Minions

One of the problems with being a GM, especially with Rolemaster, is keeping track of all the NPC in combat. Long ago in a galaxy far away I created some Excel spreadsheets that helped with this sort of thing, but these were sadly lost in PC migration back in the day of 3.5″ floppies. Back in “A road less travelled” I mentioned trying Rolemaster Minion to support me as a GM during combat. So this is a little review of how it has been going.

Initially, I have to say it wasn’t very efficient but this was mostly to do with linking routine OBs to weapon types. It is, after all, Rolemaster, and we are playing MERP but from the players’ point of view, they are not worried if it is a generic table or a weapon specific table. What they do notice is that I am not flipping through a series of tables to find the right weapon (or they are), and I am clearly not cross-referencing a table. I used to use a paper table I prepared with most of the potential protagonists the party would meet and then track on this. This has the potential for many errors when you are pushed including not applying penalties when you should and missing the point of unconsciousness. In Minion, there is none of this as it highlights stunned combatants and when they are incapacitated, and also applies all penalties (unless you switch it off).

In play, there have been a few issues, but I think we can put most of this down to discovering the best way to use the system. You do need to do some preparation work, NPCs and PCs need to all be entered into the program but this is no more than creating a combat recording table. There is a clone function, which is useful for henchmen and guards. The data can be stored through a copy and paste text for a restore. I would recommend keeping a copy of your PC and allies without opponents as this will speed up generating the combat tables. Opponents can be filtered into groups which helps for an adventure with multiple tactical encounters.

There is a facility to roll initiative and play strictly by this order, or as we do, you know which order events occur and then select combatants in each phase. Players can choose to let the auto roll do the work or use their dice roll. Quite frankly, no-one does the former. I mean why would you? Yet it does speed up the NPC combat. Initially, when I was getting the hang of it, I found myself entering the OBs and pulling down menus to select weapons until I got the hang of grabbing from the restore box.  There is also a slight slow down as you check boxes for modifiers for parry and position, but no more than the adjustments made for mental calculation. The benefit is stun and critical penalties are applied automatically. Crit rolls are handled automatically (again players can use their own) but you don’t need to add or subtract from the roll for the crit level.

In addition to the initiative rolling, there is also a dice roll function which can provide hidden rolls for all characters for perception, MM and use item (attunement). Which can be useful for those quick decisions about do they notice, avoid, or use in combat.

There have been a few glitches in play, mostly where I select the wrong character and have to cycle the correct combatants into order (still quicker than looking up results and recording on paper). I did have one occasion where the player and I disagreed on hits, but I’d had a round where the results didn’t appear to have been recorded but I suspect they went in so repeating the attack could have added on. We adjusted in the player’s favour.

Random encounters can cause problems because either you have to quickly enter the details of these or play off the tables. Keeping a backup table of potential encounters is possible but every time the players level up or change OB you will need to go an amend this table and although it appears to be a generic text code I haven’t yet managed to change or add in the raw code without making a mistake somewhere, so you would need to do this in Minion each time.

Overall, I’m much happier with this running the combat than the old pencil and paper method. We now talk more descriptively about the combatants rather than relying on the mechanics to describe the state of injury. “Pick is reeling in front of his foe, blood pouring from his nose like a punch drunk boxer” rather than “Pick is bleeding 2 hits/round with a broken nose and is stunned for 2 rounds”. Currently, we are still double-entry bookkeeping, with players tracking details of their characters, which as we have seen is useful at the moment, but I suspect in time all injuries will be more descriptive. After all, when you break your leg, you know it is probably broken and you are in excruciating pain, how many seconds before you are able to focus clearly is irrelevant you respond either by crumpling in a weeping mess or grit your teeth and try and move. Equally, when bleeding you don’t think “Oh I have 50 secs before I’m incapacitated”; you say “***@@, I’m bleeding badly, I’d better slap a bandage/tourniquet/plaster on that!”. So hopefully, the roleplay experience will be enhanced.

