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We’ve had some more playtests and I’m still making steady progress on the typescript. Though I didn’t get anything new online this week, I wanted to post a comment here to spell out some of the design goals that keep motivating me to work on this.

Recapture the compact simplicity of the original Phoenix fantasy RPG.
This especially includes three simple character types, making monsters with a single rating, consequential luck rolls with exploding doubles, and dramatic combat resolution where bunches of dice hit the deck from both sides at once—among other features.
Unpack and embrace the weird implications of the original game.
Like taming monsters and berserk combat as primary features of play. Or your Luck score mitigating missile damage. Or the idea of Strength as both physical vigor AND the inward mettle that magic relies on. And vitally, the idea of ability scores that encompass all of a delver’s skill and training—no separate skill list required!
Use smaller numbers and simpler operations across the board.
The original game routinely requires addition and subtraction of 2- and 3-digit figures for basic conflict resolution, and the latest iteration adds even more dice and more and bigger numbers, with more complex operations in some common cases.
Finally, I aim to make it as easy as possible to pick up and play your first session.
What I’m hoping to accomplish will be a game more elaborate than World of Dungeons or Risus (itself inspired by T&T), without sprawling into the expanse of games like Swords & Wizardry Core, LotFP Weird Fantasy, or Dungeon World.

That last item is what I wanted to talk about tonight.

When I started playing Tunnels & Trolls at the dawn of 2010, one of the things that got me jazzed about the game (apart from the endorsement of Ron Edwards) was the sheer simplicity of the game. After buying my first T&T rulebook, we actually got our game started using the free Abridged Solo Rules while waiting for the book to arrive:

Later, I read a post by Erik Tenkar (or two) backing up our experience: The abridged rules in the Corgi pocket solos really are enough to run the essential game.

Soon, I picked up a bunch of other T&T products, and before long I ordered a copy of the classic 1979 5th edition rules from Flying Buffalo before they ran out. One cool feature of the 1979 rulebook is that everything you need to play your first session is covered in just 33 pages: from 1.2 “The Basic Game” to 2.14 “Character Levels”, plus the Level 1 Spells on page 2.22.2.

The rest of the book is awesome, and you can peruse it at your leisure, after sampling the ruckus of your first game, and dreaming about how to extrapolate and build on what happened already. But you can jump in with both feet in just 33 pages!

Alas, the 5th edition is no longer available. The creative team behind classic T&T has published an all-new game in its stead. There’s a lot to love about the Deluxe rulebook that I backed, and bringing together all that classic T&T art in one volume is an indulgence worth every penny by itself. But one thing that Deluxe T&T doesn’t do is “concise”.

In Deluxe, the “Core Rules” span 155 pages, including much that was formerly relegated to appendices, or not part of the game at all. As an example, the equipment section now covers 31 pages, including elaborate rules for crafting custom weapons.

In Twisted Tunnels, I plan to split the rulebook into two divisions: Part I will be “Basic Dungeon Demolition”, focused explicitly on what you need to run your first session. And Part II will cover “Elaborations”, very useful content that expands on the basics to create a widening spiral of play.

The entire product ought to weigh in at no more than 64 pages, maybe even as small as 32. The current typescript covers most of the content in just 38 pages, but that includes a lot of personal comments that will be removed. It also doesn’t account for any art or layout I might add.

In 2013, Ken St. Andre wrote: “I didn’t invent fantasy roleplaying, but I did simplify it”, and that simplicity is my central motivation of developing Twisted Tunnels as my own tribute to the original. And in working toward simplicity, I think I’ve discovered an original interpretation that does its own thing.

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There are two types in the Twisted Tunnels: allies and monsters. “Monster” is the catch-all term for any creature you and your allies encounter.

Troll? Monster. Animated skeleton? Monster. Evil sorcerer? Monster. Rival adventurers? Monsters. Unless, that is, they got the drop on you: Then you better hope they are allies! If you want “non-player characters”, go find a game for ninnies and literature professors.

Monsters are almost never as detailed in their game ratings as the delvers. In most cases, all you need is a Monster Rating (MR), which represents the monster’s morale, ferocity, strength, and how much damage it can take in battle.

Monster Rating (MR)
Monsters get Combat dice equal to their MR, and their MR counts as their CON for purposes of taking hits.
Other than that, Monster Ratings work just like a delver’s ability ratings, and you can use a Monster Rating for anything the monster might be good at.
Sore and beat
When a monster has taken half it’s original MR in hits, it is sore. Once it takes hits equal to its original MR, it is beat. These can provide a useful tempo for the battle, giving you cues to change tactics, trigger a special ability, retreat, or even surrender.
Injured monsters usually recover their Monster Rating at 1 point per turn, when they can rest.

