Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Giving Spears Their Due

I've always thought spears were the most underrated weapons in FRPG games. Everyone and their uncle seems to have a sword or two hanging from their belt, but where are the spears? The spear was one of the most versatile weapons of the ancient and medieval world; it was the rifle of it's time. It was also cheap and easy to manufacture in large quantities to equip large groups of warriors. So why are they so uncommon in the armaments of FRPG warriors?

Let's look at the stats for a typical sword and spear from Tunnels and Trolls 5th edition:

Spear (6') 3+1 ST 8 DX 8 Cost 22 gp Weight 50 Range 40 yds
Saber (3') 3+4 ST 9 DX 10 Cost 55 gp Weight 60

From a strict sense of damage potential, the sword is better choice if you have the money, strength, and dexterity. The saber generates between 7-22 hits (average 13) while the spear on generates between 4-19 hits (average 10).

But weapons can be more than a list of numbers in a game. In reality, spears are the perfect all-around weapon. They are excellent at keeping enemies at bay when paired with a nice shield, especially when you have three of four other spear-wielding friends by your side. That 6' shaft allows you to hit your enemy first, especially if that enemy is wielding a 3' sword. This is also useful if you happen to be facing mounted opponents. Due to it's length, the spear can be wielding with one or two hands; when used two-handed the spear should be able to deal more damage as more force can be applied to the point of the blade. While typically used as a thrusting weapon, the spear can also be used as a slashing weapon if the spear head has a broad blade or the shaft could be used as a bludgeoning weapon. Of course the spear can also be thrown when needed, killing your opponents before they even get close enough to attack you. Try that with a sword. Once the battle is over, a spear makes a handy walking stick and they are good for probing the ground in front of you that may not be as stable as it looks (or checking the depth of a pool of water, pushing and nudging objects from a comfortable distance, pushing open doors, or even enchanting into a makeshift staff). Why carry around a 10' pole that you have to cast aside when trouble starts when you can carry a spear?

Unfortunately while all of this can be taken into account during a group game without need of special rules, the same is not true of solo adventures. In group games controlled by a GM, players have much more freedom of action. If the party wanted to form a wall of shields and spears to hold back a horde of monsters, for example, the success or failure of this action is dictated by the GM who can adapt and improvise as he/she sees fit. If nothing else there is always a saving roll that can be called upon. Solo gaming, however, always presents a problem when trying to be clever with your equipment. As a player, you can act as your own GM, making judgment calls and saving rolls as you see fit. This is especially true of non-combat uses of spears and other pole-weapons such as probing for pits and traps. But I was considering some house rules for using the common spear in combat to make them a bit more popular. I'll be trying these house rules in some solo adventures to see how they work out.

Spear House Rules

Two-handed wielding: When wielded 2-handed, the common spear is a 3+3 weapon.

Bludgeoning: The spear may be wielded as a staff (bludgeon) for 2 dice (useful if your opponent takes less damage from thrusting weapons).

First strike: When attacked by opponents with weapons 3' long or less, the spear wielder may make a L2-SR on DEX to get one free attack before the opponent closes.

I have gotten to the point where I equip all of my warrior characters with a spear and shield to start with along with one or two other hand weapons, typically a short sword of some sort and a dagger that can be wielded together for close and dirty fighting. A sling is usually a good thing to have a well just in case. At 1 gp why not have one? I've found this combination of weapons provides a nice basic tool kit to work with in nearly any situation.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Original City of Terrors Cover for Sale!

As you might have guessed from some of my previous posts, I am a big fan of Liz Danforth. Her art, along with that of Rob Carver, forms most of my mental image of Tunnels and Trolls. Liz is still an active professional artist, writer, and gamer and has her own blog. On this site, Liz has started what I hope to be a continuing series, 'Pictures Have Stories.' In this first installment, Liz explains the history of the iconic original City of Terrors cover. This impressive piece is the cover of the original solo; if you own a later edition (as I do) you'll find the same two-page illustration in the center of the book. Liz worked on this cover with Rob Carver in what is a seamless and impressive merger of styles. The blog discusses the inspiration behind many of the faces and images depicted in the cover as well as the many people involved with Flying Buffalo at the time. There's even a link back to The Lone Delver.

