Or we’ll sic the fairy on you

Here’s one of many things I’ve been up to during the past two or three months. This is a Tunnels & Trolls game played at Spelens Hus begun as a family group, a dad and two pre-teen/early teen sons; we met during Augustifesten during my “learn about role-playing” presentation there. It’s our second game; we began with a few sessions of The Pool first which I’ll write about in another post some time.

We’re using the book as literally as I at least understand it, e.g., the players each play two characters simultaneously), so we began with six characters. They were a notably short bunch: two hobbits, a leprechaun, a fairy, a dwarf, and a human. (This turned out to be pretty funny more than once, in terms of line-of-sight across a bunch of allies.)

At this writing we’ve played six sessions, completing a rather solid dungeon-adventure if you want to call it that, and the group has shifted a little here and there. Another player joined for a single session, and then one of the boys’ friends joined and has remained.

Quick note: all of these characters were rolled by me beforehand and assigned kindred and class, for ease of pick-up and play, and most of them had been given arms and armor as well. See the attached files for some examples. I used the numbers I rolled and was reasonably tactical without obsessing over it. A given player named and otherwise rounded out each character.

As for the adventure, it showcases my typical dualism for fantasy content, partly as reliable fallback. I grabbed a cool Dyson map (one of his “fives” if you’re familiar with his work) and put half-a-god at the top and the-other-half at the bottom. Check out the prep notes for the details. We began with the totally sketchy mandate to “stop the bandits, you start here.”

A few minor notes before you watch

Fairies are beasts. The phrase I used to title this post is not an idle threat. I will never do anything as a T&T character without at least one fairy in the party.

Don’t fear the dice. The failures may be spectacularly disastrous but the low-probability successes are more than worth it, as when Remi’s 4th-level Saving Roll bowshot saved the fairy from the hypnotic grasp of the spider priestess.

Content, content, content! I grant you that this is by no means the socially-charged, highly individually motivated situation you’ve seen me play in the past (Sorcerer, Trollbabe, Circle of Hands, my methods for RuneQuest, et cetera). The driving concept is straightforwardly dangerous ground … but that still means enough backstory to backstop and extrapolate from it when needed, enough NPC personality to allow for playing what they prioritize in changing circumstances and judging the difficulties in dealing with them, enough problematic magical goings-on. Enough for what? For play, as opposed merely to being a “you see this, you see that” + attack-dice rolling bot, as GM – which in turn opens the door for the players, not me, to arrive at solutions in the heat of the moment. As you may see, both here and in many of the games I play, I begin with intriguing geography and architecture, which provides my impetus for all the “enoughs.”

Regarding treasure, I began with the rules’ random tables, but after some boring results, I decided to go a bit more logically while still using at least most of their rules. I chose which treasure type went with each section (e.g., coins for the bandits’ pockets, gold for their storage; gems at the two altars), then rolling for those. The results were non-trivial, as getting the two pieces of ivory, one at each altar, sparked my imagination about the broken halves and “tied the room together,” as it were.

Characters quickly mature into personalities, including those being played by the same person. Our regulars turned out to be Remi the heroic human archer, Kri the jumpy leprechaun wizard, Trej the cautious hobbit warrior, Tinalin the outrageous fairy rogue, Wox the notably incautious hobbit warrior, Tolex the steady dwarven wizard, Sten the morbid and disturbing human warrior, and Sten Två the tactically-minded dwarf warrior.

As a corollary, character deaths are mournful affairs. I discuss an illustrative exception in the video.

Regarding the video: I describe the events of the sessions, raise a few more points about “how to play,” and go over ordering-of-action in some detail. I hope you like it!

13 responses to “Or we’ll sic the fairy on you”

  1. Ordering

    Interesting and helpful! Particularly the discussion at the end of how ordering works, and the point about how being tactical is a way to help individuate your character. 

