Towards a system without levels pt 4 (late age development)

In the previous post, I considered character development based on time principally as a believable method of non adventuring NPC development. Using the method I ran the process over a NPC (Bregol) to emulate his first 25 years and create a character that was similar to a level 13 NPC. In this post I will continue with development for the next 15 years.

Up to this point in time Bregol has developed rapidly due to his position in society despite the low risk nature of his life. As a GM I could have boosted some of his combat skills or his sailing has a direct development during his travelling period. However, those days are passing, he marries and takes up the duties of the town’s Arnaroquen (Lord) and running his family’s trading network so the time available to develop skills is reduced. It is also likely that desire to develop skills is lower as we get older unless we there is a particular need.

AgeSerfMerchantLordRoyalty
10-151257
15-200257
20-250123
25-30
012
30-40

11
40-50

11
50

11
Number of ranks per year for 10+ ranks

Really at this point in time, Bregol has enough hours to deliberately develop four rank 1 skills, 2 rank 5 skills or 1 rank 10 skill each year. As such for the next 15 years very little changes. I increased the number of spells Bregol knows as something that might give him a competitive edge on his rivals. He gained an additional rank in weapon skills but would lack access to a higher level weapons expert to really develop those skills. His trading and diplomacy skills are his main interest so these are developed. Compared to a level development version Bregol really hasn’t developed beyond level 14.

Bregol at age 40

Bregol is a Lesser Dunedain lord and clearly he has many more years to develop. If we consider his development to be the equivalent of level 14, then this doesn’t really match the Lordly levels of Lord of Middle Earth vol II where he should possibly be closer to level 20. However, the increases in bonus are going to be small, maybe +8 in total so difference in power is small. Give another five to ten years and Bregol will have achieved a similar level so as a mechanic to age an NPC I think the model works well enough.

Towards skills without levels part 3

If you have been reading this blog you will know that I am considering a move away from levels as part of the mechanics of the game. I feel that they encourage a hit first and solve problems later approach to roleplaying. Even when you do address this by awarding experience points (XP) for ideas or roleplaying, players tend to focus on levelling up as a measure of success.

In the first blog, I thought about the factors that influence this and some input from Peter R demonstrated that for adventuring PCs. In the second post, I considered the time for education to each level of knowledge. In this post, I will look at how this might affect NPC character development.

RanksHours per rank
1-572
5-10144
10-15270
15-201800
203600
Time taken to increase by one rank

Based on a modern education system, which is probably being very generous in some settings, the amount of time to study for each rank is a simple formula to apply. However, the access to education and study will be restricted by social class. I have divided social strata into serf, merchant, lord and royalty. For my basic work up I have considered merchant to include artisans/skilled craftsman, who in Middle Earth are likely to be as wealthy as an innkeeper or costermonger. The number of hours to have deliberate study is limited for lower levels of society because they would be required to complete daily tasks for survival which Lords and Royalty wouldn’t. Also this is based on a 6 day learning week which then gives wiggle room for sickness or other major events. Based on background it would be possible to decide on the ranks available for variations on a theme.

AgeSerfMerchantLordRoyalty
10-154102436
15-202102436
20-25151218
25-3001612
30-400036
40-500036
500036
Hours per week available for study in age brackets

These hours of study can then be turned into the time taken to achieve one rank (level 1-5 only) by dividing the hours per rank by the available study time per week.

AgeSerfMerchantLordRoyalty
10-15187.232
15-20367.232
20-257214.464
25-30
72126
30-40

2412
40-50

2412
50

2412
Weeks needed to achieve one basic rank based on social status and age

And from here a simple calculation based on a 52 week year to work out the number of basic skill ranks achievable in a year.

AgeSerfMerchantLordRoyalty
10-15371726
15-20171726
20-2514913
25-30
149
30-40

24
40-50

24
50

24
Basic skill ranks achievable in one year of deliberate study

A “serf” would now achieve 15 ranks or around 3 skills of an apprentice level before 15 years old and a further one by 20 years old. Spread these out and you have a reasonably well-rounded individual with a specialism. However, Merchants, Lords and Royalty are already going to have a range of skills that will be greater than 5 ranks before 20 years old. For this reason the next level of ranks calculation has been applied for ages above 20 where the NPC is likely to be more specialist in nature, focussing on a core set of skills.

