Saturday, April 29, 2017

1e Tunnels & Trolls, Part 12: Where Did All the Magic Items Go?

Naked Doom (painting by James Talbot)

22. Where Did All the Magic Items Go?

1st edition Tunnels & Trolls has no magic items list.

Indeed, there is no section, paragraph or sentence in the entire document specifically devoted to discussing or explaining magic items.

However, it is clear from a close reading of the original text, that a Tunnels & Trolls fantasy world is expected to be one where magic items exist, if not in abundance, then at least with some semi-regularity. Magic items are mentioned. But there is no explicit guidance presented anywhere in the rules as to, say, what a "magic item" actually is or what sorts of properties such a thing might have.

Reference to magical items comes only in the form of asides:
Under most circumstances warriors may not cast magic spells, although they can use enchanted objects to their benefit [p. 7].
It was Greg Brown who first suggested that [wandering monsters] might carry treasure on them, and made a chart to determine the fact. Roll 1 die. If you get a 1 or a 2, the monster has treasure. If it has treasure roll 1 die again. A 1 or 2 yields copper; a 3 yields silver; a four yields gold; a 5 yields jewels; a 6 yields a magical item. It is up to the D.M to quickly determine how many coins, jewels, or what kind of magic the creature has [p. 10].
Magical items found or acquired in the dungeon will also be worth e.p. [experience points] to the characters that acquire them if they can bring said item safely to the surface. The D.M. will determine the value of such objects individually. (Try to make them worthwhile, D.M.s or everyone will steer clear of all your magic) [p. 14].
Near the entrance to very tunnel complex are great super-markets for dungeon-delvers. In these general stores, the arrant adventurer with enough cash can buy practically anything he wants to take down with him, although such stores are usually quite short of magical items with the exception of staffs for magic-users [p. 17].
The world of 1st edition Tunnels & Trolls does not appear to be a "low magic" world. Two out of the three player classes may cast spells, and there is a powerful and ever present Wizards Guild (or perhaps a set of them) that trains new magic-users, attempts to regulate the use of magic and does a brisk business in selling magic staffs and spells. Also, according to the rules, more than 5% of all wandering monsters carry magic items around with them (which is arguably much more than you ever got from wandering monsters in OD&D). So, one assumes that the intention, if there was an intention, behind not talking about magical items was not to de-emphasize them.

Instead, one might initially postulate that the idea was to leave out an explicit list on the grounds that it would be a constraint on imagination. Fair enough. But in honesty, there's nothing in the text to spark the reader's imagination (on magic items), either. This is in contrast to the treatment of monsters in 1st edition T&T. Recall that fabulous monster paragraph I referenced in a previous review, where 77 diverse and fantastic entities are named - from "fire-breathing dragons" to "jub jub birds" to "drooling maniacs" to "mantichores, and lots more."

Contrast the absence of magic items in 1st edition Tunnels & Trolls with their prominent place in Dungeons & Dragons, where a fairly long and detailed list of magic items - everything from talking swords to cursed scrolls to enchanted elven boots - was one of the central features of the game from the very beginning. This list would expand as the number of supplements and the length of editions expanded.

For OD&D, in addition, the importance of magic items was arguably built into its class and experience mechanic. For example, the power of a high-level fighting-man would usually be partly based on the fact that he was almost expected to possess and wield, say, a +3 sword and wear +4 plate armor. In turn, the value and survivability of a low-level magic-user was enhanced by his unique ability to use scrolls. And so on.

Was the assumed presence of magic items also built in to the rules of 1st edition Tunnels & Trolls - perhaps as an expected feature or enhancement to level progression, for example? It isn't clear. The rules do not say, nor even hint, at least in that original edition.

Now, at first I assumed the relative silence on magic items was simply an oversight of the quasi-draft form 1st edition, and that it would be "rectified" in later editions. Not so. The 4th edition (1977) adds 12 pages of supplementary material, including an "Easy Jewel and Treasure Generator," a "Jewel Generation Table," an explanation by Rufus the Morose on "the effects of having charisma," an "Optional Size and Weight Chart for Men and Monsters," a sort of imported bit from the spinoff game, Monsters! Monsters! (1976) on "Experience Points for Monsters," recommendations on how to assign monster ratings to monsters on different levels of the dungeon, expanded and alternative rules for bows and marksmanship, rules for using two weapons in combat, a lengthier explanation of "The Logic of Magic," an expanded section on poisons, and even a poem (!), but nothing more on magic items.

