“Combat is the true heart of any role-playing game.” – Ken St. Andre, Tunnels & Trolls v7.5
Combat is the first place that T&T is radically different from what went before…and what came after. Combat is quite abstract, with turns taking 2 minutes each, during which there is
“probably 10 seconds of action and 110 seconds of maneuvering for advantage. It can be considered a rapid exchange of strikes and parries by all the fighters involved. By arbitrary convention we stop and evaluate how the fighters are doing at the end of each combat round, but in your imagination you should conceive the action as hot and heavy until such time as the winners win and the losers either lie down and die or run away.”
Magic and missile fire are handled separately, but there is no blow-by-blow accounting taking place in melee combat. In fact, T&T does away with the to-hit roll entirely. Instead both sides roll damage, and the side with the lower total takes the difference in damage, spread among them as they like.
So that brings us to another thing about T&T combat: there’s a lot of arithmetic. A sample combat between two parties of adventurers of 3rd to 5th level involved totaling 4d6+4 + 38 + 2d6+5 +2d6 +3 + 26 + 6d6+3 + 27 for a total of 162. Then the other party rolls its combination of weapon dice and adds, and gets 154. Higher level groups and monsters could probably easily see results in the many hundreds or even thousands.
It’s not particularly hard math, and each player except the GM handles a small chunk of it, but there’s a lot of it… if you play it a lot, I can foresee either getting quite good at multi-digit arithmetic or farming it out to a calculator. For some larger monsters you probably need a dice-roller program even to calculate the damage. A 3rd level fire-breathing dragon might have 88d6 + 440 as its roll.
For the most part, combat is just that simple. Both sides roll all the dice for their weapons, add in any combat adds, and then compare. The losing side divides the damage as they see fit, subtracts any armor, and applies the result against CON. When a character’s CON goes to 0, they’re dying. (At -10 they’re dead, dead, dead.) Allowing the losing side to divide the damage among the characters is interesting; it means that the stronger, more heavily armored characters can effectively protect the weaker characters–at least for a while–and opens up the possibility of mixed-level parties where the low-levels aren’t automatically toast. Other than that, there are no tactical decisions to be made in standard melee combat.
Magic and Missile fire happen at the very start of the turn, and have the unusual (for T&T) property of directly damaging a particular target as well as counting towards that side’s adds. There’s also a rule (new in 7+) for “spite damage”… damage that happens despite win/loss or any armor: for every 6 rolled, the other side takes 1 spite damage (again divided as they see fit). It’s entirely possible, though probably rare, that the losing side does more actual damage after armor than the winning side. This apparently addresses the problem in earlier editions that even moderate amounts of armor could cause a fight to drag on forever if the parties are fairly equally matched. Because you can choose specific targets for magic and missiles, this is your opportunity to try to knock out spell-casters and deliberately whittle down the effective members of the opposition, which can cause a steep drop in their side’s total damage if you can pull it off.
At its most basic, there’s not really much room for individual tactics in T&T combat…. It also has a moderately low pace of decision. At least, it seems to me that unless you’re heavily outmatched, fights will go on for at least a few rounds. One complaint I’ve seen on some boards is that thanks to armor, evenly matched groups stalemate and the only thing that counts is spite damage.
On the other hand, T&T offers a great deal of scope for rules-light RP modifications to combat. That is, while there are no specific combat rules to cover any sort of facing, maneuver, special attacks like tripping, grappling, disarming, stunning or the like there is a single rule that you can describe what you’re attempting to do and the GM will give you a Saving Roll to accomplish it and rule on the results. If you have a Talent that you can invoke, so much the better. In one of the example combats in the rules, the centaur character decides that instead of attacking with her axe, she’ll try to kick an Ogre to knock it out of combat for a round or two. The GM rules this is a Level 2 SR vs Dex, and the centaur succeeds by so much (rolling a 45 when she needed 25) that the GM decides that not only is the Ogre stunned and out of commission for 3 rounds, but it takes damage equivalent to the centaur’s Combat Adds. Everything that crunchier systems handle by specific rules to cover each individual situation, T&T handles by the player specifically describing what out-of-the-ordinary feat they’re attempting to influence combat and the GM ruling on it and giving it a Saving Roll to see if it works. For a “Rulings, not rules” approach, it’s pretty much perfect.
It’s easy to see why T&T is a success for solo gaming and play-by-post: with no blow-by-blow adjudication or maneuver you can easily and relatively quickly resolve combats even if they involve lots of characters. And because combats can be resolved without much decision-making if you’re not playing real-time or with a live GM, it’s ideal for the sort of “if you beat the monster, go to 12A, otherwise go to 27B” thing found in solo adventures. On the other hand, if you have a live GM and bandwidth for everybody to describe what they want to do, the sky’s the limit to what kind of combat you can RP.
Overall, I’d give T&T combat a B. It’s simple, and flexible, can be explained to someone in a sentence or two, and there’s plenty of scope for clever ideas, though perhaps not a lot of tactics… but the sheer number of dice that need to be rolled and resulting arithmetic is a burden. Play-by-post, with a handy die-roller, it’s no big deal, but I don’t like to be reliant on something like that for face-to-face play.