RPG Creations and Musings.

Archive for the ‘RPGs’ Category

Over Misty Mountains Cold

A couple of weeks ago, we concluded playing through the Darkening of Mirkwood for the One Ring. I was the Loremaster. And by and large, it was amazing. I have lots of feelings, and I’m still not completely sure how we made it work. But with dedication, and outright enthusiasm, we did it!

The game was divided into seasons of a few sessions each, with breaks in between. Three players made it through all eight seasons. Heroes! We had other players joining us for a few seasons, but not here for everything. They made this game too.

So thanks to Dom (Nali the Mason), Elina (Aeldra the Kind), Glen (Eorgwyn the Shieldmaiden), Jag (Miriel, Warden of Mirkwood), Jerry (Halbrog the Dunedain), Mik (Hathus the Wanderer), Richard (Rathar Broadshoulders), Simon (Nolwe of Rivendell).

I loved feeling the way the player characters shaped the world. They were proactive, cunning, and sometimes, it must be said, lucky. I also felt myself becoming a massive fan of the player characters. I could imagine them as well as any character in fiction.

There were notable high points. Some which stood out to me were:

Defeating two of the Great Spiders of Mirkwood by setting them fighting each-other.

The bleak and gruelling march to Angmar in which excess armour was discarded. The kidnapped children were rescued, but the quest to seek out the evil behind it all left for another day.

Miriel taking the werewolf spirit into herself.

Gathering a grand alliance to assault Dol Goldur, and end its evil… for ever?

The end of the campaign was triumphant, but the cost was immense, and there was much underlying sadness. Dom summed it up beautifully here.

Last week, we were lucky enough for the four of us there at the end to get together at the Furnace RPG Convention, to toast a fine game and absent members of the Fellowship.

Fellowship

So what next? This was one of the finest campaigns I’ve been able to GM. At the end I feel happy, but a little overwhelmed. Maybe the Fellowship will get together for a special meeting to take on a dragon mentioned in the Grey Mountains. I hope so!

My main thought is what a wondrous thing can be possible with an amazing and dedicated group. It’s going to be a long time before I manage to rival it. But part of the fun in gaming is trying!

And for now I’m more than ready to play rather than GM, which is another pleasure.

In celebration, here’s the chronicle of events. There were departures from the “official campaign”. One key thing was an element I introduced – the Gibbet thing. Material involving the Bardings were not included. The remainder came from the players following their own path, making decisions big and small, and being…glorious!

Autumn 2947: The Company sets out from Dale, following King Bard’s mission of spreading the word of the Council of the North next Autumn. Crossing Mirkwood, they learn the truth about Mogdred from a mad hermit, namely that Ingold is Mogdred

The Company spend winter in the Beorning lands before travelling to the Woodsman lands in spring.

Spring 2948: The Company tells Ingomer, chieftain of the Woodsmen, the truth about Mogdred. They then travel into the forest to confront Mogdred. Aeldra the kind forces a realisation of who he was in a one on one fight.

Mogdred leads his men to fight orcs in Mirkwood, driving them out from the nearby area.

Mogdred attends the Council of the Woodsmen, and the Company convinces the sceptical Woodsmen to accept him as one of their number, and Mogdred’s fortress at Tyrant’s Hill as one of the Woodsmen holdings.

Summer 2948: Nali finds a mission from the dwarf Bofri son of Bombur. At Nali’s urging, the Company travel the old dwarf road through Mirkwood, and exorcise the Beacon Tower half-way through of its ghosts, retrieving the staff of the Roadwarden. Bofri the dwarf begins his work on restoring the dwarf road.

Autumn 2948: The Company cross Mirkwood, encountering the great spider Tauler, child of Ungoliant. They discover the East Bight is beset by Barrow Wights, and the lord of the East Bight, Ceawin the Generous, under the mental thrall of one of the Nazgul. They help him break free.

