The Fantasy Trip, how good is it?

edited November 2008 in Story Games
So, I acquired a copy of Melee, Wizard, Advanced Wizard and In the Labyrinth.

I haven't cracked them open yet. What I want to know is if they are at all worth running in this day and age, or are they just a historical artifact?

If it is worth running, what advice can you give me on running them?


  • I have really fond memories of playing The Fantasy Trip way back when. I know I'd play if someone were running a campaign, so it's worth running in that regards because there are probably others who feel the same way. I recall advancement seemed awfully slow, and the cool skills are out of reach of beginning characters. Thinking off the top of my head, if I were to run TFT these days I would plan for a short mini-campaign of experienced characters. That means I would have the players build the characters they want to play without regards to the cost. I feel like digging out the books now!
  • edited November 2008
    I started with TFT back in '80 and I played recently in a pbm game for six years that finished up a couple years ago. I still enjoy it.

    Starting out with experienced 40-point characters and requiring an IQ of at least 10 is probably a good place to start playing around with it.

    Running it pure is something I haven't done since about '82 though. There are a lot of different flavors and house rules out there for it, some of which you might like, some of which you won't care for.

    Back in the 80s my GM was a guy that co-writing the next version of TFT. He had a lot of great house rules which were headed for canon, some of which have survived elsewhere, but that fell though when Metagaming bit the dust. If you can find the advantages/disadvantages rules for TFT from the Space Gamer magazine those added a lot. If you hack nothing else, the skill points hack is almost essential.

    This is a nice resource to start from. As you can see, a lot of people still think it's worth their time. :)

    Oh, and you'll definitely want Advanced Melee. Good luck finding a copy...
  • TFT is really the proto-version of GURPS, but it's much simpler and more focused. It works great for dungeon crawls--providing a more tactical game than something like Moldvay Basic D&D, but combat is VERY nasty. A critical hit and you're dead. That said it's super easy to roll up new characters. We played around with it several years ago, and we had fun just doing arena combats--although we did do a few dungeon crawls as well. The game is really set up for hex-based play but its really no problem to switch to squares if you prefer. WOTC's dungeon tiles (or whatever ones you like online) can work just fine for TFT.

    Although we never played an extended game most of the system's limitations apparently become more problematic with longer-term play--at least from what I've read online.

    Also--while I consider Advanced Wizard to be essential--regular Melee works pretty well.
  • What interests me is what I hear about players not having to detail what they are doing to the GM. Acting in secret (IE summoning a monster and only the player that summoned it knows if it is real or illusory.) Is this as interesting as it sounds? It certainly would add a whole new level of tactics to a combat game.
  • I played a lot of TFT in my callow youth. You could run it straight but it shows its age - the way stats escalate is very simple (and perfect for the tactical boardgame roots) but gets a little creaky as you approach the upper bounds. And everything is tied to stats, so that's awkward. That said, it's a very good game, very thoughtfully designed and fun to play. I'd play it again in a heartbeat.

    Also, it's worth a careful read just to absorb the design progression from Wizard to GURPS, which is sort of fascinating.
  • We're playing it right now, and so far we're playing it pretty straight (more on where we have house ruled, in a second). It's still early to say much -- we're only 3 session in -- but we've been enjoying it so far. Last session we saw magic make its debut (first use of a wizard character), and the secret casting was great. An illusion of a bear is a wonderful dangerous thing, and it can really turn the tide in a tight situation.

    If you're playing it just as a one-shot, I can see doing a higher point value game, but I'd like to put in a good word for using the default starting character point values. Before our first game, I was thinking about giving the players more points for characters myself. Steve Jackson's own starting adventures (Death Test, Tollenkar's Lair) were written for higher point value characters, after all. But then I started statting up a bunch of NPCs using the base rules just to get a feel for the character creation system, and I found that the default point values force you to make real choices. You just can't be good at everything. You have to make some sacrifices from your wish list. This makes for some good, meaningful differentiation between starting PCs (and NPCs, for that matter).

    So, basically, the lower point values are working for us.

    We have house ruled two things:

    1) I give XP for Gold: 1 XP per GP of treasure won and spent recklessly. (This is from D&D, obviously.) Silver is the default unit of currency, and I keep that, but the XP is for GP value rather than SP value. If I went with XP for SP, I think the treasure XP might get to be too much (not sure). I want to somewhat counteract the slow progression but I don't want to speed things up too much, either. Time will tell whether this will actually work.

    2) I've hijacked the game's default reaction roll to use for morale checks (both for monsters and for henchmen). TFT assumes the GM will make decisions about when monsters run away from combat. I prefer to have this decision be adjudicated by a clearly understood system that everyone knows is in use. So I use the classic Moldvay D&D rules for when morale checks are made (one check when the first member of a side falls, a second check when the unit is at half strength). Monsters and henchmen retreat on 1-3, hold fast on 4-6, with +1 or -1 modifiers for bold and cowardly units respectively. Talents like "Charisma" can modify this as well.

