Friday, January 28, 2011

Evolution of T&T: Character Types

Since it's creation, Tunnels and Trolls has been dominated by only three different types of characters which are defined very broadly as warrior, wizard, and rogue. The details of what each of these types means for specific characters is left up to the player to decide. A warrior could be a barbarian, viking, knight, samurai, pirate or any other kind of person who makes his/her living fighting. There really is not a need to codify each and every subtype of warrior, and T&T has never tried. That's one of the things I like about the system. But despite the relative adherence to these three classic types, the game mechanics associated with each type has changed from the 1st to 7th Editions. There have even been some new character types added and some name changes. Overall the changes to the Big Three appear to have taken place to create a sense of balance; although I could be and very well might be wrong. Warriors, for example, have gone from having completely undefined abilities simply summed up as "they fight", to having carefully coded, numerical advantages in combat over other character types. Below is a run through of the character type descriptions and abilities from the 1st through 7th Editions of Tunnels and Trolls.

In the 1st Edition, the various rules for the three different character types are scattered throughout the text. Finding them all is a bit of a challenge, but below is a summary of the different abilities of each type. The three character types in 1st edition are warrior, magic-user (yes, magic-user), and rogue which are modeled after, in Ken's words, Conan, Gandalf, and Cugel the Clever.

Warrior: Choose if Strength greater than Intelligence or Luck. Warriors may not cast spells under most circumstances, although they may use enchanted items. This is all that is said about warriors.

Magic-user: Choose if Intelligence is greater than Strength or Luck. Magic users are limited to 1D weapons (i.e. daggers, slings, javelins in 1st Ed.) and get no bonus adds, personal or weapon, in combat although they do get negative 'adds' for low Strength, Luck, or Dexterity. Magic-users start knowing all 10 first level spells which are powered by expending their Strength attribute. They can use magic staffs, however, to reduce the Strength cost of spells and may cast spells of a lower level at lower Strength costs (i.e. It's easier and therefore costs less Strength for a 3rd level wizard to cast a 1st level spell). At 5th level, magic-users may start to create their own spells (at a cost of course).

Rogue: Choose if Luck is greater than Strength or Intelligence. Rogues can fight and use magic but start with no spells and must be taught each spell by a magic user. There is no mention of rogues being able to use staffs or cast low level spells at reduced costs. Rogues can only advance to Level 7. At that point the player must choose to become a 3rd Level magic-user or a 5th Level warrior to continue advancing but in doing so loses either their fighting or spell-casting abilities.

I found a few things interesting in reviewing character types for 1st Edition. The first real surprise was the use of the term 'magic-user.' I had thought Ken always used the term 'wizard' for spell casters. Second was the relative lack of explanation for the abilities of warriors other than the reference to Conan. I was unable to find any reference to the 'double armor' rule of later editions. As it is, warriors and rogues have the same fighting abilities in 1st Edition, but rogues get to cast spells. The only disadvantage to being a rogue is that you can only advance to 7th level before having to give up your hard-earned abilities in one of your callings and lose several levels. At first glance, this seems to be a means of regulating the power of rogues, but it seems odd that a person would suddenly forget their years of training and experience in fighting or wizardry. Another interesting note is this statement: "Changing character types is frowned upon, but it possible." Really? The rules go on to explain that while warriors cannot change types, magic-users and rogues may become whatever they want. In doing so, however, they loose all experience points and are reduced to Level 1 characters. A heavy price.

In 4th Edition the rules for character types are fairly similar (and once again hard to find) but there are a few significant changes.

First, the rules for combat are expanded. In the combat section, new rules for making warriors special come to light. Warriors are now assumed to be more skilled in defending themselves with shield and armor. As a result, in 4th Edition warriors gain the ability to 'burn' armor. If they so choose, warriors may elect to multiply the number of hits taken by one piece of armor (or full suit) or shield by their level number but at the cost of completely destroying the armor. This is a rather high cost for this ability and is really only useful for buying some time for help to arrive. It is also kind of useless to 1st level warriors. If I was running a warrior using this rule, I would be carrying three or four shields with me at all times. Of course, this is what ancient warriors actually did. Warriors also gain the ability to use two weapons at the same time. It is interesting to note that the 4th Edition rules state that only warriors may do this. To do so a warrior simply needs the Strength and Dexterity of both weapons combined, although Strength can be lower at the risk of eventual exhaustion.

