Tunnels and Trolls! Combat!

edited May 2011 in Story Games
So who out there in the world has some experience with Tunnels and Trolls combat? How do you like it? It seems at first to be "roll your dice, add some numbers, and whoever has the higher one wins" which is pretty unsatisfying, but the stuff on Saving Throws adds some neat potential wrinkles into the whole thing where you could pull off some tricks. Unfortunately the book handwaves it and essentially says "do what you want!" So I have no idea how this ends up working in play. Anybody out there been playing it? Oh, and I'm talking about 7.5 but if other editions are similar I'm interested in hearing about them.

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  • edited May 2011
    I was peaking into that game and put together a bunch of threads on my blog...here.
  • From what I've read, it's a bit more than just highest side wins. There's also spite dice, so even if you win a round, you could take some damage. There's also some confusion/strategy involved with casting spells and using missiles, and whether that actually gets included in the totalling up (I believe earlier editions did this, which is where the confusion comes from).
  • Combat in Tunnels & Trolls has been all about fictional positioning for me. If both sides are just rolling up all their dice and comparing them, that means the players have made the mistake of walking straight into a melee (in the real sense of the word, not the RPG sense).

    Instead, you want to do what you can to split your opponents ups; lure them into a hallway where they can only fit one by one; sneak up and slay a couple while their unaware; have the fighter corner the big guy and keep him busy while the rest of you sweep up. 10 urooks at MR 40 each are 41d6+200 coming at you. 2 urooks are only 9d6+40. I know which I prefer.

    Since there are no specific powers that let you do any of these things, you'll have to narrate your character doing it. So instead of tactical positioning on a battle mat, your fighting for fictional positioning in the narration. Suddenly our heroes aren't walking from room to room, throwing open the doors as they go. Instead, they're cautiously listening at the door to determine what might be on the other side.

    The best part is, if the GM wants Saving Throw to get something done, that's more delicious Adventure Points.
  • I love T&T! Some house rules that I have seen have been:

    Characters can make a level 1 saving throw to try to flee combat. Raise the saving throw if you are outnumbered, lower it if people in your party stay to fight.

    A character can choose to dodge instead of fight. He subtracts 1/2 his DEX form any damage he takes. The PC still adds his dice and adds to the combat, but he does not do damage.

    Characters can make a DEX saving throw to dodge their opponent's blow. If they make it they take no damage. If they miss they take the full blow from their opponent.

    Characters can attack certain parts of the body, such as stabbing a monster in the eye or heart. Treat this blow like a ranged attack. In 5th edition ranged combat was modified for size, so to attack the head would be a level 3 DEX roll.

    The beauty of T&T is that you get to modify it as much as you want. If a PC wants to throw their dagger, cutting the chandelier, and dropping it on the monsters then just make up an appropriate DEX saving throw and let them roll!
  • Epidiah has it, it's all about positioning: the default combat round is a melee where you just count everything together, but you can achieve quite a satisfying amount of tactical variety by positioning. Basically, you're splitting both forces up into an arbitrary, fiction-based number of subgroups, which are then matched together on the basis of fictional maneuvering. The basic goal here is to have everybody in your force fight a small subgroup of the opposing force while a majority of them twiddle their thumbs, run in confusion from point A to point B, are stunned or are otherwise occupied: force concentration in one place to cause defeat in detail for the opposition. You achieve this goal by inventive tactics in between melee rounds: each melee round depicts the span of time from the commencement of hostilities to a break in the action, so by definition you will be able to move, talk, cast spells, escape and do other things in between those melee rounds. If it has been established that some of the enemies are close by and some are farther away, attack quickly to get a melee round against only a portion of the force; if it's been established that the enemies are ready for action, withdraw and try to break them up, or use special weapons (molotov coctails are a perennial favourite in the genre) to break up the formations and sow confusion, all to get that tactically superior position. If all else fails, sacrifice a minor part of your force to attract the enemy to split, then defeat them in detail.

