BTM

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Review: Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls - Part II

 
Character creation is at the heart of any RPG. It is part if what sets them apart from board and card games. I usually go into a new RPG campaign with an idea of what type of character I want to be, these are seldom (in fact never) Min/Maxed-Power-Characters. In our current Dark Heresy campaign I am playing as Enoch 'Mungo' Watkins, a scum-of-the-earth, low-level gang member, who is only in the service of the emperor because a drug deal went badly wrong and he needed to get off planet ASAP. For me a character should be, well... a character, not just a vessel for killer stats.


With this in mind, I really like the character creation for T&T. At first glance it seems overly simplistic. Coming from other systems there is a distinct lack of specific rules for different character types, but once you get your head around this, it is actually very freeing. Anyway I digress, the first stage is basic attributes.

 
The basic attributes will be familiar to pretty much anyone. Ken St Andre took these almost unchanged from D&D and a lot of other people have done the same since. There are a couple of differences, mainly the swapping of Wisdom for Luck, which actually has a big effect on the game. In fantasy literature luck often plays a big part, the characters are in the right place at the right time (or sometimes the wrong place at the wrong time), in a lot of RPGs this has to be written in to the scenario, the PCs will automatically be lucky. With a Luck characteristic you can roll for things like this.Also it makes it possible to create a character who really shouldn't be an effective warrior, clumsy, stupid and ill-trained, but who, just by happenstance, makes it through against the odds. 
 
 
 
 
The attributes are: STRENGTH, INTELLIGENCE, LUCK, CONSTITUTION, DEXTERITY, CHARISMA, SPEED. [Edit: oh yeah and WIZARDRY, I'll cover magic next week.]
 
To generate each of these you roll 3d6, pretty standard fair. But in T&T if you roll a triple then you roll again and add the totals together. This means that while most characters have attribute scores between 4 and 17, some will have higher, sometimes significantly higher. If you are expecting a balanced game then T&T is not going to be for you.



The next step is deciding what Kindred to be. Kindred are T&T's version of races, Ken St Andre decided many years ago that 'race' was African/American, White/Irish, Bangladeshi etc, and adding Dwarf, Elf etc to this was potentially racist. And so T&T has Kindred.
The list of playable Kindred is truly massive. It includes all the usual, Dwarf, Elf, Hobb (A litigiously minded hobbit, not a house-hold spirit from northern England) plus goblins, orcs (called uruks), gremlins, trolls ogres (hrogr), leprechauns, fairies, the list, literally, goes on. 


Sorry, Hob, no place for you in T&T
 
In the condensed rules at the front of the Corgi books (more on these next week) it says: 'As you can see, no single race is unconditionally better than any other race.' This isn't true. Some races are out-and-out better than others, especially in combat. But then a good GM will go a long way towards balancing things, and if you want a finely balanced game, T&T is not going to be for you. 
 
The next section is classes. There are three in T&T. Yes, that's right, three. (Actually there are things called specialists which you can choose if you rolled a triple on any of your attributes, but I haven't really looked into these so will ignore them for now). Wizards, can use magic. Warriors are trained fighters. Rogues fall somewhere between the two.
At first glance I thought this was very limiting. What if I want to be, say, a barbarian? Well very simply, if I want to be a barbarian then I can be. A barbarian would probably be a warrior, but they might just as well be a wizard or rogue. So how does a barbarian differ from a paladin? Well that is up to me, the player.
In actual fact the first character I created was a barbarian, Crotch the Barbarian to give him his full name. I decided that barbarians didn't have access to decent armour, so I gave him only leather bracers and a steel cap. I also see Crotch as an eastern nomadic barbarian, so I gave him a Schimitar.
The next level of personalisation are Talents. These are things your character is good at, and you can choose literally anything. DT&T does include a sample list of talents, but it states quite clear that this is a starting point and you should choose anything that you think reflects your characters personality and skill set.
 
Talents give a boost to any roll that they would apply to. They are not linked to any one attribute. Therefore if you took 'Swords' you might receive a bonus to your combat roll when fighting with a sword. Also you might get a bonus to your Intelligence when trying to work out a particular sword's origins. Or you might get a bonus to your Charisma when trying to sell someone a sword.
 
