Wednesday, June 24, 2009

T&T was old-school...

...before old-school was cool.

The old school movement among RPGers echoes the retrogaming trend in video games. It's trying to get back to a simpler, less complicated time in the hobby. As TSR's D&D evolved it took on evermore bizarre forms. Basic D&D, Expert D&D, and AD&D were rival and incompatible rules sets that competed with each other. Then came variations like Dragonlance, which some say recast the game into a novelistic form far removed from it's improvisational beginnings.

Meanwhile, there was Tunnels & Trolls.

Appearing in 1979, T&T 5th edition seems to anticipate and accommodate the discontent of the old-school gamers. While D&D was transmogrifying into the dense edifice of AD&D, T&T reveled in its simplicity. You didn't even need a set of polyhedral dice to play it. If D&D was treating PCs as protagonists in an epic narrative struggle between the forces of White Hattery vs. the Le Chapeaux Noir , T&T was celebrating the dungeon crawl. Characters are rolled up half a dozen at a time, with the assumption that the GM is going to do his best to kill off the pesky dungeon defilers. Character "sheets" are nothing more than 3-by-5 index cards. Hell, the game even bills itself as a dungeon crawl, the back cover proclaiming, "The fundamental framework for adventuring in Tunnels & Trolls is the concept of an underground tunnel complex wherein dangerous traps and deadly monsters guard undreamed-of treasures..."

But mostly T&T encouraged players to rewrite the rules to suit themselves. Whereas the D&D rules scowled at players with confining proclamations, T&T insisted that the rules were no more than suggestions and recommended that players change any rules they didn't like. GMs were free to let their imaginations run wild, and rules lawyers were nipped in the bud.

For decades T&T maintained the simplicity and emphasis on players creativity that seemed to be getting lost in the commercial juggernaut that D&D had become. But T&T languished in obscurity. Overshadowed by the numerous boxed sets and horse-choking hardbound rules of its predecessor, shunned by system snobs at conventions, it found a place for itself mainly in the byways of colorful but isolated solo dungeons. In 1999 it received some belated appreciation when Pyramid magazine named it as one of The Millennium's Most Underrated Games.

So to all you old school gamers out there, I'd like to remind you that the solution to all your complaints was there all the time. Even as you weave complicated magics to resurrect your favorite games, the magic potion that is T&T sits dusty on the shelf waiting to be quaffed. I hope you don't fail the saving throw.


Robert Saint John said...

I was so wrapped up in The Fantasy Trip from '79-'83 that I completely turned a cold shoulder to T&T. But over the past few weeks I've been keeping an eye on one of those recent T&T tins (7th edition?). I think as soon as my Trek obsession subsides a bit, I'll be looking to put a little more time back into fantasy. I have some of the various OSR books and my trusty white box, but I get the feeling that T&T may remind me more of (and play similar to) TFT.

Jerry Cornelius said...

Both games do have a similar feel, but I don't think T&T is as tactical as TFT. Combat is more abstract.

And have you checked out Dark City Games' TFT near-clone, Legends of the Ancient World? That might be just the thing.

Robert Saint John said...

Yep, I have everything DCG has released! I just wish they'd go all out and make a leap to a more in depth game (sorta like the difference between Melee/Wizard and full blown TFT with "In the Labyrinth"). But what they do they do very well.