Cut one's coat according to one's cloth

The idea for this blog post was started from a series of posts on The Rolemaster Blog around the semi-spell user professions in Rolemaster (RM). They were a sort of lament over the Ranger and the Bard not having spells that buff combat level in comparison to some of the other semi-spell users in the system and particularly in the RMu version. I commented a couple of times, but then it felt like I was about to launch into a blog post that wasn’t really connected to the spell lists but more about how I play these characters as a player and a GM. As a result, I thought I would move my thoughts here into a more MERP-like blog.

Unlike its big clumpy brother, MERP provides less Profession options.

I know, its a bit ironic that I’m talking about professions when I’m also exploring playing without Profession classes and levels. However, this is talking about history of how things have been played and how the mechanics of the game have influenced this.

You get two Arms law based professions (Warrior and Scout), two pure magic users (Animist and Mage) and two semi-magic users (Ranger and Bard). At the start it is worth mentioning that MERP and RM magic in the Rules As Written (RAW) format is not very Middle Earth friendly. It is a common complaint of most players and GMs who love Middle Earth and wanted to journey through it. Just as importantly, to be fair to the old guard at ICE, the RAW were always meant to be a starting point and then tinkered with. However, this creates a problem of portability of characters between games run by different GMs. In this reboot phase, I have been hampered by players wanting to play old, much-loved PCs with spell lists I wouldn’t have granted purely because of the way it changes the tone of the game. However, I’d rather play and we all enjoy it than get over picky about a fixed idea of how things should be done.

Aside from the questions of magic in Middle Earth, the issue of I need my Bard/Ranger to be more combat ready in some format got me thinking this. If your game needs your semi-spell user to be more powerful in combat, are your adventures the ones for the party? Over on the RM blog, Hurin, pointed out that most of his adventures are combat heavy. Which kind of makes me think of a Roman gladiator contest. We all sit round the edge like gods and watch the mighty heroes fight their way across the arena. Occasionally, we may throw some dice to determine their fate.

A ranger walks the wilds of a mountain

In my MERP games, there is still a lot of combat (probably more than I would like but the mechanics and story tropes kind of push it in that direction). However, there is also a lot of wilderness exploring and for us a Ranger is a vital part of any party and gains an awful lot of experience points (ie development) through tracking, avoiding ambushes, scouting, foraging either with or without spells. Similarly, the Bard acts as the Urban version. Rewarded properly, both professions make good progress through the levels.

In terms of level development, my observation of MERP that focuses on experience points (XP) weighted to combat encounters is that warriors rapidly increment levels early with a lag for the semi-spell users. Animists played as healers are the next to develop because suddenly they start to use lots of healing spells. Bringing up the rear are Mages who struggle to employ effective spells in combat (unless they game the system).

A party of adventurers of different Professions

When warriors and scouts reach level 5 the rate of development switches as the combat specialists have exhausted the range of new foes and the enhanced bonus. Animist healers continue to power forward as even though the fighters are better they still take some damage and random Criticals. The mages really begin to pick up the pace as well as the spells on the lists become more useable in combat. Semi-spell users continue at a steady pace because unlike the warriors they haven’t used up all the bonus multipliers on Criticals and Kills.

In contrast, if you move the XP generating events away from a combat focus. All professions benefit. First the Pure and semi-spell users can use those “odd” spells to complete an adventure. Second, events that rely on skills other than combat are promoted in character development. To go back to an earlier post; the party can fight their way in or they could use some form of deception of stealth. To my mind a nudge to players habits of you get a reward for doing it this way (apart from walking away alive) reap benefits in the long term for the game and the choice of Professions used in your game.

As a GM this means the planning of your adventures and campaigns needs to hold elements that reflect the different skill sets of each Profession. In an ideal party I’ sure you would like one of each 6 Profession. However, this never has happened to me….well OK a few times but only because these were one-off massive games with about 12+ players and that made the law of averages work. Generally, the party is too small or players prefer to play a certain type of Profession.

Should your party have a Ranger then find reasons for them to employ the odd Limbwalking spell and look after the party in the wild in a way that doesn’t involve tackling an irate boar or a pack of hungry wolves. A Bard, then give them chance to gather information from the locals or to use their smooth talking or Songs spell lists to get through a section. Make the Mage use their low level spells to overcome obstacles or use Arcane knowledge to interpret clues. Most importantly reward them for it!

