Oh is this your room? Funny how my key worked in your lock…

I have a small solo adventure that I am working on, one day I may finish it as well. It really is a fantasy mix and a spy movie and it got me to thinking as I was laying out secrets and locks to reveal clues how I should handle this during play. Now normally, the time it takes to pick a lock or find a secret door hasn’t been an issue as either there is no one around or they are and depending on whim there is an encounter.

“While Talaras is working on the lock, you hear the sound of footsteps approaching up the corridor”

However, in the adventure the character is required to report in/be seen at various points in time. Also, I started to think about how long do you spend searching a room or picking a lock if you are aware that someone might be in the room next door and how the tension of not knowing and gambling your time against the success of finding an item is actually an important part of the story in the Spy genre.

“Heart pounding, Talaras blinked the sweat from his eyes. He had been struggling with the lock for a minute. Soon the patrol would be returning, dare he continue?”

So I started thinking about the time it would take on average to pick a lock. Thankfully, the internet is full of boasts on how fast different locks can be picked and also, more helpfully, the range of time. In MERP and Rolemaster picking locks is usually handled in a static manouvre roll with success being at 110 and then two partial success categories and one excellent category. In the partial success you roll again and in excellent you do it quicker. Now in roleplay situations this sort of falls down with me as players who make a partial success roll choose if to continue with essentially the same odds as last time even if they nearly had it. This leads to repetitive rolling or not bothering. Really as a GM I want the player to spend as long as they dare on the lock before declaring it unopenable or searching a room before deciding there is nothing to find. After all how long is a piece of string.

Over on the Rolemaster blog there was a post on turning all rolls into 100+ successes and giving percentage success from this. The general thought was that this was not that feasible with the mechanics but there was a suggestion of using the MM table instead. I thought I would explore that option alongside the SM table and compare the results.

Armed with my knowledge of lock pick times and what would be reasonable and what would be difficult I set out on a comparison. I ran into a slight problem with the scaling of the difficulty to a time and so standardised routine to +30 and scaled from there up. This way the difficulty level and time are the same for both. I then went with a roll of 50 plus a nominal skill level to be successful at picking the lock and this would be the base time taken. There is also an argument for the player being able to roll 20 and picking the lock, as this would be statistically relevant in terms of the majority of attempts should be successful if slightly longer. A summary of the results are in the table below. I have left the Excel spreadsheet on the ICE forums for those who want to look at the data.

   SM method     MM method  
competenceskill bonushighest difficulaty locktime to pick (mins)time to pick (Routine (+30)time to pick medium (+0)highest difficulaty locktime to pick (mins)time to pick (Routine (+30)time to pick medium (+0)
Tyro-25Routine (+50)2E Hard800.25
Apprentice15Light104S Folly1000.22
Journeyman50E hard800.22Absurd350.21.1
Master75Absurd1400.21Absurd17.50.21
elite100Absurd70.11Absurd100.10.8

My assumptions were that locks were picked in best conditions; that the time would be the average time; and that absurd locks represented the peak of Dwarven and Elven technology without magic but these still would be short of the most secure locks. I also didn’t want to be playing a level 20 thief spending an hour picking a lock. As a result, the absurd time was set a 7 mins.

Comparing picking locks by SM and MM tables

At the routine level there was little difference in the times of the experts (Journeymen to Elite) with either method. However, at the Apprentice and Tyro levels MM tables allowed for rapid picking, whereas the SM table made it less likely.

A medium level lock (1 min is about the standard for an average modern lock) again the experts were comparable, although Journeymen had a similar time to Masters in the MM table. The unskilled levels could not pick the lock in the SM but were able to do so given 5 minutes on the MM table .

The maximum level of lock likely to be picked was very different for both methods. SM gave a range from a +50 Routine lock for a Tyro to Absurd for the Expert with a reasonable spread of difficulty versus skill level. In contrast with the MM table everyone could potentially pick a lock from Extremely Hard up given enough time.

