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.

Mapvember #2

Well at this rate, I won’t even get the castle top levels out before the month is out. This is a nearly completed version – I got held up when I had to digitally add in windows that I had forgotten to include. I would like to add some more details to the rooms later but they aren’t needed for the main details.

The ground floor levels of Castle Caras Celairnen are reached via a drawbridge and bridge that span a wide defensive ditch. As the central castle is at the top of a rocky outcrop and backs onto the steep cliff down to the river, the risk of seige machines being brought to the main walls is very remote. Hence the purpose of the ditch is to create a killing field for the archers of the castle. Like all castles that have developed over time buildings have been added into the central courtyard, defensive structures have been converted to other uses and the overall feel is now of a ruling administrative palace rather than a defensive fortress.

  1. Defensive towers are three floors tall and topped by blue slate conical roofs. The lower levels are only accessible from the wall levels via the spiral stairs. The embrasures provide a wide arc of fire out onto the defensive ditch and also down to the river below.
  2. Central River defensive tower is similar to the corner towers described above except access to the tower can also be gained from the ground floor via a hidden door in room 18 which can be barred from both sides as needed.
  3. The right gate tower is similar to the corner towers. It has a stairway leading to the main wall above the gate and can be entered through a stout oak door which can be barred from the inside and outside of the tower.
  4. Central town-side towers are similar in style to the corner towers. Spiral stairs give access up to the defensive ramparts and both towers can be barricaded from both sides by stout doors.
  5. At the far end of the courtyard is the town’s administrative offices. The outer office is staffed by six scribes responsible for the administration of landing fees, permits and the other day to day minutiae of running a Charter town.
  6. Inner office staffed by two senior scribes.
  7. Records libraries lie off the inner office and are stacked with scrolls and papers related to the trade and administration of the town over the last twenty years. The doors to these rooms are often open during the day but are firmly locked at night (PL Medium).
  8. A series of steps lead down to an iron gate which is locked at night (PL medium) and a stout wooden door barred on the outside. These steps lead to a hidden water source down in the rock from which all the castle water is drawn. During the day in peacetime, it is often left open and unguarded.
  9. The kitchens are a constantly busy place. It would be difficult to pass by them without being noticed. A kitchen boy sleeps in the room to tend the fire and help the baker prepare bread for the morning.
  10. The larder is guarded by a single wooden door. Inside a wide array of perishable goods and preserved rations that keep the castle functioning are kept. A single arrow embrasure is closed up with wooden boards which can at need be removed.
  11. The guardroom can be entered from the main courtyard. The castle no longer garrisons a full militia here but 14 soldiers are permanently billeted within the walls. They man the walls in two shifts and are supplemented by locally billeted other members of the militia. Consequently, there will be 7 soldiers at ease here sat by the fire, eating, playing cards or in the dormitory beyond.
  12. The dormitory is filled with 7 bunks and 14 trunks for personal effects. The trunks have very simple locks (PL light). At the far end a curtain hangs over the embrasure for the arrow slit. When not sleeping the guards keep the wooden shutter down unless the weather is inclement.
  13. The door to this room is, like the door to the armoury, made of stout oak, bound in iron and locked (PL Very Hard). The ancestral armour of the house Silanir is kept within.
  14. The sergeant’s rooms are often occupied but are clearly empty when is voice can be heard dressing down one of the guards. It is simply furnished with a desk and bed.
  15. A stout oak door bound in iron and locked (PL Hard) protects the armoury from the casual intruder. Inside is a store of weapons needed to protect the castle in a time of siege. Not that this has happened yet but the captain makes sure that all the weaponry is well-tended and ready for action.
  16. Hall chamber with stairs to upper levels and locked oak door bound with iron.
  17. Great Hall
  18. Storage room with a hidden door (perception Light) concealed by a hanging and a rough plasterwork wooden door made to look like stone.
  19. Entrance hall. A set of wooden stairs lead to the next floor. Two locked wooden doors (PL Light) stand in the far wall.
  20. Storage
  21. The muster room
  22. Guardroom – metal grill looks out on to the hallway from the main door.
  23. Hall. Stairs lead up into the tower on the left and down to the gaol below
  24. Entrance hall. Designed to serve as a defensive space for the tower funnelling attackers into the kill zone from the arrow slits of both guardrooms.
  25. Muster room
  26. Guardroom
  27. Walled garden
  28. Minor hall used for general castle functions and meetings. Stairs lead up to a wooden structure that makes the second floor.
  29. Open walled courtyard with a rain-fed pond.
  30. The main courtyard is often busy throughout the day with castle staff, administrators, day guards, merchants and the general public. At sunset, the main gate is closed to the general public and the courtyard becomes a quieter place.
  31. The upper story to this building overhangs the one below. Beneath is space for stabling several horses of a short period of time. Longer-term stabling of horses is provided closer to the Causeway gate.
  32. Used as storage space but part of the defensive structures of the castle. The doors in and out can be barred in either direction to hinder attackers progress. Stairs lead up to the next floor.
  33. Anteroom to 32 and 34 is again another part of the defences of the castle that has slowly been converted to more prosaic day to day use. In this case a temporary tack room
  34. Used as storage space but part of the defensive structures of the castle. The doors in and out can be barred in either direction to hinder attackers progress. Stairs lead up to the next floor.

