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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Some GMs, like Larry DiTillio, are adamant about the story they are telling. They will twist whatever you do into the story that the scenario is meant to tell. Larry is a great GM--his tales are always highly amusing and exciting, but the players have no freedom. Other GMs discover the story as they play the adventure, I tend toward the second way of doing things. I set up a situation, like the dragon hunting situation I'm running now, and wait for the players to make the story. That's my entertainment as GM, finding out what story the players will tell me.

Gamer legend has it that Tunnels & Trolls was your attempt to do Dungeons & Dragons "better." Is there any truth to this?

I don't know about "better." When I created T&T, I just wanted this kind of game that I could play with my friends. None of us owned D&D or had any idea of where to get it. None of us had the miniatures, the multi-sided dice -- heck, we had never even seen dice that didn't have 6 sides.

T&T is what we'd today call "rules light." Why did you choose this approach to its design?

I didn't choose any approaches. I was in a fever to get a game I could play. Tunnels & Trolls grew as the ideas occurred to me or my friends. Even back in 1975, I just did what seemed logical. Weapons for example: Weapons do damage to health. Health was covered by the Constitution attribute. Bigger weapons do more damage than smaller weapons. A little logic, a lot of guessing, some basic research into medieval weapons.

Since 1975, T&T has gone through several editions but the game hasn't changed in huge ways since the beginning. Given that, what's your perspective on "evolution" in game design? Do games "evolve" and become "better" over time and, if so, how does that happen?

I believe that games do evolve. Tunnels & Trolls has evolved tremendously since I scratched out my prototype in 1975. Evolution is incremental. In the real world, certain traits help creatures survive, and they pass those traits and/or mutations down to their offspring. In the gaming world, players learn better ways of doing things over time and the game changes into a form that allows it to survive with a new generation of gamers.

How has T&T evolved? The original game only used saving rolls with Luck. Over time, we began using it with other attributes like Strength, Intelligence, or Dexterity. Now we use it with talents, that aren't even attributes but are special skills based on attributes. That's evolution from simpler to more complex.

Early versions of T&T paid for magic use with Strength. That always felt just a little bit wrong. In version 7, I rewrote the history of Trollworld, changed the magical paradigm of the planet, and now we pay for it with Wizardry, and it requires an intelligence saving roll to actually cast the spell. The basis of magic in Trollworld is more clearly understood now.

I'm not sure that game evolution always makes them better over time. I suspect that in cases where game evolution takes a wrong turn, the game either dies out, or reverts to a simpler form.

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