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Tunnels & Trolls

The best nostalgic moments aren’t planned – they happen organically, almost by chance. Take last week, for example. I was fishing around my storage locker, pawing through boxes that have managed to remain with me through more changes of residence than I care to recall.

As I opened up a dusty storage bin, I came face-to-face with an old Samsonite briefcase that my father had owned and that I had absconded with as a child (sorry Dad!). The briefcase was tan in color, a hue you’d routinely see in clothing ads from the 1970s. Silently cursing my pack-rat tendencies, I opened it up to see what, if anything, it contained.

What I found inside caused a flood of childhood memories to rush back to me. I had re-discovered my long forgotten collection of Tunnels and Trolls role-playing games!

Tunnels & Trolls (or T&T for short) was designed and developed by Ken St. Andre and first published in 1975 by a company called Flying Buffalo Inc. It is considered to be the second role-playing game ever to hit the market, after Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), which was released a year earlier in 1974. While it is tempting to dismiss T&T as nothing more than a D&D knock-off, doing so would do a grave disservice to the entire product line and most certainly raise the ire of its dedicated fan base (including me).

St. Andre developed T&T as a simpler, more accessible, and cheaper version of D&D – all attributes that certainly appealed to me as a child. T&T offered a less rigid adventure gaming framework than D&D, making it suitable for solo, group, and play-by-mail gameplay. And yes, in those days, play-by-mail did involve written communication facilitated via the US Post Office!

Games took place in a fantasy world with similarities to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Like other RPGs, Players take on character roles and leverage pre-defined strengths and talents to guide them through adventures that are fraught with peril and filled with rewards. The characters either survive (gaining wealth, more experience, and power) or die along the way.

In T&T, each character’s strengths and weaknesses are driven by a combination of six prime attributes (strength, intelligence, luck, constitution, dexterity, and charisma), race (ex: human, elf, dwarf, hobbit), and basic training (wizard, warrior, rogue, or wizard-warrior). Provisions, weapons, and armor selection are used to round out a character’s profile.

Gameplay usually devolves into some form of combat, which T&T facilitates by comparing dice-rolls between opponents. T&T sticks with standard six-sided dice to determine the outcome of a battle, a marked difference from the use of various polyhedral dice that are one of the hallmarks of D&D.

The world of Tunnels & Trolls continues to this day. A recent Kickstarter campaign was used to generate the capital to create an updated deluxe version of the game due to be released in 2015.