In April 1975, Ken St. Andre borrowed a 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons set from a friend. He found that he liked the concept but disliked the miniature wargame style of play, the use of polyhedral dice, alignments and clerics. He decided to write his own rules set and play the game with that instead. After two months of playing the game with his friends and rewriting it based on experience, he printed the forty-page 1st edition rules book in a first run of one hundred copiesnote .
Up to the beginning of the 1980s, T & T enjoyed moderate success, reaching its classic 5th edition in 1979. Then competition from a large number of new games, as well as significant rewrites of older games like D & D, pushed it into obscurity. According to The Other Wiki, in 1999 Pyramid magazine named Tunnels & Trolls as one of The Millennium's Most Underrated Games. It still has its loyal followers in many countries, though, with Japan still publishing an official magazine for it (for example). In 2005 a 30th Anniversary Edition (aka 7th edition) was published with modernized rules.
Tunnels & Trolls uses only six-sided dice for game mechanics, and the principle of simplicity and uniformity permeates the rules. Compared to the infamously convoluted and cryptic 1st ed Dungeons & Dragons rules, the Tunnels & Trolls rules were clearly laid out and well-explained. T & T was also less serious-minded than D & D: the tone was lighter, gameplay was oriented towards having fun, the spell names are mostly cute or punny, or both. However, the game is not joke-oriented as a whole — it is a sound RPG.
Some of the significant innovations of T & T were:
- Armor reducing damage, not probability of hitting.
- Spell points instead of a Vancian Magic system.
- Attribute-based saving rolls
- The solo adventure format
This game provides examples of:
- Warrior: The Tank, Melee DPS, possibly Archer - the best person to put up in front to keep the hordes away from squishies. In 1st edition they weren't that powerful, but later editons given them the ability to have their armor's effectiveness doubled, and in Deluxe their combat capabilities in melee get stronger with their growing level, even aside effects of growing stat scores.
- Wizard: The DPS, The Healer, The Status Effect Guy - loaded with myriad of spells, Wizards can reliably deal damage, heal and otherwise support his allies, and do other non-combat related things, as long as he's not out of Strength or Wizardry, depending on the edition. They also can reduce the cost of casting by increasing their level and using staves or wands. They'd be better kept away from harm, as their combat capabilities are limited - in first edition they didn't even get bonuses from stats for fighting, in addition of just not being allowed to use any weapons other than various daggers or staves (which meant the were never able to be better fighters, period). Later editions allowed them to use their stats fully when fighting with those allowed weaponry. Also, Wizards in T&T were never banned from wearing armor.
- Audience? What Audience?: The Japanese version of the book comes with a short manga explaining the rules. The Elf of the party is the Narrator of it and directly addresses the readers, while the Dwarf of the party gets two quick "who is she talking to?" gags.
- Cast from Stamina: Casting spells drains a magic user's Strength. Later editions avert this with a separate Wizardry stat.
- Character Customization: Character development, compared to Dungeons&Dragons, is based entirely on increasing character's stat points (and in Deluxe also Talents), leading to characters being quite different from each other on a mechanical level, even within the same type.
- Combat Medic: Healing (properly Poor Baby) is a wizard spell.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: The oldest editions have some quirks.
- The Rogue class was capped at 7th level, after reaching it that character had to change class to either 5th level Warrior (losing any and all spellcasting abilities) or 3rd level Wizard (greatly reducing combat ability, but retaining all his learned spells).note
- Instead of reducing received damage per combat round, armor counted as a bonus to Constitution stat. Player would decide how much damage was absorbed by breakable armor.
- Ranged attacks were based on rolling weapon dice with stat bonuses, just like with melee weapons, and reducing the result by target's Luck Stat. After that, target could roll the saving throw to avoid any damage.
- Elephant Graveyard: In the Judges Guild adventure Jungle of Lost Souls, the Player Characters can find a graveyard where kacmowri (large ivory bearing animals) go to die.
- Experience Points: Named Adventure Points in later editions.
- Fighter, Mage, Thief
- Almost, but not quite. There are the types Warrior, Wizard, and Rogue (and Warrior-Wizard), but they're not classic classes and the Rogue is not a Thief but a free-lancing Wizard.
- Played more straight by the Rogue in the Deluxe edition, where there are various skills revolving around stealth and subterfuge he can pick for free through level-ups.
- Fountain of Youth: In the Judges Guild adventure Jungle of Lost Souls, the Player Characters can find a fountain with water that reduces the drinker's age by one year for each weight unit of water drunk and another fountain with water that reduces the drinker's age by 1-6 years per drink.
- Gender Is No Object: At least since the 4th edition from 1977, and likely earlier, the rules have completely avoided gender discriminationnote . Female warriors are common in rulesbook examples and in published adventures; the 4th edition introduction describes adventurers as "brave men and women".
- Heroic RRoD: In both physical and magical varieties.
- Using a weapon without sufficient strength will temporarily drain that strength by the difference per combat round. It accumulates pretty fast. If strength is drained to 0, the character passes out, and any excessive drain is converted to actual damage - it's completely possible to tire yourself to death by trying to swing that BFS.
- Draining your Strength to 0 by spellcasting kills you.
- More rarely, berserk fighting drains the Strength of the fighter. In Deluxe edition, the drain doesn't even affect the berserker in the slightest, until the combat ends or Strength is dropped to zero, whatever comes first - in the latter case, fighter drops unconscious immediately.
- Loads and Loads of Rules: Zig-Zagged. Compared with an average game of its era, the game is very straightforward. From modern perspective, certain aspects of it are needlessly complicated.
- Luck Stat: Used to calculate power in combat, but won't help you with meeting the stat requirements of either heavier melee weapons or ranged armanents. Mostly useful for saving throws.note In the first edition, it also served as Damage Reduction against ranged attacks.
- With a caveat that they had to be rolled during character generation, making them a rare occurence. Warrior-Wizards in 5th editionnote , and Specialists in Deluxe.note .
- In Deluxe, Rogues of 7th level can transition into either Warrior-Roguenote , or Wizard-Roguenote , for the cost of not getting extra Talents.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning
- Solo Dungeon #4 Naked Doom. In one room the PC will be attacked without warning by a rock troll in a fight to the death. Rock trolls have piggish little red eyes.
- Pegasus magazine issue #7, solitaire adventure "The Old Dwarf Mine". If the Player Characters pull a stake out of a skeleton, the skeleton will become a evil vampire with red eyes like fiery coals.
- Scratch Damage: Spite Damage from Deluxe edition.note Makes combat more dangerous even for experienced characters in full, enchanted plate armor and weaponry.
- Shout-Out: Pegasus issue #4 adventure "Mountain Moor". In one room the Player Characters can encounter a bandit named Fenris Bore who swings into the room on a rope, demands all of the party's valuables, has two flintlock pistols and pockets full of flowers. This is based on the "Dennis Moore" sketch in an episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, a bandit who has and does all of these things and demands "lupins" (a type of flower) from his victims.
- Surprise Slide Staircase: Pegasus magazine issue #4 adventure "Mountain Moor". One of the traps the Player Characters will encounter is a section of stairs that has been rigged to fall flat and form a slide. Any character who slides down far enough will fall into a shaft and down to the next level of the dungeon.
- Sword and Sorcerer: It's easy to make the abilities of a warrior and wizard (or rogue, which is another kind of magic user) work together.
- Universal System: Two spin-off games, Monsters, Monsters! and Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes used the same basic rules.
- Vancian Magic: Downplayed. T & T has spells arranged into power levels, but capacity is governed by spell points.