Sometime in late 1980 or early 1981, I encountered the WaldenBooks in Oneonta's Southside Mall discovered that Dungeons & Dragons was not the only fantasy roleplaying game for sale. There on the shelf in front of me was a large black box with golden lettering that read Tunnels & Trolls and a gilded image of three adventurers about to enter a dungeon portal. (Above is the inked original of Liz Danforth's cover illustration.) I failed my saving roll against T&T's stark yet arty presentation and made my first independent gaming purchase. (My copy of the Holmes Basic D&D set had been a birthday present from my grandparents.)
With interior art by Danforth, Rob Carver (above), and Victoria Poyser, T&T looked a hell of a lot better than D&D did at the time (Dave Trampier's work excluded). Ken St. Andre's text was a better read as well—who wouldn't rather be a delver than an adventurer? I remember being amazed by all the different character kindreds available, and I definitely tried my hand at surviving the solo adventure Buffalo Castle. The one T&T character I remember creating was Prince Gwyn of Dain; I may have done a character sheet for Lloyd Alexander's Gurgi as well.
But I never really got a game of T&T going. My friends were more into D&D at the time, and T&T's combat system (summing up Hit Point Totals for both sides and delivering the difference's worth of damage to the losers) seemed weird compared to the blow-by-blow pacing of D&D. But I never lost my interest in the game and kept up with it over the years, buying the Fifth Edition rules twice more (once in the very nice Blade version and once in the British Corgi version).
Nostalgia played some part in my decision to back the recent Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls Kickstarter. (It was certainly the key factor in my willingness to pay for the extravagant luxury of the personalized wooden replica of the old black-and-gold box.) But I had also been reading a number of forum threads and blog entries in recent years that summarized just how prescient much of T&T actually was.
So I'm going to actually get it together and play some T&T this year. I will be making my own character and putting him through some of the easier solo adventures. In addition, I'm going to run Mike Hill's Dungeon of the Rat for my daughter and a number of her friends. My daughter is very excited about playing a fairy (although we may need to do something about those .25 STR and CON modifiers).