Which brings me full circle to Rangers and Middle Earth. In our games because much of the adventuring happens in the wilderness Rangers generally develop faster than Bards. Which is a failure of our games because none of us, as GMs, have favoured the type of environment that favours a Bard of any persuasion (Entertainer, Loremaster or Diplomat).

Currently, I have a game with a Dwarven Warrior (skills in locks, caving, dwarf lore and combat), a Hobbit scout (stealth, trickery, locks), and an animist/healer (whose player keeps thinking he is still playing a Ranger who is now sadly deceased). Previously, the adventure in the swamps used the skills of the Ranger to track and survive in the wild. OK so it backfired and he ran off into the wilderness in fear leaving his companion to find a way home alone but still the bulk of the XP didn’t come from the combat. Down the Hobbit Hole used a lot of the Scout’s stealth and I have deliberately constructed a campaign around the dwarf for his lore and caving. Although I’ve kept the NPC Dwarf linked to the party just in case of a fatality.

In summary, there is perhaps no need to rehabilitate the Ranger and the Bard. Rather, ensure as GM’s that adventures use their skills and abilities in a way that is rewarded with adventure success and XP for character development.

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

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

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

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

11
40-50

11
50

11
Number of ranks per year for 10+ ranks

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

Bregol at age 40

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

Towards skills without levels part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2412
40-50

2412
50

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

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

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

24
40-50

24
50

24
Basic skill ranks achievable in one year of deliberate study

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

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

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

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

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

Bregol at 10 with adolescent ranks added as baseline

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

Bregol at 15

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

Bregol at 20

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

Bregol at 25 years old

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

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

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

Skills and learning

As part of a move away from levels, I want to move my players towards adventuring for the adventure and not a “level up” mentality. That will mean a move away from the EP reward system, which my current players aren’t quite ready for yet. What they are ready for is a way to acquire secondary skills by study and I reckon that is a back door waiting to be opened. So the question now becomes how long does it take to really acquire new skills?

Before beginning on deciding how long it takes to learn a skill it is worth reviewing what the skill ranks in MERP/Rolemaster represent. According to the rulebook, 5 ranks in any skill can be acquired during adolescent development, which suggests apprenticeship skill development but no higher. The Rolemaster blog uses chunks of 10 ranks to define relative levels or lore, vocation or skill.

Skill RanksLoreVocationGeneral Skills
1-10Secondary High schoolApprenticeBasic knowledge and abilities skill and simpler sub-skill.
11-20GraduateJourneymenBroad abilities of skill and sub-skills
21+PhD/Post GraduateMasterAdvanced skills and sub-abilities
50+Erudite MasterGuildmaster or similarSingular mastery of skill and inter-related disciplines

Another consideration here is the level of the character – yes I know the aim is to go levelless but bear with me here. Gaming wisdom would put the average soldier at between level 2-4 and the NCO’s at 5-6 rising up to level 10 for experienced heroic fighters. Beyond this, certainly in the Middle Earth, the characters are getting to be legendary. So if the average competent person is around level 4 in their chosen profession then they will have 8 ranks worth of experience, which is about right for the general population.

Armed with a framework of knowledge and understanding it is time to think about how long it will take to acquire these ranks. Gladwell proposed that very successful people take 10,000 hours to master a skill (possibly by misinterpreting another study on elite athletes which was actually looking for a genetic component). For Gladwell 10,000 hours equates to 20 hours a week practise for 10 years although he does seem to bundle those skills into a domain of learning so they are all focussed on one specialism. The original study, by Tucker and Collins, was really looking to see if deliberate practise was more important than genes and could not find a link either way. In fact, it seemed to suggest that a combination of talent and practise produced excellence.

So much for 10,000 hours but I think it still holds a nugget of truth, even if the time is wrong. If we say a level 20 character is a master then it should take 10 years of deliberate practise to achieve this. However, there are some other factors we should consider in this. It requires someone to support you with food and other necessities to allow you that time (achievable for a single skill on two hours a day). Elite athletes generally don’t have a full time career making demands on training time. Bill Gates wasn’t required to go out and collect the harvest or sow the crops. So only a small group of people in a fantasy setting will be able to achieve this rate of development. Thankfully, adventurers would be such a group with their generally above average aptitude (stats) and focussed learning or as I prefer to call it staying alive.