Or almost nothing. There is now this little extra little aside in the Easy Jewel and Treasure Generator section:
...Doubles, on the other hand, indicate that the treasure is some kind of magical object. (I have my own list of magical objects that can be found, but it would probably be better if every DM made up his own list of magical items to be found) [4th edition, p. 6].
So that helps a bit, especially for readers such as myself who often get fixated on "why" sorts of questions. But it still might be asked, especially by a reader new to this sort of thing, what is a "magical object," and what guidance is there for a D.M. to make up his own list?

Now, I don't think a "just use your imagination" sort of retort is sufficient here. It is only because of the example set by Dungeon's & Dragons that we have perhaps come to assume that there is this obvious and almost infinite cornucopia of magical objects that anyone even remotely interested in fantasy would, so to speak, have floating around in his imagination. I'm not sure this is true even now, but it certainly wouldn't have been true in 1975. It just wasn't really in the fantasy or science fiction culture, even for the most well-read fans. To take just a few examples: Robert E. Howard's Conan stories go easy on magic. Jack Vance has the occasional bizarre contrivance that's more often annoying than anything else. There are some obvious magic items in Narnia and Middle-Earth but not as many as one first might assume. And so on.

5th edition T&T (1979), extensively edited and re-written by Liz Danforth, almost doubled the length of the rules again, and incorporated even more supplementary material, including a detailed and illustrated glossary of weapons. But it stays on form by providing no magic items list nor explicit guidance as to what such a list - if created by the D.M. - might look like. However, there are a few more hints:
MAGIC: Characters should have listed here any magical implements they manage to pick up, and what they do. At the start, Fang has none [Creating Characters, 1.3.3].
Also. GMs often let you run across magical treasure which improve (or worsen) your luck, so ratings of 30 or even higher are not unheard of [Saving Rolls, 1.8.1].
The GM may decide to reward you [in adventure points] for figuring out how to play the magic harmonica you just found [Adventure Points, 1.9.2)
Once upon a time experience points were given for treasure and magical items found and carried off, but no longer!...a magical iron ring that bestows on its wearer an additional 10 Luck points is also its own reward, and should not give 'adventure' points as well [Adventure Points, 1.9.2].
Warriors ... recognize the value of magic and magical artifacts and while there may be an undercurrent of mistrust of magicians, warriors will cheerfully utilize any magical artifact that comes to hand [Character Types, 2.11].
[R]oll one die - ...6 = gems or magical item ... Do be very careful with magical items (or delete them entirely) because an orc with an ounce of sense will make use of a really good item against the party - he wouldn't leave a 10-die sword flopping at his bely while he attacked the party with claw and fanfics. Either don't give such items away (from Wandering Monsters, at least) or give the party a taste of a special item before they lay hands on it [Wandering Monsters, 2.42].
It is a good idea [when stocking the dungeon] to put in...more gold than jewels or magical objects [How to be a GM, 2.5.1].
Every other jewel created will have a single magic gift which can be used but once; after it is gone, the jewel is non-magical but still of full value. The magic gift adds to a Prime Attribute. Roll 1 die: 1=ST, 2=IQ, 3=LK, 4=CON, 5=DEX, 6=CHR. Roll 1 die again and add that amount to the attribute indicated [Trollstone Caverns - a sample mini-adventure, 2.7.2].
Once again, there is no general passage or section where it is clearly explained what sort of thing a "magical implement," "magical treasure," "magical item," "magical artifact," "magical object," "magical gift" or whatever else it might be called might be. The attentive reader would perhaps assume, based on the passages, above, that the only major purpose of such items was to raise attribute scores (although, once in a while one might find a really powerful sword or an enchanted wind instrument).

One might even say that opportunities to hint at the wondrousness of magic were basically blown. After all, adding to one's prime attribute scores is almost mundane in T&T, in the sense that it's already built in to the experience mechanic. A warrior advancing from 4th to 5th level could increase his Luck score by 10 on his own. Of course, that's not to say that a player-character wouldn't love to have a device that would do it "for free." But in terms of setting a fantastic tone for the world, it's not anywhere near as evocative as, say, a black sphere of annihilation, or cursed boots that make you dance or even a ring of invisibility (all, obviously, examples from OD&D).

Given that early Tunnels & Trolls is quite evocative in all sorts of other ways, I find its thin and, arguably, boring treatment of magic items to be extremely odd.

Let me add another oddity into the mix. In 1st edition T&T, there are two spells to create magic weapons and armor:
Zappathingum (7th level spell - cost: 24 strength points): "Enchants any weapon permanently to triple its ordinary effectiveness."
Zapparmor (8th level spell - cost: 30 strength points): "Enchants armor to triple its current protection value. Armor also mends itself between fights so it is always full strength unless completely destroyed in one fight."
I assume that Zapparmor is implicitly permanent, even as Zappathingum is explicitly so.

