Flying Buffalo, and Tunnels & Trolls, have been a GenCon fixture for 40 years and one of the only companies that has stayed the course for publishing a consistent and recognizable RPG since its first edition. While often designated as the second role playing game to ever see real publication, game designer Ken St. Andre told me that it is indeed the second to be published but the first to be officially copyrighted, citing his experience as a writer and librarian giving him the foresight to get that set in stone.
I talked to Ken for a bit about the history of T&T and how it has evolved over the years, but maintainted its integrity as a fun and easy to learn system that encourages roleplay and storytelling over tactics and rules minutae. It was a treat to meet someone who is considered one of the forefathers of RPGs and tabletop gaming, and hear him talk with such love and emotion for his game after all these years.
With the deluxe edition, and the 40th anniversary of T&T being at GenCon, a new game developer, MetaArcade, previewed the early stages of a digital version of Tunnels & Trolls with the adventure Naked Doom. It will run on iOS, Android, Mac and PC. While I do not yet have a confirmed release date, since the game is in the earliest of stages, I did get to play a demo of it and being an old-school tabletop and PC gamer I can tell you it was very cool. Tunnels & Trolls is a very basic system that harkens back to a time when there was no such thing as prestige classes, endless rules supplements, or expansions for days. The game is, as Ken puts it, "The game I wanted to play when I first heard about Dungeons and Dragons." The game by MetaArcade has captured that essence, and then some. It feels like the old text-based adventures some of us used to play before the days of graphical adventures like King's Quest. The modern elements added to the game are slight, and do not distract from the very classic feel of the game.
You start with a quick introduction to the adventure, as if playing a real tabletop RPG, except the DM is your favorite mobile device or PC. You create a character, based on the very simple stat mechanics of T&T, choose a race, class, name, and you're off to explore what is quite simply a death trap. It is the adventure your most sadistic DM created to keep his players on their toes, with barely a chance for survival, so that winning feels like a real feat.
The game itself is simple. Imagine Zork, or your favorite text-based game or choose-your-own adventure book. You are presented with a very classic image from the adventure to set the tone, and a text description of what is happening. You choose to move in a direction, run, or save based on the events in the particular scene. Your decisions effect the course of the game, just like those old books with the white covers that we all loved as kids. If you come to a scene that needs a roll, a save or check, the game then brings in a very simple 3D dice roller, casting d6s across the screen to show you your role. It is one of the few modern elements to what is essential a very old-school style adventure game.
I was taken back to a time where I played Zork, or Leather Goddesses of Phobos for hours, trying to map where I was going and remember everything I'd read to navigate a game that was nothing but text. It was nostalgic in the extreme, but also fun. The preliminary story seems to be going in a good direction to be interesting, but again it was just an early preview of the game.
The coolest part, as I talked to the guys from MetaArcade, is how they plan to expand this into a sort of open market for creators and writers. Basically the game will also include a free modding tool, which will allow people to write their own adventures. You fill in the text, the choices, rewards and consequences, and even your own images if you want (though they supply images to use as well) and upload it to the community platform. MetaArcade will give it a once-over to make sure there's no plagiarism or anyting else outside the bounds of the ToS, and they'll publish it for you. The great part is if people buy and download your adventure you'll make money on it, much like the Steam Workshop they said.
That's not the best part though. Much like the creator's vision of how the industry should work, MetaArcade is letting the creators of these adventures keep all rights to the IP in regards to the adventure story and text. The ruleset and such of course remains the property of Flying Buffalo and MetaArcade, but if you choose to take the story and characters of your adventure and write a book, short story, screenplay, or anything else they're yours to do so. As Ken described it to me, anyone that wants to make something for T&T can do so, all they have to do is ask and credit the right people for creating the game in the first place. No need for an OGL, or any of that business. It's a model that has served Flying Buffalo and Mr. St. Andre all these years and it doesn't seem like they care to change it now.
So, keep an eye on MetaArcade <http://metaarcade.com> for updates on the Tunnels and Trolls game. If you are an old-school gamer like myself, or just enjoy a good text adventure, you just might like what these guys are doing.