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Ambush in the wilderness

Limolas and Pick are resting in one of the local hostels in Caras Celairnen when they are approached by a small hobbit by the name of Billwise. The enthusiastic hobbit is interested in the pairs recent adventure and appears to be over friendly but as he is buying the drinks the pair humour him. While they are in conversation they are approached by a nervous scholar by the name of Mithparvandir who offers them a chance to find treasure if they will recover items for him from distant locations that would prove difficult for the scholar to enter. He is unwilling to specify what these might be as he is afraid of being overheard in such a place that promises to meet them later in the day at the Causeway gate and explain if they agree to help him.

As the spring sunshine fades and the warmth leaches from the air, the three adventurers wait for Mithparvandir by the gate. Late traffic is leaving the town, including a travelling knight and his retinue. Soon though these sights are forgotten as the Mithparvandir arrives with a sorry looking mule loaded with food for four weeks travel. He explains that he is afraid that other treasure hunters might reach the hidden locations in the site he has discovered. Also explaining that he is still deciphering some ancient texts that hint at a hidden treasure trove which requires some kind of key. Cautiously, the three accept the commission a little unsure of if the deserted mansion in the fallen realm of Cardolan will still contain treasure.

Before setting out, Pick decides to see if Dagaard will join them and, after a long conversation about gems after visiting Dagaard’s workshop, Dagaard agrees to join the party.

The journey is uneventful, apart from discovering that Billwise’s claim to be an excellent cook is false. At the end of the second day, the sun setting red and a storm closing in, the party notice the knight and his retinue ahead. Closing quickly in the hope of sharing a campsite for the night, Limolas spots a party of what looks like bandits preparing for an ambush. The adventurers hurry to the wooded defile, which although a good place to camp is also a good site for an ambush. Elf and dwarves task the newest member of the party to baggage duty, not trusting his size in battle and doubting his temperament and skill. Limolas, raced ahead and soon his sharp eyes spotted an old adversary amongst the bandits, Culwine. Unfortunately, the elf’s progress and those of his dwarven companions is noticed; a pair of bandits break off to intercept the adventurers.

Limolas, bow in hand, fires and although injuring one bandit, does nothing to halt their progress. He runs. The implacable dwarves continue their steady progress and soon battle is joined. Limolas continues to offer missile support. Doughty Dagaard dispatches his opponent quickly. Pick drops his weapon and is forced to use his shield in both offence and defence. Meanwhile, a poor pack mule enters the arena of combat as the remaining bandits join their companions in battle. So it is with some surprise that the experienced fighters observe Billwise appear behind one of the attackers and dispatch him with a single blow. Soon, only one bandit remains standing, but appears to be evading the blows of three opponents. Dagaard having dispatched Calwine charges on, sure that more combat will be found further into the valley. 

Finally, Billwise and Limolas manage to dispatch the remaining bandit, but Pick is beginning to look punch drunk. Leaving Pick to continue at his own pace, the elf and hobbit chase Dagaard into the valley. Rounding the corner they come upon the main site on Ambush. The knight has been felled as has most of his retinue, only Dagaard and the knight’s young squire continue the fight. A carriage, with smoke billowing out, is pulled up across the road. Within seconds, Dagaard and the squire collapse to the ground leaving Billwise to face three bandits alone. Fortunately, the hobbit uses his natural speed to stay out of trouble until reinforcements arrive, and although the foes prove troublesome to defeat, the remaining adventurers are victorious. 

Assessing the situation, the brave fighters ascertain that Dagaard, the knight and his retinue are merely unconscious. After time to recover they discover the tale of the ambush and that this was an attempt to assassinate the heir to the noble house of Noirin. Valanaque is the nephew of the current head of the house and the heir apparent to his aunt.

When sufficiently recovered, the enlarged party make their way to the family seat of the house Noirin. With great thanks, the band of heroes are rewarded by being granted the rights of retainers to the noble house. In return, Limolas and Pick share the discovered documents that they believe indicate there may be spies within Arthedain. With these revelations the Dame Noirin, orders the adventurers to accompany her to Bree, which she will pass through on the way to a meeting with the King at Amon Sul, and there to listen out for hints of potential plots.

Rewards Granted

Granted rights and responsibilities of a retainer of the House Noirin and supplied with a mount suitable for that position along with livery.

