Days of High Adventure
A Visit to Trollhalla: An Interview with Ken St. Andre

James Maliszewski | 17 Sep 2009 21:00
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Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson released the first roleplaying game, Dungeons & Dragons, in 1974, creating a worldwide sensation and laying the foundations for an entire hobby. Following in their footsteps was a public librarian named Ken St Andre who, in 1975, released the second RPG ever published, Tunnels & Trolls. Though never as popular as D&D, T&T found an enthusiastic audience and earned many accolades for its elegant rules design and innovative game mechanics. No less a luminary than Greg Stafford, creator of the world of Glorantha, setting for RuneQuest, dedicated the game to: "Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, who first opened Pandora's box, and to Ken St. Andre, who found it could be opened again."

Ken was gracious enough to answer a few questions I put to him about T&T, game design, and related topics.

How did you become involved in tabletop roleplaying?

I invented it for myself when I wrote up my first version of Tunnels & Trolls. I had a vague idea of what to do from browsing through the earliest D&D rules one night. Clearly, it was a story-telling game. One person was the storyteller, the players were the characters, and the rules sort of determined what would happen.

Do you consider "roleplaying game" and "storytelling game" to be synonymous?

Roleplaying and storytelling don't have to be synonymous, but considering the roots of FRP gaming, I think they should be. If you don't feel like a character in a story, then what's the point of playing? Thus, you'll find that the best game supplements and adventures all seem to have strong story lines embedded within them. The storyline can be as simple as explore the dungeon, or as complex as save the world. T&T does tend toward the simpler end of the spectrum, but we've had some complex world-beater adventures too.

To be a character in a story doesn't mean you have to be the hero. You might be the trusty companion, the person in need of rescue, the wily trader, the spy, the traitor, the mastermind's pawn or minion, but your character has a role in the story, and if you don't play the role well, then the story suffers. If the story suffers, then the enjoyment of all involved with the story suffers.

If a roleplaying adventure is a story, where does randomness fit in?

Randomness is very important in roleplaying games. It interjects those sudden turns of fate that control the story. Not all stories end happily. Horror stories, for example, usually end badly for the protagonist. Some scenario designers have one particular story they want to tell. I'll use an example from my own work. The "Hot Pursuit" adventure is the story of how brave adventurers tracked the Scorpion Men to their desert hideout, rescued the villager's daughter, and made their escape. On the other hand, "Hunting Party," also by me, is the story of how some adventurers go hunting. They can meet anything on the way, don't have to rescue anyone. Both are stories, but the first one has a plot, the second one doesn't.

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