Friday, April 7, 2017

1e Tunnels & Trolls, Part 1: Sex, Jokes and a 1917 Remington

Rob Carver, back cover of 1st edition reprint, Tunnels & Trolls

I wrote a bit of first-person background to this, yesterday.

The following is not a review of Tunnels & Trolls. Rather, it's a review of one particular document, the 1st edition of Tunnels & Trolls, released in July of 1975. That Tunnels & Trolls is often called the second fantasy role-playing game ever published is based on this document (though, arguably, Empire of the Petal Throne was second).

The game has gone through some changes over the years and editions. Which changes it has gone through, and how, say, the current most recent "Deluxe" edition (see here or here) differs from the first incarnation are interesting questions, but I will only briefly touch on them in the review.

An authentic physical copy of the 1st edition is almost impossible to find. Only 100 were printed, and many were probably destroyed. However, acquiring a copy of the PDF "reprint" of it is easy and ridiculously cheap. You can purchase one for $1.95 at RPGNow.

In a sense, I'm reviewing something that very few people ever actually owned or read. Of course, more people would be exposed to the substantially similar editions of Tunnels & Trolls that soon followed in the next few years. But part of what I find interesting about looking at the 1st edition is that, as small as the print run was, it represents the first published thoughts of one of the hobby's earliest pioneers.

The author of Tunnels & Trolls, Ken St. Andre, was sort of a mirror image of Gary Gygax, the primary author of Dungeons & Dragons. They both were opinionated, bookish and funny, each with a distinctively quirky writing style that was never boring. Perhaps the chief difference between them was that, unlike Gygax, St. Andre didn't come from a miniatures or wargaming background. Rather, he came from the world of fantasy stories and comics. It's notable that, as a librarian in Phoenix, St. Andre was physically removed from the midwestern milieux of Gygax, Dave Arneson and other early gamers.

St. Andre didn't think of Tunnels & Trolls as an imitation of D&D but as an alternative. Here is how he put it in a 1982 article:
Back in December of 1974 I began to hear rumors of this game called Dungeons & Dragons. It sounded fabulous - something that every true fantasy lover would need to own and play. In April of 1975 I finally saw a copy of D&D. A couple of hours later I put down the D&D rulebooks (and I have never looked at D&D rules again) and said, 'What a great idea! What lousy execution! Nobody can play this. I'll write my own rules that my friends and I can play.' And I stalked out into the night, went home, sat down and started the end of my first day of writing the two systems were already radically different.
So, there you have it, St. Andre thought D&D was "lousy." The mechanics of Tunnels & Trolls are quite different from those in the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons. And the rules for combat, among other things, are easier to understand than the cryptic, lacunae-filled first book of D&D - Men & Magic. The tone of Tunnels & Trolls is also lighter, which is one way the games would be differentiated over the years.

But relative to contemporary mainstream role-playing offerings such as, say, 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, the two early games appear much more similar. I think there's a sense of fun and wonder that practically bursts out of the text in both games - with D&D perhaps having a bit more of the wonder and T&T a bit more of the fun. As I said yesterday, the reader of either game senses a twinkle in the eye of the author. One doesn't get that sense when reading a modern "core-book."

Let's start in with the review:

1. A 1917 Remington

The 2013 PDF reprint is, as far as I know, an exact reprint of the 1975 edition. However, it does add a one-page contemporary introduction by St. Andre. The piece is quite informative and useful, and I've already incorporated some of its information into this and the previous post. St. Andre writes: "I didn't invent fantasy roleplaying, but I did simplify it." And he later importantly adds, "I first showed the world that there is no one true way to role play."

He tells us that the illustrations for the first edition were all created in a day (except for the cover) and that the text was typed up on "my 1917 left-handed Remington typewriter."


The master copy of this old-school game document was produced on a typewriter manufactured one-hundred years ago. If that's not old-school, I'm Ed Greenwood.

2. Sex and Unicorns

St. Andre reveals elsewhere that he originally wanted to call the game "Tunnels & Troglodytes." Wiser heads prevailed. There would be tunnels and there would be trolls. So, how did he illustrate the cover of the game? There are no tunnels and no trolls. Instead, there's a unicorn, standing on a grassy bank, watching a nude (it is assumed - some of her is under the surface of the lake or pool) woman giving herself a sensual bath. I don't want to overemphasize the sensual part (though it's certainly present) but rather, the wonder. Here's a window into a fantastic world: Don't you want to go there?

This sort of tone wasn't original. You can find much the same thing on the covers of fantasy paperbacks and magazines from the 1970s going back to the 1920s. But it's a particular style that is largely absent in games today. A black and purple beholder charging at you amidst crashing lightning isn't exactly the same.