AgeSerfMerchantLordRoyalty
10-15 (ranks 1-5)371726
15-20 (ranks 5-10)14913
Ranks per year combined table

A serf might add 5 ranks to a skill above the fifth rank between the ages of 15 and 20 years but this is in reality a fraction of a rank each year, so can be used at need. Merchants are able to develop four skills to rank 10 by 20 years old, giving them mastery in a group of skills connected to their trade. Lords and Royalty obviously have a wider range of skills that need to be developed as the ruling classes. In Middle Earth they are also likely to be Dunedain and longer lived, therefore being more able to study in later life.

As a mechanic this appears to provide a good method of creating NPCs with a realistic background without having to worry about their levels. Let’s face it, unless the PCs plan to kill every villager the level is irrelevant. I could imagine creating a bank of villagers with an interchangeable specialist skill set at various ages. There is one little hitch at the moment and that is spell casting. Spell lists could be learnt as a percentage chance or as individual spells (my preferred option), but casting and particularly resistance rolls in Rolemaster are very dependent on a level derived mechanic. I can see some work will need to be done on magic mechanics.

In Caras Celairnen there is a lord called Bregol according to the unpublished Lindon module but printed in other source material. He is quite a significant figure as the Arnaroquen and if I followed the level grading from Lords of Middle Earth Vol II (MERP ICE ) would be around level 20. In my setting Bregol is going to be a Lesser Dunedain of around 40 years of age. My aim is to maintain game balance so for this to work the “aged” model should be roughly similar to a level 20 version. I’m going to do this very quick and dirty on a MERP character build with a more permissive Rolemaster approach because the secondary skills are more important than the adventuring primary skills.

Bregol at 10 with adolescent ranks added as baseline

Bregol is a Merchant Lord and if the class/profession rule still applies then he is most likely a Bard but really this is irrelevant for everything but magic realm and lists. I more inclined to let the skills be developed according to the type of character than be restricted by a notional profession.

Bregol at 15

Bregol would have received considerable schooling by the age of 15, mastering basic weapon skills and athletic skills with a knowledge of diplomacy and some regional knowledge by 12 and developing his regional lore and sailing skills by travelling with his father’s sailing ships before 20 years old. An adventuring bard would gain roughly a rank for each skill per level so Bregol at 15 would be about level 5. If his father had been more warlike then Bregol would be proficient in different types of weapons and possibly would be developing ranks above 5 but a less broad sweep of other skills.

Bregol at 20

By 20 years old, Bregol has travelled extensively down to Gondor and on the Harad. He has learnt to speak several languages more fluently and more about the locations he has visited. Although he is not a sailor or a navigator he has learnt about these skills to a level of competency of most seaman apart from the key ship leaders.

Bregol at 25 years old

From 20 years old to 25 years Bregol begins to take on daily responsibilities and although it would be unfair to say he isn’t learning things about state-craft and running a business, the effect isn’t as great. I could use the study time to develop 9 ranks in a new skill, but I don’t think Bregol is that kind of person. He will be getting married and settling down soon and even as a Dunedain Lord his available hours of additional study will be reduced.

Conventional MERP character development taken to level 10 leaves Bregol at pretty much the same ranks for the skills of our 25 year-old learning over time. In the trial run it takes until level 12 to replicate the same character sheet and only if I go with a 2:1 point transfer for secondary skills. A Rolemaster development would be similar within the usual restrictions of development points based on stats and I would (if really exploring this) use a no profession for comparability.

In the next blog post I will look at how development of 10+ ranks and equivalent level 20 specialist development can be handled using study time. However, before the comments start flowing that PCs will develop slightly differently as I plan to use something like Peter Rs development mechanic for adventuring skills but offer the PC a chance of developing other skills in downtime using this method.

Mapvember #4

Finally, nearly Christmas and the last level of the Caras Castle maps are edited and tidied up. All that remains is to add the room details for description purposes and then hit the details of the main characters for the solo adventure and the town gazeteer.

  1. Upper guest rooms
  2. Upper guest rooms
  3. Upper guest rooms
  4. Upper guest rooms
  5. Upper guest rooms
  6. Upper guest rooms
  7. Hallway of family rooms
  8. Sitting room
  9. Bedroom
  10. Bedroom
  11. Lindal’s Bedroom
  12. Lindal’s Apartment
  13. Lindal’s maids’s Bedroom

Mapvember #3

The ramparts of the castle are covered with slate roofing thus providing soldiers manning the walls with some protection from missiles.