    Some cases are still confusing to me, but that may be because they're open to a number of reasonable interpretations. For example, Sven Tre and Rolf Fyra are fighting a trio of orcs, while Maj Fem is attempting to cut Björn Sju free from his bonds, while in melee range of the orcs. So Sven and Rolf will certainly participate in the round's collective roll, that's clear. Maj will either succeed or fail in freeing Björn; in either case, will she take any damage from the collective roll if the orcs win it? Suppose she succeeds, does Björn get to join in the collective roll? Or does he maybe get an individual attack afterwards?

    For all these questions, I can see different answers being equally reasonable, which I guess is ok. Out of curiosity, how would you handle this case?


    • I see only these two ways to

      I see only these two ways to do it, with no ambiguity or judgment call involved, which is either because I am locked into my own "my way / highway" standards, or because you are letting yourself be seduced by the siren call of Maybe.

      Case 1. Given that the bonds aren't anything special, Maj Fem is to get them undone or cut carefully. It will require no roll but will be completed toward the end of the two-minute round.

      1. The collective roll is made first. If the two allies win, then neither they nor Maj Fem take damage. If they lose, then all three take damage.
      2. Assuming Maj Fem survives that step, then she frees Björn Sju. 
      3. Björn Sju's one job is to sit there like a good dude in distress, the whole round.
      4. Next round.

      Case 2. But Maj Fem's player says, "Look, I am doing this quickly, with a single dagger-slash, to get him free fast enough to get into that fight." No problem:

      1. Maj Fem's action requires a Saving Roll using Dexterity. If it succeeds, Björn Sju springs forth to join the fight. If it fails, he is not freed and he takes damage according to her dagger ("whoops, sorry man").
      2. The collective fight roll is made, with either two or three on our side depending on the previous step. If our side succeeds, no one on it takes damage. If it fails, then everyone in the collecive roll + Maj Fem takes damage.
      3. Next round.

      Two points from here:

      • No matter what, in either case and with any dice outcomes inside the round, Maj Fem cannot do anything except her stated action. I can't say it enough: no double-dipping. A character gets multiple rolls during a round only if the extras are 0-time reaction-type rolls.
      • The two cases do not represent a moment of the GM stroking their chin and deciding "how to do it." They are each locked down (in my mind) depending on how the player has chosen to handle the task. 
    • The distinction between the

      The distinction between the two cases you describe is clear (namely, differentiating by the amount of time each action takes), and the associated procedures make total sense. 

      If I understand your point about double-dipping correctly, you're extending the "you can make only one type of attack per round" rule, which is explicit in the text, to apply to stunts as well, so basically you can do one type of attack or one stunt per round. That's looks like a perfectly functional interpretation. But just to describe how some others do it, without my expressing any opinion about whether it's a good idea, some writers allow a stunt and an attack in the same round, if the stunt is successful. For example, someone wants to focus their attack on the chinks in an opponent's armor so their damage bypasses its protection; that could be a Dex stunt, allowing a follow-up weapons roll. Or, someone wants to do a stunt to maneuver onto higher ground, which will then give them bonus dice on that round's collective melee roll.

      Regarding whether Maj ought to take damage if her comrades fail the collective weapons roll, I gather you're applying a principle like, if they're in melee range, they'll get hit if their side loses. That's reasonable and functional. But it wasn't immediately obvious to me, though – where my mind went when considering this was, "if the orcs are well-trained, they'll see Maj is not an immediate threat, and focus all their energy on the two fighters; so Maj won't take damage. Even if the orcs aren't experienced veterans, maybe they should get an Int roll or something to do likewise." Just how I was thinking.

    • My thoughts …

      My thoughts …

      I hope you'll agree that whatever "some others" do isn't our topic. People can do whatever they want. My comment on it – for purposes of how we play – is that play dissolves in the absence of constraint. I can Save to spot a chink in the armor and still roll into the collective pool? OK! Therefore, if we lose the roll, how about I Save to dodge the damage after all? Or, the other way around, before the roll, the GM says I must Save so that the orcs don't ignore my armor, and then, if I win the roll, then Save so I don't take some damage too … there's no end to this. One of these is the same as a hundred of them. It's merely breaking the constraint of the system so a participant can not use it as they "how about" their way through instead.