Spawning monsters

TTYF isn’t a safari. Delvers never know what terrors they might face in the bowels of the abyss when their torches burn low. We don’t know what lurks and slithers in your imagination, and we urge the referee to spawn each and every monster from her own demented designs.

As soon as you have a mental picture of your monster, give it a rating from 1 to 99 that describes how tough it is. Then decide what language it can speak, if any, and what it needs. You may give monsters any traits or powers you wish, without tying them to ratings.

Usually a Monster Rating spiked with a grisly imagination is all you need to churn out one rip-roaring encounter after another on game night. If your imagination is feeble, bone up on some weird tales, adventure fiction, comics, and action movies. The first rule of creating monsters is have fun; if it seems like work, you’re breaking the first rule.

Here are some possibilities if you have a cool idea and aren’t sure how to translate it into a monster for TTYF:

The monster is super fast, strong, huge, or armored.
These features can all be covered by jacking up its Monster Rating, and describing it vividly. The extra endurance and Combat dice might represent anything that helps the monster hit harder, or faster, or avoid damage, and it’s up to you to bring it to life in your description.
Likewise, if the monster is slow, weak, tiny, or squishy, just decrease its MR.
The monster is impervious to some kinds of attack.
Suppose your fire ifrit can’t be harmed by flame, your vaporous ghosties can’t be hit by physical weapons, or your adamantium robot can only take hits if they target its atomic eye lasers. Just describe how the inappropriate attacks bounce off harmlessly and move on. The delvers won’t roll attack dice for the harmless actions, but it might leave them flat-footed against the monster’s attack.
If the monster isn’t quite impervious and you yearn for more accounting, you could subtract or divide the damage by a constant factor every time they hit it with an attack the monster can resist.
The monster has a weakness.
Some monsters will be completely defenseless against certain exploits. Your vampires might be arithnomaniacs who are immobilized by counting when you throw seeds at them. Your dog-men might be instantly “sore” if someone blows a dog whistle. Your Ancient Spirits of Evil might be immediately banished if someone speaks their true names aloud. You don’t need any ratings to handle stuff like this—just describe it when it happens.
If you crave more bookkeeping and the weakness isn’t that dramatic, you could add a damage bonus or multiply the hits every time they hit the monster with its weakness.
The monster has an attack that needs to refresh.
Maybe you have an arbalist who needs to reload his weapon between shots, a swamp troll whose belch can engulf delvers in burning acid, or a witch who can summon clouds of blood-drinking songbirds. You might make them follow the same rules as delvers and track their ammunition or Power, or you could simply assign a chance in d6 that their attack will refresh this round. An arbalist might have to roll 1–3, for example, or the witch might have to roll a 1.
Other special attacks
Some monsters might be able to hold delvers at bay like a reach weapon; knock them around; leave savage, crippling wounds; grab them; swallow them; poison or infect them; et cetera. Your imagination is the limit. Be fair: Make sure there are signs of the threat for observant delvers, and be obvious when you narrate the monster’s behavior and actions. Just let your descriptions set the scene.

If it survives an encounter with the delvers, then you might endow your monster with more detail: Consider its hunger, its habits. What are its fixations or emotional disorders? Does it have any hopes or fears? Does it have a distinctive voice or awesome quirk, like twirling its whiskers or regurgitating the bones of delvers past, to gnaw on while it awaits its next feeding?

Wandering Monsters

Some areas of the Twisted Tunnels are so hostile that even monsters fear to creep. Others have wandering monsters who might bumble into a dungeon demolition team at any time.

Make a list of monsters who prowl the area the delvers are exploring (if any), either alone or in groups. They don’t have to be looking for trouble: You can include all kinds of interesting encounters in your list, and a good mix can add a lot of atmosphere to your Twisted Tunnels.

When there are monsters a-lurking, we roll a d6 every turn, and spring one of the encounters on the list on a 1. You might check for wandering monsters based on other events and actions, or at your own frequency.

When an encounter from the list is triggered, you can pick a random event from the list or choose one that makes sense. Some referees keep their wandering monster entries on index cards to shuffle and draw when needed; others roll dice to pick a random entry from a written list.

After you determine which monsters will appear, decide where they are in relation to the delvers and what they might be doing there. Sometimes they will spring right away, sometimes you will show the players signs of the monsters before they are in sight.

Monster Reactions

Some monsters will be on patrol looking for someone to bite. Some monsters will have other interests.

When monsters meet the delvers unexpectedly, you can determine their reaction randomly if the delvers aren’t overtly suspicious or hostile. Call for a Saving Roll from the unluckiest delver.

  • On a flop, the monsters attack without hesitation, and pursue the delvers if they flee.
  • On a miss, the monsters are visibly hostile, but they won’t pursue the delvers if they flee.
  • If they succeed, the monsters are cautious—but if a delver can speak their language, they may chat, rap philosophy, or broker deals.