It is worth noting the times taken for picking at maximum difficulty though. For unskilled these are the maximum times before a fail. Experts have a slightly different pattern. A Journey man is likely to pick an Exteremely hard lock in 80 mins using SM tables but a Sheer Folly lock in 100 mins using MM tables. At Absurd difficulty the SM method gives times for a Master is 140 mins which drops suddenly to 7 mins for an Expert. In contrast, using the MM method this is gradual moving from 17.5 minutes to 10 minutes.

Handling lockpicking

Which method you would prefer to use will depend entirely on how you wish to control your thieves in play. The SM table really does make it an only thieves environment with unskilled finding it difficult to open all but the most basic of locks. There is not difference between the Experts until you get to the most difficult locks. The MM table method gives a more graded response and does allow any player a reasonable chance of opening a lock, a thing that can be useful if you are in the habit of locking plot devices behind doors.

Looking at the difficulty levels as I have constructed them I can see now that most of my “secure” locks are going to start at medium and work up. Locks that even an unskilled person can pick in less than a minute represent the type found on a childs jewelry box and generally smashing the obstruction would work just as well, if a little more noisy.

When coming to pick a lock I can ask the player how long they intend to spend on the task and then after a roll tell them when they were successful or failed. Which would handle the resolution very quickly and neatly. Alternatively, I could reveal the elapsed time and through dialogue the player determines when to quit.

The dice roll can be handled either completely convertly so that the player’s involvement is only to tell the GM the skill bonus applied or they could do the basic roll and difficulty and penalties can be applied covertyly. The latter would give the player a sense of how successful they are being and might lead to gambling extra time because it might be nearly there.

For me I suspect that MM table method will work best for the solo adventure and certainly would quiten those of my players who tell me they opened a really simple lock using nothing but a paperclip. The only thing to do now is play test it to see if it unbalances the game. Now all the tables are ready I can also have a play with searching rooms and create some sensible times to search a room or look for traps from the obvious it is on the floor in front of you to the scrap of paper in the corner of a book.

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Tumbleweed

It has been a bit like that on the blog.

By Rachel Saunders - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29438083

Yet, like the Tumbleweed, this blog has been in a bit of dormancy as the conditions have not been ideal for growth, well in terms of wordage, at least. But now is nearly the time of blooming. What has been happening is all in the background and is probably the result of too many ideas to fit into the time available for producing a completed product.

There has also been no RPG time either. While I worked on the next segments of the Mazalbanam Campaign, one of my fellow players was going to GM (well that didn’t happen). Now one part (a section of the lost city of Jöruvalla) has already been completed all bar format and proof read; a number of other sections will be appearing much more rapidly as I move towards a Summer break. So, it looks like I will be back in the hot seat and there will be some updates to the play session reports.

I’ve also been working on a solo adventure which has now morphed into planning for the keep at Cara Celairnen and some geopolitical work to build on the small paragraph included in the ICE material (this might be a little slower). Then there is still the house rules on no-level MERP to finish but that is lower down in the pecking order of need.

Skills and learning

As part of a move away from levels, I want to move my players towards adventuring for the adventure and not a “level up” mentality. That will mean a move away from the EP reward system, which my current players aren’t quite ready for yet. What they are ready for is a way to acquire secondary skills by study and I reckon that is a back door waiting to be opened. So the question now becomes how long does it take to really acquire new skills?

Before beginning on deciding how long it takes to learn a skill it is worth reviewing what the skill ranks in MERP/Rolemaster represent. According to the rulebook, 5 ranks in any skill can be acquired during adolescent development, which suggests apprenticeship skill development but no higher. The Rolemaster blog uses chunks of 10 ranks to define relative levels or lore, vocation or skill.