These two spells seem insanely overpowered to me. Not only do they triple the value of the item, but they do so (or in the case of Zapparmor, seem to do so) permanently. And of course, there's no reason why, after resting up and regaining your strength each time, you couldn't use them to pump up the armaments of every member of your party. Who needs to find a magic sword or magic armor when a mid-level magic-user could easily create sets of them - and with a power (triple strength!) that would sent any OD&D warrior into a berserker frenzy of jealousy.

Interestingly, in 5th edition, these spells are scaled way back such that they only last 1-6 hours.

Here's another bit of data. There were plenty of magic items in early Flying Buffalo Tunnels & Trolls published adventures. There were probably more of them, on a per room basis than your typical D&D published module, and many of them were extremely powerful:

From Buffalo Castle (the first published T&T solo adventure - 1976):
7E: You have found a magic sword. It is worth 1000 g.p., it doubles your strength while you are carrying it, it takes 20 hits for you every combat turn, and it wards off all evil magic up to 20th level! Go to 19E.
From Naked Doom (the fourth published T&T solo adventure, authored by the original author of T&T, Ken St. Andre - 1977):
Magic Treasures
Roll 1 die (1 - 6) and go to that number on the list below to see what you found.
1. ROBES OF TUCHMI K'NOTT: Flowing robes in the Roman toga fashion that are magical armor. When wearing these robes you can take up to 200 hits in a combat turn before you can be hurt...
2. A RING OF FIRE: It enables the wearer to cast fireballs worth 100 hits each combat turn...
3. A 20th LEVEL ANTI-MAGIC BELT: Whoever wears this belt cannot be affected by any other spell...
From The Dungeon of the Bear (the first published T&T standard multi-player adventure - 1978):
In the first chest is the infamous "Badger Gem." It is a large white diamond of 500 g.p. value. However, the first delver who touches it finds the gem absorbed into his flesh, and he is changed into a badger with a monster rating of 35...
The second chest contains a pair of Seven League Boots. These allow the player who puts them on to move at two times normal speed...
Do not misunderstand my purpose with the above. I think these items are great. (For the first two "killer dungeons," getting one's hands on one of these hugely powerful items is probably necessary to make it out of the dungeon alive - this is explicitly confirmed by St. Andre in the introduction to Naked Doom.) But there isn't that much to help the aspiring D.M. who wants to know what to put in his "non-killer" long-term campaign. One might also ask, to the extent that The Dungeon of the Bear provides a few hints, why should someone need to buy that separate adventure in order to acquire them? Wasn't the whole point of T&T that it was a game you could just purchase (for a fraction of the price of a D&D rule set), read, understand and play?

Also, do not misunderstand my purpose for the overall post. My intention is not to criticize T&T for, so to speak, gypping customers out of their natural entitlement to a magic items section, guaranteed by U.N. charter or whatever, but to point out a quirk or anomaly in the early editions of the rules that I find interesting and (to me) a bit mysterious.

It's possible some of what was going on was worry over copyright infringement. Perhaps, to not include magic items or much guidance about them was another way of buying a bit of insurance if Tactical Studies Rules ever came after Flying Buffalo for too closely imitating Dungeons & Dragons.

Indeed, as early as late 1975, there already had been a little back and forth going on. In 1st edition, Tunnels & Trolls, St. Andre a number of times mentions Dungeons & Dragons by name, and while he is upfront about what he didn't like about that game - prompting him to write Tunnels & Trolls - he is also gracious:
Our thanks go out to Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson who created the original D&D...
However, in the 2nd edition of T&T, "Dungeons & Dragons" and "D&D" were deleted and replaced by an "X." St. Andre added this somewhat humorous (in hindsight) note:
The people who manufacture game "X" have informed us that they don't want us to mention their game in our advertising ..."
Tunnels & Trolls had been noticed. So perhaps it was better not to poke the Gygax bear with a potentially derivative looking potion list.