This Saving Roll determines their initial disposition, but they may change their minds at any time as the encounter unfolds.

Catching and Training Monsters

Monsters mostly don’t want to die, and battle can be a bonding experience for them. Monsters know when they’re beat, and they have different tricks for getting delvers to spare them, including wimpering, pledging their service, offering something of value, or playing dead.

When a monster begs for its gruesome life and you understand its language, you can take the monster as a minion. If you are a good master, your minion will more or less follow orders and keep it’s promises—unless things get stressful. Your Charisma rating is the number of minions you can have at one time.

When your minion rebels against orders, you must punish the monster and make a Saving Roll on Charisma. If you succeed, you cow the minion into submission. At least for now…

Minions can earn XP and Level Up. Treat their Monster Rating as their current level to determine how much XP they need. When a minion levels up, the referee may give it a new talent or power appropriate to its ilk.

Minions might earn XP for different deeds than the delvers, like indulging in mayhem, destruction, or sating their hideous appetites.

Animal-type monsters might be tamed with appropriate treats instead of language. This is how delvers get cool mounts like dinosaurs or giant birds.

Last gasp moves

Some monsters are bad sports and won’t be captured or tamed. Instead, beating them might be the trigger that makes them crumble to dust, go berserk, invoke a diabolical curse with their last breath, explode in fiery doom, open a permanent portal to the netherworld, or collapse the dungeon.

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You get XP for looting treasures, daring, exploration, and defeating monsters. The referee determines XP awards for a given adventure, using the following guidelines:

Looting treasures
Gold, coins, jewels, fine art, trade goods, or other valuables: If you find it in the Tunnels, earn XP equal to its value in coins, when you get it back to an outpost.
Daring
When you miss a Saving Roll, earn XP equal to 50 × the Dungeon Level.
Exploration
When you escape the Twisted Tunnels alive, earn XP equal to 100 × the deepest Dungeon Level you reached in that delve.
Defeating monsters
When you vanquish or subdue a monster, whether through combat or trickery, earn XP equal to the enemy’s Monster Rating. If the enemy has ratings like a delver, earn XP equal to the enemy’s combined CON, INT, and STR.

The referee may grant additional XP for completing missions or other pointless acts. We advise the referee not to indulge players seeking XP for “story progress” or “role-playing”, unless these flights of frivolity are especially fun for the whole table.

Level Up

The point of accumulating XP is to gain levels, according to the table below.

When you earn enough XP to reach a new level, you can raise your Luck or skill. Pick one:

  • Increase your Luck by your new level number; OR
  • Choose one ability rating that is lower than the new level, and increase it by 1.

If you raise your Dexterity, Luck, or Strength, you may need to update your Combat dice based on your Craft.

Level XP Total
1 0
2 1,000
3 3,000
4 6,000
5 10,000
6 15,000
7 21,000
8 28,000
9 36,000
10 45,000

If you decide to keep adventuring after level 10, each new level costs 1,000 XP × your current level, plus the XP required for the previous level.

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Purchasing spells

It takes money to run a secret society, and the Cabal sells magic to budding warlocks to generate revenue.

As with any illicit product, prices may vary by season and locale, based on market conditions. For spells, prices are derived from their Power cost, since more powerful spells draw more Power from the magician.

The “average” price for a spell is 120 coins times its Power cost. But the referee may choose to determine prices randomly—at 2d6 (DARO) × Power cost × 15 coins—or set prices based on some abundance or scarcity that has arisen in the course of play.

The Cabal will not sell its secrets to warriors or rogues. Rogues may find their spells while adventuring, or purchase them from willing warlocks in their party. Warlocks who sell magic to rogues may set their own prices, keeping in mind that they will be shunned by the Cabal—or worse—if found out.

The spells of the Cabal inhere in the magician’s bones and marrow, not in scrolls or books. In order to “learn” a spell, a magician must receive it through the magic of Roto-Tutor (below), or by consuming a tincture made from the bones of another magician or magical creature.

Casting spells

When you unleash a spell that you know, subtract it’s cost from your Power rating. The spell takes effect according to its description.

To unleash a spell, you must be able to call out its name loudly enough for the Unseen Awful Powers to hear you. Spells also have tags that may impose other requirements, and this is what they mean.

Self
The spell takes affect on the caster alone.
Touch
You have to touch the target, either with a hand, or with a magical device. In the case of an unwilling target, you may have to resolve a Clash to see if you “hit”.
Ranged
You must have a free hand, or holding nothing other than a magical device, to “throw” the spell; and you must be able to see the target in some manner. After you spend the Power, you must hit the target with a ranged attack.
Sight
Like a Ranged spell, except no ranged attack roll is required. After you spend the Power, the spell strikes unerringly.
Area
You must have both hands free, or holding nothing other than a magical device, to unfurl the spell. If the area isn’t defined in the spell, assume it effects a space about the size of a “room”. If the spell also has Ranged or Sight tags, the area can be centered on any point you can see. Otherwise, you are the center of the area.
X round(s), or X turn(s)
The spell lasts the number of rounds or turns indicated.
Sunrise
The spell lasts until sunrise.

