Sunday, December 27, 2009

More Wisdom from Ken St. Andre

In a comment to my retrospective on Tunnels & Trolls, author Ken St. Andre noted something that's worth repeating. I'd intended to draw everyone's attention to it when he first made the post, but, in all the hustle and bustle of the last few weeks, I neglected to do so. With a moment to spare, here it is:
If the monster is too tough for you in a straight up fight, then you do something sneaky and underhanded using magic, or saving rolls, and beat it by role-playing. Alternatively, sometimes the best solution is to simply run away. Or, you might try talking to that troll. Some of the best game situations start with a character saying, "hey, you're just the guy I've been looking for." to that big baddie that just appeared.
That's good advice when playing any old school RPG, not just T&T, and it's something I've tried very hard to take to heart when refereeing.


  1. A key element to this on the referee's side of the table is remembering that not all monsters encountered will be implacably hostile. OD&D covers this nicely, with the simple reaction roll table being part of the standard encounter procedure. However this often gets elided or forgotten, for example S&W, for all it's qualities, does not include this.

  2. I wish some players would take it to heart when playing...

  3. I was surprised that S&W does not have the reaction roll table in it, but I never owned the original set. My players learned long ago that sometimes it is better to run away. They rarely try to talk to monsters, though. I should try to incorporate that, somehow.

  4. This advice may have saved my group from the 50% casualty rate it suffered recently.

  5. Great advice, and great role-playing. Combat is hardly the only, or IMHO the most enjoyable, activity the characters can engage in. Also, wise players will realize that the world will contain things that are beyond their combat abilities. But not all players will realize that, or agree.

  6. 1st time post, long time lurker.

    I have to agree with St. Andre: sometimes the best course of action is to NOT fight. Evade, trick with magic, or (God forbid) TALK to the monster/NPC.
    Case in point: Against the Giants. Ran the Hackmaster version a few year ago (not too different BTW). IF you recall, a group of orc slaves are fighting for their lives to escape the Hill Giants and their Bugbear allies. When the party met up with the orcs, the orcs were in combat with the bugbears.

    At first they didn't know what to do. Should they help the orcs? Fight BOTH sides? Leave them be? They decided to aid the orcs and after the fight, the party was able to find their way to the end (with a uneasy truce BTW).

  7. Also a long time lurker...

    I think the decision to fight, or evade, or talk also has a lot to do with the tone that the DM sets for his campaign. If a DM sets up the standard that every time a troll is encountered it is snarling and leaps immediately to attack the PC's then the PC's will learn that they should also attack immediately and gain surprise if possible. However, if sometimes trolls can be reasoned with then the PC's MAY respond accordingly.

    Also, if a GM gives a great deal of monster EXP then the players have incentive to kill the monsters but not to make friends. This is obviously another reason to use the Gold = Exp system for DM's who want to set a variable expectation system for monster encounters. Your players will begin to try and study monsters and figure out their motivations before stepping forward to encounter them (at least to screen out the monsters who view PC's as nice tasty treats :).

  8. sometimes trolls can be reasoned with then the PC's MAY respond accordingly<

    I think there are some things that can't be reasoned with. Trolls are one of those things. They just want to eat your head and that is that.

  9. Brunomac - not to go off topic, but it depends on the kind of troll. The ones that live under bridges to collect tolls, for example. They do still want to eat you, but there are other things they want, too.


  10. @ Brunomac - Your response captures what makes playing in lots of different campaigns so interesting.

    In your campaign trolls just want to eat your head and that's it - in Ken St. Andre's they might be reasoned with - in Colin's campaign we may have a couple of different species of trolls some that could be reasoned with and some that are bloodthirsty brutes that only want to eat your head.

    When I am DM'ing I (sometimes) try to introduce each species of monster in such a way that sets up player expectation as to how they would react to different circumstances. Some monsters I just fling into the campaign without much explanation, but sometimes it is fun to let the PC's spot a creature from afar - observe how it's actions, and then come up with a plan on how to deal with it. Especially if the creature is way above the power level of the PC's and a direct attack is out of the question or the PC's are already hurt/low on resources and are looking to bypass without confrontation.