Tunnels and Trolls

Why I still love Tunnels and Trolls

When I played my first RPG, Wide World of Sports was still on television and Return of the Jedi had not yet made it to the big screen. Dungeons and Dragons was popular; as with many of you, it was the system that welcomed me into the fold. I was not, however, allowed to play it.

My neighbors, brothers my age, had an early edition. Andy, the older brother, guided the rest of us on our initial adventure. He made it up, in the sense that he took The Hobbit and changed a few names. But we didn’t care, and I couldn’t wait for more.

At the time, though, Dungeons and Dragons had that evil aura laid upon it by religious folk throughout the land. To tell you the truth, I can see how someone on the outside might have been nervous—we were talking about killing things, casting spells, and categorizing monsters and demons. But I was eager to explain my position, to describe the game, and to show that it was no more harmful than writing a story or watching The Bionic Man.

My parents, though, refused when I asked to buy a copy. The Monster Manual contained Asmodeus, among other nefarious entities, and the game inspired witchcraft. That was the party line, anyway. I have to add, as an aside, that I was terrified of demons, and highly unlikely to mention them in a game, let alone incorporate them into my daily life. Hell, I was even afraid of girls and overly aggressive bees back then, so nobody needed to worry. But worry they did, and D&D was forbidden.

Strangely, though D&D was not allowed, I was permitted to play a similar game, Tunnels and Trolls, probably because it did not have the same reputation. And though Tunnels and Trolls is and was less popular, it had a number of fantastic advantages, and I’d like to share some. “Why?” you ask. Because it really is a pretty cool game, and some of you OSR fans might want to get yourself a copy.

So, here's why I still love Tunnels and Trolls:

First off, solo adventures. Yep, when why neighbors got annoying, or when my best friend went on vacation to Texas, Tunnels and Trolls had several solo adventures I could use to challenge my favorite characters. In fact, I believe that Buffalo Castle (initially published in 1976) was the first solo adventure for any pen and paper RPG.

These books were rather like the Choose Your Own Adventure books that were also popular at the time—I loved both Journey Under the Sea and The Cave of Time—but there were monsters to fight, magic items to discover, and occasions to roll dice. Honesty was also required—if you lost the battle, you had to turn to page x. I was 7 or 8, so I may have altered a few outcomes to avoid the agony of defeat, but still, I could always roll up another character and tackle the solo maze once more.

Second, group mechanic. I don’t remember if early D&D had the option, but in T&T, (I still giggle typing that), if heroes worked together, their dice added up. So, if my elf and your human attacked a troll, we’d add our attack dice together and compare them to the troll’s pool. Working together, in combat, made an immediate difference. It made great sense to me then, and it does now. I’m reminded of the bonus you get in Savage Worlds when your numbers, or theirs, start to matter….

Third, great weapons lists. I have to say, I did not know what a kukri was, or a sax, or a swordbreaker, until T&T showed me the way. Back then, the weapons list was far more extensive than those in the other games I saw, and I loved the variety.

Finally, armor soak. Can you believe it? When D&D creators were struggling to justify AC, Tunnels and Trolls had armor that reduced the amount of damage a character took after being hit. Simple, clear, effective: armor soak. I realize that the previous sentence sounds like dermatological product placement, but the idea holds. Even last night, when I played a great session of Pathfinder, I found myself annoyed at the whole AC setup, as usual….

I could go on, but suffice it to type that Tunnels and Trolls is a cool game, quick to start and deep if you want it to be. As of today, it’s a little tough to find, but I’ve spotted some used copies around the internet. It is worth the look.

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