 
The final level of personalisation is role-playing. If your character is a barbarian then play him like a barbarian, at the end of the day no amount of rules will affect your character as much as the way you play him (or her).
 
There are two basic mechanics in T&T. Firstly lets look at Saving Rolls. These deal with everything that isn't combat (and are even used then quite a bit). The GM (or solo adventure) will determine how difficult something is that you are trying to do. For a few things, such as shooting, this is set out in the rules, but most things are left to the GMs discretion. The GM will then assign a level of difficulty and an attribute that must be tested against.
For example, trying to throw a rope over a branch forty foot up a tree might require a Level 3 Saving Roll against Dexterity (which would be abbreviated L3 SR DEX), trying to outrun a particularly sluggish troll might be a Level 1 Saving Roll against Speed (L1 SR SPD). The player trying to perform the action would roll two dice, any doubles are rerolled and the totals added, add their relevant attribute to this score and compare this total with a target number determined by the Level. Level 1 rolls requires a total of 20, Level 2: 25, Level 3: 30 and so on.
So if Crotch the Barbarian was trying to throw that rope, he would roll to dice: double 4. He got a double so he rolls again, this time getting a 5 and a 4. 4+4+5+4 equals 17, add this to his Dexterity (which is 12) for a grand total of 29. Unfortunately this was a Level 3 roll so the target was 30,and therefore he fails.
 
The other mechanic is combat rolls. These are a lot simpler than most other RPGs, with everything combined into one roll. Depending what weapon you are using you will have a number of damage dice (for example 5D6) if you are using a particularly fine example of the weapon type then you may get a bonus to this (for example +3). You will also have Personal Adds, which is calculated based on Dexterity, Speed, Strength and Luck. For each point any of these are above 12 you get plus one to your Personal Adds.
 


Monsters will also have a number of dice and adds. This could be worked out exactly the same as for PCs, but usually for cannon fodder will be derived from their Monster Rating. Monster Rating is a simple number, and usually forms the entire stats for a monster. So an entry in a T&T adventure might read 'Goblin, MR:30'. Again this seems very simplistic, but think about it. If you are going to be bartering with the goblin, or arm wrestling him, then you will need more stats. But if you are just fighting him then all you need to know is how many dice he rolls in combat. Monster Rating is a simple way of doing this.
To convert MR into damage dice, divide the total by 10 (rounding down) and add 1. This is the number of dice rolled. Then half the total and this is the number of adds. So following this through with our humble goblin from before, an MR of 30 results in 4d6+15.
 
Each round of combat both parties roll the appropriate number of dice and add their 'adds'. They then compare the totals. The higher amount wins. The difference between the two totals is the amount of damage caused. Armour is taken off this amount. If the monster won then the damage is taken off the PC's Constitution. If the PC won then the damage is taken off the monsters MR. The monsters damage dice remain the same through out the combat, but their adds fall as their MR does.
 
There is also spite damage. Simply put this means counting the number of 6's each side rolled. If you loose you still do one point of damage per spite (ignoring armour). If you win then you do at least as much damage as the number of 6s rolled, what ever the armour of the opponent.
 
And, in a  nut shell, those are the basics of T&T. The authors have placed a lot of trust in the you, the gamer, with these rules. It is perfectly possible to power game T&T to death, and if you like to be spoon fed rules to cover every eventuality then you are not going to like T&T. However if you like rules that give you a springboard to bigger and better things then you really should give these rules a go.
 
Next Week:
T&T Solo Adventuring   

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Review: Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls - Part I

 
To do Tunnels & Trolls justice I have split this review into four parts: this week I will be looking at the history of the system, its development over the past 40 or so years, and the latest incarnation, Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. Next week I shall look at the character creation process, and the basic mechanics of the system. Week three will be solo roleplaying and the official solitaire adventures that have been released. Then the fourth instalment will look at a handful of the many third party adventures produced.
 
I have been into wargaming and roleplaying for quite a while now, and I had of course heard of Tunnels & Trolls, but that was about all. I was vaguely aware it was a roleplaying game, and assumed it was a low budget version of Dungeons & Dragons from back in the day.
 
It wasn't until a few months ago, when I read Dicing with Dragons that my interest was piqued.
 