Mapvember #1

So Mapvember has arrived and as a little fun and to keep me going, I am going to try and join in this year. I can’t promise a map a day but I can contribute a little of the work ongoing in Caras Celairnen. Castle Basement level.

  1. Stairs passage from outside kitchen to the hidden well used to draw water in case of seige.
  2. A rough area for transporting smuggled goods. The stairs lead up to a secret entrance in a lodge beside the main keep.
  3. A locked door (Pick lock: Hard) of hardened oak bars entrance to a store area for smuggled goods. D10 crates with Southern wines and spirits. D10 pouches of hallucengenic herbs hidden in each crate (Perception: Medium). In the far wall is a secret entrance (Perception: Medium) to the excavation site beyond.
  4. A 25′ diameter cirular chamber of rough hewn rock stretches up in a small dome. Torchlight flickers off of a enormous pale yellow skull of a great dragon.
  5. The guard post stairs down from the keep lead to the dungeon. A single guard keeps a lonely vigil until relieved every 2 hours. His only task is to ensure that prisoners have not found the means to escape. The cell keys are kept by the guard captain and the chamberlin.
  6. Each cell is barricaded by an iron door (Pick Lock: Hard). Inside two small wooden benches serve as beds. In one corner is a piss pot and the other a small jug of water.

Fauna of underground Middle Earth

Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day.

Gandalf[1]

The trouble with dungeons in Middle Earth is there is a limited number of monsters for you to meet as you wander through the hidden depths of Arda. In the most part, this is because Tolkien didn’t do monsters in the classical literature sense. His scary monsters were all the creatures of Morgoth and apart from those which had direct contact with his protagonists were left implied and unmentioned. All of which leaves a GM in Middle Earth with very little variety in the evil monster department underground. Orcs, the odd troll, giant spiders, and a variety of undead are your only option and quite frankly as a GM varying tactics to keep the players’ interest can become tricky. Even more so if you believe there should be a reason for a monster inhabiting that room or area of cavern. There are the Maia linked to the various elemental forms but if you are using the MERP/Rolemaster systems you might as well be thinking of assaulting a dragon and we know how well that turned out for Thorin and co.

So what is the answer for those surprises in the caverns? The Moria module which you would think would provide a decent treatise on cave dwellers, but actually most of the fauna described would still need access to the open upper levels to feed. Goblin Gate is even less forthcoming only adding the vampire bat to the list because the bat was associated with the goblin army in the Hobbit and I am guessing the brief reference to them in the Silmarillion.

Adventures in Middle Earth rarely focus on exploring underground and yet every quest covered by Tolkien had some form of underground journey. So perhaps there should be more of a consideration of the denizens of the deep.

With no mythical creatures to draw on GMs would naturally drawn on non-fantasy creatures which Middle Earth would happily accept. Bats, bears, and anything that basically has the prefix of Cave are trogloxenes: creatures which live periodically underground but rely on above ground for food. Obviously these encounters will be near entrances to deeper caves and are covered in the fauna sections of most of the MERP and Rolemaster material.

What we really need are troglobites – animals that live underground permanently in cave systems. Unfortunately, these are really small and pretty much not very aggressive which could lead to come interesting encounters.

As you enter widening passage a hochenwartii scuttles past. Idly you swat it from the wall to the floor where it curls up briefly before scuttling into the darkness.

Which is where Gandalf’s passing comment on the nameless things begins to provide an opening. Already we have giant spiders but what if there were other giant fauna below which live in a thriving ecosystem on which the nameless things would in term feed on and presumably surface into the the depths of Dwarven delvings. Thankfully, you can find a long list of these in Wikipedia and suddenly the risk of being crushed by a giant Phantom cavesnail as it blindly travels forward through a tunnel or even attempts consume the adventurers makes your random encounters far more interesting.

Below are some links that I’m using to create some challenging encounters in my underground campaign sections. I will build a bestiary companion on this blog as I go.