There is further support for this idea when we look at the modern education system. The primary phase of education, which is mostly general (although Maths and Primary language seem to now dominate) takes around 5 years (5-11). Secondary, still developing a wide set of skills, but beginning to specialise is another 5 years (11-16). Tertiary, a really odd phase of specialisation lasts 2-3 years here in the UK. Whereas the quaternary phase (graduate) is anywhere between 3-4 years. The final Quinary phase (post-graduate/PhD) can last from 3 -5 years depending on field of study or practise.

Taking education and as knowledge based skill basic maths skills which are generally above the level required for basic mercantile skills are achieved by the age of 11 (in fact in modern society well above), a total of about 5 years (bear in mind developmental factors will probably have slowed learning in children). The table below extrapolates taught time for courses in UK in 5 rank chunks (for reasons outlined below). The number of hours spent learning to this basic level would be around 43 hours with a teacher present. So with good instruction a basic level of skill can be mastered in just over two weeks at the 20 hours per week level. What the table also demonstrates is that higher levels of knowledge take increasingly longer to gain. Referring back to the table from the Rolemaster Blog, I would suggest that this should be for levels 1-5. A basic addition subtraction activity is unlikely to be tested by a roll. This would make ranks 5-10 take nearly twice as long. There is a nice mathematical progression forming, but it is also perhaps worth remembering that quaternary students spend as much time reviewing and rehearsing learning as they do being taught. So any player expecting to do a job in between might find a penalty for the learning time.


hours/ week number of
weeks
total
h/ year
total
years
total
h per
subject
hours
per
rank
Primary
1 36 36 6 216 43.2
Secondary 2 36 72 5 360 72
Tertiary 10 36 360 2720144
Quaternary 15 30 450 3 1350 270
Quinary 60 50 3000 3 9000 1800

Overall the thesis of ten years to achieve mastery in a field of study still stands with most specialists taking around 10 years to achieve an expert status after the age of 13-15. This even applies to sportsman with premiership footballers achieving first team debuts early but becoming regulars only at around 23. A similar pattern is seen in athletics although I can’t find a study to back this up.

The next part will consider how to balance vocations and individual skills so that the game remains playable without players power gaming every aspect.

Elvellon Manor and the first crystal shard

Returning from their audience with the King of Arthedain and feeling very smug that they are now Royal Rangers, Pick and Limolas meet up with Billwise and Dagaard at the King’s Rest. In the common room of the inn they adventurers listen to the news of the prevention of an assassination and roaming bands of Orcs. They talk to the recovering Galabron and gain information about strange events by the Royal Barrows and of bandits on the southern Greenway.

Refreshed and resupplied the party sets of along the Greenway. The first night out and Pick observes a passing group of wandering elves passing to the west. Although notes this event he does not consider it significant and tells no-one in the morning. The heroes continue southwards until they near the Royal Barrows where they climb the high hills of Tyrn Gorthad to investigate. The sun shines on the burial tombs of the last King of Cardolan and his sons. The party spend a day investigating and foraging for food without incident and so continue on their journey toward the Manor of Elvellon. 

Nearing the region in which Elvellon Manor is located the adventurers come across a canvas-sided caravan studded with arrows. Using his uncanny ranger abilities Limolas is able to intuit that a previous associate by the name of Jeremiah Fallowhide was here recently. Just as he informs the rest of the party of this fact, who should poke his head out of the canvas flap than the aforementioned manic hobbit. Jeremiah explains to the party that he was embarked upon his latest mercantile adventure of transporting some Dwarven steel ingots down to the kingdom of Saralainn when he was attacked by Dunlending bandits. Escaping only by good fortune where his guards did not, Jeremiah has been camped out in his wagon with no way to go forward or back. He looks upon the arrival of the heroes as another sign that fortune on his side as they will surely chase down the bandits and recover his goods for him. However, this time the Pick and Limolas are less than willing to risk all for the unhinged merchant preferring to stick to the task of finding the crystal. Yet, when Jeremiah describes the direction that the bandits went in (confirmed by Limolas’ tracking skill), they agree to keep an eye out. After some pleading by Jeremiah, they also leave the hobbit with some food to allow him to wait out the time it takes for them to investigate. 