Skill RanksLoreVocationGeneral Skills
1-10Secondary High schoolApprenticeBasic knowledge and abilities skill and simpler sub-skill.
11-20GraduateJourneymenBroad abilities of skill and sub-skills
21+PhD/Post GraduateMasterAdvanced skills and sub-abilities
50+Erudite MasterGuildmaster or similarSingular mastery of skill and inter-related disciplines

Another consideration here is the level of the character – yes I know the aim is to go levelless but bear with me here. Gaming wisdom would put the average soldier at between level 2-4 and the NCO’s at 5-6 rising up to level 10 for experienced heroic fighters. Beyond this, certainly in the Middle Earth, the characters are getting to be legendary. So if the average competent person is around level 4 in their chosen profession then they will have 8 ranks worth of experience, which is about right for the general population.

Armed with a framework of knowledge and understanding it is time to think about how long it will take to acquire these ranks. Gladwell proposed that very successful people take 10,000 hours to master a skill (possibly by misinterpreting another study on elite athletes which was actually looking for a genetic component). For Gladwell 10,000 hours equates to 20 hours a week practise for 10 years although he does seem to bundle those skills into a domain of learning so they are all focussed on one specialism. The original study, by Tucker and Collins, was really looking to see if deliberate practise was more important than genes and could not find a link either way. In fact, it seemed to suggest that a combination of talent and practise produced excellence.

So much for 10,000 hours but I think it still holds a nugget of truth, even if the time is wrong. If we say a level 20 character is a master then it should take 10 years of deliberate practise to achieve this. However, there are some other factors we should consider in this. It requires someone to support you with food and other necessities to allow you that time (achievable for a single skill on two hours a day). Elite athletes generally don’t have a full time career making demands on training time. Bill Gates wasn’t required to go out and collect the harvest or sow the crops. So only a small group of people in a fantasy setting will be able to achieve this rate of development. Thankfully, adventurers would be such a group with their generally above average aptitude (stats) and focussed learning or as I prefer to call it staying alive.

There is further support for this idea when we look at the modern education system. The primary phase of education, which is mostly general (although Maths and Primary language seem to now dominate) takes around 5 years (5-11). Secondary, still developing a wide set of skills, but beginning to specialise is another 5 years (11-16). Tertiary, a really odd phase of specialisation lasts 2-3 years here in the UK. Whereas the quaternary phase (graduate) is anywhere between 3-4 years. The final Quinary phase (post-graduate/PhD) can last from 3 -5 years depending on field of study or practise.

Taking education and as knowledge based skill basic maths skills which are generally above the level required for basic mercantile skills are achieved by the age of 11 (in fact in modern society well above), a total of about 5 years (bear in mind developmental factors will probably have slowed learning in children). The table below extrapolates taught time for courses in UK in 5 rank chunks (for reasons outlined below). The number of hours spent learning to this basic level would be around 43 hours with a teacher present. So with good instruction a basic level of skill can be mastered in just over two weeks at the 20 hours per week level. What the table also demonstrates is that higher levels of knowledge take increasingly longer to gain. Referring back to the table from the Rolemaster Blog, I would suggest that this should be for levels 1-5. A basic addition subtraction activity is unlikely to be tested by a roll. This would make ranks 5-10 take nearly twice as long. There is a nice mathematical progression forming, but it is also perhaps worth remembering that quaternary students spend as much time reviewing and rehearsing learning as they do being taught. So any player expecting to do a job in between might find a penalty for the learning time.


hours/ week number of
weeks
total
h/ year
total
years
total
h per
subject
hours
per
rank
Primary
1 36 36 6 216 43.2
Secondary 2 36 72 5 360 72
Tertiary 10 36 360 2720144
Quaternary 15 30 450 3 1350 270
Quinary 60 50 3000 3 9000 1800

Overall the thesis of ten years to achieve mastery in a field of study still stands with most specialists taking around 10 years to achieve an expert status after the age of 13-15. This even applies to sportsman with premiership footballers achieving first team debuts early but becoming regulars only at around 23. A similar pattern is seen in athletics although I can’t find a study to back this up.

