• Welcome to this new upgrade of the site. We are now on a totally different software platform. Many things will be different, and bugs are expected. Certain areas (like downloads and reviews) will take longer to import. As always, please use the Meta Forum for site queries or bug reports. Note that we (the mods and admins) are also learning the new software.
  • The RSS feed for the news page has changed. Use this link. The old one displays the forums, not the news.

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.

View attachment 77707

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.

 
Michael Tresca

Comments

Pauper

Villager
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
 

Birmy

Explorer
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 a moderator:

ThreeSwords

Villager
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.

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
 

Von Ether

Explorer
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.
 

AriochQ

Explorer
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.
 
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.
 

LordEntrails

Explorer
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.
 

LordEntrails

Explorer
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.
 

Kannik

Villager
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
 

jimmifett

Villager
Far as I know, it was always down to TSR using illithid lawyers to claim "Dungeon Master" as their own thing and prevent other companies from using it. Only politics involved were if one was ticked off at TSR for that vs those that didn't give a ratflail.

Personally, I go out of my way to enjoy tweaking the noses of the Thought Police clinging to the thumbscrew manacles of oppression that is political correctness, but DM vs GM is not covered by that umbrella in the slightest. I recall a friend back in middle school when we played GURPS, reffering to himself as G.O.D., GURPS Offense Defense. For a 12yo, it was amusing.
 

EvilDwarf

Villager
Weird he'd use the phrase "politically correct" when referring to an aspect of a game that has a spell called "Yassa Massa." That's kind of tone deaf.
 
I think the quote from Peterson describing St Andre as "fluent in wargaming" is slightly contradicted by St Andre's self-description:

I was not a miniatures gamer. I had never seen four, eight, ten, twelve, or twenty-sided dice. What’s all this stuff about campaigns?​

That's not to say that familiarity with miniatures wargaming would cure all the incomprehensibilities of the original D&D books, but it would help with some - I know that I find it hard to read in places because it relies on Chainmail, and Chainmail in turn relies on familiarity with a wargaming idiom that I don't have.
 

barasawa

Explorer
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 can't speak for others, but I know that where I was we started using Game Master when we started playing non-fantasy games. Somehow when you're flying around on space ships, or playing the part of a super hero, secret agent, or other non-fantasy type using the term DUNGEON Master just seemed really wrong.
 

barasawa

Explorer
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.[/COLOR]
T&T only uses d6.

Ranged and Magic combat work directly, even if your side looses the battle if I remember correctly.
Melee weapons don't do damage directly, rather they are part of your combat total. You also have attributes to determine your personal combat adds.
It's all pretty simple, but there's a bit more to it if you want.


In the current rules there is also Spite Damage, which is damage that will be taken by the other side, no matter what they rolled or what their armor is. (The standard is 1 spite for each 6 rolled on a die)


To spice up combat, and get your group some advantage if facing a stronger foe, use combat manuevers. There's plenty of time in 1 round to do things, so you might as well take advantage of it. You tell the GM what you want to do, he sets the difficulty level and attribute of the saving roll, and you roll. You succeed, you get whatever bonus the GM says is appropriate.
One of our groups had someone with a talent for throwing knives. He'd often use it to pin people by their clothes to nearby objects (trees, walls, etc) and disarm them by hitting their hands so they drop their weapons.
Combat manuevers are a matter of tactics and your own creativity, of course if you want to do something totally over the top like throwing a mug such that it richocettes off the wall and bounces around disarming the 5 thugs threatening you, then you are going to have a REALLY insanely high saving roll. Of course, an advanced character might have high enough stats to pull that off.


Not to dis other games, but few of them are nearly as flexible, and once you've calculated the probability of a hit, and damage range, it's pretty much standing there and pounding on each other until somebody falls, and usually it's not that hard to predict who that will be, barring some unlikely dice rolls.
There have been many additions to those games over the years to allow people some options other than acting like foosball characters with swords, but it still doesn't equal the same level of creativity.
 

talien

Community Supporter
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
Sorry guys, the "PC" comment didn't belong to Peterson at all. I got lazy with my quotes there and didn't indicate that I switched sources; I just linked to the new source so it wasn't obvious who I was quoting. In short, the first paragraph belongs to Peterson, and much of the rest of the article is direct quotes from St. Andre.