If that was not enough, Liz Danforth is now offering the original 1978 City of Terrors cover for sale on eBay. This is not a copy, but the original inked illustration from 1978. This is a chance to own a piece of T&T history. The cover will be available for bidding until March 25.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Evolution of T&T: Sample Characters

Sample characters in RPG rules have always been a favorite of mine; they provide a bit of insight into the authors and editors and their vision of the game. In many instances these characters take on a life of their own. Who doesn't know Morgan Ironwolf? They are also excellent teaching tools in character creation. Sample characters can provide a step-by-step explanation about the character creation process and provide a means of explaining what each of the different parts of the character sheet mean and the significance of certain rolled values.

At first I had not considered this as part of the 'Evolution' series of posts, but my last post on Attributes led me to compare the sample characters provided in the attributes section of each T&T rulebook. This was a pretty simple task as there are only three different sample characters from the 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, and 7.5 edition rulebooks.

The 1st and 4th editions contain the same, very simple, sample warrior named 'Furd the Unquenchable.' This sample character is not very well developed and is not described in any detail or really used to explain any of the character concepts with the exception of weight allowances. Furd is given values for his six Prime Attributes and some starting gold. What is noteworthy about Furd is that while he has two decent attributes the others are unremarkable if not poor.

ST 13 IQ 7 LK 8 CON 16 DEX 9 CHR 10 GP 120

This is a good demonstration that not all characters are going to be "supermen" with all attributes above 13. Furd has some strengths, but also some significant weaknesses. It looks like Ken just rolled the dice and wrote down the numbers for his sample character. Furd clearly demonstrates what Ken expects players characters to be in his game.

The 5th editions rules feature the unforgettable 'Fang the Delectable' depicted above. Fang is probably my favorite sample character of any RPG rules. Fang is not only used to clearly explain every step of the character creation process from rolling attributes to buying equipment, he is actually developed as an individual with his own personality.

Fang's character card is filled in from start to finish. He is given a name, type, kin, and level as each is explained in turn. As usual, the sample character is a warrior since these tend to be the easiest to discuss. Fang then has his six attributes rolled up. Each attribute is explained as well as the meaning of some of the values rolled for Fang. Once again, the sample character is not very remarkable. In fact, Fang has a dexterity of 6 and is described as:

"...a real klutz, very clumsy, so much so that he actually hinders himself in combat."

Fang does have some redeeming features, however. He has decent strength and constitution and an exceptional intelligence. He'd have made a great wizard if only he weren't so clumsy. Next, Fang's personal adds are calculated. Fang has a stunning -2 Adds because of his low dexterity. That is not a good sign for his new career choice.

The real charm of Fang comes from the Equipping Characters section. While this is often a throw-away section with little discussion in most rulebooks, in 5th edition T&T we are taken through the entire experience of equipping Fang. Unfortunately for Fang, his bad luck continues when rolling for starting money and he only gets 80 gp to spend. The first thing Fang does is purchase some general supplies; I find this interesting because it is generally what I do last when equipping a character. This points to the importance of general equipment to Ken. Fang gets some clothing and a pack, provisions, torches, and rope. I enjoy the description of the 'Warm, dry clothing' as being clothes "suitable to climbing down narrow cave-like passages" and offering "protection from the damp chill of deep tunnels" especially when looking at Liz Danforth's illustration of Fang (above). Fang does not look like he'll be that warm. Next Fang goes shopping for a weapon. Here is where his personality starts to appear. Fang goes looking for a spear or sword, but his clumsiness and lack of funds prove to be problem. His best bet is a bludgeon, but

"Fang's pride can't stand it - a club is no weapon for a warrior."