The next part will consider how to balance vocations and individual skills so that the game remains playable without players power gaming every aspect.

Down the Hobbit Hole pt 3

The party spend time planning when and how to ambush a few patrols in the hope of reducing the number of orcs in the war band, They set out to prepare to ambush a patrol using the sunken road. As Billwise has shown himself to be very fleet of foot and stealthy, the party decide to use him as an advanced scout. This proves to be fortunate as he is able to alert the party to a patrol before they encounter it. Hoping to use surprise, the adventurers improvise a hasty plan. The dwarves stand out in the open, to tempt the orcs into rushing them, whilst the others hide using the ample forest cover. This proves a disaster with the ambush discovered before the trap could be sprung. Fortunately, the dwarves mighty war-hammers inflict punishing damage and soon the small patrol of orcs is dispatched.

While the party hide the bodies, Billwise scouts towards the sunken road and discovers a lack of patrols. He reports this back to the others and Denig suggests that this is because it was a bright day and patrols might be less frequent. He goes on to suggest that they use the time to scout the camp with more detail as he thinks that the Orcs will be less alert at this time of day.

So it is that, with the rest of the party nearby, Billwise stealthily approaches the ruined manor. He finds no sentries and after a quick survey reports back to the others. Who, after a discussion, decide that Billwise should sneak in and kill any sleeping orcs that might be inside. To aid him Ydal casts a Prayer of Quiet on the young hobbit, allowing him to go about his deadly business without a sound being heard.

All goes well as Billwise slips into the darkened building, enveloped in silence he attempts to dispatch the first of the sleeping forms, but killing is a messy business and if you are a hobbit it becomes more difficult when the first blow is not a killing one. Although willing, it becomes clear that Billwise lacks the skill for a quick kill but with a brief struggle he dispatches his first foe aided by the blessing of silence. He swiftly moves on to the next sleeping orc and again struggles for a quick kill. This time the struggle allows the orc to escape outside the bubble of silence that surrounds Billwise. The cry alerts the other occupants of the ruined building and also his waiting companions.

Hearing the cry, everyone, except Denig, rushes into the building to assist Billwise. Ydal rushes to aid Billwise and Pick rushes to prevent an orc Shaman from entering from another room. Dagaard guards the door ready to assist Denig who keeps watch for guards from the main camp below. Suddenly, beside Billwise, the corpse of dead orc drags itself upright, clumsily gripping its scimitar, still congealing blood oozing from it wounds. Dagaard quickly rushes in to protect the vulnerable hobbit’s flank. A second shaman has joined the battle and his invocations look set to make a quick battle last longer than expected reanimating the dead. Fortunately, the undead orc and his more live companion are dispatched and the first shaman (an apprentice) at the door looks set to be pressed by weight of numbers.

Outside, Denig, seeing no immediate threat from sentries, prepares the ritual of golden slumber and makes his way into the ruins. In the ruins, the shaman invokes a spirit of calm over the party and they are unable to undertake any aggressive act. The two shaman make for the exit only to meet Denig coming the other way. Denig releases his prayer but the apprentice resists and slashes at Denig’s stone skin with his scimitar. Denig holds the door whilst his companions try to figure away to aid Denig. Meanwhile the shaman, continues to build invocations against Denig, despite Billwise’s attempt to use the area of silence around him to prevent the prayers. Denig resists each attempt to unleash Dark Forces on him and battles the apprentice. Ydal throws up a wall of silence around the room to prevent the camp from hearing the sounds of fighting and blesses Denig to aid him in his lone stand.

Ingeniously, Denig calls on his tribal gods for a bolt of lightning to strike his opponent, but all that is granted is a mild electric shock. The shaman continues to lash out at the stone man with dark energies. Alone and with no help Denig it looks like all is lost. However, thanks to the doorway and his stone skin he defeats both the apprentice and the Shaman.

