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):

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.

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

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

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:

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.


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.


  1. Loved this review & homage! You did a fantastic job, Oakes!

  2. Here's what the Strength attribute does in Melee:

    Strength governs:

    (1) how many hits a figure can take. "Hits" represent combat damage. The hits a figure takes are subtracted from its ST; when ST reaches 1 a figure collapses and cannot fight, and when ST reaches zero, that figure is dead.

    (2) what weapons a figure can use. Each weapon (shown on the Weapons table has a ST number. Only a figure whose ST begins at or above that number can use that weapon. (The fact that ST is reduced during a fight does not affect weapon use.

    (3) how well the figure does in unarmed combat (see Hand-to-hand combat.)


  3. IIRC, Classic Traveller has a similar mechanic for strength and damage as well as, if not minimums, then reduced effectiveness for low strength.

  4. Does this RPG have the best art ever or what? I may have to rethink my "crap art is the best RPG art" hypothesis.

    1. I love it. As I understand it, all the drawings except for the cover were created in a dorm room over the course of a few hours, as Ken St. Andre and Rob Carver traded jokes.

    2. I like T&T but I love that little detail. People should be more proud of their crappy homemade art!

      Also, nice post - never played T&T, but it is a very interesting game where you can see both permutations of D&D ideas and entirely new things. It is also a game that has never apologised for being a little silly. That's respectable.

  5. This is a wonderful review. I'm learning so much!

  6. Damn! He took one right in the pilum and bolas!