Simple Fighting Can Be Complicated

One of the most common requests that I get is for more combat examples.  This short essay is taken from the preface to the Battle School solo adventure I’m currently working on, and I have enhanced it a bit for this occasion.  I hope it will help clarify how Tunnels and Trolls combat is meant to work during a game.


The battle scene is from my unpublished novel Rose of Stormgaard, and not from the solo, but it should give you an idea of the kind of melees that ofter occur in T & T games.


Combat is the heart of any role-playing game system.  T & T combat is simpler than most, but you need to completely understand the system to use solo dungeons effectively.

Every fighter in Tunnels & Trolls gets a number of six-sided dice (hereafter call D6) and another number called combat adds.  The total rolled on the dice plus the combat adds equals the combat total.  During a combat round, each fighter will roll their dice and obtain their combat total.  Then, opponents compare their totals, and whoever has the lower score takes the difference in damage which is called “hits”.  Example: Jax the Uruk has a scimitar rated at 4D6 + 3 and combat adds of 12.  Roland the Knight has a broadsword rated at 3D6 + 4 and combat adds of 15.  When these two fight, Jax rolls 1, 1, 5, 6.  His combat total is 13 + 3 + 12 = 28.  Roland rolls 2, 2, 6.  His combat total is 10 + 4 + 15 = 29.  Roland wins that fight by 1 point, and since neither fighter was given armor then Jax takes 1 point of damage which is taken directly off his Constitution attribute.  This would be considered one round of combat, or one combat turn.  Fights can go on as long as necessary to determine a winner.  They can also be ended by retreats, surrenders, or Acts of God  (you know—things like earthquakes or pizza runs)  Both fighters rolled a 6 as part of their weapons total.  Sixes are called Spite Damage, and each one represents a single point of damage that the opponent must take whether they won the combat or not.  In this case, both fighters take a point of damage.  Roland scored a point of Spite Damage, but only won the fight by a single point.  Since Jax has to take a point of damage anyway, that point of Spite Damage doesn’t matter.  Roland won the round, but still has to take a point of damage.  If Roland had rolled 2 sixes, then he would have done 2 points of damage—not 3.  If Jax had rolled 2 sixes, but still lost the total by a point, then Roland would have had to take 2 points of damage.

Armor does not make combatants harder to hit.  It reduces the amount of damage that a fighter takes when he is hit.  Thus if Jax had been wearing leather armor, he would have had 6 points of protection.  In that case Roland’s one point of advantage in the total would have done no damage at all, but Roland’s one point of Spite Damage would still have cost Jax a Constitution point.

There is no reason why combat must be one on one.  Whole parties may fight each other at a time.  If that happens, you would compare one party’s total to the other party’s total and divide up the damage at the end of each round.  If 20 Goblins fight 3 Trolls, and the Goblins  do 246 points of damage with 6 Spite while the Trolls get 312 damage with 4 Spite then the Goblins take 66 points of damage and the Trolls take 6 points of damage.  The Goblins can divide those 66 points of damage any way they wish, and soak some of it off on armor if they have any, but they still have to take the damage and reduce Constitutions accordingly.  Do you understand?

A skillful Game Master or a cunning Player may introduce other complications into the combat totals or results.  For example, one player might decide to have his character dodge instead of fight.  In a case like that a saving roll might be required on the character’s Luck, Dexterity, or Speed, whatever is most favorable to that character.  A successful dodge attempt would do no damage and take none.  Or, Jax might have an accomplice.  Perhaps an Uruk shaman is standing nearby and is able to blast Roland with a Take That You Fiend spell for 10 points of damage.  Although he won the combat round, Roland would still have to take the 10 points of magic damage to his CON rating.  Even if he had armor, Roland would take the ten points of damage.  Armor does not (usually) protect against magical damage—it only stops weapons.  And so forth.  The possibilities are endless.

It is up to the Game Master to control such situations and keep the game moving along.  If the player is wasting too much time with evasive maneuvers, the GM can flatly disallow them to keep the game moving, or perhaps make the penalty for failure so great that the player will reconsider and get back to combat.  In a solo adventure, where the player is his own Game Master, such alternatives are sometimes spelled out in the text, and sometimes not.  When they are spelled out (as they will be in this adventure) then the Player is limited to the choices offered.

