Pixels & Platforms

Monday, April 29, 2019

Tunnels & Trolls: The SoftMax Hack + cheatsheet + general impressions

I've recently started a campaign in my Aquarian Dawn setting using Tunnels & Trolls. I may post a session report (or more likely a partial-module of my GM notes) at some point, but probably not until one or two more game sessions from now.

I'm running the most recent edition of T&T and the translation of the Japanese quickstarter rules, mostly as-is, with a few mechanics streamlined and a few homebrew mechanics. On the whole I'm enjoying the system, and I'll discuss why at the bottom of this post, but I also think there are certain ways in which it feels antiquated or anachronistic. I think it could use some OSR-ifying, and I've got some ideas for a revised version of T&T that I think will make it feel more modern and accessible, and I hope people will be influenced to check T&T out as a result.

This version, the SoftMax Hack (a joke that hopefully a few of you will get), is mostly just a cheatsheet for the rules that won't make a lot of sense unless you're at least a little familiar with the game (which is why I feel comfortable posting it), with a few houserules. I may change this as I go, but after one session of my campaign so far, this is what I'm thinking.

At some point I'll do the true Max Hack, which I imagine as being similar in philosophy to how many OSR systems attempt to streamline old-school D&D.

At the bottom of this cheatsheet + house rules are some of my thoughts on the system. I would be interested to know what other people think if they've played T&T, or if this makes anyone interested in checking it out.

Character Creation 
  • HOUSERULE: 3d6 for each stat, roll two extra 3d6 and drop lowest two dice. A 3d6 of all the same value (e.g. 3,3,3) allows you to roll again and take the sum, until not triples. Rearrange stats as desired. 
  • HOUSERULE: Start with two talents rather than one 
  • HOUSERULE: 250 gold rather than random roll for gold (for simplicity) 
  • HOUSERULE: Start with 3 AP 
  • HOUSERULE (for Aquarian Dawn): Take an esper power (such as one of my 100 superpowers)

  • HOUSERULE: Separating XP and AP
  • HOUSERULE: Milestone XP Given at end of session (generally ~100) 
  • Increasing a stat costs stat * 10 (e.g. increasing a stat from 7 to 8 is 7*10 = 70 XP)
  • Once per level you can spend 300 AP to gain a new talent
  • HOUSERULE: Learning spells:
    • Wizards gain 3 new spells per level of spell level equal to character level or lower. For example, a level 3 wizard can learn three level 3 or level 2 spells 
      • They should already know all level 1 spells, but if you introduce new level 1 spells as the campaign progresses, they could learn those as well 
    • Rogues gain up to 3 new spells per level, where the sum of the spell levels cannot exceed the character level. For example, a level 4 rogue could take one level 4 spell, one level 3 spell and one level 1 spell, two level 2 spells, one level 2 spell and two level 1 spells, or three level 1 spells
  • Wizards and rogues can also buy spells with gold (1000 * spell level gold)
  • HOUSERULE: Spending XP to learn spells
    • It's surprising to me that the TNT core book only has rules for learning spells by spending gold, but not by spending experience. This could be like the equivalent of doing research to advance their knowledge.
    • This would need to be tested, but tentatively I think it makes sense that the XP cost to learn a spell should be spell level * 100, so a level 1 spell costs 100 XP, level 2 spell costs 200 XP, etc.
    • In addition to normal spell requirements, it might be fair to put some limit on the highest spell level a rogue can learn independently by spending XP.

  • Warrior
    • +1d6 dice per level for combat rolls (unarmed or melee weapon) 
    • Can double the damage reduction of armor but increase chance of it breaking 
    • No magic 
  • Rogue 
    • Start with one level 1 spell and can learn more spells
    • Gain one extra talent at start of game 
  • Wizard 
    • Start with all first-level spells 
    • Spells cost Character Level – Spell Level less WIZ to cast (e.g. for a level 2 wizard casting a level 1 spell, the spell costs 2-1=1 less WIZ) 
    • Casting with a focus (staff, wand, amulet, etc.) subtract level from WIZ cost (e.g. a level 2 wizard with a focus spends 2 fewer WIZ to cast a spell) 
    • No personal adds for weapons with > 2d6 damage dice 
    • HOUSE RULE: Dropping DEX requirement for spellcasting

  • HOUSE RULE: No encumbrance, just common sense. If you’re over-loading, there may be a GM intrusion… 
  • HOUSE RULE: No STR or DEX requirement for equipment, just common sense. As above, if you're wielding or wearing something a bit too big for you, there may be a GM intrusion...
  • HOUSE RULE: Since I’m dropping DEX requirement for spellcasting, instead the DEX reduction on armor counts towards an increased WIZ cost for spellcasting

