Sunday, March 26, 2023

A Hobbit Inspired Campaign II

You can find the first part of A Hobbit Inspired Campaign here.

So, it's time to get away for OSR type games.  I mentioned the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game in the last post.  It is the only official Tolkien licensed RPG that I'm interested in at this point.  LOR was published by Iron Crown Enterprises in 1991 as a kind of simple introduction to roleplaying in Middle-Earth and as a lead in to their Middle-Earth Role Playing game.  And it, apparently, had its genesis in the "Middle-Earth Quest" choose your own adventure game books.  

LOR is a simple system that uses 2d6.  You roll, with appropriate modifiers, and attempt to equal or exceed a target number to succeed at a task.  In combat, you roll on a chart with appropriate modifiers to determine the outcome of an attack.  Characters have 12 Stats, 5 that I would call attributes (Strength, Agility, etc.), 6 skills and Defense, which doesn't seem to fit in either category.  These essentially act as modifiers to rolls.  You can play as a Hobbit, Elf, Half-Elf, Human or Dwarf and be a Scout, Warrior, Ranger or a Bard.  Gandalf is listed as a Human Bard, Thorin as a Dwarf Warrior and Bilbo as a Hobbit Scout to give three examples.  There are limitations though.  If you wanted to play a Hobbit you are limited to being a Scout and Dwarves are limited to being Warriors.

Magic is also limited as there are only 15 spells.  Some may not like this but I have heard that others think that it fits the feel of Middle-Earth well.  Spells include Shield, Charm Animal and Fire Bolt.

The boxed set included, besides the short rulebook, maps, pre-generated characters, cardboard character figures and an adventure.  Two further adventures were released before I.C.E. lost the rights to publish the games.  And all of their Tolkien related games.

Much to my surprise there have been several clones and homages to LOR.  In one way though, it shouldn't have been much of a surprise.  Just like many of the older games, the price of the LOR boxed set has seen a sharp rise on the second-hand market. On the other hand it is a somewhat obscure game so I was a little thrown to see not only one but multiple versions.

The first game I ran across was the Middle-Earth Adventure Game (MEAG).  It's listed as being published in 2002.  Which is only a couple of years after LOR went out of production.  But it didn't come to my attention until years later when I became aware of and interested in LOR.  It adheres pretty closely to LOR but does make some changes.  Mostly additions.  MEAG adds specializations, special abilities and negative traits.  

It also expands the number of spells and changes the way they are cast.  In LOR, when a Bard cast a spell, it costs the character Endurance, which for Bards starts at 30 or 35.  MEAG adds a mana pool.  It is only after the mana pool is depleted that spells affect Endurance.  MEAG also changes the Bard to the Mage/Scholar.

Another significant change is that they separated race and profession.  So a Hobbit can be any of the five professions (MEAG adds Rogue), not just a Scout as in the original game.  However, Hobbits are intrinsically less capable of using magic than others so there is that to take into account when choosing a profession.

Two other games based on LOR are Tales & Legends and Simple Fantasy AdventureTales & Legends follows MEAG pretty closely but cuts the professions to three: Warrior, Scout and Mage.  It adds a 80+ creature bestiary, which MEAG doesn't have.  And come to think of it, neither does LOR!  

I think my favorite version is Simple Fantasy Adventure.  It strips things down bringing it closer to LOR again.  It is simple and clearly explained.  Any race can be any class, as SFA calls them, so it does differ in that respect.  The spell list is pared down to the original.  It has a minuscule bestiary.  It's lean and mean.  I also prefer the formatting, which is much easier for me to read than MEAG, for example.

Now the beauty of all of these games is you can borrow from any of them and mix and match to your hearts content.  For example, I could take the bestiary from Tales & Legends and use it with the other games without any modification. (Unfortunately, Tales & Legends is a commercial product, albeit very low priced in PDF.)

How would these games work for a game emulating The Hobbit?  I think any of them would work excellently.  Though ostensibly sold as a "Lord of the Rings" game, LOR and its emulators fit the feel described in the articles well. The professions are tailored for Middle-Earth which will make it easy to slide into the The Hobbit 1937 setting.  The games are also rules-lite, which is definitely my preference.

Sunday, March 19, 2023


I don't know if I've mentioned Hexfriend yet.  My favorite mapping program at this point is Hex Kit.  It's a downloadable program that is simple to use and has a bunch of tile sets that you can use to make different style maps.

A map made with Hexfriend
However, if you can't afford the price of a paid program or only have access to a computer that won't run downloaded programs there is Hexfriend.  Hexfriend is my favorite online mapping program.  It is simple to use.  It allows you to create classic looking hex maps, download the source file so you can work on it again later and export the final product as a PNG for printing or distributing to your players electronically.

It has several features that somewhat surprised me for an online program.  Besides being able to choose the size of the map, you can choose whether to have a classic rectangular map or a hexflower style map.  You can have the hexes either flat top or pointed.  Coordinates on or off and one of four styles.  The tiles and icons are reminiscent of the classic TSR maps of yore.  And, theoretically, you can import your own tiles and icons.  I know there is at least one set for sale on DriveThru.

One downside to it is that there isn't layering other than the automatic layering between terrain, icons, rivers/roads and text.  Also, the icons are fairly limited.  On the upside, the icons are scalable in size.