So the "PC" comment belonged to St. Andre and was quoted from the Tunnels & Trolls web site. It has nothing to do with Peterson.

I edited the article to better reflect that it's St. Andrew speaking. My apologies for the confusion!
 

LordEntrails

Explorer
T&T only uses d6.

Ranged and Magic combat work directly, even if your side looses the battle if I remember correctly.
Melee weapons don't do damage directly....
Ok, d6s only. And as this was the 70's I'm sure it was first ed. But as I said, once you knew how much damage you did compared to the other guy, melee combat was boring. Given we were pre-teens, and it was a lot of years ago. I'm glad the game has improved since then. But, at the time it did not hold our interest.
 

aramis erak

Explorer
Several things ...

The Ken Way vs the Teen Way
the way Ken runs T&T vs the way Teens first encountering it might run it are very different. The way ken runs it, each round, you describe what you want to do special; if Ken thinks it will affect your combat effectiveness, he assigns a saving roll... on success, modify your combat total or someone else's (as appropriate) by an amount selected by the GM. On a fail, take some damage for the failed save, and don't modify the damage. My own term for this is "Stupid PC Tricks"... which Ken claimed to laugh about when he saw it on one of the boards..

Many teens looking at it, including me at the time, didn't quite grasp the "State an intent and make a save to modify the combat total" element in the 5.0 rules. It wasn't until the 90's that I realized that was the expectation. (Initially, I only got into T&T for the solos... in about 1986.)

Many players had, by the 90's, established house rule lists of SR Levels for various actions. Some of which (often) included things like these from my list:
  • making some of your melee damage into targeted damage (which Missiles and Magic already are), but if you fail the roll, those dice are LOST this round. (I used 1 level per die so declared.)
  • Taking someone else's share of the damage, or hiding behind an ally. (I used level = points transferred.)
  • Parrying damage (I used 1 level per point of extra AV for weapons. For shields, the shield's AV per level. On a fail, reduce the adds or AV by the damage, rather than your Con.
  • Extra Spite: 2 levels per point of spite. Or, alternatively, 2 levels for spite on 5-6.
  • Burn Armor: double your armor: 2 levels. On success, double it this round, then reduce it by 1 permanently at end of round. On fail, damage is to AV not PC...
The moment you start using things like this, combat oriented skills in 5.5 and later suddenly get interesting, as they make it possible to do more fancy stuff.

Also, it closes the Advancement Point gap between Wizards and Warriors even in 5.0... Note that Wizards get AP for every spell cast equal to the total casting Strength. Warriors now are often making a Save every round, and suddenly are getting quite a lot of bang! (Note that the actual cost is reduced - often quite a bit - for level 2+ wizards with staves. A level 2 wizard casting a level 1 TTYF is a base of 6. Since he's 1 level higher, he reduces it to 5; since he's using his staff, he reduces it by his level, to 3. A third level wizard, same spell, reduces it for level from 6 to 4, then applies a -3 for the staff, casting it for 1! A 5th level wizard, he casts it at 2nd, base 12, -3 for increased level over spell, to 9, then -5 for the staff, to 4. A 6th level wizard — the second highest I've ever had a PC get to in a game I've run — casts the level 2 for 12-(6-2)-6=12-4-6=2... ) In 7E, he's got to roll to cast it, too, and that's an SR...

And then house rules using spite in interesting ways
  • Degrade Armor With Spite: I allowed this as 3 spite per point killed.
  • Using Spite to trigger colorful effects instead of damage
  • Using Spite to reduce weapon adds and/or dice...
  • Damaging attributes other than Con. I used 2:1...

And, for those of us who learned a thing or three from the videogame, a fight in a big room might not be resolved as a single fight, but might break into several smaller melees, with Saves made to isolate certain individuals... if you've got the guy with massive AV and a ton of Con, you can have one of the warriors isolate someone, and kill him in one turn... Takes a SR to do if using Theater of the Mind; takes careful movement if using minis or counters on a map. (And that's actually a supported — kind of — mode of play in 5.0...)

