Review: Tunnels & Trolls 7.5

tt-coverYesterday I received the Tunnels & Trolls (T&T) 7.5 edition box I ordered from Flying Buffalo Inc. (FBI). This review will summarize my impressions based on a first partial reading and some experiments with character generation and the included solo adventure.

In summary there are quite a lot of things I love about this edition, a few things that might be improved (8th edition please) and some product decisions I find discussable. Content-wise T&T 7.5 is a great old school game that includes all the benefits of more recent indie games as far as simple mechanics, freeform rules and easy customization go. Definitely a good game to get newbies into role-playing and as great for old timers who do no longer have the time to read through rules manuals with hundreds of pages before they can start a game.

Here come the details…

Since there already are excellent reviews out there (for example here) I only will concentrate on the features and problems I find particularly noteworthy.

The presentation

T&T 7.5 is shipped in a small almost pocket book sized box. The mail rulebook itself is spiral bound and also of pocketbook size. I love the format although I’m usually a fan of hardbound manuals. But this format is incredibly handy and the spiral binding makes it a breeze to flip through the rules. Great for a fast pickup game of dungeon crawling. I also loved the huge amount of stuff in the box: The main manual, an extra monster manual and spell compendium, a solo adventure, a group adventure, counters (although IMHO completely useless for the game itself they are still nice to look at and might help new games to get into the right mood), four dice (although much to small – I immediately added the cute troll dice from edition 5.5 which I like much better), character sheets and a full color world map. Feels very good although the box is a bit too crammed and hard to get closed in a way that it stays closed.

The layout of the books is decent enough (B&W throughout) and the writing is easy to read. So thumbs up on almost all aspects of the visual presentation.

The rules & the writing

I love’em (the rules). They a re a great mix of old school and indie thinking – and T&T was there first. You get an ultra-fast character generation, a very simple combat system and a unifying saving throw mechanism that can be used for everything you might think of. The talent system – a neat addition for some more detail – is trivially grafted onto the saving throw system. And the magic system also builds on these concepts. That’s it. A simple and elegant unifying mechanism that leaves a lot of room for freeform gaming and improvisation. Rules modifications are also very easy to do and the system seems to be extremely robust when tinkering with it. Highest marks from me on this point – T&T is – despite its age and it being the second RPG ever produced – a remarkable design and for me it’s a credit to its strengths that the core mechanisms did not change since the early 70s.

The move towards a level based system where the levels are based on how you increase your attributes with adventure points for me also is a perfect change (and probably the most remarkable that was introduced in the 7th edition, 7.5 gets the AP costs for increasing attributes right) because it enhances the gaming experience a lot. Increases come early and often and there is a feeling of accomplishment that IMHO perfectly suits the tunnel crawling experience and leaves room for a lot of character customization.

The writing is casual and often humorous. I like that. There are still some contradictions in the rules which I do not like too much for edition 7.5 but since those contradictions are trivial to resolve this is not a major problem. Some contradictions and weird rules include:

  • The level benefits explanation on page 38 seem to imply (at least to me) that your level may only be added to saving rolls that are using level attributes (quote from the last paragraph of the right column: “But wait! Luck is a level attribute for warriors: Gimor is a first level character and therefore entitled to add 1 to every saving roll attempted.“). ALl the other examples show that you can add your level to all saving rolls if you otherwise would have missed the target number. A minor mistake but one that confused me a bit since this was the actual first example that showed the rules in action and thus was impressed into my memory most intensively.
  • A surprisingly large amount of equipment is much too expensive to buy initially. Not having a real sword is surprising. But it’s T&T since ancient times so I shouldn’t complain. A small hint would have been nice that a very decent explanation for all the rather exotic weapons included in the equipment lists follows a couple of pages later. The stuff is so exotic that it really might disturb newbies.
  • Missile combat seems to be too difficult – I picture whole armies of archers that fail to hit anything at 100 feet because even with a DEX of 18 a level 3 saving roll (30-18 = 12) will work only 1 in 12 times (or so – and most archers in an average army probably would not have an 18 DEX).
  • The game balance of the solo adventure is way off.
  • The character creation examples do not use the new character sheets included in the box and in the back of the main manual but rather a version from previous rules editions. Change that.
  • The rules texts sometimes refer to the 7th edition. We now are in 7.5. It sometimes is irritating because you get the impression to work with inconsistent updates.
  • The FAQs in the appendix should be more clearly integrated into the main rules.

Room for improvement

There are a few things that could be improved:

  • Add an index.
  • The gaming tokens – while nice to look at – IMHO are otherwise useless.
  • Unite the spell compendium with the main rules. It does not make too much sense to have two manuals in one box for that. The same could be said for the monster compendium – I wouldn’t mind to have but one thicker manual with everything. My guess is that problems with the spiral binding prevented that from happening, but if that’s not the reason for having three manuals instead of one I always would go for one.
  • Add a solo adventure that is actually fun. I hate being killed at every corner. That’s not fun. Especially since the random deaths are simply unfair. And yes, I consider myself an old school gamer, who likes a tough dungeon crawl. Nonetheless my time is too valuable to spend 10 minutes on a character who will almost immediately be killed by unfair design. That’s just plain stupid and a waste of resources. I build a minotaur with quite hight strength (38) and constitution (30), equipped with a big axe, started the solo, was told that I had no equipment (excuse me?), two paragraphs later stumbled upon the wandering monster table, was attacked by one giant ant (and there might have been six) and stood no chance at all in that fight. With its monster rating of 100 it just wasted me (11d6+50 against my 6d+30 or so even in fully equipped state – and the text said that I had no equipment and then I additionally noticed that I had no idea about how unarmed combat works).

My wishes for an 8th edition

Nothing is perfect, neither is T&T 7.5. Here are my personal wishes for an 8th edition:

  • Keep the spiral binding but go for full color. If costs seem prohibitive, publish 8th edition through Lulu.
  • Publish one rules manual and limit yourself to a maximum of 224 pages (preferrably below 200) and at all costs stay with the current format. It’s great.
  • Combine the monster compendium and the spell compendium with the main rules. It will save space and make for a more complete appearance.
  • Add a simpler solo adventure as an appendix to the main rules.
  • Add a simple group adventure (like the Buffalo castle of old times) to the main rules.
  • Add an example of a map to the main rules, keep Trollworld history as an appendix like it is but add some encouragement and examples for players to design their own worlds. It’s so incredibly easy to do that with the T&T rules that it would be a shame to neglect that aspect.


Tunnels & Trolls 7.5 is a great game for both newbies and old hands. The rules are simple, concise and leave enoromous freedom. Adventure design is a breeze, the opportunities are endless. Buy the game and try it. A manual that you can read in an afternoon is a resfreshing change compared to all the huge tomes that seem to be the craze of the day – I loved it since it allows me to concentrate on the actual gaming experience. On a scale from 1 (worst) to 10 (perfect) I would rate it 8.5, 9 with a better solo adventure included.

One Response to “Review: Tunnels & Trolls 7.5”

  1. Ken St. Andre  on May 3rd, 2009

    One thing I want to clarify about the 7.5 package is that the monster compendium and the magic compendium both came along way after the rules design and are by various hands. They show nicely how anyone can increase their gaming materials with a little imagination, but they’re not core to the game design.

    And yes, a better, easier solo should have been packaged with the rules. That was not my decision. Fiery Dragon had something new by me, and so they stuck it in there. I’m gonna think about what should be and entry level solo, and see if something can’t be changed on that.