Saturday, April 8, 2017

1e Tunnels & Trolls, Part 2: Troll Talk, Character Creation and a Tasteless Joke

Iconic illustration  (Rob Carver, 1st edition, p. 12) 

5. Was Tunnels & Trolls Different From Dungeons & Dragons?

Before continuing this, for the most part sequential, review, I want to address an important general issue. (We'll do it in a general way, here, and then return to it in detail, later.)

As mentioned previously, the author of Tunnels & Trolls, Ken St. Andre, would always maintain that he had designed a very different game from Dungeons & Dragons. He states this explicitly on page 4 of the 1st edition:
[T]his is basically a completely different game, bearing about the same relationship to D&D as Careers does to Monopoly or Chevrolet to Ford.
From the perspective of 2017, where the role-playing universe contains hundreds of "clones" or variants of D&D, Tunnels & Trolls is clearly not D&D. It's combat mechanic is very different, there are no hit points in the conventional sense, all the spells have different names, the descriptions and special abilities of the monsters are different (or rather, there are no monster descriptions or lists of monster special abilities at all), but the suggested framework for how you create or classify them is quite different. And so on.

But from the point of view of 1975, St. Andre's claim could easily have been challenged. Remember that the concept of fantasy role-playing was almost entirely new, and most people were completely unfamiliar with the very idea. Here is one way that Dungeon's & Dragons might have been introduced to a novice:
How do you play Dungeons & Dragons? Well, imagine that you, or an alter-ego - your "character" - are inside a fictional fantasy world similar to Howard's Hyboria or Tolkien's Middle-Earth. Your character is a hero in that world - for example, a fighter or warrior like Conan, or a magic-user, like Gandalf. (There's also an option to play a non-human character, such as a dwarf, elf or hobbit.) To determine the starting abilities of your character, you roll three dice, six times in order to create scores from 3 to 18 in strength, intelligence, constitution, dexterity and the like. All humans speak "The Common Tongue" but based on a character's intelligence score, he might also speak additional languages. In addition, your character starts with 30 to 180 "gold pieces" - also determined by rolling three dice - which are then used to purchase weapons, armor and equipment from a list - anything from swords, battle axes and crossbows, to plate armor, to torches and a coil of rope. Your character may also engage hirelings or henchmen to give him a hand. The player-characters (and hirelings, henchmen, etc. if there are any) then proceed into a "dungeon" created by the "Dungeon Master" or "D.M." where they will attempt to vanquish hostile creatures - ghouls, zombies, wraiths, goblins, trolls, basilisks, dragons and the like - some of which were carefully placed, and some of which randomly appear as "wandering monsters." The characters will also, hopefully, find treasure in the form of copper, silver, gold, gems and magical items or objects. Killing monsters and amassing treasure gives characters "experience points," which allows them to gain higher "levels," each of which carries with it an evocative name - "Veteran," "Necromancer" and the like - and makes their character more powerful, able to hopefully take on more fearsome adversaries. Magic-users may also gain additional named "spells" from a list in the game-book. If your character gets in a jam, you may make a "saving" roll for him to get out of it. If you fail that or he is killed in some other way, you can always "create" another character.
The above may not be the greatest summary paragraph ever, but I think it fairly and accurately describes original Dungeons & Dragons. And, among other things, it uses only the words and terms set out in the rule-book.

How might the 1st edition of Tunnels & Trolls have been described to a role-playing novice in 1975? Again, we want to be accurate and only invoke words and terms used in the Tunnels & Trolls rule-book:
How do you play Tunnels & Trolls? Well, imagine that you, or an alter-ego - your "character" - are inside a fictional fantasy world similar to Howard's Hyboria or Tolkien's Middle-Earth. Your character is a hero in that world - for example, a fighter or warrior like Conan, or a magic-user, like Gandalf. (There's also an option to play a non-human character, such as a dwarf, elf or hobbit.) To determine the starting abilities of your character, you roll three dice, six times in order to create scores from 3 to 18 in strength, intelligence, constitution, dexterity and the like. All humans speak "The Common Tongue" but based on a character's intelligence score, he might also speak additional languages. In addition, your character starts with 30 to 180 "gold pieces" - also determined by rolling three dice - which are then used to purchase weapons, armor and equipment from a list - anything from swords, battle axes and crossbows, to plate armor, to torches and a coil of rope. Your character may also engage hirelings or henchmen to give him a hand. The player-characters (and hirelings, henchmen, etc. if there are any) then proceed into a "dungeon" created by the "Dungeon Master" or "D.M." where they will attempt to vanquish hostile creatures - ghouls, zombies, wraiths, goblins, trolls, basilisks, dragons and the like - some of which were carefully placed, and some of which randomly appear as "wandering monsters." The characters will also, hopefully, find treasure in the form of copper, silver, gold, gems and magical items or objects. Killing monsters and amassing treasure gives characters "experience points," which allows them to gain higher "levels," each of which carries with it an evocative name - "Veteran," "Necromancer" and the like - and makes their character more powerful, able to hopefully take on more fearsome adversaries. Magic-users may also gain additional named "spells" from a list in the game-book. If your character gets in a jam, you may make a "saving" roll for him to get out of it. If you fail that or he is killed in some other way, you can always "create" another character.
I hope you forgive me for doing that, but I felt that it was necessary to make a point. Tunnels & Trolls was decidedly not as different from Dungeons & Dragons as, say, Careers was from Monopoly, especially from the perspective of the time. With respect, what St. Andre claimed was, in one sense, absolute nonsense.

