Down the Hobbit hole (pt2)

As with most councils of war, the subject of leadership and planning reared its ugly head. Denig, the stone man, counselled that he and Ydal should scout the area to assess the location of the Orcs camp. Billwise and Pencho disagreed complaining that the Big People were as noisy as Dwarves in chainmail. Although Pick and Dagaard did not express much of an opinion, it was Pick who swung the vote of all the adventurers towards Billwise’s plan and grudgingly, the stone man was forced to agree.

After a second breakfast, Billwise and Pencho stealthily set off into the woods. Billwise is shown how a Hobbit could move undetected by others through the wood and notice large patches of sunlight where the pursuit of Orcs could be hindered. Following a sunken road, they find an abandoned ruin which appears to be occupied by two Orcish shamans. Below, in a dark defile, a large number of Orc voice can be heard, indicating the main body of the force is larger than the number of adventurers and Hobbits. During their time scouting the area, a cloaked figure, who carries a distinctive pipeweed odour, arrives and converses in Morbeth with the Orcs. Billwise and Pencho, not speaking the language, understand none of this but do catch a few words spoken. They continue their scouting, noting the small patrols of Orcs moving through the wood and a set of riverside huts in which prisoners appear to be kept.

Back at the smial, the scouts inform the council of what they have discovered. The adventurers all agreed that the first task is to free the prisoners, who are probably being kept as a food store. With two Hobbit guides, the adventurers travel through the woods to the riverside without any untoward events unfolding.

Near to the huts, the party formulate a plan. Denig insists that he and Ydal can pacify up to ten Orcs and insists that they are the only ones to enter the camp and that the rest attack any fleeing Orcs first. The Dwarves are unconcerned so long as Orcs are killed and Billwise prefers to wait and see what unfurls before to committing to combat.

As Denig and Ydal move towards the hut where the Orcs appear to be sheltering from the day, they are surprised by a hidden sentry. Ydal attempts to cast her Calm spell but is unable and so retreats. Denig charges to the door of the hut and cast his Calm spell on the occupants of the room. Immediately, one of the occupants relaxes into a calmed state. Unfortunately, the other five are very much active and with a sentry charging, he looks to be very much in trouble.

Realising his only hope is to hold the doorway until help arrives, Denig chooses to engage one Orc in the doorway and ignore the sentry. Ydal shoots wide in haste and the Dwarves rush in, whilst Billwise seeks an opponent to shoot. Soon the sentry is felled by Dagaard but the remaining Orcs seek to escape through the flimsy rear wall. Denig is driven back by the Orc’s charge but both appear evenly matched. At the rear of the hut, both Dwarves engage the remaining Orcs, war hammers breaking bone like winter twigs. At the front, Billwise races through the trees and with element of surprise dispatches the Orc fighting Denig with a thrust through its backbone sending it reeling back into the hut. Unfortunately, the act also disarms Billwise. Fortunately, there are no more foes.

After freeing the captives, the valiant heroes and the weary, starved prisoners return to the smail where the immediate concern is where to house and feed the extra mouths. This is closely followed by decisions about how to remove the Orcs from the woods!

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Towards a system without levels

Recently,  I had one of those moments of insight that make you want to move on. They usually lead you onto new things and new places but they are also mighty scary and need some time to process and if you are sensible (or just a lot older) require a bit of planning. I’ve had a few in my life and they have led to changes that have only helped me grow, even if the process as not always been enjoyable and yes, dear reader I have learnt to plan for the change through failing to do so previously.

Anyway, to the point in hand, I thought “Why do we have levels and EP?”. I think it grew out of the emulation/simulation debate raised by Gabe and a growing dissatisfaction with the whole EP reward and class system. So I raised the question about if anyone had done it and how it worked on the Rolemaster forums. Of course, there is no need to re-invent the wheel when you know it exists, which given the love of rule mechanics often foisted on RM players, was a surprise to find already invented, if a little diverse.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised because I already knew Runequest used a learned skills system and in some ways, I was thinking about a similar concept. I think that there are several things to consider before I put the mechanics to players as a way forward and inevitable at that stage we may tweak things but when I mentioned it at the post-game beers the other night they didn’t quail.

