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This post is part of the Twisted Tunnels RPG project. Jump to Index

Making characters for TTYF is quick and easy. It seems like every week that a new motley pack of lowlifes, tramps, and freebooters flocks to Base Town. Itching for a chance to explore the Twisted Tunnels for gold, glory, or the thrill of danger, there are always a few random delvers waiting to be recruited for an adventure.

As such, characters are generated using dice to determine their basic capabilities. You never know who will show up, and it’s your job to take what you get and give them a chance to excel. With skill and luck, your delvers will survive and grow.

Find your abilities

Each delver is rated in six abilities: Charisma, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Luck, and Strength. These abilities define the sum of your character’s innate ability, talent, training, and skill. Other details will round your delver out, but these are the ratings that make the game work.

  • Charisma (CHA) is your ability to sway others through leadership, glamour, and personal magnetism.
  • Constitution (CON) measures your health and endurance. When you suffer wounds, it usually comes off your CON.
  • Dexterity (DEX) measures your grace, skill, and marksmanship.
  • Intelligence (INT) is your ability with languages and lore.
  • Luck (LCK) is your measure of fortune’s favor.
  • Strength (STR) represents your muscle, stamina, haul capacity, and spell power.

Roll two dice (normal six-siders), and subtract the smaller number from the bigger one. This will give you a number ranging from 0–5. Assign this number to any ability, and repeat this roll for each ability.

Sidebar: Heritage and background

If you want to flesh your character out a little further before your first delve, you can use the optional rules for heritage and background presented in the Elaborations section further on (page XX). The method here generates human delvers whose past is unknown to us when play begins, which suits the peril they face: We don’t know if they’ll even survive their first foray into the Twisted Tunnels. If they do, you may choose an appropriate background and heritage then, after they have earned the honor of something more than an unmarked grave.

Choose your Craft

Next, decide the delver’s Craft. Your Craft represents your area of expertise, whether it’s fighting, magic, or miscellaneous.

If Strength is your highest ability, you may want to play a warrior. If your highest ability is Intelligence, you might prefer a warlock. If Luck is your forte, you may wish to play a rogue. Or you might prefer to invert these tropes, playing a serendipitous warlock, a cunning warrior, or a brawny rogue—or something else entirely. You can assign any Craft to any character you want, with the exception of the warlock, who must have at least 2 Intelligence.

Secondary traits

The six abilities give rise to a few other traits that may be decisive in your adventures.

Combat dice
Your Combat dice represent your overall fighting ability, based on your DEX, LCK, and STR, according to your Craft.
If your ratings change for any reason, always figure your Combat dice based on your current DEX, LCK, and STR ratings.
Power
Power measures your delver’s supply of stamina and tolerance for exertion. Your Power is depleted whenever you do something stenuous, like casting a spell or climbing a cliff. At the beginning of each adventure, and any time you take a rest, roll 2d6 (DARO) + STR, and take the new result if it’s higher than your current Power.
Languages
Every delver knows the common trade tongue, but knowing other languages may give you an edge when faced with secret societies, alien cultures, and intelligent creatures who roam the Twisted Tunnels. You may know a number of additional languages equal to your INT rating.
When you speak with an intelligent creature in its own tongue, you can make offers and broker deals with the creature.
Coins
Most delvers begin play with a little scratch to outfit themselves for their first delve into the Twisted Tunnels. If your referee is giving you Quick Adventure Gear for New Delvers, you’ll be taken care of later. Otherwise, roll 3d6 and multiply the result by 10—that’s how many coins you had when you reached the outpost where you begin your adventures.

How much can you carry?

Delvers have great big packs with plenty of straps, pockets, hooks, and pouches for hauling around supplies and loot. They are strong enough to carry around some adventuring gear and treasure without becoming burdened. The main thing you’ll need to keep track of are Heavy items.

Count 1 Haul for each Heavy item your are holding, and add 2 for each Very Heavy item. If you pack too much stuff, your backpack might count as a Heavy item by itself.

You can normally carry a Haul no greater than your Strength rating (or your current Power, if it’s lower). If you carry more than that, you are overloaded and slow-moving. The referee may levy a Power cost if you do anything strenuous when you are overloaded. When you suffer a calamity while overloaded, add one step to the Dungeon Level and make your Saving Roll.

