Friday, December 18, 2009

Reading T&T 7.5 - A Guest Blog on spells and Trollworld!

Today I present to you my guest blogger! Our guest, my friend Paul from Trollhalla, have done a funny and perceptive look at how a spell list can tell us things about the world of the game.  Paul is good at that kind of things and I hope you like it, I sure did! Enjoy!

When I was introduced to D&D, 33 very odd years ago, I immediately fell in love with role playing games. I was less than enthused about the D&D rules. In particular, escalating hit points, armor as evasion (armor class), experience points for gold, and the bizarre Jack Vance slotted magic system (which no one I knew ever actually played) all BOTHERED me. Soon enough, I found my way down the crunchy path through "Chivalry and Sorcery", "The Fantasy Trip", and "RuneQuest".

When I first encountered "Tunnels and Trolls", in the guise of "Monsters! Monsters!", it stuck me as utterly superior to D&D, but a bit too simplistic for my tastes as they ran at the time. Also, the spell names put me off. I had (and have) no problem with silliness in gaming, but hearing someone shout, "Take THAT, you fiend!" during what was supposed to be a heavy dramatic moment made my teeth hurt.

There was also the looseness of the T&T rules. I have since learned that this was a result of the fact that game designer and Trollgod Ken St. Andre is a master improviser who likes to work with loose frameworks and fly by the seat of his pants. This is in marked contrast to me; I am first rate at analysis, cross-referencing, interpolation, and extrapolation, but have only slightly more improvisational ability than a chunk of concrete. I am an effective game master only so long as I know the material inside out; as soon as the  characters ask a question I can't answer, or do something I have not prepared for in advance, the wheels come off of the wagon.

Now, when our host, whom I know best as "Korrraq", of Trollhalla, asked me to do a guest blog in which I analyzed some of the spells in T&T 7.5, I accepted, and then wondered just what I should do next. Korrraq had made the offer largely on my contributions to a discussion on the Trollbridge regarding the "Dura-Spell Battery" spell in which I pointed out (and nominally described) more than 200 permutations that still conformed to the rules. (I had hoped to reach some kind of consensus, but found that there were at least as many conflicting pre-conceptions as there were participants in the discussion.)

I considered posting my fairly extensive "Spell List Gripe List", but decided that would really only point out that the rules were kind of loose, which is already common knowledge. I could complain about the spell names, or some of the weirder spells (Really. Why would ANYONE actually waste time learning, "That's a Natty Beard"? (OK, a small variation on the spell could result in opening the Khazan office of "Hair Club for Men"...)), but that would serve little point.

One thing that really interests me, though, and I suspect might interest many of Korrraq's readers, is the impact that the spell list has on the shape of Trollworld. Therefore, after far too much introduction, I give you a discussion on The Wizard's Guild, Spell Pricing, Teacher, and Soul Mastery.

First, it should be pointed out that Teacher has mutated significantly since 5th ed. The earlier version could ONLY be used to teach spells to rogues; the current version can only be used to teach spells to wizards (and paragons, but since paragons show up less than one every 2000 characters, I don't worry about them much). This is a big deal, on two counts. First, it means there is now NO means in the rules for rogues to learn new spells, and second, it means that there MUST be a significant black market in spells. (For certain peculiar values of "must", as will be discussed below.)

The rules tell us that the Wizard's Guild produces wizards and teaches them spells at fairly exorbitant prices. It is, for the most part, an out of sight, out of mind, background organization. Except... The new version of the Teacher spell means that wizards will, for the most part, trade spells to each other in exchange for other spells, or food, or magic items, or whatever they happen to want.

This is where Spirit Mastery comes into the picture. (Once again, an historical aside is relevant: This spell existed in its current form in 5th ed. as Yassa-Massa, a name that was apparently sacrificed to the gods of political correctness; it also exists in slightly watered down form in the Codex Incantatem (included in the 7.5 rules) as Yes, Master.) Regardless of how you approach this spell, it is the cheapest and most effective mind rape spell that I know of in the entire broad spectrum of RPGs. With a very small amount of creativity, one can easily extrapolate a society in which EVERYONE of any consequence is a slave of a wizard, and the wizards themselves are slaves within an ascending hierarchy. Or, at least, until the wizards learn the 3rd level Dis-Spell, which of course would be tightly controlled, at least until a given wizard gets to 5th level, and starts creating his own spells, and... There is also the fact that, as characters progress, they will eventually be strong enough to break free of a Spirit Mastery that was cast on them as neophytes. Maybe.

The image that forms in my mind from all of this is that the shop-keepers and soldiers and servants of Khazan are probably slaves of the great wizards; the thieves and beggars and general riff-raff are not. Player character warriors and wizards start out as slaves, but gradually break free (exactly when is variable, though 5th level seems a good upper limit). Of course, if your 6th level wizard really wants that 6th level spell NOW, he going to have to talk to the Guild, and we now know what THAT means...

Paul Haynie, AKA Uncle Hyena, AKA G'Noll

Thanks a lot for that Paul! I never knew that about Trollworld, and I wonder if Ken did?  

This ends this run of T&T Friday posts. I will get another weekly feature started in 2010. Watch this space!

EDIT: I previewed this post in blogger and it looked fine. Now I saw that the line breaks looked bad. Arrgghh!! Hopefully fixed now. Sorry.
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