Pixels & Platforms

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Mechs & Monstrosities Hack for Tunnels & Trolls


The intro to the M&M Hack is significantly longer than the hack itself, if you just want the mechanics, skip to the M&M Hack Section.

As I discuss in my TNT cheatsheet / houserules / impressions post (I'm referring to Tunnels & Trolls as TNT now rather than T&T, because it's way cooler), I'm really digging this system.

One thing in particular that I like is how combat works. Briefly, the way it works is that both sides roll their dice, and the difference in values determines who takes how much damage. Now on the one hand, games with flexible dice pools, opposed rolls, and exception-cases on those opposed rolls are really difficult to conceptualize in terms of probability distributions, which is really annoying because I love thinking about and tinkering with probabilities in tabletop RPGs

That being said, I like how opposed rolls can add tactical depth to combat, while still being fairly simple and rules-light. For instance, ranged weapons in TNT generally add fewer dice than melee weapons, and warriors don't get their bonus dice when they use ranged weapons. However, ranged weapons have a chance to deal damage even on a failed opposed roll, giving them a unique tactical role and one that I think makes practical and narrative sense. There is also a mechanic called spite damage, where any 6 on a die counts as 1 spite damage, which is also damage that can bypass a failed opposed roll. In other words, the more dice you have, the more dangerous you are, even if the probabilities suggest you will lose more opposed rolls against an opponent than win.

Tabletop RPGs with any degree of tactical granularity often struggle with combat at scale, either just making large structures, mechs, or kaiju-sized monsters massively powerful, limiting their use-case (and fun) in mixed-scale combat, or not allowing actions at different scales to directly interact at all. 

Numenera Destiny has some cool settlement building mechanics that I've talked a little bit about, but they also had some mechanics for conflict at scale. In their case, players and other individual-scale characters can't directly interact with characters at settlement-scale (defined as settlements and hordes), but they have various abilities or roleplay objectives that allow them to buff/debuff or in some other way indirectly affect settlements or hordes, or they can get these affects by achieving objectives. 

However, I think a TNT-style opposed roll with a bypass mechanic, as with ranged weapons and spite damage, could be an effective way to handle cross-scale massive combat directly.

So if you want to face off against mechs and titans and kaiju in TNT, here's my M&M Hack (this time we're going back to ampersand because candy)!

Final NOTE: This has not been tested, and probably will need some tweaking, but I think the core idea is solid.


M&M Hack

  • Massive creatures always deal at minimum their personal adds in damage against non-massive creatures, even if they lose the opposed roll, unless the opponent(s) roll solely to defend.

That's it! And below are a few optional rules:

  • Massive creatures have twice the HP, dice, and adds for their MR as a normal creature. 
  • Non-massive characters can spend two adventure points (if using the SoftMax Hack where AP are roleplay tokens) to bypass the minimum damage, but only if they can justify it given a unique circumstance such as a narrative or environmental factor.
  • Alternatively, they can bypass minimum damage by achieving some secondary objective.



The core mechanic of the M&M hack makes it so that massive creatures are not just extraordinarily high MR creatures; they are a unique threat. Even a relatively low MR massive creature can be a threat to a relatively high-level party. Even if the party could defeat the monster(s) in direct combat, they are encouraged to tread carefully.

For instance, an MR 9 creature would have 9 adds (if using the optional rule to double HP/dice/adds for MR), meaning that while they would only have 2 damage dice, they will always deal a minimum of 9 damage. This is essentially a level 1 monster, but considering that a starting character will only have around 10 HP on average, and given the slow rate at which HP is gained (derived from CON, so current CON * 10 XP cost per unit increase), even what is essentially a peak level 1 monster (MR 0-9 being roughly level 1) will be dangerous even to experienced adventurers. 

The optional rule to give massive creatures double the HP, dice, and adds for their MR is also meant to reinforce the idea that massive creatures are something special. You could just as easily ignore this mechanic, and give a massive creature normal stats and choose MR accordingly, but I think this rule of thumb reinforces the idea that massive creatures are more powerful, while still allowing you to apply a roughly similar logic to how you choose what MR to make your massive creatures. So if you have an idea of how your party can hold up against an MR 4 creature, that gives you somewhat of a sense of how they can hold up against an MR 4 massive creature (but again, you could just as easily make the massive creature MR 8 without this optional rule for a similar effect).

The optional rules for bypassing the minimum damage are meant to encourage GMs to design massive combat encounters in interesting ways with various environmental factors like difficult terrain, dangerous falling debris, obstructive civilian NPCs chaotically fleeing for their lives, etc., and encouraging players to interact with this environment. The core mechanic isn't just a matter of logistics, but also narrative framing, and the two should go hand-in-hand. A massive creature is more dangerous because they are massive, but narratively this could be reflected as their sheer size making them unavoidable, or it could that the debris, destruction, and general chaos they leave in their wake is nearly unavoidable, or it could be having to deal with rioters and opportunists along the way. So even if the party is strong, they need to find high ground, or get away from the crowd, or find the indestructible magic shelter, or get the civilians to cooperate, or something like that, if they stand any chance against the massive creature. 

Because I'm trying to make my Aquarian Dawn campaign a little more grounded, I don't know if I'll end up using this mechanic too soon (although knowing me it'll devolve into gonzo soon enough). If I do, it will likely be that the massive creature is intentionally way outside their weight-class, rendering these mechanics more or less moot, and focusing more on the massive creature as an environmental hazard and vehicle to tell a "grounded" story about disasters. These mechanics might be a better fit for facing off against MADs, or the Meat-Hive Mecha of the "Bees" of the Blue Moon, or the spawn of Mother at the Gate, all from my Phantasmos setting, or for gravity-bending naval / aquatic / aerial combat between pirates, privateers, massive monsters, and technomagical ships in Vortekka

Some of those are really old posts that may or may not actually hold up to my current standards 0.o...

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