  1. Gate house towers
  2. City corner towers the stairs lead down to the ground level positions
  3. River towers the stairs lead down to the ground level positions
  4. Mid river tower
  5. Muster spaces but also a storage area.
  6. Missile storage – Bins of arrows and bolts
  7. Balcony that gives a clear view of the courtyard covered with a simple slated roof. Attackers gaining the central courtyard would find themselves surrounded by firing posistions on all sides.
  8. Balcony outside staff rooms
  9. Senior staff room
  10. Senior staff room
  11. Sensechal’s room
  12. Bregol’s Library
  13. Bregol’s Bedroom secret entrance to 18
  14. Bregol’s Reception room
  15. Bregol’s Office
  16. Corridor stairs leading to top level of tower will have a guard
  17. Haradric mistress’ room
  18. Haradric mistress’ room secret entrance to 13
  19. Hall way space reached by stairs from below or wooded walkway
  20. Eunuch responsible for meeting Haradric Mistress’ daily needs and guardian of the hallway.
  21. Entrance hallway of noble lodge – visiting nobles and important guest are lodged in this section.
  22. Guest room – Nobles are lodged in these rooms so they are well appointed.
  23. Guest room
  24. Guest room – Peep hole hidden in portrait
  25. Guest room
  26. Guest room – peep hole hidden
  27. Guest room
  28. Guest room
  29. Guest room
  30. Secret chamber accessible through secret door in corridor. Has spy hole into rooms 24 and 26. Two possible reasons for this chamber. a)Bregol constructed it to view the rooms to gain blackmail evidence against visiting nobles
    b)It is a hidden chamber long-forgotten with an alchemist laboratory and some potions that will help an adventurer on a quest.

The Holly and the Ivy

Crystal Shard 2

Having saved the Polliwot hobbits and the local Eriadorians from the Orc raiding party the thrown together band of heroes feted and weighed down by as much victuals as can be spared consider where to travel next. Pick, Billwise and Dagaard, already feeling obligation to the memory of Limolas, wish to travel back to Caras Celairnen to deliver the recovered crystal to Mithparvandir. Ydal and Denig lacking horses and any definite destination join them.

Mysteriously, Mithparvandir is no longer at his lodgings in the Causeway district. Windows and doors boarded, it appears that the scholar has not been in his lodgings for many weeks. The party decide to find lodgings in an out of the way inn where Denig’s stone features will attract less attention. They end up at the Captain’s Daughter in the Shore District where Hrothgar is used to strange adventurers.

After a few days of welcome idleness, the party is visited by Mithparvandir who is looking travel weary and strained. It turns out that he has come for more than the crystal recovered from Elvellon manor. He has discovered the location of a second crystal in the long deserted lands of Hollin. However, he clearly fears other forces are searching and tells the party that they should have little contact so that the watchers will be unaware of the connection.

More concerned about her missing Mearas and its lack of return, Ydal sets off alone to search for her missing horse. The remaining adventurers, gather supplies for the road and set out along the East road for the bridge over the Hoarwell where they plan to head south into Hollin. The journey is relatively uneventful apart from a poor attempt at highway robbery that left the remaining miscreants running for the hills.

The party travel on into the haunted lands of Hollin, dogged by the sense that they are being watched. Each day there seems to be a crow somewhere in the sky on a nearby holly tree. Yet, aside from this, they travel to the site of the Villa of Casaredhel without incident.

Across Middle-Earth – Eregion by ralphdamiani

The ruins of the villa lie in a valley which helpfully supplies the party with a vantage point to survey the lie of the land. Deciding it is relatively safe, Billwise sets out to scout the ruins. He notes the passage of some large creature from a small out building where a natural cave leads underground and calls the rest of the party to investigate. They are unable to determine what type of creature but are unwilling to enter into its den to discover its nature. Instead, assuming it is nocturnal, they investigate the ruins and discover two potential entrances that lead to under the villa. The first is clearly a trap door built for easy access to whatever lies below and the second is a small gap in the hypocaust that would allow a very tight crawl without armour.