Spells with range-related tags can be cast at closer ranges when it makes sense: A Touch spell, for example, can usually be cast on your Self; and Ranged or Sight spells can be cast on a target you touch, or on yourself. Use common sense: If you cast a Ranged spell on yourself or on a target you are touching, you needn’t resolve a Clash to “throw” the spell.

Apprentice spells

Learning apprentice spells requires a minimum Intelligence of 2. All warlocks know these spells upon reaching Level 1.

Scent of Brimstone (1)
Smell good and bad magic in the area.
Self, 1 round
Wiggling Wisp (2)
Light up your finger or device with sickly green flame, about as bright as a candle.
Self, 1 turn
Opportunity Knocks (3)
Open a mundane lock, or bolt any lock or door. This spell will also unbolt a magical lock cast by a lower-level magician.
Ranged, 3 turns
Roto-Tutor (3)
Breathe one spell you have mastered in the soul of another magician, who can cast it thereafter.
Touch
Finders Keepers (4)
See a smoky aura around anything hidden or invisible in the area.
Self, 1 round
Sharpest Knife in the Drawer (5)
Sharpen a blade. Anyone who uses it doubles their Combat dice.
Touch, 1 round
Skedaddle (5)
Barf forth a cloud of panic among your enemies. Combine your CHA, LCK, and INT. Every monster whose MR (or sum of equivalent ratings) is lower than your total flees in terror. A cornered monster might freeze or go berserk instead. Any monster who resists the spell attacks you exclusively.
Area, 1d6 turns
Face of Evil (6)
Smite a living creature with your grimace, causing psychic trauma. Deal damage equal to your INT, ignoring armor.
Sight
Crowd Shroud (9)
Turn yourself and your allies invisible.
Touch, 3 turns

Elder magic [Starter Pack]

Controling elder magic demands increasing measures of grace and arcane lore. You must have a minimum Intelligence rating of 3 to learn any elder spell, and only then if its raw Power cost is no greater than your DEX × INT.

For example, a warlock whose Dexterity is 0 and Intelligence is 3 lacks the capacity to master even the most basic elder magic. A caster with Dexterity 1 and Intelligence 3 can learn Ouchy Kiss and Throw the Goat, but not Foreboding Fear or anything more demanding.

Ouchy Kiss (3)
Restore your level number to one injured rating—your own, or an ally’s.
Touch
Throw The Goat (3)
You jinx an enemy. Subtract your level number from one of the target’s ratings.
Sight
Foreboding Fear (4)
You get an insight about the next wandering monster encounter. The referee will tell you how many and what kind of monsters, but not where you will find them.
Self
Foul Mouth (5):
You can speak and understand the speech of any one monster type you have met before.
Self, 1 turn
Owa Tana Siam (5)
Command absolute, unquestioning loyalty from a captive or defenseless monster whose MR (or sum of equivalent ratings) is no greater than your combined CHA, INT, and STR.
Touch
What The Hex (5)
The referee will tell you about one magical effect influencing a person, place, or thing, including its level and type.
Touch
Tiger Eyes (6)
See in total darkness.
Self, 3 turns
Elemental Blast (7)
Barf forth gouts of fire or sheets of ice at your enemies. Roll your Combat dice, plus dice equal to your level. Add 1 die to your roll for each enemy in the blast, after the first, and subtract the same number of dice after you roll. The fire or ice may have other logical effects on the scene.
Ranged
I Fly, You Fools (7)
Hover or fly at your running speed.
Self, 1 turn
Necrotic Nostrum (7)
Remove any effects of a drug or poison from a living creature.
Touch
Psychic Pong (7)
Conjure an orb of crackling psi energy and hurl it at an enemy. If the creature is holding a pit-forged weapon or magical device, it can make a Saving Roll to knock it back at you. Likewise, if you have a pit-forged weapon or magical device, you can make a Saving Roll to hit it back at the enemy. Take turns making Saving Rolls until someone misses. The loser suffers hits equal to your Intelligence, plus the number of Saving Rolls, counted against the loser’s Intelligence.
Sight
The Sleep of Ages (7)
Lock your gaze on one creature, and combine your CHA, INT, and STR. If your total is higher than the creature’s MR (or sum of equivalent ratings), you subdue it in a trance. If you speak the creature’s language, you can ask it questions. The creature will answer each question the best it can, and remember nothing about your questions on waking. But if you make more demands than the creature’s Intelligence rating, it grows confused and incoherent.
Sight, 1 turn

[This is sampling of the elder-level magic.]

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