During this time, unable to act aggressively the rest of the party take on different tasks. Dagaard and Billwise investigate a barred door way from which whimpering is coming. Pick investigates the room the Shaman and apprentice came from rooting around for treasure. In the barricaded room, Billwise and Dagaard discover that the source of whimpering is a small child, no doubt saved as a tasty morsel. Billwise, not much larger than the child, reassures the traumatised soul.

Meanwhile, Pick discovers some treasure including bags with runes of screaming. Which he sets off. Unfortunately, he is outside the quietened room and the noise is heard by the sentries in the camp below, a fact made apparent by the sudden sounds of disturbed orcs from the camp below. The party flee carrying the child, but not before a note written in Elvish with a distinct hand and ink is recovered from the shaman along with his staff. They struggle to move quickly through the woods but the sunlight appears to be on their side and there is no sign of pursuit although a hideous din is heard from the camp.

Back at the Periwott smial, the party assess their options. Fearing that their trail may be followed, Denig attempts to cover the trail and lay false route, while Billwise scouts for potential pursuit, of which he sees no sign.

Back at the smial, the child is reunited with her mother amidst many tears. The night passes without incident. In the morning, the party decide to investigate the effect of their recent raid and find lack of patrols. Curious, they return to camp with Billwise as scout and discover some dead orcs who were not killed by them. Most of the party are confused by this and fear some new opponent able to slaughter orcs at will. However, Denig tells party that it is because the war band were leaderless and turned of each other to decide leadership. He goes on to tell them that eventually a leader was decided and they have either left or gone on to do what ever it was they were here for. Denig thinks that this is the the former as the orcs are far from the usual places they would normally inhabit.

Neffin wood, now free of orcs, is home again to the Periwott hobbits, who offer sanctuary to the rescued prisoners. The rescued villagers work with the hobbits to gather food and a new community is founded. During this time our heroes rest and recover and discuss the next steps. Although the hobbits can supply a few simple supplies it is clear that the adventurers will need to re-provision with gear suitable for adventuring. Pick, Dagaard and Billwise are all keen to find Jeremiah who they left with the cart and the plundered loot from the ruins of Elvellon manor. They also invite Ydal and Denig to join them as they believe that they could be helpful in any other explorations that are given to them by Mithparvandir.

Rewards and Reputation

A staff x2 PP multiplier, a note with a distinct style of writing and ink.
The gratitude of the Periwotts and local villagers mean that should they need somewhere to stay the characters will always be welcome. Local tales will always be told of how the heroes took on a much larger force and vanquished them saving the woods.

It’s possible to fly

I have been meaning to write a blog post on skills as part of getting my thoughts down on building the levelless mechanism for characters in using MERP/Rolemaster. As always, life has more urgent priorities and I have thought a lot without coming to any firm conclusions. In the meantime, the debate has moved on with some useful thought on other blogs and forums. Yet I am still not satisfied.

Let me clarify, we bandy the phrase “skill” around in RPG and to each of us, it means a different thing. Regardless of the roleplay mechanics used to provide a measure of success, our use of the word skill is a very personal thing and depending on GM mindset can be a contentious issue at the table.

In general, most games divide the skills into weapons/armour skills; adventuring/class skills and the rest. Now the big question that comes out of this is what actually counts as a skill? Is it only the practical/physical aspects, knowledge/theory, or a combination of both. Perhaps using a dictionary definition will help define some terms of reference.

skill


noun

the ability, coming from one’s knowledge, practice, aptitude, etc., to do something well:
Carpentry was one of his many skills.
competent excellence in performance; expertness; dexterity:
The dancers performed with skill.
a craft, trade, or job requiring manual dexterity or special training in which a person has competence and experience:
the skill of cabinetmaking.
Obsolete . understanding; discernment.
Obsolete . reason; cause.