Magic and Missiles in Melee

Let us imagine a major battle where all kinds of things are happening at once.  On one side we have ten living statues, 5 Ogres, and 1 evil wizard.  On the other side we have 20 Uruks, 5 Hobgoblin slingers, and 1 rogue named Rose who knows a few combat spells.   We will join the melee in progress.

The sling is only a 2D6 weapon.  To make things simple, we will say that the Hobgoblins are a matched set and have missile adds of 10 each.  The uruks are ferocious fellows with monsters ratings of 40 each.  The ogres are medium sized with monster ratings of 80 each, and the living statues have monster ratings of 50 each.  Rose has a CON of 16 and a WIZ of 15.  Gaxarn the evil wizard has a CON of 30 and a WIZ of 72.  Neither Rose nor Gaxarn knows who the other spellcaster is.

  1. 1.   Magic happens first.  Gaxarn knows that is fighters have high Constitutions.  He casts a Smog spell at the general melee, creating a cloud of poisonous gas that envelops everyone except himself.  He has to make a L4SR on INT to cast the spell.  He has an INT of 66, rolls a 3, 2 which succeeds.  He gets 20 adventure points for the saving roll.  The spell goes off and envelops the fighters.  Everything that breathes immediately loses half their CON.  It does not change their monster ratings or how much damage they do in combat, but it does cut the uruks from being able to take 40 points of damage each down to 20 points of damage each.  The Hobgoblins go from taking 18 points of damage each to 9 points of damage each.  The ogres go from 80 each to 40 each.  The living statues don’t have to breathe, and are not affected.  Rose is not in the general melee area and is not affected.  Gaxarn is not in the melee area and is not affected.  At about the same time Rose decides to cast Whammy spell on her uruk scimitar.  She knows the spell.  She has to make a L2SR on INT in order to cast it.  She has an INT of 18 and rolls a 4, 2. Her target number was 25 (2nd level), and she only managed a 24, but because she is a first level rogue she gets to add 1 point to that roll, thus achieving the target and tripling the power of her sword for the next combat round.  Instead of getting 4D6 + 3 for her weapon on round 2, she will get 12D6 + 9.
  2. 2.  Missile combat is evaluated next.  The only missile weapons involved are the Hobgoblin slingers.  Because the targets are all large, and the range is close, the Game Master rules that the slingers will all hit their targets. (Yes, you can do this as Game Master.  It is a reasonable ruling.  Or, you could insist on 10 saving rolls for the 10 Hobgoblins, based on their Dexterity.  You could call for level one saving rolls to try and make things easy and rule that all slingers have a DEX of at least 16.  In that case, only a natural fumble of a 1,2 would miss.  I just rolled the dice ten times real quickly and did not get any fumblesBoth options played out exactly the same, but what do you think went faster?  As the G.M. you want to move things along.  The Hobgoblins did extremely well, averaging 10 on their 2D6 and 10 adds each for a total of 200 hits.  These 200 hits have to be taken by the ogres and statues.  Armor can absorb some of it, but neither ogres nor statues have any armor in this fight. Of that 200 hits, 10 of them are spite damage.  Even if the statues had armor tha took all the damage for them, someone would still have to take 10 points of spite damage.  The 200 hits is counted as part of the total combat damage for Rose’s side.
  3. 3.  Last comes the hand to hand combat.  Here we will just get some numbers.  The ogres average 78 points of damage each with 1 spite each for a toal of 390 with 5 spite.  The statues average 46 points each with 2 points of spite per combatant for a grand total of 460 with 20 points of spite.  The GaxArn forces have a combat total of 850 with 25 points of spite.  Rose’s slingers have already been accounted for with 200 hits and 10 spite.  Her uruks average 43 points of damage each with 2 points of spite each.  That’s 1720 points of which 80 are spite damage.
  4. 4.  Now we compare totals.  Gaxarn’s forces have 850 points in their combat total.  Rose’s forces have 1920 points in their combat total.  The Gaxarn side must take 1070 points of damage in the battle.  They have combined CONs of 200 plus 500 = 700.  1070 minus 700 = overkill factor of 320.  The GaxArn forces are wiped out.  However, they did 25 points of spite.  Spreading that around on Rose’s forces leaves 25 uruks with minor pains.
  5. 5.  Now that the battle is over, Rose only has to capture and dispose of the evil Gaxarn (easier said than done).

