Flying Buffalo's Legacy - Part 2: Tunnels & Trolls
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    Flying Buffalo's Legacy - Part 2: Tunnels & Trolls

    In the previous installment we learned how Flying Buffalo became a thriving business, but the play-by-mail industry the company helped create wasn't its only innovation. Founder Rick Loomis knew he was on to something when game developer Ken St. Andre's D&D-inspired Tunnels & Trolls role-playing game sold out at Origins in 1975. That was just the beginning. Tunnels & Trolls was the second fantasy role-playing game ever created, largely as a response to perceived flaws in in Dungeons & Dragons.

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    D&D: "Nearly Incomprehensible"

    Jon Peterson retells St. Andre's reaction to Dungeons & Dragons in Playing at the World:

    St. Andre first laid eyes on the rules around the same time. He amply qualified as a member of TSR’s target audience: a science-fiction fan, fluent in wargaming, and an early member of the Society for Creative Anachronism’s southwestern branch, the Kingdom of Atenveldt. Nevertheless, his initial enthusiasm for Dungeons & Dragons soon gave way to disappointment. “When I had finished reading I was convinced of several things: (1) that the basic ideas were tremendous, even revolutionary, but that (2) as then written, the mechanics of play were nearly incomprehensible, and (3) that the game rules cost far more than they should, and (4) that 4, 8, 10, 12 and 20-sided dice were too much to bother with.

    In response, St. Andre set out to address all these issues, and by doing so introduced several innovations into the role-playing game mainstream. He was in good company. St. Andrew explains in his own words:

    Between 1974 and 1980, there must have been 10,000 variants of D & D played all over the country. The first thing any Dungeon Master (this was before the days of the politically correct term Game Master.) would do when starting a gaming session was explain the house rules to his players. My difference was that I wrote my rule changes down and published them as an independent system. So did Dave Hargraves who created Arduin.

    Armed with his new version of D&D, St. Andre went to the Arizona State University print shop and had 100 copies made for $60.

    That was a lot of money for me at the time. I was out of work and newly married, but I figured I could peddle it to my friends for $1 a copy and get my money back. So I took the chance. Thus, in June of 1975, Tunnels and Trolls became the second ever published fantasy role-playing game in America. I did one thing that I considered very important. I copyrighted the game–got the forms, sent copies to the Library of Congress, paid the $10 copyright fee, and printed my copyright notice in the booklet. The first edition of Dungeons and Dragons was printed without copyright–Gygax and Arneson probably never even thought of it.

    St. Andrew still had copies left over, so he gave them to Rick Loomis to sell:

    By late July all of my friends had copies, and I still had about 50 left over. In November I saw Rick Loomis, who I knew slightly from having visited his Flying Buffalo (Starweb) business a few times, and I asked him if he’d try to sell the rest on consignment. He took my extra copies to a convention and sold out–it was kind of funny–he was sitting in a booth next to Gary Gygax who was still flacking his first printing of Dungeons and Dragons. T & T was the simpler and cheaper game and it outsold D & D at that convention. Gygax took a dislike to me and Flying Buffalo that endured for years.

    Trolling the Game

    In Tunnels & Trolls, a character's Constitution acts as hit points, with attributes increasing as the character advances in level (and thus allowing hit points to increase with Constitution). Combat involved damage inflicted rather than attacks rolled; armor absorbed hits rather than avoided taking damage like in D&D. Peterson explains the trade-offs:

    By dispensing with an avoidance check, this optimization hugely speeds and simplifies the resolution of combat, though the resulting system is grossly unfair to the lesser side in a conflict (as high rollers take no damage), far too deadly to magic-users and in practice can produce imbalanced outcomes.

    Additionally, Tunnels & Trolls rejected the Vancian school of magical memorization endemic to Dungeons & Dragons. The system used spell points derived from the Strength of the magic-user, with each spell gradually depleting the magic-user's spell points with use, reduced by the caster's level. The spells also reflected Tunnels & Trolls' whimsy. The game never took itself too seriously:

    The spells themselves bear far more whimsical and obscure names than those of Dungeons & Dragons (for example, “Hidey Hole” makes the party briefly invisible, “Yassa-Massa” ensures the subservience of subdued monsters, “Zingum” transports inanimate objects short distances), and to learn any spells requires first a payment in hard cash (500 gold pieces each for second-level spells) and second an adequate Intelligence score.

    Monsters had no statistics, embracing the old school belief that it was on Dungeon Masters to make their own content:

    St. Andre mainly slimmed the rules by omitting the vast taxonomic sections which fatten the original Dungeons & Dragons pamphlets. He supplies no statistics for monsters, for example, but instead just a page of instructions on “Monster Making” which contains, in a single paragraph, an enumeration of seventy-some potential dungeon fiends, ranging from fire-breathing dragons to misogynists. Magic items he neglects entirely— aside from an occasional mention in passing of staples like magic swords, he says nothing about them whatsoever. A few pages of charts list the properties of various prosaic and exotic weapons, but rather than provide a glossary on the nature of these implements, the author “decided to let you do that work for yourself in order to save space.”

    The Original Fantasy Heartbreaker?

