Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls: An interview with Ken St. Andre

Tunnels & Trolls: Cover (provided by Ken St. Andre)

Tunnels & Trolls: Cover (provided by Ken St. Andre)

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls, I started roleplaying in the early 1980s. I tried all available editions of „That Other Game“ and some more, but Tunnels & Trolls (Schwerter & Dämonen in German) was the first roleplaying game that was not like a strait jacket for our imagination.

TnT is for me the best and ahead of the times ROLEplaying game ever. If you do not believe me compare your modern RPG system with the game by Ken St. Andre. You find very often similarities (Task levels, Saving Rolls, etc.).

Yes, I like other games and today I play them more often than this classic, but there is no love like the first one.

Trollgod Ken St. Andre was kind enough to answer my questions. Take that you fiends … Hello Ken St. Andre, please introduce yourself and tell us about your gaming experiences.
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: (Strikes a pose, wearing Trollgod’s hat, smiling.) Hello, Ingo. You like to ask impossible questions, don’t you? I think I would say I have always been a gamer. My father taught me to play chess when I was 6 years old. My first board game was Monopoly, and I promptly changed it into a race game–not about buying property at all, but about getting around the board fastest with traps on the railroads, corners, chance and community chest spots. I started gaming clubs in high school (chess actually). I invented a version of Nuclear Risk long before the game creators did. I learned to play Diplomacy in Graduate School and invented several science fiction and fantasy Diplomacy variants. (You could look that up. Some of them are still findable on the internet.) When That Other Game came along at the end of 1974, and I first heard about it, I knew that I had to learn and play that game. But when I finally actually saw a copy, I couldn’t understand it. I understood quickly enough what they were trying to do, and how the dice worked into it, but the way they did it made no sense to me. (I had almost no experience with miniatures gaming, and all the insistence on moving in inches was wasted on me.) So I went home and made my own version of That Other Game with rules that made sense to me. Then I got my friends to try it out, and it was a hit. Gaming experiences: I’ve had thousands of gaming experiences. It seems to me that real gaming, as opposed to sports, is more about people getting together and enjoying the challenge that the game provides–not so much about winning as doing one’s best in a competitive situation, and enjoying the company of the other people and the imaginary situation created by the game. Please give us an elevator pitch of the upcoming Kickstarter funded Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls.
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: Tunnels and Trolls is fantasy role-playing the way I like to do it: quick, with real-life humor built in, solidly based on logic, attributes, and good role-playing. The Deluxe version will combine the best ideas from all previous editions and also reveal a lot more about Trollworld.

Tunnels & Trolls: Lerotra'hh (provided by Ken St. Andre)

Tunnels & Trolls: Lerotra’hh (provided by Ken St. Andre) What will make this edition of Tunnels & Trolls special? Any rules changes or more details on Trollworld?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: There will be some rule changes, but that’s not really the reason we’re doing this. T & T works no matter which rules you use to play it. There will be a lot more about Trollworld. Geography, history, kindreds, notable characters–this will be the best look ever at a world I’ve been developing for almost 40 years. And, it’s not all me. The fans and players have had a great deal to do with the growth of Trollworld, and for the first time ever everyone will be able to see some of those non-St. Andre parts of the world/game. What is the best part of Tunnels & Trolls and what is the most critical in your opinion?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: I think T & T has the best task resolution system in gaming: with saving rolls based on the appropriate attributes and talents. I think the doubles add and roll again part of the saving throw mechanic is pure fun and always gives the players a chance to succeed. What is the secret or reason behind the funny or parodic undertone of the game? There are spells like Take That You Fiend (damage spell) or Poor Baby (healing spell) etc..
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: I guess that’s just me. Those spell names tend to be the kinds of things you would hear people saying in such situations. If you’re striking at an enemy, then „Take that you fiend!“ is the perfect exclamation. If you’re sorry for someone who is hurt, then „Poor baby“ implying both sympathy and a certain sarcasm toward someone who got hurt (and it’s probably their own fault) is just the right thing to say. I did not look at spell names from That Other Game when inventing the first spells for T & T. I simply imagined names that had both a descriptive and a comedic element to them. Later on, we came up with the story of the Wizard Wars that wracked Trollworld for hundreds of years and left the common people greatly afraid of any magic-users. To set the people’s fears at rest, the wizards did such things as changing spell names to more humorous versions–one doesn’t really fear the things that one can laugh at. But, mainly the spell names are the way they are because I always try to see the funny side of situations, and the funny spell names just seemed like a good way in injecting some humor into magic.