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Categories Twisted Tunnels RPG, design

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The Wizard Wars ended in a spectacular meteor storm that decimated the wizard ghods of old and left the planet in ruins. Humanity survived, and slowly they built new outposts of civilization across the shattered lands. Yet the planet is riddled with underworlds of Stygian darkness, filled with every possible terror, where legends tell of treasures untold and magic beyond measure: the Twisted Tunnels!

In Twisted Tunnels RPG, you and some friends play through adventures in the Twisted Tunnels. One of you takes the part of an impartial referee who maps out an adventure site and loads it with diversions and deviltry for the other players to discover. Everyone else forms a dungeon demolition team, taking the roles of desperate freebooters who descend into the Twisted Tunnels for fun and profit.

Some people will tell you that there are no winners or losers in a role-playing game like Twisted Tunnels. Those people are losers. The object of this game is to survive, and you win if your characters reach level 10 and retire with their fortunes in comfort and security.

In order to accomplish this, you will delve into the darkest, most devil-infested depths of the Twisted Tunnels. Then you must evade, outfox, or eviscerate the threats in your path, and bring back the most glorious treasures and legendary magics hidden below. If that doesn’t kill you, you will recruit allies and lay plans for another descent.


This game is a tribute to the first full-throttle role-playing game modeled on comics and fantasy fiction, created in 1975 by Ken St. Andre and published by Flying Buffalo. At the time, people had to use convoluted “fantasy wargame” rules published by TSR, but St. Andre’s game blasted through the tropes of wargaming and ushered in pivotal mechanics that had a huge impact on the hobby, including ability checks, point-based currency for magic, and explosive combat resolution that emphasized fictional positioning.

Twisted Tunnels RPG started with a few house rules, but feedback and playtests have spurred me to develop it as a stand-alone game. My goal is to hew as closely to the spirit of the 1st proper RPG, extrapolating on the quirks and implications I’ve found in the original text, while simplifying the number crunching and spiking it with my own irrational sensibilities.

My plan is to post pieces of the game here as each section becomes ready for review. I’ll update this post as each piece goes online, to keep a running table of contents.

  1. Playing the Game: Saving Rolls and Clashes
  2. Recruiting Your Delver
  3. The Warrior’s Craft
  4. The Warlock’s Craft
  5. The Rogue’s Craft
  6. Experience
  7. Monsters
  8. Combat
  9. Spells
  10. Character Sheet

Some commentary: Design goals

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Categories Twisted Tunnels RPG, design

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I have been playing a lot of Dungeon World while the waiting for Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls to ship. I’ve given several other games a spin too, including Old School Hack and Swords & Wizardry, which emulates the original D&D (though with the added benefit of making sense).

One of the things I like about Dungeon World and the others compared to T&T is that they use small numbers: Unlike T&T, you never have to crunch 2 or 3-digit numbers, which makes addition and subtraction in the game blazingly fast.

It’s a minor quibble, but T&T routinely requires adding (or subtracting) 2-digit numbers to resolve Saving Rolls, and combat roll totals can involve adding and subtracting numbers in the hundreds. That makes it great practice for kids of a certain age who need the math exercise, and there’s definitely a certain thrill to seeing dozens of dice hit the table and getting an attack total over 100. But it can also slow the action when everyone pauses in the middle of combat to tot up dice and Adds.

In my reading of the upcoming Deluxe rules, this feature is even further amplified. Many of the changes to the game result in More And Bigger Numbers across the board.1 In fact, they used so many big numbers in the Deluxe edition, that there were none left for the rest of us. ;)

Anyway, here is a hack you can use to play Tunnels & Trolls without as much number crunching, using mostly single-digit numbers, and without writing a new game entirely from scratch. The following assumes that you are familiar with the game already—if not, you’ll probably want to skip this post.

This should be 99% compatible with both 1st edition (when using the basic weapons list) and Deluxe, but for other editions you may have to modify the weapons list. I will assume you are using 1st edition, and include notes for Deluxe in square brackets. You can probably use any other edition of the rules instead, you would just need to adjust the weapons charts.

Characters and advancement

The first place where T&T characters get big numbers is their ability scores.