Flatworms

Mollusca

Velvet worms

Arachnida

Myriapoda

Millipedes and Centipedes

Sinocallipus deharvengi

Crustacea

Insecta

See Cave insects

Fish

Main article: Cavefish

Amphibians

Mammals

There are no known mammals that live exclusively in caves. Most bats sleep in caves during the day and hunt at night, but they are considered troglophiles or trogloxenes. However some fossorials which spend their whole lives underground might be considered subterranean fauna, although they are not true troglofauna as they do not live in caves.

The Midnight Rooster

One little side project is an inn generator for Middle Earth (it’s not a tricky job but I’m not hitting it hard at the moment) so that I can just add colour to stops on journeys. One in created for the Shire Campaign is the Midnight Rooster which has become the base of the characters. Hence, it received a little more than the usual brief description. I have used the “Remarkable Inns” ratings system (well worth getting a copy here).

Midnight Rooster 

Wibblesham, The Shire

Wealth/Prices




***
Prices
$ $ $
Security
&&&
Authority
~~ 
Patrons Hobbits and Eriadorians
Disposition Friendly to all Free Peoples
Rooms One common room and two single rooms
Services Stabling

Description

The Midnight Rooster sits at the foot of the hill on the bank of the River Fayn in Wibblesham. Sarsen sandstone blocks have been used to build this tavern, each block telling its own story through the weathering on its surface.  The original building has been enlarged by burrowing into the hillside to create a small smial for the owners that faces into the stable yard at the rear of the inn. The area in front of the inn is churned with mud due to the proximity to the river. To allow patrons to enter and leave without tramping through the mud wooden planks have been added to create a veranda and entrance route. Round to the side, within view of the entrance, a patch of ground is used for regular games of toss the horseshoe.

Inside the main common room is furnished with simple pine tables and benches scrubbed with with regular use of soap and water. In each corner of the room a hanging brazier smoulders casting a musty fragrance into the room.  In the winter, the table closest to the fire is occupied by the Gaffa and Sam; anyone who tries to occupy these seats, should they be empty, will receive disapproving stares and if they still don’t take the hint then Theo will come and have a quiet word. The inn has three lodging rooms – one common room and two single rooms. Should the inn become overfull then Theo will seek alternative space in local houses of the village although the costs will rise.

Owners

The inn keepers are Theodulf and Primrose Sandy who manage most of the day to day affairs. Theodulf is well known within the village, often consulted by Mayor Gresham Shaper on matters outside of a moot. The capable pair are supported by a stable boy Benji Heathertoes  and Molly Bracegirdle the kitchen assistant. 

Theodulf

A portly, bustling Harfoot of average height whose nut-brown round face is always ready with a friendly greeting for both local and visiting traveller. As the Inn is never packed with travellers, being on a less travelled routes, Theo can take the time to get to know his customers and is very knowledgeable about the travelling conditions for the local region. He will be able to inform travellers of the state to the toll at Axbridge by Cluad and the presence of Amlin’s blue-scarfed Road Wardens.

Primrose

Cheery and with a ready laugh, Primrose is most often found in the kitchen of the Midnight Rooster preparing the food for the evening or around the village collecting ingredients for the meal. In addition, she can be found clearing the sleeping accommodation and doing the laundry. As she often says, “a woman’s work is never done” as she tucks a stray strand of light brown hair back into her cap. The poor woman should be given more recognitions for when her husband is out with his cart collecting a delivery of ale or goods from further afield she is also serving drinks and attending to the customers.

Specialities

Ales and Drinks

Golden fields A light ale with the smell of caramel and herbs and a light fresh taste.
Girdley A dark chocolate porter ale kept for winter
Acorn coffee A rather bitter brew drunk as a restorative with morning breakfast

Food

Roasted wild mushrooms
Rabbit stew with Rosemary
Lamb hot pot with neaps and tatties
Honey cakes

Prices

Goods Price Notes
Golden Ale 3 tp pint
Girdley 5tp pint
Small Ale 2tp pint
Acorn coffee 1tp pint in a pot
Main meal 1cp dish of the day
Breakfast 5tp sausage, bacon, egg and slabs of bread
Luncheon 5tp Bread and cheese
Common room lodging 1tp Shared room of eight guests with straw pallets
Single room lodging 22tp Individual beds with fresh linen
Stabling 2tp Enough space for ten horses with feed included

Entertainment

Cribbage, Nine-man Morris, Horseshoe rings, singing led by Ed

 Patrons of note 

GRESHAM SHAPER

Short-haired and lean in the face for a Hobbit, Gresham has a quietly handsome visage often marked by an expression of mild puzzlement. Some think he spends too much time on reflection and philosophy. Gresham is not only the Mayor of Wibblesham but also a respected sculptor who is called upon for commissions from Fornost to Tharbad. He lives behind the Inn and has a studio in the wood on the far side of the hill.

