Classic RPG Tunnels & Trolls is making a return on the eve of its 50th anniversary with a new edition.
Released in 1975 by publisher Flying Buffalo, Tunnels & Trolls is generally considered to be the second major tabletop RPG ever published, following the original first edition of Dungeons & Dragons released the previous year. (Other early RPGs, such as Empire of the Petal Throne, were self-published earlier, but didn’t see a wider release until later on.)
Tunnels & Trolls’ connection to D&D is more than just timing. The game was created by Arizonan librarian Ken St. Andre after reading the rules to Dungeons & Dragons and finding them a little too complex. In response, Andre wrote his own set of rules for fantasy roleplaying, specifically designed to be easier to pick up than D&D. The game opted to use six-sided dice, six basic traits - strength, intelligence, luck, constitution, dexterity and charisma - and a points-based magic system in comparison to D&D’s use of differently-sided dice and more complicated mechanics.
Tunnels & Trolls was more than a stripped-back D&D, too, providing the option for a lone player to approach it as a solo RPG via a series of spin-off gamebooks based on the system - the first such RPG to do so, before the emergence of popular series such as Fighting Fantasy and Choose Your Own Adventure.
Following Andre’s self-publication of Tunnels & Trolls in early 1975, Flying Buffalo released the game’s second edition that summer. T&T was soon vying with D&D’s popularity, becoming its predecessor’s biggest competitor at the time.
In its first five years, Tunnels & Trolls saw the release of several new editions in quick succession, before almost 30 years passed between its 1979 fifth edition and 2005’s expanded ‘5.5’ revision. A seventh edition was released the same year under the banner of a 30th Anniversary Edition, with a ‘7.5’ following as a minor update in 2008.
The game’s eighth edition was released exclusively in French in 2012, as part of a licensing deal, with its most recent English-language release being a 2015 Deluxe Edition that effectively serves as a ninth edition revision of the core rules.
Following Flying Buffalo founder Rick Loomis’ death in 2019, the publisher and rights to Tunnels & Trolls were acquired by conglomerate Webbed Sphere.
Now, Tunnels & Trolls has been picked up by Rebellion, the British publishing house and video game developer behind cult comic book 2000 AD, the Sniper Elite series and its in-house tabletop studio Rebellion Unplugged, which has released multiple board games and RPGs. As well as Tunnels & Trolls, Rebellion acquired all of Flying Buffalo’s roleplaying games, including the Citybook fantasy businesses supplements, Grimtooth series - known for its collections of traps - and the Mercenaries, Spies & Private Eyes series of contemporary-setting RPGs.
Rebellion confirmed its plans to release a new edition of Tunnels & Trolls’ rules and other additional releases, “bringing [the RPG] into a new era”. The studio added that it was “very early on” in development.
Rebellion Unplugged studio head Duncan Molloy described Tunnels & Trolls as “an unrecognised trailblazer in the games industry”.
“The team at Flying Buffalo responded to an entirely new medium by focusing on how roleplaying could be more approachable, more accessible and more fun,” Molloy added. “So much of the modern era of roleplaying from old school hacks, to streamlined systems, to solo play, can directly trace its roots directly back to this series. We’re very excited to channel that spirit in bringing Tunnels & Trolls into the modern era.”
Rebellion confirmed that existing PDFs for Flying Buffalo games will remain available, with the studio handling future releases in the series. A release date for the new Tunnels & Trolls edition is yet to be announced.