    Another issue are multiple goals that come up in complex tactical situations: you might have to divert a part of your forces to fight on a complementary front or to do something else with a Saving Throw, or simply to cause some tactical effect you'll absolutely need to win the battle over the long term. Melee rounds always take time, so even the most cohesive force might lose the entire fight by being delayed and misled into excess force concentration, especially if you can get inside their decision-making loop by reducing and slowing down their information flow. In practice you do this sort of thing by avoiding the melee round (Saving Throws), and by sending only partial forces into them, and by limiting the decisiveness of the engagement (basically limit both yourself and the opponent to fighting with less than their full force). There are an infinite amount of stratagems, but a tactical withdrawal is both a complex and basic example: you draw a portion of the enemy force off in pursuit, position your own rearguard for ambush with Saving Throws, turn back to face the quickest enemy forces with your front for a turn, continue the escape, lead them into a trap, engage, disengage and so on, ideally whitling the enemy down by refusing engagement.

    An important special case is force quality: where you have superior individual fighters, you might be able to use this tactically by encouraging limited confrontations instead of all-out melee. As always, the "everybody rolls" melee is your default position that you engage in only if the combat happens for no particular reason in a completely generic setting with no options for positioning. If, on the other hand, you're fighting knights and one of your own forces happens to be invulnerable and you also hold a chokepoint, it's sort of obvious that what you'll want to see is a series of duels the enemy can't refuse due to honor and tactical reasons, but which they also can't win because you have this one guy who can beat any one of theirs. The point is that the seemingly communal fighting system is only that if and when you allow the situation to become a generic melee. Duels can and will happen, as will ganging up on enemies.

    Note that the combat system of the game works exactly as it should here: equally strong forces will likely not cause much harm to each other in one melee round, while an overwhelming force will typically crush the enemy immediately, which means that the value of time as a currency changes from situation to situation; one might say that the equal forces will fight more rounds because they will be able to disengage more often, while a routing, inferior enemy will be forced off the field before they have a chance to remaneuver. Distributing damage within the losing side comes in here as well: the rules text has the losers choose their own distribution, but I usually allow the fiction to inform here in the form of pre-round positioning and post-roll stunts and such. (In my experience this is automatic, players have more fun when they go "of course the fighter takes the damage, he's in front" rather than trying to optimize too much.) Regardless, the fight is only about grinding multiple melee rounds in a row when everybody's run out of ideas and the weaker party can't escape for some reason; in all other cases you absolutely want to use those moments between rounds of savage combat to reposition and try to gain advantage anew.

    Speaking of stunts, I myself like to use Spite damage as a sort of stunt and special technique pool, especially for fighters. Want to disarm the opponent - roll a Spite point and spend it for that. Want to end your melee round behind the enemy force - spend Spite. Want to make a Saving Throw maneuver as well as fight this turn - spend Spite. This works better than pure Saving throws (especially the stupid "lose your melee round to make a Saving Throw" idea in the rules text) for some things, and remember - this is a refereed old school game, the presumption is that you'll use the subgames and mechanical conventions that you like and that flow in the moment. I personally happen to like having a bit of special crunchy sting in fights, so I expand the Spite damage concept the teeniest bit; monsters get to do special maneuvers fueled by Spite, too, so why not PCs.

    Also, I have to say that I agree 100% with anybody who reads the text and thinks that the system is not explained clearly, and is not implemented very excitingly in the examples. I've no idea what's going on there, frankly; this is a very nuanced fantasy combat system with more realism (psychological and cinematic credibility, rather) than any Runequest derivative, so it's sort of a shame that it's not been written up very clearly. I don't know of a superior system for highlighting the nature of melee combat against the desperate breaks and breathing space combatants gain now and then. The mainstream (Runequest, later D&D) train of thought is all about sliced time, movement in melee and robotic precision in split-second decision-making, which is not at all what I want fantasy combat to be: I want insanely chaotic melee rounds with risk and implicit movement, intersped with tactical maneuvers. T&T delivers this beautifully, making it my number one choice when I want true-to-life archaic combat for a roleplaying game. The system being dead simple in its basics is a big bonus, but not my first reason for liking it.
  • Also, I should note that the Mountain Witch combat system is by coincidence (I think it's a coincidence, anyway) a dead ringer for T&T insofar as the dynamics are concerned. I basically run both in the same way, using dice as impromptu miniatures to clarify positioning and allowing the players to tug and push at the positions to achieve the best compromise between credible fiction and optimal tactical positions they want. Once the situation has been split into one or more melees, we roll the dice, find out the degree of success and then reposition for another round. The only difference between the games is really in that you run Mountain Witch by dramatic coordination (try to find the dramatic issues and set up player choices about them) and T&T by challenging the group (find the difficulties in the situation and use them to justify fucking them up). Other than that, if you understand MW combat you understand T&T, too. Beautiful systems both, just beautiful.
  • Hmm. I may have really misinterpreted the game, which I picked up just the other day and was pretty disappointed because there's like half-a-dozen examples of combat and most of them are big piles of number crunching and just one of those 'saving throws' is mentioned - as if they were an afterthought.

