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Author Topic: [Tunnels & Trolls] Half-elves are poncy nancy-boys  (Read 14091 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: July 08, 2003, 11:27:41 AM »

Hello,

See previous threads [Tunnels & Trolls] Killed me a player-character (spit) and [Tunnels & Trolls] Second level characters. We've played a couple of sessions since my last posts about this game.

The mayhem continues, room by room. All the characters can see third level kind of winking in the darkness ahead of them. Me, I liked the fight in which the vampire picked up one of the dwarf characters by the ankles and and used her to beat the shit out the other dwarf character. Kind of a fun in-game justification for why, in T&T combat, damage gets split evenly among members of the losing side ...

What else to tell you about the events? Karn the dwarf warrior got cursed into a troll (Monster Rating and all) who's compelled to keep the first level clean. Henk the hobbit is just as psycho as ever; I especially liked her muddy bare footprints all over the vampire's clean white table linen and polished flatware. Julie has learned always to announce that Dorcas the dwarven wizard picks up her staff after dropping it. They've figured out quite a lot about the background of the dungeon, but are currently negotiating and fighting their way about the second level, among weird ancient ghosts, a tribe of pacifist trolls (who do not consider hunting and eating "food" to be violent, regardless of the food's opinion), and a really annoying, vicious vampire with a werebat sidekick.

Now, I'm not used to running long-term, dungeon-oriented play. I was afraid it would be too much like I (probably wrongly) imagine video game design to be, which is to say, map & stock, carnage, map & stock, repeat. However, that's not what it's like at all. I'm learning quite a lot about how to be a GM whose mandate, frankly, is "kill the characters within the parameters of these rules." And yes, in Tunnels & Trolls, they're not kidding. That's what you do.

You see, that dynamism I mentioned in an earlier thread applies even more generally than I thought. It's not only about simple encounters-logistics like how does this trap work, how much cover are the half-elves shooting their arrows from, etc. That's pretty straightforward in this game. The larger-scale strategy issues are much more important than mere tactics. A lot of you are probably going to find the following obvious and old-hat, but it's new to me in terms of having fun instead of degenerating into the Hard Core.

1. Now that the first level has been largely "pacified" by the characters, control of the dungeon space is now a priority. They're setting traps to waylay newcomers after a bad experience with punkish half-elves doing some delving of their own. After all, people have noticed that our heroes keep heading out into the woods with goats in tow (don't ask), and coming back with no goats and lots of money ... Let's see, they also have set up some personal headquarters in a defensible area of the first level and established control over certain resources like the firebelch mushrooms. And of course, dungeon denizens nearby are eyeing the newly-cleared real estate as well.

Now, expand this issue into a multilevel situation, and it's clear that controlling access from level to level is also a major issue. In many ways, the characters aren't just exploring the dungeon, they're conquering parts of it as well - and holding what they've gained is just as important as venturing into new territory, or even more so.

2. Getting back and forth between dungeon and town, once you're delving deeper and deeper, is a big issue! In T&T, you also get EPs based on what levels you visited, so hitting the exit periodically is a really good idea. Oh, and you don't regain CON, except through magic, unless you get back to town, and the wizard is always hot to get there so as to buy new spells. So it's always wise to think in terms of "turnaround point," which is to say, not going as far or as aggressively as you might, because you know you need to get back to the surface. This becomes much more difficult to calculate as the group delves further down, both in terms of timing (i.e. resource management) and in terms of assessing risk (who knows who doing God knows what in the levels above you, before you come back up).

3. As Tod put it during our last session, "The trouble with allies is that you don't get EPs for not killing them," or something like that. In other words, in T&T, it's wise to try to get at least a couple of the potential foes on your side, to help out in terms of both points above. But it's also crucial to keep killing things in order to keep the advancement going. I'm kind of interested to see whether the players start strategizing in these terms, i.e., whether they assassinate allies who don't seem too useful any more.