  • Weapon dice + weapon adds + personal adds (+1 for each point over 12 for STR, LK, DEX, SPD), take difference between player (or party if doing simultaneous combat) and opposition 
  • Spite Damage: Any roll of 6 gives 1 spite damage, guaranteed damage even if you lose the opposed combat dice roll 
  • Missile weapons roll DEX SR (generally lvl 2, 4, 6, etc. against a medium sized creature at point-blank, close, medium range. Smaller targets increase by 2, larger decrease by 2). Success means guaranteed damage even if failed opposed combat dice roll. Failure means roll opposed combat dice as normal 
  • Armor Durability: If using the warrior ability to increase damage reduction, or as a GM intrusion, roll SR for luck. On failure, the armor can take 1 less hit (one wear point). For each wear point, the SR difficulty increases by 1.

Saving Rolls 
  • Roll 2d6 against SR level – stat (e.g. a SR1LK roll would require you to roll 20 – your luck stat) 
  • If you have a relevant talent subtract 3 from the difficulty 
  • Rolling a 1 and a 2 is a critical failure 
  • If you roll two of the same value, roll again and take the sum, repeat until not the same

Adventure Points (HOUSE RULE) 
  • Can only have 3 + level total AP at one time 
  • Can spend 1 AP to reroll a single die 
  • Can spend 1 AP to add +3 to SR or combat roll (prior to rolling dice)
  • Can spend 1 AP to add a d6 to a combat roll (prior to rolling dice)
  • Can spend AP to do extra-special stuff such as esper powers, cost determined by GM
  • Can spend 1 AP to reject a GM intrusion
  • AP NOT the same as XP!
  • Gain AP for doing cool roleplaying
  • Gain AP for accepting a GM or player-suggested intrusion
  • Intrusions: Complications to a given scenario

Dice Trade (HOUSE RULE)
  • Players can swap dice to an equivalent distribution, reflecting cautiousness vs. risk-taking
    • For instance, rather than rolling 2d6 for a saving roll, the player can roll a 1d12
    • In this case, there is no doubles-roll-over, but also no critical fail. The range is technically different (2:12 vs. 1:12), but the big difference is that the probability distribution is uniform rather than normal. For a very difficult task where an average 2d6 would likely fail anyway, you may be better off rolling 1d12 than 2d6.
    • For combat, you could substitute any number of d6's, such as 1d12 for 2d6, 1d20 for 3d6, etc. Just be mindful of what effects this has on the distribution.
  • I may flesh this out more in the future...

Impressions / Mini-Review

I've only played one session of my new campaign with this system so far and there was no combat and only a few saving rolls (basically skill checks), so this is really more my impressions than a thorough review.


  • Opposed rolls for combat: While this significantly complicates the outcome probabilities, making it less intuitive how encounters will play out, I've always been intrigued by this mechanic. Maybe I'll end up disliking it, but for now it's a like just given that it's something I've wanted to try.

  • Simultaneous combat: The core book suggests that by default all players should roll against all opponents simultaneously and everything should be resolved altogether. I don't know if I'd like to do that as the default, but it would make combat faster. More than that, I think it could be a cool tactical option for dealing with larger or more powerful enemies, or swarms of smaller enemies. A monster that would be insurmountable may be defeated if the players work together, or in the reverse, enough small goblins targeting a single player may be a significant threat. The players could all team up to defend against the goblins targeting the one player, but then they can't team up against the big ogre until the goblins are no longer a threat...

  • Personal adds: I really like how you receive combat dice modifiers based on a contribution of stats. I think this is a flexible way to allow for different kinds of builds to be combat viable in a way that often feels counter-intuitive or over-complicated in D&D.

  • Types: I haven't played long enough to get a sense of balance, but I like how the types (basically classes) work. Warriors get major bonuses to combat but no magic. Wizards have limits on how much combat damage they can do, but with ranged weapons they always have a chance of at least doing some damage. Rogues are inbetweeners. You could GLOG-ify this I'm sure, but as a core game these seem nice.

  • Magic: I've never been a fan of Vancian magic. I much prefer a mana-based system. The way that spells can be powered up, and the ways that wizard spell costs decrease as they level, to me seems more flexible, fun, and intuitive than D&D-style magic.

  • Saving Rolls: This stat-based skill-check system reminds me of the kinds of rolls I would make players do in Cypher System, which is always a plus. It's a simple number, lvl. 1 difficulty is 20, then +5 for each additional level of difficulty, with modifiers from the relevant stat. For a more OSR-style game, you could keep these to a minimum and not be any worse off for it.

