A Non-Review of Tunnels & Trolls

Posted: 2023-06-12
Word Count: 1559
Tags: rpg tunnels-and-trolls

This is an introduction to Tunnels & Trolls I wrote for players back in 2011. I’ve updated it for the latest edition.

Setting: Troll World

Ken St. Andre created T&T in 1975 after deciding D&D’s combat was too complicated, and he could write his own. T&T uses only six-sided dice – sometimes a lot – and eschews tactical combat for quicker resolution.

T&T doesn’t take itself too seriously. Most notably, spells have silly names like “Take That You Fiend!” (TTYF, a basic attack spell) or “Poor Baby” (a basic healing spell). While Serious Role Players may have problems with that – after all, pretending to be wizards and elves is serious business – one might need a vacation in Trollworld after fighting Chaos and foul sorcery in the Dung Ages.



Characters in the 8th edition have eight attributes: Strength (STR), Constitution (CON; doubles as HP), Dexterity (DEX; hand-eye coordination), Speed (SPD; reaction time), Intelligence (INT or IQ), Wizardry (WIZ; energy for spells), Luck (LK), and Charisma (CHA or CHR).

Players typically roll 3d6 for each characteristic, using the Triples Add and Roll Over (TARO) rule. For example, if someone rolled three 3s, they’d roll 9 + 3d6 … and if those turned out as three 2s, they’d roll 15 + 3d6 … and so on, and so on.

There’s also a point-buy system, but there’s obviously no TARO rule. It’s boring.


After rolling attributes, if a character is of a non-human Kindred – elf, dwarf, hobb, fairy, leprechaun, or something stranger – he applies multipliers (or fractions) to his attributes. For example, dwarfs multiply STR x 2, CON x 2, and LK x 2/3.

Characters made with point-buy do not modify their attributes based on their Kindred. (Boring.) They may still belong to a Kindred for its powers, like a Leprechaun’s teleport, a Fairy’s flight, or a Dwarf’s dwarfliness. That Dwarf should have at least 18 STR, though, or all the other dwarfs will laugh.


There are six “Types” (classes) of character. Nearly all of them can work some magic, and all have some combat ability:

Type Role Combat Magic Other Benefits Prerequisites
Rogue jack of all trades Moderate Moderate May take Roguery Talent -
Warrior combat expert Very High None - -
Wizard magic expert Low Very High - INT 10+, DEX 10+
Citizen average person1 Low Low - rolled no triples
Paragon good at everything High High - natural 12+ for all attributes
Specialist prodigy, savant, mutant Specialized Moderate characteristic 15+ and rolled triples. Special ability based on characteristic ; cannot improve it with a Talent.
Specialist Wizard natural magic-user Low Specialized see below WIZ 15+ and rolled triples

Rogue is short for “Rogue Wizard”, i.e. someone with magical talent but no training. Rogues start play with only one spell, and must learn others from other PCs, the local Thieves’ Guild, or “on the street” as it were.
They’re inspired by Leiber’s Grey Mouser and Vance’s Cugel, but otherwise have no connection to “Rogues” in That Other Game.


The 8th edition defines these Specialist subtypes. GMs can allow others.

Subype Char. Ability
Strong One STR double final score on any STR Saving Roll.
Sensitive CON designate a keen sense; double final score on CON Saving Roll using that sense.
Ranger DEX double final score to hit with their signature ranged weapon up to a weapon’s maximum range.
Martial Artist SPD double final score on any SPD Saving Roll. May define an unamred attack style with a special effect, e.g. throwing one’s opponent.
Mastermind INT double final score on any INT Saving Roll.
Specialist Wizard WIZ knows all spells in chosen specialty and casts at ½WIZ. May learn no other spells.
Gambler LK double final score on any LK Saving Roll involving a calculated risk.
Leader CHR double final total on any CHR Saving Roll to persuade others.


A talent is a free-form skill that adds its bonus (+3) to all Saving Rolls involving a specific subject, like Musician or Gunsmith.

Experience points can buy new Talents, and Rogues get additional Talents as they gain levels.