4. Players have to be careful to work toward their characters' strengths, which means being aggressive about stating actions that'll call for Saving Rolls. GM-originated Saving Rolls will almost always be based on LK, DX, or IQ, which really aren't this group's best side. They do way better with CON, STR, and LK, which means they have to remember to announce stuff like, "I brace my back against the support pillar to crack it and bring rubble down on them!", or "I leap about shouting more nancy-elf slurs!" (That's a paraphrase; I'll spare you the actual slurs generated by my three diversity-insensitive players), or else be hosed.

5. Here's a question for those of you who've honed your skills over the years with this mode of play. Say you're one of the players, and that the in-game mortality is such that everyone should probably have a stable of characters, not just one guy. How do you cycle PCs in and out, to keep the "new guy" up to snuff?

Right now, we have three second-level characters getting really close to third, and two of them have unused backup characters they haven't touched since the initial character creation session. Do you think the players should give Karn, Dorcas, and Henk a bit of a rest and take up with their green "alternates" for a while, so as to beef them up? That way, they can strategize "which guy to use" with each stopoff back at town as well as have a solid fallback character available should any particular one of them bite the dust (which is quite possible next or any session, especially given what they did to Baron Blevic the vampire's dinner setting).

See, I really hate the technique of suddenly finding a fourth-level character when your fourth-level dies, because that event should be a loss in Gamist terms, dammit, not a cha-ching, keep playing with New Guy For Free. Similarly, I also hate the idea of keeping a bunch of NPC party members around for the players to take over when their PCs die (I've seen whole parties ending up composed of GM-originated characters). I want strategy in there, based on "stable management," in full knowledge that a dead player-character (a) is likely, (b) represents a lost investment, and (c) requires a little thought to the stable. The higher-level the PCs become, the more important all of this gets - the player who rockets one guy up to 8th level is going to be mighty pissed at starting over with a 1st-level rollup, whereas the player who's husbanded three or four PCs to third-or-fourth level each is in much better shape in the long term.

6. And finally, one major GM consideration I've discovered is how to keep the heat on as the characters improve. I'm not 100% satisfied with merely scaling Saving Rolls and foes upward. I mean, that's part of it, but if that's all, then you might as well forget about advancement and play 1st level against 1st level foes forever. No, it's gotta be based on that expanding dynamism principle. The band of half-elves is a good start, as is the inevitable inspection (by whom? heh-heh) of whether Karn is doing a good job of keeping the first level squeaky clean (he's cursed, remember?).

All comments and questions about these issues are welcome, because I'm still learning. We're talking about whacked-bastard Gamist play, with a lot of intra-party cooperation and an above-board, adversarial players/GM relationship, but not Hard Core at all. Negotiations about the rules are completely absent, and "can I try ...?" questions are extremely rare. Played a lot of this? Wondering when and how it can be fun? Ask & tell.

Best,
Ron
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #1 on: July 08, 2003, 11:57:03 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
See, I really hate the technique of suddenly finding a fourth-level character when your fourth-level dies, because that event should be a loss in Gamist terms, dammit, not a cha-ching, keep playing with New Guy For Free. Similarly, I also hate the idea of keeping a bunch of NPC party members around for the players to take over when their PCs die (I've seen whole parties ending up composed of GM-originated characters). I want strategy in there, based on "stable management," in full knowledge that a dead player-character (a) is likely, (b) represents a lost investment, and (c) requires a little thought to the stable.


Do it like it's done in videogames. Allow players to spend (EP? Gold?) resources in order to "save" a character. If the character dies, they can restore to their save point (or plunk up a new character equal to the "saved" character in ability).
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #2 on: July 08, 2003, 12:10:35 PM »

Do it like it's done in videogames. Allow players to spend (EP? Gold?) resources in order to "save" a character. If the character dies, they can restore to their save point (or plunk up a new character equal to the "saved" character in ability).

Car Wars used to have this. There was an initial cost to have your character cloned, and then whenever you felt like paying more money you could have the clone updated with your current memories (i.e. skills). There may have been an upkeep cost as well, for keeping the clone alive in suspended animation.

Paul
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hanschristianandersen
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« Reply #3 on: July 08, 2003, 12:42:22 PM »

Have you considered having the "backup" characters come along and act as a rearguard patrol that keeps the upper levels pacified while the "main" characters delve ever downward?  