  • Monster Levels: I don't talk about it on this cheat sheet, but monsters can be reduced to a single number, which determines HP, number of combat dice, and any adds. Again, the simplicity and flexibility of it reminds me of Cypher, which is always a positive.

  • Advancement: I generally prefer incremental advancement to monumental levels, so this point-buy system for increasing stats, learning new talents and spells, etc., with a few larger benefits for level, is a nice balance (once again, similar to Cypher). I also like how the cost for increasing stats increases as the stat gets bigger, so a player that rolls poorly during character creation may be able to "catch up".


  • Too many stats: Many of these stats feel redundant, or at least the book doesn't do a good job of explaining where specific stats would be important. I think this game could be streamlined to maybe 3 or 4 stats and be better off for it. Any stat may be used for an appropriate saving roll, but otherwise SPD isn't really doing anything that can't be covered by DEX besides contributing to adds. Do we really need a LK stat? CON is mostly just HP and WIZ mostly just MP, I'd rather just make those their own thing and not consider them a core stat. CHA could seemingly be taken out entirely, or maybe given some added value by allowing a character to use CHA in place of INT for spell requirements as sort of a "Sorcerer vs. Wizard" distinction. Anyway I think I'm over-sharing my ideas for the full Max Hack...

  • Spell names: Many of the spells have long and cutesy names that give the trollworld setting personality, but are kind of cumbersome and annoying to keep track of.

  • Stat Requirements: DEX as a prereq for spellcasting seems weird. I get the logic of waving hands around for spellcasting, but it seems like just a way to keep wizards from wearing heavy armor (given that heavy armor imposes DEX reduction). I think my houserule (or some version of it) is better. I also don't like that every weapon has a STR and DEX requirement. For now I've just reduced the requirements a bit with my houserules, but I might get rid of it altogether. Warriors already get bonuses with melee weapons and wizards already get disadvantages with weapons (partially mitigated by the missile rules), so having additional requirements seems unnecessary.

  • Some fiddly mechanics: The way that kindreds work (basically races) seems to involve a multiplier of stats, in some cases by numbers like 0.66 or 0.33. It's just kinda messy and I'm ignoring it. Encumbrance sucks too, but I hate encumbrance in any system so that's a personal preference. There are some weird bonus types like specialist and commoner that I don't see the point of. Old-school D&D is full of these kinds of mechanics as well, and I've gotten decent at figuring out quickly which ones are interesting to me and which aren't, and how to get around them.


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  2. I think ignoring kindred multipliers removes some of the fun of T&T. It's not that hard to multiply your dice by 3 and divide by 2, or whatever. Grab a calculator. It can be a lot of fun picking between playing a dwarf, hobbit, leprechaun, fairy, or one of the many other more monstrous kindreds.

    Agree re minimum dex requirements for spells - but that's just to encourage players to spread their attribute-level-improvements around, I think. And since increasing your dex is its own reward with regards to combat, I don't mind.

    Spell names: you could tell players that every spellcaster is expected to come up with their own creative name for spell names they dislike. "Oh There It Is" is just a nickname for the "Reveal Hidden Objects" spell, and they can rename it as they please.

    In earlier versions of the game there was no speed attribute, and you could get away with saying "dex = speed" but is it really? However removing the luck attribute would remove from the flavor of the game. It's like taking the D20 out of D&D. Iconic.

    I don't see any reason to even think about removing the CON=Hit points, WIZ=Magic points linkage. You'd just come up with another way of tracking the same data with a different name. You could just rename "CON" to "HP" and "WIZ" to "MP" ... I don't personally like the name of the wizardry attribute and different versions of it have called it different things.

    Speaking of which, in older (pre 7) versions of the game, you didn't have a WIZ attribute. Instead, casting spells reduced a character's strength. Which led to people buffing up their wizards like Conan-like strength levels in order to cast lots spells. It did make sense to spin if off onto its own attribute. On the other hand, I liked that wizards got weaker as they cost spells, so this change isn't my favorite. One could say that once a spellcaster uses up their WIZ, they can start drawing on another specified attribute.

    Fun article! I enjoyed reading it.

    1. In regards to kindreds, it had less to do with the math and more to do with balance, but in retrospect I can see how it might balance itself out.

      I might agree that Dex = Speed is arbitrary, but it's consistent with how other RPGs treat it and I'd just prefer to reduce the number of attributes.

      I think your intuition about Dex for casters is correct, but it doesn't seem to be breaking things.

      Having accrued some experience with TNT at this point, I think you're correct about luck, I take that back.

      I've heard of the strength for mana thing but that seems crazy to me 0.o

      Thanks for your comments!