Finally, even though this review series has focused on the 1st edition of the game, I should point out that a section on magic items was added to Tunnels & Trolls for it's more recent 21st century editions, including 7th (2005), "7.5" (2008) and, most importantly, the current Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. The Deluxe edition gives six and a half pages of double-columned guidance on the issue, describing "Potions, Wards and Magical Trinkets," among other things, and even implying that some of them might be available for purchase. It's also explicitly stated that more powerful items should probably be created by the GM, and, thus, no long lists are provided. (For reasons that are unclear, a discussion of magical swords, including a table listing their potential properties, present in 7.5, was not included in Deluxe.) The section begins this way:
Wizards not only use tools in their spellcasting, they create magical things for their own use or to sell to others. Potions, wards, and magical items have a long and storied history in games, in novels, in comics, and in myth—all of which T&T draws upon for inspiration. Logically, every imaginable spell or magical effect could be embedded into a physical item for easy transport and convenience of use. Healing potions come in handy when a medicmage isn’t available. A ring of invisibility works pretty much like a personal Hidey Hole. A necklace that deflects all spells from the Conformation school of magic keeps the Circe-like swine-makers at bay. A gigantic fire opal carved as a shield could absorb all fire spells and fire them right back at your foes, twice as strong.
So fear not, you can now read Tunnels & Trolls, confident in the fact that your U.N. sponsored human right to having a magic items section in your RPG has not been infringed upon.

A wag might ask what took them so long? (Or, what took them until 7th edition in 2005?)

That's an interesting question (a few wonky historical types might think). I don't know the answer.

--------------------

This is a multi-part review series focusing on the 1st edition of Tunnels & Trolls. I also discuss the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D), the early history of the hobby, later developments in Tunnels & Trolls and game design in general.

The 1st edition of Tunnels & Trolls was authored by Ken St. Andre in the spring of 1975. It was a 41 page, typewriter-written document, from which 100 photocopies were created. These were sold to friends and fellow gamers in Phoenix, Arizona, with some of the remainder being offered at the Westercon 28 gaming convention in Oakland, California. Within a few months, St. Andre entered into an agreement with the play-by-mail wargame company, Flying Buffalo, and a 2nd edition of Tunnels & Trolls was officially published at the end of the year. Many more editions followed, including the iconic 5th edition in 1979, which would remain in print, in much the same form, until 2012.

In 2013, as part of the Kickstarter campaign for Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, St. Andre donated his only remaining copy of the 1st edition to be used as an incentive. Flying Buffalo later released a PDF of that copy, based on a precise scan of the original document, and including a new one-page introduction by St. Andre and a new back cover. It can now be purchased on RPGNow for $1.95.

At that price, it is now the best "steal" in the hobby. And it acts as a fascinating historical introduction to one of the best values in the hobby, the comprehensive 386 page current edition of Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

1e Tunnels & Trolls, Part 11: Armor

Helmets (Rob Carver, 1st edition, p. 18)
21. Armor

What was the first fantasy game to incorporate ring mail, scale mail, piece armor and multiple sizes and makes of shields into its armor system? The answer is Tunnels & Trolls, three years before the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook.

I know this schtick of mine (T&T was first in this or that, and/or was more detailed than its precursor in this or that) is getting a bit old by now, but I want to keep, so to speak, hammering it in. It might be a wonky historical thing, but I think it's interesting and notable.

The supposedly "simple," "easy" and "stripped-down" alternative to Dungeons & Dragons had a relatively large selection of armor possibilities. T&T would remain one of the few fantasy games to do so through the 1970's, as most of the offerings in the first six years of the hobby more or less adhered to the tripartite standard of leather/chainmail/plate set by Gary Gygax and Tactical Studies Rules in 1974.

Here is the armor class chart from OD&D's Monsters & Treasure:

And here are the armor and shield lists from 1st edition Tunnels & Trolls:


Okay, caltrops aren't shields, but still.

You also might notice that the R.A.F. Flight Helmet and Steel Beaney, etc. are not on the list. Those were jokes by the artist, Rob Carver.

(That's it! No jokes allowed! Everything in the rulebook MUST be serious!)

It makes sense that the games published by Tactical Studies Rules (later, TSR) would stay on this track. With an "armor class" system consisting of eight possibilities or degrees of armor coverage from AC 9 to AC 2, having only three types of armor (or four types if you counted wearing no armor as a type), plugged right in to the system. The four types would neatly become eight if each split into the particular type with or without a shield.

And looking back on it, this is what made the explosion of armor types in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook seem so out of place. Suddenly armor class lost its meaning as a "class." AC 7, for example, represented Leather + shield OR Padded armor + shield OR studded leather OR ring mail. The further grafting of a weapons vs. armor type chart onto the new scheme made no sense, since each class now contained up to four divergent types of coverage. And, of course, the addition of an extra notch - AC 10 - made things even more confusing.

Looking more closely at early games from Tactical Studies Rules, Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) adhered to the OD&D standard, as did Metamorphosis Alpha (1976) and Gamma World (1978), though the latter two would change the armor names around a bit to reflect a more primitive or post-apocalyptic vibe - leather became "heavy fur or skins," chainmail became "cured hide or plant fiber," and so on.

