I've noted many times before on this blog that one of my great regrets as a gamer is that there are games about which I had irrational prejudices back in the day, prejudices based largely on what the older guys I knew said about the games in question. While I eventually came to realize that the "wisdom" those older guys imparted was often half-baked, their influence over my opinion nevertheless remained for a long time. For that reason, I was unforgivably snobbish toward Ken St. Andre's Tunnels & Trolls for far too long, considering it a "silly" knock-off of Dungeons & Dragons. I know better now.
And yet, like RuneQuest, T&T was -- and is -- a roleplaying game that fascinated me, even as I turned my nose up at it. Even now, I'm not entirely sure why that was. Some of it, no doubt, was a symptom of my formerly regular bouts of dissatisfaction with D&D. In the past, I used to find some aspect of Dungeons & Dragons annoying or uncongenial and I'd start to look about for alternatives to it. Another part of it, I think, is that Tunnels & Trolls seemed to exist in its own little world, by which I mean that its players and authors alike were quite content to simply do their own thing without apology. Don't like T&T? Think it's a "joke game?" Fine, whatever. Your loss. I've never met an evangelical T&T player, the kind of guy who goes on and on about how great his preferred game was, let alone how much better his game was than yours. They were always live and let live and, even in my younger, stupider days, I found their attitudes attractive.
That's probably why, despite my frequent protestations to the contrary, I'd occasionally looked in on T&T to see how the other half lived. This was made even easier when a friend of mine bought a copy of the fifth edition boxed set sometime in the mid-80s. Though I questioned his wisdom in "wasting" his money on such a purchase, I was secretly glad he'd done so, because I knew it'd give me the chance to read the T&T rulebook at length on my own, something I'd never done before, instead relying on furtive glances at it in stores or at local game gatherings. This helped me begin to overcome my irrational dismissal of the game (though the spell names still rankled, I can't deny), though not enough that I'd embrace the game in any lasting way.
In addition to the rulebook, my friend's boxed set also contained an adventure called Buffalo Castle. Buffalo Castle is a solitaire dungeon, first published in 1976 and written by Rick Loomis. It is, so far as I know, not only the first solitaire dungeon for T&T but the first solitaire dungeon of any type in the hobby, predating the Fighting Fantasy books by six years, which is quite an achievement. (The first Choose Your Own Adventure book was written in 1969, but did not see publication until the same year as Buffalo Castle; I have no idea if Loomis had seen a copy when he wrote his solitaire or even if the idea of solo adventures originated with him.) My old dismissiveness initially returned for a time, seeing solitaire dungeons for "real" RPGs (as opposed to gamebooks) as somehow beyond the pale, but my curiosity was powerful and I eventually borrowed Buffalo Castle from my friend and played it.
I can't, in truth, say that Buffalo Castle is an amazing adventure. It's a rather limited -- and small -- dungeon crawl designed to be played only by fighter characters (no magic allowed). There are only about 150 entries in the whole 32-page book, most of them only a sentence or two long. Yet, there was something strangely compelling about it nonetheless. A surreality perhaps? This was a dungeon, after all, where you can find not only bored trolls guarding chests but also octopi and, yes, an enraged buffalo. There are deathtraps galore, as well as treasures like magic aspirin and diplomas from the Buffalo School of Dungeon Delving. This was nothing like the dungeons TSR published or that I imitated so studiously in my own games. This was different.
I wasn't sure that I actually liked what made Buffalo Castle (and, by extension, T&T) so different from what I was used to, but I wasn't sure that I didn't like it either. The whole thing was so bizarre, so odd, that I don't think I ever sorted out my feelings toward it, except that I was pretty sure T&T was never going to replace D&D in my gaming group. And so it was. As I got older, though, my gaming style and preferences changed and I often found myself including bits of incongruous humor and weirdness in my adventures here and there, generally without rhyme or reason -- something to break up the staid seriousness that is the primary color of my imagination. Such oddities are still spices in my porridge rather than the main ingredients, but they're there nonetheless and, once upon a time, they weren't.
Looking back now, I can't help but wonder if the seeds for this change were sown by T&T and Buffalo Castle without my realizing it.