So it was that the adventurers began to climb into the hills of Cardolan following the tracks of the Dunlendings and away from the Greenway. Within half a day the party had sighted the ruins of Elvellon Manor and noticing smoke rising, approached the ruins with caution. Both the Elf and Hobbit scouted ahead of the less stealthy Dwarves and in doing so discovered the bodies of fifteen slaughtered Dunlendings. Limolas and Billwise returned to the Dwarves and reported what they had seen and the party then entered into the ruins to secure the area. 

orcs_debate_by_turnermohan-d8jo68t
Orcs by James Turner Mohan

In the ruins of the keep, there are signs of a hurried defence against superior numbers of possible Orcs and something bigger which has pulled the heads of some of the Dunlendings. The party discover two heavy chests and decide to leave these until they have explored the area more. Scouting further the heroes discover a sunken room in which two small Goblins are sheltering. Quickly, they dispatch the two small Orcs and then proceed to investigate the wall on which a freize of Dunedain princes in battle with Orcs is painted. Limolas quickly discovers a secret door and also that further in are more Orc guards. 

After a quick discussion to plan an attack, the adventurers decide to rush the guards with the Dwarves cutting off any escape as quickly as possible and Limolas and Billwise wounding the guards with missile fire. It takes less than a moment, for the party to quell any resistance and none of the Orcs escapes to warn their companions. Justifiably, the heroes begin to feel very pleased with themselves. 

Cautiously, the heroes explore the underground complex. In one room, Limolas sets off a trap that releases a cloud of mist, but it seems that the trap has deteriorated with age. Further in, they party locate the rest of the Orcs and decide to leave the area rather than risk a confrontation with a large party of Orcs. Consequently, they descend to the next level. 

Below, in a great hall, the party come across a depressed Troll moaning about being sent down below by the Orcs and not being wanted. The Troll’s misery doesn’t last for long and the heroes begin to explore further. At the far end of the hall, there are two doors protected by wards. In his exploring, Limolas discovers a secret passage which leads to a number of rooms not accessible through the two additional, unwarded doors that lead off the main hall. 

The party explore several rooms down the secret passage. A plain blue room appears to have some sort of magical properties but not understanding the lore of magic, the heroes move on. An alchemy laboratory and plush room are soon explored and the party of soon loaded with a few additional weapons and a few potions of unknown use. 

The explorers descend another level and discover an ossuary full of bones, which unfortunately animate as they enter the bone repository and the party are suddenly outnumbered. Dagaard full of war-like confidence charges in and engages the skeletons, closely followed by Pick who joins more out of a sense of Dwarvish solidarity than a real desire to wade into a room full of walking bones. Limolas remembers that a bow is ineffective and belatedly puts away his bow and joins the battle with his longsword drawn. However, this prevents Billwise from entering the room. Quickly, the adventurers dispatch the skeletons, helped in the most part by the Dwarven hammers. 

f2b702e630d0c54efda7dcf62df39670A door led off the room, which of course being adventurers, they opened. Unfortunately, the room was home to a Wight which immediately attacked. Pick overcome with fear ran in panic leaving only three to face the fearsome undead. Heroically, the three fought against the malicious spirit vanquishing it with their combined might. Finding no treasure the three victors went in search of the missing Dwarf. 

Sometime later, having recovered Pick, the adventurers continued their exploration of the third level. The party began to wonder at the purpose of the crypt when the discovered a bier in a room decorated with a scene taken from the lays that appeared to show Morgoth triumphing over the Elves. Beyond this room lay a discovery that only served to confirm this idea. Behind a rotten door, the party were met by a hideous sight. A creature composed of the flesh of many humanoid creatures roiled in the darkness. Many heads and limbs seemed to lurch out towards the surprised adventurers; Limolas barely escaping the first grasping hand. Battle was quickly enjoined; Dagaard was nearly lost to the folds of the creature but for the arrow loosed by Billwise which finally incapacitated the creature. 