Reading all three definitions you can see a flavour of what for me will be the flavour of my handling of skills moving towards playing without levels. The first two, definitions could be argued to overlap considerably but the third sits off on its own. However, it does rather sit with the MERP secondary skills with the idea that these are pre-adventuring professions.

From my point of view, it makes sense to use the meta-skill idea suggested by the first two definitions. It is easier for the players to handle in terms of recalling their character’s abilities and thus playing more to type. Also, it avoids the gaming the system of having 20 ranks in the Quick-draw skill purely to become fire every nanosecond. Yet having addressed the definition of skill there are a few points to consider.

When you start to think about a meta-skill you realise there are a number of learnt factors that influence your ability to perform. Namely, pragmatic knowledge; physical actions; and theory. To take the carpentry skill this could be types of wood and how to handle them (responding to the knot and grain in the wood); use of measuring and cutting tools; and a theory of all woodworking methods and skills which would allow you to adapt what you know to new situations. In every domain, there are myriad mini-skills which is where the dread RM skill bloat started. Meshing this together, this means that it is possible to be an expert in one of the three domains without being anymore skillful than a rank tyro. This begs the question of how to resolve this potential dissonance without resorting to the fearful skill bloat (an idea I will return to in my thoughts on training time).

Another point to think about is specialisation, which might be less of an issue in a low tech setting, but in a high-tech setting is going to be more important. Keeping to carpenter skill idea. What is the difference between a furniture maker and a structural carpenter? They both have an overlap is some skills and I’m pretty sure (based on my grandfather’s abilities) can make a good job moving from one to the other but perhaps with not the same speed and assuredness. I think this is where the theory domain plays a large role in adapting from one setting to another.

These issues to do with skill are part of my considering how to deal with the time needed to secure additional knowledge and practice in allowing players to create rounded characters who don’t spring miraculously from one state to another overnight. Moreover, they also raise into question how to handling those core primary skills that all adventurers need. Perhaps in a true reductionist sense weapons and armour are all one skill.

Wedding day blues

Our plucky deputies having discharged their duties with admirable aplomb are retained by Mally Nation as deputy shirriffs (it has been pointed out that they should officially be called Bounders, but I suspect that in the early days of the Shire this formal arrangement has not been organised). Taking their rest in the Midnight Rooster in Wibbleham they are interrupted by a young Dunlending lad seeking sherriffs to come quickly to a hold nearby where members of the family are engaged in a deadly stand-off. Duly prompted the deputies set off to discharge their duty.

At the clan hold, they find a family at war over who poisoned the clan lord’s favoured hunting hound. Family rivalries have risen to the surfaced and been amplified by other family quarrels as the extended family have been invited for a wedding the previous day. So it is that Brega, Alvi and Aelfric walk into a silent hold with three large houses full to bursting of drink-fuelled warriors barely held in check by the desire not to be the first seriously injured in any scuffle.

Having made sure that everyone is aware that the law-keepers have arrived, the party set about interviewing the quarrelling family members. The discover the clan lord Arthfael, in a sombre mood, mourning his dead hound. The chieftan is unwilling to take any decisions and has, in essence, abdicated control of his hold and lands. His new wife Blejan informs the party of how two of the daughters, Nuallan and Fedelmid virtually ruined her wedding party with their constant harping. She accuses both of being evil scheming witches who are just the sort of women to poison the hound in order that their husband could seize control. The youngest daughter, Maella, appears almost as heartbroken as her father and agrees that both sisters could be responsible but admits in private that Blejan has never liked her new husband’s love of hunting.