King Bard’s Great Council of the North discusses affairs of the free northern kingdoms, possible threats, and renews bonds of friendship between Dale, the Lonely Mountain, the Woodsmen, the Wood Elves, and the Beornings. The dwarf Nali presents King Dain of the dwarves with the Staff of the Roadwarden to give to Bofri.

The Company send word to the wizard Radagast about the Nazgul and the Barrow Wights, and talk to the Council of the North. They are advised that to defeat the Barrow Wights, they must find the barrow of their chief, and expose it to the sun. Radagast finds the location of the barrow the Company seeks, and leaves to consult with the wizard Saruman about the Nazgul.

The chief of the elven king’s hunters, Ruithel, goes missing seeking Tauler.

Winter 2948/49: Mogdred’s forces defeat an attack by orcs on the southern flank of the Woodsmen realm. Viglunding raiders attack Beorn’s lands, capturing slaves and burning the Elfwood, taking control of the western end of the elf path through Mirkwood.

Spring 2949: The Company bargain for the release of Ruithel from dwarves exiled from the Grey Mountains. They gain forces from the Woodsmen, and 50 elven archers for the Beornings to attack the Viglundings.

Summer 2949: The Company goes to the Viglunding lands to rescue the slaves taken prisoner- including Rathar’s associate Gisalric, and Frar the Beardless, chieftain of the dwarf exiles. The Beornings then go to war. Rathar kills the Viglunding chief, Viglund, in single combat. The Viglundings will no more be a threat, their very name to be forgotten.

And Rathar retires from adventuring with a steading in the borderlands to the north of the Beorning country, a reward for his efforts.

The Company decides to travel to the East Bight in spring to deal with the Wights. Perhaps they will find a group to journey with then (which they won’t in the Autumn), and not have a tough time crossing Mirkwood again.

Winter 2949/2950: The Wise and those touched by Shadow have dark dreams. The Dark Lord Sauron, the Necromancer as he was known when in Mirkwood, has risen again in Mordor.

Spring 2950: The Company sets off across the Narrows of the Forest for the East Bight. On the way, they discover the waters of Black Tarn and one of the River Maidens is corrupted by the influence of one of the Great Spiders, Tyulquin. To free Black Tarn from the blight, they seek out Tyulquin’s rival, Tauler, who after considerable persuasion leads the Company to Tyulquin’s lair. He will, with their cooperation, slay Tyulquin.

There, Tauler and Tyulquin fight, and Tauler is slain. The Company finish off the wounded Tyulquin, and with two of the three Great Spiders of Mirkwood dead, retreat to their new sanctuary in central Mirkwood, the dwarven Beacon Tower.

Summer 2950: While in the Beacon Tower, the Company join an elven celebration held by Orophal the Harper and Ruithel the Hunter. Both are wounded but happy. They celebrate killing the Werewolf of Mirkwood, and celebrate still more when they hear of the Company’s deeds with the Great Spiders. But the Werewolf returns in another body. The Company dispatch it, and explore the werewolf’s lair. They find the remains of one of the two Great Lamps of Balthi, which once shone with a light of the ancient world. The other of these lamps shines in Woodland Hall, in a secret chamber.

The Company, pursued by the Werewolf, reformed again, and accompanying wargs. travel with the wounded elves to Marshfoot, where the elves take a boat to the Woodland Realm. The Company caution the elves not to mention the other lamp in Woodland Hall.

Autumn 2950: The Company reach East Bight, and receive cryptic warnings in dreams of a coming attack by orcs and perhaps more. Aeldra the Kind slays the Wight King, ending the wight threat to the people of East Bight.

Winter 2950/2951: One of the Nazgul, a messenger, visits Mogdred of Tyrant’s Hill to claim his alliance to the dark lord. Mogdred and his men drive off the messenger with arrow fire.

Spring 2951: War comes to East Bight…a force of orcs from the east, and orcs from the forest, attacking from the west. A Nazgul is also present, and calls the wights. East Bight should be overwhelmed.

But the Company have not been idle. The wights do not march despite the Nazgul’s call; their king was slain, and the horn aiding their summoning was not blown. The Company also journeyed over winter to the Lonely Mountain and the Woodland Realm; forces of elves and dwarves march to help the East Bight, and Thranduil gives to Miriel a war banner from the time of Gil Galad.

