Saturday, April 22, 2023

Thursday, April 20, 2023

A Hobbit Inspired Campaign V: System

I was debating whether to talk about system or the setting first.  I've decided to tentatively select a system because I believe it will help focus the setting creation.  And I can always change the system later if I'm not satisfied with the outcome.

For this exercise I am going to use White Box: FMAG with a few modifications.  This was a difficult choice.  I was sorely tempted by both B/X and The Hero's Journey.  But for simplicities sake I am going to go with White Box for now.  For the most part the changes will be plug-and-play.

Starting with base SW: FMAG I would make the following changes and additions.

From James Spahn' White Box Omnibus and Compendium I would add:

  • Greenleaf Elf - Although elves are magical, some are more magical than others.  Greenleaf Elves do not command magic but are very attuned to the forest and have forest related skills.
  • The Ranger - The Ranger would not use the magic option.  This class, as well as the Fighter, would represent the Woodmen.  I was also considering the Barbarian for this but went with the Ranger instead.

Other changes I would make:

  • Remove Cleric.
  • Elves would use the variant rules if they are not Greenleaf Elves.  They would use Clerical magic. I still need to decide whether they would use the Elf Variant spell progression or the Cleric Spell progression.  And I would lower the XP needed to reach second level to 4000.  Since Elves are not fading and disappearing into the west, I may let elves progress to the 10th level.  This is were White Box maxes out.
  • Half-Elf - Though I can't quite figure out how to do it.  The one Half-Elf mentioned is Elrond and he seems like any other elf.  The Half-Elf classes I've seen aren't satisfactory.  They usually give the half-elf a single first level spell and some of the Elf abilities.  I might just make Half-Elves the same as elves.
  • Berserker - If I can find a Berserker class that I like I will include it to represent the skin-changing Beornings.
  • Experience Points - Ultimately, The Hobbit is a treasure hunt. And the characters get their hands on two hoards during their travels, the trolls' and the dragon's.  However, gold as XP doesn't necessarily feel right for a game based on the book.  I could either substitute or supplement the traditional system with one that rewards reaching goals, completing quests or being heroic or something like that.  The Hero's Journey has an experience system like this.

And a couple of house rules off the top of my head:

  • Though there is no mention of Plate Armor that I recall it will exist but will be rare and VERY expensive.
  • Add Scale Armor -3 [+3]
  • Max HP at 1st level.

This is what I have so far.  I may add more or change my mind on system completely.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Friday, April 7, 2023

A Hobbit Inspired Campaign IV: Details About the 1937 Version of "The Hobbit"

In this post I want to highlight some specific points about the 1937 version of The Hobbit.  For this I'm going to draw on The Hobbit itself, the two blog posts that inspired my series, "The Hobbit 1937" and "1937 Hobbit as a Setting",  as well as a couple of forum threads talking about the subject, including "Using 'The Hobbit' as the only canon and starting point" and "D&D: The Hobbit".  

The Annotated Hobbit was a big help with this because it has the text of the 1937 edition in parallel with the current edition.  Also, many of these items were pointed out in the blog posts and on the forums, so most of this didn't originate with me.

  • *EDIT* I seemed to have missed kind of a big one.  The Elves in particular but other races also don't seem to be fading away.  There is no mention of the Elves heading West and leaving that I recall.  This definitely changes the tone.
  • The term Middle-Earth does not appear in the book.  Neither does Shire, only Hobbiton.

