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.

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I can’t see the wood for the trees!

In the previous session, the party had finally discovered the location of the labyrinth of thorns and recovered amber stones. Now faced with the potential of a long slog back through the swamp with diminishing rations; the adventurers decided to camp in the dark, misty wood to allow Limolas to forage for food.

After a fruitless day of searching for food, Limolas decides that a night hunt would be more productive. The Dwarves knowing that their sneaking through woods was not something that would help gain supplies let Limolas forage alone.  Confidently, the elf ranger slipped into the dark woods.

Alone, but unconcerned by the mist-enshrouded wood, Limolas foraged for ways to supporting the party’s diminishing rations but found little wildlife and precious little in the way of edible plants. The night wore, and unusually for the wood-wise elf, branches began to snag at his clothes. Soon a branch had a grasp of his arm, and it was only good fortune that he was able to escape. Soon the pressure of being alone in a misty wood where living trees were attempting to take his life was too much. The elf broke and ran. In blind panic he ran; he stumbled; he created cover under a pile of leaves and slept.

Meanwhile, the dwarves waited the night watches out. They too discovered that they were not alone in the woods. Dagaard becomes suspicious of an ancient and decaying tree. Convinced that it has moved location he awakens Pick and the pair waited on alert. After a few anxious hours, the peril of the living tree becomes a reality and the heroes hammer away at the rogue tree.  Under the pressure of the dwarves mighty warhammers, the tree is soon broken. Fearing for their companion alone in the woods, a sleepless watch is maintained by the pair of warriors for the remains of the night.

Into the Woods

In the previous episode, the brave heroes had fought the Zombie King and survived the devious traps protecting the Iron Rose held beneath a rotten tree. Now Pick, Limolas and Dagaard set out to try and discover the location of the final item required to release Edananar from his frog form. Progress was again slow, but the party took heart when they could see the rising Hills of Evendim; this giving the small hope that the depths of the swamp would soon be left behind. 

Soon the band of adventurers found themselves warily entering a forest of dead trees.  Mists floated in from the swamp obscuring the view further, but untroubled the heroes pushed deeper into the woods and soon came upon a thicket of thorns. It was clear from their previous information that this should be the labyrinth of thorns spoken of as the resting place for the amber stones. A quick survey of the perimeter revealed three entrances and the wanderers soon realised that a strategy to defeat the labyrinth was in order.

e4c4aa06e6061b411f1d084653053476Sadly, after many hours of debate, the best plan they could come up with was to pick the nearest entrance and take the left turn until no more turns could be made and then return to the last turning. Pick, by far the most intelligent of the band, being only slightly below average intelligence, suggested leaving a marker at each turn, and so with bundles of sticks the band set off to explore.

The thorns of the maze pushed in on the adventurers as they explored through the mist. In the mistaken belief that they were efficiently exploring, the party pushed on into the Labyrinth. The tension grew as every wrong turn meant retracing steps and finding the marker sticks, which were becoming less with each wrong turn.

Warily, the party pushed on. Soon Limolas’ sharp ears heard a clacking sound and so the party were aware of the approach of a pair of skeletons.  Unfortunately, the close-packed thorns left no room for manoeuvre and so Pick was forced to deal with both at the junction. Limolas let fly volleys of arrows, but alas they had little effect when his aim was true. So alone and beset on two sides, the brave dwarf swung is mighty warhammer in defence of his comrades. So it is perhaps fortunate that this was the time for our heroes to discover that weapons that break bone, are more effective against the skeletal form of undead.

skeleton_warriors_by_aaronbradburyThe guardians of the Labyrinth dispatched, the explorers pushed on in their haphazard way seeking the centre of the maze. The going was slow and there were many encounters with more skeletons. The dauntless dwarves covering both the van and rear guard dispatched these with ease,  and despite evidence to the contrary Limolas continued to use piercing weapons to provide support.

A cold damp night later, the explorers gained the centre of the maze. In front of them stood a twelve foot high dark green dodecahedral tower, and atop gleamed the prized amber stones. Now the heroes could grab the loot and depart this depressing maze. However, between them and the stones stood a band of skeletal warriors. Faced with odds of three to one, Limolas thought to thin the numbers using his skill as a bowman. His efforts continued to have the same effect as before and the skeletal figures advanced with purposeful menace. The dwarves, taking a more pragmatic view advanced with warhammers swinging and soon the sound of breaking bone filled the centre of the maze. Limolas, finally abandoning his bow, joined the fray swinging his longsword to and fro. Within a few minutes, the floor was littered with a carpet of shattered bones and the heroes could turn their attention to the high pedestal on which the amber stones sat.

A combination of a lack of height and acrobatic skill made it clear very early on that recovering the stones would need a solution that did not involve a tower of two dwarves and an elf. However, by standing on both the dwarves shoulders and using his spear Limolas was eventually able to push the amber stones off the pedestal, where they were soon rolled into the magical bag ready for transport back to the golden frog form of Edananar, All that remained was to find their way back to him through the miles of damp, dreary, dangerous, swamp.