 
Dicing with Dragons is a book from 1982, written by Ian Livingstone, who along with Steve Jackson not only formed Games Workshop, but also wrote the Fighting Fantasy series of game books.
 

 
In short they were responsible for my introduction into both wargaming and roleplaying. I read a lot of the Fighting Fantasy books as a young child. As an 11 year old I bought 'Dungeoneer' the Advanced Fighting Fantasy rulebook with a book token given to me as a leaving present from my primary school.
 
And this is what Ian Livingstone had to say about Tunnels & Trolls in his Introduction to Role-Playing Games:
[Tunnels & Trolls] does not attempt to explain every last detail of the world - the accent is on simplicity, fun and playability. It is much less complex than most other role-playing systems dealing with the same type of quasi-medieval fantasy world.
In common with some other RPGs, Tunnels & Trolls has a considerable number of ready-for-use adventures, but, unlike most others, which are generally designed for group play, most of the Tunnels & Trolls adventures are specifically designed for solitaire play, and thus fill a distinct need in the role-playing market. 
 
This struck a chord.
 
Now I definitely prefer traditional, face-to-face group RPGs. They are an excuse for getting together with some like minded friends and having a laugh. I will admit also to attaching some stigma to solo RPGs: surely you have to be somewhat sad to try and recreate an RPG session by yourself. But really, when you think about it, that is not what you are doing. I don't play video games, but many people do. Alone. It doesn't make them social pariahs. A solo rpg is a very different animal to a group one. When you realise that, you realise that it is not either/or, but both.
 
My RPG circle are somewhat sporadic. We have been playing the same Dark Heresy adventure since Christmas. Admittedly we have had some deviations, a lot of the sessions seem to revolve around potato based recipes, but still...We don't play every week, sometimes we go a month or more between sessions. If I played solo adventures that would allow me to get an RPG fix between the group ones...

 
So I looked into Tunnels & Trolls. When Ian Livingstone was dicing with his dragons T&T was on it's 5th edition. Now in 2016 it is on its 9th. Wow. That's a lot of editions, is it even recognisable as the same game? Well in short, yes. To understand why let's look at its history.
 
In 1974 a gentleman by the name of Ken St. Andre got his hands on a copy of Dungeons & Dragons. The idea intrigued him, a game that would let him have the kind of adventures normally saved for Conan the Cimmerian or the Grey Mouser. But looking through the rule books, he couldn't make head nor tale of them. They were massively complex and so badly explained that unless you were personally shown how it all worked, you didn't have a hope of working it out for your self.
 
And so he wrote his own rules. In some way it was very similar to TSR's game. It was set in a broadly similar world, although maybe with a little less Tolkien and a little more Howard and Leiber. It had very similar basic attributes, though notably he got rid of Wisdom and added Luck, I think that says something.
 
Ken St Andre played the game with his group of friends in Arizona and it went down well. To start with they called it Dungeons & Dragons, for them (as for a lot of the general public even today) that was just what this type of game was called. When Ken wrote it all up he needed another name, Tunnels & Trolls seemed to fit the bill.
 
 
And so the second ever modern RPG was launched. Rick Loomis of Flying Buffalo sold most of the first printing of the rules for Ken at a convention, beginning a partnership which still lasts today.

 
The next few editions flew off, 2nd 3rd and 4th were I think running changes to 1st, reflecting the things Kens gaming group learnt along the way and all published with in the space of a few years. RPGs were new to everybody at this time and it was a steep learning curve.
 
In 1979 Ken and everybody at Flying Buffalo sat down and took a good look at the rules. The result was a thorough editing by Liz Danforth, who (along with everyone else) was to have a long association with the game. 
 
The outcome, 5th edition was to become the official edition for the next 26 years. When Corgi released a paperback version of the rules in the UK (more on this next week) it was this version.
 
Then in 2005 Flying Buffalo released a version of the 5th edition rules with an extra section at the back, featuring Ken St. Andre's house rules which he had developed over the past couple of decades, this was labelled 5.5.
 
6th edition is now wrapped in shadow and folklore. It seems sometime around 2010 someone who did not have the rights to do so produced a new edition of the rules. This prompted Flying Buffalo to produce a new edition of their own. As a result the official, 7th, edition was a somewhat rushed affair. This was corrected with Tunnels & Trolls 7.5.
 