After Billwise has crawled some way through the latter and discovered that this route leads to the lair of the beast, the adventurers choose the trapdoor and the stairs down. They cautiously enter and explore a small work room complex which has been emptied many centuries ago. All that remains are a few forgotten scraps of parchment with Dwarvish runes and Tengwar script. The Dwarves easily decipher the runes which appear to be part of a text on a weapon forged to defeat the dragons of the first age that used the heart of a dragon. Should the weapon be discovered and broken then the dragon would be released. The Tengwar is just gibberish and they decide to wait and find a translator later.

In the main workroom there are three levers by an iron door. Fearing a trap but also thinking that they open the doors, Denig tries each lever in turn. No disaster befalls the adventurers and finally they push on opening the doors that lead to the forge room. It is here that they discover another crawl space that leads to the beast’s lair. Careful searching also reveals a secret room in which a casket sits on a pedestal. Denig uses a series of intuitions to determine the nature of the rooms traps and finding that removing the casket will result in the deaths of all the party advises that taking it and running is not an option. They party spend much time debating how to defeat the trap and after a very slow lock pick and an ingenious use of an axe to prevent the exit of a trap dart confirm the presence of the crystal in the casket. Again Denig intuits that removing the crystal would result in everyone’s deaths as the ceiling collapses in workroom. Much discussion revolves around replacing weights and and bracing until the party realise that there is a way out of the room without being crushed by rocks. Only it also involves the beast in the lair, which most suspect is a troll.

Billwise is dispatched through the narrow tunnel to confirm this. Unfortunately, he also disturbs the troll in its sleep and a failing arm crushes a hobbit toe. The hobbit yelps in pain awakening the troll and although Billwise escapes safely the troll is now aware of strangers. The troll, is also very keen for a bit of dwarf pie as pickings have got a bit lean in recent years. Not being keen on fighting the troll underground the adventurers agree to go outside and wait for the sun to set and the troll to emerge.

So as the valley is cast into shadow, our worthy heroes confront the enraged troll as it emerges from lair. Denig fires a flaming arrow which seems only to make the troll angrier and Billwise leaps from behind to attack from behind with little effect. Meanwhile, the dwarves close with the colossal foe and Pick leaping high slams his war hammer into the troll’s sternum driving bone splinters into its heart. The troll reels backwards almost crushing Billwise as it does so. Having anticipated a mighty battle the rest of the party look a little crest-fallen: although are also relieved.

After rooting through the troll lair and recovering a few items, the adventurers prepare to remove the crystal from the secret room. At the last minute Pick realises they had not thought through how the hobbit was going to climb up to crawl way entrance in the forge room. A hasty escape route built out of ramps from old bookcases and all is ready. Billwise retrieves the crystal without incident apart from the ceiling collapsing where expected.

The adventurers then spend the next day investigating the ruins and obelisk in the wood in case they have missed something but are unable to discover any other hidden passages. With nothing left to loot and feeling rather out of pocket on this quest they set off back towards the Last Bridge. They have travelled a few days onto the Ettenmoors, again with the crows shadowing their journey, when they are attacked by a band of Orcs. The Orcs attack with savagery clearly bent on recovering the crystal. Most of the party are asleep and slow to rouse putting them on the back foot. Both Dagaard and Pick are significantly wounded being hard pressed on all sides. Billwise attempts to draw off an Orc by running away, a tactic that proves ineffective, forcing Billwise to seek a rear advantage in close combat. The stone-skinned Denig battles with magical energies but only gains a small advantage before being forced back into a defensive stance. Soon though the Dwarven hammers are hitting their marks and orcs fall until none stand.

Pick and Dagaard’s wounds are healed by Denig, and the untouched Billwise removes the orc bodies. The adventurers are a little concerned about the nature of the attack and puzzled at how the orcs knew they had a crystal and why they would want it. However, they are soon back at the Last Bridge Inn and such musing can be done at leisure and in safety.

Rewards and Reputation

Billwise gains a satchel of a long forgotten explorer containing a +10 OB dagger, +5 Pick Lock kit, a map of the villa somewhere and a leather pouch with 50TP. Denig receives Time’s Arrow (+20OB sends target back 10 secs in time) and a Rune of Restoration. Pick has gained the monicker of Troll Slayer amongst the party.