Monday, April 17, 2017

1e Tunnels & Trolls, Part 7: Classes, Experience and Levels

Warrior with armor and sword, Magic-User with rose (Liz Danforth, 4th edition, back cover)

Yesterday, I looked at the 1st edition, Tunnels & Trolls rogue. Today I'll discuss the other classes, as well as the experience point and level system.

As in Dungeons & Dragons, in Tunnels & Trolls, once you have rolled up your six primary attributes, you select a character class. In the 1st edition of T&T, Ken St. Andre suggests that, considering the three primary attributes - strength, intelligence and luck - if strength is highest, you should choose warrior, if intelligence is highest, you should choose magic-user, and if luck is highest, you should choose rogue. But given that all three classes make use of all three attributes to some degree, and given that attributes can increase, those recommendations are only a guide.

13. Warriors

The primary advantages that warriors have (at least over magic-users) is that they can use more powerful weapons (magic-users are restricted to one-die weapons) and they get to add bonuses to their combat rolls if they have above average totals in strength, luck or dexterity.

When a warrior gains a level, he may increase his combat adds (by increasing strength, luck or dexterity) or his hit points (by increasing his constitution). In addition, an increased strength attribute may allow him to wield a heavier and thus more powerful weapon. For example, no 1st level warrior can use a great axe - one of the most effective weapons in the game. But a warrior with a starting strength of 16, 17 or 18 just might be able to wield one at 3rd level.

One implicit difference between OD&D and 1st edition Tunnels & Trolls is the importance placed on magic weapons. In the OD&D's three "little brown books," while only fighting-men can wield swords (magic users are restricted to daggers, and clerics to blunt weapons), there isn't technically any difference in the damage or hit probabilities of non-magical swords vs. any other weapon. All non-magical weapons do one die of damage. But fighting-men are the only ones who can wield magic swords. Indeed, a mid- to high-level fighting-man is almost expected to have such a sword (or two or three). Tunnels & Trolls has no list of magic weapons, and, even the existence of magic swords is barely mentioned. That doesn't mean, of course, that the Tunnel Master cannot seed his tunnel complex with such items if he so desires, but he is not explicitly encouraged to do so by the rules. One is left with the impression that the power of a fighter in Tunnels & Trolls is based much more on his own abilities than on what magic weapons he may acquire.

14. Magic-Users

Magic-Users may cast spells (obviously), which will require steadily higher intelligence and dexterity scores at each level. In addition, strength is also important, as most spells come with a strength "cost." And money also comes into play, as after 1st level, all spells must be purchased from the wizard's guild.

Magic staffs (apparently always available for a price) come in three versions, from "Deluxe" to a temporarily enchanted stick. These will to some degree ameliorate the strength costs of certain spells.

In 1st edition T&T, spells are more briefly described than even the fairly minimalist treatments they get in the 3 LLB's. This might seem to potentially lead to confusion or even "broken" results in some cases. But as with the 3 LLB's, the application of common sense rulings is implied and expected.

From an OD&D perspective, one natural question to ask is whether or not T&T magic-users can wear armor. The answer would appear to be yes.

What to say about this (especially if one thinks it is heresy)? I think there are three possible answers:

1. It's T&T, not D&D. Get over it.

2. While the rules do not explicitly say this, the carry allowances for different levels of strength might discourage magic-users from wearing armor, or at least, too much armor. After casting a particularly fatiguing spell, one wouldn't want to find one's self collapsing under the weight of one's own suit of plate.

3. If he felt strongly enough about it, the Tunnel Master could simply ban armor for magic-users (and perhaps do something similar for rogues).

Did early T&T players look at the armor issue as a feature to be embraced or a bug to be house-ruled away? I honestly have no idea.

15. Demi-humans

OD&D explicitly allowed players to choose three demi-human classes - dwarves, elves and hobbits. In general, these "race as class" categories had strong at-start advantages. The downside was that their level advancement was capped.

After describing Halflings, Gygax would then write:
There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top, i.e., a player wishing to be a Dragon would have to begin as let us say, a "young" one and progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign referee.
But I think this advice was mostly forgotten.