The war banner drives away the Nazgul despite Nali the Dwarf being grievously affected by the Black Breath. The forces of Men, Elves, and Dwarves defeat the orcs and trolls, with Nali slaying the orc leader, a Great Orc and heir to Azog and Bolg.

Summer 2951: Radagast the Brown returns from a visit to the necromancer’s old fortress of Dol Guldor and hence to Saruman the White in Isengard. Radagast reports to the Company that forces are moving to reoccupy the Necromancer’s old fortress, including at least one of the Nazgul. And there is a traitor among the Wood Elves. Further, the Necromancer’s torturer, the Gibbet King, has returned to make mischief somewhere north of the Misty Mountains.

Miriel tells King Thranduil about the Lamp of Balthi. Unknown to Miriel, he sends a group, led by Ruithel, to steal it from Woodland Hall.

Autumn 2951: The Company travel to the old kingdom of Éotheod chasing rumours of the Gibbet King. Miriel has a vision alerting her to what the elven king has done. She tells the Company; Nali in particular is unhappy and sends a raven to alert the Woodsmen.

They find some of the Hillmen to be the Gibbet King’s followers, and orcs strike to kidnap the children of those who don’t follow him. The Company pursue the orcs all the way to Angmar, and catch them almost within sight of Carn Dûm. They take the children back to Rivendell. On the way they meet a group of elves and rangers, including Ruthiel who abandoned her mission and learned where the Company went.

Spring/Summer 2952: The Company, hearing rumours of conflicts between the Wood Elves and Woodsmen cross the Misty Mountains from Rivendell. The High Pass is blocked, but the Redhorn Gate is passable, and they come into the Dimrill Dale. They find a dwarven tower at the edge of the dale, Durin’s Watch, occupied by wraiths.

In the Woodsmen lands, the heroes negotiate with the Woodsmen and Elves, and learn that Ormal the Lampmaker, the greatest practitioner of wood elf magic, believes he can rekindle the broken lamp of Balthi given access to the still functioning lamp that still hangs in Woodland Hall.

A compromise is struck; the wood elves will not take the lamp, but rather Ormal will study it in Woodland Hall, watched.

The heroes also learn that the Nazgul and a group of orcs are nearby. With the aid of Ragagast, they rout three of the Nazgul, destroying their material forms for now.

Summer/Autumn 2952: The heroes journey south, to see Saruman to ask his advice on dealing with the Werewolf of Mirkwood and the Gibbet King. It’s a long journey, and on the way they clear a notable hazard on Hag Island on the river, and lay the wraiths of Dimrill Watch to rest. Halbrog declines to take a cursed sword from the treasure there.

They stop off in Gondor before heading across Rohan to Isengard. Saruman, after some persuasion, agrees to advise them. Halbrog agrees to become Saruman’s emissary, and the white wizard gifts him a ring he made. Miriel stays with Saruman for the winter to learn from him, and the other companions go home for the winter.

Saruman is able to tell the companions that he believes the Werewolf can be dispersed if the lamp of Balti is shone onto it immediately after its material form is slain, as long as no other wolves are nearby for the spirit to jump into. More research is needed on the Gibbet King, though Saraman does mention a sword in a wight’s horde on the Barrow Downs which might be of aid.

Winter 2952/2953: Halbrog meets Gandalf briefly in Bree. Gandalf seeks the Company’s aid on matters of importance, and will see them in Rivendell that Autumn. Until then, he has urgent business of his own. Wights have been seen outside the Barrow Downs!

Spring/Summer 2953: It is time for the Company to deal with the Werewolf of Mirkwood, who is running rampage around the eaves of Mirkwood, leading a pack of hundreds of wargs. The Comapany persuade the Woodsmen and Radagast to go along with their plan, taking the lamp of Balthi, and attacking the pack, while Radagast uses his magic to separate them.

