Back Through The Future

A lot of blood under the bridge since my last post. That Pathfinder game did indeed expire. My solo Traveller game is still in cold sleep. And I’ve managed to play about a half-dozen games of Dungeon World.

But I write today about an older game than any of them — Tunnels & Trolls.


I received an email from my old buddy David. We were best friends in high school, and while geography has led us to drift apart, we’re still in touch a couple times a year. David’s soon-to-be-stepson was looking for video game alternatives, and David wanted to stage a role playing intervention with a Skype session of Tunnels & Trolls. I don’t expect playing T&T by Skype with a fifty-odd-year-old dude is going to change anyone’s religion when it come to video games, but I was game …

… and so it was game on, Saturday morning, with my lad Jack and I gathered around the table here at my southern California Secret HQ, and David and Gabriel video calling in from northern CA. The future, really, when you think about it — video calling, computer networks, all this backbone working automagically to bring us all together around our technologically-conjoined tabletops to play a role-playing game first published almost forty years ago.

Through the future, we went back to the past.

Aside from being only quasi-face-to-face, it was everything you could want from a T&T game. I’d intended to cook up a custom adventure, but the week got away from me and I ended up hastily converting an encounter from the D&D supplement Dungeon Delve (sacrilege!), but the game went off without a hitch. The heroes cleaned out the goblins that were squatting in the Shattered Tower, earned a bit of loot and a magic sword, became the toast of the town for their heroism, and left two of their own buried dead on a lonely hillside (because this IS Tunnels & Trolls, and we play for keeps).

A couple survivors leveled up, and we split up the treasure and said we’d all had a good time and would have to play again sometime … but you know how these things go. Even at its best, role playing is a commitment of time and energy. Our game whiled away three hours on a Saturday morning, and felt just long enough, but in the grim light of opportunity costs and this and that, so many other activities conveniently elbow ahead of tabletop role-playing, and I expect we will all be back to our video games and Hearthstone and shake-it-out-of-the-box boardgaming well before we return to Tunnels & Trolls.

But it was great to get back to T&T, if just for one day, and to delve a dungeon with David again, I don’t doubt it’s been the better part of twenty years since last we role-played together. We might as well have been teens again, picking up the same jokes, easily falling into the rules we’d committed to memory way back when.

The game is still T&T, of course, which means it is fragile, and swingy, and deadly for the heroes, and (frankly) only as good as the dungeonmaster makes it; I flatter myself by thinking I’m a pretty good dungeonmaster, and I switched things up plenty, isolating characters in combat to spice up the clunky combat system, and giving each character a chance to shine (which included the aforementioned death scenes for a couple of them — characters are as fragile as the game system, particularly at low levels). Though combat-oriented, our game was still rife with the things that only table-top RPGs can do, with breakneck action, unexpected diversions (like the sensible combat plan that went awry when a dwarf’s natural lust for goblin blood got the best of him), and a narrow victory that might as easily have been a total party kill if not for some judicious (and entirely appropriate) dungeonmaster legerdemain.

Great times! And it was great to come back from the future, if just for one day.


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