For his part, St. Andre added leprechauns, fairies and were-creatures into the mix. And he introduced an attribute modification system for those who wanted to play these "bizarre folk." So, for example, T&T suggests that Hobbits should have half-the strength of a man but double the constitution. That some demi-human categories appear to have no downside - dwarves get double strength and constitution without any compensating decreases - or no upside - leprechauns get half strength and constitution without any compensating increases - is a minor annoyance that the referee can easily correct. (Later editions would also correct it.)

16. Experience

In OD&D, experience is gained primarily by finding treasure, but also for defeating monsters. 1st edition T&T uses these, but also includes four additional ways to gain experience points:

1. Daring: Upon returning the surface, characters get points based on the deepest dungeon level that they penetrated (or perhaps dipped a toe into).

2. Using Magic: Magic Users and rogues get experience points for casting spells that require a strength expenditure (pretty much all of them).

3. Magic Items: Characters receive experience points for bringing magic items to the surface. Of course, Dungeons Dragons would add this in later editions.

4. Saving Rolls: A successful saving roll confers experience based on the level of the dungeon it was made in.

These are all useful ideas - I particularly like Daring. Whether the list is an improvement or not depends on how one feels about adding a bit more complexity to the process of gaining experience. This is another example of where 1st edition Tunnels & Trolls was emphatically not simpler than OD&D. Whether this makes it richer or just more annoyingly fussy is a question of personal taste.

Interestingly, gaining experience for finding treasure would be eliminated a few years later in the 5th edition of T&T. Now, for fantasy adventure games, I've always strongly preferred an experience system primarily based on treasure. Among other things, it gives one a clear and obvious incentive for finding it (and an incentive to not necessarily always fight). One could argue, however, that because T&T had other uses for money - the most obvious one being the requirement that spells had to be purchased - assigning experience points to its acquisition was somewhat superfluous. But I'm not sure how this argument applies to warriors. After all, great axes are not very expensive.

17. Levels

Like OD&D, characters in T&T become more powerful by gaining levels - made possible by accumulating experience points. Players of 5th edition Tunnels & Trolls may be surprised to discover that the 1st edition had a robust list of level titles. Warriors went from recruit, warrior and veteran (levels 1, 2 and 3) to marquis, duke and count (levels 9, 10 and 11) all the way up to monarch, superhero and emperor (levels 15, 16 and 17). Arguably, a few of these titles didn't really make sense. St. Andre acknowledged this in the 4th edition, removing or changing the titles linked to economic class. And all level titles would vanish in the 5th edition. Whether this was due to copyright worries or other reasons is unknown.

Personally, I love level titles. My own view is that even an imperfect level title list is better than none. OD&D had its share of odd or silly titles (Vicar, anyone?). But all of them would be prudishly eliminated in later editions of D&D. For both T&T and D&D, the elimination of level titles was a loss.

In Tunnels & Trolls, while levels themselves have some mechanical effects - a magic-user at 5th level and above can "make up spells" but only if they are lower than his current level - they do not themselves increase one's general power, especially one's combat power, in the same hugely important way as they do in OD&D. Perhaps the most important effect of gaining a level in T&T is that it gives you the option of increasing the value of one of your attributes: You can increase an attribute by anything from half the value of the new level attained to double the value of the new level attained. So, for example, a character going from 5th to 6th level could, among other things, increase his intelligence level by 3, increase his strength by 6 or (hold onto your hats) increase his luck by 12.

It cannot be more strongly stated that this is a very different mechanic than that of OD&D. Whether you like it or not is, I suppose, in some sense subjective. But one of its obvious strong points is that it adds an interesting amount of strategic choice to the process of gaining a level. For example, Magic-users must constantly balance their need for more intelligence, dexterity and strength. And of course, everyone can also always use more luck and constitution.

Someday, Rufus may even acquire more charisma . . .

Next: Monsters!


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.


  1. Love this series. Keep up the good work. I just discovered 1st edition T&T through Rpgnow after twenty years of playing rpgs - and i never delved into its rules.

  2. Now, for fantasy adventure games, I've always strongly preferred an experience system primarily based on treasure. Among other things, it gives one a clear and obvious incentive for finding it (and an incentive to not necessarily always fight).