Do not misunderstand. I'm not arguing that Tunnels & Trolls was a shameless rip-off of D&D. Not at all. Rather, I'm claiming that even in those early days, where Dungeons & Dragons was the only fantasy role-playing game in existence, people were already starting to think of it not just as a game but as a genre. It was in that sense (and that sense only) that St. Andre's claim - that it was a different game, though implicitly within the same genre - was true.

I should clarify that the term "role-playing" was not mentioned by Gygax or St. Andre in their original works. Indeed, at that time, there didn't seem to be any general name to use for the embryonic genre beyond "Dungeons & Dragons" itself. In Playing at the WorldJon Peterson claims that the first published use of "role-playing," at least in this context, may ironically have been in a quasi-hostile wargaming magazine - SPI's Moves in the Fall of 1975. Tim Kask would use the term a few months later, in the final issue of The Strategic Review (April, 1976), more than two years after Dungeons & Dragons had first been released.

St. Andre didn't invent the genre. Gygax did. But Tunnels & Trolls established itself aggressively (with its one-hundred printed copies) as the second or third representative of it. If one reads the two identical summary paragraphs, above, as descriptions of a genre, not a game - complete with quasi-arbitrary aspects that would soon become canon - gold pieces, experience, levels and the like - then Tunnels & Trolls, with its gleeful simultaneous mass dice rolling to resolve combats, its alternative and less serious spell names, it's jettisoning of clerics in favor of "rogues" and so on, was certainly different.

It wasn't Careers vs. Monopoly. It wasn't even Chevrolet vs. Ford. Rather, it was perhaps a conservative model of Ford that one purchased in order to gut and then trick out, not with more stuff or fancier stuff, but a handful of new basic things to perform a few important functions - acceleration, top speed - better. It didn't have all the upgrades and extras, but that was okay. The driver could be more focused - when he wasn't making funny faces into the rear-view mirror.

Or at least that's how the new and slowly growing group of "Trolls," in Phoenix and elsewhere, might have seen it.

6. "TROLL TALK"

Like Gygax did in Men & Magic, St. Andre spent a page talking about the genesis of his game. As mentioned, above, he explicitly mentions Dungeons & Dragons (and explicitly thanks Gygax and Arneson), but he does this in part to assert how different has game is.

Some other notable things:

St. Andre is a bit more polite here about D&D than he would be later (he doesn't here say that the rules were "lousy"), but he obviously believes that his game is an improvement:
After several hours of examination of those rules [the three little brown books of original D&D], I reached the following two conclusions; (1) Ten Dollars was too much to pay for three little booklets of rules, and (2) the game could be simplified and changed in concept to retain the best parts of the original idea with better ideas substituted for the things I didn't like about D & D."
St. Andre also humbly let's us know that his first set of rules were "rotten and needed changing," and that the final version that would be the 1st edition emerged only after rigorous playtesting.

Lastly, St. Andre is explicit that the rules were not fixed, but were rather always subject to alteration by the players. Gygax would say much the same in the concluding paragraph of The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures, but St. Andre was, if anything, more forceful:
Lastly I wish to make one thing perfectly clear. This is not my game in any sense of the word except that I'm taking the trouble to get it printed so anyone who wants to can have a copy of the rules. Please feel free (as a Dungeon Master, not as a player-character) to modify and improve these basic rules as your imagination dictates to be right for you. You will recognize its successes by the enthusiasm of your dungeon-delvers, and likewise the opposite.
7. More on Jokes, Gags, Humor and Silliness

The section, DIGGING THE DUNGEON, is a one page summary for the Dungeon Master on how to create or "stock" a dungeon. As such, it's similar to some of text in The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures. As with Gygax's similar effort, St. Andre's summary is useful and inspiring.