Here is a list of things I’m thinking about

  • How many hours/days to acquire skill ranks?
  • Are all skills learnt at the same rate?
  • Is the rate of learning linear?
  • What is the effect of a mentor/tutor/school?
  • In game skill development?
  • Natural aptitude vs resilient study?
  • Hierarchy of knowledge or accomplishment within skill levels?
  • Complimentary skills?
  • skill/knowledge fade?
  • How to provide an overall measure of success to the players if no level?
  • How do you encourage adventurers out of school?

Which is a lot of questions to work on, hopefully, I can blog some of my thoughts on the approaches we come up with. I suspect that initially at least we will apply this to the secondary skills in MERP which are almost impossible to develop using the development points given for each level. Certainly, that is what my players would like as a starting point.

Conspiracy in the mists

The party of two dwarfs, an elf and a hobbit were instructed to enter Bree and listen for rumours and information that might be vital to the house Noirin or the Crown. Billwise, who has family in Bree, decided to visit distant cousins in Chetwood to discover if they had any news. Dagaard, feeling that his main purpose of discovering the mysterious poisoner was being side-tracked, went off in search of other hints and rumours. So it was Limolas and Pick who rode into Bree to the King’s Rest to discover what they could about the current state of events.

Image-BreewideA lively mixture of travellers were gathered along with a large number of locals. Pick naturally gravitated towards the two travelling dwarves in the room and discovered that in Moria things are unsettled, with rumours of increased clashes with goblins under the Misty Mountains. Limolas, being the open and innocent abroad, tried to strike up conversations with everyone in the room, and was confused to be rebuffed by a group of Rhuadrrim fur traders. Finally, he found easier conversations with One-armed Harry, a veteran of the Northern marches campaigns. By the fire, a wandering minstrel is entertaining the crowd with a lively mix of tales and song, an island of merriment amongst the heated arguments raging in the bar.

During the evening, a fifth Rhudaurian enters and joins his countrymen. The arguments and jibes clearly disagree with him as he is soon spitting insults at all an sundry as he leaves the bar. Moments later, his companions gather their bundles and also leave, followed soon after by the minstrel. Curious, Limolas follows and as he nears the entrance to the stables hears a shout. Closely followed by a cry of pain. Risking a look into the stable yard, Limolas notices the minstrel prostrate on the floor and the Rhudaurrim mounted and about to ride rapidly from the gate. Letting the horse pass, Limolas rushes into the courtyard to give aid to the fallen bard. The bard croaks a warning about an evil plot but no more before he passes out. Limolas rushes into the inn to gain more help in assisting the wound songster.

In the commotion of discovery, the grandson of King Argeleb reveals himself to the patrons of the inn and requests aid in pursuing these enemies of the realm. Already feeling that they should involve themselves, given their newfound status as retainers to House Noirin, Limolas and Pick step forward.

Swiftly, the party saddle horses and set off up the North road in pursuit of the Rhudaurrim. At the North gate, they find the guards have been drawn off and only a single gatekeeper, rendered unconscious, remains. Fearing losing ground, the party push on, hoping that the recumbent fellow will be found soon. The trail is soon located by Limolas and the hunt under a full moon is on.

Through the darkness, the hunters continue on the trail of their quarry, who are making little effort to hide their trail as they pass into the woods north of Chetwood. As the pursuers, exit the darkness of the wood into a night lit by a full moon they spy the riders fleeing towards the Weather Hills. In the distance, Limolas notices a dark figure stood high on a rocky outcrop. A chill in the air becomes noticeable. Mist begins to form. Soon, the quarry is lost, as is the moon, in a thick white fog. Sound becomes muffled and shapes loom out of the mist as the party pick their way into the broken terrain of the Weather Hills.

Dawn and the rising suns weak light casts an eerie glow when Pick’s sharp eyes spot a hidden attacker. His swift warning alerts the party and soon a swift combat is finished without incident. Well except for the inexplicable moment where Pick winded himself by overreaching his killing blow.

On into the mist, the party intensely followed the trail of the final conspirator. All the while progress was hindered by the mist and the fear of another ambush. As evening closed in, the party were stopped in their tracks when they heard voices ahead. Limolas slipped into the mist, leaving his companions virtually unaware of his absence. Moving into a safe position, Limolas was able to observe two shadowy figures in the mist yet the conversation carried to his companions further back. The conversation revealed a plan to sow chaos with a raid by the Orc-band led by Gashtrak and in that chaos, using stolen uniforms, to waylay the emissaries from the south who were making their way to the conference. Furthermore, a man of noble bearing and mixed Dunadan/Hillman blood appeared to secure the uniforms. Unfortunately, it was at this point that the mist gave way and Limolas was revealed.