The squelching dead

In the last session, the adventurers had beaten a tactical retreat from a watcher in the water, to seek alternative pathways to the Floating Island on which the Iron Rose was located, or for that matter the Labyrinth of Thorns where the Amber stones were to be found. However, it was becoming clear to the party that seeking these locations in a large swamp is never an easy matter.

After several days of false trails, and occasional encounters in the swamp the meanderers sighted the island again. Cautiously they approached knowing that the island was protected by a Zombie King.  Fighting their way past the reanimated corpses of some marsh boars the heroes were soon engaged in combat with the Zombie King, who was soon defeated. They then began to search the island and quickly discovered a way into the island through the a break in the lonely tree that stood at the centre of the island. The gap was not large and although Limolas could have entered through the gap into the drop to the underground lair, Pick and Dagaard felt that this was Dwarf work and that they should head the start of the exploration.

Heading down into the depths, Pick and Dagaard found themselves in a lightless tunnel. Torch light provided the unwanted detail that the tunnel was made of the bones of various animals and humans. The pair moved cautiously up the tunnel only for Pick to fall foul of a drop trap. The stalwart Dwarf was injured but not fatally, and with the aid of Limolas, Dagaard was able to extricate him and so attend to his wounds.

With the injury making vigorous activity inadvisable it was left to Limolas to go beyond the new pit and explore further. Thankfully, it was not far before he discovered the Iron Rose, a 8ft cast iron statue in the shape of a rose stem. After seeking several different methods of placing this giant effigy into the magic bag that had been collected from the Nixies, Limolas eventually secured the Iron Rose and began his return to his companions. This was when disaster struck and the elf triggered a latent trap seriously injuring himself. However, the wound though serious, was not beyond the first aid skills of the party. With the Iron Rose secured the heroes returned to the nearby causeway to rest and recuperate before venturing further into the swamp.

 

 

Into the mist

In the last session the adventurers had managed to acquire the basket used by the water spirits to keep their treasure. Miraculously this small coracle was transformed into a small bag which the party could carry back to the golden frog. Before leaving the pool Limolas attempted to find more information about the location of the remaining items from the Nixie but it appeared that the adventurers were no longer of any interest to the capricious water maia.

A few false trails later the party were able to relocate the bower of the golden frog and from him discover that the iron rose and amber stones were to be found to the north. They would need to find a floating island controlled by a Zombie king, which could be recognised by a single dead tree on it, and also locate a labyrinth of thorns which was in a wood at the margins of the swamp.

The vagueness of the directions caused much consternation from Pick and Limolas, who began to realise how long this adventure was going to last and the dwindling in food supplies. Not helping the mood of the party is the fact that now the mists have closed in and although the terrain is flat, it has become difficult to make out shapes through the grey fog.

A day of miserable trudging through swamp, with some false starts, and the party discover a strange mound in the swamp. As they approach their nostrils are assaulted by an acrid stench. Fighting back the urge to gag they explore the sight and find cages with disfigured human remains hanging at the top of the small mount. Finding nothing else of interest they return to the causeway path and continue to seek the floating island or the woods.

Sometime later, the party discover a small village of crude reed huts on a large raft of reads. Around thirty disfigured humans appear to live there and the adventurers approach with caution. Limolas attempted to make contact through exchanging a gift of raw boar meat that the party had killed the previous day. Although the gift was accepted the party decide that the gulf in communication is too great and there is nothing to be gained by remaining. They move on through the green, grey swamp seeking a way to one of their objectives.

Just after midday, nearly two weeks after setting out from Caras Celairnen, Limolas spies a lonely tree rising out from the mist. Heartened by the thought of an end to their quest, the adventurers hurry forward only to din that their path is blocked by a green, noisome pool of swamp water. Fortunately, around the edge of the pool are a series of tussocks that should provide a reasonably safe path towards the island. Concerned about the potential of the island to be hiding the Zombie King, who the party presume is some form of Mewlip or Wight, Limolas remains on the shore to cover the party with his bow whilst the dwarves make the trek to the island.

jhwitwWithin the first few feet, it is Pick whose foot slips and enters the water, and from the fetid pool a great blurp of gas erupts. This is followed by a low keening moan that appears to make the ground shudder. Not having travelled far both dwarves make their way quickly back to shore, as a long green and grey tentacle emerges from the pool. Although Limolas attempts to wound the monster, his arrow misses the mark and the party beat a hasty retreat.

Deciding, that to cross the pool would be suicide, and believing that as a floating island, there might be a chance of finding another way on the party retrace their steps to find a new causeway to the floating island.

 

Captain’s Daughter

In the Shore district of Caras Celairnen tucked up against the main walls and away from the main streets is the Captain’s Daughter. For where is stands this is an impressive in complete with brewery and a good sized drinking room. The two story structure is the home of Hrothgar and like his name sake it serves the finest mead in the town.

Captain's daughter“Then it came into his mind to raise a mead house, mightier far than ever was seen by the sons of earth, and within it, then, to old and young he would all allot that the Lord had sent him, save only the land and the lives of his men.”