I don't know much about T&T, so I suppose this might violate the game's assumptions about the meaning of one town->dungeon->town round trip.  But if it's fair game, it would give the backup characters some more screen time (and experience points!), as they "admonish" those poncy nancy-boy half-elves for their trespasses.

This doesn't even have to change the "turnaround point" dynamics much - the first time the players start to take their rear-guards for granted, you just flash your best evil GM grin and say "Everyone, roll spot/perception/notice-the-big-nasty-sneaking-up-on-you checks for your backups..."
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« Reply #4 on: July 08, 2003, 01:01:43 PM »

Jared's suggestion is exactly what is done in Rune.  Robin Laws doesn't even bother to justify it in-game.  It's pure metagame.  My biggest concern for Rune was that it was (IMHO) too cheap to save your character.

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ADGBoss
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« Reply #5 on: July 08, 2003, 01:05:29 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

5. Here's a question for those of you who've honed your skills over the years with this mode of play. Say you're one of the players, and that the in-game mortality is such that everyone should probably have a stable of characters, not just one guy. How do you cycle PCs in and out, to keep the "new guy" up to snuff?

Right now, we have three second-level characters getting really close to third, and two of them have unused backup characters they haven't touched since the initial character creation session. Do you think the players should give Karn, Dorcas, and Henk a bit of a rest and take up with their green "alternates" for a while, so as to beef them up? That way, they can strategize "which guy to use" with each stopoff back at town as well as have a solid fallback character available should any particular one of them bite the dust (which is quite possible next or any session, especially given what they did to Baron Blevic the vampire's dinner setting).

See, I really hate the technique of suddenly finding a fourth-level character when your fourth-level dies, because that event should be a loss in Gamist terms, dammit, not a cha-ching, keep playing with New Guy For Free. Similarly, I also hate the idea of keeping a bunch of NPC party members around for the players to take over when their PCs die (I've seen whole parties ending up composed of GM-originated characters). I want strategy in there, based on "stable management," in full knowledge that a dead player-character (a) is likely, (b) represents a lost investment, and (c) requires a little thought to the stable. The higher-level the PCs become, the more important all of this gets - the player who rockets one guy up to 8th level is going to be mighty pissed at starting over with a 1st-level rollup, whereas the player who's husbanded three or four PCs to third-or-fourth level each is in much better shape in the long term.

6. And finally, one major GM consideration I've discovered is how to keep the heat on as the characters improve. I'm not 100% satisfied with merely scaling Saving Rolls and foes upward. I mean, that's part of it, but if that's all, then you might as well forget about advancement and play 1st level against 1st level foes forever. No, it's gotta be based on that expanding dynamism principle. The band of half-elves is a good start, as is the inevitable inspection (by whom? heh-heh) of whether Karn is doing a good job of keeping the first level squeaky clean (he's cursed, remember?).

Best,
Ron


With regard to Point 5.  The most succesful part we had with this was a RuneQuest campaign where we had captured a cave complex and set up shop.  (Gloranth fans, it was the Newtling Complex, my character became their king).  Players who were not present and Second teir characters lived in the base camp, as opposed to Pavis so that they could go out on their own and gain experience or be there if our primary characters were off doing whatever.

What I might suggest is that the backups spend all their time in the newly acquired base camp on level 1. That way they are there if needed, and can not only be used as a quick backup in the case of doom, but also can be slowly shunted into the Plot.  The lower level guys can get captured, leave the camp undefended to get drunk, all sorts of things.  

As a word of warning (which you may not need but I always throw it out there) is that Players, in my experience, always LOVE their backup more then the original.  Especially true if the back up was created with a better understanding of the game system then the original.

For reading purposes, check out the original Dark Sun world setting books for AD&D 2nd Edition.  A Character "Stable" was the recommended mode of play for that particular setting.

Concerning Point 6

In traditional experience, there are two methods of uping the voltage:

A) Food Chain.  In the fantasy world, there is a food chain of species that are increasingly fewer in nmuber (generally) but more powerful in stature. A Kobald is weakest, Goblin ext weakest etc... and this is true to an extent though one wonders why the lower levels have not all been exterminated.

