02 October 2014

An Alternative Combat System for T&T

TrollsZine is a free PDF 'zine for Tunnels & Trolls. Being a zine and being fed by contributors, and thus basically a labour of love, TrollsZine has a very irregular publication schedule, and it also shows, I am afraid, quite an uneven quality in terms of content.

The latest instalment, issue No.8, however, is a great issue! Amongst the highlights:

☞ A 33-page space-fantasy solo adventure set in New Khazan, consisting of 141 paragraphs of gung ho adventure, with outer space random encounters such as mining drones and space syrens, basic spaceship stats, a simple space travel system, etc. Lots of material that you may fruitfully scavenge for your own space-fantasy games!

☞ A 16-page GM wilderness adventure. This is particularly noteworthy as T&T adventures tend to stick to the dungeon bash model.

☞ A fully-fledged alternative combat system for Tunnels & Trolls, by Dan Hembree (TrollsZine's editor), based on the T&T Saving Rolls (SR) mechanism. At 9 pages, this is quite a hefty article. Now, since I have myself got rid of the standard T&T mêlée combat system for my own T&T homebrew, I have read Dan's article with utmost interest. Here are my thoughts.

Dan's alternative combat system is based on man-to-man combat, and not on T&T's seminal "each side totals all" mechanism. As a result, each combatant needs:
  • an attribute to base the SR upon,
  • a difficulty level for said SR
There is indeed a new attribute, Combat Ability (CA), which, for player characters, is calculated on the average of STR, LK, DEX, and SPD. For monsters, Dan suggests to base the CA on their Monster Rating (MR) but to "raise or lower it as necessary". This is my first criticism of the system. The CA should be clearly defined for monsters; if Dan thinks CA = MR yields too strong opponents, as in the case of the MR 50 ogre in his example on p30, then why not settle for CA = MR/2 or MR/4 or whatever. Obviously, in other cases, CA = MR yields too weak opponents, as in the case of the MR 15 goblins in his example on p32. Basically, what this shows is that it is wrong to equate a monster's MR with its fighting prowess. This is also why I have removed the standard T&T mêlée combat system from my homebrew. I think a monster's CA should be assigned independently from its MR— which is more or less what Dan ends up suggesting through the sentence "raise or lower it as necessary".

The difficulty level for the combat SRs is based upon the opponent's level or upon a monster's MR/10. I really don't like this— in almost all frp games, determining whether a combatant hits or not is based on their fighting capability, not their opponent's: in classic fantasy, it's based on the combatant's level, in D100-based games, on the combatant's skill, etc. In my homebrew, the SR actually doesn't have a difficulty level: each combatant rolls their SR, and then the actual difficulty levels reached are compared, so as to create a kind of opposed SR mechanism.
The cool thing, however, is that Dan's system allows for simultaneous combat results with weapon-dependent damage, part of which is stopped by armour, whereas my system does not take weapon and armour into account: I have opted for a more abstract system, à la HeroQuest.

Anyway, whatever criticisms I may have, I still think Dan's system is definitely worth a try, even if it kind of makes T&T mêlée combat closer to the D&D approach, where armour class (which depends on the opponent and not on the combatant) does influence the combatant's hit probabilities.

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