The second big change is with rogues. Now a 7th level rogue may opt to become a warrior or magic-user OR to continue as an 8th level wizard-warrior IF he/she maintains a Strength greater than Intelligence and has the required IQ and Dexterity to cast any spell as a magic-user of the same level (for example, Level 8 spells require a 24 IQ and 15 DEX). This explanation is in the experience progression table and is the only explanation available in the rules. Rogues are also clearly defined as characters with the ability to cast magic but who lack formal training. This is an important distinction from other definitions of rogue that equate them to thieves.

The rules for magic-users remain mostly the same. There is a more detailed explanation about the 'rules' of magic and the training involved. More importantly, in 4th Edition it is stated that magic-users may receive positive personal adds when fighting bare handed or with a quarterstaff, a 2D weapon (they were previously restricted to only 1D weapons). While this greatly increases the fighting ability of magic-users, this new rule is never fully explained. Does this not apply when using a 1D dagger, for example?

The arrival of 5th Edition and the wonderful editing of Liz Danforth put all of the special rules for each character type in one easy to find section. It also marked some changes to character types and the emergence of the new uber-type, the warrior-wizard.

In 5th edition warriors gain the ability to double the normal protective value of any armor or shields without penalty or 'burning' due to their special training. No more trashing armor to take some extra hits. Of course, this is the only special ability warriors get except for being able to use any weapon they can get their hands on (which rogues can also do) and front row seats to any fighting that needs to be done (which rogues often avoid). Interestingly, the use of two weapons at once is no longer discussed in the 5th Edition rules. In one of the combat examples, however, a rogue (Reethe Tigersclaw) is described as fighting with a gladius and dirk; so this fighting style now appears to be at the disposal of other character types even though it is not actually discussed.

Wizards (formerly magic-users) change a little in 5th edition, but mostly just in name. Wizards still start with 10 spells, use their Strength to power them, and can reduce the Strength cost with staffs and experience. Wizards may also still invent new spells at 5th level. As far as weapons, wizards may not use weapons with more than 2 dice which are still mainly daggers (the number of dice used for most weapons just went up in 5th Ed.) but also quarterstaffs, slings, very light bows, javelins, crowbars, batons, and foils. There is, however, no restriction on wizards using positive adds, personal or weapon, in 5th Edition, and they can use whatever armor they wish without restriction. Presumably they can also fight with two weapons at once if they have high enough Strength and Dexterity. This makes wizards much more useful and versatile on the battlefield.

Rogues still have the ability to use any weapons and armor they can afford and can learn magic. They just cannot use either as well as warriors or wizards; so not armor bonus, no starting spells, and no inventing new spells. New restrictions to rogues were also written in 5th Edition. Rogues can no longer use magic staffs and may not cast lower level spells at reduced strength costs (they could do both of these in 4th Edition). Finally, rogues can longer use spells above 7th level; they are just too complicated to be taught. This is an interesting change from the old 'Rogues can only advance to Level 7' rule. They can still increase in level, fight, and cast spells; they just won't be casting Death Spell #9.

Finally, there are the brand new warrior-wizards. These are interesting creatures indeed. To be a warrior-wizard, all of a characters attributes need to be at least 12 when rolled (before changes due to kindred). Warrior-wizards are born, not made as Ken says. Warrior-wizards, true to their name, start knowing all 10 first level spells and may use magic staffs. They do find casting lower level spells easier, but not to same degree as wizards (reduce 1 ST cost per 2 levels above). They are not able to create new spells, however. On the fighting end of things, warrior-wizards get to add 1 to the hits taken by any full suit of armor or shield beings used. Not great, but it's something.

The 7th and 7.5 Editions treat types identically, so I will treat these as one edition (7th) here. The 7th edition marked a lot of changes to the T&T rules including some new abilities for the standard character types, the renaming of one, and the arrival of two new types: citizens and specialists.

Warriors in 7th Edition still get double protection for armor and shield, but they also gain some new offensive abilities. Now warriors receive bonus adds equal to their experience level finally giving them them the ability to use their weapons better than a rogue. Two-weapon fighting is still not mentioned, but it is generally accepted that all character types can do this if they have the necessary Strength and Dexterity.

Rogues are still able to use any weapons and armor their attributes allow and cast spells. In 7th Edition, rogues even get to start with one 1st level spell. However, rogues still cannot use magic staffs and do not get to reduce spell casting costs as they increase level. On the other hand, rogues gain a special Talent (new to 7th Edition) called Roguery which is equal to 1D6 plus the highest of their Intelligence, Luck, or Charisma. This is nice because Roguery can be used in place of any saving rolls based on those three attributes giving rogues a potentially nice edge in tight situations.