Curiously, the non-TSR Arduin Grimoir (1977), which added more detail and options to all sorts of things, roughly adhered to the original unholy trinity, adding only scale armor and a kite shield into the mix, and the insanely complicated non-TSR The Complete Warlock (1975, 1978) with its pages and pages of lists and charts cooked up by Caltech numbers nerds, made only a timid venture into armor expansion by adding merely the brigandine and "chain-plate."

As far as I can tell, the second fantasy game to follow Tunnels & Trolls in going, so to speak, full-diversity in terms of armor was Chivalry & Sorcery (1977), followed by Runequest (1978), which put a premium on piece armor.

And that's a bit ironic. Tunnels & Trolls was that "less serious" game, while Chivalry & Sorcery was about as serious (way past a fault, many would say) as you could get. And, of course, Runequest was also very much on the serious side.

Here is Chivalry & Sorcery (I hope you can read it):

Don't take just my word (or the small type screenshots) for all of this. I was first alerted to the whole issue by reading a post at the Playing at the World blog, by the pre-eminent historian of the hobby, Jon Peterson. Interestingly, for ring and scale devotees, Peterson points out that even Chivalry & Sorcery left those out:
So who first introduced ring and scale to role-playing games? The answer can be found in the first printing of Tunnels & Trolls (1975), which includes a detailed armor chart that divides plate armor into constituent parts (the basinet, breastplate, casque, chausse, cuirass, and solleret), and does the same for chain, ring, and scale. Here Ken St. Andre proves a solitary innovator: though he reuses the ring and scale categories in his Monsters! Monsters! (1976), few soon followed his lead: even the exhaustive list in Chivalry & Sorcery (1977) skips ring and scale . . .
So far, my analysis has been historical and fairly neutral (though, I obviously took a few shots at AD&D). But for the last few paragraphs I want to switch gears and ask a basic question:

How much armor should a fantasy game have?

There are two parts to the question - one is mechanical and the other is aesthetic/historical.

In my view, for an OD&D type eight armor class system (which of course T&T did not have), anything more than three armor types is too much, for the reasons explained above. I suppose you could have more than three different names for, say AC 5 armor - we use mail here in the northern lands, in the south they use lamellar and those weirdos in the forest use plant fibre - but if you put them all on the same equipment list it fusses things up, and the players will simply choose the cheapest or (after they have some money) least encumbering alternative.

A piece armor system placed on top of the three, also fails for some of reasons explained above. I think you could have a piece armor system on its own. Instead of leather, chainmail and plate, for example, you could, say, simply have different levels of plate coverage. A number of games have done this to excellent effect, especially when simulating non-medieval or non-European armor systems. See, for example, the recent Swords and Wizardry White Box based Ruins and Ronin (2009).

For a non-OD&D absorptive armor system, such as Tunnels & Trolls, all bets are off, and it would initially seem to grant a wider degree of freedom to incorporate greater and more diverse armor types. But I'm not sure. Piece armor almost seems out of place. The point of, say, a breast plate is not that it absorbs less damage than a full suit of plate but that it either absorbs the same amount of damage (if you strike it) or absorbs no damage at all (if you strike another part of the body). Perhaps this is a quibble. And, arguably, the Tunnels & Trolls combat system is presented at such a high level of abstraction that it's silly to even worry about the issue.

More to the point for either, say, D&D or Tunnels & Trolls is why you need more than a few choices, given that players will always go for the best ones. AD&D had nine different types of armor (or ten if you counted the off-the-initial-scale armor type, full plate), but fighters would pretty much always gravitate towards plate (or full plate), at least once they had a bit of money. The other armor alternatives would be left for silly NPC's to wear or to create annoying situations - Wow, a +2 suit of ring mail! Gee, thanks, I guess, Santa!

You can create some interesting choices by making use of other variables such as, say, encumbrance - you might choose something a bit less protective than plate if it were much lighter - but it's still almost impossible to make nine or ten types attractive.

Tunnels & Trolls somewhat bucked this problem by simply making more protective armor progressively more heavy. Given the extra importance placed on strength-based carrying capacity in T&T, this arguably worked - you might very well choose, say, chain mail over plate, just so you could use that great axe (or just so you wouldn't collapse in your armor after expending a few strength points casting a spell). I should note that 5th edition Tunnels & Trolls made chain mail (5th edition would, with more accuracy, call it simply, "mail") heavier than plate. This made more sense from the standpoint of historical realism but essentially made the existence of mail pointless.

