Tuesday 29 September 2020

[Review] T&T Adventures Japan

Couldn't they find a better place
 to hang out?
Tunnels & Trolls is the second oldest role-playing game on the market: its first edition was released in 1975 as a more accessible alternative to Dungeons & Dragons. Like "the world's most famous fantasy roleplaying game", it had a renaissance lately culminating in the massive, Kickstarter-funded Tunnels & Trolls Deluxe edition in 2015.

T&T Adventures Japan was released in 2018, along with the similarly themed Free RPG Day ruleset, which has the very same mini-rules along with a single solo adventure. If you thought this is an oriental sourcebook, you couldn't have been more wrong: T&TAJ is a tribute to the Japanese fandom, collecting art, manga, and adventures from their TtT Magazine.

While only 64 pages long, T&TAJ is packed with goodies. It starts with a manga about four adventurers on a dungeon crawl. The way it delivers rule explanations is a bit cringy, but nevertheless it's an amusing piece. You'll see more of them on the following pages.

The cartoon is followed by a mini T&T ruleset which explains character creation for four races (humans, elves, dwarves, fairies) and three classes (warriors, wizards, rogues), combat, saving rolls, advancement, and magic up to level 5 before it ends with random treasure generator and a bunch of character sheets - including pregens for the protagonists of the introductory manga. The actual rules take no more than 10 pages, and they do a fine job at explaining T&T's core mechanics. For those unfamiliar with it, combat usually boils down both sides rolling a bunch of d6s and adding their bonuses, then the loser takes the difference as damage. There are some cases of individual effects, like the Take That You Fiend! spell.1 Though the mini-rules might lack long-time appeal, they are enough to get your feet wet and run the adventures that follow!

The first module is Kitten-Napped, a GM adventure2 that throws players right into the whimsy! The party is hired to rescue a merchant's daughter, who was turned into cat, and kidnapped by a troll. To achieve their goal the adventurers have to infiltrate the troll hideout shrunken to tiny size, and face such dangers as spinning fans, giant-sized small animals, goblin cooks, a troll herding cats, and mundane heights that become deadly in the PCs' current condition. The author covers several ways the players can pass the challenges, and gives plenty of old-school advice for running the adventure - including punishing the players with Luck and Charisma penalties if they don't take the mission, rewarding only those who contribute to a solution, and generally allowing the players to move on if they came up with a good solution instead of asking for unnecessary saving rolls. While I don't agree with all of these, I appreciate the message. Woe to those who think XP is a participation trophy, woe to the fans of milestone leveling! Kitten-Napped is a 1-2 hours long adventure with 9 rooms illustrated on a flowchart instead of a traditional map. It's a delightful piece that captures T&T's lighthearted tone and simple gameplay.

The Guru Sylvia is well equipped
to brainwash people.
The second module, The Secret Order of the Eye, is even more comical than Kitten-Napped. It is a solo adventure where your character infiltrates a newly risen cult to assassinate its leader, a scantily clad dark elf sorceress. This is a bit more comical in tone than the previous adventure, and has a surprisingly large roster of NPCs who can be befriended or murdered. I feel kinda bad for killing brainwashed imbeciles who will gladly accept you among their ranks and trust you with all kinds of tasks, but if you get too attached and helpful your PC will have a harder time fighting the cult leader. and can even end up brainwashed. In latter case the character sheet is added to the guards as a possible foe for your next PC! That's a harsh reminder of your earlier failure... Solo adventures aren't my cup of tea, but The Secret Order of the Eye was a pleasant surprise with its interactivity, and its need for fine balance between murderhoboing and charity for success.

The last module is Journey to the Black Wall, another GM adventure. The party has to escort a weird sorceress and her servant through the wilderness, while two of her nemeses will try to thwart her journey. The whole fuss is about some teleporting shoes the sorceress wants to deliver to her disabled sister. This is a linear escort mission, with long and campy dialogues between NPCs, typical anime boss monologue by an NPC, over the top battle scene between NPCs, and almost total lack of character agency. It's like if someone gathered the worst adventure design advice and mixed it with the worst clichés of mangas and jrpgs. While Journey to the Black Wall has some intriguing elements, like the slight Wizard of Oz vibe, the sorceress and her daughter being skeleton men3, and unusual magic items, these aren't enough for redemption. It is a series of cutscenes broken up by some rolling, not an adventure.

The book ends with a manga starring the pregens once again, a short overview of what can one expect from dT&T, and some more T&T ads. Did you know there are free T&T adventures for iOS and Android? Seems like a good way to waste time on the way to the office...

T&TAJ does nothing extraordinary. The writing is forgettable, and sometimes the translation feels awkward. The layout gets shit done, but doesn't go the extra mile to help you find important details qucikly. There are small issues that bothered me probably more than they should, like references to spells and items not included in the book. The only thing I can't complain about is the art: both the cover art and the black & white interior are well done - I dare to say some of the latter are downirght stunning. Despite its faults I enjoyed the book immensely thanks to its amusing ideas, quirky humor, and amateurish charm. T&TAJ dares to be fun, which put me in the mood of giving it a shot.

Rules system: Tunnels & Trolls
Publisher: Flying Buffalo
Publication date: 2018

Format: magazine
Size: letter-size
Pages: 64

Available from:
Noble Knight Games (print)
 DriveThruRPG (pdf)
A charming and entertaining
basic set for T&T.

1 I won't go into details about game mechanics. For those curious, there is a free rulebook on DriveThruRPG that has the rules, a solo adventure, and a GM adventure.
2 T&T differentiates two kinds of modules: GM adventures are your usual GM-ran modules, while solo adventures are akin to Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.
3 Skeleton men are like Nehwon ghouls: cannibal humanoids with transparent flesh. The two sisters in the module use bodypaint, mask, clothes to hide their true nature.

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