 

A couple of years ago a French edition of Tunnels & Trolls was produced, usually known as 8th edition. The production values on this were, by all accounts, a lot higher than any of the previous editions, the wonders of modern printing technologies.
 
Flying Buffalo and Ken St. Andre were inspired to produce a new rulebook, hopefully one that would rival 5th edition for it longevity and the French edition for its production. A Kickstarter was launched and a massive $125k was raised to prove that Tunnels & Trolls was very much alive and kicking.
 
 
 
And so the 9th edition of the rules is Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. The rulebook took a lot longer than anyone anticipated, but it is now available to the general public. And it is a very nice book. To be clear though, this is not Pathfinder, nor is it D&D 5th ed. T&T is much closer to its roots than either of these games. In style it is more like the old-school OGL games. If you are expecting slick computer painted images then you will be disappointed. If you are expecting a highly-balanced system where you can spend a few evenings tweeking a character to get the most out of them, then you will be disappointed. If however you are looking for a simple, fun system with heart and soul, then this is the book for you. This is the book that Ken St Andre and Flying Buffalo would have produced in 1974 if they had been able.

 
Here, I feel I must have a little gripe. Flying Buffalo Inc are not a sleek, corporate enterprise. That isn't the gripe. I don't really like sleek, corporate enterprises. Give me a company I can actually put a face too any day. There is a downside though, and the downside to FBI is that they seem somewhat disorganised.
 
Getting a copy of Deluxe T&T in the UK was not as easy as it should have been. Amazon do not stock it. I have since found one UK based online RPG store that does, but I didn't find it in time, so I ordered it direct from Flying Buffalo, which cost quite a bit in postage. It also took over two months to get here and necessitated a lot of emails, quite a few of which failed to get a response.
 
Now I don't imagine for a minute that this experience is typical. Nor do I suggest they don't care about their customers, they obviously do. Flying Buffalo is a small company and I think that sometimes they struggle a bit with keeping so many balls in the air.
 
To my mind disorganisation is a small price to pay for a company where the people who designed the rules will answer your questions on facebook.
 
 
 
And so, back to the book itself. It is a step away from the previous editions in that it is a thick book, in fact not much lighter than the Pathfinder Core Rules. But then it isn't just core rules, it is everything you need to play, GameMastery Guide and Advanced Players Guide, and lots more all in one.
 
It contains (I think for the first time) a whole section on TrollWorld the 'official' setting for T&T. I put 'official' in inverted commas for a reason. Ken St. Andre and the other developers have always insisted that players should develop their own world. This is a view I agree with generally. If your campaign starts in a city, then just develop the city, or actually just the parts of the city you need. As the campaign grows so will the world. But some people don't like the world building and even for those of us that do the TrollWorld section provides plenty of inspiration.
 
 
The artwork in the book, as I think I alluded to before, is amazing. Actually I think it is my favourite artwork from any RPG book, certainly since the halcyon days of Advanced Fighting Fantasy. And that is probably the crux of it. Liz Danforth has been part of the T&T team since (I think) the 70s. And her art for the new book is wonderfully consistent with the old ones. It is immediately reminiscent of good old fashioned tales of Sword & Sorcery. It won't be for everyone, much like the book as a whole, but it sets the tone perfectly.
 
 
*** Most of the art appearing on this weeks blog is by and (c) Liz Danforth. She also does commissions, check out her website: http://www.lizdanforth.com/ ***
 
Next Week:
More Tunnels & Trolls: character development and the basic mechanics.
 

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Review: Four Against Darkness

 
Four Against Darkness is a new game from Ganesha Games, producers of one of my favourite systems, Song of Blades and Heroes. Four Against Darkness (4AD) does not share any mechanics with Blades and Heroes, but it is similar in ethos, ie simple and old-school.
 
I am also simple and old-school so I was very excited to hear about this game. Especially since I have been looking at solo games recently. The premise of 4AD is that you take a party of four warriors on an old fashioned, randomised dungeon crawl.
 
Character creation involves picking four warriors from the options given, including all the old favourites; Barbarian, Dwarf, Halfling, Rogue etc, etc. A character is defined by their wounds, their attack dice, their defence dice, equipment and sometimes special skills. They are all off-the-peg except for equipment which can be personalised.   