B) Named NPC. This is how Everquest and many MMORPGs do it. YOu have Goblin Whelps, Scouts, Punks, MEanies, Sergeants, Warriors, and Goblin Elites, plus Shaman and LEsser Shaman and Great Shaman, same type of creature but like the PC races they gain levels or power and move on up as it were.  This seems more plausible.

However, far more satisfying is altering the nature of the threat.  One group of goblins may move in to steal valuable gems or mine them. Hobgoblins may be awakening a dark god.  Were-Turtles may be hunting for a lost treasure or their young.  Variety of opponents with a variety of tactics combined with a few solid advesaries who grow with the Players, maybe a Troll that stays one level ahead of the PC's.


Just my 2 Lunars


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Alan
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« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2003, 04:10:11 PM »

Hey Ron,

I found this in T&T 5th ed. Section 1.2 The Basic Game, column 2.

"...it is recommended that the GM keep the number of players in his party small - two or three players with up to four characters apiece is ideal.  "

"... the GM should query each player separately for *each* character." (My emphasis.)

I read this to mean that each player brings more than one character into the dungeon at once.  This seems supported by the file-card size of the character sheets included with the game.  

This would then provide a stable of characters which all advance at the same time.  

I was thinking of playing the game with 3 players and 3 starting characters per player, all entering the dungeon at once, for a total of 9.  When two of a character's stable is killed, they can bring in one 1st L character the next time they go to town.  

How's that?
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jdagna
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« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2003, 04:39:57 PM »

I don't know much about T&T, but my classic solution in WFRP was to let hirelings be a PC-replacement stable.

This has two distinct advantages.

First, it let the player take over NPCs, but not just any random GM-created one.  If the player wanted a human mage for his replacement character, he hired one.  If he wanted someone orphaned by an orc attack, he looked around for one and hired him.  I was fairly generous with letting players pick their replacements, but really unusual requests might take longer to find or be unavailable.

Second, the stronger the hireling, the more you had to pay him.  In WFRP, the book gives a cost of 10 GC a day per career.  Since most PCs don't make that much money themselves until they're fairly successful, having anyone of real talent in your "stable" was a costly investment.  Having someone equal to the character could cost 20 or 30 GC per day.  The money paid to the hireling then got used by me (the GM) to buy that character sensible equipment (with an appropriate amount spent on ale and whores).  Thus, the money wasn't entirely lost, but it was made unaccessible to the PC.

Hirelings mostly sat around and guarded whatever home base the PCs had.  If they got brought along on adventures, I played them, and they would demand a share of the loot (making them that much more expensive).

And I also found players becoming more fond of the stable characters than their original.  In fact (to throw out a total tangent) it was this realization that made me favor random character generation in the first place.  The "otherness" of a random character (or an NPC taken over by a player) seems to build them up as a much more defined individual than a character made by the player from scratch.
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ethan_greer
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« Reply #8 on: July 09, 2003, 05:23:31 AM »

Shadowrun has a service that characters can buy that basically keeps a clone on retainer for if you die.  You stop in periodically and give them a brain tape, and then if you die they retrieve the body and restore you to your last save point.  If these details are fuzzy, that's because I've never read them - just saw a guy in a Shadowrun game get dusted and subsequently restored.

So, for T&T, couldn't there be a similar organization that serves this purpose?  When they go into town, they stop off at the Ressurectionists Guild, magically save up their experiences (for a fee, of course), and then when they croak, their companions (assuming there are some survivors) lug the guts back up to the surface, pay another fee, and viola - restored character at last save point.

Just a thought.

Oh, and using the service would be optional; not all players might want to spend the money.  In which case the other ideas mentioned here might come into play as well.
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #9 on: July 09, 2003, 05:45:32 AM »

Quote
If these details are fuzzy, that's because I've never read them - just saw a guy in a Shadowrun game get dusted and subsequently restored


Brief comment on this before turning to the main point: Unless this was something new, or something old (1st Ed. and got dropped) it's not canon. You can get replacement limbs and organs from a clone, but you cannot be cloned entire with the intent of "total replacement". Shadowrun is Sim, not particularly gamist, where a character would particularly want to be replaced in this manner. It was likely the particular GM's solution to the same sort of questions that Ron is asking here.

