater of the mind”, but while it was even more simplified than the system in even the simplest editions of D&D, it nevertheless was not assumed to be some sort of die rolling contest. It was intended that the referee was to make many common sense rulings about how many separate melee battles would go on at once, when and for how long missile weapons would be allowed to fire, and what circumstances pole arms would actually be relevant and effective.
  6. There was a system for Monster reactions in the original game… and it did not survive the decades of development to make it into the Deluxe edition. (!!) While it did not include any modifiers for player characters’ charisma scores, it did include a range of possible outcomes that included the monster going berserk to parlaying to running away.
  7. The combat adds rules were very different under first edition. In the first place… there was no Speed attribute back then. Secondly, there were separate ratings for melee and missile combat. Thirdly, there was a penalty to the adds if the relevant attributes were less than nine. And finally… wizards did not get combat adds! (Under the Deluxe rules, a wizard loses the benefit of his adds if he elects to use a weapon larger than a staff or dagger.)
  8. The original rules for awarding experience points are instructive. The most obvious difference is that “xp for gold” was in force in the earliest edition and then dropped from the Deluxe rules. Unlike D&D’s occasionally byzantine rules regarding “xp for selling magic-items”, first edition Tunnels & Trolls gave out experience points for simply recovering them. Finally, the “xp for saving rolls” was originally developed when making such rolls meant that something bad was coming your way. When using saving rolls as a general task system, it doesn’t make as much sense to award experience for them. (And note that in the original game, if you failed a saving roll and took damage, you earned experience equal to the saving roll times the total damage taken. That’s kind of epic, really…!)
  9. The biggest change from first edition to Deluxe edition is that in the new game, characters’ levels are a function of the their highest attribute. The original game had it be a function of earned experience points. Upon leveling up, the player could raise an attribute by a given fraction of the new level number. In the newest edition, experience can be spent to any attribute by a point… and they can get really, really large…! (I really wonder how that will work in actual play over the course of a campaign.)
  10. First edition’s nifty slave and hireling rules are gone in the Deluxe edition.
  11. In first edition, monsters gained experience points, too! (Why have I not ever thought of that?!)
  12. The rules for creating new spells are completely wide open under the Deluxe edition. Originally they cost 1000 gold per spell level or (strangely) nine tenths of the wizard’s strength. (?!)
  13. In the Deluxe edition, spells have both an IQ and a Dexterity requirement. Originally they were limited only by IQ. The DEX requirements for spells were much more modest in the beginning. They started at 8 for level one and went up a point for each level thereafter. In comparison to that, the IQ requirements increased somewhat more steeply. (Also… there was no WIZ attribute and spell power was taken against Strength instead.)
  14. There are many more poisons in the Deluxe edition. (This was a central part of actual play back in the day, so don’t skip it.)
  15. It’s surprising, but the first edition had elaborate rules for weapon composition and breakage.
  16. There were relatively detailed rules for how to deal with berserk party members that continue attacking their friends after the monsters are defeated. In the original rules, the choice of whether to go berserk or not was made when looking at their damage throw. Also, the strength cost was two under first edition and has become 1d6 in the Deluxe edition. Finally… the rules for monsters going berserk was also different.
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8 responses to “Comparing First Edition Tunnels & Trolls to the Deluxe Edition

  1. Jeff Eppenbach September 2, 2015 at 9:43 am

    Just thought I would mention this for those not familiar with T&T: A lot of changes happened to the game in the next couple of years, at a rate of about 1 edition a year. Many of the changes listed above happened in 5th ed, in 1979. Another surge of changes happened about 20 years later, when Ken released his “House Rules” on the net, later in print as 5.5 ed. And, another, surge of change happened with 7/7.5 editions, a couple of years later. There is no 6th edition, and anyone trying to sell you one is not a person to do business with.

    I bring this up, because the article above makes it sound like all the changes happened going directly from 1st to Deluxe, and that there was nothing in between.

    Going back to the start, I so wish T&T had been a part of the gamebook solo surge of the mid eighties, here in the US. Buffalo Castle was the first solo adventure, with many to follow. And, the British printings clearly showed that the rules could be abridged down to a couple of pages, just as in the rest of the mainstream gamebooks. I truly think that if T&T had been available in every grocery store book stand, like the Lone Wolf books had been, the RPG market would be very different today.

    • jeffro September 2, 2015 at 11:28 am

      If you want to mail me a spare copy of 5th edition Tunnels and Trolls and Mercenaries, Spies, and Private Eyes, I will be happy to include them in my analysis/coverage/retrospectives. Heh.

      • Jeff Eppenbach September 2, 2015 at 1:19 pm

        5th isn’t too hard to come by, as it was in print for years. 5.5 is harder to get, as there was only the one run. As a guess, because there haven’t been any moves to make 5th available in digital, it seems like there may be some rights issues floating out there. There is plenty of demand.

        T&T has always been a “work in progress” game, with editions just snap shots of where it was at a certain time. But, people get kind of weird about the PRINTED WORD, and the Rules As Written. According to Ken, you aren’t playing Tunnels and Trolls, if you aren’t using house rules.

        In the end, I am overall happy with Deluxe. It could have used some more examples, and I felt more effort and space was used up by the TrollWorld section than I want. Many of the things that seem to be missing are, as I understand, slotted to be released in follow up products.

    • jeffro September 2, 2015 at 1:29 pm

      Interesting. I had not heard of 5.5 being a thing. Thank you!

      The thing that gets me about the Deluxe rules is that none of the monsters or creatures have their special abilities detailed. I mean… I know a lot of people see the value of *NOT* having a monster manual. (That’s a feature, not a bug.) But to not nail down troll regeneration or appropriate saving rolls for dealing with vampires and so on…. I’m mystified that the designers and community didn’t see that that could be an issue.

      I’m personally excited about making up my own rules for specialists… but again, the way the book leaves that about 60% described… I’m really surprised by that.

      • Jeff Eppenbach September 3, 2015 at 11:27 am

        The fact is, they never did do that. Part of it is the simple idea that most monsters “special” features are rolled in with the MR (i.e. dragons breath). Another part is the idea that it’s “Your Game”, so do what you want with it, not what the monster description says you can or can’t do. (BTW, TrollWorld trolls aren’t like D&D trolls, more like Discworld trolls. Well, actually it’s more Discworld trolls are like TrollWorld trolls, but that’s another topic.) 7th ed. included a mechanic for spite damage activating a special ability in monsters. And, many monsters in the solos have had some kind of special effects, such as poison. But, there have never been any real rules on that. 5th ed. even gave three or so different ways to use MR in combat.

        One thing I would have liked, on the monster front, would have been some guidelines for how “big” to make the monsters to challenge a party that does xd6+y damage.

        Specialist have been unfinished, and way under defined, since they were first described in 7th. With Deluxe leaving a lot uncovered still, I have just went with the doubled roll for SR’s for the specialized stat.

  2. No King but Elessar Telcontar September 19, 2015 at 10:42 pm

    Nice post, jeffro! I never realized how many rules from the First Edition of T&T were changed or abandoned in subsequent editions.

    I already own a print copy of Tunnels & Trolls (edition 5.5), and I am seriously considering buying the PDF of the new T&T Deluxe, since I found out too late about the kickstarter to get my mitts on a print copy. Now you have convinced me to shell out the extra two dollars to get the PDF of the first edition, just so I can mine it for ideas. Thanks for the “heads up.”

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