    But after looking at that thread and seeing Ken St. Andre's "Yay, they *get* it" post... maybe he made it look like an afterthought on purpose, so he isn't robbing new players of that "a-ha" moment?
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenSpeaking of stunts, I myself like to use Spite damage as a sort of stunt and special technique pool, especially for fighters. Want to disarm the opponent - roll a Spite point and spend it for that. Want to end your melee round behind the enemy force - spend Spite. Want to make a Saving Throw maneuver as well as fight this turn - spend Spite. This works better than pure Saving throws (especially the stupid "lose your melee round to make a Saving Throw" idea in the rules text) for some things, and remember - this is a refereed old school game, the presumption is that you'll use the subgames and mechanical conventions that you like and that flow in the moment. I personally happen to like having a bit of special crunchy sting in fights, so I expand the Spite damage concept the teeniest bit; monsters get to do special maneuvers fueled by Spite, too, so why not PCs.
    Is this in the 7.5 rules, btw? All I seemed to see was spite damage is hit-points lost for the winning party.
  • I'm really happy this thread is happening - thanks for the exciting insights into the combat system, y'all!
    I thought things seemed pretty abstract and simple-in-principle, complex-in-practice. What would folks say if I compared the T&T combat rules to the Hero Wars extended contest rules?
    I know bidding isn't really what happens in the T&T system, but the compare-totals element, with the huge amount of fictional positioning needed to make it all meaningful, seems like it shares a few characteristics.
    I love Extended Contest rules; is that any indication of how much I'll love T&T combat? I'm also a huge fan of the OSR style of problem-solving by way of enormous amounts of fictional positioning.

    Eh? Ehhh?? ^__^
  • Posted By: jdfristromIs this in the 7.5 rules, btw? All I seemed to see was spite damage is hit-points lost for the winning party.
    It's not in there directly, but nearly so. The by the book default power of Spite is indeed direct damage that bypasses melee scores and armour. However, monsters get special powers that are activated by expending Spite - "roll three Spite and the stoning gaze activates, and it does this when it does", that sort of thing. Also, the sample adventure that comes in the box has a magic sword that bursts into flame when the PC wielding it rolls a specific amount of Spite. So the mechanical idea itself is in there, it's just not codified and expanded upon as a generic mechanic.
  • That's actually a pretty brilliant way of handling monster special abilities. Particularly given that T&T was focused for solo play.
  • Posted By: Eero Tuovinen(especially the stupid "lose your melee round to make a Saving Throw" idea in the rules text)
    The good news is, I don't think that's in the text for 7.5. At least, I haven't been able to find it. Whether it's a deliberate omission or not, I don't know. The game text is rife with decades-worth of mechanical assumptions that are sometimes present and sometimes just implied. But I'm just going to go ahead and pretend it's a deliberate omission.

    Hey, Bret! You check this out. Some nifty guidelines for using Saving Rolls to spice up combat.
  • Actually, Epi, I picked up on that particular foolishness specifically in the 7.5 rules - don't know if it's there in earlier texts, too. If I remember right, I encountered this in the long combat example where a character wanted to trip an enemy (or something like that), and the GM allowed it on the premise that on a success the monster wouldn't participate in the melee round, but neither would the tripper. If that's how it went (can't remember, might have been that it was double damage on the next round that the player was shooting for) then it's not an entirely insane trade-off (makes sense if the monster is stronger in the fight than the tripper), but still not my cup of tea most of the time - taking away the melee round is a very heavy penalty mathematically, I'd try to avoid making players choose between doing stunts and participating in the melee.