Realising he was outnumbered, by a large band of Orcs, now no longer hidden by mist, Limolas ran yelling warnings as he went. The party were thus able to prepare and although the party were outnumbered two to one they valiantly vanquished the foe. Although, Limolas managed to not only fell his own mount (without injury) in a misguided attempt to ride over the rocky difficult terrain.

Encouraged by the Prince, the party set out in pursuit of the mysterious mastermind. The mist had thickened again. The sun had drifted below the horizon. Darkness was falling. Slowly, lupine muzzles slipped out of the darkness. The party froze. A band of Wolf riders led by an imposing brute of an Orc began to drift into vision. Belegil identified the Orc as the feared Gashtrak. The party turned tail and fled.

Heading south in the hope of reaching the forces encamped around Amon Sul, they rode with wargs nipping at the very heels of their mounts. Time elongated. Fear rose in their hearts and turned to elation when the lights of the campfires became visible. Spurring their mounts to the limits of endurance, the party raced the wargs to safety. Finally, safety was assured as cavalry sallied forth in defence.

There were meetings and representations. A prince was reprimanded. Limolas and Pick were rewarded with citizenship and the King’s hand. The found that they were also honoured to be amongst the Royal Rangers and additional responsibility that left them wondering what would happen next. Meeting with their liege, the Dame Noirin, they managed to argue for a leave of absence in which to fulfil previous obligations, which was granted but with conditions.

Rewards Granted

Limolas and Pick have now been granted citizenship of Arthedain and granted rank within the Royal Rangers. Each has received a silver brooch that is the symbol of the Rangers and instructions to join the training base at Fornost. They have been granted permission to continue the investigation of a ruin in the Cardolan waste, but must also investigate rumours of strange things in Tyrn Gorthad on the way.

 

Being mature

`So this thought has just cropped up on the ICE MERP Facebook group. “Question I play Rolemaster in Middle Earth why not use a much more mature system but still al the middle earth info/ICE modules etc?” 

Now ignoring the obvious replies that can be made by those of us who graduated to Rolemaster (RM) and in our case reverted back in this incarnation, there is a bigger question. What is a mature system? A system that is mature in my book has a lot to do with my background in biology and medicine. It has a robust interdependency that has over time evolved to provide a stable supporting equilibrium.  So is RM really a mature system? More complex, yes; also it allows more options and certainly more adaptable in terms of the wealth of character options and fighting styles. But more mature, no.

D&D has evolved to suit its different adventuring worlds, well there were rule changes. I’m not sure if they evolved to balance out the world or in response to players complaints about the previous versions, but at least it was in response to the modules and the world. I have no idea how Pathfinder fits into this idea, someone might like to enlighten me.

For Middle Earth there are just different systems basically based on which company managed to acquire a licence from the Tolkien Estate.

  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • ICE Rolemaster/MERP and subsidiary editions
  • Cubicle 7’s “The One Ring”
  • Decipher “The Lord of the Rings”
  • various online and by mail MMPORG

None of which has ever been part of a serious effort to become better at being a reflection of Middle Earth. Now, this has not been a fault of players who have attempted to warp whatever system they play to fit their idea of Middle Earth, some of which can be found on various fan sites and zines. However, I wonder if any of the systems have ever really had a chance to mature into a system that really reflects the rich tapestry of Tolkien’s mythic creation?

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.

 

 

A road less travelled

Gaming time again – really has it come round again? There seems something a little upsetting that three months can pass before you can find time to spend an afternoon together. Still only three of us and the players are beginning to worry about their ability to survive combats, despite being perfectly good in a fight. If they take a look at the rationale section they might get a few additional pointers, I did remind them of the need to use parry as a defensive tactic. I also dropped in the need to stock up on herbs that speed up recovery from concussion damage. We also used this session to trial using RM Combat Minion to manage the combat. Although we were quicker in the last session, there is still a lot of table look up and tracking to do and I am not convinced I always remember to tick off the various penalties. RM Combat Minion looks fairly promising in this regard helping to pick up combatants who had fallen unconscious and applying penalties to actions.

