Tunnels & Trolls: Thoughts About Characters

I went over chargen in T&T in some detail yesterday, but because of the length of the post held off on my musings.  Overall I’d say I quite like it. It’s simple, quick, and reasonably flexible for a class-based system.

It does have a large random aspect, which is going to be a turn-off for quite a few people, but I’m used to it from my friend Mac’s D&D homebrew game (3d6 in order, no exceptions, no adjustments for race or class).  Also, since advancement in T&T means advancing your attributes, if you survive eventually you’re going to be able to overcome any initial deficit.

As an aside, my favorite way of rolling strict 3d6 is to assign each roll as you go…that way with some luck you can steer your character towards the type of class you want to play, without being able to min-max as precisely as roll 8 times and then arrange to suit.  If you want tougher characters you could easily adopt any D&D method such as roll 4d6 and drop lowest, roll 3d6 in order then switch 1 pair, roll in order and exchange points 2 for 1, etc.  You can also just skip the rolling and use the point-buy option T&T provides; you don’t get the Kindred modifiers in that case, so you can end up with a really weak dwarf compared to the standard…but that just means that you’ve gone out adventuring at level 1 instead of waiting until you’re second or third level like most Dwarves do.

The class mix is fairly traditional…though surprisingly lacks Clerics in any capacity.  Wizards have access to healing and to armor, so it doesn’t really present any problems as far as traditional FRP adventuring goes, but it might come as a bit of a shock to people who like the role.  You could easily use specialist Healers as clerics, but I kind of favor the idea that even if the setting has priests, that’s a profession, not a class. If I do any work on a T&T-specific setting, I’ll just make it that some priests are Warriors, some Wizards, most are Citizens.  Whatever their formal training is, they use their abilities to further the goals of their church and god(s).

The Specialist class(es) mostly seem an afterthought, to fill out traditional FRP roles like Ranger and Healer, but they seem like they’d be interesting to play.  The restrictions on the non-magical Specialists of having to roll triples and get over 15 in the primary attribute to qualify will make them rare, and I can see how if you really want to play a Ranger you might chafe at them…though it seems quite in the spirit of T&T to sweet-talk the GM into letting you.  If it’s conceivable that you can start as a Dragon, you can probably start as a Ranger if you really want.  The Leader specialist seems very, very broken to me unless you’re running a combat-only game with barely any interaction with NPCs, but if the GM just cuts back on the “no matter how far-fetched or difficult the task or the lie” it’s probably quite fun.  I’d also probably house-rule that it just doesn’t work on other PCs… I’ve been down the route where a character with high Persuade just pushes the rest of the group around, and even with my far-from-power-gamer players, it got to be too much.  Even the player who was doing the Persuading eventually asked for the power to be toned down.

The Kindred rules seem like a munchkin’s dream if you have a lax GM, but since I’m used to running games where the players aren’t given any points or budget but just told to make characters at about a certain level of power, I don’t have much of a problem with it.  There doesn’t seem to be any mechanical reason at all to play a human (unlike the D&D 3e or Savage Worlds bribe of an extra Feat/Edge for human “versatility”), but I’m fine with that.  People should play according to concept, rather than mechanical advantage.  T&T gives most starting non-human characters a leg up, but it’s the equivalent of starting at a higher level, which means facing greater challenges and having slower advancement.  It does appear to me that T&T is reasonably lenient about party mix…because of the way combat works, it looks like you can get away with being the sole 1st level character in a party of 4th level types without being suicidal or useless.

Talents are probably my favorite idea from the character generation.  They hit the sweet spot between needless complexity and fiddly accounting of systems with narrow skills, point buys and formulas, and strict class systems where what you know how to do is the same as any member of your class by definition.  Every level you get a new Talent.  Easy to think about, easy to do.  The only thing that bugs me slightly is that you could pick something to be a defining Talent for your character and roll 1 on a 1d6, making your character barely any better than an untalented person (though simply having the Talent can let you call for a roll against your good stat where the GM might have asked for a save against some weak stat or disallowed it entirely).  I might house-rule that if you take the same Talent twice, you get to reroll the add-on.

I also quite like the “everything is a Saving Roll” core mechanic.  While I appreciate the theoretical possibilities opened up by having different subsystems appropriate to different tasks, in the end I usually go for the easy-to-remember and easy-to-adjudicate universal die roll.  You can always rule in more elaborate home-brew subsystems to handle specific things like tracking ammo or overland chases if you find the extra overhead pays off, and I much prefer that to the opposite approach where the game offers an encyclopedic set of complex interlocking rules and dares you to scratch some of them off in order to pare it down to a playable core.

I also like the extensive weapon lists… there are some real surprises hidden in there.  For instance, the kris prevents any magic third level or lower from operating within 5′ of the blade, and prevent the wielder from using any magic at all.  The in-game explanation involves meteoric iron and special magical forging techniques, but just that such things exist and can be easily purchased provides some real flavor for the world.

I’d rate the character creation in Tunnels & Trolls a solid A.  The very fact that it has die-rolls and classes makes it a no-go for some people, but I’m not one of them, and I think there are more than enough knobs to fiddle with that players can generate unique, interesting and playable characters from the beginning.  Add that it’s really quick, taking hardly more time than a 3d6 in order Basic D&D character, and it’s a winner.

8 thoughts on “Tunnels & Trolls: Thoughts About Characters

  1. You have seen the clarification Ken has provided for the Leaders, right?

    If you want to house rule the Talents, try adding your level instead of a d6. It’s an interesting variant.

  2. @Andreas – Thanks! No, I haven’t seen the clarification on Leaders… where would that be?

  3. It’s not like it drastically limits Leaders, but it puts them in perspective.

    You’ll find it in the Goodies section of Trollhalla – the errata and clarifications sheet. You don’t even have to be a member of Trollhalla, since the ‘try it out’ button will give access to the Goodies.

    Sending e-mail to tnterrata at gmail dot com is another way to get it.

  4. Ok, I’ve read the errata (nice job, btw) and I still think Leaders are unbelievably broken. Yeah, they can’t talk their way out of combat very easily (because of the one-at-a-time rule and having to know the language of the monster), but I never really thought they would. It’s interaction with NPCs, such as kings, merchants, powerful wizards, and so forth that I’m worried about. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t let somebody play one, but it does mean that I’d adjust the SR to whatever I think is appropriate before I let some leader talk a king out of his crown.

  5. Thanks.

    OK, then I think we’re in agreement. The Specialists are none of them very good, I think. I let people use them in my campaign since I want to playtest them. But, I’m doubtful about their usability.

  6. The magic specialists seem fine, and I think the Ranger specialist is interesting. Automatically hitting is such a minor advantage in T&T that I mostly see it as being used for flavor and RP…severing ropes and the like.

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