For what it's worth, I'll add my own experiences on the main topic at hand. I've never run any sort of game where the idea was to actually kill the PCs, but I've played in some rather high-body count D&D games. The DM's solution, when a character died, was to roll a die whose sides numbered closely with the deceased characters levels. What you rolled was what level the new character was. This meant that it was possible to get a character of the same level as what you had before, but it was iffy, and the likelihood was of something lower, possibly even 1st level.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: July 09, 2003, 08:21:51 AM »

Hi there,

I should explain a little. Here are my parameters for my last couple of points.

1. No rules changes. I'm playing 5th edition T&T, period. So that means anything goes within what's offered.

2. No breaks from me. I'm not going to invent a "clone spell" and make it affordable. All strategies, rules-use, and insights are going to have to come from them.

So ...

No "taking over" NPCs by players, whether hirelings or introduced by me.

No starting new PCs at ramped-up levels. You wanna be tough in T&T, you play that character and earn it.

But! All kind of cunning is welcome. Whatever the players decide to do, as long as it's rules-consistent, is OK by me. They've already surprised me a few times with their cleverness, even with the limited resources available to low-level characters.

The suggestion that seems to make the most sense at the moment is to start playing more than one character simultaneously, right there in the party. It's not prohibited by the rules, and Alan even found a couple of textual points to support it.

What I really want to do, you see, is turn the heat way up. That means a few NPCs with full attributes, not just Monster Ratings; using spells against them, especially in vicious combinations; in general, making up terrible stuff that can numerically kill their PCs with no particular "solution" that I've carefully hidden somewhere. The more details and the more variety I throw in, the more likely they'll come up with entirely novel solutions through sheer ingenuity and guts. Like I said, they do this already, but I wanna unleash The Tunnels & Trolls Experience on them in pure gangbuster style.

Oh yeah! One more point. T&T play is rife with pure meta-puzzles, posed as barriers and/or potential death-traps. You know, "There are four doors, one red, one white, one green, and one blue. George wants the maiden behind one of the doors, but needs the Dragon-slaying Sword to kill the dragon guarding her. It's in the room with the troll, and ..." Anyway, the point is to name the doors in sequence, and you get clues like, "The troll's room is not next to the vampire's room," and "the maiden's room is at one end of the row," and "the Sword is not behind the red door." You know - standardized-test-qualitative questions.

In T&T, these are usually combined with hideous puns and all manner of cartoony fantasy jokes. It's pure metagame, you see. Characters don't roll IQ Saving Rolls; the players have to puzzle it out.

Well, they don't like it much. To be fair, when I play a character, I actively hate it - but that's looking back on situations when I was playing stealth-Narrativist in largely railroaded scenarios. So my goal, rather than to eliminate this aspect of play (it is so heavily encouraged in T&T, after all), is to make it damned fun somehow. Kind of an interesting challenge.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #11 on: July 09, 2003, 09:44:59 AM »

This is a classic imponderable, Ron, as I'm sure you're aware if you think about it in those terms. Specifically, how does one make it so that one can pose dramatically threatening (i.e. life-threatening) situations to characters and not have the downside of characters dying regularly? No answer. Either the loss condition has to change in which case the the drama is lost ("eh, just drag me to the temple for a resurection") and as you say it's no longer really the loss condition it ought to be, or the players have to accept character death which is a drag, and can lead to players falling out of the game. Because going back to first level won't work given the level differences.

Why should a player rotate his characters through if he doesn't care about this, however? That is, it's a gamble to play the same character over and over and never to beef up the backup character, but that's what's fun, right? We want the drama of that gamble. How undramatic is it to go back to play the first level character up a couple of levels knowing that they're only a safety net anyhow, and not the character "in the lead"? And how many backups can I prepare? As many as I want? Basically characters just become a resource that you are building up via play to ensure...what? That I'll be able to continue to play? That's no fun. "Winning" is going up levels, and that means pushing the same character to new heights, not making backups.