Relieved, the party continued on and after dodging some caustic slime by using their shields as protection, discovered a cave system. This is where Pick took the lead, a confident caver he determined that one route might lead to the surface. The adventurers decided to investigate this first to see if they could escape the caverns without having to go past the Orcs on the first level. Eventually, they reached the open air and debated what would be the next course of action. Knowing that rest was needed and worrying that the horses might be discovered by the Orcs they decided to return with the horses back to the Greenway and Jeremiah Fallowhide. 

The adventurers reorganise back at the Greenway. Jeremiah’s caravan is pulled off the road and the horses and heavier items of loot are stashed with the hobbit. With a rest period completed, Pick, Dagaard, Limolas and Billwise return to the caverns and resume their explorations. They soon discovered a bridge crossing an underground river and beyond this a cavern that led to steps up to a metal door. The only problem, four skeletons that guarded the door. Dagaard rushes recklessly to engage the skeletons. After being victorious over skeletons recently, the now more confident Pick and Limolas quickly join him. The battle appears to go well until Limolas is caught off-guard and finds himself skewered by a skeleton’s sword. Having dispatched the remaining skeletons his companions rush to his aid but they are too late, Limolas’ spirit is already travelling to the Valinor. Having noticed a subterranean lake, the heartbroken party dispatch the Elf’s mortal remains to the depths of the lake along with his beloved fishing gear. From the depths, a giant catfish breaks the surface before diving to the depths once more. 

skeleton_warriors_by_aaronbradburyDetermined to find the crystal so that Limolas’ death would not be in vain, the hobbit and dwarves return to exploring. More skeletons block their path and locked rooms thwart them. Until eventually, they discover the crystal sitting in a casket. Unfortunately, it sits behind a set of iron bars which also appear to have prevented a number of skeletons from escaping, judging by the armour and the desperate way two cling to the bars. Pick devises a plan to lift the bars and wedge them open with a stone from a nearby empty sarcophagus. This plan has to be slightly altered when they realise that Billwise is incapable of moving the heavy stone lid into place under the bars as the Dwarves lift the metal obstruction. 

Stealthily, Billwise moves across the room amongst the scattered skeletons to pick up the crystal. As he reaches to take the crystal he hears a scraping sound as soft a paper. It soon becomes apparent that the skeletons are reanimating, which means it is time for a quick exit. Thankfully, only two skeletons escape before the bars are lowered back into place and these are swiftly dispatched by the three companions, who then vacate the area for safety. 

Taking stock of the aims of the exploration, the adventurers decide the cost has been high enough with the death of Limolas and that with the profits from Jeremiah’s ingots and the contents of the captured from the Dunlendings there are sufficient rewards to support further adventuring. As a result of the discussions, the party return to Jeremiah with a chest containing 20,000CP and the ingots.

REWARDS GRANTED

A crown with some jewels – value unknown
Five potions of unknown use
A collection of short swords, daggers and arrows
20,000 CP
5 ingots of dwarven steel +5 belonging to Jeremiah (% of profits)
Handaxe that glows red at evil or undead the party aren’t really sure yet.

MISSIONS/QUESTS COMPLETED

Collect the crystal shard from the ruins of Elvellon Manor

CHARACTER(S) INTERACTED WITH

Galabron the bard
Jeremiah Fallowhide

An unexpected sighting

When we last left the dynamic duo they had, with the aid of Dagaard Dragonheart and Jeremiah, recovered the stolen goods and routed the bandits from an ancient watchtower. Now re-provisioned and prepared for a travel the party set out for the riverport of Elvenbyen on the river Lhun to gain passage to Cara Celairnen. It is here that Jeremiah intends to sell his now recovered weapons.

animalphotos15The journey to Elvenbyen is more eventful than the expected. A chance sighting of a herd of Astenhabli (an antelope) provides the traveling caravan with a fine feast thanks to Limolas’s foraging skills, but the party soon realise that they need to work on their cooking skills when a passing party of hunters notice the fire and join the party and demonstrate how food should be cooked.  The hunters have recently been overwintering in Elvenbyen and provide Pick with some useful information. However, the hunters are also very cautious about Limolas, and use many warding signs to which the self obsessed Limolas is unaware. The hunters leave early in the morning and it is as the party pack to leave that they discover a second visitor. A small swarm of Neekerbreekers (Locusts) have invaded the trail ration packs. Suddenly, the wonderful bounty of the land has reversed and with a small amount of food it looks like a hungry two days to the river.