Ability scores
To roll up a new character, roll 2d6 for each attribute. Subtract the smaller number from the bigger number, giving you a rating from 0–5.23
Combat Adds
Warriors and Rogues get Combat Adds equal to the median of DEX, LCK, or STR ratings [plus SPD in Deluxe]. If you arrange the ratings from lowest to highest, the median is the middle number.
1st edition Magic-Users get 0 Combat Adds. [Wizards get the lowest rating for Combat Adds.]
Combat Adds represent extra dice you can roll in combat.
Power
Each session, or any time you take a rest, roll 2d6 (DARO) + STR, and take the new result if it’s higher than current Power.
Warriors can spend Power to achieve feats of strength and other stunts. Magic-Users [Wizards] and Rogues can spend Power to cast spells.
Advancement
When you gain a level, add 1 to one ability rating that is equal to or lower than the new level number.
[In Deluxe, your level is equal to your highest ability rating. Spend AP equal to 100x your current rating to raise an ability by 1 point.]
Armor
Armor may be rated from 1 (for light armor, ie. leather) to 3 (for extra heavy armor, like full plate). Using a shield grants +1 armor versus melee attacks, +2 vs. ranged and shock attacks.4

Saving Rolls

Roll 2d6 (DARO) and add the ability score. You must roll 5+ on the dice, and hit the target number to succeed.

Level Target
1 10
2 15
3 20
4 25
5 30
6 35
+1 +5

[If you’re using Deluxe, you only need to roll 4+ on the dice and hit the target number.]

Monsters

The GM may define a foe by giving it a Monster Rating of 1–12 (or more, if she is particularly sadistic). In combat, monsters roll 1d6 + dice equal to their MR, and their MR counts as their CON for purposes of wounds (see below).

Combat

Melee

  1. Each side rolls all their dice from weapons and Adds.
  2. Select the highest single die or the sum of any dice showing the same number (whichever is higher). This is your score.
  3. Count the dice included in your score—these are your damage dice.
  4. Whoever gets the highest score wins.
    If that’s a tie, whoever has more damage dice wins. If it’s still a tie, whoever rolled fewer dice wins with 1 damage die. Do you still have a tie? The clash is indecisive.5
  5. The loser suffers injuries: Deduct 1 point from their CON (or MR) for each damage die.
  • When you suffer a hit that reduces your CON to zero or lower, make a Saving Roll on CON + Armor. On a miss, you are reeling: You defend yourself with half dice until you do nothing but catch your breath for an entire combat round.
  • When you suffer a hit while you are reeling, make a SR on CON + Armor. If you succeed, you are disabled: You can do nothing but wimper or grit your teeth, fading in and out of consciousness, until someone revives you. If you miss, you have perished.

Shock and ranged attacks

The attacker rolls her attack dice and the defender rolls dice equal his LCK, +2 dice if using a shield. Resolve it like Melee, but the defender can’t injure the attacker.

When you make a ranged attack, the GM may give the target bonus dice to represent cover, concealment, or a target that is hard to hit because of size or distance.

In shock conflict, the defender can choose to retreat—if he can—instead of taking a hit.

Magic

When you run out of Power, make a Saving Roll on STR [or WIZ] every time you cast a spell. On a miss, you are exhausted, and can cast no spells until you gather Power again.

[In Deluxe, Wizards and Rogues can use WIZ instead of STR to gather Power.]


1 Is that what makes it deluxe? I haven’t given it a thorough read yet, but I plan to pore over it once my hard copy arrives, which should be any day now. I ought to say, though, that the art and presentation are spectacular.

2 Here’s a quick conversion chart for ability scores rolled in the usual method. This might help address parts of the system, like weapons and magic, that rely on minimum scores in certain abilities.

Attribute conversion chart
Standard T&T “Reduced”
<5 0
5–8 1
9–12 2
13–16 3
17–20 4
21–24 5
25–28 6
29–32 7
“Reduced” rating = ( Std. rating – 4 ) / 4; round any fractions up.

3 Kindred ability multipliers: If you play non-human characters in the tradition of Peters and McAllister, you might wonder how to compute ability scores for your Dwarfs and Fairies in this system:

  • If your rating is 0 and you must apply a multiplier greater than 1, add 1 to the ability first.
  • Otherwise, apply the multiplier to your current rating, and round normally.
  • No attribute may be reduced below 0, but there is no upper limit.