 

 

Well so lay the grandiose hopes of Hrothgar, a Northman who though trained in weapons never saw action. His wife Hilda and his son and daughter (Unferth and Hrethal) help in the running of the inn. The inn does well because the mead is good and Hrothgar has relations who are rivermen. From such contacts Hrothgar also runs a quiet line in hard to come by artefacts.

“So lived the clansmen in cheer and revel a winsome life, till one began to fashion evils, that field of hell.”

 

All was well with Hrothgar’s inn until he opened up new cellar space. Behind a rock wall he discovered a passageway that led down into the underdeeps of the old Dwarven citadel. Perhaps not so bad if these depths had not become how to all manner of dwellers of the dark. Soon his inn became plagued by strange visitors and worse his paying guests would disappear. It soon became clear to Hrothgar that he would have to block up the cellar. However, no matter what method he tried there was always one visitor who returned thirsting for fresh meat, Grendel.  The only solution was to slay the monster as quickly and quietly as possible before the authorities became aware of the danger and took the inn away from Hrothgar.

With the defeat of Grendel, the way became clear to explore areas of the Underdeeps opened up by the passage in the cellar. Many hidden doorways and collapsed passageways wait to be found and cleared. The risk is great but the potential reward of discovering a lost Dwarven artefact attract adventurers in the know to the Captain’s Daughter.  Hrothgar charges a fee for entry to the Underdeeps and also sells adventurers packs of useful items such as torches and lanterns in bulk. Adventurers are expected to find their own path and pay a finders fee on all treasure returned to the surface. In addition, Hrothgar will often buy items that would be difficult to sell from adventurers.

This sideline in artefacts and a well connected network to distribute them means that Hrothgar often has small commissions for adventurers to undertake for a reward. These can involve the Underdeeps below the inn, but more often the wily inn keeper has heard rumour of an item in other locations which he believes he can sell on at a profit. For such tasks adventurers will receive the usual adventurer’s supplies excluding transport (unless needed to return the item).

Who lives here?

So finally, I think I have managed to find a purpose for the town of Caras Celairnen. Using Rolemaster campaign lore it is an easy task to begin populating the town with militia and the usual tropes of healers, mages, and thieves. A random variation on percentages of populations really does take care of that. But who else lives in the town aside from the main characters of the town?

earlymarketA simple trawl of medieval professions leaves a huge list of potential trades that could be used to populate the town. The problem for me as a GM is that I really don’t care about them in any detail, and neither will my players, who will probably only want to see the inside of the nearest tavern and the outfitters. However, my trick is to have these trades available to draw on to create colour to the daily life and give a reason for different districts to flourish. After all who would live in a town dominated only by criminals and militia?

So more to the point how common are these trades and how many of each will we need to populate the city. In Caras Celairnen, I have set 7 trading lords (that is lords of sufficient wealth to trade over distance). They will have their own network of middle men, merchants who will sell to the local market of transport goods onwards at their own risk. That means a transport crew (ship or otherwise) of around 20, dockers, warehouse men, clerks, would account for another 10 or more workers. That is without including servants needed for running the household, Although some may work for more than one employer. No man is an island they say, and certainly not all will be bachelors so now we need to multiply to include a family of between 5 and 12. Easily each Noble Lord could be directly responsible for the “existence” 50-100 people of the town

To support around 100 people there will need to be a baker, some form of costermonger, tailor, inn keeper with their families.   Ancillary trades such as tailors, washerwomen, cloth dyers, leatherworkers, tinkers  would also be needed but probably to a lower density than the main trades. So the trickle down effect means each noble lord creates around 150 people of the town.

42fec890ea305312db69e4cec130453d-medieval-art-medieval-woodcutBeyond these direct employs there are other direct employees we need to consider. The Militia need feeding and entertainment, as do the local healers, wizards and other local colour. There are also the middle merchants to consider who will also use services and goods and employ a few others directly. To complete these thoughts on the demographics of the town, because there are so many wealthy individuals, there will also be high quality, high end artisans. Not forgetting at the lower end the night soil movers and beggars.

Having considered all these factors the demographics of Caras Celairnen begin to look something like this.

A Militia Garrison for around 400 with 30 or so NCO and officers.
2 shrines with Clerics – one should be to Ea as this is Dunedain culture
30 or so healers of various levels
30 Guides but I may change this as there seems little need
4 magic users or different shades

74 Criminals in various guises of fences, footpads, burglers and thugs – some of whom will have day jobs.
20 Entertainers

minstrels

 

400 businesses – Acater (food vendors such as bakers), innkeepers, boothman, colliers, costermongers, habdasher,  iron monger, hay merchant, egglers, fishmonger, blacksmith, linen draper, mercer, milkmaid, oynter (oil seller), peddlers, pie sellers, spice merchant, vintner, leatherworker, fletcher, wool stapler and wood sellers

124 transporters to include carters, ferrymen, lightermen, bargees, and pilots

At a conservative estimate this would put the population of the town between 1500 and 4000 which neatly fits with the suggested population of the town by Thomas Mowinsky in Other Minds and Jeff Erwin in the Lindon gazetteer.