Tunnels and Trolls Impressions

I’ve had a chance to give the 5.5 version of Tunnels and Trolls a once over.  T&T is billed as being easier to play than OD&D, and in some respects this is true.  In particular I like the way the game handles a mass melee.  Basically, everyone rolls a bunch of d6’s, based on the weapon they wield, and then add ‘personal adds’ to the dice roll, based on a character’s stats.  Monsters roll dice based on their total Monster Rating, adding 1/2 the MR to the dice roll.  Whichever side gets the highest result ‘wins’ the melee and inflicts hits on the other side equal to the difference in the results.  All-in-all a very simple way to resolve a complex melee.

One thing about this melee combat system:  two evenly matched combatants can fight back and forth with little damage done to either side for several rounds, until one side gets lucky and inflicts a bit hit on the other.  And then it’s a quick downhill slide, where the weakened side has virtually no chance to inflict damage on the winning side.  Thus victory becomes a foregone conclusion, and you’re merely taking the time to go through the dice-rolling motions.  While a similar fight in OD&D might be more complex, even if the outcome is a foregone conclusion a weakned enemy has some chance to damage their opponents.  Later versions of T&T add a ‘spite damage’ rule that, from my understanding, let a weakened enemy do a little damage to a stronger enemy.

Ranged combat uses a different system based on ‘saving rolls,’ determined by distance to the target and the target’s size.  This is perhaps more ‘realistic’ but it’s also a departure from the more abstract nature of melee combat, and a bit more complicated (at least to my reading).  There are also optional rules, like giving characters saving rolls to dodge attacks, or allowing ranged attacks to hit automatically if done at point blank range, which I think further serve to complicate things.  This is mercificully mitigated by limiting ranged attacks to the first round of combat…after that everyone is too mixed up in a general scrum to safely make ranged attacks.  Still, I would have preferred a system that worked more seemlessly within the existing melee combat rules.

Spell casting is another mixture of simplicity and frustration.  On the whole, spell casting uses a fairly simple point-based system.  However, certain combat spells add their ‘hits’ to the total hits generated in melee combat (due to the ‘shock and awe’ of the spell) to determine which side wins the melee, but those hits are not counted double for the purposes of damage.  So, the spell may have let you win the melee round, but you don’t inflict any additinal damage for winning.  This is an entirely reasonable rule, except that again it seems to add a needless layer of complication.  Why not remove the ‘shock and awe’ effect of the spells and resolve their effects separately from melee combat (I guess nothing would stop me from houseruling that)–it seems that automatically inflicting a bunch of hits on the enemy, with no chance to defend really, would be sufficient shock (and likely turn the tide of battle).

Of course, all this is based just on my reading of the rules.  In actual play many mechanics that seem complicated to me might in practice turn out to be very simple.  And, of course, a game is more than the sum of its mechanical sub-systems.  From what I’ve read, playing T&T had a very different ‘feel’ from playing OD&D.  Someday I’d like to play a game of T&T with a GM well-versed in the game’s rules and play style to really get a feel for the difference between the two games.


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