None the wiser as to the cause of the dog’s poisoner, save that it must have happened during the wedding feast, the investigators move onto question the occupants of Aedan and Nuallan’s house. Aelfric, deciding that a forceful police presence is required muscles his way into the house almost causing the occupying warriors to divert their pent up aggression on himself and his fellow lawmen. Aelfric discovers from Aedan that Brennus, the husband of Fedelmid, the middle daughter, was seen sneaking out with a plate of meat during the wedding banquet. Alvi and Brega question Nuallan and are also led to believe that the fault may lie with this couple. At this point a shout goes up and Aelfric is forced to intervene between two warriors about to attack a goat-herder out to care for his flock. Returning the goat-herder to safety Aelfric discovers that both of the two elder daughters and their husbands could have been stirring up trouble at the wedding.

The tyro detectives move on to the third house where Brennus and Fedelmid along with relatives who have taken their side in the argument have barricaded themselves. Brennus makes no bones to Aelfric about how Aedan throws his weight about the hold as if he were lord. When questioned about the meat he explains that he has a soft spot for his dogs and often feeds them tidbits from the table. Under questioning from Brega, Fedelmid waspishly complains about her treatment at her elder sister’s hands and how the new wife, Blejan, is an arch manipulator who surely should be considered as the culprit.

During this time, a small altercation breaks out when some of the younger members of the family break out into the square. With much bravado, both sides face each other off, more bravado than intent until one strikes out at an opponent and in error strikes another. The Shirriffs are quickly on the scene. Alvi charming the main protagonist to sleep with her sweet music and Aelfric and Brega separating the remaining foes. Alvi again employs her smooth tongue to convince the warring youths to return back to their halls.

Faced with a range of opinions but very little evidence the three shirriffs examine the kennel where the hound was kept. Discovery of a poisonous blue flower amongst the straw bedding leads the three to question the master of the hounds. He reveals that he is the one who collects the bedding for the dogs and that he changed the bedding in the kennel. Further careful investigation reveals that the servant did not understand the nature of the flowers and that this was all a terrible mistake.

Gathering the reluctant principals back in the main hall the deputy shirriffs explain their findings and forcefully point out that any misdemeanours between family members will be dealt with severely. Satisfied that the situation is resolved Alvi, Aelfric and Brega return to Wibblesham

Food

In the cool autumn air, Brega walked towards the Midnight Rooster, the only lodgings in the small town of Wibblesham. Her dark robe was muddy from six months of wandering. Weighed down by her pack and pans, she leaned on her intricately carved staff and paused taking in the mix of overground houses and round doors set into the hillside.

As she neared the inn, her thoughtful hazel eyes noticed a familiar figure stood with an unknown companion on the wooden boards that kept customer’s feet dry when entering the Midnight Rooster. Hailing Aelfric, whom she had grown up in the same village with before they had both been forced on the road half a year ago, she quickened her pace to the door. Soon Aelfric had introduced Brega to his companion who he had travelled with from Tharbad. Alvi, a red-headed bard, was one of those women who made a room light up when she entered. So it was not long before the three sat with a the remains of a supper before them; Brega and Alvi swapping stories; Alvi playing a quiet tune to entertain the tavern’s other patrons.

Come the morning, the three are sat breaking fast together when they are approached by a hobbit wearing a blue goose feather in her hat. She introduces herself as Shirriff Mally Nation. She has been granted leave by the village moot to recruit additional shirriffs to help with shepherding of refugees to safe areas. The village of Wibbleham is not rich but can cover the cost of board and food while they are shirriffs. Seeing a chance to save coin and have a place to rest for a while they work, the adventurers agree.

The first task is to escort a group of refugees to a safe ravine because Shirriff Mally believes that there is a risk of Corn-skin fever, a deadly disease, amongst the refugees. Guiding the emaciated refugees along the road to the new campsite, the party notice one particularly healthy Dunlending. He protests vociferously about the treatment of his people and they are being prevented from moving on. However, Alvi talks eloquently to the unhappy, hungry and weary people about how they are going to be looked after if they follow to the camp and without fuss they refugees move to the prepared quarantine campsite in a narrow ravine.

