Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

The Wisdom of Tunnels & Trolls

One of the big changes in the new edition of The Fantasy Trip is that Steve Jackson has recanted on the old rule that IQ provided a harsh upper limit on the total number of spells and/or talents a character could have. The reason is… under the old advancement system there comes a point where attributes get ridiculously and pointlessly high. So Steve’s solution is to have players buy attributes early on in their adventuring careers… and then at some point switch over to buying more talents and spells when the usual method of advancement becomes cost prohibitive.

I like the idea, mostly because I’ve long been hung up on the old first edition AD&D Fighter/Magic-user multi-class ever since I saw it. A great idea, but a clunky implementation to be sure. The idea of slower advancement is preserved here under the new rules here for The Fantasy Trip: non-wizard characters are going to pay triple the experience points for each new spell they acquire!

But of course, Steve isn’t channeling the more baroque elements of the biggest fantasy gaming franchise on the planet. No, he’s merely rolling back to a key element of The Fantasy Trip’s predecessor, Tunnels & Trolls!

See, the justifiably infamous Ken St. Andre had this hilariously brilliant “Rogue” class. This one was not like any of the Rogues in more ubiquitous games of today. It was an offbeat first-class treatment of the fighter/magic-user hybrid. Rogues didn’t have double armor ability of the warriors, though they could still use any weapon that they had the strength attribute for. (Shades of GURPS and The Fantasy Trip!) They could cast spells like a wizard, but didn’t get the strength cost break that wizards got from magic staffs and from casting spells at lower spell levels than their character levels.

And note again… because Tunnels & Trolls had Constitution be a distinct stat from Strength when determined the energy reserve, T&T avoided the “Conan the Wizard” problem that The Fantasy Trip accrued to itself due to its overly elegant design framework! Problem solved way before GURPS even came close to being on the drawing board!

The real genius of Tunnels & Trolls lies not just in its development of the ultimate fighter/magic-user combo. It’s that additional spells were doled out in that game in exchange for gold, not experience points. Wizards pay a flat rate to the guild, of course. But Rogues have to learn from other player character wizards. And they have to pay whatever amount those players are asking!

This is awesome. Not only does it inject a healthy amount of old school “XP for Gold” into T&T’s gameplay, but it also keeps the wizard players out in front of the rogues when it comes to spells. Not only are rogues limited to selecting from the spells the wizards have already purchased, but wizards can also relieve the rogues of all their spare cash… and then turn it over to the guild for even more spells!

This is particularly brilliant because the stupid stuff players do to min/max character generation and advancement is always inferior to the hi-jinx that ensures when the players start playing off of each other.

Score another one for Ken St. Andre, y’all!

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5 responses to “The Wisdom of Tunnels & Trolls

  1. Roland June 12, 2019 at 6:13 am

    “T&T avoided the “Conan the Wizard” problem that The Fantasy Trip accrued to itself due to its overly elegant design framework!”

    Which should never have been a problem if advancement was done properly as characters limited by few and far between advancements would have emphasised DX and IQ and used magic items to store ST for casting.

    • jeffro June 12, 2019 at 7:50 am

      I’m a purist by nature, but man… when everyone complains and/or houserules in a new endurance stat just because they can’t handle playing the game straight… then something is up.

      • Roland June 13, 2019 at 4:57 am

        To be honest, I think of it as the same as adding an experience system to ’77 Traveller. Fundamental misunderstanding.

  2. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: REH Foundation Awards, Arthur Machen, Tunnels & Trolls, Terry Pratchett – castaliahouse.com

  3. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: REH Foundation Awards, Arthur Machen, Tunnels & Trolls, Terry Pratchett – Herman Watts

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