So Fang shells out 40 gp for a short saber rather than 15 gp for a bludgeon; in return he gets 1 more weapon add. With only 14 gp to spend, Fang is only able to get a buckler for defense and no body armor. In the end he can't even buy himself a decent pair of boots.

After Fang the Delectable is completed we get the final words from Ken:

"Fang is no great hero material, perhaps, but his life or death would depend on what dangers he faces, and how well the player ran him."

This is a very important statement in my mind. Any character can be worthwhile to run, even one as flawed as Fang. It's all about the player.

Unfortunately, the 7th edition slips back into another forgettable character named 'Grimor Ironfang.' He even lacks the appellation of the previous characters, something that I was not happy with at all. Although this character is used to better illustrate the mechanics of character creation than Furd, he just does not have the personality of Fang. In the case of Grimor, however, the relative meaning of all of the attributes are discussed unlike Fang. What is also worth noting is that like the previous sample characters, Grimor also has weaknesses:

ST 14 CON 14 DEX 14 SPD 16 INT 8 WIZ 14 LK 8 CHR 11 Adds +7

Grimor is not that lucky or smart; that is potentially fatal for a delver (especially the unlucky part). But Grimor is rather strong, agile, and quite fast; good attributes for a warrior. These strengths and weaknesses would hopefully balance out and Grimor could avoid letting luck or brains decide his fate; at least until he could improve them. Another note is that there is a typo in Grimor's character sheet in the 7th and 7.5 rulebooks; his Speed is recorded as a 6 but is described in the text and used to calculate his Personal Adds as a 16. I've wondered which was the mistake.

So what do these three different sample characters say about Tunnels and Trolls? The fate of a character is decided by the player, not necessarily the die rolls. Even a character with some terrible attributes can be fun to play and they often have the best personalities. Tunnels and Trolls is not about invincible heroes crushing every obstacle in sight. It's about overcoming those obstacles using the abilities you have and overcoming inherent weaknesses. This is definitely in keeping with the 'Old School' thoughts on FRPGs and I'm glad that this has not changed in T&T over the last 30+ years. Besides, what's the point of surviving and improving a character that is already superior in every way?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Evolution of T&T: Prime Attributes

In Tunnels and Trolls, as in most FRPG games, characters are defined by a set of Prime Attributes. These attributes determine the physical and mental abilities of the character. Take the warrior pictured to the left. How strong is he? What kinds of weapons can he use effectively? How fast can he run? Can he read or write? Is he an effective leader? These are the questions we can answer with a set of numbers and a defined list of attributes. Attributes are especially important in T&T because they are actively used in game play to determine what characters can and can't do through the use of the Saving Roll. This is quite different from other games, such as D&D, where the characters abilities can modify the outcome of an action, but really have no other control over those actions. This is instead the role of rolls based on the character's class and level (i.e. Saving Throws).

The Prime Attributes of characters have not seen a lot of change through the 1st and 7the editions of T&T, but there have been some. In the 1st edition T&T rules, character attributes were defined as Strength, Intelligence, Luck, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma. When I first saw the T&T rules I was rather amused by the addition of the Luck attribute, but it seemed fitting given a delver's profession. The origin of this attribute was actually highlighted in Ken's description of the beginnings of T&T in his interview with John Wick.

"Dungeon delvers do not need wisdom. We need luck! When you get in trouble, what will save you? Luck."

Wiser words have never been spoken Ken.

In the 1st and 4th editions, none of these Prime Attributes are defined with the exception of Constitution. Constitution is described as the physical condition of the character and it's value is lowered when the character is wounded thereby taking the place of 'hit points' from the other game (and likely the reason it alone was described). Ken states that all of the other attributes are self-explanatory. This changes in 5th edition where each attribute has a clearly written, paragraph long description. This might seem to be a trivial change, but it does add to the more clearly defined sense of the rules seen in 5th edition. This is likely the result of the editorial work of Liz Danforth. Interestingly (at least to me anyway) character abilities are also not well defined in the OD&D rules from 1974.