The Company take on the Werewolf, defeat it, and Miriel shines the lamp of Balthi in its face. It begs the elf for mercy, but Miriel rather mocks it, refusing, seeing the spirit needs punishment. At which point the spirit of the werewolf jumps into Miriel! The wood elf is able to trap it for now within herself.

The group travel to see Beorn for help with Miriel’s problem. Beorn takes them into the misty mountains, where they see a mysterious hunter who takes away the werewolf spirit…and Beorn as well. The Company travel back to break the news to the Beornings and deal with the delicate issue of leadership.

On the way they sense one of the Nazgul in the distance and see a large force of orcs and trolls coming down from the Misty Mountains into Beorning lands. They bury most of the force with a carefully crafted landslide, and intend to fight the vanguard of the force who were ahead of the slide, but are forced to flee.

Autumn/Winter 2953: Halbrog leaves the Company to join Gandalf on a quest of some importance, where his expertise is needed to help the wizard.

Meanwhile, Nolwe, a high elf, comes from Elrond with news of a force marching on the Beorning lands from the North. It is led by the Gibbet King! The Company rally the Beorning forces to withstand the attack. The Gibbet King is defeated, but only vanquished until he can occupy s new body.

The Company travel to Rivendell to research the Gibbet King, and rest before setting off for the Barrow Downs for the Sword Estel, which can defeat the Gibbet King for good. And maybe other such foes. They retrieve the sword and head north again for Angmar, where they infiltrate the Gibbet King’s lair in Carn Dum, and end him for good.

They then flee the Gibbet King’s armies, but lead them into an ambush prepared by the rangers at Fornost, in the North Downs.

Early 2954: The Company spend the rest of the Winter in Rivendell recovering from the trauma of Angmar and the Barrow Downs. They learn that Dol Guldor in Mirkwood has been reoccupied by a host of orcs and other things, including at least three Nazgul, and research it. They are invited to the opening of the Dwarf Road at midsummer. Nali the dwarf discovers two prophecies, one warning of the wood elves’ wine, the other saying that both Ingomer, chieftain of the woodsmen, and Ingold, his son, formerly known as Mogdred will die within the year.

Spring 2954: One of the Nazgul comes to Tyrant’s Hill to demand Mogdred’s allegiance for the third and last time. Mogdred refuses.

Summer 2954: The Company travel to the Beacon Tower on the Dwarf Road to celebrate its opening. The elves of Mirkwood come and bring wine. Several notable dwarves are present, including Bofri, the Roadwarden. Bofri gives them much gold for their earlier work. The Company discover the wine the wood elves sent was poisoned, and prevent it being drunk. Ingold of Tyrant’s Hill is due to come, but late. A messenger from the party rushes to the Beacon Tower to declare Ingold and his soldiers have been attacked by a large force. The Company and others run to the rescue and prevail after a tough fight, in which Aeldra slays a Nazgul – for good?

Autumn 2954: The Company set off for the north. Aeldra and Nali persuade the dwarves to join the woodsmen in a march on Dol Guldor. Miriel and Nolwe persuade the elves. They also uncover the man who poisoned the wine, learn he was under the influence of the Shadow, and get there too late to question or save him. The Company reassemble, rescue the dwarf Frar the beardless, learn the last of the Great Spiders was behind Frar’s capture and intended trap for them, and the influence of the man who poisoned the wine. The march to the Mountains of Mirkwood to defeat her, and claim some ancient and powerful treasures.

The Company also learn from Frar of a dragon in the Grey Mountains and one of the Seven Rings of the dwarves.

Winter 2954: A miasma spreading from Dol Guldor causes widespread illness. Ingomer of the Woodsmen dies. Aeldra is declared chieftain of the woodsmen. She and Ingold decide they have much to talk about, possibly rekindling their old relationship, when this is over.

Spring 2955: An alliance of free peoples, including dwarves, elves, and men, marches on Dol Guldor. They prevail, but at great cost. Enemies include five(!) Nazgul, and the biggest mountain troll the Company has seen. In the battle, over 70% of the gathered forces fall. Dwalin dies fighting a Great Orc. Ingold falls at the hands of a troll. Miriel in a bout of madness slays the elf Ruthiel with an arrow. Horrified, she flees to dwell alone in the forest.