Missions/Quests Completed

Save Valanque from assassination

Character(s) interacted with

Valanque
Dagaard
Dame Noiren

Related Reports

Snow and Subterfuge
A road less travelled

World Anvil update

In my last blog, I introduced the World Anvil site which had been mentioned by the Kind GM. I thought I would give a quick update on my progress as it seems to have occupied a lot of my GM downtime. In addition, there have been some developments that may have widened the appeal to other GMs.

First, the world building, which goes well, The ability to record even brief sketches of a location and the people in one place and link them all is a very nice tool to have. I have been trying this out with my village sketch of Elvenbyen. This seems to work well, owners of establishments can be linked and using categories you can group these into a managed table of contents. I found that linking into broad groups like location, people of note and organisations was about all that was needed. I can upload and access maps linked in this way although I suspect that my conventional paper layout is more accessible in gameplay.  It would be nice if I could hotspot the locations from the map to the descriptions, which I should probably feedback to the developers.

Categories provide the hierarchy for organising your information, however, I have not got two locations on the go and the article list by which each entry is organised is a bit too long for this to work as well as it should. Yes, you can filter into main categories, but what if the character or organisation fits over more than one category.  Also when working on one location you really only want to see those articles, but overall not too much of a problem. Linking to various articles uses drop downs and these currently aren’t linked to the category you are working on. This does mean you have to scroll a lot as your list of characters or locations increases. Again though, another thing that could be fixed.

Overall, the World Anvil site is providing a useful way of organising information for locations I am creating. As it has the crosslinking categories I can keep a database organised and when it comes to publishing the location information it should be a simple matter of taking the online information and putting it in a location-specific document. Of course, my biggest fear is that the website will go defunct and I will lose all the information so my paranoid brain is getting ready to copy all the web pages into an offline version.

A new feature that has been introduced is a Campaign section. I suspect it is going to be most useful to gamers who play online, but the plot functions do intrigue me. I have had a little play and it does have the potential for organising your story arc and individual scenario story. PCs and NPCs can be linked and through the generic table function, I guess stats could be added. Using the image function you could store maps and the 6 point story structure gives everything the basic planning features you would need. I am trying it out to organise some of the ideas I have for the current campaign, much of which is written on paper as sketches. I must say it is helping me think about the details, but in the current format, there are a few things that make it clunky to work with. For example, in a scenario, I might want an NPC antagonist and rather than creating them in the plot, I need to create a character and then go back and link to the plot. The same is true of locations. This makes workflow trickier, well for someone who tends to use multiple sheets of paper it does.

The second part of the Campaign feature is the session tools. There is one for playing and one for reporting on the session itself. I have had a mini play and again it could be a useful tool. Online it probably would work as a playing space, but what if there is no internet! Furthermore, I think a GM is going to need to flip multiple tab windows to track all the information they need. Having paper strewn everywhere may be a bit inconvenient, but you generally can still talk to your players in this state. I wonder if the chat window/video is as accessible or would you need a second computer? In the world of rock paper scissors, paper still beats electronics for overall usability.

So we are not there yet – probably closer for DnD GMs, less so on the plotting and world-building side, but still an interesting project and it does need a download backup function.

Hammer and the Anvil

Depending on the GM, a lot of time can be spent building the locations in which adventures can be set. I know some GMs just take it all from published materials and run without thinking about the big picture. To be honest why would you when your players are just interested in solving the mystery, slaying the beast and getting the gold/girl. For me this works well for one off adventures, but not so well when the characters become involved in a campaign or series of interlinked adventures. I begin to find my players become more interested in the world around them and I have to have a set of reasons why they can’t take over a town as overlords or set up their own bank or…. Well the hundred and one off-the-wall reasons that can be given by players. Which means at the very least you should have some background at your fingertips.

Then there are GMs who write adventures/campaigns creating the content needed to play a game because, well they enjoy the process or don’t like what is available. Finally, there are the world builders who relish the chance to think about the macro and the what ifs. Well I’m one of those, and even though Middle Earth is full of source material, there are plenty of places to build and develop. My computer, and some binders are littered with pen sketches of places, notes on names and characters: along with adventures to run. So it was with interest that I read about World Anvil  on the Kind GM’s blog.