AEredluin1 road less travelled is built on the plot from Seeking Solis, but now transported into the region of Numeriador and the village of Eruimar at the end of the Rammas (wall) of Ered Luin (Blue mountains). Having decided that the information on the spies is worth giving to some sort of authority both Pick and Limolas has expressed a desire to travel South. Limolas wishes to travel to Mithlond to deliver the information and to further research where the mysterious Barad Cam might be. For Pick this is a less desirable option, he is hoping to travel to Caras Celairnen and the kingdom of Arthedain where he can find passage back up river towards the Dwarven centres of  Nogrod and Telenaug. Here he hopes to find the same information, but without having to have contact with the elves.

So it is that our mismatched pair decide to travel south having realised that their star is waning in Culwic. Suitably equipped for travelling in the wilds – pack pony carrying tent and food – they make their way along Rammasluin road (Sindarin: blue wall) to Eruimar. Resting up in the village, which is a popular stopping off point for traders of Dwarven goods and adventurers alike, the party discover rumours of a black-marketeer and when news of an attack on a caravan. Naturally their suspicions are aroused, and Limolas investigates further, but is unable to find any further leads. Meanwhile, one of the survivors of the attack, a certain Hobbit by the name of Jerramiah Fallowhide, has given a breathless account on how he and fellow trader (Grubby Durnan) managed to escape. Clearly, unhinged by his narrow escape the inner warrior has been released. Jerramiah wants to rid the area of the bandits and get his cargo back. Grubby seems more intent on drinking the Laughing Brook Inn dry. The rest of the village who have crowded in also would appear to feel helping Jerramiah is not worth the risk. However, a stout and courageous Dwarf by the name of Dagaard Drachoschlar steps forward offering the service of his hammer and with the offer of free beer on the Hobbit, Pick and Limolas decide to provide their services in investigating the crime.

Investigating the ambush site revealed a picture of the story that matched Jerramiah’s version events. The hapless Fredwine and two of the guards lay dead, another (Culwine) appearing to have escaped. The remains of Grubby’s cart of coal lay smouldering obviously not worth the effort of transporting, but the other three carts had been driven off into the wilds. Limolas tracked the carts until if became too difficult for him to track further, but with his sharp elven eyes spotted a lone watchtower up towards the mountains. Further stealthy investigation by Hobbit and Elf discover the empty carts outside of what appears to be a well defended tower.

LimolasLeaving the two dwarves out of sight, Limolas and Jerramiah scouted the surrounding area to see if they could find some tactical advantage that did not require a full frontal assault or scaling the walls. They soon discovered a cave with a secret door, but were stumped when it came to disarming the trap. Limolas, not known for his intellegence, spent many hours staring at the problem until he believed he had a solution. The rest of the party waited outside while he tested the solution.

Not losing a member of the party under a pile of rock proved to be the first lucky break Limolas and Pick had had in their adventures. In due course the party made their way up the secret passage to the sub levels below the watchtower. Nervously, they made their way through a series of abandoned rooms until they met their first group of bandits. Luckily, the bandits were sleeping and despite the stated aim of rendering their opponents unconscious they dispatched the somnolent soldiers speedily.

Up on the next level they met another group of brigands, more active this time but still not ready for an enemy within the walls. Pick chose this moment to lose his cool and spent the majority of the brief combat tripping over objects. Thankfully, Dagaard proved to be a more effective fighter, and Limolas dispensing with trying to use a bow to fight in a melee proved that parrying was a good method of creating an opening from which to dispatch an opponent. Although the combat was brief the party knew that all hope of stealth was now gone.

With caution the party pressed further up the watchtower, unexpectedly no further reinforcement appeared, but moving through the third level they came upon a room with an attractive woman by the name of Ferien who claims to have been held hostage. The players ,succumbing to her powers of persuasion, believe they have rescued an Arthedain princess, and are congratulating themselves when the sound of running feet from the corridor and a cry from Jerramiah bring Pick and Limolas rushing from the room to his aid. Jerramiah tells them he has just been knocked down by Culwine ( a guard on the ambushed caravan) and another man. He tried to tell them they had been rescued but they would not stop. The not so agile, Pick races downstairs but is too slow to prevent the escape of Culwine and his companion on two of the three horses used to pull the carts.