That was not exactly how it played out in the novel, but it was a credible battle for T & T.  Rose had overwhelming numbers and she crushed her foes.  If she had only had 20 uruks, things would have been a lot closer.  Twenty uruks would have only managed 860 hits plus 200.  That would leave ogres and statues winning the combat round by 10 points.  However, the missile weapons all hit and did damage.  Ogres and statues have to take 200 hits in that round despite winning. Uruks would have to take 25 hits because of the spite damage that the big guys did.  With 40 uruks there is no combat round 2; with 20 uruks the fight goes on.

In Tunnels and Trolls we are usually not interested in simulating every blow of every fighter in every fight.  We leave that to THAT OTHER GAME or perhaps Runequest.  Another way to handle a big fight like the battle would be to simply take the combined monster ratings of both sides and roll the dice for that.  How would that have come out?

Combined monster rating for ogres and statues is 900—that rolls 91 dice and adds 450.  Assuming they roll well and average 4 points per die that’s a total of 814 with about 15 spite.  Rose’s hobgoblins and uruks have a monster rating of 1780 which equals 179 dice and 890 adds.  As you can see, the statues and ogres would lose based on combat adds alone.  In such cases the GM should narrate a fast and disastrous battle for the ogres and statues, and get on with the game.

Every fight in T & T works out differently.  You can focus on individuals or you can focus on groups.  The most important thing is having a good game and a good story.  The GM has to know what story he or she is telling.  Is it a comedy of errors, or a tragedy of terrors?  Is it a hero story for the benefit of one character?  Or is a tale of warring empires about the rise and fall of nations or peoples?  All these stories are possible in T & T, and you can switch between them at will, but the GM needs to know what she is trying to do, and manage things accordingly.  Players enjoy a touch of combat, and crushing their foe, but they don’t want to be stuck in the same battle for hours.  I know I certainly didn’t like it.  Give the players what they really want (excitement and amusement), and keep the game moving, no matter what you have to deal with as Game Master.  Players, help the GM out!  You need to know what your weapons can do, what your combat adds are, and be able to assess the situation as it occurs.  Shrekk, the sixth ogre in the group,  saw how many uruks Rose had, did a quick estimate computation, and slipped to the rear of the group, then he quickly headed off down a passageway out of the back of the room before the fight actually started, thus living to terrify another day.






Trollgod is the ruler of all things Tunnels and Trolls. He may or may not be a real entity.

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Simple Fighting Can Be Complicated
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3 thoughts on “Simple Fighting Can Be Complicated

  1. First, thanks for the following: “Armor does not (usually) protect against magical damage—it only stops weapons.” There is occasionally a bit of debate about this; it is good to have a final word to the extent that TTYF ignores non-magical armor.

    Second, being a math head, I am intrigued by your first combat example. As it stands, with no armor, Roland has a miniscule edge (29.5 to 29), but as the armor ratings go up, the odds shift heavily in Jax’s favor, eventually getting to 4 to 3 in his favor.

    The combat example I still want to see is something that hasn’t been formally addressed since the 5.x rules: A wizard with INT 30 using TTYF against three MR 10 kobolds. I am still dodgy about how that is supposed to work in 7.x…

  2. Thanks for reminding us that the gameplay is the focus. As you said, the combat mechanics are meant to provide one aspect of the game, but the real point is to amuse and entertain. Even in solo delving, if there’s no treasure involved, every so often I write off an overly-complicated combat as, “presto, I win!”, so I can move on. It’s one of the things that’s fun about soloing T&T!

  3. As per the 7.5 rules:

    “TTYF affects only one target at a time.”

    So he’d do his thirty points to one of the Kobolds, the other two would continue along unscathed. This assumes, of course, that the Wizards wiz score is at least 1, which I imagine it is since he’s able to cast the spell.

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