    That's it. Otherwise, we're playing it straight. I actually like the way attributes increase, at least in theory. There are a fair number of saving rolls that require more than 3 dice (like 4 dice vs adjDX to climb without a rope, 4 dice vs IQ for tactics checks, etc.), and I like the idea that competent characters will be able to do these sorts of things consistently. Or say an opponent dodges and you have to roll 4d/adjDX to hit them: "high level" characters are going to be able to pull this kind of thing off, and achieve other sorts of special effects. The attributes are very broad, and in a sense they're "competence pools" for particular arenas of action, anyway, so an IQ of 26 doesn't bother me as such. It just means that the character has a broad range of skills that they're competent at using, and that's fine. It doesn't have to mean "supergenius," per se. Strength and DX are similar. This is just an application of what Mike Holmes always said about interpreting HeroWars/Quest stats, where you can sort of think of scores as "relative ability to succeed / achieve / act effectively" in a particular arena. Strength isn't just a measure of pure physical brawn (although that's part of it) but also of ability to leverage your strength effectively and consistently across a variety of contexts.

    So, yeah. I won't do a ringing endorsement yet since we're only three sessions in, but I'd say it's promising.

    I've put together a few handy worksheets and files for it, too (talent and spell booklets that list all the talents/spells alphabetically rather than in the ad hoc way they're organized in the actual books). Whisper me your email if you'd like to see them. I'd be happy to share.
  • Can you expand on the second houserule? I'm not very familiar with Moldvay D&D so when is this morale check made? Every round?
  • Posted By: TulpaCan you expand on the second houserule? I'm not very familiar with Moldvay D&D so when is this morale check made? Every round?
    It's made under the conditions that he listed there -- one check when the first member of the group falls, another when half the group's members have gone down. I'm not sure if it was official or not, but I remember my group also making one when the group's leader fell, if the group had a leader.
  • Sure, happy to expand on it. So, the morale house rule works like this:

    A morale check is made when the first figure in a unit is taken out (could be killed, could be goes unconscious, could be from a spell like sleep, whatever). I use the 1d6 reaction check. Roll 1d6. On a 1-3, the unit attempts to retreat or surrender. On a 4-6, they continue fighting. (I give the cowardly units -1 and the brave units +1, basically by eyeballing their morale scores in classic D&D (I get them specifically from the 1981 Moldvay Basic / Cook & Marsh Expert, and I also have been hacking adventures out of old D&D modules, which often include the morale score points of reference right in them.)

    If they succeed on the first morale check, they keep fighting. No more checks are made until the unit is at half strength (half the figures have been taken out of combat).

    Once this happens, a second check is made. If the unit succeeds in the check (4-6), they fight to the death. If they fail it (1-3), they attempt to retreat or surrender.

    This means that in total, a maximum of 2 morale checks would be made per side per encounter: the 1st when a figure falls, the second when half the figures have fallen.

    I make the morale check at the beginning of the turn following the triggering event. This is also taken from basic D&D. The only real difference here is what I roll (I roll a 1d6 rather than using D&D's morale scores.)

    The PCs aren't subject to morale checks. Just like in D&D, the players choose whether and when to retreat. I do use this check for the PCs' henchmen and hirelings. This means that sometimes the hirelings and henchmen do run off and leave the PCs in the lurch.

    I also use the morale check when the PCs retreat to decide whether the monsters chase them or not.

    Basically, there are a lot of things I like about TFT: the way saving rolls work, the magic, the character creation, the combat. But there are some things that classic D&D did well that I don't want to lose, and morale is a big one. I also like how classic D&D deals with "dungeoneering procedures" and how encounters start, but I haven't fully adopted those procedures. I tend to use a rough approximation of them out of habit (like in how I track the passage of time). I actually like TFT's reaction roll for monsters a little better than D&D's. D&D used a 2d6 roll for that, which leads to a very high percentage of reactions of "neutral/indifferent." I like the 1d6 reaction roll in TFT a little better. It has the same basic set of results, but it's less heavily weighted toward "neutral/indifferent" results than D&D is.

