Friday, May 5, 2017

1e Tunnels & Trolls, Part 13: Where Did All the Equipment Go?

Pete Mullen, The Dungeoneers, featuring rope, a torch and a hip wizard's suit

22. Where Did All the Equipment Go?

1st edition Tunnels & Trolls has a pretty thin equipment list:
That this minimal selection was not just an oversight of the original edition is shown by the fact that the iconic 5th edition of Tunnels & Trolls, four years later, would present the 1975 list with only two additions - a Delver's Package (small bronze mirror, a few sticks of wax, some chalk, salt, short length of twine, and more matches) and a Spare skin of oil. (The two magic staffs were also available in the 1st edition but were not featured on the formal list.)
That early Tunnels & Trolls skimped so much on dungeoneering equipment, while going hyper on additional weapons and armor is another example of an area in which T&T did not try to emulate Dungeons & Dragons.

My guess, and it's only a guess, is that Ken St. Andre felt that too many equipment options slowed down character creation. It's true that the author explicitly stated that many more things were available than what was on the formal list. At the same time, one assumes that that was not an implicit invitation for players to negotiate with the DM about buying everything under the sun. That would presumably take up even more time than just giving players a longer list.

So, I also have a feeling that, overall, T&T put a bit less emphasis on exploration, resource management and the art and science of dungeoneering than many have ascribed to OD&D, or at least than many have ascribed to OD&D as "ideally" played.

That's simpler. Whether it's simpler in a good way or a bad way is up to you.

I admit that I'm a bit more sympathetic to the ideal OD&D conception here. I also think early T&T missed an opportunity to give a bit more flavor to its world. It's not that big a deal, but still.

What's the point of an equipment list in a fantasy game? Well, one point, obviously, is to list what equipment the player-characters can have - and, thus, to implicitly indicate what the player-characters can do. But the other equally, if not more important purpose, is to give the reader or player information about what the fantasy world is like, conforming to the principle of showing not telling.

Here is the list in Men & Magic, the first fantasy adventure game equipment list ever created:
What does one learn from such a list?
  • It's a quasi-medieval-type world with medieval-type weapons and armor (ignore that some of the weapons and armor aren't medieval exactly but more renaissance or even post-).
  • Even so, this somewhat primitive world still has different gradations or variations of technology - different makes of bows and crossbows, for example.
  • Resource management and accounting is fairly fine-grained - with costs given for arrows, torches, flasks of oil, etc.
  • There are horses and other items of land transportation available. The game is not all about exploring dungeons.
  • Some adventures may take place on the sea, and wealthy adventurers will often own ships.
  • Careful exploration, maneuvering and tactics in dungeons is recommended - there is a 10'pole, rope and spikes.
  • Adventurers are encouraged to plan for carrying things - perhaps treasure - out of the dungeon.
  • Dungeons are probably dark. One needs to bring artificial light.
  • There's a lot of supernatural, holy items vs. vampires and werewolves stuff going on.
  • Poison might sometimes come in handy.
  • Adventures are often multi-day expeditions that require "rations." But dungeons are in some sense tougher (though, it's not clear precisely how), requiring tougher rations.
  • And so on.
If all of this seems obvious or superfluous or whatever (you already knew it), remember that you didn't already know it in 1974. Some of these things would be elaborated on or explained elsewhere in the rules, but many of them wouldn't be. To a great extent, this simple list encapsulates much of what we have come to know and accept about Dungeons & Dragons and other similar games, including Tunnels & Trolls.

In my view, a one page list is ideal to give you a sense of the world and the place of player-characters in it. Some fantasy games (including subsequent editions of D&D) would go on to offer expanded lists. These often amounted to pointless bloat, adding little to game play or the picture of the world portrayed. There are are, however, exceptions.

Here's the list from Empire of the Petal Throne (1975) by Tactical Studies Rules, published roughly simultaneously with Tunnels & Trolls:
Note how similar this actually is to the OD&D list. But the simple inclusion of "Chlén-hide" (which an awful lot of things seem to be made out of) and "Chlén beasts," among other things, lends it an exotic air. After all, while Dungeons & Dragons was about "Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns," Empire of the Petal Throne was about "Rules for Fantasy Adventures and Campaigns on an Alien Planet."

Here's most of the list for Boot Hill (1975):
Guess what that game is about and what you might be doing in it?

And here is a list from the non-Tactical Studies Rules Superhero 2044 (1977). That game, the first ever superhero role-playing game, is a "Campaign of Super-Powered Crimefighters in the Year 2044." That description alone doesn't tell you that much (what could that possibly mean?) but the equipment list nails it down a lot more:
The letter-bomb detector alone tells you five different things about that world and the (now you know) not all-powerful by any means "superheroes" that inhabit it.

I said that fantasy games would soon start to show equipment bloat. The expanded Advanced Dungeons & Dragons lists are a good example of that. The numbingly comprehensive "netbook" items lists developed by D&D fans during the 3E era are another. In my view, once you find yourself with so many items that you must divide them into sections with separate headings - Transportation, Fine Dining, Women's Hosiery - that's probably a bad sign. But occasionally such excursions are justified.

Chivalry & Sorcery, which developed out of Chevalier (1976), aimed to give you an authentic medieval experience. So, here's one sublist in The C&S Marketplace section:
Do you want an authentic medieval experience? Well, that's up to you. But if you do, the items list of Chivalry & Sorcery practically trumpets (or bleats or quacks) it out.

There's nothing like a Whole Swan after a successful day of dungeoneering. Or chivalry.

One of my favorite old-school/new-school games that I've never played, Lace & Steel (1989), has a fairly detailed items list, where the name of almost every item is calculated to set the affected faux 17th-century tone. I'm cheating a bit by giving you a weapons excerpt, but the effect of the Complete Musketeer is duplicated in other sections, including the one on Ball Gowns:
So, in my view, equipment lists are a great opportunity to show (rather than tell) more about a game and its world. Early T&T somewhat squandered the opportunity. But so did others. Traveller (1977) had a nice set of item descriptions but no easily viewed list, somewhat lessening the impact. Runequest (1978), a game heavy on atmosphere but (in my opinion) tedious to play, pretty much punted its chance with a largely generic list.

The current Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls goes a bit heavy on the generic items bloat (much longer equipment lists came in with the 7th edition of T&T) but adds a few fun touches:
I don't need to know what the modern T&T price of bread is. But I love knowing that Dwarven cave moss porridge is available, as well as the fact that it's "Dwarvish comfort food, most people wouldn't touch the stuff" and it "Looks like gooey green oatmeal."

That says Tunnels & Trolls to me.


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 comment:

  1. Awesome commentary, thanks. I still use the 5e rules but I supplement the equipment list with Magestykc list.

    This has the downside of being thorough. But the upside of being thorough. I've seen others use more simple, elegant lists (e.g. 3 types of swords, 5 types of armour...) and I appreciate that as well.