Aeldra decides to dedicate herself to the woodsmen. Nali returns to the Lonely Mountain in honour, though he dreams of the possibility Frar raised of become king in the Grey Mountains, and taking the Ring of Power. Nolwe urges the Company to meet in Rivendell in ten years time.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

One RPG thing I’m involved with at the moment is Mythic Babylon, a setting for Mythras that I’m working on with Chris Gilmore. Chris is a huge expert on the whole subject, and I’ve learned what I can. And beyond the history component (set in the “rise of Babylon” era in the time of Hammurabi) it makes an absolutely terrific (sickle) swords and sorcery setting, with mythical monsters, dark magic and demons, exorcists, and a political clash between great kingdoms, with intrigue and war.

Here’s the cover.
Image
But I’m posting about something which was cut for space…a retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Of all the Sumerian myths, Gilgamesh’s doomed quest for immortality (spoilers) is perhaps the best-known, and easiest to find elsewhere. Now a retelling can be found here too:

The Epic of Gilgameŝ 

Gilgameŝ was the King of Uruk, son of the goddess Ninsun and King Lugalbanda. He was two thirds divine, and one third mortal. He was handsome, brave, and strong. He built the great city walls of Uruk. He sought the secret of immortality and instead found wisdom. This is his story.

The Coming of Enkidu

When he first became king, Gilgameŝ was young and arrogant. He picked fights with other young men and slept with their brides before they married. The gods decided that Gilgameŝ must be diverted from such activities. He needed a companion, an equal.

And so Enkidu was born. He grew up in the wilderness. He was hairy and naked, and the wild animals were his only friends. Enkidu protected the animals from hunters by destroying their traps. And so one hunter decided to trap Enkidu. He hired a prostitute named Ŝamhat to go into the wilderness to draw Enkidu out.

Enkidu was immediately drawn to Ŝamhat, but reticent. Eventually he allowed her to get close, and then to seduce him. Ŝamhat spent several days with him, teaching the first the arts of sex, and then how to dress. When next they parted, Enkidu found he had lost some of his animal thinking but gained something else. His animal friends were now strangers to him, and Enkidu felt very alone. Ŝamhat pitied Enkidu, and invited him back to Uruk.

In Uruk, Gilgameŝ had a premonition of Enkidu’s arrival. The king met Enkidu on the road and challenged him to a wrestling match. The two wrestled for a long time, but were absolutely evenly matched, and the result was a draw. For the first time, Gilgameŝ had not won. The two became fast friends.

The Cedar Mountain

Gilgameŝ now had all he needed, and his mind turned to more esoteric subjects, and settled on immortality. To acheive immortality, he proposed a great deed. He proposed to kill Humbaba, the demonic guardian of the Cedar Mountain. Enkidu and the Council of Elders in Uruk tried to dissuade Gilgameŝ from his rash action, but the king could not be shifted. Following the advice of the elders, Enkidu and Gilgameŝ visited Ninsun, Gilgameŝ‘ divine mother. Ninsun adopted Enkidu as her son. Then Ninsun conducted Gilgameŝ and Enkidu through a magical ritual to bless their chances of success against Humbaba.

When they returned to Uruk, Gilgameŝ gave instructions for the rule of the city while he was away. Enkidu tried a second time to dissuade his friend from rashness, but Gilgameŝ was still firm in his desire for glory. So Gilgameŝ and Enkidu left the city for the Cedar Mountains, and the crowds cheered, exalted by the glorious deed to come.

On the journey to the Cedar Mountain, Gilgameŝ had a series of disturbing dreams. In one, Gilgameŝ wrestled a great bull with breath that tore the ground apart. In another, Gilgameŝ dreamed the skies roared with thunder and the earth heaved, before darkness and fire from the heavens, turning the plains to ash. Enkidu, though cautious earlier, interpreted the first dream as saying the bull was the god Ŝamaŝ, and he would protect Gilgameŝ. The second dream, he said, suggested a mighty battle where Gilgameŝ would be victorious.