3. Jokes and More Sex

The Table of Contents sets the tone for the work (as all good tables of contents should). It's labeled "CONTENTS," with "(and malcontents)" written underneath. One's eyes naturally jump to what's promised on page 19, partly because it's the first line that includes a portion in parenthesis:
Elaborations (and portrait of naked amazon).
Of course, D&D also included a naked amazon in its first edition (see blog masthead, above). Naked amazons were obviously a thing in those days. (I can't imagine why. Can you?) But St. Andre, always helpful, was kind enough to also telegraph it in the Contents. He ends the Contents page - appropriately, in hindsight - with:
A COSMIC CIRCLE production. Copyright June, 1975. Phoenix, Arizona. Legendary and justifiably infamous first edition.

On page 3, is the obligatory short explanation of the game. A number of things are notable. First this:
Brave men and women arm themselves and venture within the tunnels at risk of body and soul.
What do you notice about it? Well, I actually didn't catch it at first, but on second reading, I realized that the game's very first description of player-characters mentions women. That may not seem significant by contemporary standards, but in the world of gaming, circa 1975 - a world inhabited almost entirely by young to middle-aged men - it stands out. By comparison, guess how many times the words "woman" or "women" were used in the three original booklets of Dungeons & Dragons?


That's right, zero. Now, "female" was used a number of times in original D&D. However, it was used exclusively in the monster section, as in this part of Dragons - "If the female is attacked the male will attack at double value," - or this part of Centaurs - "Females are not generally armed and will not fight, and the young are also non-combatant." Thus, at least according to the text, females seem to exist solely so that males can get extra mad protecting them, or so that the children will have someone to be with them in the back of the cave. It's true that, in addition to this, there were illustrations of women in the original booklets - three witches, a medusa and a naked amazon. But if one wants to argue against the proposition that original D&D wasn't at least a bit, shall we say, cold when it comes to women, those illustrations do not help the case.

Perhaps one shouldn't make too much of it, but for all of Ken St. Andre's quasi-adolescent and even "sexist" banter (wait till you see the "joke" on page 8), Tunnels & Trolls did explicitly signal from the beginning that fantasy role-playing wasn't just for men only. Perhaps this was partly due to it being inspired by literature and comics (where there were some female characters) instead of wargaming (where virtually all of the fictional participants - soldiers - were male).

Here is the second thing that jumped out at me - the use of the word "dig"as in:
Someone must create (dig) and stock a dungeon with monsters, magic and treasure.
The image will be used more prominently, two pages later, to title a section: "DIGGING THE DUNGEON."

The Dungeon Master digs a dungeon. I have never seen that term used anywhere else (and it seems to have remained in all the editions). But I find it charming.

Speaking of "Dungeon Master," Here's the very first use of that term in game print. Following up on the sentence above, St. Andre writes:
The person who does that has godlike powers over his own dungeon, but is expected to be fair to the other players. The Dungeon Master (D.M.) may not play as a character inside his own dungeon.
Wikipedia claims: "The title [Dungeon Master] was invented for the TSR Dungeons & Dragons RPG, and was introduced in the second supplement to the game rules (Blackmoor)."

However, Blackmoor wasn't published until the late Fall of 1975, four or five months after St. Andre had used the term in Tunnels & Trolls.

So did St. Andre originate the term? I don't think so. In his Playing at the World, historian Jon Peterson cites the appearance of Dungeonmaster in a February, 1975 issue of the APA-L - a Los Angeles-based fan publication. So, the term was out there already. It's possible it can be traced back to Tactical Studies Rules or Gygax/Arneson and their gaming groups. But unless I'm missing something, the first person to use it in "official" print was St. Andre. Curiously, Tunnels & Trolls would remove the term from subsequent editions due to lawsuit worries.

Finally, I liked this:
The game is played something like Battleship. The individual player cannot see the board. Only the D.M. knows what is in the dungeon.
Comparing the then brand-new concept of fantasy role-playing to Battleship is an obviously useful metaphor, and would have been especially resonant in the 1970's when Battleship was very popular, but I've never seen it used before or since. By the 5th edition, only a few years later, it was gone. Perhaps it was taken out for copyright reasons.

Next: Troll Talk, Characters and a Juvenile and Offensive Joke.


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. This is really great! I'm eagerly awaiting part 2

  2. In my opinion, it is good to compare the OSR experience to a board game experience. I like to think of it as a board game - plus - rather than the predecessor of a modern RPG or story game.

  3. Excellent as always, Mr. Oakes. I'd been avoiding learning about the obvious variants of D&D as I endeavored to re-read first all the original TSR material and OSR projects I'm interested in, but finally this one came up and I found it fascinating. What stands out for me is Ken's writing. It is natural and flows. I immediately want to curl up and read more. And the emphasis on SOLO dungeons! Who knew? They also pioneered published solo adventures of the Endless Quest and Fighting Fantasy book varieties well before any of the more well known ones came on the scene. My brothers and I were thoroughly addicted to Steve Jackson's Sorcery once upon a time. It's interesting for me to learn of its progenitor.