From an aesthetic or historical point of view, the military historian, Gary Gygax set a very bad precedent with his armor types. Leaving aside the odd and ahistorical terms - "chain mail" (instead of just "mail) and later in AD&D, the almost non-sensical, "plate mail" - Gygax postulated a world in which different historical armor types existed side-by-side at the armor store. But in fact, mail was medieval, while plate was not. Plate armor came into its own during the renaissance period and after. And it was an improvement in every way over mail. It was more protective and lighter and cheaper. I doubt there ever was a time when, say, knights went into battle with some of them wearing mail and some of them wearing plate, or even a time when mail wearing knights confronted plate wearing knights.

Indeed, in most historical times and places, soldiers didn't really make choices as to armor types. Armor was just armor - made out of bronze, mail links, metal plates or what have you, based on the technology level and time period. You might have a bit of choice over the number of pieces you wore (or could afford to wear) but that was it.

It might be objected that historical accuracy is beside the point, that these are fantasy games we're talking about, etc., etc., but for Gygax, at least, who seemed to pride himself on getting this sort of thing right, it's a bit weird.

Regardless, the precedent was set.

I bit the bullet and used the unholy trinity of leather/mail/plate for Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, partly because I felt that it had become too canonical to leave out of an OD&D based game. I tried to make mail more attractive by making it much less encumbering than plate (again, inaccurately from an historical point of view), and by pumping up the constraints of encumbrance such that such a consideration would matter. I have to say, though, that that "compromise" still annoys me a bit.

I think the armor choices generally work for 1st edition T&T, though I still have my reservations about the piece thing. And I don't know about that tower shield. Why not just allow warriors to drag a metal sheet down into the dungeon and ask the monsters to hold up for a moment before you set it up?

An extensive armor list was part of the "pump up the volume" vibe of Tunnels & Trolls. You like armor? Have more armor! And don't forget your Viking spike shield. Here, catch...

Next: Where Did All the Magic Items Go?

--------------------

This is a multi-part review series focusing on the 1st edition of Tunnels & Trolls. I also discuss the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D), the early history of the hobby, later developments in Tunnels & Trolls and game design in general.

The 1st edition of Tunnels & Trolls was authored by Ken St. Andre in the spring of 1975. It was a 41 page, typewriter-written document, from which 100 photocopies were created. These were sold to friends and fellow gamers in Phoenix, Arizona, with some of the remainder being offered at the Westercon 28 gaming convention in Oakland, California. Within a few months, St. Andre entered into an agreement with the play-by-mail wargame company, Flying Buffalo, and a 2nd edition of Tunnels & Trolls was officially published at the end of the year. Many more editions followed, including the iconic 5th edition in 1979, which would remain in print, in much the same form, until 2012.

In 2013, as part of the Kickstarter campaign for Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, St. Andre donated his only remaining copy of the 1st edition to be used as an incentive. Flying Buffalo later released a PDF of that copy, based on a precise scan of the original document, and including a new one-page introduction by St. Andre and a new back cover. It can now be purchased on RPGNow for $1.95.

At that price, it is now the best "steal" in the hobby. And it acts as a fascinating historical introduction to one of the best values in the hobby, the comprehensive 386 page current edition of Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

1e Tunnels & Trolls, Part 10: Weapons

Ouch (Rob Carver, 1st edition, p. 34)
20. Weapons

So, I've spent a fair amount of space talking about how Tunnels & Trolls imitated (or didn't imitate) Dungeons & Dragons. Now I'm going to look at a case where Dungeons & Dragons imitated Tunnels & Trolls.

When you consider the 1978 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook, what's the first thing you think of? Okay, the art. What's the next thing you think of? For me, it's that extensive list of weapons, including the ones with funny and misleading names, such as Bohemian Ear Spoon and Lucerne Hammer. (Both of them were pole arms - the ear spoon wasn't a spoon and the hammer wasn't a hammer.)

The list was a huge expansion over the list provided in OD&D's Men & Magic, published in 1974, as well as the slightly longer list included in the first supplement, Greyhawk, published in 1975, and that of the Holmes Basic Set, first published in 1977.

Now, some of the Players Handbook weapons were first introduced in the second issue of The Strategic Review, released in the summer of 1975.

But the first role-playing game to feature an extensive weapons list in its rule set was, you guessed it, Tunnels & Trolls in 1975.

Here's the full breakdown:

Weapons in Men & Magic (18):

Dagger, Hand Axe, Mace, Sword, Battle Axe, Morning Star, Flail, Spear, Pole Arm, Halberd, Two-Handed Sword, Lance, Pike, Short Bow, Long Bow, Composite Bow, Light Crossbow, and Heavy Crossbow.

Additional Weapons in Greyhawk (3):

Hammer, Military Pick and Arquebus.