But one thing jumped out - the author's explicit references to jokes and humor:
When you have finished designing the first level, begin on the second. You will want to make the monsters tougher, the treasure richer, the traps deadlier and more insidious, the jokes and gags funnier, and so forth, level by level as you go deeper [my emphasis].
So there you have it. Not only are the monsters more fearsome on, say, the ninth level, but the jokes are funnier! It's hard to know what that even might mean in practice, though of course, the advice itself might be thought of as sort of a joke.

At the bottom of the page under the heading, GENERAL RULES FOR DUNGEON DESIGNERS, St. Andre writes:
(3) Use as much humor as you can, but don't be silly or juvenile.
Both fans and critics of Tunnels & Trolls might be equally bemused here - make the jokes and gags funnier, but don't be silly about it? How does one do that? And, of course, as we'll soon see, the remainder of the text contained a few things both arguably silly, and unarguably juvenile.

8. Creating Characters

As implied in those identical summaries, character creation in Tunnels & Trolls is very similar to D&D. There are six abilities, from strength to charisma, which you roll up on three dice. You record these on a 3 x 5 card along with your physical possessions, languages known, experience points, etc.

Here are the major and minor differences with D&D:
  • Wisdom is replaced by luck.
  • There are no independently generated hit points. Rather, your constitution total is your hit point total.
  • It is implied that ability scores may change or go up as the campaign progresses.
  • One's strength determines how much one can carry, and that will vary wildly, being based simply on one's strength score multiplied by 100. (That it is indeed 100, yielding initial carrying allowances from 300 to 1800, is shown by example, though St. Andre erroneously writes 1000 in his explanation.) Carrying allowances would be explicitly introduced into D&D in its first supplement, Greyhawk, released at roughly the same time that St. Andre would be writing and playtesting Tunnels & Trolls. I assume he or his players had seen a copy. Regardless, the range is more extreme in Tunnels & Trolls.
  • It is implied that monster languages will be a little more general than in original D&D or, later, AD&D - Undead appear to get their own language, there's a language called "Beast," etc. I suppose this in some ways resembles what would come many years later in the 3rd and later editions of Dungeons & Dragons.
How some of these differences might affect other mechanics, as well as the play of the game, will be investigated and discussed later.

9. A Tasteless Joke

I'm going to skip over character classes (leaving them for Part 3) and examine the very first part of the MONSTER MAKING section.

One way to see the differences in style between 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons and 1st edition Tunnels & Trolls is to look at the very first body text (as opposed to contents or heading) that appear in their respective Monster sections:

Here's Dungeons & Dragons (Monsters & Treasure, p. 3):
Special characteristics are dealt with in the separate paragraphs pertaining to each monster which follow this table.
And here's Tunnels & Trolls (p. 8):
Have you ever made a monster?
No, but if you can get her head in a paper sack, I'll try anything once!
Now, clearly, there's a difference between a "professional" game - released by a registered company, Tactical Studies Rules, for commercial distribution - and a typewritten document, authored by a then amateur, and "printed" in a set of 100 copies for largely at-cost distribution to friends and fellow-hobbyists. I should note, however, that the above "joke" survived in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th editions of Tunnels & Trolls, falling to an editor's pencil only in the much more professional and long-lived 5th edition.

But here's my opinion: I’ll take a juvenile sexist joke, or, at least, a young hobby where authors occasionally make juvenile sexist jokes in print, over the dumbed down, prudish, composed by committee, corporate, politically correct pap that passes for "writing" in, say, the current iteration of "the world’s most popular role-playing game," or the way-past-its-prime mainstream hobby that it represents, any day.

That felt good.

Next: A Digression on Spell Names.

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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 & TrollsSt. Andre donated his only remaining copy of the 1st edition to be used as an incentive. Flying Buffalo later released 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.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing this. Tunnels and Trolls has been back game I've been interested to learn more about

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  2. Hi. Two things real quick. Playing at the World ascribes the earliest use of "role-playing" for this genre of games to SPI reviewers in Moves magazine in the fall of 1975, not to Tim Kask in 1976 (though I do mention that Strategic Review piece as an early TSR adoption of the term). Second, the use of "dungeonmaster" I cite in February 1975 is in APA-L, not Alarums - Alarums didn't start until June. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Apologies for the mistakes and thanks for the corrections. The posts have been edited to reflect them.

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