Down the Hobbit Hole pt 3

The party spend time planning when and how to ambush a few patrols in the hope of reducing the number of orcs in the war band, They set out to prepare to ambush a patrol using the sunken road. As Billwise has shown himself to be very fleet of foot and stealthy, the party decide to use him as an advanced scout. This proves to be fortunate as he is able to alert the party to a patrol before they encounter it. Hoping to use surprise, the adventurers improvise a hasty plan. The dwarves stand out in the open, to tempt the orcs into rushing them, whilst the others hide using the ample forest cover. This proves a disaster with the ambush discovered before the trap could be sprung. Fortunately, the dwarves mighty war-hammers inflict punishing damage and soon the small patrol of orcs is dispatched.

While the party hide the bodies, Billwise scouts towards the sunken road and discovers a lack of patrols. He reports this back to the others and Denig suggests that this is because it was a bright day and patrols might be less frequent. He goes on to suggest that they use the time to scout the camp with more detail as he thinks that the Orcs will be less alert at this time of day.

So it is that, with the rest of the party nearby, Billwise stealthily approaches the ruined manor. He finds no sentries and after a quick survey reports back to the others. Who, after a discussion, decide that Billwise should sneak in and kill any sleeping orcs that might be inside. To aid him Ydal casts a Prayer of Quiet on the young hobbit, allowing him to go about his deadly business without a sound being heard.

All goes well as Billwise slips into the darkened building, enveloped in silence he attempts to dispatch the first of the sleeping forms, but killing is a messy business and if you are a hobbit it becomes more difficult when the first blow is not a killing one. Although willing, it becomes clear that Billwise lacks the skill for a quick kill but with a brief struggle he dispatches his first foe aided by the blessing of silence. He swiftly moves on to the next sleeping orc and again struggles for a quick kill. This time the struggle allows the orc to escape outside the bubble of silence that surrounds Billwise. The cry alerts the other occupants of the ruined building and also his waiting companions.

Hearing the cry, everyone, except Denig, rushes into the building to assist Billwise. Ydal rushes to aid Billwise and Pick rushes to prevent an orc Shaman from entering from another room. Dagaard guards the door ready to assist Denig who keeps watch for guards from the main camp below. Suddenly, beside Billwise, the corpse of dead orc drags itself upright, clumsily gripping its scimitar, still congealing blood oozing from it wounds. Dagaard quickly rushes in to protect the vulnerable hobbit’s flank. A second shaman has joined the battle and his invocations look set to make a quick battle last longer than expected reanimating the dead. Fortunately, the undead orc and his more live companion are dispatched and the first shaman (an apprentice) at the door looks set to be pressed by weight of numbers.

Outside, Denig, seeing no immediate threat from sentries, prepares the ritual of golden slumber and makes his way into the ruins. In the ruins, the shaman invokes a spirit of calm over the party and they are unable to undertake any aggressive act. The two shaman make for the exit only to meet Denig coming the other way. Denig releases his prayer but the apprentice resists and slashes at Denig’s stone skin with his scimitar. Denig holds the door whilst his companions try to figure away to aid Denig. Meanwhile the shaman, continues to build invocations against Denig, despite Billwise’s attempt to use the area of silence around him to prevent the prayers. Denig resists each attempt to unleash Dark Forces on him and battles the apprentice. Ydal throws up a wall of silence around the room to prevent the camp from hearing the sounds of fighting and blesses Denig to aid him in his lone stand.

Ingeniously, Denig calls on his tribal gods for a bolt of lightning to strike his opponent, but all that is granted is a mild electric shock. The shaman continues to lash out at the stone man with dark energies. Alone and with no help Denig it looks like all is lost. However, thanks to the doorway and his stone skin he defeats both the apprentice and the Shaman.

During this time, unable to act aggressively the rest of the party take on different tasks. Dagaard and Billwise investigate a barred door way from which whimpering is coming. Pick investigates the room the Shaman and apprentice came from rooting around for treasure. In the barricaded room, Billwise and Dagaard discover that the source of whimpering is a small child, no doubt saved as a tasty morsel. Billwise, not much larger than the child, reassures the traumatised soul.

Meanwhile, Pick discovers some treasure including bags with runes of screaming. Which he sets off. Unfortunately, he is outside the quietened room and the noise is heard by the sentries in the camp below, a fact made apparent by the sudden sounds of disturbed orcs from the camp below. The party flee carrying the child, but not before a note written in Elvish with a distinct hand and ink is recovered from the shaman along with his staff. They struggle to move quickly through the woods but the sunlight appears to be on their side and there is no sign of pursuit although a hideous din is heard from the camp.