4 In 1st edition, armor is ablative. That is, every time you take a hit, reduce your amor rating instead of suffering a wound (see Combat). [In Deluxe, armor keeps taking blow after blow without falling apart, but Warriors have an ability to double their armor value at the risk of ablating it.]

5 Optional rule for ties: Either side can spend 1 point of Power for each of their enemy’s damage dice to win the clash with 1 damage die. The other side has a chance to spend the same amount of Power to keep their enemies at bay.


Changelog

v0.1.5 ~ 26 Aug 2015
More playtesting!
Tweaked Combat resolution to prevent deadlocks when rolling bunches of dice on both sides.
Power is for more than just Rogues and Magic-Users now.
v0.1.4 ~ 24 Aug 2015
After a very quick playtest, I realized the method of generating “reduced” ability scores resulted in very uniform characters. Now, the ability scores have a wider range, with an interesting spread of possibilities.
Revised Saving Roll target numbers and attribute conversion chart to scale to the new attribute range.
v0.1.3 ~ 23 Aug 2015
Add a note for computing kindred ability scores.
v0.1.2 ~ 23 Aug 2015
Add a changelog: I’ve been adding things I left out of the first draft, so I ought to keep track of revisions.
Even smaller numbers: The first draft had a weird way to generate ability scores ranging from -5–+5. This draft eliminates the negative numbers, uses smaller numbers, and smaller increments for Saving Rolls.

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I picked up Dungeon World earlier this year from RPGNow, and I was hooked after one quick reading. My only regret was ordering the electronic bundle instead of going for the print edition. I got to play the game when Little Nephew came over the weekend of 14 April, and we had a blast.

I was a bit uneasy preparing for an entirely improvised first session, as prescribed by the rules. So I decided to get out LotFP’s Tower of the Stargazer, using DW’s module converter, just in case we needed a ready-made location to explore.

My misgivings were completely unfounded: The fiction generated from making characters provided adventure hooks the players cared about, setting up an interesting conflict right from the start. We still visited the Stargazer’s Tower, but it became a mere backdrop for an altogether unforeseen adventure.

Some highlights

Some mistakes

I kicked off the game with my nephew and my daughter with some pulse-pounding peril that I cooked up on the spot based on the background established by their bonds; but when neighbor girl joined us, they had reached the Tower, which I was running like a procedural dungeon delve out of habit. I was in a rush to get started, and I didn’t ask her as many questions as I did Little Nephew and Junior; as a result, she didn’t develop strong ties to the fiction right away, which made the first scenes a little boring for her. This wasn’t a deal-breaker, but the high-intensity kicker made a huge difference. Seeing it unfold for different players both ways made a strong impression on me.

The fast and loose combat system of Tunnels & Trolls was a good education for Dungeon World action. Like T&T, DW does not have rules for sequencing the action in combat (like D&D’s “Initiative” system), and they both push for vivid fictional positioning and action-packed narration. But figuring out how to strike a balance between hard and soft moves took some calibration: One battle that should have made the delvers’ lives flash before their eyes—at least—barely made them sweat. And not because of smart play, but because I made too many soft moves as the GM. In another battle, I figured it out and the pendulum swung the other way: I was going full throttle on the hard moves without giving the delvers a chance to catch their breath. After the Fighter was brutally smashed to a pulp and failed his Last Breath roll, I thought I might have been a little too harsh.

I don’t mind if players thrash the obstacles I set up, and I’m also happy to thrash their characters when they get themselves in over their heads; I just don’t want to make the game a cakewalk or a gauntlet of certain doom by mishandling the GM moves. It’s fair for players to one-shot Lord Evil if they find a chink in his defenses that I didn’t anticipate, and it’s fair for them to get killed if I have been forthcoming with “unwelcome truth” and “signs of approaching threat”.

Even more mistakes!

