Early Tabletop Gaming: Tunnels & Trolls memories

I received the Tunnels & Trolls 5th Edition Box Set from my friends JK and Jay in the summer of 1984.  Tunnels & Trolls was the perfect game for me at that time – light fantasy, with a sense of humour and an appreciation of the absurd.  It was a much more streamlined system than Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which was our usual staple at the time.  Instead of 3 hardcover rulebooks, you only had one paperback book that contained everything you needed.

Part of the fun of gaming back then was creating characters.  I think that was actually the game we played the most – Character Creation.  We played Gamma World a few times, but I think we must have each written up dozens of mutant characters.  I know that we had more than a few freaky animals designed for the TMNT game, though we never actually played.  Lots of D&D heroes, lots of Top Secret and James Bond secret agents, lots of unused wizards that sat in three-ring binders.  We had hundreds of giant machine warriors designed for Battletech games that were never used.  But that was a lot of the fun – rolling up stats, thinking of names, picking spells and equipment, placing heat sinks and weapons, rolling random mutations.

We always designed our own character record sheets, usually creating new ones for different themes or campaigns.  There was a photocopier at the library that cost a dime, and we’d head over with a pocketful of change and photocopy our hand-drawn sheets on the weekends.  Eventually, we started using typewriters to make them more “official” and soon graduated to dot-matrix printers.  This was back in the Commodore 64 days, so I think we’d design a sheet on the computer, but still need to use a ruler and pen to include any vertical lines or boxes.

I designed a fantasy world for Tunnels & Trolls and built some adversaries and adventures.  Lacking the complex rules of AD&D, it was easy to come up with stuff on the fly – but I eventually found that I did need a little more information than the rulebook provided.  With AD&D, you’d get an entire Monster Manual – with T&T, you were lucky to get a half-page table with names and basic stats.  In fact, T&T really only had one stat for monsters that mattered – everything was based on their Monster Rating.

To help flesh out the creatures in my campaign, I found a book from another game – Out of the Pit for the Fighting Fantasy RPG.  I had known of the Fighting Fantasy books, sort of beefed-up Choose Your Own Adventures, for some time, but didn’t know about expanded rules that turned it into its own RPG.  My copy of Out of the Pit soon had notes scrawled all over, assigning T&T Monster Ratings and adding other notes, like “Ghouls always talk in rhyme.”  Later, I’d use that same book and add D&D stats and it would become a second monster manual for my D&D games.

I loved the background and look of the Fighting Fantasy books and game, and eventually picked up all of the books for that game as well.  My collector’s compulsion hit decades later, when I purchased an FF setting book, Allansia, from an eBay vendor in Australia.  I had never seen or heard of that book before (only the Titan complete world setting) but immediately saw the gap on my bookshelf.

Fighting Fantasy was a lot like Tunnels & Trolls in some ways.  T&T became known for its solo adventures, which were much like the Fighting Fantasy books, where you’d choose your adventure and roll dice to decided combats and challenges, recording information on your character and progressing through the story.  We didn’t have much time for solo play back then, though, as we played as much as possible and spent any free time rolling up mutant badgers for games we’d never even have time to get to.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.