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October 24, 2009

Fiendish Editorial Content

Fiendish Words - editorial content

Back in the day

A trip down memory lane, to the days when I did lots of role playing, using the Tunnels & Trolls rule set.  Reprinted from Take That You Fiend! (TTYF!) 23, from some time in the early eighties.

In 1983, Ken St Andre popped over to the UK to appear at Games Day. While there he was accosted by a spotty oik who thrust a couple of copies of TTYF into his hands. The editors of TTYF were 'over the moon, Brian' when Ken sent the remains of his British currency and asked to subscribe. John Harrington then spent the next 6 months sending TTYF air mail to the wrong address in Arizona and wondering why KStA was not responding. Eventually we got an issue to the right address and made our apologies for not sending him issues for so long and then we really pushed our luck. We asked him if he would take part in a postal interview to be printed in TTYF. Like a fool, he agreed.

TTYF: I remember being surprised to read once that you worked in a library. Do you still have a day job or are you now earning a full-time living out of games?

Ken: Yes, I'm still a bookperson for a great metropolitan library system. I begin to doubt that I will ever make enough money to support myself in gaming.

TTYF: So, how do you feel about having to do 'proper work' for a living? Would you like to become a full time games designer? Do you secretly harbour plans to emulate E. Gary Gygax and take over the world?

Ken: I've always wanted to take over the world, but the last few years I've felt that it's not really worth the effort. Emulating E. Gary, however, has always been far from my thoughts and ambitions.

TTYF: What is your relationship with Flying Buffalo? Are you freelance or do they have first refusal on any new stuff you come up with?

Ken: Strained. They pay my royalties and publish my games - when they feel like it. I still support them, but don't feel like I get much in return.

TTYF: It seems to me that Flying Buffalo is becoming less wacky and more aggressively commercial these days. Does this concern you? Do you think that it could have ramifications on the future of Tunnels & Trolls, which has always aimed at being cheap, simple fun?

Ken: Yes, FBI is becoming more commercial and is having some small mass market success. They need a lot more. I don't expect much impact on T&T.

TTYF: How much control then, do you have over T&T's development these days?

Ken: Almost none. The mythical 6th edition of T&T is likely to remain mythical for a long time to come, There are some articles and hints about what it may contain appearing monthly in TnT.

TTYF: No doubt you have many regrets about the design of T&T. Being the second role playing game on the market has left it vulnerable to the possibility of becoming out of date as new FRP systems flood out month after month.

Ken: The 5th edition of T&T, which is what most people have now, was the state of the art in 1979 when released. If I didn't feel a need to improve it I wouldn't be talking about a mythical 6th edition. However, I see new RPGs every year and with the exception of Stormbringer and Call of Cthulhu, I don't think any of them are as much pure fun as T&T. As for changes, if I were redesigning T&T you would see a more powerful magic system - not based on lists of spells, but instead put tog- ether on general laws of magic. There would also be an advanced combat system something like Crimson and Gold, but using the speed attribute to measure phases and determine order of who hits who in combat.

TTYF: Interesting that you would get rid of the lists of spells. Do you regret the "silly" spell names? What do you say to people who refuse to play T&T because of this frivolous aspect?

Ken: **** 'em If they can't take a joke! I still feel that the T&T spell names are as good or better than any others on the market. They are descriptive and amusing. There is a rationale for them being slightly silly. And besides, they are a game mechanism, like saving rolls, not an integral part of the T&T world.

TTYF: This question really does sound like "Dear God" but could you explain for us and the Chelmsford gang we regularly play with, how you intended the "Hidey Hole" spell to work?

Ken: Hidey Hole is a field phenomenon generated by the wizard who cast it, It is cent- red on him, or on whoever it is cast on, and moves with that person, It is very powerful for a second level spell. It used to be a first level spell. Low level wizards need something powerful or how are they going to live to become high level wizards?

TTYF: Outside of playing games, what other interests do you have?

Ken:  In order of importance: sex, travel, movies, science fiction and fantasy reading, computers, sports, work at the library and about a million other things. Really, an intelligent person should be interested in almost everything. I just don't have time for it all.