When they arrived at the mountain, Enkidu and Gilgameŝ chopped down several cedar trees. The felling of the cedars aroused the wrath and notice of the demon Humbaba, who came at them, roaring and breathing fire, his face a hideous mask. Gilgameŝ’s courage failed him, but Enkidu called out, saying that the two of them together were stronger than the demon, and Ŝamaŝ‘ divine winds turned back Humbaba’s flames.

Enkidu and Gilgameŝ triumphed. Humbaba begged for mercy, and offered Gilgameŝ all the trees in the forest and his eternal servitude. But Enkidu urged Gilgameŝ to kill Humbaba as he had set out to do, before any of the gods intervened, to ensure his fame and glory. Humbaba cursed Enkidu as he died, to not find any peace in the world and to die before Gilgameŝ.

The pair took Humbaba’s head as a trophy, and loaded the cedar trunks they had cut onto a raft to make a door for Enlil’s temple in Uruk.

Iŝtar and the Bull of Heaven

Gilgameŝ’ deed had assured his fame. It spread as far as the ears of the goddess Iŝtar. Iŝtar came to observe Gilgameŝ, and saw him while he was bathing. Lust kindled in her heart.

The goddess tried to seduce Gilgameŝ, but Gilgameŝ knew the dire fates of Iŝtar’s mortal lovers in the past, and told her so, listing their names and dooms in a singing mocking voice. Iŝtar was understandably angry, and begged the sky god Anu to release the Bull of Heaven, Guhulanna, to ravage the land of Uruk. The bull caused widespread destruction, but Gilgameŝ and Enkidu met and defeated it in battle.

When Iŝtar came, protesting and even more angry, Enkidu hurled the bull’s thigh at the goddess. He and Gilgameŝ then consecrated the bull’s horns to celebrate their victory and to attempt to appease the gods.

The Death of Enkidu

Enkidu dreamed the gods had given him a death sentence for his part in the murder of Humbaba, and the death of the Bull of Heaven. He regretted helping make the cedar door for the ungrateful god Enlil. He cursed the prostitute Ŝamhat for teaching him to be a man rather than a beast.

The god Ŝamaŝ consoled Enkidu, speaking of the pleasures he had as a man, of food, beer, clothes, and the friendship of Gilgameŝ. He also tolk Enkidu of the honours people would bestow upon him after his death. Enkidu was convinced and regretted his curses, blessing Ŝamhat to take back the curse.

Then Enkidu sickened and died. Gilgameŝ felt the loss of Enkidu deeply. He recited their shared deeds, and had a statue of Enkidu made in Uruk.

The Wanderings of Gilgameŝ

After Enkidu’s funeral, Gilgameŝ was gripped with a profound sadness, and became aware of his own mortality. He wandered the world seeking relief, and learned of a fabled man, Utnapiŝtim, the survivor of the Great Flood who dwelled at the edge of the world.

To get there, Gilgameŝ went through a tunnel under the mountains guarded by two scorpion-men. He arrived in a garden of bright jewels, beyond which was an immense sea. Gilgameŝ was tired by his journey and travails, and came across a tavern. After his time in mourning and the long journey, Gilgameŝ was dishevelled and unkempt, appearing as much beast as man. The tavern owner, Siduri, though herself divine, was frightened by Gilgameŝ and hid.

Gilgameŝ found Sidiri and grasped her arm so she could not flee, and told her his story. He told her of his love for Enkidu, his one equal, and how upon his death he watched over Enkidu’s body until he saw a maggot crawl from the nose. Gilgameŝ told Siduri how he then realised death would one day come for him too, so he sought a way to keep death at bay.

Siduri was wise in the ways of the gods. She told Gilgameŝ he would never find what he sought and to be content. The gods gave men the gift of death. Gilgameŝ should eat, drink, celebrate and enjoy life while he could. He should wear fresh clothes, stay clean, and enjoy his wife and children. So men should do.