    But, of course that's an insignificant detail when the methodology itself is functioning - players won't take that deal if they perceive it as bad, GM's won't offer it if they perceive it as unrealistic/unpleasing, so what do we care even if the combat example might be a bit weird.
  • This is all exactly what I was looking for, thanks guys. I'm pretty pumped. It's got some good, Basic D&D style flavor but is more flexible. I'm also surprised at how ahead of its time it seems.
  • Oh, right! The centaur kicking the big guy thing. Yeah. Shit. Oh well, I'm with you. 2 minutes is plenty of time for a melee and a saving roll.
  • The centaur kicking the big guy example had the big guy knocked out for three rounds, I think, which is pretty advantageous.
  • Three rounds is more reasonable, yeah. Anyway, the important point is to negotiate this stuff in play, case-by-case: the GM provides deals that accord with his sense for the aesthetics, challenge and facts of the fiction, and the players choose to take them or not on the basis of the tactical situation. It's a "Yes, but" system, as they say nowadays: yes, you can swing from the chandelier and land in the middle of the enemy, and here's how it'll work mechanically; still want to do it? Often the "but" amounts to a deal so bad that the player doesn't want to take it, but that's part of building a cohesive fiction where players actually can suggest good and bad tactical moves: try to think up moves the GM will find sensible and effective, and the odds are that he'll offer a quite lucrative deal on the ST difficulty, Spite price or whatever other resources might be in play.
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenActually, Epi, I picked up on that particular foolishness specifically in the 7.5 rules - don't know if it's there in earlier texts, too. If I remember right, I encountered this in the long combat example where a character wanted to trip an enemy (or something like that), and the GM allowed it on the premise that on a success the monster wouldn't participate in the melee round, but neither would the tripper. If that's how it went (can't remember, might have been that it was double damage on the next round that the player was shooting for) then it's not an entirely insane trade-off (makes sense if the monster is stronger in the fight than the tripper), but still not my cup of tea most of the time - taking away the melee round is a very heavy penalty mathematically, I'd try to avoid making players choose between doing stunts and participating in the melee.

    But, of course that's an insignificant detail when the methodology itself is functioning - players won't take that deal if they perceive it as bad, GM's won't offer it if they perceive it as unrealistic/unpleasing, so what do we care even if the combat example might be a bit weird.
    If you win that round, you'd still be dealing damage to all the monsters, and since it's abstracted you could assume that some damage was dealt by the tripper, just that he didn't make any rolls for it.
  • Posted By: migo
    If you win that round, you'd still be dealing damage to all the monsters, and since it's abstracted you could assume that some damage was dealt by the tripper, just that he didn't make any rolls for it.
    I don't that will work since the numbers clearly say the tripper isn't there. Saying the tripper only deals half damage or something and that failure means something bad sounds like a better deal for everyone.
  • Ignore what the numbers say, you just narrate that the tripper was there.
  • He won't believe you! Give him a single point of damage and he will.
  • A couple other things I really, really like about Tunnels & Trolls combat (esp. 7.5 ed):

    1. Most of the monsters you fight will have a Monster Rating instead of a actual ability scores. It's a lovely mess of ability, level, and hit points all rolled into one ablative stat. And it's not at all useful for determining a monster's chance of making a saving roll, which forces the GM to think of things in terms of saving rolls the players make instead. Two warriors, a rogue, and a wizard encounter 6 mean-looking urook (40 MR each). I'm the GM and I want these urooks to be smart (and a bit magic-phobic), so I tell the players that two of them are going to isolate the wizard and work him over unless the wizard makes a level 2 saving roll versus . . . let's say Luck to avoid being noticed or Intelligence to see the maneuver coming and avoid it. This also gives the players a chance to respond. Maybe one of the warriors has a bodyguard talent attached to his Speed and wants to roll a saving roll versus that to not leave the wizard all alone with these bad boys. Awesome!

    It's just a great, and subtle way, to prevent the GM from outmaneuvering the players without first having to say "Hey, I'm about to outmaneuver you! What are you going to do about it?"

    2. In 7.5 ed., the side that takes the damage, distributes the damage. This, by god, this! Remember in the other thread when I said "When you say dwarves, centaurs, magic items and dungeons, I think Tunnels & Trolls, not D&D. In D&D that would be a right mess. But in Tunnels & Trolls, it could be something exquisite." This is what I meant.