The site provides a way to organise all those pesky bits of paper into a coherent gazetteer. You will have seen some of my latest content appearing on the blog pages, but really that is an awkward way to manage the content.  So I have been plugging in some text of locations that are of interest currently to see if the site will work for me.

The content holders are useful and mostly match with information and ideas that I want to record, and there is a useful way of linking characters into geographical locations. However, there doesn’t appear to be a way of linking the location to the characters, unless they own the site. If you upload maps they can be linked to the site and I guess using a side bar space I can start adding specific detail from the map.

When I started I just put up one location and started to link characters associated. I soon discovered that when you do this, you will need at least some headline work on races and locations of a top level nature to tie things together. For example, I needed to create a species man and then subdivide to ethnicity Northman/Riverman to include this information on the character. It is possible to get away without having this infomation and leaving it very generic, but at some point linking locations and characters into kingdoms etc has to be done. As a result, it is better to do it early and add to each new item rather than retrospectively.

One thing I do like about the design of the site is the ability to put in secret information that is not generally known to the world. This apparently would be available to subscribers of the world stream but not to the casual observer. Quite how this works in practise I don’t know. I guess a player could read the public content and GMs subscribe, but how do I know which is which?

The website allows for collaboration (any budding authors drop me a line), but really without upgrading to a private account, I don’t think the capacity for images is going to be large enough to cope with more than a few maps. So at some point I’m going to run out of space. It also uses BB code (a cut down HTML) which in this day of smart interfaces seems a bit dated. Even the basic WordPress toolbar begins to look science fiction compared to this.

As a trial I’m going to carry on building locations and ideas for Caras Celairnen because it does make organising the content easier. It is a useful tool for creating the correct environment and forces me to think about who lives in a place and what they look like and how they act. However, at some point I will end up taking all the text and relocating in a more published format elsewhere. Like many internet ventures it will only last as long as the server, so it will pay to make a back up.

 

Reunited

In the last session, our hapless heroes had become separated and their stories had taken different paths. Recovering in the Dwarven enclave of Caras Celairnen, the dwarves had begun to search for possible news of the return of Limolas to civilisation, more in hope than any real sense of success. As a result, they did not tax their own resources too heavily, instead relying on using the elf’s cash reserves to pay some street urchins to pass on news of any sightings.  Then, feeling that duty had been done, they set about resting and planning on how to return to the Edanaar, the golden frog, to complete the task.

633cc7e45250ccdb5a1aabbeea991001-middle-earth-josephMeanwhile, sometime later, Limolas returning to the town shorn of is belongings and trousers – is detained by the city guard. Attempts to engage the city militia in contacting his friends fail miserably, and the elf is forced to sit and wait in a cell. Finally, he is taken to a court in front of the Arquan of the Karras and a chance to plead his case. However, his dishevelled appearance and lack of means do not help his poorly constructed arguments of being an adventurer down on his luck with companions in town. Perhaps it is not a good idea to mention your friends are dwarves when you are an elf.  After deliberation, the elders of the city decide that Limolas is a potential risk to the safety of the city and decide – in the interest of security –  to bad the elf from the city.  So it is that down-on-his-luck elf finds himself contemplating the long walk along the two-mile causeway towards the next chance of shelter and food.

At that same moment, the dwarves receive word of an elf who matches their description has just been thrown out from the town. With maximum dwarven haste, the pair make their way down to the causeway gate and a short dash across the causeway soon reunites them with their lost companion. After briefly swapping tales, the party hatch a plan to house Limolas for long enough for them to complete the quest.

alabasterReasoning that it is only a matter of time before the banishment will be forgotten, Limolas settles into the shore camp occupied by many of the river’s itinerant travellers who stop-over at the Karras.  When Limolas is sufficiently recovered, the party travel into the fens again and with only minor incidents return to the bower of the Golden Frog.  Upon the presentation of the gifts to the idol, a golden mist swirls around and miraculously Edanaar stand before the adventurers.

Within a matter of days, Edanaar and been reunited with his long-lost love. The party rewarded both in coin and some minor items settle into the town to finally reflect on their adventure and again on how being reunited allowed the lost lovers to be united again.

Sundered!