But Gilgameŝ did not listen, and so Siduri directed him to a ferryman by the name of Urŝinabi who could take him across the vast sea and the Waters of Death beyond them. The ferryman took the king to the home of Utnapiŝtim, the only man ever to have been awarded immortality.

Utnapiŝtim told Gilgameŝ of the great flood unleashed by the god Enlil, and how Enlil, repenting of his actions, rewarded Utnapiŝtim and his wife with immortality. The Flood survivor proposed a test for Gilgameŝ to see if he deserved immortality; he told the king to stay awake for six days and seven nights. If Gilgameŝ could resist the call to sleep, he could resist the greater call to sleep at the end of life.

But Gilgameŝ failed, and fell asleep before his time was up. Utnapiŝtim commanded the ferryman Urŝinabi to put Gilgameŝ back on the boat, and never to bring him back. But Utnapiŝtim’s wife took pity on Gilgameŝ, and prompted her husband to tell Gilgameŝ about a magical plant growing at the bottom of the sea. A plant that could restore youth.

Gilgameŝ dove down to the bottom of the sea and picked the plant. When he and Urŝinabi had crossed the sea, they began the long overland journey back to Uruk together. On the journey, the pair stopped to rest and bathe by a pool. Gilgameŝ put the plant down at the edge of the pool before wading in, and the sweet aroma of the magical plant attracted a snake, who ate it. The snake sloughed its skin, emerging fresh and young, and then departed. When Gilgameŝ came out of the pool, he found the plant was gone.

Despondent, the king wept for the loss. Gilgameŝ knew that was his final chance at immortality. When the king and the ferryman finally made it back to Uruk, Gilgameŝ showed Urŝinabi the proud great city with the high strong walls he had built. Urŝinabi patted him on the shoulder and said “My friend, therein lies your immortality.”

I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want

I don’t have coherent RPG tastes. There’s a variety of different things I like, and they don’t all necessarily play nicely together. There are few categories for me, but there is a spectrum, and some individual things can come from anywhere on the spectrum, even against my “normal” tastes.

There’s also a few things I snobbishly turn my nose up at (especially as GM; as player, I’m still picky, but not as picky) some of which often go together with things I like. And I’m not consistent when it comes to things I like or dislike. I have little overall philosophy. I’m not a good critic.

All that said, for the sake of a blog post, some things I like are:

(1) Emotional involvement. I want a reason to care about the story. In RPG terms I want to like the player characters, or at least be interested in them. I want to care what happens to them. This applies both when playing and GMing. As GM, I love it like no other thing when the players get emotionally involved. As player I want to care about my character and feel their decisions, but also care about the other player characters.

(2) Mechanical involvement. When I’m engaging with RPG mechanics, I want one of two things. I want it either to be simple (and over with a single roll assuming we’re using dice) or a tiny bit tactical. By the latter, I mean if there are repeated dice rolls in a conflict (which often in RPG terms means combat; I may come back to that), I want a tiny mechanical decision with each roll. It might just be the choice of whether or not to spend a resource or take a risk with each roll, or a choice of actions. But I like to have something. Basically, don’t give me repeated rolls without any decision (whether in character or tactical) in between.

While I’m talking about mechanics, I also want any single mechanically involved piece of resolution (again, usually combat) to be over within at most 30 minutes (for something huge), with 5 to 10 minutes being more typical than 30 minutes.

(3) Appropriate mechanics. I want mechanics to suit the setting and mode of play. If it’s a general system (I don’t believe in “generic” systems), I want an appropriate one for the genre and mood at hand, since one size does not fit all, and I want it tweaked and customised to fit the setting. At the very least, this means character creation should produce something both appropriate and with some of the setting flavour. And character creation (or reading the character sheet in a one shot) is a great point to start “teaching” the setting, from the point of view of a character being played. Which is after all the one that matters.

