Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls Preview Pack

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls Preview Pack
From:Flying Buffalo, Inc, Free RPG Day
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls Preview Pack is a new Free RPG Day Preview Pack from Flying Buffalo Inc.

I have to admit that I have heard of Tunnels & Trolls in passing but never really been exposed to it.  I have not heard good or bad about it.  I am going into this completely unfettered and new to this game.  I think that is what is intended for any of these Free RPG Day adventures, isn’t it?  Also, in the Free RPG Day bundle, there are three games represented that I would say were vying for the 3rd or 4th place in the fantasy RPG industry – and maybe even second place since D&D has seen such a great decline – Tunnels & Trolls, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Castles & Crusades.  Having little to no experience with any of these, I truly wanted to see which one(s) stood out to me.

Researching into the game a little, I am impressed with its history.  Eight editions since 1975, this Preview Pack now presents the first look at a 9th edition, now called Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls – creatively abbreviated dT&T.  Having no experience with previous editions, I can only relay my experiences as a first timer.  So if you are looking for comparisons, I am not sure you are going to get much of that.

What is most interesting is that the game is flexible enough for normal group play as well as solo play and play by mail (or email or forum-based).  The Preview Pack even provides you with a download for a solo adventure.

From the cover:
“One of the easiest RPGs to learn & play.”

This booklet starts out with not only a simple overview of the dT&T game system, as one would expect, but also a simple overview of the character generation system.

CHARACTER GENERATION

The character generation system is fairly simple. You have 8 base Prime Attributes (ability scores) which is the character’s primary interface with the game system, a character race, and the character type.

Prime Attributes are rolled old-school style with three six-sided dice.  The twist in this situation is that if you roll triples, the dice explode – meaning if you roll the same number on all three dice, add them up and roll again to add that total as well.  This creates interesting and open ended possibilities for characters.  Character races and types (conceptually the same as classes) all have their various effects on these Prime Attributes as well as supply bonuses in combat, access to magic, and in some cases, Talents.  However, everything in the system revolves around the Prime Attributes, Personal Adds (which are derived from Prime Attributes) and combat values obtained from weapons and armor.

Characters also have levels which are simple measures of progress in the character, but there is no leveling chart for each Character Type.  This preview does go into experience and leveling but not in huge detail; it provides just enough to give you an idea of how it works.  Level, for instance, is simply dividing the highest Prime Attribute by ten.  I like that simplicity.

SYSTEM

The base system is a strictly six-sided dice based system.  The system claims to be “one of the easiest RPGs to learn and play” and in some ways, I can see that claim ringing true.  There are basically two types of rolls – Saving Rolls and Combat.

Saving Rolls are D&D/d20 saving throws combined with standard skill checks or talents.  Saving Rolls are used in this Free RPG Day preview version but the use of talents is left out for simplicity.  Talents are given a cursory explanation, however – just enough to wet your curiosity about the full game book due out this summer.  Saving Rolls involve probably my least favorite aspect of the game – the “Level of difficult” system.  Level of difficult, or just Level in this case, defines the number you subtract the attribute fromSo a L2SR on LK is a Level 2 difficulty Saving Roll for Luck.  You simply roll two dice for this and doubles explode.

There are many systems that have tried to make combat a single die roll and I think dT&T has accomplished this in perhaps the simplest and most obvious way.  Basically, it’s an opposed roll, where the weapon or weapons you are holding play a bigger part than skill or ability.  Both skill and ability have some affect through something called Personal Adds or Adds, which are derived from Prime Attributes and/or Talents.  However, combat is the only place that multiples (doubles or triples) do not explode.  A slight inconsistency in the rules but I can understand why it was done that way.

Without a doubt, this is a simple combat system, but the more tactically inclined are not really going to like it much.  It breaks everything down to a single number and the purpose of combat is simply to get your opponents hit points down before yours.  Grant it, that really is what combat is all about, but the finesse and attraction for a lot of players is in how it is done.  This system leaves a lot of that “how” to the GM, which in a lot of ways is very admirable.

I think my second least favorite part of this game system is the monsters and how they are stat’ed out. However, it is consistent with the simplicity in the system.  Monsters are basically boiled down to a single number called Monster Rating.  This represents the Monsters hit points and also derives its attack dice.  That’s all a monster is in this system.  No special abilities, spells or other interesting items to flesh him out.  Once again, boiling things down to reducing the hit points number and leaving a lot for the GM to fill in.  Depending on the GM, this could be a good thing or a bad thing.

