Tunnels & Trolls: Full Circle

In 1984, my friends JK and Jay went to GenCon, the big roleplaying game convention in Milwaukee.  They came back with lots of great stories, and a bunch of new (to us, anyway) games, including Tunnels & Trolls, which became one of the games that I ran for the group.  JK had purchased a copy of the T&T 5th Edition rules from Rick Loomis at the Flying Buffalo Games table at the show.

20 years later, JK was negotiating with that same Rick Loomis to publish an updated edition of Tunnels & Trolls through Fiery Dragon Productions.  FDP had come to exist thanks to the d20 boom of 2000, but was looking to diversify its line-up to include cardstock-based wargames and other rpgs.  Tunnels & Trolls hadn’t had a true revision since the 5th Edition was published back in 1979 (other than a web-only “mythical” 6th Edition, which was mostly 5E plus some great fan-generated material).  Rick at Flying Buffalo was interested in the partnership, and original designer Ken St. Andre was eager to update-and-expand Tunnels & Trolls.

Reflecting back on my early T&T play, one of the things that I wanted to include in a new “7th Edition” box set was a true monster book, or at least something with a little more information than the half-page chart of 5E.

In older editions of T&T, monsters had essentially one statistic – Monster Rating.  This single number was used as defense (ie, “hit points”) and also offensive ability (ie, “attack rolls”).  The T&T system is very simple – both sides roll their attack dice, the side with the higher result wins, and the difference is the amount of damage taken by the loser.  For monsters, this meant the reduction of their Monster Rating, and subsequently the reduction of their offensive ability.  If your adventuring group was able to deal damage to monstrous enemies, it was a pretty certain spiral of death for your foes, as they got weaker and reduced their attack dice as they took damage.

Ken St. Andre had already incorporated some of the best house-rules and updates that were used with the 5th Edition system.  He removed the link between attack dice and current monster rating, and instead had a monster’s attacks based on its initial Monster Rating, so that it wouldn’t be swept up in the death spiral of bad dice rolls.  He also made Spite Damage – something that had been an unofficial houserule for a long time – a true part of the game.  Basically, whenever a monster rolls a 6 on any of their attack dice, the players take a point of damage, regardless of whether the monster wins the combat or not.  These two changes keep the monster as an offensive threat and keep characters from quickly overwhelming monstrous foes.

Building on the Spite Damage mechanic, I added another twist – special damage that could occur based on the number of 6s rolled during a combat round.  Most monsters defaulted to standard Spite Damage (1 point for every 6 rolled), but now you’d have things that could happen if you rolled two 6s or three 6s or sometimes you’d need to roll six 6s to unleash potent abilities.  Stuff like having a medusa turn people to stone if the Game Master rolled three 6s during a combat round.  It was a way to add some new effects into the game, and yet it didn’t unbalance anything due to the probabilities of the die needed to set them off.

My other big note for the 7th Edition was about celebrating an anniversary.  Tunnels & Trolls had first been published in 1975, and the Fiery Dragon version would be coming out in 2005 – the 30th Anniversary of the game.  Rick helped us get in touch with Liz Danforth, who did the cover for my old 5th Edition box set and a lot of T&T art back in those days.  My art direction to Liz was to advance the scene from that 1979 cover so that we could see what happened in the next few minutes.  When we last saw our heroes, they were interrupted while looting a treasure chest by a troll emerging from the darkness.  Liz took things from bad to worse for our intrepid band, and added a second troll coming out to help his fellow monster after all these years.  Suddenly (or at least after 30 years), the tables are turned and now the monsters have the upper hand.

I think the 30th Anniversary cover is a great tribute to her version of 1979, and also an apt reflection of Ken’s new rules on monsters and making them more of a challenge!

In 2006, the print run for the 30th Anniversary had sold out, and Ken wanted to make a few more minor changes to the game, putting some stuff back in that hadn’t quite made the cut into 7th Edition.  A very minor update, but we kept with the trend of the day, and jokingly called it the Tunnels & Trolls 7.5 Edition.

The cover for this set was provided by David Sourwine, and my art direction to him was to see our now familiar battle from a different perspective.  Now, we see what happened in the moments before the 5th Edition Liz Danforth cover, but this time from the monsters’ perspective.

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