The Rules for Tunnels & Trolls Adventures

From its inception, Tunnels & Trolls™ was designed to provide a more accessible on-ramp into the world of role-playing and adventure gaming than its contemporaries. While most games of its era reflected the complex, detailed-oriented sensibilities of tabletop wargaming, Ken St. Andre always intended for Tunnels & Trolls play to feel like the reading of a Marvel comic: fast, exciting action sequences, interesting character drama and decisions, and the ability for a reader to jump right in without requiring a lot of prior knowledge.

For Tunnels & Trolls Adventures, we’ve aspired to maintain that same sensibility. And while we expect most veteran RPG players will find it easy to jump right in and have fun, we also know there will be players on both extremes of the spectrum. On the one hand, we expect there will be gamers who haven’t played many tabletop RPGs and for whom digital games are their primary experience. On the other hand, we know there will be veteran gamers who will want to understand every facet of the rules engine in order to build the ideal character for the way they want to play. At any rate, if you’re interested in the rules mechanics we’ve adopted for Tunnels & Trolls Adventures (T&TA for short), this blog is for you!

T&T veterans know the most recent version of the rules is Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, delivered by the Fellowship of the Troll following their successful Kickstarter in 2013. DT&T collected the best ideas from previous versions of T&T and its community, such as Spite Damage and Talents, to create the ultimate tabletop version of T&T.

The version of T&T which probably has the highest recognition among long-time veterans in the tabletop RPG community would be 5th edition, which originally shipped in 1979 and was recently made available again in PDF form for the first time.

In our development of Tunnels & Trolls Adventures, we took a good look at both of these systems, and informed by the tremendous feedback we received from our Sneak Peek community, we arrived at a bit of a hybrid between the two systems that we believe makes the most sense for playing on mobile devices.

While DT&T is clearly the more fleshed out system for tabletop play, where a human Game Master is on hand to adjudicate interesting developments, there’s a lot of benefit to anchoring some of the core ideas around character creation, combat, and adventuring in the 5th edition rules. 5th edition is an easily accessible, streamlined system that looks and feels like a classic fantasy rules system. We knew we needed T&T Adventures to appeal to an audience which might otherwise be unfamiliar with T&T.

 Additionally, we needed to make sure the game played well on the smaller screen sizes of typical mobile devices. While DT&T has a number of cool innovations, it’s designed primarily to improve the experience of tabletop gamers, and some of those innovations don’t work out quite the same for a mobile game.

With that background, here’s some nitty gritty details on what you’ll find on day one in Tunnels & Trolls Adventures:

  • Characters will have the six Prime Attributes of 5th edition: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Luck, Intelligence and Charisma. While we had Speed and Wizardry during Sneak Peek, we’ve decided to remove those for now to save real estate on the mobile screen and make it easier for gamers who have not played T&T before to pick up the game. Note that this does not necessarily mean we’ll be using 5th edition rules for magic and wizards when we add spellcasters to the game—it just means we’re not including Wizardry as a core stat today.
  • Characters will increase levels in the 5th edition style of earning a specific amount of Adventure Points (AP) to reach the next level, and their rewards for attaining a new level will be points they can spend to increase their Prime Attributes. For example, when your character reaches level 5, you’ll be able to increase your Prime Attributes by five points and spend them as you wish. While the DT&T leveling system adds some really interesting strategic elements to customizing and improving your character as you progress, we received consistent feedback during Sneak Peek that the system wasn’t as clear for players new to T&T as the traditional leveling system found in 5th edition and many of its contemporaries.
  • While leveling will work much like how 5th edition does, we are updating the amount of AP required per level to substantially smaller numbers. The leveling table will be pretty similar between T&TA and 5th edition in the early levels, but the amount required to hit higher levels will come down dramatically. This is to ensure players feel a constant sense of progression as they play through many adventures, and they can think in terms of needing thousands or tens of thousands of AP to hit the next level rather than millions of points. Again this is a modification we’re making to provide the best mobile game experience possible, and when we play tabletop T&T, we’ll be sticking with the DT&T system!

Additionally, there are a number of innovations from DT&T which are going to be in T&TA on day one as we believe they make the game better for all players. These include things like:

  • Spite Damage! My personal favorite innovation from DT&T versus 5th edition, Spite Damage reflects the fact that combat is always inherently dangerous, and even a much weaker opponent can still do damage to a superior foe who is well protected by armor and other defenses. In short—with Spite Damage, you can rest assured that every six you roll in combat will do at least one point of damage, whether you win or lose the round. This also has the very welcome effect of mitigating the “unending combats” we saw in Sneak Peek after we first shipped the PAX South MegaAdventure: there were too many scenarios where characters weren’t tough enough to roll higher than a powerful opponent, but they wore enough armor to prevent the monster from ever wounding them, and those combats became intractable stalemates. With Spite Damage, the excitement and speed of combat are enhanced substantially, and rolling sixes now mean a huge deal more than rolling fives.
  • Human re-rolls on failed saving rolls: In 5th edition, there really was no good reason to pick a human character other than for role-playing purposes. And that’s fine for the tabletop game! But for our mobile game, we wanted to give players a reason to pick humans from a character power perspective, and the re-roll humans get when failing saving rolls in DT&T fit the bill nicely. Note that if you roll a 3 for a saving roll (by rolling a 1 on one die and a 2 on the other), you’ve unfortunately had a critical fail and even humans still won’t get a re-roll for that.
  • No negative combat adds. In 5th edition, characters with particularly low stats in Strength, Dexterity, or Luck would have negative adds, with a minus one to their combat adds for each point those stats were below 9. DT&T did away with that, and only gave characters positive adds for stats above 12. While we’ve eliminated Speed as the fourth attribute to give combat adds, we are sticking with the DT&T policy of positive adds only for attributes.

Now I’ve repeatedly said this is what you’ll find *on day one* of Tunnels & Trolls Adventures because we will be continually tuning the game after launch based upon community feedback as well as the data we see on how game balance is going. Naturally, our ambitions include adding wizards, rogues, and magic to the game, and as things as progress we are hoping to bring more of the innovations of DT&T into the game.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the current iterations of these rules! Please either leave comments here, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit!

David Reid

Founder & CEO, MetaArcade