Twisted Tunnels RPG: Some design goals

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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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