Wizards still cast spells in 7th Edition. However, in 7th Edition they start knowing 20 1st level spells; twice what they had in earlier editions. Wizards still get to use staffs to reduce the energy cost of their spells, now coming from their Wizardry attribute as opposed to Strength, and can cast low level spells at lower energy costs when they reach higher levels of experience. Wizards also retain their ability to invent new spells at 5th level. Wizards are not as restricted in their choice of weapons in 7th Edition. They may still use any 2D weapon (there are even more choices this time) and get pull personal and weapon adds. But they can also use 3D or higher weapons like a broadsword or a pike with the loss of any combat adds; they are also unable to cast spells while using these weapons. It's a gamble, but if your wizard is out of spell-casting energy and the only weapon in reach is an axe you might as well go for it.

Warrior-wizard are renamed Paragons in 7th Edition; I suppose this was done to make them more annoying and snooty. Paragons still require a 12 or higher in all initially rolled attributes. When fighting, Paragons now get double armor protection like warriors but do not get the new bonus combat adds with each level. As far as spell-slinging goes, Paragons start with all 20 1st level spells and can use staffs to full effect. They can also now create new spells, but not until they reach 10th level. It is unclear in the rules whether or not they still get to reduce lower level spell costs at higher levels of experience (it's not mentioned).

Citizens are an interesting new addition to 7th Edition. Citizens are the average people that populate your fantasy world. They have no special training in combat or spellcraft. While Ken does not advocate their use as player characters, I think they would be fun to try. Maybe you want to play a merchant, a blacksmith, or a tailor; this is role playing after all. As far as game mechanics go, citizens may use any weapons or armor in combat, but they only get half of the usual combat adds for their attributes. Here's what really interests me though, citizens can cast spells. To cast a spell he/she knows, a citizen needs to make a saving roll on their intelligence and dexterity (as opposed to just intelligence for wizards). But they can cast spells. Citizens also get Talents like other types, which is likely where one of these characters would excel in a game.

The second new type in 7th Edition are called Specialists and includes three subtypes. Specialists are described as "mutants or savants born with an ability bordering on the supernatural." Specialists include Specialist Mages, Rangers, and Leaders.

Specialist mages are wizards that cast only one type of spell. You get to be a specialist mage only if you roll a 15 or better on your Wizardry attribute. In 7th Edition, there are now four different "schools" of Wizardry: Combat, Cosmic, Conjuring, and Metabolic each with it's own group of spells. A normal wizard can cast spells from any of these schools, but has to pay to learn new spells above the first level. Specialist mages can only use the spells from one of the schools, but they have an innate understanding of all of the spells of that type. Therefore, once a specialist mage reaches a new level of experience, he/she knows all of the spells of that level in the school of specialty. In addition, the specialist mage casts the spells at one-half the energy cost of a normal wizard. This can obviously make for a rather potent character.

Rangers are essentially exceptional archers according to the rules. You get to be a Ranger only if you roll natural triples in Dexterity and get a result of at least 15. That's tough. What can you do as a Ranger? When using any missile weapon (I assume this means thrown weapons like spears and daggers as well as bows) the Ranger only needs to make a Level 1 saving roll on Dexterity to hit as long as the target is in range. That's 150 yards with a heavy longbow. Of course, with a minimum of a 15 Dexterity to start, a Ranger only needs to roll a five or better on 2D6 to hit any target. Nice.

The final Specialist is the Leader. Leaders are charismatic and persuasive individuals and therefore require natural triples on Charisma resulting in a 15 or better. Leaders only need to make a Level 1 saving roll to convince others to do what they want or believe what they say; no matter what. That could come in handy if you're surrounded by a few dozen armed orcs and you're naked except for a necklace of orc teeth.

So there you have it, the history of character types in Tunnels and Trolls. This has a much more linear progression than the history of character kindreds, so I have to think that these changes were thought out and planned in each edition. I have to say that I am rather happy with the way the types are finally presented in 7th Edition. They each have their own special bells and whistles, but it's still not too much to require multiple tables, charts, and equations to refer to when playing. There are some things I would add, two-weapon fighting for warriors only for example, but that's why we have house rules.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Solos by Ken St. Andre

Ken St. Andre, the creator of Tunnels and Trolls, has recently published two new solo adventures, Khara Khang's Random Rainbow Maze and Deep Delving. Both of these solos are published under Ken's new Trollhalla Press and available as pdf downloads from the Flying Buffalo storefront at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG.

