We’re keeping this crown

2022 really brought a Tunnels & Trolls workout here at Adept Play, me included.

The post Or we’ll sic the fairy on you is primarily about another T&T game, played with a larger group, which continued into a notable second adventure which I’ll post about as well. In the video there, I mentioned some events from this game, which was only played for a single session between longer-term, bigger-group games. I was GM (“Judge” in the game’s parlance) and the players were Nathan and Helma.

I’m posting mainly to talk about situations in play, because although we may say “prepare the adventure,” or “prepare the dungeon,” I think those phrasings are at best empty and more often as bad as to be misleading. Yes, arguably I prepared a dungeon … but that fact is ancillary, even trivial to the real activity, which is to consider a situation in which to play.

Given designs like Dyson’s, it’s a good idea really to grasp the intrinsic relations and consequences among sections of the map, because “level” is not the same as “understandable sphere of influence” defined by access and use.

You can see what I’ve done, right? I looked at routes of access/travel as well as blocked-off or segregated areas. In a couple of places I think it’s obvious or obligatory given the map, in a couple of others I have to insert some separatist effect to make certain ideas make sense, and still others it’s in-between.

The surface and elevated section in the mountain’s peak have two descents. The first goes down to a decayed hall on the third level which also includes an entrance from the steep side of the mountain. It seems to me as if the descent through the second floor is quite definitely blocked off, as if the users wanted to get through that section safely and quickly (and note the secure arrangement of rooms below it). So there’s something scary on that second level that the “main” group doesn’t want to encounter.

The second descent, the secret one from the pillars which winds down the edges of the underground structure to its own deep cavern, also skirts the edge of that second level, right where one finds a strange, long pit. I looked at the regions of the second level between the descents as a very buried, very old, very dangerous place with no connection to the outside world.

For the deeper sections, I figured the “main” group has some reason to use that long descent from the pillars, all the way down to 4a on the map, but also that the larger deep complex at 4 represents another “no go” area from their point of view, leading to some blockages and care on their part at its connection with level 3.

For play, I brought a few of these sheets, each with three characters’ rolled-up numbers and quick decisions and specifications by me. Each player simply took a sheet and worked up the characters a little bit further. You can see my handwriting for the basic stuff as well as the name, various notes, and details added by the players. In this case, only by Nathan, as I can’t find the sheet Helma used [found it!]. These characters were not made with the adventure in mind at all.

I made up the situation at the same time as the one in the other game, and you can see pleny of similarities: both mountains, both cults, both “show up and confront them.” However, this one is a cult acknowledged and generally favored by the surrounding society, with no actual god or powerful entity that it serves; and the other was two weird little self-contained cults unknown to the surrounding society, emerging in their respective outlaw & monster contexts (both obnoxious to the surrounding inhabitants and society), and with a god very much present.

I frequently use color-coding for maps like these, and I maintain that gazing at a published color version isn’t the same as coloring it yourself – and of course, if I have perceived and identified the various “spheres of influence” myself, there’s no one else to do it. In this case I couldn’t find the colored pencils I usually employ, therefore turned to a nearby box of crayons. This led me to wonder whether some legal notification is due to show up soon anyway, mandating that I use only crayons for everything, just to make everyone feel better.

To summarize: yellow is the ghoul cult, with ghoulish-influenced humans at the top, and barely-human ghouls running things from below, and with some awful resource or secret at the 4a region. Blue is the ancient, haunted remains of the previous users of the complex, so lots of ghosts and weirdness, including the strange pit, all of which the ghouls avoid. Orange is the terrible source of whatever destroyed the whole original structure and community, which the ghouls have managed to avoid disturbing.

On the slight chance we get back to playing, I won’t share my newest file detailng what indeed lies in wait (or is tired of waiting) in the deeper sections.

But they really shouldn’t go down there.