  • Wizards are people, too.  Gandalf is just a wizard, there is no indication that he is anything more.  He visited "a great council of the white wizards" who are masters of good magic.  He has a cousin named Radagast who is also a wizard and lives near the Southern borders of Mirkwood.  Gandalf has an enemy called the Necromancer who is also a wizard.  He turned the Greenwood into Mirkwood with his evil.  That means there are evil wizards in the world.  The fact that he is called a necromancer also implies the existence of the undead.  Gandalf and the Council of White Wizards drove him out of Mirkwood.  It appears anyone can be a wizard with enough talent and practice.
  • Gollum is an honorable creature.  Even though he will eat any humanoid he can.  He is not obsessed with his ring of invisibility.  He is very upset when he discovers that his ring is missing and he can't give it to Bilbo as the prize for winning the riddle contest.  He offers to lead Bilbo out of the mountain as a consolation prize.
  • Rings of Invisibility are just what they seem.  And you leave a shadow when invisible.
  • Orc is the Hobbit word for Goblin.  Hobgoblins are larger Goblins.
  • Goblins speak the common language used by Hobbits, Men and Dwarves.
  • Dragons also speak the common language.
  • In fact giant spiders, trolls and some birds speak the same common language.
  • Other birds, like the giant eagles, and creatures such as Wargs speak their own language that people can learn or know if they are the right bloodline.
  • Heck, even troll purses are enchanted to warn their owners of theft.
  • Stone Giants exist and some are friendly enough to help wizards occasionally.  Perhaps other types of giants exist, too.
  • There was once a king west of the Wilderlands that people have now forgotten.
  • Between Hobbiton and Rivendell "There were castles on some of the hills, and many looked as if they had not been built for any good purpose."  When I read the revised version of the line, "On some of them were old castles with an evil look, as if they had been built by wicked people."  I always assumed that the castles were ruins.  I'm not sure why.  I'll probably run with this assumption.
  • Elrond states that the trolls may have"...come on the remnants of old robberies in some hold in the mountains of the North. I have heard that there are still forgotten treasures of old to be found in the deserted caverns of the mines of Moria, since the dwarf and goblin war.”  It sounds like there are dungeons or adventure sites to be plundered.
  • Rivendell does not seem very large.  Particularly if you use Tolkien's paintings as evidence.
  • Elrond is a Half-Elf thus Half-Elves exist.
  • An Elf-Goblin War occurred in the far past.
  • A Dwarf-Goblin War occurred in the recent past.  Many of Dain's warriors participated in it.
  • Elves are not immortal. "Already behind him among the goblin dead lay...many a fair elf that should have lived yet long ages merrily in the wood."
  • Elves are magical.
  • Elves aren't always nice.
  • Elves like to party and they get drunk.
  • Elves trade with Men.
  • There are larger trade networks even if the quantity of goods is small.
  • Dwarves were master smiths and used to make marvelous toys, in addition tomasterful weapons and armor.
  • Wicked Dwarves were known to ally with Goblins.
  • Smaug is not the titanic dragon he is often depicted as.  Once again, if you use Tolkien's paintings as evidence.
  • There are skin-changers/shape-changers in the Wilderlands.  And the ability is passed from generation to generation.  At least one skin-changer had animals that acted as his servants.  They even walked on their hind legs.
  • Men are expanding north into the land between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood, the land of the Great River of the Wildlands, settling and creating villages.
  • Chain mail seemed to be the most common heavy armor.
  • Golf is a game.  Originally played with a goblin's head.

Ok.  That's a lot of details.  In the next couple of posts I'll actually try to put together a setting inspired by the book and the points above.

You can find the first three posts in the series here:

You can find the first part of A Hobbit Inspired Campaign here.
You can find the second part of A Hobbit Inspired Campaign II here.
You can find the third part of A Hobbit Inspired Campaign III here.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

A Hobbit Inspired Campaign III


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

I have been looking at RPGs that might be a good fit to run a campaign based on the 1937 version of The Hobbit.  My first post covered several possible OSR candidates.  The seconds looked at The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game and its clones and derivatives.  

This installment will look at a couple of unrelated games that look like they could work.  They include one that was inspired by same blog posts that inspired this series, 1937 Hobbit as a Setting and The Hobbit 1937.

So let's talk about it first.  Unfortunately, like most of the games I own, I have not had the opportunity to play it.  It is titled, appropriately enough, There and Back Again.  This is a little one sheet gem by Ray Otus, the same fellow who put together the campaign/worldbuilding pamphlet The Gygax 75 Challenge based on an article written by Gary Gygax.  Ray briefly talks about the genesis of the game on his old blog.  Note that the game itself is no longer available there.  You can find it here.

There and Back Again (TABA) is rules-lite, as one would expect from a two page game.  It is a limited d6 dice pool system.  The pool gets no larger than three dice and you succeed if even one of dice comes up a 5 or 6.

Each character has two attributes, Toughness and Fate.  Toughness is essentially hit points and Fate is spent to cast spells and is used as a meta-currency to add dice to your pool.  A starting character also has two Traits with three associated Skills.  There are eight Traits total, which includes magic, and each trait has three or four associated skills.  Or in the case of magic, spells.

I'm not going to go into it much more because it's only two pages and it's free.  How would TABA work?  If you like ultralite games, I think it would work really well.  It was written to the exact specifications I laid out in my first post.  In its two pages TABA somehow evokes the feel of The Hobbit.  I don't quite know how Mr. Otus did it but for me he did.  Would I actually use it for a campaign?  I don't know.  One point in its favor is that it does have advancement rules.  But it is so lite that the GM would have to fill in a lot of the gaps.  It also lacks a bestiary.  It has three sample creatures.  Now, creatures are dead simple to come up with, but you would still need to think of their Traits.  So, for me I don't think I would run a full campaign with it but I would definitely use it for one-shots or a two or three session arc.

Next is Legends of Middle Earth.  It is a free game that is 25 pages long that uses its own system.  LoME is a game pointed directly at the full Lord of the Rings experience.  One of the races a player can choose is Descended Maiar.  

Players choose a Race for their character.  These include, as mentioned, Descended Maiar, Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits, Man and Numenorians.  Then a Role which include Burglar, Commoner, Diplomat, Leader, Ne'er Do Well, Ranger, Scholar and Warrior.