    I hope I've answered your question. If you're curious, any version of classic D&D (the Moldvay/Cook, Marsh B/X sets, the Mentzer sets, and the Rules Cyclopedia) has basically the same set of dungeoneering procedures and morale rules. The Moldvay version is my favorite because it's most elegant / straightforward, but they're all roughly the same to my eye. (Actually, even original D&D and AD&D 1st edition had most of the same procedures, too, but in OD&D they're not summarized in as clear a way and in AD&D there's too much extra noise for my taste. Your mileage may vary. And I'm not sure if OD&D had the morale checks.)
  • edited November 2008
    I ran a TFT campaign for a brief while in college -- at the time, I had only Advanced Melee, In the Labyrinth, and Wizard. I'd say they're still worth running, although the GM advice in them is very, very old-school. The underlying game systems, though, are reasonably solid. If you like the tactical feel of D&D3/4, you should be right at home with the combat system -- indeed, back when D&D3 first came out, I described it to people as "D&D crossbred with TFT".

    edited to get rid of my brain fart of "T&T" instead of "TFT".
  • One thing you asked about in your first post is tips on running the game. I don't have a lot of these right now, tonight, but I do have a link worth passing along. David O. Miller has a TFT page with a great set of play aides, including blank character summary sheets, a neat overview of the combat sequence, and summary tables of weapons and armor. On his page, he calls it a "Mass Combat Booklet," but it's not an expansion rulebook: it's actually a set of worksheets, play aides, and rules summaries that he uses when he's running what look to be essentially skirmish scale, head-to-head battles.

    When we play, we all keep a copy of this booklet handy for reference.
  • Rich, if you're looking to expand your morale rules at all, here's the variation we used back in the day to give henchmen a little more personality (and make it hurt more when you lost a good one).

    An ordinary Henchman who passed 2 morale tests in a row would be given the status of "Reliable"...this provided a +1 like "Brave" but only until the Henchmen failed a check, then they'd go back to being ordinary.

    If a "Reliable Henchman" passed a "1/2 losses test" (i.e. two in a row in the same battle) they became "Crack" -- which meant they could skip the "first casualty" test.

    If a "Crack Henchman" passed 2 "1/2 losses tests" in a row (i.e. without failing either) they became "Elite" -- which meant they could skip the "1/2 losses" test also.

    We played (as suggested above) with a third test for "leader falls" which for henchmen meant whichever PC they were taking their Charisma bonus from. If the leader fell, Crack and Elite Henchmen would have to pass that test and any previous tests their status had allowed them to skip all at once. Failing any of these permanently dropped their status back to Brave.

    A henchmen who failed 2 morale tests in a row became "shaky"...which didn't provide any penalty, but did forever mean they could never become "reliable". failing 4 in a row made them cowardly and gave them the -1.

    We didn't track the successful and failed morale for NPCs (except for one band of bandits who inadvertantly became reoccuring characters because the players infilitrated them and scammed them rather than just killed them off) but the Crack and Elite status saw regular use for subleader types.
  • Thanks Ralph,

    I like the looks of this. Right now, our hirelings are decidedly on the side of "woefully under-prepared for the mess they've gotten themselves into" (most of them are/were shepherds, with a crook and a con artist thrown into the mix). A system like this looks like it would contribute to tracking something I'm looking forward to seeing -- which hirelings will end up stepping up and proving their worth, and which ones won't.
  • I found a hundred cool RPG treasures while going through the basement this past week, enough to start a blog if I had the time.

    But the thing that has me the most excited is all the cool The Fantasy Trip stuff I found - dozens of old characters and home-made monsters, maps, Judges Guild D&D to TFT conversions, etc.

    I'm going to start a homebrew TFT mini-campaign this year if I can find the players. Though I suspect that most of the people I could dig up would prefer something more like Dungeon World; I've lost touch with most of the old skool gamers in Portland over the years. And most of them were D&D players. Hex haters... ;-p
  • I was lucky enough to find a nice complete set of TFT books a few year ago. I read through them now and again, and think about giving it a spin. Char-gen is dead simple, and combat looks like its tactically interesting without being too crunchy. But I always stumble when I get to magic; much more precise and rigidly defined than skills, lots of little spells for very specific things. Too much to track and manage in comparison to the rest of the system.
  • Posted By: ValamirAn ordinary Henchman who passed 2 morale tests in a row would be given the status of "Reliable"...this provided a +1 like "Brave" but only until the Henchmen failed a check, then they'd go back to being ordinary.
    Wait... are you saying you would roll for each henchman individually?

    How many would typically be following the PCs around?

    Tavis had a really interesting twist on this kind of "morale memory", where the results of checks modify future results. He would apply them to monsters/opponents, as opposed to henchmen, so that the monsters the PCs encounter in the dungeon also develop tendencies.

    For instance, a monster that fled from the PCs might have a -1 on future Morale checks, whereas a group of monsters that killed one of the PCs might receive a +1 on future Morale checks. Maybe the goblins in your dungeon all laugh at the PCs because they've managed to ambush them three times in a row?

    What I like most about the implications of this kind of Morale rule is that the PCs can attempt tactics against monsters we usually don't consider in D&D play:

    For instance, how about lighting additional fires or torches, making a lot of noise, and wearing frightening masks, to make the local goblin tribe think they're under attack not by three human adventurers, but a whole army of demons? This sort of thing is a major part of warfare in real life, and could make for interesting adventuring.
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