Weapons in 1st edition, Tunnels & Trolls (83):

Swords
Claymore, Flamberge (greatsword), Yataghan, Bastard Sword (hand & a half), Broadword, Talibong, Falchion, Shamsheer, Tulwar, Cinqueda, Cutlass, Damascus Sword, Epee, Gladius, Kris, Rapier, Saber, Scimitar, Shotel and Terbutje.

Pole Weapons
Billhook, Catchpole, Halbard, Harpin, Partizan, Poleaxe, Ranseur, Scythe, Voulge and Guisarme.

Hafted Weapons
Bec-de-corbin, Great Axe, War Hammer, Heavy Mace, Morningstar, Bullova, Heavy Flail, Light Flail, Broad Axe, Taper Axe, Mitre, Francisca, Pickaxe, Piton Hammer and Crowbar.

Daggers
Bich'hwa, Bodkin, Misericorde, Dirk, Jambiya, Katar, Poniard, Sax, Main gauche, Stilletto and Swordbreaker.

Spears
Pike, Spontoon, Phalanx Spear, Pilum, Oxtongue (Hasta), Assegai, Spear and Javelin.

Bows
Arbalest, Cranequin, Light Crossbow, Dokyu, Prodd, Composite Bow, Longbow and Self Bow (small).

Other Missile Weapons
Staff Sling, Common Sling and Chakram.

Weird Weapons
Ankus, Bakh Nakh, Bola, Quarterstaff, Spearthrower, All-atl, Blowgun and War Fan.

For good measure, directly below Weird Weapons, there was also a short list of poisons to put on your weapons:

Curare
Dragon Venom
Hellfire Juice

By the way, the list of 83 weapons listed in 1st edition Tunnels & Trolls was actually 33% longer than the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook formal list. That one had only 59 weapons. I won't name them.

But here's another funny thing, and I hope the original author of Tunnels & Trolls, Ken St. Andre, gets a laugh out of this. In an earlier review, I mentioned that the list of spells in 1st edition T&T contained almost exactly the same number of spells as the list in OD&D's Men & Magic (69 vs. 70). Above, I said that AD&D listed 59 weapons, But the weapons list in the AD&D Player's Handbook also has additional pole arms and other weapons subsumed in the formal offerings. For example, the Ranseur "includes Chauves Souris, Ransom, Rhanca, Roncie, Runka." And the Scimitar "includes Cutlass, Sabre, Sickle-sword, Tulwar, etc." (I love that "etc.") If you add those 19 additional weapons in, and give an extra 5 points to the "etc." and the unnamed weapons alluded to after Short Sword - "includes all pointed & thrusting weapons with blade length between 15" and 24" - than the T&T versus AD&D weapons tallies come out exactly even at 83 apiece.

But, this time, Tunnels & Trolls got there first.

The T&T weapons list is yet another case where Tunnels & Trolls was actually more detailed than Dungeons & Dragons, even in its later editions.

I hope I've upset the assumptions of the, so to speak, role-playing game evolutionists, who imagine that weapon lists got longer and more detailed as the hobby progressed. Not so. They were right there from the very beginning (or almost the beginning) in the 1975 edition of Tunnels & Trolls.

It's also very important to note that St. Andre included detailed statistics for all the weapons - their dice and "adds", weight, cost, minimum dexterity needed to wield, minimum strength needed to wield and dexterity loss imposed when used with a second weapon, along with various special notes - from the utilitarian (a Main Gauche will absorb 1 hit for you if used with a sword in the other hand) to the whimsical (an Ankus may be used to control elephants).

These weapons varied in their effects, by definition much more than the weapons of OD&D's Men & Magic (where all weapons did 1 die of damage), but also varied more than the souped up variants offered in Greyhawk. Against man-sized opponents, a Greyhawk Two-Handed Sword only did slightly more than double the average damage of a Dagger (1-10 hits vs. 1-4 hits) but in Tunnels & Trolls, a Greatsword did triple or more the average damage of a typical dagger. To look at it from the two extremes, in 1st edition Tunnels & Trolls, you're much better off being stabbed by a Bodkin (1 die minus 2 hits) than impaled by a quarrel from an Arbalest (7 dice of hits).

Lots of weapons: Bad or Good?

Why have so many weapons?

Well, why not have so many weapons?

In various articles and interviews, St. Andre has said that in designing Tunnels & Trolls, he first went to the library (I assume that was not difficult - he was a librarian) and sat down with a stack of books on monsters and weapons. I can't know what he was thinking, but I imagine it was something like: D&D is a bit too boring and generic in the weapons department. This is swords and sorcery. You want swords? Okay have 20 of them (and 10 pole arms, 9 daggers, etc.). D&D had generic sounding names for mostly medieval, renaissance or even post-renaissance European weapons. T&T spiced up that list with further European examples, but also added Ancient Greek and Roman, Persian, Arab, Indian, Japanese and even Central American weapons.