Tunnels & Trolls: Cover (provided by Ken St. Andre)

Tunnels & Trolls: Cover (provided by Ken St. Andre) There are no Clerics or Priests in T & T. Ok, there were some rules for Priests and Acolytes in the long gone Sorcerer’s Apprentice magazine (# 17). But why there are no divine forces in the rules?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: There are no special rules for clerics and priests in T & T simply because I’m not a very religious person. Sure, there are such things as priests on Trollworld, just like there are blacksmiths and sailors and apothecaries and spoiled noblemen and courtesans, but it didn’t seem to me that we had any need to make them into special character types. A priest could be a wizard, a rogue, a citizen, or even a warrior. The fact that she worships Nook-Nook the Fish God doesn’t really matter to the play of the game. Your game is very deadly compared to other RPGs and Magic is extremely powerful (or marvelous) in Tunnels & Trolls – even for low levels characters. How do you deal with this deadly force.
Non-Spellcasters seem to have no chance against magic. Not everybody has a high wizardry (Kremm). We house-ruled some kind of saving rolls.
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: You know, that’s just the way it is in any real world. Some people don’t have much chance against other people who have superior knowledge, skills, weapons. I wouldn’t last 5 seconds against a skilled wrestler if I had to fight one. In 7th edition I made a rule saying no one could cast spells directly on another being that had a higher WIZ attribute, but a lot of people don’t like that rule, so it will become optional. It is also possible to protect against magic by wearing certain wards and talismans. All a character has to do is acquire them somehow. I think one of the strength of T & T is the simplicity of the rules and the openness for house rules. Did you design it this way or is this more or less coincidence?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: In the beginning I did not sit down and say I’m going to design a game that is simpler than That Other Game. I just designed a game that made sense to me, because That Other One didn’t. After that things just evolved and continue to evolve. Some people claim you said in the 1970s about Dungeons & Dragons: „What a GREAT idea, and what a LOUSY execution!“. What did you mean and what do you think about the game and whole hobby (industry) now?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: Yes, I really said that back then, and I have repeated it many times since then. I now realize that Dungeons & Dragons evolved from Miniatures play, and makes perfect sense when thought of as a kind of variant of tactical miniature gaming. Tunnels and Trolls did not evolve from that. It came from by desire to play through heroic fantasy adventures in a storytelling fashion. I still think T & T is more about storytelling and less about tactical wargaming.

As for the gaming industry today, it has grown into a vast and wonderful thing. On the whole I love it in most of its various forms because it really brings out the creativity of people, and also helps bring people together in friendship that cuts across barriers of age, race, gender, and nationality. Finally, some fun and quick questions. We start with: Role playing is …
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: Role-playing is . . . like sex. When you have the right partner or partners, there is nothing better. Your favorite Kindred? You prefer Warrior, Rogue, Wizard or Warrior-Mage?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: Kindreds are different types of people. My favorite has become Trolls. I think people have the wrong idea of what trolls really are. They are a kind of Earth Elemental, stronger and purer than most other kindreds. They are to humans what tigers are to house cats. After Trolls, my favorite kindreds are Elves, Human, and Dwarves with a sneaking sympathy for Goblins.

My favorite character type would be Rogues because they cross all the boundaries. Rogues have more mental flexibility than Warriors, Wizards or Citizens. I imagine myself to be a Rogue sometimes–not really a warrior though I sometimes love to fight; not really a wizard but I can sometimes do magic, not really a good follower, or even a good leader, but a person who adapts to the situation he finds himself in, and usually finds a way to win through it.

Tunnels & Trolls: Toughest Dungeon (provided by Ken St. Andre)

Tunnels & Trolls: Toughest Dungeon (provided by Ken St. Andre) Do you prefer Kindred/Monsters with stats or Monster Value?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: The way I see it, Monsters have monster ratings. Whether it is a rat with a monster rating of 6 or a dragon with a monster rating of 2000, we never worry about their personalities. They are just obstacles to overcome. When you give a monster individual stats and attributes, you change it from a monster to a character. On the whole, I prefer characters to monsters. You prefer Gamemaster or player?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: I can do both, but I’m more of a Gamemaster than a player. The GM never gets bored. Players often have to wait their turn to be the active one. A great GM can keep all the players active and engaged at the same time. What are the key ingredients for a great game?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: A great GM, players who are willing to share, and a comfortable place to do the gaming. A design tip for established or upcoming game developers?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: Heh! Do as I say, not as I do.
What is your favorite role playing game of all time and in recent years?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: Tunnels and Trolls is my favorite rpg. Everything else is a distant second. Sorry, I like my own stuff the best–if I didn’t, I would have probably quit doing this decades ago. Favorite game designer and/or artist?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: I don’t think I have one favorite. I have many friends in Gaming, and I tend to like the ones I actually know personally better than the ones I don’t know. I think Greg Stafford of Runequest fame has always impressed me as the most original thinker in the field. Favorite artist: whoever is turning my dreams into art at the moment. However, Liz Danforth is, imho, the greatest T & T illustrator of our time. I get the best ideas for my games when … or I am most creative when … ?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: I get the best ideas for my game when I am reacting to something that I don’t like or that makes little sense to me. A lot of game ideas start with me saying something like „There has to be a better way of doing this . . .“ Thank you, Ken St. Andre. Anything else you want to share with the fans?
Ken St AndreKen St. Andre: Thank you, Ingo, for giving me the chance to share some of my ideas with your readers. I just want to say that it isn’t game rules that make great or memorable games. It’s the players and the play.

I dedicate this interview to my dead friend Martin (RIP) and to the other original Tunnel Trolls Thomas, Jürgen and Gregor. Beware of the shape changing wizard-dragon …

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls Kickstarter

All images provided by Ken St. Andre 24 January 2013. Used with permission.

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