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!
In the gloom of a dry but underground space, the heroes awaken, bound and unable to recall much more than their own name. Gradually, they begin to recognise their companions around them but are unable to communicate in more than their first language, an advantage for both dwarves but not for the other occupants of the room. Soon it becomes clear to everyone in the room that although they are with companions that they have travelled with there are others in the room. To make things clearer one group decide to cast light spells which although successful, result in the loss of magical abilities for one of them. Each adventurer although bound tightly appeared to have their basic combat equipment.
Eventually, the adventurers’ ability with language is restored and Billwise, Dagaard and Pick free themselves. They are confronted by the sight of a dark-haired female adventurer and a short stone-troll still bound on the floor. Uncertain of the nature of the troll whom they understand to be called Denig and the raven-haired woman known as Ydal, Pick opts for leaving them bound whilst Billwise examines the door to facilitate an exit from the room. At that moment, the door opens.
Pick, Dagaard and Billwise, being the only adventurers freed, readied their weapons. A small round head poked around the door and gave a squeak of shock before retreating rapidly. Unfortunately, the door swung shut preventing the three freed prisoners a chance to escape. Quick thinking Billwise thrusts his dagger into the door to act as a handle, that it succeeded surprised all present but the result was to no avail as the door was latched on the outside.
The nascent party have only a short time of introductions and tentative trust before the captors return, though captors they are not. Indeed, the small group of Hobbits that wait outside of the cellar door turn out to be the saviours of the fallen adventurers, who were in danger of being consumed by a party of raiding Orcs. It appears the Orcs have encamped in Neffwin wood for a reason, according to the elder clan leader Isundras Kettle. He adds, between naps, small bits of knowledge he has gained from living in the Misty Mountains during his youth. More pressing is the discovery of the smial’s backdoor by a band of Orcs searching for the purloiners of their latest food supply.
Naturally, the adventurers all decide that they should help their rescuers but with two different parties of adventurers, there was a small amount of tension over planning a sortie to displace the invaders. Alongside this is the reluctance of the leader of the Hobbit men, one Pencho Goodspear, to engage in direct combat. Luckily, it is Billwise who both parties listen to as the Hobbit expert and so it is that under a stealthy but slightly inefficient fire of slingshots the Orcs are defeated. Mostly, it must be said, under the hammers of the Dwarves, but Denig’s stone skin dented more than a few Orc blades. In the woods, the remaining Orcs are ambushed by the Hobbits.
The heroes and Hobbits gather in council within the smial, food, of course, is provided. The Hobbits explain that they have recently travelled from the Ettenmoors after hearing of the new land granted by the Big King of the lake and have recently made Neffinwood their home. Between naps, Isundras tells the party that he feels that no Orc would travel this far from the safety of the Wilds of the Ettenmoors without purpose. From this Pick, Dagaard and Billwise draw conclusions that these are of the same party encountered in the Weathertops, a fact that they do not share with Denig and Ydal. There is much discussion, with Pencho again making it clear he will not risk his hunters in direct battle. Speaking for the women, Fairly Goodnough counsels hiding or leaving, but in private, to Pick, insists that the adventurers exterminate the vermin who have invaded their new home.
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?
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.
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.
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.
A 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.
Determined 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.
A crown with some jewels – value unknown
Five potions of unknown use
A collection of short swords, daggers and arrows
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.
Collect the crystal shard from the ruins of Elvellon Manor
`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?
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.
In the previous episode, the brave heroes had fought the Zombie King and survived the devious traps protecting the Iron Rose held beneath a rotten tree. Now Pick, Limolas and Dagaard set out to try and discover the location of the final item required to release Edananar from his frog form. Progress was again slow, but the party took heart when they could see the rising Hills of Evendim; this giving the small hope that the depths of the swamp would soon be left behind.
Soon the band of adventurers found themselves warily entering a forest of dead trees. Mists floated in from the swamp obscuring the view further, but untroubled the heroes pushed deeper into the woods and soon came upon a thicket of thorns. It was clear from their previous information that this should be the labyrinth of thorns spoken of as the resting place for the amber stones. A quick survey of the perimeter revealed three entrances and the wanderers soon realised that a strategy to defeat the labyrinth was in order.
Sadly, after many hours of debate, the best plan they could come up with was to pick the nearest entrance and take the left turn until no more turns could be made and then return to the last turning. Pick, by far the most intelligent of the band, being only slightly below average intelligence, suggested leaving a marker at each turn, and so with bundles of sticks the band set off to explore.
The thorns of the maze pushed in on the adventurers as they explored through the mist. In the mistaken belief that they were efficiently exploring, the party pushed on into the Labyrinth. The tension grew as every wrong turn meant retracing steps and finding the marker sticks, which were becoming less with each wrong turn.
Warily, the party pushed on. Soon Limolas’ sharp ears heard a clacking sound and so the party were aware of the approach of a pair of skeletons. Unfortunately, the close-packed thorns left no room for manoeuvre and so Pick was forced to deal with both at the junction. Limolas let fly volleys of arrows, but alas they had little effect when his aim was true. So alone and beset on two sides, the brave dwarf swung is mighty warhammer in defence of his comrades. So it is perhaps fortunate that this was the time for our heroes to discover that weapons that break bone, are more effective against the skeletal form of undead.
The guardians of the Labyrinth dispatched, the explorers pushed on in their haphazard way seeking the centre of the maze. The going was slow and there were many encounters with more skeletons. The dauntless dwarves covering both the van and rear guard dispatched these with ease, and despite evidence to the contrary Limolas continued to use piercing weapons to provide support.
A cold damp night later, the explorers gained the centre of the maze. In front of them stood a twelve foot high dark green dodecahedral tower, and atop gleamed the prized amber stones. Now the heroes could grab the loot and depart this depressing maze. However, between them and the stones stood a band of skeletal warriors. Faced with odds of three to one, Limolas thought to thin the numbers using his skill as a bowman. His efforts continued to have the same effect as before and the skeletal figures advanced with purposeful menace. The dwarves, taking a more pragmatic view advanced with warhammers swinging and soon the sound of breaking bone filled the centre of the maze. Limolas, finally abandoning his bow, joined the fray swinging his longsword to and fro. Within a few minutes, the floor was littered with a carpet of shattered bones and the heroes could turn their attention to the high pedestal on which the amber stones sat.
A combination of a lack of height and acrobatic skill made it clear very early on that recovering the stones would need a solution that did not involve a tower of two dwarves and an elf. However, by standing on both the dwarves shoulders and using his spear Limolas was eventually able to push the amber stones off the pedestal, where they were soon rolled into the magical bag ready for transport back to the golden frog form of Edananar, All that remained was to find their way back to him through the miles of damp, dreary, dangerous, swamp.