Characters are defined by skills.  There are three groups of skills - Prowess, Bearing and Lore - with eight skills in each group.  Most skills start at 8 and are modified by Race and Role.  Then a player gets extra points to spend between Skills, Passions, Story Tokens, Special Abilities and Artifacts.

The system uses a d6 roll under/equal dice pool.  For regular tasks the GM determines the difficulty and from that selects the appropriate number of dice to roll.  A very difficult task uses 4d and the player must roll under the skill being used.  Bonuses and penalties can be assigned by adding or removing dice.

For combat, LoME uses a sort of bidding system.  Whichever combatant has initiative chooses the number of dice to roll.  If the roll is successful character A has hit.  Character B then gets to make a "saving" throw against the most appropriate skill using the same number of dice as the attacker.  If he makes it the nothing serious happens but character A gets to act with advantage next time.  One less die.  If the attack succeeds, fight over.  If the fight continues then character B attacks.  He can use the same number of dice or add one or more.  It seems like an interesting process.  The harder you make it for you to hit, the harder it is for the defender to defend himself.

Magic is divided into two parts, Parlor Tricks and True Magic.  Parlor Tricks are what the rules call imitation-magic.  It covers sleight of hand and things like alchemy.  I'm assuming alchemy would cover Gandalf's fireworks.  True Magic, however, is the real deal.  It is divided into three types, Light Magic, Elven Magic and Dark Magic.  It can only be performed by Descended Maiar, Elves and to a lesser extent Numenorians.  Magic is pretty freeform with no set spell list.  The magic user states what he wants to accomplish, the GM sets the difficulty, the player pays a story token and then rolls against his magic skill.

Story tokens allow the use of magic, are used to activate certain special abilities and to edit the story.

Passions, Story Tokens, Special Abilities and Artifacts all affect the game and assist rolls.  It does have a brief section about character advancement.  The last four or five pages are a GM's section.  It discusses how to create NPCs that are the right level of challenge for the players, when to roll the dice for maximum fun and when not to, campaign and adventure creation and it has a couple of campaign seeds.

I'd like to talk about how it would work for gaming in The Hobbit-verse.  I'll stand by my statement that it is aimed firmly at gaming in the full Third Age Middle-Earth.  However, the Adventure section starts in an interesting way.  I'm going to quote it in full.

When preparing for a game in Middle Earth, a Game Master must make one decision before all others:  The Hobbit, or Lord of the Rings?  Basically, the feel of which book would you like to emulate? Both are completely valid choices, but also altogether completely different. Games modeled after The Hobbit are likely to be more lighthearted, silly, and clich├ęd. Those emulating the trilogy will be more melodramatic and grim, focusing upon the interplay of character’s Passions. And perhaps most importantly, servants of dark forces in Hobbit style games have names like Tom, Bert, and William. In Trilogy like games, they’re more likely to be like Grishnak, and mean something in some dark language or another.
The author outright acknowledges that there is a difference in the style and tone of the two "settings".  He then goes on to briefly outline the next two steps the GM needs to take but I like the fact that he sees this as the foundation on which the rest of the game will be built.  Unfortunately, he doesn't go on to suggest any mechanical changes the gamers can or should make.  He just speaks to the tone.  If he would've talked about the changes that could be made to help capture the tone I would be much more enthused about this.  However, as it stands it doesn't meet my criteria.  Of course I could modify and hack it but I'm not interested in doing that with this game.  So, I think it would make a good Middle- Earth game but not necessarily a good The Hobbit only game.

There are two other games I would like to talk about but can't.  The first is Under Hill, By Water.  This is actually written by Josh McCrowell, the author of the blog post 1937 Hobbit as a Setting.  I can't write about it because I haven't read the rules yet despite owning them.  I get the impression that, even though the game is all about Halflings, it might not be a good fit.  That's because its tag line is:

Adventures? No thank you.

And part of its blurb reads:

What do you do in Under Hill, By Water?
This game is about capturing your aunt’s escaped ornery goat. 
This game is about growing the biggest turnip for the Harvest Festival.
This game is about gathering rare ingredients for a birthday feast. 
This game is about being simple and silly. 

So, unless something changes my mind when I finally get a chance to read it, I don't think this is in contention.

The second one I would like to talk about but can't is There and Hack Again.  I don't own it yet.  This is a Black Hack hack modified to capture the Tolkien feel.  And I've grown rather interested in The Black Hack and its variants recently.  It includes rules for journeying and despair, as I understand the more recent LotR games do.  So I'm looking forward to getting this one to see what it's like.

As I wrap this post up I want to leave you with a couple of links from the Rise Up Comus blog.  The cover several Middle-Earth games both official and unofficial.  You can find them here.