T&T's very loose framework was awesome If you could add SR's to do special things in combat. That took the players and the GM both agreeing to the Stupid PC tricks.

An example of this from a 5.5 campaign I ran...
Tam is playing a Warrior; Jim, a Wizard; Steph a Paragon*; Jimmy, a Ranger.
Me: You have been followed to the edge of the chasm by 5 Naga... who are menacing you with their big-ass swords...
Tam: How Big?
Me: 4d kind of big. And look to be pretty buff.
Jim: I want to Taunt one to charge me, then roll out of the way so he goes over the edge.
Me: Ok, when I call for rolls, Level 3 on lower of Charisma or Dex.
Steph: I want to Hidey-hole. Everyone BUT Jim.
Me: They know where you are, and you can't move while in a Hidey-hole. I'll triple your AV, but attacking would break the spell...
Steph: in that case, Hold That Pose the lead 2. 8-1-3=4 Wiz.
Tam: I want to do all my damage to one of them.
Jim: Does my Roguery Apply
Me: Jim, yes. Tam, how?
Tam: BF&I! Duh! †
Me: 5 dice? Level 5 Strength. Need 40-Strength.
Tam: 10? On 2d6?
Me: Doubles open end, remember?
Tam: Oh, yeah, Duh. I'm Stooopid.‡
Jimmy: I shoot the small one.
Me: Level 2.
Jimmy: I want to shoot him in the back.
Me: Level 3, but +1 die if you make it.
Me: Ok, roll them!
Jim: WOOT! Made it! 57 on the dice. (Jim's rolled: 6+6, 4+4, 6+6, 1+1, 2+2, 3+3, 1+2.)
Tam: double 2's. Damn.
Jim: Doubles open...
Tam: Oh, yeah... (rolls 6+5). Made my 10...
Me: Don't forget to log the roll & Level for XP later...
Steph: I did my part...
Me: Jim - no combat roll, your target went over the edge...
Jimmy: I need ... 0.
Me: Remember, a 1+2 or 1+3 fails...
Jimmy: I hate that ... (grins) Rolled a 4... 2+2. Rolling again. 2+2. And again. 3+3. And again. 1+6. Yep. I hit him.
Me: Combat Rolls...
(loud clatter of lots of dice from me, tam, and jimmy.)
Jim: Can I still take a share of the hits? I've got good armor...
Me: Sure.
Jimmy: Hot! 28 on the dice, + 20, is 48
Tam: 29 total.
Me: The two left fighting got a total of 55...
Me: Jimmy, You slay that one. Yes, he WAS one of the two fighting.
Me: Your side totaled 77; 22 margin. Jimmy's kill had 15 con and 5 AV, so that's 2 left. Tam's directed damage gets hers down, too. Since all damage was directed, the excess is lost.
them: (assorted cheering and barking)
Me: Going into Round 2, the two Naga are suddenly realizing they may not live very long, and are going to back away.
Jimmy: Not if I can help -
Step: HTP!
Jimmy: it!
Jim and tam: I KILL IT. Jinx!
Jim: Coke's in the fridge. Bring two.
*Warrior Wizard by the 5E rules, but we used the 7E title for it, because it feels better.
† Brute Force & Ignorance. She had a Str 30...
‡ Teenager in smart-alec mode. Sarcasm so biting it makes a Shark look unarmed.

See, Combat isn't so boring after all... with a GM who grasps the situation. In a straight up "Side vs Side", with no Stupid PC Tricks, the PC's would have been in trouble. Steph's combat was only 4d+8, and Jim's was 2d+12...

D10's vs d6's
The use of D10's in 5E was for the language table.

Unreliable Narrator
Ken's interviews by Mr. Petersen do not match with his older comments in print. They're similar, but not the same. Ken's an unreliable narrator... more importantly, what I've seen of the PATW interviews covers no new ground vs the older, closer to the referenced time, written commentary by Ken. Unfortunately, much of that content predates the Internet Archive... so it survives mostly in various people's hard drives, and in some print products. Which means Ken, unintentionally, may have mislead Mr. Petersen.
 

Advertisement

Latest threads

Advertisement

Top