Pick returns to Limolas, Dagaard and Jerramiah where the party discusses the way forward. Dagaard  declares that they must protect the fair maiden from harm at all costs and although they may have dispatched many foes they cannot risk leaving her behind or taking her into combat. They agree to split with Dagaard and Jerramiah with protecting Ferien, and Pick and Limolas further exploring the tower.

Pick and Limolas encounter no real further problems until they start to exit onto the roof where the two roof sentinels try to keep them at bay with ineffective arrow fire. Rushing the guards they discover a third brigand who compared with his fellows prPickoves to be a more effective opponent, but when outnumbered is still quickly defeated. Believing the last of the bandits to have been dispatched the pair take a moment to look out over the battlements. They spy a robed and cloaked figure in a hat climbing up the road to the tower. At this moment they hear a grunt and one of the previously dead bandits has made his way to the edge of the battlements and jumped over the edge. A little surprised Pick and Limolas attempt to mark where the body has fallen but it proves to be lost in the underbrush. Assuming the bandit to now be dead, they turn their attention back to the approaching figure.

Racing through the castle levels they gain the mid level arrow slits in time to see the robed and cloaked figure wave a greeting to the tower. Fearing a wizard, Pick issues a challenge to the approaching figure, who (upon realising that the watchtower is no longer under the previous occupants) makes a run for safety. Limolas lets fly with an arrow and by freakish fortune manages to hit his first mark, although the arrow is flying sideways. Unfortunately, for the fleeing traveller is does so in a rather forceful way an killing him outright. Both Pick and Limolas go down to inspect the body and rather than a feared wizard discover they have killed what appears to be a scholar. Deciding to check on the bandit that fell from the tower they pass round to the other side, but apart from the obvious sign of the passage of a falling body can find no evidence of the bandit. Unsure what this means they bar the main entrances and return to Dagaard, Jerramiah and Ferien.

Upon reaching the princess’ room they find only Dagaard and Jerramiah waiting. When asked where Ferien is they respond that she is a nearby room. However, it becomes quickly clear that this is not the case and on further inspection the party discover that the final horse has been taken and there is no sign of the princess. Confused now as to if it was the missing “dead” bandit or Ferien, who may have also escaped out the secret tunnel, the party decide to block up the tunnel and bar the doors. Then they take to hunting in earnest for Jerramiah’s goods.

weapon_rack1Jerramiah’s goods turn out to be some shields and spears smithed in the dwarven forges of the Blue mountains. Not an exactly legit cargo, Jerramiah is now forced to consider options for recouping his losses. In investigating the origins of the cargo it becomes clear to Pick and Limolas that Jerramiah may have been set up. He was contacted by a soldier of Arthedain who gave the name of a quartermaster in Fornost as wishing for the weapons to be shipped away from spying eyes. The soldier’s name was Herren, but Jerramiah now realises that the man was one of the bandits from the castle having seen the uniform in one of the rooms. In searching the rooms the party also discover several coded messages, including one with a red crescent moon seal, which when added to some Angmar gold coins, suggests a spy plot connected to the Witch King. The final nail in the coffin is a book detailing the weaknesses and strengths of several nobles of Arthedain suggesting someone is plotting to overthrow King Argleb and that at least one loyal noble is marked for assassination.

Having secured the tower the party are now considering what options to take next. Given Jerramiah wishes to sell his weapons, and Pick and Limolas would like to hand the spy information over to the Arthedain authorities, the plan is to return to Eruimar to replace the horses, hitch up the carts with cargo and travel to the river port of Elvenbyen to transport the goods downriver to Caras Celairnen. Meanwhile, Dagaard reveals that he is under a geas to revenge the death of a companion in Caras Celairnen and although he knows not the name of the man who poisoned them both believes he will recognise him when he sees him.

Engagement vs Involvement: The forgotten balance

Every player, and more importantly, every PC, who is participating in an RPG is a member of a team. That team can be constructed to form an idealized “machine” if the players collaborate on their character designs, but more normally, things are looser. At best, you have the GM constructing a team model in which…

via Engagement vs Involvement: The forgotten balance — Campaign Mastery