TTYF: The temptation to totally reverse the meaning of that last question after seeing your reply was almost irresistible, we must be getting boring in our old age, Let's see instead if we can elicit any scandal. How much contact do you have with other games designers from other companies. How do you all get on?

Ken: I am on a first name basis with a lot of the big names in the US. Don't know many from other parts of the world. I tend to be friends with RPG designers, not board gamers . I can't stand 'L.P' [decided to hide the name - GE] for example. My best relations are with Chaosium: Greg Stafford, Steve Perrin, Sandy Peterson, There may be scandals around, but I don't get to enough game conventions to find out what they are.

TTYF: Yes, 'Mr P' has a column in The Dragon's sister mag over here (Imagine). He has all the writing ability of Joan Collins' left earlobe but his style is by no means as decorative. Imagine was a good magazine but rumour has it that it wasn't doing the business on the news-stands so they will be plunging downmarket to slug it out toe to toe with White Dwarf. This could indicate that the FRP bubble has burst and companies like TSR are trying to reach new markets, what with the garish official plastic D&D toys. Do you think such developments will drive out some of the hobby's founding members or that the hobby will implode?

Ken: Nothing ever dies out. There are still blacksmiths for gods' sake, and people who wear armour and knock each other off horses with sticks. People are still playing the same crude board games they had in ancient Egypt (*JH ..and calling them Kensington and charging a fortune for them.) No, FRP won't die. But the golden age is already past. It will become less and less important, The true future of the art is in computers, and the true money also. Which is why Flying Buffalo has been trying hard for the last 4 years to get Coleco to come out with the computer version of T&T. Role playing games may be increasing in popularity and viability in England, but they are over the hill here.

TTYF: I found the T&T companion game "Monstersl Monsters!" quite useful in giving guidelines on how certain creatures could be played in T&T but it didn't go far enough. While it is a good part of T&T that you can personalise monsters (i.e.; roll up Strength, IQ, etc.) in the same way "normal" characters are, there is still a dearth of information on the special abilities of certain creatures (as evidenced by my next few questions). I'm not suggesting you go to the excesses of creating thousands of contrived monsters for inclusion in Monster Manuals, but is there any chance of a book on these lines for the T&T world?

Ken: Monsters! I think the Fiend Factory in White Dwarf is absolutely ridiculous! I'm against Monster Manuals! Bestiaries, yes, manuals, no! I'm enthralled and delighted when someone makes up a new monster and springs it on me in a game. I only encountered purple death hippos once, but it was great! I'm sure there are some gamers in Texas who'll never forget the giant poison frogs I sprang (literally) on them, Gamers, create your own! Don't rely on others. If all else fails, use the D&D Monster Manual and give them monster ratings for T&T.

TTYF: That told me! So, tell me. Do trolls turn to stone in direct sunlight or not?

Ken: Some do, some don't, At any rate, it isn't a permanent change. Trolls regenerate, so by the next night they would overcome the damage of being turned to stone and would gain mobility again. However, all my trolls tend to avoid direct sunlight, using a large parasol if necessary to go about by daylight.

TTYF: Using a parasol leaves a troll open to accusations of being a 'nancy-boy' but who's gonna be brave enough to accuse him of it? Another query (if you'll pardon the term so soon after talk of "nancy-boys"); how do you, as a GM, play ghosts? They appear to have no conventional means of combat.

Ken: Ghosts are vulnerable to magic attacks, including enchanted weapons, and they may only do damage by magic attacks. I haven't seen any ghosts for several years in T&T playing, though they were there at the beginning.

TTYF: I generally have ghosts making what the Champions super-hero RPG would call a "Presence Attack". Players make a saving roll to see if they retain the contents of their bowels and if they fail it they are 'Mind Foxed' for x turns. There could be a case for ghostly magic then. Even more so, I would suggest there is a case for faerie magick, Although inherently magical creatures, fairies have such low strength they are incapable of doing most of the Ist level spells.