Although the day’s traveling was easy and without incident, again small misfortune befell the party. During the middle watch Limolas’s sharp eyes and ears failed to notice a pack of dire wolves on the hunt. The party prevented from the expedient creation of firebrands to hold the pack off were sorely pressed to hold off the wolves, disturbed as they were from sleep. Indeed, Jeremiah slept throughout the short but brutal conflict. Only Dagaard had the presence of mind to grab a flaming brand from the fire, and it was his quick thinking that drove the pack off. Not however, without the loss of one of the carthorses. So it was that come the morning, having dispatched the wounded horse, the party redistributed the cargo over two carts and abandoned the third.

Now travel had become a chore, forced to travel at an even slower pace because of the load on the horses and to take more frequent stops the party camped again by the the Laughing Brook (now a river swollen with winter snow melt). The night was spent with growling bellies  and the hope that no more unfortunate events would befall them before reaching Elvenbyen on the morrow.

8kflytbArriving in the bustling Elvenbyen the party make lodging and although Limolas is aware that the locals  will not sit near the party, is still blissfully unaware of how distrusted he is in Northman circles. Listening to the talk in the inn, it is clear that there is an agitator stirring up discord between the Rivermen and Arthedain and Elves. Slu Rev (Sly fox) is talking of freedom from the ancient kingdoms. There is also talk of elves bewitching men in a nearby forest. The party appear to pay little attention to the rumours and instead settle down to decide on the next course of action. Soon an argument breaks out over who is paying the fees for travelling down river. Jeremiah pleads poverty – “I was the one who was robbed!”. Limolas the fashion victim bemoans that he has not bought a new set of clothes since Culwic where he purchased is splendidly fashionable pair of Glutani fur trousers. Jeremiah takes delight in pointing out that they are in fact goat, but Limolas refuses to accept that this is so. Meanwhile, Pick is carefully guarding the true value of his wealth and in an attempt at distraction offers up the 12 gold coins discovered in the tower. However, since these are stamped with Angmar imprints they are worthless unless melted down. Jeremiah insists that they must sell the furs if they do not have enough to cover at least a ferry fee.

In the end Pick and Limolas entrust the negotiations to Jeremiah who departs to sell the hides and secure passage. However, Pick believes that Jeremiah is far from trustworthy, and says as much to Limolas, but neither decide to go with the manic halfling. Instead both head into the town so that Limolas can do a little clothes shopping. Limolas is very impressed with the service at Jørnsen’s outfitters. A pretty smile and some flattering words soon have him being asked to remove his cloak, and then rapidly being hustled to a less noticeable area of the shop. Upon discovering that a coat made from the hides of Glutani will cost more than a Warhorse, Limolas realises that he is not wearing Glutani skin trousers and that Jeremiah was indeed right. Beating a hasty retreat he returns to the waiting Pick. Pick has decided that he  wishes to return to the inn, but Limolas wants to buy some fishing hooks and so the pair split.

As he was about to enter the chandlers, Limolas spots a familiar figure, Culwine! His bald 06fa4850d3e2c3efcbe428a226e850c9head and bulky figure make him stand out in the crowd. Limolas decides to follow but in the confusion of the docks loses the one time caravan guard and associate of the Rogues of the Borderlands. Limolas returns to the chandlers and having found fishing hooks and a circular casting net realises that he has been robbed of his change purse. Limolas assures the shopkeeper he can pay, but the looks of suspicion suggest that the Riverman does not trust any elf. Limolas makes a rapid return to the Inn and another quick dash  pack so that he does indeed have his desired fishing gear.

Upon leaving the chandlers, he notices a gathering and has the chance to witness the Slu  Rev (Sly Fox) is holding court and stirring up trouble against Elves of all people. Becoming as inconspicuous as possible, Limolas hangs around a bit longer and notices that Slu Rev bears an uncanny resemblance to the the rogue who fell from the battlements and whose body was not recovered. He then spots Culwine who whispers to the Slu Rev and both disappear within the crowd. Although Limolas tries to find out where they have gone he is blocked and barred by the crowd dispersing.