Khara Khang's Rainbow Maze has the distinction of being the first solo published under the Trollhalla Press brand. The Rainbow Maze is a 'funhouse' dungeon adventure, where you enter a series of rooms designed by the Maze Master to lure in foolish delvers with promises of fame and riches. Inside you'll face a fantastic array of monsters and hopefully make it out alive with some treasure. This solo has 33 paragraphs and is thoroughly illustrated by David Ullery

In Deep Delving you play a rock troll tunneling deep below the surface of Trollworld in search of one of Great Old Ones- trolls that have lived since the beginning of time. Your adventure takes you beneath an active volcano, down rivers of magma, and pits you against devious creatures of the underworld. You may also learn a thing or two about the ecology of rock trolls. It even includes three ready-to-run trolls just in case you don't have one handy. Deep Delving has 37 paragraphs and is once again well illustrated by David Ullery.

I have to say it's great seeing Ken publishing new material again. I look forward to seeing more from Trollhalla Press.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Game Review: BEAN!

BEAN! is a new fantasy roleplaying game system by Jeff Freels. What makes this game truly unique compared to the multitude of FRPG systems out there is that BEAN! is a D2 system. While one may wonder how a game system can be run using only a D2, Jeff has pulled it off quite beautifully.

BEAN! has an intentionally simple rules system. The mechanics are explained in seven (yes, that was 7) pages. There are another four pages of spells, two pages on money and equipment lists, two pages of sample monsters, and two pages of sample magical artifacts. But these are just trimmings. The fact that the core rules of the game are explained, and explained quite well, in only seven pages is extraordinary. The rules can be read and understood in 10-15 minutes. This makes BEAN! perfect for people new to role playing games, children, or for quick pick-up games among experienced gamers. The simple mechanics also make it perfect for solo play.

The mechanics of BEAN! are simple, straightforward, and fairly smooth. As I mentioned, BEAN! is a D2 system. What you use for 'dice' is therefore pretty flexible. You simply need something that randomly generates a '+' or '-'. This can be a coin (heads or tails), six-sided die (evens or odds), a flat bean as the game suggests with a '+' written on one side and a '-' on the other. This really adds to the flexibility of the game because you can play without any special equipment; you really just need a handful of coins.

To start a game you need to have some characters. BEAN! uses only three Attributes to define each character: Body which is a measure of physical strength, endurance, and dexterity; Mind which encompasses intelligence, wisdom, and logic; and Spirit which is a measure of luck, charisma, and mana. BEAN! also uses only three basic character types, similar to 5th edition Tunnels and Trolls. You can be a Warrior, Wizard, or Rogue and each character type has an linked attribute, namely Body, Spirit, and Mind respectively. In BEAN! Warrior are trained in fighting and survival, Rogues are scouts and thieves, and Wizards are mystics and scholars. All characters are rated by the number of 'beans' (or dice) in each of their attributes. Characters start with three beans in each attribute and one extra in their type attribute. Equipping starting characters is kept equally simple; give your character the basic equipment you would expect depending on his/her profession. If you're a warrior, take some leather armor, shield, spear, dagger, backpack, some torches, and maybe a rope and you're all set. No need to worry about shopping or budgets. In addition, characters may start with a random number of copper coins but this is actually discouraged by the author. Jeff makes the point (which I agree with) that characters should stay poor to encourage adventure. Why else would they risk life and limb?

The conflict resolution system of BEAN! really sets this game system apart. These are broken down into Contests, Challenges, and Combat. In each type of conflict, the player throws a number of beans, coins, or dice equal to the attribute being tested. The player tries to match a certain number of positive results as defined by the GM (+, heads, evens, odds) or get more positive results than his/her opponent. For example, if a character is trying to jump over a wide chasm to escape a band of twenty angry goblins, the GM first decides how hard it will be to make the jump. If it is not a particularly wide chasm, the GM may call it a moderate challenge and only require two positive results. This would be a Body challenge, so the player throws as many beans as his Body attribute and tries to get two or more positives. Simple. Combat works much the same way except that both opponents are throwing beans and trying to get a higher number of positive results. Weapons add to the number of beans thrown. The loser takes a number of hits to his/her Body attribute equal to how many beans he/she lost by minus any armor that may be worn. That's really all there is to it. There is also a built-in mechanic to allow for really difficult tasks to be accomplished by low level characters. The 'Add-A-Bean' rule allows a player to throw an extra bean if he/she throws all '+'s'; the player keeps throwing new beans until a '-' comes up.