Ken: It is reasonable to assume that there is a special Faerie magic. The rulebook only covers human spells for the most part. Each kindred has magic unique and peculiar to itself, but that would be a long book. (*JH: If TSR were publishing it, it would be several long books.) Faerie magic is generally on too diminutive a scale to be noticed by men and other large beings. Who would be impressed by an 'Open Flower' spell? Kindred magic, hinted at in the special powers of Leprechauns, would be covered in more detail in the mythical 6th edition.

TTYF: Back to the subject of personalising monsters. The Peters-McAllister chart imposes maximum values for attributes of certain creatures, For instance, most quadrupeds have a maximum Dexterity of 3. This mal-affects their combat adds whereas in fact a tiger, for instance, would be very agile in combat (even if it is lousy at opening locked doors). Similarly, some types, e.g.. giants, are certain to be beserkers because of their unfavourable IQ modification.

Ken: Peters and McAllister didn't make the chart limiting the dexterity of animals. I did. If you check the rules carefully I think you'll see that ordinary animals suffer no penalty for having a max dexterity of 3. Were-creatures do because it is disorienting to change forms. Usually, other attributes more than compensate. Since dexterity is specifically defined as manual dexterity plus hand-eye coordination, things without hands can't have much. They could have tremendous speed attributes to make up for it. The mythical 6th may contain an Agility attribute to reflect some of what you say.

TTYF: Of course if you suddenly introduce a new attribute into the game system it causes problems with characters who have been around since the year dot. You could create an Agility rating for established characters by taking an average of Dex and Speed, perhaps. Going back to berserk giants et al, how can any FRP game realistically handle a battle between a 4' dwarf and a 2' giant?

Ken: We always try to role-play the situation. Obviously giants and dwarves don't stand up in hand to hand combat. Still, the amount of damage they would do if they hit is represented proportionally in T&T at least.

TTYF: What's your favourite colour?

Ken: Eight.

TTYF: Was it deliberate policy to leave religion out of T&T, or an oversight?

Ken: Yes, it was deliberate policy to leave religion out of T&T. As explained in the history of Rhalph, the Great Wizards who survived the Wizards War at the dawn of history have gone on to become the "gods" of the world. Other so-called gods, such as Lerotra'hh the Death Goddess abound, but are obviously false gods to anyone who isn't part of their cult. Miracles and magic are so common that the ability to work them doesn't constitute godhood. There has been a good deal of criticism of the lack of organised religion in the T&T rules, but I happen to believe that the world would be a lot better off without most of its organised religions, and that's the kind of place I wanted for my fantasy adventuring.

TTYF: Given that it is probably the religious aspects which are causing most upset with the Moral Majority, can we assume that religion won't be included in any subsequent versions of the rules?

Ken: Yes, I have no particular pantheon I want to foist on anyone.

TTYF: Getting near the end of this interrogation now. Are you relieved?

Ken: My fingers are tired, andl I think I'll eat some breakfast soon.

TTYF: There is a tendency in Britain among those who call themselves 'serious role players' to abandon commercial role playing systems and design their own. Would you recommend this course of action to experienced players (after all, it's what you did!) or do you think it is important for everybody to have some ground rules to enable players to hop around from one GM's campaign to another?

Ken: Yes. The main pleasure of FRP is that of creation - creating a character, creating a world, creating a game system - it's all the same high. If you can create a better game system, more power to you! On the other hand, everyone should have at least one copy of Tunnels & Trolls, if only to give you an example of how it's done (or a bad example if you are a D&D person)! And no one should be afraid to try someone else's system. You may get some ideas!

TTYF: Thank you Ken. You may have your breakfast now. Conclusions from the interview. Ken seemed a bit more voluble in reply to the questions specifically to do with T&T and it is obvious that he has lost neither his enthusiasm or his belief in the game. It would seem, also, that while Ken feels a revised edition of the rules is not necessary, it is desirable. There are lots of areas into which the rules could expand but this might be at the expense of the aims of providing a compact, simple, fun system, Perhaps a Companion book is the answer, even if it does sound like the dreaded Basic D&D and Expert's (sic) D&D.

(Note: The mythical 6th edition rule-set never appeared in print, but a 30th anniversary 7th edition is now available.)

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