I've mentioned before that part of my initiation into the hobby was the adoption of certain prejudices about games other than Dungeons & Dragons. One of the main targets of such irrationality was Tunnels & Trolls, the second RPG published (in 1975) and whose greatest flaw -- aside from not being D&D -- was that it was "silly." You have to remember that, while 1979, the year I started gaming, was still several years before fantastic realism became the norm, it was nevertheless a powerful force in many places, including, apparently, among the people by whom I was brought into the hobby. Whimsy and humor were antithetical to "serious roleplaying" and so games that evinced either were seen as unfit for play by discerning gamers. Ludicrous though this position is, it's one against which I nevertheless have to fight even now and, while, I've been largely successful in keeping it in check, it still pops up every now and again, despite my best efforts to the contrary.
If I were to pick a single mistake I made in my gaming education to call "tragic," it would be my rejection of Tunnels & Trolls back when I had the chance to become better acquainted with it. A friend of mine purchased the 5th edition of the game sometime in the early 80s. He was quite keen on the game and wanted to free me from my regular refereeing duties by starting a T&T campaign with me as a player. If I recall correctly, I created a human rogue -- rogues being not thieves but rather hedge wizards -- modeled somewhat on the Gray Mouser and was initially excited about the prospect of playing him.
That is, until I read T&T's spell list. Among the 1st-level spells are Oh There It Is, Take That, You Fiend, and Oh-Go-Away. For some reason, I just couldn't accept these spells names and every tale I'd been told by the older guys at the hobby shop about how the game was silly came rushing back to my memory. I made a feeble effort to try playing the game, whose mechanics I found intriguing, but it didn't last too long. I tried a few more times later and got a little more into the game. By that time, though, my opinion had ossified and I wasn't willing to look beyond the surface of T&T, a situation I didn't rectify until this year, actually.
I made a point of acquiring both the 5th edition rules I played way back when and the latest edition (v7.5), along with a number of solo adventures. I also started lurking at various T&T oriented forums, including Trollhalla, to get a better sense of the game and what I might have been missing. And I've been missing quite a lot. T&T is a very cleverly designed game: complete, simple, and flexible, yet easily expandable. It's not math-heavy and looks to be quite amenable to the kind of off-the-cuff gaming I enjoy these days. It's also unambiguously old school, as its rules demand both player cleverness and referee adjudication for satisfying use. Likewise, both editions I own are paragons of verbal economy -- there's barely a wasted word in either and their page count is well within my limited tolerance.
And, yes, Tunnels & Trolls is a bit silly, at least compared to the stolidness of most other RPGs, but that's OK. Older and wiser now, I no longer see silliness as necessarily antithetical to seriousness. Indeed, I often think it's an important complement to it. My games nowadays are filled with whimsical asides and comedic moments, in addition to grim and perilous encounters and philosophical musings. This isn't an either/or situation, at least not in the way I used to think it had to be. Gaming is supposed to be, above all else, fun and, reading T&T, you can tell that author Ken St. Andre had a lot of fun with his creation.
That's as it should be with any RPG and, while I don't think Tunnels & Trolls should become a model for all other RPGs any more than I think that of OD&D, I do think the hobby might be a more enjoyable place for all if the ethos of T&T were more widely imitated. That, for me, is the greatest lesson I took away from my investigations into this venerable game, whose community, while smaller than that of my own preferred system, is no less enthusiastic, creative, and open to newcomers.
More creditable still is the fact that, after 30+ years, T&T is, essentially, the same game it was at its debut. Certainly there are differences between v7.5 and the 1975 1st edition, but those differences are minuscule compared to the differences between the LBBs and D&D IV. From where I'm sitting, T&T remains the kind of hobbyist game that old school D&D fans wish our game had remained and without the need for imagining an alternate history. In short, there's a lot to like about it and I wouldn't hesitate to play in a game if I were ever asked to do so again.
I still don't like the spell names, though.