But, if you want any easy online mapping program you might like Hexfriend.  You can find it here.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Quickstarts I Like: Dungeon Crawl Classics

I think of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Quick Start Rules as the modern day gaming equivalent of the Basic D&D boxed sets of old.  Well almost.

You see, the core rules for Dungeon Crawl Classics are massive.  Over 500 pages!  That can be intimidating!!!  The Quick Start is 52 pages, including the covers.

So, what do you get in these 52 pages?  Well, as I mentioned, it reminds me a bit of on of the Basic boxed sets.  You get the 52 page booklet which covers character generation for your 0 level mooks who will die by the dozens.  (There is also an excellent online generator at Purple Sorcerer Games if you don't want to do it manually.)  It also covers the first two levels of character advancement including how experience points work. A list of appropriate level spell.  A list of weapons, armor and equipment. And two adventures.  A 0-1 level funnel and a 1st level adventure.  (So everything you need to get you up and running and playing for a while without having to invest in the full ruleset.  

So what are the downsides?  Obviously, you do get all of the rules or details you would get with the full ruleset.  One example is supernatural patrons.  Wizards get their magic from supernatural patrons such as demons or elementals.  This isn't covered in the Quick Start.

Another thing to be aware of is that there are a couple of different versions of the Quick Start.  There is a free version on the Goodman Games website.  This version has one adventure though, the funnel, and is 44 pages.  Before I discovered it I had purchased my copy at DriveThru and it is the version that has 52 pages and two adventures.

Whichever version you get I really think it's worth a look if you have even a passing interest in DCC.  Particularly since there is a free version.  I had kind of dismissed DCC until I read the Quick Start.  Reading it prompted me to buy the full rulebook.

It turns out Goodman Games has several variations of the Quick Start on sale.  Each has two adventures but the second adventure varies.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

A Hobbit Inspired Campaign

I've mentioned before my love of Tolkien's The Hobbit.  I really, really like it.  My fondness for it has only been growing over the years.  On the other hand, I don't much care for The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  But that's another story.  (Oddly enough, though, I really like The Lord of the Rings movies but not The Hobbit movies.)

Two of my favorite blog posts out there on the gaming blogs are "The Hobbit 1937" at The Hydra's Grotto and "1937 Hobbit as a Setting" at Rise Up Comus.  Both of these riff on using The Hobbit as it was originally written as a campaign setting.  The current version of The Hobbit was modified when The Lord of the Rings was publish in the 1950s to fit better the series' lore.  So the posts ask, what would a campaign be like with just the information available in The Hobbit, as originally published, but with none of the later lore added by The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's other works?

These two blog posts really make me want to play/run a campaign in that world.  It's essentially a points of light campaign, which I find fascinating.  Though it can be a harsh and grim world it also has a touches of fairytale whimsy.  And it shows how a small group of people can have an oversized effect on the world.

While I'm interested in playing in the setting itself or a close analog, I'm not really interested in using any of the of the licensed games.  Except, perhaps, The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game (LOR), a simple game released in the early 90s by Ice Crown Enterprises as an introduction to their Middle Earth Role Playing game.  But I'll talk about this game in another post.

I can think of several rulesets that I could use for this.  TSR D&D and OSR rulesets jump to mind immediately because that is what I'm most familiar with.

The first for me, of course, is B/X.  With the exception of the cleric it fits quite nicely.  The demi-human race-as-class fits the archetypes well in my mind and the other classes are spot on.  As for the cleric, many people online have suggested that the cleric's magic actually fits Tolkien elves better than magic-user spells.  I will take their word for it because as much as I like The Hobbit I am not a Tolkien scholar in any way, shape or form.  I could do away with the cleric altogether and have elves use clerical magic instead.  I just purchased BX Options: Class Builder by Erin Smale (aka The Welsh Piper) so I could just build the class from the ground up so it would be customized to my liking and have different x.p. requirements suitable for their modified powers.

The second to come to mind is The Hero's Journey by James Spahn.  Either the First or Second Edition would work fine.  The First Edition adheres more closely to its White Box roots.  It does add more classes, modifies how attributes are generated and actually adds two attributes, luck and appearance.  It also uses only shields and dexterity to determine armor class and has armor reduce damage.  The Second Edition makes many more changes to better match Mr. Spahn's vision.  I wrote about it in more detail in this post.  I like both editions but the First Edition draws me to it more at this point.  So if I were to go with The Hero's Journey I would use First Edition suitably modified.  I would throw out some classes and a race to make it fit my vision better.  (Buh-bye Bard, buh-bye Jester, etc.)  And the cleric would have to be dealt with again.

I could go with White Box with added classes and options from Mr. Spahn's White Box Omnibus and White Box Compendium.  This would essentially be taking the building blocks that he used to make The Hero's Journey and brew up my own version to try to more exactly meet my vision.  I would certainly add Greenleaf Elves, rangers and druids and perhaps the barbarian.  I would also probably add the druid spell list from White Box Expanded Lore by Simon "Noobirus" Piecha.  A little more time consuming but the process can be fun in and of itself.

Then there are several other noncommercial OSR games that are aimed at a LotRs feel.  There is Drums in the Deep, which is a modification meant for Holmes Basic.  There is also Balrogs & BagginsesB&B states you will need a version of Basic or AD&D to use it.  Whereas Drums in the Deep is 11 pages, B&B clocks in at 58.  I haven't read these in quite a while so I'm not going to say much about them at this time.

I think I'll wrap this post up for now and talk about non-OSR options next time.