I love Tunnels & Trolls 5th edition and consider it a rival to Moldvay Basic as a perfect one-book pickup game. Most D&D players don’t have much use for it. Its presentation, and the solo adventures, imply a level of chuckleheaded dipshit humor with which I’m comfortable but which others apparently find off-putting, and the core combat mechanic is simplistic to a fault.
I look at the combat system as abstract rather than too simple, as there’s room for more nuance than a glance at the rules would indicate. The creative possibilities of the Saving Roll mechanic – really more like an ability check – mitigate the “handfuls of dice vs. handfuls of dice” effect of the default combat system. (Unfortunately, the 5th edition rules have just one buried reference to using Saving Rolls in this way.)
Keeping personal combat bonuses to a sane level also helps reduce the buckets-of-dice, which otherwise gets so bad that Champions players think “what the fuck is wrong with you?!”
Anyway, I know no one reading this gives a shit about T&T, but in case someone DOES, here are some notes on how I run it.
TUNNELS & TROLLS, 5th ed.
HOUSE RULES AND CLARIFICATIONS
The T&T rules lean heavily on abstraction and improvisation, so the majority of the material below is intended to clarify the Referee’s usual stance on the existing rules, rather than adding additional rules.
Characters, Ability Scores, and Power Level
Initial characters are human. During play, additional humanoid races may become available for use as characters.
When and if additional humanoid races become playable, their ability score modifiers will be based on +/- modifiers or alternative minima/maxima, not multipliers.
The power level of the campaign game is therefore significantly lower than that presented in the base rules or the solo adventures, which assume much higher ability scores, and thus much higher personal adds, than detailed above.
The various monsters and other challenges faced by the delvers, as well magic items and effects which implicate ability scores or combat adds, are scaled accordingly.
The Implications of High Ability Scores
It is probable that during campaign play, human characters will attain ability scores in excess of the maximum 18 for initial characters. This does not necessarily mean that the character is superhuman in that ability. Rather, in most cases, ability scores above 18 reflect an abstract ascent into the upper reaches of human capability. A Warrior with a 25 Strength is very, very strong relative to other humans, but is not supernaturally strong.
Obviously at some point, very high ability scores begin to reflect superhuman ability.
Wizards and Strength
Wizards use Strength to power their spells as detailed in the rulebook, rather than a separate “Wizardry” or other attribute. It’s therefore likely that over the course of a campaign, experienced Wizard characters may become physically stronger than even Warriors.
There’s precedent in fantasy literature for supernaturally strong and vital sorcerous-types, and as Wizards expend their magical strength through spellcasting, their physical strength diminishes with it. Upon exhaustion of his or her magical reserves, a Wizard is physically helpless and may even die. Thus, the primacy of the Warrior in physical combat is secure, especially when the Warrior’s armor advantage is taken into account.
It’s also simpler this way.
Combat Resolution Methods
The default “handful of dice vs. handful of dice” combat system is merely the quickest, simplest, and most abstract method of resolving a general melee.
In practice, it is assumed that player characters will seek tactical advantages through the use of positioning, guile, and judicious use of Saving Rolls to concentrate or diffuse force in a manner favorable to them. In many cases, this results in one side or the other being unable to use its full dice – e.g., a wily group of delvers may maneuver enemies into a choke point so that only one or two foes may emerge and fight at once, whereas all of the player characters can bring their dice to bear on the combat. Or the delvers might use weapons with long reach to gain “free” attacks on approaching enemies who lack a similar reach advantage.
Saving Rolls are particularly useful in devising alterative combat tactics which make use of character strengths or exploit enemy weaknesses, and players are encouraged to be creative. Such tactics may be the only method of defeating (or escaping) enemies whose Monster Ratings are far too high for the player characters using the default method.
All combat situations are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. In the spirit of the game, the Referee is likely to be quite liberal in allowing player characters to attempt creative maneuvers.
Ability Scores vs. Monster Ratings
The overwhelming majority of combats will take place between one side consisting wholly of player characters with full ability scores and statistics (including weapons and armor) and another side consisting wholly of enemies with Monster Ratings. Even NPC enemies will almost always have Monster Ratings rather than precise stats.
Monster Rating is a very broad abstraction subsuming all relevant combat particulars – weaponry, armor, physical strength, ferocity, agility, acuity, toughness, magical attacks, poison, and so on – into one number. In some cases, a special monster will have abilities not directly reflected in its Monster Rating, e.g., a gorgon’s petrifying gaze that takes effect if the monster rolls a certain number of 6s in combat. Even in those special cases, Monster Rating is the central unified combat characteristic for monsters and NPC enemies.