    In D&D, if you got a centaur running around with a bunch of dwarves, those dwarves better have some serious levels under the their belts. Depending on edition, of course, but in general, because D&D combat has individual to hit rolls followed by individual damage rolls, you've got a problem when a party is mismatched--either by a couple levels or because someone knows how to min-max a combat god or because someone's race gets a few too many ability score bonuses. I know. I've had the delight of playing, in various D&D campaigns, a barbarian reincarnated as a centaur, an elf cursed to be a werebear, and a dude with the a useless fucking cohort just two levels below him.

    In order for the GM to create a challenge for my centaur barbarian, he had to throw a monster at the party that could wipe up the rest of them without thinking about it. Something that could hit often and hit hard. So if another party member was trailing in AC or hit points (or, Pelor forbid, both!), they needed to stay the fuck out of the way if they wanted to survive.

    And if the fight was going to last longer than a round, that monster had to have a substantial amount of AC and HP. Which meant even from a distance, slinging arrows and spells into the mix, my out-matched companions were whiffing themselves out of all the fun.

    But in Tunnels & Trolls a first level dwarven warrior can step into a melee, shoulder to knee with any number of centaur allies, and proudly lend his ax to the cause without fear of being casually killed off by a stray bite attack in the first round. Regardless of how powerful they were, the centaurs would be glad to add the dwarf's 4 dice and change to their combat total. So glad, even, that they'd take the brunt of the damage just to keep him alive and swinging throughout. That's great news for the dwarf-centaur alliance!
  • Epidiah,
    I gotta say, it was getting kind of old today when almost every time I attacked, I missed. Maybe it was because the goblins were AC 6, which was a little strong for our 1st level characters.

    Since, regardless, I've gotten so much fun from 0e, I'm really looking forward to trying T&T. This discussion has been illuminating!
  • This has been awesome and informative. I have another question, though.

    The rulebook has no information at all on how to design dungeons for Tunnels & Trolls. Is this in a separate book? Or is it available somewhere out there? Is it in your brain? Can you give it to me?
  • On the off chance that you don't know about this How to Host a Dungeon, as a solo exercise should blend rather beautifully with the solo crawl aspect that T&T has.
  • Bret,

    I'm new to T&T, and I noticed that, too. The 5th (or 5.5) edition of the game has quite a few sections detailing the GM's role, how to design dungeons, considerations for the town/campaign world, as well as wandering monsters/reactions. Unfortunately it seems this was omitted from the 7.5 version of the rules.

    5e seems to be a better teaching tool (which some credit to Liz Danforth's editing), and 7.5 seems to have a lot of options and cool tweaks for those already familiar with how T&T works.
  • Posted By: LincolnSmashBret,

    I'm new to T&T, and I noticed that, too. The 5th (or 5.5) edition of the game has quite a few sections detailing the GM's role, how to design dungeons, considerations for the town/campaign world, as well as wandering monsters/reactions. Unfortunately it seems this was omitted from the 7.5 version of the rules.

    5e seems to be a better teaching tool (which some credit to Liz Danforth's editing), and 7.5 seems to have a lot of options and cool tweaks for those already familiar with how T&T works.

    I agree. T&T is my favorite game system. I prefer the version 5 rules myself. I feel like they have better GM information in them. The 7th edition has some good ideas, but I would just import those ideas into the version 5 rules. T&T is so modular anyway that this is pretty easy to do.
  • Dammit Bret, I've been thinking about T&T a lot lately and here you go starting a thread about it on Story Games of all places! Here's my two cents, by way of agreeing with what everybody else is saying.

    You know how in Amber the guy with the highest Fighting always wins combat, *all other things being equal*, so unless you know you have the highest fighting, the whole point of any combat is to make sure all other things are *never* equal (or if there's no way in the world to do that, avoid the hell out of that combat)?

    That's the kind of thing you want to be doing in Tunnels & Trolls. And strategic Saving Rolls are how the GM will generally adjudicate your attempts to do that.