762aaa8c26c1c4d1b3899cc8807e64cbBack at the Inn Limolas, tells Pick and Dagaard of his recent encounter. Dagaard is all for finding Culwine and this Slu Rev and forceful extracting from them the whereabouts of Grubby Durnan from them. Pick points out that currently, they don’t know where Culwine is and charging into town  won’t achieve anything.  Limolas is more outraged about the way Slu rev was talking about Elves, and it is at this point that the dwarves feel they need to point out that most of the population here distrust him and think they will be bewitched. Talk then turns to the rumour about bewitching elves in the woods. Dagaard suggests to Pick that he takes Limolas to investigate so as not to attract unwanted attention. Limolas agrees when Pick makes the suggestion and it is at this point that A smug hobbit returns with news of a sale and booked passage across the Lhun.

With a delay before departure Pick and Limolas decide to investigate the woods on the following day. Morning finds them at the edge of the wood, but nothing seems amiss. Limolas spots a thin trickle of smoke on the other side of the small forest. Without any other clues the pair set off through the woods to investigate. Traveling in the woods they are attacked by two Rivermen. Having successfully dispatched their attackers, the deadly duo decide to cut their losses and return back to the inn. Leaving the mystery for others to solve.

Upon their return, Pick decides to investigate Limolas’s claim to have seen the man from the tower and Culwine. He and Dagaard do a pub crawl around town, but apart from tasting many fine ales and meads, and a few not so fine ones, they do not see either of the men or anyone else associated with the tower near Erumar. Members of the party are left undecided on whether Limolas has genuinely seen the two men.

 

3431aba28ecd81b5ab832053f33c6420Finally, the party travel with two carts loaded with weapons across the river without incident. They travel down the causeway and notice a tower in the mists. Jeremiah thinks it is something to do with scholars/monks/seers of Arthedain but isn’t sure. As it has nothing to do with getting to Cara Celairnen they party push on. Apart from a midnight encounter with a Mewlip, who is out numbered and out flanked, the party arrive in Caras Celairnen with no further incident.

Who we are and where we are from

The players gathered eagerly around the table. It has been less than half a life-time since we played, but it might as well have been two life-times. Both these players have run their own campaigns and games. They have been successful GMs with a range of people wanting to join in the fun. They might as well have had no experience the way they  peered confused at the range of abilities and Stats. “Where is my hits?”

“How do I know I can move in chain?”

“Is this stat good?”

Suddenly, my rustiness in rolling several characters with a blend of skills didn’t seem so bad.

Soon the choices were made. An unusual pairing I have to say, but they chose them, and although the blend of skills is not perfect it could work.
Photo: The adventurers have travelled to the small town of Culwic and taking residence in the "Two rivers" inn. The back story is that this unlikely pairing formed sometime ago in the southern foothills of Ered Luin. It was clear to Pick that he was in need of a companion to help him seek out treasure. Such a companion would need to be ignorant of the true value of the ores and items he really sought. In Limolas he had found the mother lode, not only did Limolas not appreciate the value of such things he was never likely to find out. In fact, PIck now has the perfect companion who will be happy with small trinkets and will, in general, accept all of his suggestions. It has also confirmed Picks long held belief that elves are indeed half-wits. Limolas on the other hand is delighted to have a companion who can help him navigate the world. Who will help him gain the means to get the finer things in life and who is carrying cash that reduces his need to do menial labour.Elven ranger – Limolas strengths in subterfuge but can generally be thought of as at the back of the queue when the brains were handed out. Limolas’ main concern is looking good and ….oh shiny things!

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Dwarven warrior – Pick Strengths in body development. He is able to stand up in a battle soaking up damage and drawing attention. His interests are in the deep dark places and the treasures held therein.

There are slight problems in a dwarf and an elf pairing outside a large party, but its not unheard of. It became apparent straight away that Pick was going to be the brains in the outfit and Limolas was never going to be bright enough to notice. This means that I am going to have plenty of fun reminding players to stay in role. I think both players need to see “Of Mice and Men” to get a feel for the power balance. It does mean that although Limolas only confirms Pick’s prejudices against Elves. Limolas really doesn’t understand what the fuss is about.