If D&D had a diverse monster list from many myths and traditions, why shouldn't T&T have a diverse weapons list from many different cultures?

As a small-time game designer, I've done much more thinking about weapons than is healthy. Or, rather, I've done much more thinking about weapon lists than is healthy. I don't think their purpose is to influence the game system one way or another (although once one has a particular list, their effect - their relative strengths and costs, etc., - will and should come into play). Nor, once one goes beyond a certain point, is player choice really the issue. Rather, the list itself sets a certain tone for your game. It's part - I think an important part - of the game's aesthetic. For example, including firearms, even primitive firearms on a list, whether the players will ever be able to locate them or afford them or not, says something about the aesthetic you're trying to create.

If I may say so, I think St. Andre's multiplicity of death dealing items was not inappropriate for the freewheeling and open-ended vibe he was trying to establish. It was culturally neutral, not in the sense of D&D's neutral sounding names, but in the even-handed manner in which so many cultures were represented.

For my own game, Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, I almost included some of the middle-eastern weapons used in T&T, or, rather, almost replaced some of the standard weapons with their more "exotic" counterparts. In the end, I didn't, preferring not to "prejudice" the tone too much. Or, I should say, preferring to let the slightly middle-eastern flavor come out in other ways. But it was a close thing.

When I first saw the T&T list, I felt that the author should have left some of the additional European pole arms and such, off. Quite honestly, I just don't like pole arms, especially all the renaissance and reformation quasi-ceremonial ones. One or maybe two are enough for me. Gary Gygax and I would have been enemies on that one. But then - on the question of the T&T list - I thought I was probably being too much of a Europhobic prude. It's T&T, after all, not Zylarthen, Al-Qadim or Bushido.

I'm sure St. Andre would say, if you don't like the Voulge, you don't have to use the Voulge.

A few final points. Most weapons in 1st edition T&T had strength minimums. So, one of the advantages of adding to one's strength score, as the reward of gaining experience, was to be able to finally use that Claymore (minimum strength: 15) or, Eureka!, that Great Axe (minimum strength: 21). A warrior with only a somewhat above average strength would have to advance two or three levels at a minimum to be able to heft those monstrosities. That mechanic is nice, and I think (if I recall correctly) it would be imitated by The Fantasy Trip and numerous other related systems that would shortly follow.

Finally, the original weapons list of T&T would remain substantially unchanged through its later editions. The only major change was the addition of a glossary in the 5th edition. I'm sure many people think glossaries are wonderful.

I don't. Why must everything be explained? Or, to put it another way, why must the author do all the work? Or to put it another way, why must the reader always be treated like a child who must not only have everything explained to them, but must also have pictures?

I didn't know what a Bich'hwa was until I looked it up a few days ago. It was fun looking it up. And yes, it would even have been fun, forty years ago, when I would have used a book. It also might have been fun not knowing. You know, like that ear spoon.

I'll let St. Andre have (almost) the last word on this (1st edition Tunnels & Trolls, p. 32):
Originally, we meant to give you a glossary along with this chart, but we have decided to let you do the work for yourself in order to save space. If you see an unfamiliar name just look it up.
You (the reader) are not a child. And one of these days, you might even be able to carry a Great Axe.

Next: Armor.

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This is a multi-part review series focusing on the 1st edition of Tunnels & Trolls. I also discuss the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D), the early history of the hobby, later developments in Tunnels & Trolls and game design in general.

The 1st edition of Tunnels & Trolls was authored by Ken St. Andre in the spring of 1975. It was a 41 page, typewriter-written document, from which 100 photocopies were created. These were sold to friends and fellow gamers in Phoenix, Arizona, with some of the remainder being offered at the Westercon 28 gaming convention in Oakland, California. Within a few months, St. Andre entered into an agreement with the play-by-mail wargame company, Flying Buffalo, and a 2nd edition of Tunnels & Trolls was officially published at the end of the year. Many more editions followed, including the iconic 5th edition in 1979, which would remain in print, in much the same form, until 2012.

In 2013, as part of the Kickstarter campaign for Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, St. Andre donated his only remaining copy of the 1st edition to be used as an incentive. Flying Buffalo later released a PDF of that copy, based on a precise scan of the original document, and including a new one-page introduction by St. Andre and a new back cover. It can now be purchased on RPGNow for $1.95.

At that price, it is now the best "steal" in the hobby. And it acts as a fascinating historical introduction to one of the best values in the hobby, the comprehensive 386 page current edition of Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls.