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?

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Sundered!

In the previous session, we left the party divided and in fear deep within the wood surrounding the Labyrinth of Thorns. Limolas, alone in the woods woke to a new day and a sense of self-imposed calm. However, although he knew north from south and east from west, he had no clue as to his location in the woods. Reasoning that the dwarves were to the North he carefully made his way through the woods.

515012-515012_origMeanwhile, back at camp the dwarves, now more concerned about the failure of their companion began to make plans to leave in the assumption that the elf was lost. Waiting part of the morning, and with no sign of Limolas, the pair began to make their way towards the west and the side of the woods they had entered.  Arriving at the edge of the swamp the waited another hour or so before deciding to try and find their way back through the swamp. Suddenly, the two stout heroes were assailed by giant, slimy tentacles. From the swamp a watcher in the water attempt to snatch at Pick, who was carrying the basket containing the stones and rose. Valiantly, the dwarves beat back the assaulting arms and regained the wood away from the dangers of the swamp.  For a while, the tentacles searched for the basket and the dwarves decided that seeking another way from the wood would be sensible. Thus they set off to search the edge of the woods for a new path and they reasoned, they may come across the elf, should he have made his way to edge of the woods.

tumblr_static_esypkkltsvwcswcss0so0cgk4Indeed, this is exactly what Limolas had done, having reached the Northern edge of the woods he surveyed the steep, imposing slopes of the Twilight hills decided to follow the woods to the Western end and the location of the causeway. From there he reasoned he would be able to trace the path back to the camp near the Labyrinth.  After a long trek involving an incident with a fireward and a loss of trousers, the half-dressed elf finally arrived back at the site of the camp, which of course by now was deserted. Not wishing to remain in the wood Limolas made his way back to the edge of the woods by the causeway path for the night.

During this time, Pick and Dagaard had walked around the edge of the wood, and discovered a fellow adventurer in distress. Dealve, had been part of a party seeking the golden frog, but his companions had perished in the accursed swamp and seeking safety Dealve had managed to gain some dry land, but now was without food. Not entirely trusting the adventurer, the dwarves, of course, did not disclose their discoveries but did offer to work together to escape from the swamp. With night drawing, the band of lost adventurers settled in for a watchful and uncomfortable night.

Dawn broke softly in the mist-enshrouded woods, grey, damp mist surrounded the sundered companions. Limolas deciding that his companions have begun to journey back through the swamp uses his tracking skills to begin searching for safe paths back to the golden frog, Edanaar. The dwarves, meanwhile, continue to skirt the woods searching for an obvious path without the risk of meeting a watcher.

uk11-341_glastonbury_tor_from_ham_wall_at_dawn_somerset123The dwarves with Dealve eventually arrive at the escarpments that mark the start of the Twilight hills. Deciding that searching for a path is fruitless, Pick and Dagaard decide to follow the edge of the escarpment towards the river Lhun.  With little incident, but dwindling supplies, they manage to make their way to the dwarf road leading to Caras Celairnen. Finally, arriving at the town starving, the dwarves seek sanctuary in the Dwarven Halls where they are nursed back to health. Fully recovered, the pair use some of Limolas’ coin to pay street urchins to provide news should the elf return. They do this more in hope rather than any real belief that he should be alive.

Limolas, however, is not so fortunate and through a series of mishaps spends longer in the swamp than even the initial journey out took. Thankfully, although lost, he is able to survive on a basic diet of swamp edibles. A considerable time after the dwarves had arrived back at the Karras, Limolas stumbles towards the causeway gate, half-naked, unkempt and starving. Despite pleading for aid, the gate guards decide that Limolas is a suspicious character and detain the elf. Limolas’ protestations and request that someone searches for news of his companions fall on deaf ears.

 

 

Into the Woods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The squelching dead

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

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

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

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

 

 

Into the mist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Frog he would a wooing go.

At the end of the last session the party were alone deep in the swamp north of Caras Celairnen. Cold, damp and guide-less, they have been forced to rely on Limolas’ tracking skills to navigate the dangerous causeways that criss cross the dangerous marshes.

Another day of grey, green dreariness and swamp wild-life lead the party, after a few mis-steps, to a small floating island. On the island was a small bower, within which sat a small golden frog. Limolas and Pick are first to step tentatively on to the island. Sensing no traps they move closer to the bower. Whereupon, the frog speaks to them and beseeches their aid in reuniting him with his lost love. The frog tells the party that his was once a mortal man who fell in love with a Silvan elf in the years of twilight as the sun first rose. He tells of how an elf perverted by Morgoth cast the spell on him as he returned bearing wedding gifts for his love, and how until they are returned he cannot resume his mortal form.

The party debate the risk and rewards. In the first instance, they decide that this is not what they are being paid for and that taking the idol to the Alabaster lady is the best option. That is until they discover that the frog cannot be moved. It seems they need a magical basket which is currently in the possession of some water maia.

The party set off back into the swamp in the direction indicated by the golden frog. After some minor swamp encounters they soon arrive at a hedge of swamp bushes behind which they hear the light laughter of female voices. Peeking through the bushes they spy the beautiful form of the water nixies grouped around a large pool. In the middle of the pool floats a small coracle filled with treasure.

Retreating away from the pool the party debate the best approach to securing the basket. Aware of the elemental power of the Maia, Limolas suggests that direct force should be a last resort measure. As a result, the party decide to try charm and the hope that a love story will melt the hearts of the Nixie. Much to the party’s surprise this approach works wonderfully, although it costs them in a few magical items and coins to secure the boat, which when touched by mortal hands becomes a small basket.

Encouraged by the turn of events the party return to the island of the golden frog.

Gone fishing

In the last session, the party had escaped the perilous Oracle caves with barely a breath in their bodies. All the party were affected by hallucinations, but Pick was more affected than the rest of the party and spends several hours muttering about visions of a great Dwarven hall in which great lost Dwarven treasures could be found.

When the party are fully recovered they set forth, guided by their local guide, into the swamp. Initially, they are guided safely through the swamp and meet nothing but some local wildlife. However, after a day in the swamp they meet another of the treasure hunting teams and although the party tentatively try to open a parley, the other group attack. Narrowly, avoiding an opening salvo of crossbow bolts the two parties close. It is suddenly clear that the other party have a wizard as shock bolts fly, but they prove ineffectual. Again it is Dagaard who leads the melee, with Pick being redoubtable in defense and Limolas able to dart round and remove the threat from the wizard. The brief battle done, the party assess the situation to discover their guide has disappeared. Now they are alone in the swamp.

Thankfully, Limolas finally finds that he is an expert in something other than fashion and begins to navigate the tricky paths through the swamp. The party even have time to stop and do some fishing providing a fishy supper for the night. However, the lack of firewood demonstrate the importance of thinking ahead before planning to live off the land.

Night falls and although there is a close run encounter with a corpse candle, which almost lures Pick into the swamp, the party are able to continue their search in the morning. Navigating the paths proves tricky and once or twice back tracking is required. The swamp becomes more sinister as time passes and the party of encounter a giant versions of Leech and Catfish before they make camp for another night in the swamp.