      Regard Maj Fem, I was working from your explicit statement that she was in melee range of the orcs. That is synonymous with "she will be hit by the orcs if they win the roll," full stop – it's not ambiguous at all. When you say things like "but maybe they won't concentrate on her," or whatever, I see it as weirdly retro-erasing what we'd established going into the stated actions. To put it very harshly, such statements aren't reasonable maybes, but wiggles inside the process to keep her from being affected by it.

    • I hope you’ll agree that

      I hope you'll agree that whatever "some others" do isn't our topic. People can do whatever they want. 

      So my interest here was actually to get a better understanding of how you personally are interpreting the rules, since you've clearly got a method that has worked well for you and your players – and you've helped with that, thank you.

      Other than that, my only point is that the 5th edition text does require interpretation. The principles you've outlined above aren't explicitly in the text; I've read carefully, and unless I'm reading a different version, they're not stated or even clearly implied. You've found a set of procedures, including constraints, that are inspired by the text that work well, but are not clearly stated by the text itself. At least that's my impression. Do you disagree?  

    • We will never achieve text

      We will never achieve text purity; it's a hopeless aim without a necessary purpose. If that's supposed to be the topic, then I really mean it when I say I don't care what others do.

      There is one important principle I think we should remember, though: that projecting onto a text is a real thing, and to be avoided – which also includes the inability even to engage with it. It is very easy to reach a point when you say you "try" a game or "played" a game but without even coming close to what the text may have proposed to you.

      A good text is one which inspires and instructs, and even if what we do is not picture-perfect to it (with or without knowing it), there is such a thing as being willing to be inspired and instructed. I see a lot of "tries" at playing games which never manage that, simply playing an X that they bring to the table no matter what, or that poke at the instructions but immediately recoil into protective if's and confusing changes during play.

      So yes, for that topic, I'll criticize. That's a failure.

  2. What makes the fairy effective?

    I've never played, so I can only go from my understanding of the rules. It seems that a fairy is strictly limited by Strength, both in Adds and the number of spells it can cast in a combat. I can see that the flight and small size give fairy kind a maneuver and surprise advantage. Can you explain a bit more what makes a fairy effective?

    • It may not make sense without

      It may not make sense without play. Ever since I first acquired this book over forty years ago, my reading was similar to yours. Fairies and leprechauns seemed like a bad bargain at the most basic level – crap weapons, limited armor (by Strength), weak magic also limited by Strength. Hits that would merely inconvenience other characters and be entirely shrugged off by warriors or tank-like dwarves are instantly lethal to them.

      Play makes the difference, when you discover they are a "level ahead" on Dexterity and Luck; in addition, leprechauns are super-smart and fairies are insanely cute, also worth quite a bit of survival in Saving Rolls. They're not about the collective fight roll at all, but about the pre-emptive, disruptive strike beforehand. If you play them off the opportunities of the moment, taking the risks those warrior hunks and dwarven tanks could not possibly survive, they change the whole battlefield. A group of six opponents becomes two groups of three, or an opponent is split away from their group in distraction. A fancy jeweled crown gets snatched off the leader ghoul's head, throwing him into consternation, the more so when it gets dropped as a weapon onto his head the next turn and ruins his mobilization against the sudden shift in tactics by the fighters. God help you if a Strength-y wizard and a fairy decide they're going to mess up the entire reason you are leading a pack of orcs or were-rats or something – they'll think twice about fighting for a leader who loses their participation in the collective fight roll by a little sprite going "neener neener" in their face, then eats damage of half their MR or more from a Take That Your Fiend.

      The same applies to post-roll actions, e.g., flitting into an area and finding cover, getting a better idea of who's doing what and what's going on, then zipping to the Thing or Door or Altar or whatever and totally ruining what the squad of ugly mooks or big arrogant guardian thought they were accomplishing.