The basic way of determining the value of each of the Prime Attributes is by rolling 3D6. This has remained the standard way of determining the Attributes since the 1st edition. In 7th edition, however, TARO was introduced. TARO stands for 'Triples Add and Roll Over'. This allows for very large starting attributes depending on the luck of the player. As long as you keep rolling triples your attribute can get larger and larger. Whereas starting characters used to have attributes that ranged from 3-18, in 7th edition, they range for 4-N (N = a very big number). This is also significant because in 7th edition, character levels become directly tied to Attribute values making it possible to start with a high level character. Another change in determining attributes is that in 7th edition it clearly states that the rolls may be assigned to whichever attribute the player wishes. In previous editions, the rules always stated that you made a roll specifically for each attribute. While I'm sure not everyone stuck to this rule, the addition of this more flexible means of attribute determination to the written rules is significant.

In the 1st edition rules there were six attributes. New attributes stared appearing by the 5th edition in 1979. This new attribute was Speed. However, you won't find Speed mentioned in the character creation section of the 5th edition rules. You won't even find it on a character sheet. Instead, Speed is discussed near the end of the book and presented almost like an optional rule. Speed was defined as a way of determining how fast each character could move. Equations were provided to determine movement rates in feet per minute depending on how encumbered the character was and how careful he/she was being. On first reading this did not seem very T&T. Speed was determined by rolling 3D6 like other attributes, but it could NOT be improved over time like other attributes; if you were born slow, you were always going to be slow. Speed was also described as as measure of a character's reaction time. Examples were given of Speed-based Saving Rolls such as avoiding being hit by a falling tree. In 7th edition, Speed moved up to the big time and took it's place among the standard Prime Attributes; it's even on the character sheets. The description of Speed, however, seemed to have changed. Ken stated that Speed was often misunderstood and was not an absolute measure of how fast a character could move; instead Speed was more a measure of reaction time or metabolic rate. How this translates to use in the game, I am not certain; I still use it as a measure of quickness.

The final new attribute in 7th edition was Wizardry. In the 1st through 5th editions of T&T wizards spells were powered by the Strength attribute. Each spell cost a certain number of Strength points which were deducted from the character's Strength and were slowly restored with rest. What this meant was that wizards needed to have really high Strength scores to power high level spells. This called for muscle-bound wizards. The way around this was to consider Strength as being more than simple physical power; it could also be mental or spiritual power. This obviously did not sit well with many, and house rules for new spell-powering attributes were abundant including Mana, Power, and even Luck. But 7th edition codified the new Attribute Wizardry, finally freeing Wizards from having to constantly go to the gym in order to eventually be able to cast 'Born Again' (costs 208 ST/WIZ).

The final measure of a character in T&T are Personal Adds. Personal Adds are the reflection of a characters attributes on combat effectiveness. In all editions, Attributes with a score greater than 12 provided +1 Add for each number above 12 and Attributes with a score of less than 9 provided -1 Add for each number below 9. In 1st through 5th editions, Personal Adds were determined by Strength, Dexterity, and Luck. In 7th edition, however, Speed was added to the list increasing (or perhaps decreasing) the number of Personal Adds characters could start with. Why Speed you ask? Ken states that "If you hit your foe faster and more often than normal, you will do more damage." That makes sense, but it only confuses me more about the definition of the Speed attribute.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

March's Lone Delver

Another month, another lone delver caught in action. Here is yet another amazing illustration by Liz Danforth, this one from the City of Terrors solo. This solo contains most of the iconic T&T art from the early history of the game. It's also a famously tough adventure allowing characters with up to 275 adds. In this illustration, the lone delver has just slain an ogre. Unfortunately, his twin brother smells the blood and comes out to investigate. The sight of his dead brother throws the ogre into a berserk rage. The delver has his work cut out for him; it's a good thing he has two weapons. Although his tunic with the target on it might not be the best idea.