Lvl 13 Bard Hits: 95 Melee OB: 80ss Missile OB: 105sb AT: None DB:25  MovM: 30.
Languages Westron, Sindarin, Quenya, Adunaic, Dunael
Skills Diplomacy 65, Public Speaking 35, Arnorian History 45, Art and Architecture 70, Hobbit History 65, Perception 85, Read Runes 70, Use Items 55.
Spells (78 pp): Detections(IS), Delving(15), Item Lore(IO), Lore(IO), Solid Manipulation(IO)
Items of note Ring of Shaping: Allows wearer to sculpt quickly and exactly according to his feeling.x3 PP multiplier. Short Sword: Avar kynac (long knife), blood-drawing. +15OB; does a secondary slash critical. Shield: Missile warding. +10 DB; +20 DB versus missile attacks. Braces: Suspenders, protection against bleeding wounds. Reduces bleeding hits per round to the body and neck by half.

Mally Nation 

Unusually for Hobbit Shirriffs, the Shirriff of the Valley Rovers division of the Southfarthing is a rosy-cheeked and sandy-haired female Fallowhide. Born with an adventurous spirit Mally was always to be found climbing trees with her elder brothers or boating and swimming in the river Fay. With a natural sense of justice she became a natural choice for Chief Shirriff. She can be found in the Rooster chatting to locals and catching up on the gossip and rumour with a smile and a ready laugh.  

Lvl 4 Scout Hits: 50 Melee OB: 60ss Missile OB: 75sb AT: RL DB:10 MovM: 15
Languages Westron, Dunael
Skills Diplomacy 36, Perception 40, Stalk&Hide 32, Tracking 24, Region Lore (Fayn Valley) 43
Spells
Items of note

Ivar Sornsen 

Towering over the usual patrons of the inn, the blonde-haired, craggy featured Riverman is a well known visitor to the Rooster during the summer trading season as he makes trips up the Fayn to Axbridge and Sackville with goods for trade. In general, he keeps to himself sitting in the corner of the common room to drink and eat before retiring to his camp and boat at the end of the evening. However, if a game of cribbage is on offer he may stay later, particularly if there is a chance of playing for money. Those seeking local knowledge of the area surrounding the Branduin would do well to ask over a game of chance rather than directly.

Lvl 4 Scout Hits: 56 Melee OB: 45ha Missile OB: 25ha AT: SL DB: 5 MovM: 0
Languages Westron, Dunael, Riverman dialect, Adunaic
Skills Trading 30, Gambling 25, Boat handling 45, River Lore 45, Region lore (Fayn & Branduin) 38, Navigation 30
Spells
Items of note Superior steel handaxe +5OB

Regulars

Gaffa Chubb

A grey-haired Harfoot of many summers can be found, pint and pipe in hand, either enjoying the warm sun on the veranda in the summer or occupying the prime spot near the fire in winter holding forth on the local news and business of the day. He doesn’t much like the refugees from Cardolan who he thinks are stirring up trouble by not fitting in with the live-and-let-live philosophy of Wibblesham. 

Sam Proudfoot

Intense chocolate brown eyes peering out from under white bushy eyebrows, Sam is Gaffa’s companion in arms. Sam remembers the great migration and the fearful days up in the Ettenmoors and the stories of his elders of the days when Hobbits lived by the Anduin. He provides a counterbalance to Gaffa over the refugees, reminding him that they are all refugees and of the worries of settling into a new land. He is however, quick with advice on how things should be run in Wibblesham, whilst being supportive of Gresham as Mayor.

Bill Midtoe

Stout, even for a Hobbit, and with traces of flour in his hair and clothing, Bill is the local baker. He pops in to the Rooster at the end of the day for liquid refreshment and the dish of the day after a hard day in the bakery, leaving the lad to stoke the fires before the next night’s bake. A widower, he and his sons bake the finest bread between Michel Delving and the Branduin. Bill is very knowledgeable about local matters as his sons who travel delivering bread to the local farms gather rumour and gossip.