A simple magic system is supplied in the Preview Pack as well as a short list of spells.  The spells range from Level 1 to Level 5.  Each spell has a Wizardry cost which is subtracted from the Prime Attribute WZ. As the Wizard gains more experience, the lower the cost of some spells become.  Also in a very Tolkienesque fashion, a staff helps reduce the cost of spells as well.  Spells are your basic D&D type spells like Detect Magic, Mirage, etc.

Overall, the system is pretty sound, although lacking some elegance.  It is not overly clunky and fairly fast paced which I think would work well for a one shot.  For a GM ready to run this, like in most games, read through the rules thoroughly before diving into the adventure.  However, it shouldn’t take a GM more than 30 minutes to rules prep for this game system because it is fairly easy.  Just know that in combat, the GM will need to fill in some of the gory details and tactical information for those players that are looking for that because all this system does is boil combat down to simple numbers.

From the cover:
“Includes: Introductory Rules, GM Adventure & Solo adventure download”

THE ADVENTURE

The Preview Pack includes 3 pre-generated characters ready to use but the character generation system is simple enough that even at the table character generation would not be too disruptive.  To avoid all that, I would copy the page twice, maybe adjust a few of the numbers to make them slightly different and use them for a party of 6.

The adventure takes the party to the Cavern of the Mad Dwarf.  They are sent to save a fire dwarf princess who is being held captive in the caverns.  Where is the catch?  The caves are at the foot of a volcano and hot lava and steam vents through the caverns.  The patron supplies the party with potions that supply total fire resistance for a limited time.  This creates an interesting tension, at least initially, to the adventure.

The quest takes the adventurers down an enchanted volcanic vent, encountering perils and dangerous creatures.  It’s a dungeon crawl with a few slight twists.  The heat is just one of their concerns.  There are a wide variety of creatures described but because these monsters don’t have a nice neat stat block, it’s important to read the encounters to find the monsters’ powers, abilities, tactics, and motivations.

From a GM point of view, there are subtle nuances in this adventure that make it important to read each encounter carefully before sending the players into them.  It’s not just a normal dungeon crawl.  Each room has its own characteristics and challenges.  Not all need to be fights but a lot of them end up that way.  There are also nice opportunities for the GM to add his own style to the encounters.  It is nicely detailed and inspiring.

The map supplied is very well done and detailed.  If the GM has the opportunity, I would recommend copying that page, but don’t use it as a player reference as it reveals all the caverns’ secrets.  This adventure will need a means for the GM to draw out each room or display each room to the players.  Dry-erase map boards or cavern map tiles would be good.  Even a dry erase board laid flat on the table would be good.

My biggest concern while reading through this is time.  The GM needs to manage the time well, especially if he is running in a fixed time slot.  There are twelve rooms and in the end, you have the boss fight, which can take some time.  Because the adventure supplies a way around the potions at one point (if the players play their cards right), the adventure could go longer than initially thought.  This could easily fit in the standard convention 4-hour time slot if managed right.

In conclusion, Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls Preview Pack has a lot to offer a person wanting to try out a new system.  It has an old-school feel with some modern sensibilities.  The influence of solo play and play-by-mail make for a very simple system that may or may not be completely satisfying to all types of players.  For a one shot, though, it is definitely worth a try.  The adventure itself is great.  It is well written and well thought out, despite its simple foundation of a dungeon crawl.

For more details on Flying Buffalo Inc and their new Free RPG Day Preview PackDeluxe Tunnels & Trolls Preview Pack” check them out at their website http://www.flyingbuffalo.com.

Codex Rating: System 14.  Adventure 17

flyingbuffaloProduct Summary

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls Preview Pack
From: Flying Buffalo Inc
Type of Game: Free RPG Day Preview Pack
Written by: Ken St. Andre
Contributing Authors: Liz Danforth, Bear Peters
Game Design by: Ken St. Andre
Art by: Liz Danforth, Rob Carver, Steve Crompton, Bear Peters
Number of Pages: 18 pages
Game Components Included: Preview of the dT&T rules and one short adventure with 3 basic pre-generated characters
Game Components Not Included: Dice
Retail Price: Free(US)
Number of Players: 2 – 6 plus GM
Website: www.flyingbuffalo.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung