I’m a sucker for a svelte, rules-lite RPG. From The Black Hack, to Maze Rats, to Lady Blackbird and even Lasers and Feelings, I absolutely love the freedom a good rules-lite RPG can give to both the players and the GM. For the longest time Maze Rats was my go-to for all quick gaming scenarios, as well as my gateway game for those who have never played an RPG, but I have found a new favorite in Highland Paranormal Society’s Tunnel Goons (I’ll be updating my RPGs for Kids list very soon) . It’s so small you can literally print two copies on one page, each complete with Rules, Character Generation, and Character Sheet! How awesome is that? Let’s dive into it!
Per the official page: “Tunnel Goons is a simple table-top role-playing game. It was originally only included in the zine The Eternal Caverns of Urk, but I decided to make a standalone version available too. It’s a light weight 2d6 system that can be applied to many different genres and settings.”
Billed as “an analog adventure game for nice people”, Tunnel Goons is the ideal, everyday RPG system. It is fast, simple, and super easy to use. Players make their Goons by rolling on 3 different tables that give a childhood, profession and “during the war” background, each of which also determines their abilities and starting gear. This is further fleshed out by adding 2 rations, a cloak of any color, and an item of their choice. The abilities are not your standard RPG abilities either but are made up of Brute, Skulker, and Erudite. Brute is for “smacking things, feats of strength, resisting poison”, Skulker is for sneaky, stealthy stuff, and Erudite is for brainy stuff. Health is set at 10 and your inventory is limited to 8 spots, though both of these can be increased by leveling up.
The game subscribes to the OSR mantra of only asking for a roll when the outcome of a situation is uncertain. This keeps things flowing quite nicely and it gets rid of unnecessary rolls for things like jumping small gaps, knowing some specific info, or other mundane tasks that a lot of other systems get bogged down in. This is further streamlined by the combat system. Combat is deadly is a game of Tunnel Goons and is something to be avoided at all costs. Monsters and NPCs have a Difficulty Score assigned to them that ranges from 8 (Easy) to 10 (Moderate) and 12 (Hard). The players need to roll greater than the Difficulty Score to land a hit (adding their appropriate ability score and any modifier from their gear) and damage dealt with is the difference between the Difficulty Score and the rolled total. The thing is, this damage goes both ways, for example, if you are trying to hit an ogre with a DS of 12 and roll an 8 and add your Brute score of 2 plus 1 for having a sword, your total roll is 11 which mean you take 1 damage, as it seems the ogre was prepared for your swing and caught you in the head with his club. This keeps the rolling player facing and highly discourages combat, favoring the creative thinking that players always seem to do when fighting is not an option.
There is a lack of a magic system in the game, which I have found is not missed in any of our games, though my kids usually don’t lean towards magic users, favoring sneaky and forceful characters more. I’ve also made a few adjustments in our house rules where items like rations stack in groups of 10 so as to keep inventory management to a minimum (there is still plenty since you start with a mighty 8 slots to start with). Highland Paranormal Society has many adventures/one-page dungeons for the system over on their website and adapting most OSR works over to the system is not an extremely hard endeavor. Honestly, if you’re half-way decent and improv you could use this with zero prep and still have an amazing time. The system seems to take a lot of inspiration from Into the Odd, Maze Rats and other OSR works. I can’t sing the praises of the system more and I highly recommend you pick it up. Be sure to send Nate over at Highland Paranormal Society some money for your pick up as the fun you’ll have from this gem of a system is easily worth 10x the ask.
Until next time, stay safe and keep gaming.