Ed(dan) Crossly

With a ready smile, this ruddy cheeked farmer will happily launch into song and fill the common room with bawdy songs of love and life. The rest of the locals are well-versed in the songs and join in readily with choruses and responses. Ed is the local most likely to welcome travelling strangers with a strong gripped handshake and an earnest greeting. Soon the visitor will find that they have bought him a pint and revealed the reasons for their journey and, if not careful, minor details that should not be revealed. Ed is a good judge of character and if concerned about the traveller will send a message to Shirriff Mally or Mayor Gresham.

Creg

Dark hair tied in a top knot and with a permanent scowl of his face would lead most to think of Creg as at the least unfriendly,  if not hostile. However, a blow to the head when younger has left this simple farmer with a permanent twist if features. Creg can often be found in the Rooster on market days amiably chatting with fellow Wibbleshamites over a pint or two of Golden Ale. He is a very trusting soul and generous to a fault and the locals will protect him from those who may take advantage of his simple nature.

Benji Heathertoes

The stable boy is a twenty-five year-old  Eriadorian of average height and chestnut brown hair. Mostly, Benji tends to his  own small holding of a few sheep and goats on the edge of the village. However, when he notes that visitors are arriving by road he will pop down to stable the horses. He is a likeable chap who has a reassuring way with livestock and especially horses. He keeps the stables clear and the grain hoppers for the horses are always filled.  Any conversation will inevitably turn to either the horses at hand or the fine animals he has tended at some point in the past.

Molly Bracegirdle

Hair falling in dark curls and dark red pouting lips would make most grown hobbit boys melt on the spot and they do. Molly is without a doubt the most popular girl in the village and currently is helping her aunt in the kitchen of the Rooster to keep her away from obvious trouble. Thankfully she is a diligent girl with a sensible head on her shoulders. Her father is only too keen for her to find a suitable husband, if only to reduce the number of idle hobbit youths he regularly has to scare out of his flowerbeds.

Herebehrt Bracegirdle

Commonly known as Herbert is the long suffering father of Molly, who he adores. Herbert has a small farm on the hills outside of Wibblesham and has sent Molly to work with his sister Primrose at the Rooster where he hopes she will be kept away from the local hobbit boys. Primrose should keep her safe enough during the day. On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally check up on the girl and then it would be rude not to have a pint and a chat while he was at.

Layout

1 Common room

Inside the main common room is furnished with simple pine tables and benches scrubbed with with regular use of soap and water. In each corner of the room a hanging brazier smoulders casting a musty fragrance into the room.  In the winter, the table closest to the fire is occupied by the Gaffa and Sam; anyone who tries to occupy these seats, should they be empty, will receive disapproving stares and if they still don’t take the hint then Theo will come and have a quiet word.

2 Kitchen

Primrose and Molly are usually busy in here preparing food or washing bedding. The kitchen is large with scrubbed preparation tables from which cooking utensils hang. A couple of large kettles and pots sit by the fireplace where a fire is always burning. Near the door three laundry tubs can be found.

3 Hay loft

Originally a storage space for a cart this area now is where bedding and oats for the stabled horse is kept.

4 Stables

Each stable has room for two horses in close quarters if needed but in general only one horse is stable in each double doored stall which allows comfortable movement for the beast.

5 Store rooms

A passage from the original building has been built to connect the inn to the hill behind. A door which is not often locked (PL light) leads down to the store rooms and the entrance to the Sandy’s Smial. The storerooms contain about a week’s worth of provisions for the inn.

6 Living room

Entrance to the Sandy’s smial is through a locked door (PL Med). It is a cosy dry space with a small fireplace on the inner walls flanked by two comfortable armchairs. Rose patterned curtains hand over the round windows that look out onto the inn’s courtyard. In front of the windows is a small dining table with three stools. Currently in one corner is a small camp bed for Molly if she is staying at the inn overnight.

7 Bedroom

The bedroom is relatively large for a hobbit smial and contains a generous double bed, a large wardrobe that occupies one wall and a dressing table in front of the windows.

8 Single guest room

The larger of the two guest rooms is clean and has storage for items in a lockable trunk (PL Med). The door to the room can secured with a key rented from the inn for 5tp per day (PL Med).

9 Single guest room

The smaller of the two guest rooms is clean and has storage for items in a lockable trunk (PL light). The door to the room can secured with a key rented from the inn for 5tp per day (PL Med).

10 Common sleeping dormitory

The dormitory is regularly swept and the pallets are beaten and aired every week making sleeping comfortable if basic. There is plenty of light provided by a number of small windows around the room. Paying guest will need to provide their own bedding, although it is possible to hire sheets and a blanket for 2tp per night. Theo is proud of the safety of his inn and travelling kit can be left safely in this room.

11 Well

In the courtyard a simple well which draws its water from the Fayn.

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.

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.