Back at the Periwott smial, the party assess their options. Fearing that their trail may be followed, Denig attempts to cover the trail and lay false route, while Billwise scouts for potential pursuit, of which he sees no sign.

Back at the smial, the child is reunited with her mother amidst many tears. The night passes without incident. In the morning, the party decide to investigate the effect of their recent raid and find lack of patrols. Curious, they return to camp with Billwise as scout and discover some dead orcs who were not killed by them. Most of the party are confused by this and fear some new opponent able to slaughter orcs at will. However, Denig tells party that it is because the war band were leaderless and turned of each other to decide leadership. He goes on to tell them that eventually a leader was decided and they have either left or gone on to do what ever it was they were here for. Denig thinks that this is the the former as the orcs are far from the usual places they would normally inhabit.

Neffin wood, now free of orcs, is home again to the Periwott hobbits, who offer sanctuary to the rescued prisoners. The rescued villagers work with the hobbits to gather food and a new community is founded. During this time our heroes rest and recover and discuss the next steps. Although the hobbits can supply a few simple supplies it is clear that the adventurers will need to re-provision with gear suitable for adventuring. Pick, Dagaard and Billwise are all keen to find Jeremiah who they left with the cart and the plundered loot from the ruins of Elvellon manor. They also invite Ydal and Denig to join them as they believe that they could be helpful in any other explorations that are given to them by Mithparvandir.

Rewards and Reputation

A staff x2 PP multiplier, a note with a distinct style of writing and ink.
The gratitude of the Periwotts and local villagers mean that should they need somewhere to stay the characters will always be welcome. Local tales will always be told of how the heroes took on a much larger force and vanquished them saving the woods.

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Wedding day blues

Our plucky deputies having discharged their duties with admirable aplomb are retained by Mally Nation as deputy shirriffs (it has been pointed out that they should officially be called Bounders, but I suspect that in the early days of the Shire this formal arrangement has not been organised). Taking their rest in the Midnight Rooster in Wibbleham they are interrupted by a young Dunlending lad seeking sherriffs to come quickly to a hold nearby where members of the family are engaged in a deadly stand-off. Duly prompted the deputies set off to discharge their duty.

At the clan hold, they find a family at war over who poisoned the clan lord’s favoured hunting hound. Family rivalries have risen to the surfaced and been amplified by other family quarrels as the extended family have been invited for a wedding the previous day. So it is that Brega, Alvi and Aelfric walk into a silent hold with three large houses full to bursting of drink-fuelled warriors barely held in check by the desire not to be the first seriously injured in any scuffle.

Having made sure that everyone is aware that the law-keepers have arrived, the party set about interviewing the quarrelling family members. The discover the clan lord Arthfael, in a sombre mood, mourning his dead hound. The chieftan is unwilling to take any decisions and has, in essence, abdicated control of his hold and lands. His new wife Blejan informs the party of how two of the daughters, Nuallan and Fedelmid virtually ruined her wedding party with their constant harping. She accuses both of being evil scheming witches who are just the sort of women to poison the hound in order that their husband could seize control. The youngest daughter, Maella, appears almost as heartbroken as her father and agrees that both sisters could be responsible but admits in private that Blejan has never liked her new husband’s love of hunting.

None the wiser as to the cause of the dog’s poisoner, save that it must have happened during the wedding feast, the investigators move onto question the occupants of Aedan and Nuallan’s house. Aelfric, deciding that a forceful police presence is required muscles his way into the house almost causing the occupying warriors to divert their pent up aggression on himself and his fellow lawmen. Aelfric discovers from Aedan that Brennus, the husband of Fedelmid, the middle daughter, was seen sneaking out with a plate of meat during the wedding banquet. Alvi and Brega question Nuallan and are also led to believe that the fault may lie with this couple. At this point a shout goes up and Aelfric is forced to intervene between two warriors about to attack a goat-herder out to care for his flock. Returning the goat-herder to safety Aelfric discovers that both of the two elder daughters and their husbands could have been stirring up trouble at the wedding.

The tyro detectives move on to the third house where Brennus and Fedelmid along with relatives who have taken their side in the argument have barricaded themselves. Brennus makes no bones to Aelfric about how Aedan throws his weight about the hold as if he were lord. When questioned about the meat he explains that he has a soft spot for his dogs and often feeds them tidbits from the table. Under questioning from Brega, Fedelmid waspishly complains about her treatment at her elder sister’s hands and how the new wife, Blejan, is an arch manipulator who surely should be considered as the culprit.

During this time, a small altercation breaks out when some of the younger members of the family break out into the square. With much bravado, both sides face each other off, more bravado than intent until one strikes out at an opponent and in error strikes another. The Shirriffs are quickly on the scene. Alvi charming the main protagonist to sleep with her sweet music and Aelfric and Brega separating the remaining foes. Alvi again employs her smooth tongue to convince the warring youths to return back to their halls.