The magic system is also straightforward. Wizards start with a number of spells equal to 2xSpirit. There is not limit on how many spells wizards may learn and they may cast spells repeatedly and without limit (only a maximum of once per round however); there is no memory or point-based attrition system. The combat spells, however, are about as effective as a normal weapon, so there seems to be a nice sense of balance. Spells are defined by a Difficulty Rating (1-4), which a wizard must roll against using their Spirit beans to determine if the spell is successfully cast. This is another nice check against the infinite spell-casting ability. The rules come with a nice list of 28 spells covering a broad range of effects; more than enough to keep any wizard busy.

The presentation of BEAN! is fairly tongue-in-cheek as might be expected. Jeff Freels is well-known for his art in the T&T community, and he has done a good job providing a lot of original artwork throughout the rulebook. Fantastic illustration of anthropomorphic beans wield swords and casting spells abound. The art definitely sets the mood for the game. While the art is comical, the overall layout of the book is very professional. I printed by rules in booklet format on 8.5 x 11 paper and it looks great.

In addition to everything mentioned above, the 27 page rulebook also includes an introductory 19 paragraph solo adventure and a short GM adventure so you can get started right away. Both are well-written and conceived. The solo adventure is perfect for first time gamers and could always be run as a one-on-one game with a player and GM. The GM adventure is pretty simple with only a handful of rooms to explore in the basement of a wizard's tower, but it would make for a fun night of gaming. Additional support material is already available for BEAN!, including a fun mini-solo adventure by Ken St. Andre (Death Phrogg Attack!) and two rather lengthy GM adventures by Mike Holcomb (Princely Ransom and Gone to the Dogs). All three of these are available for free from RPGNow.

As you can probably tell by now, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of BEAN! This is one of the most original and innovative RPGs to come out in quite some time. Plus, at only $2.00 for a pdf or there is really no reason not to have a look. I guarantee you'll like what you see. You can a pdf or print copy from RPGnow.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Plans for Year 2

Well, it's a new year already. I started this blog and Lone Delver Games in January 2010. I thought I'd take a moment to light a torch, look around inside my head, and write down my plans for this blog and LDG for the coming year, at the very least for my own sake.

My first goal is to have a few more posts this year than last. I had some pretty dry spells some months, but sometimes life just takes over. I now have four regular series that I plan on continuing:

1) Evolution of T&T: Yes, I will be continuing this series. There is a lot to write about here. Next up is Character Types.

2) Solo Design: I have a few new solo design ideas in the works including one on making sure that there are consequences for player actions, a second on plot twists, and a third on ways of allowing players to take initiative and make choices not offered.

3) House Rules: More of these are definitely on the way.

4) Adventures of Phineas the Red: He's been pretty inactive since his adventures in Sword for Hire, but I hope to be able to run some more solos with him this year. The next adventure I have planned for him is Labyrinth.

There will also be the usual miscellaneous posts including some game reviews.

I will also be publishing more material for Lone Delver Games. My solos sold fairly well in 2010. If anyone is interested, here are the final numbers sold:

House in the Hills: 44
Tomb of Baron Gharoth: 43
One of Those Nights: 32
Temple of Issoth: 344

Not too bad. They weren't flying off the shelf by any means and I'm not getting rich, but I am very happy with the interest in my writing. Of course Temple of Issoth was free, but I was and still am excited to see it being downloaded so many times. Hopefully it's getting some new people to try T&T.

For 2011 I plan on releasing two large (250+ paragraph) solo adventures for Tunnels and Trolls. The first will be the spaghetti-fantasy bounty hunting adventure I've mentioned. This should be released by June. The second will be ruin crawl through an ancient temple complete with traps, treasure, and something large and nasty. This one should be released by November.

I am also considering producing a couple more free products. The first will be a book of pregenerated and fully equipped characters for use in each of my solos. I'm thinking of having three or four characters specifically designed for each solo. The second will be a book of my house rules for T&T combat. This will cover all the basic fighting techniques, some of which I've covered in my blog, such as weapon, weapon and shield, two weapon, and two-handed weapon. My goal is to provide some unique advantages to each style without making overly-complicated rules.

Those are my plans. Of course plans always change but I think I've set some realistic goals. I won't be able to post again for another week (I know, bad start), but when I return my next post will be a review of the wonderful new rules-lite game BEAN!