    There were other innovations that made St. Andre's marketing savvy prescient of issues that would crop up later with other D&D "fantasy heartbreakers":

    St. Andre, however, had the larger ambition to transform his variant into an independent commercial product which he aspired to sell at a price point far lower than Dungeons & Dragons. It is this pioneering audacity that earns Tunnels & Trolls its place to sell the remaining stock in nearby Scottsdale: Rick Loomis, head of the Flying Buffalo play-by-mail game company and publisher of Wargamer’s Information.

    Flying Buffalo's tactics did not go unnoticed. TSR served them with a cease and desist, which led to Flying Buffalo removing all reference to "Dungeons & Dragons" from its Tunnels & Trolls advertising. To get around this change but still convey the game's fantasy roots, the phrase "fantasy role-playing game" came into common usage:

    Thanks to TSR’s prohibitions, Flying Buffalo and Metagaming became the first companies to market their products as “role-playing games” in the sense that the future game industry would recognize.

    In addition to being the second tabletop game that launched damage reduction armor, spell points, and a great deal of humor into the industry, Flying Buffalo created its own genre.

    The rapid of development and distribution of Tunnels & Trolls, hot on the heels of Dungeons & Dragons, meant Flying Buffalo and St. Andre could react quickly to the needs of their customers. And one of those needs was the ability to play the game without other players. We'll discuss the launch of the solo gamebook in the next installment.

    Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.

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    It's odd that Peterson refers to 'Game Master' as a "politically correct" term -- I think that says more about Peterson than it does about TSR.

    The real reason the term 'Game Master' became common parlance in the RPG industry is that TSR claimed trademark protection on the term 'Dungeon Master' -- a claim they finally backed up in 1992.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pauper View Post
    It's odd that Peterson refers to 'Game Master' as a "politically correct" term -- I think that says more about Peterson than it does about TSR.

    The real reason the term 'Game Master' became common parlance in the RPG industry is that TSR claimed trademark protection on the term 'Dungeon Master' -- a claim they finally backed up in 1992.
    That stuck out as strange to me, too; I'm surprised an editor didn't question his word choice there, or at least ask Peterson to elaborate.

    EDIT: Peterson quoting St. Andre, as pointed out. In the context of the book, does Peterson follow up on St. Andre's comment?
    Last edited by Birmy; Monday, 31st October, 2016 at 05:40 PM.

  4. #4
    Peterson didn't say that at all; he's quoting Ken St. Andre, as indicated in the link provided. Quite frankly, I get the impression that St. Andre is just not very bright.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pauper View Post
    It's odd that Peterson refers to 'Game Master' as a "politically correct" term -- I think that says more about Peterson than it does about TSR.

    The real reason the term 'Game Master' became common parlance in the RPG industry is that TSR claimed trademark protection on the term 'Dungeon Master' -- a claim they finally backed up in 1992.

    --
    Pauper

  5. #5
    I always found it odd that T&T didn't blow up more.

    As for me, the silliness was a turn off for the longest time.

    I was too cool for silly games back then.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pauper View Post
    It's odd that Peterson refers to 'Game Master' as a "politically correct" term -- I think that says more about Peterson than it does about TSR.

    The real reason the term 'Game Master' became common parlance in the RPG industry is that TSR claimed trademark protection on the term 'Dungeon Master' -- a claim they finally backed up in 1992.

    --
    Pauper
    I believe that expansion of RPG's to other genre's contributed as well. I used 'Dungeon Master' throughout high school, when 95% of the time we played D&D. When I got to college (c. 1986) I started to play/run a far wider variety of RPG's and 'Dungeon Master' didn't really make sense when running Traveller, Twilight 2000, etc.

    I still use 'Dungeon Master' in the context of D&D but use 'Game Master' everywhere else.

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    T&T is a fun game, definitely. And for all its editions, the latest one still feels very much in-line with the first.

    The built-in sense of humor is definitely part of the game’s charm.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Birmy View Post
    That stuck out as strange to me, too; I'm surprised an editor didn't question his word choice there, or at least ask Peterson to elaborate....
    Editor? Yea, in my experience editors don't do the proofing they used to do, and copyrighters aren't given the time or the impetus to do much commenting either.

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    By dispensing with an avoidance check, this optimization hugely speeds and simplifies the resolution of combat, though the resulting system is grossly unfair to the lesser side in a conflict (as high rollers take no damage),

    This is why we played T&T once and only once. A friend got the game in grade school. We rolled up our characters, had a combat, and immediately knew that their was little in the way of tactics, skill or challenge in combat.

    "Oh, your sword does 2d6 damage, the monster does 1d8... well, I guess you are going to win in a few rounds. Next fight? Oh, same thing..." Boring.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AriochQ View Post
    I still use 'Dungeon Master' in the context of D&D but use 'Game Master' everywhere else.
    Ditto here -- our group(s) switched from DM to GM depending on the game (and even used other terms if the game specifically stated them -- like Administrator for Top Secret). This is the first I've heard that DM was somehow usurped because it wasn't politically correct; if anyone has any further info about this I'd be interested in hearing about it!

    gamingly,

    Kannik

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