    So is anybody going to be rocking some T&T at GenCon?
  • Thanks for the pointer to the links, Judd.
  • BTW, if you're getting into T&T you may wish to familiarize yourself with the depressing episode of James Shipman and the increasingly-accurately-named Outlaw Press, which for all I know is *still* flogging T&T-related books which are either adorned with pirated artwork or consist of outright pirated content, to this day. Shameful, and all the more depressing because there was a lot of original, quality content, by people like Ken St. Andre himself, that got mixed in with all that wretchedness.
  • Posted By: LincolnSmash5e seems to be a better teaching tool (which some credit to Liz Danforth's editing), and 7.5 seems to have a lot of options and cool tweaks for those already familiar with how T&T works.
    Thanks to Bret's enthusiasm bleeding over into mine, I've talked myself into running my first T&T game in just over a decade. I'm using 7.5 because it feels much cleaner and if I'm going to have to improv mechanics, I prefer a rule system where the exceptions are crystal clear. But as I read the book, I'm definitely glad I've got 5th on hand for clarifications. Well, 5th and the Internet.

    Digging through the rules to answer some of the questions we've had (and trying to predict questions before they come up in play), I keep hitting these little bundles of assumptions and implied information that require research into the game's past. As I sort these out, I thought it might be nice to record them here for Bret or anyone else on this journey.

    Magic & Missiles In Combat

    It looks like, in 7.5, magic that does damage and ranged weapons both work like this. You make a Saving Roll to either cast a spell or hit their target. If successful, the damage you do hurts your specific target outright and it adds to your side's Hit Point Total to determine if you won the melee or not. All of that might be discerned from a close read of the 7.5 rules, but it took a look back at 5th to figure out that you should be keeping the damage separate. If you win your melee by a margin equal to, or less than your magic and ranged attacks, then you don't do an extra damage above and beyond those magic and ranged attacks. And if win by a larger margin, your melee damage is only equal to the amount that margin exceeds your magic and ranged attacks.

    For example, if your archer made her DEX Saving Roll and did 24 points of damage to one of the five MR 20 goblings attacking you, you add that 24 to your side's melee total. If your total doesn't beat the goblings' total, the archer still does 24 points to one of them and kills it. If your total beat the goblings' total by, say, 16, then only damage done this round (aside from spite) is the 24 points your archer does to her target. If your total beat the goblings' total by 31, then 24 of those points would be against the archer's target (effectively wasting the 4 points beyond the goblings' MR) and the remaining 7 get divided up as normal.

    It makes sense, of course. Your ranged and magic attacks would be double-dipping if they did damage to their target alone and then got divided amongst all your foes. But it's not really spelled out in the 7.5 rules. Presumably spite damage from ranged and magic attacks works as normal, but I don't know for sure.

    Dis-Spelled

    The 7.5 rule book says that Dis-Spell can not be powered up. Which means the spell can only ever affect third or lower level spells. However, several higher level spells make mention of being affected by a Dis-Spell (such as the Medusa spell). Even the description for Dis-Spell sort of sounds like it can be cast at higher levels. And a quick look at 5th reveals that Dis-Spell was once power-up-able, which seems reasonable.

    Unarmed Combat

    Very first fight my delvers got into, they wanted to go unarmed. I wasn't at all sure how to handle this and neither was 7.5. However, a quick check of the Internet has revealed that traditionally the PCs should get 1D6 plus their personal adds in such situations. But you're going to have to wing it when it comes to figuring out what an axe-wielding, MR 95, barbarian rolls when he doesn't have his axe, though. (What might have been smart would have been to find his axe on the equipment chart and reduce his dice and adds by the axe's values. I however, was not smart, and as a result my delvers quickly picked up their weapons for fear of their lives.)

    Side note: During this research, I found some consensus that torches can be wielded for 2 dice. Which is good to know.

    A Weapon In Each Hand

    This is one that took some digging past 5th edition, because apparently it was an omission in that book, too. Turns out, if you want to dual-wield, you can do so as long as you have a STR large enough to handle the STR requirement of both weapons added together and a DEX high enough to handle the DEX requirement of both weapons added together. If this is the case, then you get the dice and adds of both weapons in combat. My players were crazy excited to hear about that.
  • That's all good to know! The dual wielding answer is great and so easy, which I really like about T&T. I like how if the player group gains NPC allies, you don't have to worry about separate attacks and who rolls for them, their dice get folded into the groups rolls. Since I'll probably be doing some one on one play, that's a really great way to beef up a lone adventurer.
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