 
The dungeon crawl itself involves rolling up a random room which is then drawn on squared paper. A table is rolled to see the contents of the room, which may be monsters, or a trap, or an encounter, or possibly something else.
 
Fighting is very simple, you roll an attack dice for each of your warriors (which may get a bonus depending on what type they are and what they are armed with) if you beat the monsters level you have done caused wound. Then the monsters attack, you roll a defence dice for each of you warriors who is being attacked and have to beat the monster's level again or your warrior takes a wound.
 
So does it work as a game? Yes it does, but I can't help but feel it is missing something at the moment. The rules work well, they are streamlined and very easy to get your head around. There are 36 different room shapes, which is plenty enough. However the other tables are somewhat limited. There are 6 different traps, 6 different vermin (a type of monster) 6 different minions etc, etc. After playing through a few times these start to repeat. I know Ganesha have some expansions in the pipeline and I think they will make a great difference, this book feels like the Core Rules section of a larger game.
 
The last point to discuss is the book its self. The artwork is awesome and really gives an old-school feel. I have this as a PDF which I find slightly awkward, but that I suspect is just me. I prefer to have a physical book, especially when playing a game like this. I don't know if Ganesha do a print version, but I will be looking for one.    
 
 
Coming Next Week...
 
More solo adventuring with
Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls 


Thursday, 31 March 2016

Playing Around With: Silhouette Cutter

 
This is going to be a quickie this week as I really am still at the playing around stage with this gadget. What exactly is it? I don't really know. It is sold as a vinyl cutter, but I have been using it to cut card. I bought the smallest of the Silhouette range, called the Portrait, which will cut A4 sized cards.
 
The possible uses I can see you this are:
  • Cutting out printed card stock scenery. (Useful for Kaiju Rampage games.)
  • Cutting out a card base for a building, especially if I want lots the same.
  • Cutting out intricate stuff, like brick texture and tiles.
 
 
You begin by using the free software to map out the cuts, if you have one of the bigger machines you can also emboss, which would be pretty cool, but I don't. Above I am having a go at making some necromunda scenery, basically 2" cubes and bridges between them. I am using two layers of card, the pattern cut into the top layer.
 

 
Another thing I am trying is to draw an intricate pattern, such as the one above. This is a tile floor, but I am also trying brickwalls. Then scan this picture in and use the 'trace' function on the software. By setting the depth to 'paper' but using a thicker card the cut does not go all the way through. I then peel away the sections between tiles/bricks to leave the raised pattern.

 
Above is my trial for this process. I have sprayed it black and will then dry brush grey to pick out the detail.
 
 
Mounting card is a bit too thick for the cutter, which is annoying as it is my preferred building material. I cut out the above building, but had to finish the cutting with a scalpel, not as tricky as it sounds as the cut was already 90% through, but you know... you don't by a dog and bark your self.
 
Watch this space for some finished projects...
 
Coming Next Week...

 
Solo dungeoneering with Ganesha Games' Four Against Darkness 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Play Testing: Kaiju Rampage

Oh no! A giant monster is terrorizing down town Tokyo, there is only one hope: Super Size Steve Irwin...
 
 
Sensibly I would stick to one genre of wargames and expand my collection of miniatures and scenery. I am often accused of many things, but rarely sense. Like, I suspect, most wargamers my enthusiasm for new genres is only tempered by time and money.
It makes a nice change then to find a new game that only requires one mini to play, and a pre-painted one for £6 or so at that. Ken Lewis's Kaiju Rampage is one such game. It does require some scenery, but a) cardstock buildings do just fine and b) Jordan sorted all that out. 

 
We were playing Kaiju Rampage, a game of giant monsters fighting across a city, smashing buildings and generally causing mayhem. It is still in play-testing phase, and the book was somewhat disjointed, as is to be expected at this stage.
 
 
I had some doubts as to how strategic a game with one mini per side could be (you can have more but we wanted to keep it simple as this was our first game) but the fighting is complex enough to provide a number of options.