In the previous session, we left the party divided and in fear deep within the wood surrounding the Labyrinth of Thorns. Limolas, alone in the woods woke to a new day and a sense of self-imposed calm. However, although he knew north from south and east from west, he had no clue as to his location in the woods. Reasoning that the dwarves were to the North he carefully made his way through the woods.

515012-515012_origMeanwhile, back at camp the dwarves, now more concerned about the failure of their companion began to make plans to leave in the assumption that the elf was lost. Waiting part of the morning, and with no sign of Limolas, the pair began to make their way towards the west and the side of the woods they had entered.  Arriving at the edge of the swamp the waited another hour or so before deciding to try and find their way back through the swamp. Suddenly, the two stout heroes were assailed by giant, slimy tentacles. From the swamp a watcher in the water attempt to snatch at Pick, who was carrying the basket containing the stones and rose. Valiantly, the dwarves beat back the assaulting arms and regained the wood away from the dangers of the swamp.  For a while, the tentacles searched for the basket and the dwarves decided that seeking another way from the wood would be sensible. Thus they set off to search the edge of the woods for a new path and they reasoned, they may come across the elf, should he have made his way to edge of the woods.

tumblr_static_esypkkltsvwcswcss0so0cgk4Indeed, this is exactly what Limolas had done, having reached the Northern edge of the woods he surveyed the steep, imposing slopes of the Twilight hills decided to follow the woods to the Western end and the location of the causeway. From there he reasoned he would be able to trace the path back to the camp near the Labyrinth.  After a long trek involving an incident with a fireward and a loss of trousers, the half-dressed elf finally arrived back at the site of the camp, which of course by now was deserted. Not wishing to remain in the wood Limolas made his way back to the edge of the woods by the causeway path for the night.

During this time, Pick and Dagaard had walked around the edge of the wood, and discovered a fellow adventurer in distress. Dealve, had been part of a party seeking the golden frog, but his companions had perished in the accursed swamp and seeking safety Dealve had managed to gain some dry land, but now was without food. Not entirely trusting the adventurer, the dwarves, of course, did not disclose their discoveries but did offer to work together to escape from the swamp. With night drawing, the band of lost adventurers settled in for a watchful and uncomfortable night.

Dawn broke softly in the mist-enshrouded woods, grey, damp mist surrounded the sundered companions. Limolas deciding that his companions have begun to journey back through the swamp uses his tracking skills to begin searching for safe paths back to the golden frog, Edanaar. The dwarves, meanwhile, continue to skirt the woods searching for an obvious path without the risk of meeting a watcher.

uk11-341_glastonbury_tor_from_ham_wall_at_dawn_somerset123The dwarves with Dealve eventually arrive at the escarpments that mark the start of the Twilight hills. Deciding that searching for a path is fruitless, Pick and Dagaard decide to follow the edge of the escarpment towards the river Lhun.  With little incident, but dwindling supplies, they manage to make their way to the dwarf road leading to Caras Celairnen. Finally, arriving at the town starving, the dwarves seek sanctuary in the Dwarven Halls where they are nursed back to health. Fully recovered, the pair use some of Limolas’ coin to pay street urchins to provide news should the elf return. They do this more in hope rather than any real belief that he should be alive.

Limolas, however, is not so fortunate and through a series of mishaps spends longer in the swamp than even the initial journey out took. Thankfully, although lost, he is able to survive on a basic diet of swamp edibles. A considerable time after the dwarves had arrived back at the Karras, Limolas stumbles towards the causeway gate, half-naked, unkempt and starving. Despite pleading for aid, the gate guards decide that Limolas is a suspicious character and detain the elf. Limolas’ protestations and request that someone searches for news of his companions fall on deaf ears.

 

 

MERP, running and the dreaded MM table

Search the internet and you will find scattered here there and everywhere GMs who complain about the MERP/Rolemaster MM tables. It is never a surprise to me, as on my initial read through I missed the point as well. However, when I dug down into the reasoning some 25+ years ago it mostly made sense. At least in a way that allowed us to play a game and not have my players argue every 5 minutes about why they a 4’5″ dwarf should be able to cover 100m in 10 secs in full plate. So I am starting a little series up in the Rationale section to explain my thinking and explore some ideas.