After the fun we had in those first sessions, I was jazzed to introduce the game to some other friends we game with occasionally, and we planned a one-shot adventure a couple weeks later. In that session, I made too many mistakes to list here—suffice it to say that I’m lucky if I didn’t squander my entire GM reputation. Here are some dos and don’ts, so others might avoid my path of folly and despair:

  • Do ask leading questions during setup. They’re a great way to bring in some initial thoughts about the situation while leaving room for the players to build on the fiction.
  • Don’t plan nine leading questions at a table with four or more players. We built up a lot of interesting fiction that way, but the result was less creative than I expected because in sum, the questions converged on my pre-conceived notions. It also took a lot longer than I anticipated. I’d suggest starting with one or two leading questions, and asking follow-up questions based on the responses, if needed.
  • Do talk about the party’s bonds and other choices that come up during basic character creation. Not only do these decisions produce flags about what kind of game the players want, but they can have significant implications about the background and focus of the adventure.
  • Don’t rush into the game without developing meaningful fiction based on the party’s bonds and basic character choices. Because we spent so much time answering my leading questions, I felt anxious to get started and we gave the bonds short shrift.
  • Do kick off the game with an intense situation! It works.
  • Don’t expect vague foreboding or a general sense of menace to offer the same focus and motivation as an intense kicker. I had sketched out a threatening situation before play, and without vivid details that might come from character bonds, it remained just vaguely threatening with an uninspired incentive before the delvers.
  • Do create custom Moves to develop interesting resources or threats for your Dungeon World. It brings key elements into focus and gives them gears to interact with the game system, and it’s fun.
  • Don’t make custom Moves that will come up too frequently, like several times in a single scene or encounter. I made the mistake of making a Move triggered “when you dive deep or swim underwater”—in a fricken water dungeon—so every player had to make multiple rolls just to move around the environment. With partial success coming up so often, it was a cascade of complications, making the dungeon “entrance” virtually impassable! This was certainly my worst mistake.
  • While we’re on the topic, you don’t need a roll for every custom Move. Remember that some class moves and monster moves signify things the character can just do. We had a magic item the players could use to swim underwater without holding their breath, but I made it trigger a separate Move with its own complications. D’oh!
  • Finally, don’t miss the End of Session move at the end of every session, even if it’s just a one-shot. For one, seeing how the advancement system works is essential to understanding what the game is about. But it’s also a great conversational way to check in as a group to find out what was most memorable and engaging, or less so. By the end of the evening, I just forgot to remember End of Session. I realized the omission on the drive home and sent out an email about it later, but we were all so busy over the next week that it never happened.

I took that as a sign that the fate of the one-shot was sealed. Dungeon World has a whole lot of what I like, but it uses different muscles than T&T and other fantasy games, so don’t be surprised if it takes a little practice. I’m encouraged by this advice under Teaching the Game:

If you find yourself struggling in the first session consider it a pilot, like the first episode of a TV show. Feel free to start over or retroactively change things. … If your first adventure wasn’t working too well scrap it and start something new.

It gets better!

That was almost five months ago, and since then I’ve run Dungeon World every time Little Nephew visited, including a public game at our local game store on Free RPG Day. I’ve been busier than before with work and other events, but we have managed to push through several adventures including two more PC deaths. (They earned it.)

This past weekend my seven-year-old niece joined us for a session, playing a Druid, and she was so jazzed about the game that she kept the narrative going in her free time when the kids were playing outside.

I realize that I’ve repeated a similar pattern over several adventures, and it’s been both successful and fun: I start with an outline, either a published module or something I sketched out: Tower of the Stargazer, The Vile Worm (now available free), B2, et cetera. This provides a loose backdrop for the adventure. Then I start each session with a bang—usually an intense battle, based on what the delvers were doing last time and how the players respond to a handful of leading questions (like “What are you fighting right now? How did you get here?”). Sometimes I pick a few monsters or other interesting threats based on the setting; it almost doesn’t matter what I pick, because the players tie the situation in to their adventure by giving basic answers to a few questions. Finally, we move on from there, with the situation informed by the inciting crisis and established history, and seasoned with elements from the adventure modules I may have on the backburner.

Before our last game, I asked Junior and Little Nephew whether they would prefer to explore a wizard’s seclusium or Death Mountain. They picked Death Mountain, so I told them that the shaman of the barbarian tribe, whom they saved in our last run, had a vision of an artefact of great power that is hidden there, and I asked them what it was. When my young niece decided to play with us, I decided that I would focus on the journey to Death Mountain, and I wrote down the stats for a couple creatures they might encounter, which appeared in the kicker.

The stuff on Death Mountain would probably be too intense for my niece, but I think my daughter and nephew can handle it. We’ll come to that next time!

That’s all for now!

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Categories Dungeon World, actual play

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