Besides, if I run out of characters, can't I just start over playing again from first level? Nothing wrong with that in the player's mind, you see. The only problem is that he won't be able to play with the same party due to the level diffferences. Basically, backup characters are being introduced as a safety net to maintain play with the same group. Which seems an odd part of the win condition. Basically backups become good conservative tactical play, something that I don't believe the text is implying should be part of play. Wouldn't that be drift?

And, heck, if all the players play without backups, as they seem to be doing in this case, if the majority fall to first level via death, won't the players with the high level characters just make up backups and play with the lower level characters again. This is what I've observed happens in effect in most games like this. That or players are just expected to suffer through playing with the high level characters.

Here's a sorta solution to illustrate inductively. IIRC, there's no win condition in T&T (or is there one already). Meaning that, like D&D, you're playing a Gamist game with no end in sight. How about this? Players play to be the first to score a five player point score (modify to taste to suit the campaign length desired), or have the highest score when any character reaches level 10. Points are scored for going up a level. One is lost for each death. Deaths are followed by the player recieving a new character of the same level. So it's a setback in terms of winning, but not in terms of power.

Or, if you want team play (and less players assasinating each other), make it a team goal to score points equal to 5 times the number of players, and that the team loses if it occurs that all the original members have died.

The point is that in this case, death is problematic and undesirable to the players without it affecting their ability to participate. As you require, death becomes a "loss". OTOH, it's not at all part of the game as written, so if you don't want to go outside the rules as you've stated, I think you're stuck with an impossible to solve contradiction. If you don't create a metagame reason to avoid death, then the only way to penalize it is by allowing it to be the potential game-ender that it is in normal play as written.

Mike
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Rod Anderson
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« Reply #12 on: July 09, 2003, 09:57:00 AM »

Ron,

Quick response to the "puzzles" thing. My first instinct is to suggest making the puzzles not-so-pure metagame by making their content relevant to the backstory or assorted mysteries of the dungeon. In my most successful D&D3 dungeon, which was the temple/hive city of a reviled cult, a couple of puzzles had the rationale of being contingency plans for the cultists to gain access to potions, scrolls and money in case they needed to escape. So you have this cycle of "PCs learn backstory, which gives them clues to solve a puzzle, which pops out a cash reward as well as more backstory".   Even in the more traditional "whacked-out wizard builds gonzo dungeon" scenario, word puzzles can be platforms for him to air his grievances in crabby rhetoric. That's a possible direction to go.

If you have any interest in learning about puzzle design from videogames, I would point you to the '97 game "Riven" (sequel to Myst) for some of the best puzzles in my experience. Play it, or simply flip through the published hint book to get the goods on how its puzzles work. Admittedly, Riven takes lengths to make puzzles seem like a congruous part of the environment that may be out of place in T&T -- it's more "austere and classy" than "bawdy and outrageous".


Rod
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Alan
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« Reply #13 on: July 09, 2003, 10:22:32 AM »

Hm.  How about letting players run more than one character at once, but awarding Adventure Points on a per player basis?  The player decides which and how many characters to take on each run, and how to distribute AP earned among them.

Thus grooming a replacement (or cannon fodder) becomes another kind of resource to be managed.
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #14 on: July 09, 2003, 12:33:26 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
No starting new PCs at ramped-up levels. You wanna be tough in T&T, you play that character and earn it.

That's the hard one - in D&D, the solution I've seen work best is to make death hurt - you come back with a character a few levels below everyone else - but it's just not practical to always start 'em at 1st level.

Now, I don't know how linear the T&T XP system is, but another trick I"ve seen used is that if you are below the rest of the party in levels, you gain XP at an accelerated rate.  A sufficiently non-linear leveling system doesn't even need a accelerated rate - if a new 1st level dude can survive even one fight mixed in with the 6th level folks, he'll gain a level right there.

On the puzzle solving - my only helpful advice here is know your players, and give 'em puzzles in areas that they like and/or are good at.  Like, maybe I'd put some kind of Genus/Species/Family puzzle in a game that Ron was playing in.

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