Faced with a range of opinions but very little evidence the three shirriffs examine the kennel where the hound was kept. Discovery of a poisonous blue flower amongst the straw bedding leads the three to question the master of the hounds. He reveals that he is the one who collects the bedding for the dogs and that he changed the bedding in the kennel. Further careful investigation reveals that the servant did not understand the nature of the flowers and that this was all a terrible mistake.

Gathering the reluctant principals back in the main hall the deputy shirriffs explain their findings and forcefully point out that any misdemeanours between family members will be dealt with severely. Satisfied that the situation is resolved Alvi, Aelfric and Brega return to Wibblesham

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!

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.

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

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?

Minions

One of the problems with being a GM, especially with Rolemaster, is keeping track of all the NPC in combat. Long ago in a galaxy far away I created some Excel spreadsheets that helped with this sort of thing, but these were sadly lost in PC migration back in the day of 3.5″ floppies. Back in “A road less travelled” I mentioned trying Rolemaster Minion to support me as a GM during combat. So this is a little review of how it has been going.

Initially, I have to say it wasn’t very efficient but this was mostly to do with linking routine OBs to weapon types. It is, after all, Rolemaster, and we are playing MERP but from the players’ point of view, they are not worried if it is a generic table or a weapon specific table. What they do notice is that I am not flipping through a series of tables to find the right weapon (or they are), and I am clearly not cross-referencing a table. I used to use a paper table I prepared with most of the potential protagonists the party would meet and then track on this. This has the potential for many errors when you are pushed including not applying penalties when you should and missing the point of unconsciousness. In Minion, there is none of this as it highlights stunned combatants and when they are incapacitated, and also applies all penalties (unless you switch it off).

In play, there have been a few issues, but I think we can put most of this down to discovering the best way to use the system. You do need to do some preparation work, NPCs and PCs need to all be entered into the program but this is no more than creating a combat recording table. There is a clone function, which is useful for henchmen and guards. The data can be stored through a copy and paste text for a restore. I would recommend keeping a copy of your PC and allies without opponents as this will speed up generating the combat tables. Opponents can be filtered into groups which helps for an adventure with multiple tactical encounters.

There is a facility to roll initiative and play strictly by this order, or as we do, you know which order events occur and then select combatants in each phase. Players can choose to let the auto roll do the work or use their dice roll. Quite frankly, no-one does the former. I mean why would you? Yet it does speed up the NPC combat. Initially, when I was getting the hang of it, I found myself entering the OBs and pulling down menus to select weapons until I got the hang of grabbing from the restore box.  There is also a slight slow down as you check boxes for modifiers for parry and position, but no more than the adjustments made for mental calculation. The benefit is stun and critical penalties are applied automatically. Crit rolls are handled automatically (again players can use their own) but you don’t need to add or subtract from the roll for the crit level.

In addition to the initiative rolling, there is also a dice roll function which can provide hidden rolls for all characters for perception, MM and use item (attunement). Which can be useful for those quick decisions about do they notice, avoid, or use in combat.

There have been a few glitches in play, mostly where I select the wrong character and have to cycle the correct combatants into order (still quicker than looking up results and recording on paper). I did have one occasion where the player and I disagreed on hits, but I’d had a round where the results didn’t appear to have been recorded but I suspect they went in so repeating the attack could have added on. We adjusted in the player’s favour.

Random encounters can cause problems because either you have to quickly enter the details of these or play off the tables. Keeping a backup table of potential encounters is possible but every time the players level up or change OB you will need to go an amend this table and although it appears to be a generic text code I haven’t yet managed to change or add in the raw code without making a mistake somewhere, so you would need to do this in Minion each time.

Overall, I’m much happier with this running the combat than the old pencil and paper method. We now talk more descriptively about the combatants rather than relying on the mechanics to describe the state of injury. “Pick is reeling in front of his foe, blood pouring from his nose like a punch drunk boxer” rather than “Pick is bleeding 2 hits/round with a broken nose and is stunned for 2 rounds”. Currently, we are still double-entry bookkeeping, with players tracking details of their characters, which as we have seen is useful at the moment, but I suspect in time all injuries will be more descriptive. After all, when you break your leg, you know it is probably broken and you are in excruciating pain, how many seconds before you are able to focus clearly is irrelevant you respond either by crumpling in a weeping mess or grit your teeth and try and move. Equally, when bleeding you don’t think “Oh I have 50 secs before I’m incapacitated”; you say “***@@, I’m bleeding badly, I’d better slap a bandage/tourniquet/plaster on that!”. So hopefully, the roleplay experience will be enhanced.