The adventurers are tasked with guarding the refugees and bringing food to the camp. Brega uses her skill in cooking to create warm hearty food for the refugees and earns favour with the refugees. Still, there is the odd attempt by one or two refugees to escape and find extra food or perhaps somewhere else to live in peace. None get far and Aelfric proves himself to be a capable athlete in chasing down the errant refugees.

Whilst resting in the Midnight Rooster the adventurers hear of talk from some of the local farmers of the theft of livestock. Mally not having spare shirriffs to dispatch to investigate sends Alvi, Brega and Aelfric. At each farm, the tale is the same: they believe that the refugees have taken the lamb or calf that has been stolen. Yet at one farm a clue is discovered, young Semmi Midtoe looks uncomfortable when his family are questioned about the missing lamb. Alvi and Aelfric eventually manage to win his trust and he reveals that it was his pet lamb that was stolen by Betwin Proudfoot. Which is strange because Betwin was buried yesterday.

Confused but unconvinced by the youngster’s description of the deceased hobbit stealing a lamb, the party return to the Midnight Rooster for the night. During the evening, an irate hobbit, Marco Chubb, interrupts their rest demanding that the shirriffs investigate the cruel practical joke that had been played on his daughter Daisy. He tells of how some cruel prankster, pretended to be the recently departed uncle Clarfew and leered through the window at poor young Daisy, quite distressing the hobbitling. Initially, the recently conscripted shirriffs are unwilling to investigate immediately yet after much pleading they eventually agree.

At the Chubb farm, Aelfric finds signs of an intruder but the party are unable to track the intruder. However, they discover that Grandmother Minna has also seen her son playing with the family cat that day. She is most distressed that no-one had told her of Clarfew’s death. This and the presence of the remains of said family cat cause the shirriffs to question the Chubb family further. In doing so they discover that Uncle Clarfew had in fact been secretly trading with the refugee camp and had also contracted corn skin fever. Faced with two recently departed hobbits, the shirriffs soon discover that two more “associates” of Clarfew had recently died and been buried quickly in the village graveyard. With this new information, the deputy shirriffs set off for the graveyard.

In the dark it proves hard to find more than four graves with recently disturbed earth; returning at first light the investigators find a trail leading from the graves into the wood. In the depths of the woods in a small dell Brega, Alvi, Alefric and Mally discover the source of the livestock losses in the form of four hobbit ghouls. Trapping them in the hidden lair it is only a matter of time before Aelfric Smithson with the aid of Alvi Craigsdottir have dispatched the evil but ineffectual undead. Thinking about the refugee camp it becomes clear to Brega that Firdok, the rather healthy and vocal refugee, may also be infected with the corn skin sickness. She explains this to her companions and they plan to capture Firdok without causing risk to the remain refugees.

With a cauldron of stew, the shirriffs return to the camp and without causing alarm to manage to convince Firdok through Alvi’s clever words to come with them to see the new site of the refugees’ village. Before Firdok has time to realise the deception, Aelfric strikes him from behind stuns him to the floor. Fearing that Firdok may recover quickly, Alvi plays her flute and causes Firdok to fall into a deep sleep. Soon Firdok is bound and secured in the village gaol. The town mayor and Shirriff Mally are extremely grateful to the adventurers and promise to hold a trial to determine what to do with Firdok, who is clearly a ghoul but equally has continued to try and support his family and tribe of refugees.

Just a postscript on this adventurer log. This was the first game my family had chosen to play and that in itself was a strange experience given that previously they had shown no desire to play when invited. The start was rather awkward as it often is with new players trying to get over the self-consciousness of playing for the first time. However, I also had to deal with the scepticism of “this won’t be fun and will be weird” and it also being my wife and kids at the table, who it must be said found it tricky to deal with the change in roles and dynamics (as did I). Eventually, once we had got past the embarrassment and also the realisation that it was up to them as players to direct the story, it turned into quite a good game. I am not sure how often they will play or if they will join the main campaign, but at least they enjoyed it and we didn’t end up with one big argument.