Friday, April 14, 2017

Game Review (Part 6): Tunnels & Trolls, 1st edition: Rogues

Liz Danforth illustration from 4th edition

12. Rogues

I'm going to digress for a moment here and, for a few paragraphs, talk about my own neo-clone, Seven Voyages of Zylarthen:

On Zylarthen, I once wrote:
For my part, instead of identifying what was wrong with the original game (OD&D), I wanted to identify what was right about it, and then, so to speak, double down (or even triple down!) on what was right about it in a way that, without the benefit of any hindsight, the original game didn't and of course couldn't do.
Part of that was replacing clerics with thieves.

The primary reason I did it was that I felt that thieves were much more true to what I identified as the classic swords and sorcery vibe of OD&D. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that clerics just didn't fit.

And thieves did.

After I altered the "unholy trinity" I almost forgot about it. The change just seemed so natural to me. But I was reminded of it again when a few commentators identified it as the main thing about my game. Eric Tenkar of Tenkar's Tavern wrote, "New OSR Ruleset . . . OD&D W/O Clerics + FREE." (Okay, FREE was another main thing.) I don't want to make too much of it, and I'm not being critical, just as I don't think Tenkar or others were exactly being critical of that aspect of Zylarthen.

So, I was actually surprised when I found out that Ken St. Andre did the same thing in 1975. I want to say "great minds think alike" but humility precludes that.

And speaking of humility, I now understand a bit more how St. Andre feels when people (perhaps even including me) seem to imply that he may have cribbed from D&D a bit more than he acknowledges. "I only looked at the game for an hour or two and then put it down," he has said.

Well, for my part, I never looked at Tunnels & Trolls. I didn't.

For the 1st edition of Tunnels & Trolls, St. Andre replaced clerics with rogues. The name was also a bit of a surprise, as I had always thought of "rogue" as a sort of more recent politically correct new-school appellation. We don't want to offend the thief community and all that.

It's possible that some of why T&T replaced clerics with thieves/rogues was a copyright thing, with the shadow of a jealous and potentially litigious Tactical Studies Rules looming over that second published role-playing game.

But I think the real reason was one of tone. There were fantasy archetypes for warriors (T&T's name for fighting-men) and magic-users - Conan and Gandalf being the most obvious examples. But no archetypes for clerics. Gygax would later try to push a pseudo-historical basis for clerics. But that always appeared forced to me.

On the other hand, thieves had many archetypes - the Gray Mouser and Cugel the Clever being the most prominent.

St. Andre would also say elsewhere that he didn't want to bring too much religion into a fantasy game setting. Believe it or not, I agree with that.

But now that one had thieves (or rogues), what were they exactly? Or, rather, what would they be in game terms?

I disliked the fussy mechanics of the Geyhawk thief, which also had the added downside of discouraging any kind of thiefy action by others. So, for Zylarthen I kept only a few thief abilities, preferring to let much of the thiefyness emerge organically from more general rules. Fighting-men or magic-users theoretically could do some thiefy things, but the fighters couldn't do them while wearing metal armor, and the magic users were too physically wimpy to stick their precious necks out. Thus, in practice, sneaking and the like would often fall to the thief.

But St. Andre went, as it were, full organic, including no explicit thief skills for rogues. Rather they were, simply, half warriors and half magic-users. This never occurred to me, but it should have. Among other things, it was actually more faithful to the archetypes, indeed, it fairly closely tracked, the abilities of the Gray Mouser and Cugel.

But then, what made them rogues? St. Andre also built that in. Among other things, while rogues could use magic, the wizards guild was too snobby to give them any spells. So they had to buy them from "legitimate" magic-users, or perhaps finagle them in some other, probably roguish, way. Undoubtedly, that embittered them and encouraged their questionable tendencies.

I think that little touch was brilliant.

Also, St. Andre's level titles for rogues gave a few unsubtle hints:

1. drunk roller
2. cut-purse
3. opportunist
4. con-artist
5. silver-tongued devil
6. gold-tongued devil
7. master rogue

By contrast, a 7th level, annoying do-gooder warrior was a "hero, 1st class."

1st edition Tunnels & Trolls capped rogues at 7th level. To continue advancing, they then had to switch to fighter or magic-user, and in the process, slide down a bit, to either 5th or 3rd level.

There seems to be a very minor controversy in the T&T community about whether the original conception was imperfect in the sense that, if looked at from one point of view, there was arguably no incentive for someone to start out as a warrior as opposed to a rogue. Rogues could do everything warriors could, as well as cast spells if they could afford them, and the fact that rogues had to switch and slide down after 7th level didn't seem that onerous. After all, they would still keep their earned attribute increases (or so the rules seemed to imply). Some changes were, thus, made in subsequent additions to "beef up" original warriors - they could double the protection effect of their armor, for example.

But even if there was such a technical loophole, it doesn't seem to have been a big deal among most early T&T players. I suspect that in those days there were fewer "power gamers." You didn't pick a class because you thought it would help you win (or win better), but, rather, you picked a class because you simply wanted to be a Conan (or a Gandalf or a Cugel).

Conan wasn't a drunk-roller.

So in original Tunnels & Trolls you could be a warrior, a magic-user or a rogue.

But what about hobbits?

We'll look at that tomorrow.


  1. Don't want to spoiler you for 5th, but I never knew there were level titles in T&T.

  2. Continuing to enjoy your comments about T&T and its early incarnation. I didn't play T&T until the 5th edition about 1979. Most of my time was spent with the solos, but I did have the honor to play in some of Ken's adventures at the Flying Buffalo store. I also got to play in Ricks live demo of Buffalo Castle and with Mike Stackpole, Liz Danforth and Bear Peters a few times back then. It was always special when one of them would run us in their latest adventure and I wish I had gotten really deep into their campaigns, but I was too late to that party - lol.