      It doesn't always work, of course. But I've only seen one fairy get splatted, and only because she tried to save a beleagured comrade, and then only because the player rolled crap damage (the dagger had been Vorpal'd, so she had a chance!!). The rest of the group owed their survival to the fairy's prior actions – and remember that crown I mentioned? The jewel is worth a lot, but the characters don't care. That crown is theirs now and they're keeping it in remembrance of her.

    • The more I like at my reply

      The more I look at my reply above, the more I feel despair, because "you just have to play" is so weak in text, but meaningful in reality. There are many procedures which intersect to produce the effects I'm talking about.

      E.g., the default level for Saving Rolls is the level of the dungeon/adventure that we're in right now. The GM is supposed to honor that – no sudden 5th level Save ruling to keep anyone from doing that thing if it's a thing that someone could actually do. If we're on the second level (and gained our 200 Adventure Points from stepping into it), then anything but specially-designated Saves, or arguably, absurd actions, are going to be second level.

      A first level Saving Roll against Dexterity means you subtract your Dexterity from 20, then roll 2d6 to see if you can get that resulting value or higher (doubles explode). For second level, meaning more difficult, subtract it from 25, et cetera. (The term "saving roll" is a misnomer, as this is actually the first attribute-check resolution system in role-playing, ever.)

      So, I roll pretty well for Dexterity and Luck, let's say 16 and 12 respectively, and I decide the character is a fairy, so that's Dexterity 24 and Luck 18. You see what I mean, right? For Dexterity, that's automatic Saves when in first and second levels for dungeon/adventure, and 6+ for third level Saves. For Luck, that's automatic Saves for first level and 7+ for second level.

      Now consider the level-up rules. One option is to increase Luck by double the new level number. Our starting fairy above uses this option and now has Luck 22. After that, the level-up increase quickly outstrips the five-point increase in Saving Roll difficulty (6, 8, 10, etc). In the long term, a fairy can stay way ahead of the default Saving Roll by taking that option even just every other or every third time.

      All of this becames much more nuanced after a few character deaths and hterefore having a more diverse party in terms of character levels, but that's a topic I want to get into only after playing many advenures and levels myself.

      But I hope the overall point is clear. There are a lot of different rules to consider when I describe the effects in play, and they work well together. The 5th edition text includes a lot of references to what they've changed from the 1st-4th sequence, and from my present-day perspective I think that every decision was rooted very firmly in real, long-term play.

    • That’s clear. Thanks Ron.

      That's clear. Thanks Ron. Your first post gave me a modest understanding: I saw that the fairy would get high dex and luck, but it wasn't until your second post that I really got how that would compare to saving roll levels. I can see a lot of monsters being very pissed off at a fairy or leprachaun.

  3. Is choosing human ever

    Is choosing human ever worthwhile? On another note, I was looking at the kinder modifiers and it seems to me that, mathematically, there's always an advantage in choosing something other than human. Have you noticed that? Are there compensations that I overlooked?

    • This is one of the things I

      This is one of the things I wanted to address in the probably-never to be continued racism seminars: "human" as an option.

      The non-special, numerically baseline human is more or less a feature of all the early role-playing texts, if I'm not mis-remembering a counter-example. The presumption being that the attribute or points or anything, really, was modeled as "human normal" and then other options are modified from it. It raises about twenty topics for me all over the conceptual map, but I’ll try to stay with your topic about rules-mechanics advantages and disadvantages.

      For that variable, and for this T&T anyway, I think the hobbits, leprechauns, and fairies do feel the pinch of the low Strength, which is a significant and potentially fatal issue in this game. But dwarves and elves, frankly, come out on top – for their extreme advantages, all you need is to be willing to play a very grumpy dwarf or a slightly frail elf, and who didn’t want to do that anyway?

      [Related point: T&T is much less detailed than D&D ’77 or AD&D regarding life-history differences and related rules-limitations, so I’m not bothering wih things like lifespan or paragraphs of psychological or literary details.]