Roguery Talent

In the “advanced” version of the 8th edition rules, all Rogues may take a Roguery talent based on the highest of INT, LK, and CHR that substitutes for any saving roll on INT, LK, and CHR.


A character’s level (in this version) is 1/10 the highest attribute.2 Attributes" for his Type (class). For example, a character with a 20 STR would be level 2 … but if his LK were 33, he’d be level 3. Certain Kindreds have clear advantages: a Dwarf gets double STR, so most Dwarf Warriors will start at Level 2 or even Level 3. “Game balance” is not one of T&T’s goals.

On the other hand, Level is less important than in previous editions.

That’s it, or at least that’s all I could find.


The system has two main types of die rolls, Saving Rolls and Combat Rolls.

Saving Rolls

Saving Rolls (Saving Rolls) add 2d6 to a relevant attribute3 (and sometimes a bonus) to exceed a target number. The rules define “levels” of saving roll as against a target number of 15 + 5×level; a Level 1 (L1) saving roll is TN 20, Level 2 (L2) is 25, and so on. The same mechanic resolve Talents (freeform skills) and ranged attacks, among other things. Saving Rolls use the DARO rule – doubles add and roll over – and a 3 is an automatic failure.

Combat Rolls will be explained below.

Combat Rolls

Combat Rolls total up all “dice” and “adds” on each side and roll the dice. The side with the higher total wins, and inflicts that much damage on the losing side (who decides how to distribute it). Characters derive dice + adds from equipment, characteristic and level bonuses, and any spells, missile weapons, or tactics used successfully in that round.

Monsters have a single “monster rating” (MR). Maximum damage is equal to MR, dice are level/10, and adds are MR/2 and decrease with damage.


Specialists notwithstanding, T&T has only one kind of magic.

To use magic one must know at least one spell. Once a caster learns a spell, it’s lodged permanently in his mind. Spells have levels, which among other things determine the minimum INT and DEX to cast.

Wizards and Paragons start play knowing all Level One spells, and may pay the Wizard’s Guild to learn others. Rogues start knowing one spell; the Wizards’ Guild doesn’t recognize Rogues, so a Rogue must learn other spells from PC Wizards or a Thieves’ Guild. Specialist Wizards, as noted above, automatically know all spells in their specialty as soon as they’re capable of casting them, but may learn no other spells.

To cast as spell, the caster must make an INT Saving Roll equal to the spell’s level. (Citizens must also make a DEX Saving Roll, reflecting their inexperience with spells.) If the caster succeeds, he reduces his current WIZ by the cost of the spell. One point of WIZ returns for every ten minutes of rest.

Interestingly, any spell whose target has a higher current WIZ than the caster will fail. The caster gets A Bad Feeling and can abort the spell … or cast it, losing the WIZ cost but reducing the target’s WIZ by the same amount. On the one hand, a Warrior with a high WIZ can shrug off spells by a lesser Wizard. On the other hand, a gang of lesser spellcasters can whittle down a Wizard until one caster’s WIZ exceeds the Wizard’s.


Since this is a non-review, I’m not going to pronounce this game good or bad. Rather, I’ll echo what I said in “In Praise of Tunnels & Trolls”: I had fun running this game. The combat system gets combats over faster so that we can get back to the actual adventure.4 Support for those non-combat, non-delving activities is pretty thin, but in 8th edition there’s enough for experienced tabletop gamers.

If players can get over the deliberate silliness of the setting they’ll find a somewhat retro but still nice game engine and 40+ years of background material, GM adventures, and especially solo adventures. (T&T lends itself nicely to solo gaming, since combat is so non-tactical.) And unlike Glorantha or Hârn the mass of material isn’t oppressive.


  1. Usually an NPC. Players might run a Citizen in specific scenarios, or for a challenge. (“I can roleplay with one hand tied behind my back.”) ↩︎

  2. In 7.0 and 7.5 each Type had four “level attributes” that determined level; in 5.0 and 5.5 level was a thing improved by experience points. ↩︎

  3. An average attribute is 10, with no upper limit. ↩︎

  4. Not like some games cough D&D 4th Edition cough↩︎