There is so much more to learn and enjoy about long, long combat rounds with a single roll per person or even group. In this game, it’s two whole minutesTwo-minute combat: stating the whole thing, no changing-up OMG then-then inside it. What’s said at the outset is what we know will be occurring during that time; after the rolls, we know how some things turned out. It doesn’t matter what order things were stated, because, typically, I call for all the statements first, then assess the order (including whether it even matters), then conduct the rolls. Very few if any change-ups of statements are permitted, perhaps under extreme circumstances, e.g., if all of one’s targeted foes are incinerated before your combat roll with them, and if the opportunity to do something else is completely available, logistically.

However, for our first fight, in the second video, it was a bit messy. From my point of view, it was easy, as we had Ada the fairy dropping coins on cultists’ noses + a dwarf-axe attack + Adam not doing anything. I very quickly assessed that the fairy’s action precedes the attack and affects the opponents first, but since I proceeded with that roll before finding out what the others were doing, I think it gave the wrong message that we were following some kind of known sequence that “the fairy goes first,” or tht Adam would be able to act on his individual turn.  

Therefore for the next sequence and especially for the next fight in Part3, I took a moment to clarify the two-minute round so people didn’t think they were playing the fight statement+action, statement+action, or say “I wait” thinking that they were holding an action inside a different game’s round structure.

I’m interested to know how well these ideas and procedures are actually disseminating out to you, so help me if you will: please review the sequence of prcedures which led to Ada’s fate toward the end of the session, and tell me what you see.

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2 responses to “We’re keeping this crown”

  1. Hi, Ron. I’d been thinking of running some T&T again, and these videos happened to come up in my youtube subscriptions, so over a couple days I watched them all and read through this post and the accompanying scans. (Man your handwriting is tiny!)

    Definitely gave me some things to think about. Especially what you’ve been talking about with the implications of a 2 minute combat round on “what can happen in a combat round.” In recent T&T play (recent = a couple years ago) I had kind of thought of “really long combat rounds” as kind of an old relic and hasn’t really thought about taking them seriously in how combat was framed and thought about.

    Also in my recent play I had just plain run Dungeons That Don’t Make Much Sense, specifically Dungeon of the Bear and Uncle Ugly’s, in terms of you go to a room and see this, you go to another room and see this… Monsters, Traps, Tricks, Treasure. There was interaction with monsters from time to time! And a lot of creativity, which is why it was fun. But I hadn’t thought about it much in terms of, well, “situation.” I deliberately ran it the way I might have when I was a kid.

    I also ran Isle of Darksmoke, and a couple self-designed dungeons along the same lines.

    But anyway I’m thinking of running something again and these videos (I haven’t watched the Sic The Fairy On You ones yet) made me think about coming up with a “dungeon” where something has happened and is about to continue to happen when they players get there, different groups are involved and have particular motives/relationships to each other, the players may learn and interact with as much or little of this as they happen to want to.

    I’ve got a few exciting (to me) ideas, but my track record of “getting people together and actually running a game” is spotty, so I don’t want to jinx it by talking too much about it beforehand. Just wanted to drop a note to say hey, thanks for the video, it’s making me, an old T&T fan, think about how that stuff did work and can work.

    I’ll go check out the fairy one next.

    • There are a lot of T&T posts and discussions here, so click on the Tunnels & Trolls tag at the end of the post, if you haven’t already, to see more of them. The combat round and its procedures are especially discussed in the Fairy post, but you might also like the more general discussion in Timing, movement, and maps.

      Also, I teach a whole class about confrontations during play called “Action in Your Action,” including different frameworks for information, statements of intentions and actions, timing, and outcomes. The long combat rounds in early RPGs are wonderful things, and, I submit, much more powerful than the individual initiative, one-by-one full action sets that came to dominate RPG design during the 1980s. Even those of the latter kind which I think work best feature workarounds in order to work at all.

      This is probably obnoxious to say, but I secretly think one should really know and play Tunnels & Trolls, The Fantasy Trip: Melee/Wizard, and pre-BRP RuneQuest, in order to place most (probably any) role-playing rules for fights into a functional state.

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