      On that basis, I can see perceiving the T&T humans to be a bit beta. The common justification that “the advantage is having no disadvantages” is supposed to indicate breadth or flexibility, but for a given character it translates to “take your low rolls and like them.” The unlikely option of warrior-wizard doesn’t change it much – I’ve never seen one in all the dozens of characters I’ve played or GM’d for, for example, and besides, we’re talking about the basic option, not an edge case.

      However, I think this topic is too narrow. Because a lot of T&T characters are designated as human by players, and a lot of those turn out to be great characters with a lot of history, personality, and, eventually, goals. So in practice, playing a human doesn’t turn out to be a bad or non-advantaged option. There is no consistent evident downside, and in plain language, playing a human seems to work. This implies to me that the single topic of numerical ups and downs, especially for character attributes, isn’t the core variable regarding this kind of option in play. There are other “positives” at work, whatever they may be.

      I’m definitely not sure about what they actually are. They aren’t merely countervailing options like having a wider skill-set or something, as this doesn’t apply to T&T. I think they must be stronger than merely thematic (“I’m a human, I can identify with it”) or default thinking (“more calculations? Screw it, I’ll make him a human”). I also think they are not related to the content found in many games regarding how humans are more numerous or more culturally prevalent, but pertain actually to playing a given character.

      So, not much of an answer, but more of a further question: yes, humans are fun to play, but it’s hard to put your fingertip on an exact number or option that says so. I may be coming to a conclusion, though. It may be related to the more general point that playing this game is fun, and working from there.

      Which means, perhaps, that instead of looking for the app provided by a given build option that makes the game fun, maybe we're better off thinking about play as such. In which case, the only issue regarding any options is whether they screw it up. And if not, then we're good, with no need for an identifiable gold-star-sticker "fun" mechanic in each option.


      (not your topic, but my mind goes here) There’s a really interesting, complex confounding topic in this too. As the years went by, a lot of games’ rules retained the concept of human as unmodified baseline for character creation, but they changed the justification for it. Instead of an arbitrary reference point, or as Gygax sensibly stated in the 1979 DM Guide, a thematic one, they drew hard upon the long-standing science fiction convention that humans are uniquely generalized in an advantageous way. “We’re special because we’re not so special,” which may also be related to 1950s era American Cold War ideology.

      In rules terms, I think it showed up early most strongly in the narrowing of class options and advancement by race, i.e., humans can be any class with no level limits, and no one else can, which is variably present in Holmes D&D and its derivatives, and quite stringent in AD&D. This is abandoned later in the WotC version (3rd edition) in favor of the same principle expressed a different way: customizable bonuses and a wider skill-set for humans, following the model of many non-D&D games throughout the prior couple of decades.

  4. Sorry for switching the topic somewhat …

    … but I feel I've waited for days, biting my tongue, for the “number crunching discussion” to die down (and unfortunately I'm not a very patient person).
    I've actually played some hours of T&T, we had a single session when some of the Tuesday group at Spelens Hus couldn't make it (and I sure hope we will be able to continue some day). Before we played I had made some characters with Ron's assistance, if I remember right the other player got a sheet with characters from Ron.
    I think playing the game instead of just reading it and talking is crucial for this one. Before we had played I was slightly intimidated by the thought of having to find out about the personalities of three characters at the same time and to keep those personalities in mind when saying what they would do in a given situation as well as handling dialog without them blending together into one sixlegged entity with no concievable individuality. In play that wasn't a problem at all. It only took some minute to understand who those people were (on paper they all were nothing special for their kindred, a dwarven wizzard, a human fighter and a fairy rogue) and about half an hour before I understood that I wouldn't have a problem to play them as individuals. It took until the end of the session before I understood how little is needed for a character to make a lasting impression on the others around the table (the story about the crown and the splatted fairy is from the game we played).
    What I'm trying to say here is, forget about the perfect character numbers for survival in this game, there is a lot more to enjoy in play than that, and it doesn't mean you don't get to go dungeon diving and baddies bashing and strategizing (having a diverse group and making tactical decisions based on that is crucial).
    So my recommendation is that you see where play takes you, I have the feeling this is a very solid and enjoyable game.

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