Monday, January 29, 2018

Classes in Tunnels & Trolls


I've never played Ken St. Andre's Tunnels & Trolls. But one point jumped out at me while reading the latter part of Peterson's tremendous Playing at the World (p. 515):





... the player decides whether the character will select a career as a warrior, magic-user, or rogue -- St. Andre collapses the Cleric class of Dungeons & Dragons into the magic-user, who learns some healing spells.

And a footnote to that reads:
Broadly, as the rules state, those three types of character are "modeled respectively after Conan, Gandalf and Cugel the Clever."
For a number of years I've made the point that the D&D Cleric class seems like a misfire, something that doesn't fit properly into pulp literature forms, and fails to have any obvious literary or fantasy precedent -- and that my game finally felt "right" once I discarded the class (link). A lot of games nowadays have the fighter/rogue/wizard trinity, and I've wondered what game was the first to do that.

Peterson in Playing at the World asserts that "historians of such games routinely designate Tunnels & Trolls as the second role-playing game" (footnote, p. 518). Recall that this publication came in the summer of 1975, just one year after D&D itself, and only about three months after Sup-I Greyhawk officially added the Thief class in the game. T&T of course sprang directly out of reading D&D -- Andre writes that "I vowed I would create my own version of the game that I could play immediately and that would correct all the other things I thought wrong with D&D" (p. 514) -- and the first edition lacked any defined list of magic-items, monsters, or very many spells, along with depending on knowledge of D&D to fill in many gaps in the rules.

My point is that Tunnels & Trolls seems to stand as the earliest fantasy RPG which made use of the fighter/rogue/wizard trinity (that is: to discard the cleric), that this edit was an explicit fix to the received D&D rules, and that this course-direction seemed obvious to some readers almost before the ink was dry on the publication of the Thief rules for D&D.


14 comments:

  1. While not a full convert to the church of no clerics, I can't fault the viewpoint. Two types of spellcasters, clerics having a less defined approach to spell use and acquisition, and an odd mix of judeo christian trappings and polytheism all make good arguments. Plus the paladin comes along and doubles down.
    I do think there is a place for "white/healing magic" or "Cleric (and Druid)" as specialist magic user in the game. Not necessarily the HP replenishment, but more remove blindness, and other specific ailments.

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    1. If there had been an unarmored, non-Christian healer-type in the game (maybe NPC only), I would have had much less problem with that.

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  2. I've never been bothered enough by clerics in the baseline game to excise them, but I do agree that the theological entanglements can complicate world building somewhat. It takes a deft touch and sometimes you just don't want to bother with that. I'm kinda in the same state of mind about alignment systems, honestly.

    I've always been kinda partial to making them an alternate school of magic rather than a religious order. Take the white mage(healers)/red mage(generalists)/black mage(firepower) subdivision of magic users in the old Final Fantasy video games, for example.

    I do also think that they can be interesting as sort of combat medics, acting as a tougher support class to the front line fighters. Essentially second line "shaft of the spear" battle logistics. But maybe that's more apropos to a wargame than rpg/dungeon exploration.

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    1. Isn't it just as easy to jettison the "theological entanglements" without losing the entire class?

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  3. I think Ken St. Andre was right. And I followed him in my own neo-clone Seven Voyages of Zylarthen (though at the time I didn’t know I was following him). What’s also interesting though is how St. Andre defined his thief. He didn’t come with a list of fiddlly thiefy proficiencies. Rather, he was sort of a half-wizard or an outcast wizard who had to beg, borrow or steal his spells. I like how the T&T thief’s thiefyness grows organically from only a few class rules and restrictions. Interestingly the half-wizard conception is probably closer to the archetypes - Cugel and the Gray Mouser (sp?) - than the Greyhawk thief (or my own thief).

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  4. Sorry. One more point. As you might agree, in my view a mistake that some make is to take a “class” that is undeniably cool and even quasi-necessary given the background of the world and assume that this means there must be a PLAYER class for it. So healers and people who operate under rigid theologically imposed restrictions are often fun to meet or hire but not so fun to play.

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    1. These are good thoughts. Interesting observations about St. Andre's thief!

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  5. I think the line "collapses the Cleric class of Dungeons & Dragons into the magic-user" can be productively taken fully literally, instead of just wizards-can-heal-now.

    Invoking or evoking the power of gods and spirits to produce supernatural events has a long history in real-world religions. We're talking your shamans, your witches, your mekubals, your bokor… boundless possibilities.

    But these people are all clearly magic-users. That's what magic IS in most traditions. Having a divide between them doesn't make much sense.

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    1. This is why I like the Whitehack system (think OD&D chassis with player defined qualities). The Wise class get 2-3 miracles which they get to define, and they can be anything. Blasting, healing, enchantment, necromancy, adept powers... it can be as general or specific as you like.

      Then whether you're Merlin, Gandalf, Moses, Tim the Enchanter, Elsa from Frozen, or a ninja from Naruto, you can still be a Wise.

      Obviously you could just translate those powers back into D&D-like spells, and it would all still work, showing that the Magic User with the right spells is all you need to play a Cleric.

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  6. The big problem with this interpretation is, at least as far as I can recall, the T&T rogue class is not in any sense a thief or burglar and thus has nothing whatsoever to do with that archetype. The T&T rogue is a jack-of-all-trades, a weaker version of the full warrior-wizard multi-class character who learns spells without having to fall under the aegis or control of the mage's guild. This might perhaps owe something to Cugel the Clever and the Grey Mouser in the same way that the D&D thief's scroll-reading ability does; but the T&T rogue doesn't have any particular ability, for example, to sneak or pick a pocket or disarm a trap or shoot a bow and arrow, nothing that we associate with the modern day "rogue" type.

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    1. That's an interesting observation. Thanks for that.

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  7. I've both run and played T&T, and gotten to play a couple games run by Ken St. Andre. If you'd ever like to give it a whirl, I'd be happy to oblige.

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    1. Cool, we should do that! The combat always sounded too abstract/fuzzy for me, but if you've seen it at the source I should experience it.

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