 
Steve Erwin kept using his special control power to flip the monster around, thus giving a bonus on combat.
Monsters are built from the ground up, with complete freedom to choose the initial stats as well as a number of powers and attacks. Not appreciating exactly how the system worked neither of us built our monsters as well as we should, in hindsight they should have had more attacks.
 

It took a while to get used to the system, but once we did it flowed remarkably smoothly for a system still in development, no doubt helped by the fact that this is a variant on another rules system. The movement particularly I found interesting, we have been asked not to go into details about the rules, so for now all I shall say is that it was restrictive enough to make you plan your moves, and means that even on a 3' table there was an opportunity for your enemy to evade your grasp and spit venom into your poor Australian face.
 
Expect to see more of Kaiju Rampage soon, Steve Irwin needs avenging...
 

 
Coming Next Week:
 
Playing Around With A Vinyl Cutter






Friday, 4 March 2016

Terrain Building: Static Grass Clumps

Back in the 80's and 90's railway flock was the thing to use on your bases. I'm not sure when static grass first started to come in, but when I discovered it it made a big difference to my basing. At it's simplest it can be added just the same as sawdust flock, splodge some PVA glue on the bases then dip it in the flock/static grass, pull it out, shake it (as the actress said to the Bishop) and Bob's your uncle.
 

Above is a hobbit based with just such a method, and there is nothing wrong with it. But when you are working at 28mm the devil is always in the detail. A small change can really make a big difference, and can help the miniature come alive.
 
 
This halfling was based with static grass and flower clumps, I don't know about you but I think the extra detail makes him seem far more finished.
 
 
The easiest way to get static grass and flower tufts is to buy them. At a few quid a box this is probably also the cheaper option unless you are going to be using lots. I do use a lot, plus I am a glutton for punishment so I decided to have a go at making them.


The most important thing you will need is a Pro Grass Box. This is the little green box in the centre of the above picture. You will also need the following:
  • Static Grass: I use a mixture of 2mm and 4mm in a variety of colours.
  • Glue: I shall be mostly using the little pot of glue sent with the Pro Grass Box but I am also going to try some Tacky Glue I bought off ebau.
  • Silicon sheet: A small piece was sent with the box, but I lost this so I bought some more. Several large sheets were only a few pounds, I cut one sheet into 6 smaller pieces. Also this way I can make several sheets at once.
  • Coloured Scatter/Sand: I am using both. These are only needed if you are making flowers. 



 Oh yes: you will also need:
  • Newspaper.
This is a messy process and I recommend covering your whole working area in newspaper. I also find it helps to do this at lunch time, when my wife is out.
 

Start by dabbing lots of blobs of glue over the silicon sheet. I try and make them a little irregular so all my tufts are no perfectly round.
 
 
 
Place a good pile of static grass on the Pro Grass Box. A mixture of length and colours will give a more natural look. Then clip the crocodile clip onto the silicone sheet.
 

Turn the box on and (being careful not to touch the metal) hold your sheet over the top of the box. The grass will fly up onto the sheet and will stand on end, where the glue will hold it in place. Move the sheet around a bit to make sure everywhere gets covered, the edges especially can need a little extra time.
 
If you are making grass then you are done. As soon as the glue is dry you can peal the tufts off (a pair of tweezers works best I find) and apply them to your bases.
 
However if you are making flower tufts there are a couple more stages to go. For flowers I used just 4mm static grass, and in a nice bright green.


After the tufts were made I put some more glue on top, just dabbed here and there, not too heavy handed but making sure every clump got some.


Then I dipped the sheet upside down in some coloured scatter. I have seen a method for making this by grating coloured sponges. I may try this in the future but for now I just bought some off t'internet.


These are my daffodils, made with yellow scatter.


The flowers on the left were made with coloured sand, those on the right with scatter. You can't see this too well in this picture, but the sand gives a finer, more intricate finish: it depends what type of flower you are making I suppose.

 
These tufts were made with the Tacky Glue from ebay. It isn't tacky. I'll have to do some more research on what glue to use, as the pot that came with the Pro Grass Box is running out. The idea with these was to make long thin tufts that could be used between flagstones etc.

 
These were made with just 2mm grass, and give a more lawn-like appearance, mixed in with other more irregular clumps they work well though. 

 
And these are the main clumps.
 

 
Coming Next Week:
 
Playtesting: Kaiju Rampage