(4) Mechanical leanness. Basically, not using unnecessary mechanics. For example, unless part of the game is about travel in some way, I don’t want us to be using encumbrance rules. And while we’re at it, I don’t care about or really want specific subsystems for poison, disease, falling, and drowning. Or fantasy accounting, going through and buying every piece of equipment with fictional funds.

(5) An RPG which gives you an idea of the sort of characters people will be playing, and the activities they are involved in. It doesn’t have to be hyperfocused in every single game, but it’s a good thing to have. If the player characters are a group of people from diverse cultures adventuring together, I want to know why they’re together.

(6) Openness of player character action. I’m not talking about railroading here, but more at the “scene” level. When the player characters come across a problem, they need a choice about how to deal with it. If in a fantasy game there’s an ogre guarding the bridge (yeah, boring example), do the player characters fight it, lure it off the bridge and sneak past, bribe it, goad it into an eating competition which they’ve fiddled, or something else? I like some sort of choice rather than an automatic fight scene.

(7) Setting and mood. If I’m going to play an RPG, sell me on a setting, player character activity, or mood, or ideally all three at once, and tell me you’ve got the mechanics to support that. Give me cultures, places, factions, conflicts, and people. Give me enough detail to lift or tweak, and enough information to understand. But don’t make it boring. That’s the directive from me…not that too much setting or too much information is a bad thing, but boringness is bad.

If I’m a player, don’t overwhelm me as GM. If I’m a GM reading a book and you’ve written the book, write it well, and remember that what I’m after is characters, places, adventures, and flavour, with flavour in a supporting roll for the others. I don’t necessarily need my people, places, and adventures directly…good and well-written flavour and cultural descriptions should give me ideas. Setting material can be great, but I want it done well!

(8) Happy pretendy fun times. I want to like the people I’m playing with. I like playing with people who are my friends, both people I see regularly, and people I only occasionally manage to get together with. I like playing with people who I don’t know at the start, but I think can be my friends when we’re done. This goes across the board for everyone present.

This last one is the only one I _have_ to have, or I don’t want to play. It applies both with regular groups and at conventions.

Game Skeletons, Part One

Heracles

Here’s a link for a “complete” RPG.

Demigods

Why the quotation marks?

I tinker with things when I get an idea. Sometimes my tinkering goes far enough that I get a complete skeleton of a game or RPG setting. Sometimes those skeletons get enough flesh on their bones to become actual finished books, for me to share.

But this post isn’t about something finished. It’s about a skeleton- a game of demigods, inspired by both Greek and Norse myth, capable of wondrous things but inevitably doomed in the long run. It’s about heroes who are larger than life in what they can do and what happens to them.

And it’s complete as a skeleton. It’s mechanically playable. It just lacks flavour and examples and setting and in some cases full explanations. It needs editing. Any art there is scavenged classical paintings. You have been warned. It’s good enough for me to use though, and it might be good enough for you.

If you take a look, let me know if you like it. And definitely let me know if you actually use it. Who knows? I might even take it further at some point.

And this isn’t my only game skeleton, oh no. I’ll have more to show off in future posts.

Hunting High and Low

 

huntersofalexandria-web

This weekend, on Sunday, I went to the first GoPlay Manchester event to run my game, Hunters of Alexandria. And the players and I had a grand old time as they delved into the poorer parts of Alexandria in the year 1AD, faced off against werewolves and ghouls, and confronted the monster behind a terrible plot in the arena.

It was really nice to revisit Hunters of Alexandria again. Of all the things I’ve done, it was one of the most fun things to write. I’d already done the research. I’d like to do more with it at some point.

GoPlay Manchester was a lovely event- an afternoon of gaming held in a Manchester game store, Fan Boy 3. The atmosphere was warm and positive. People there were excited and pleased to be there. I need to go to more of them.

Liminal

Liminal5

One thing which loomed large over my RPG landscape in 2018, in a good way, has been Liminal.

There are two origin stories for Liminal. Both are true. The first story is that the idea of Liminal, a fantasy game in modern Britain, making use of the landscape, history, folklore, and the varied make-up of modern society, had been on my mind for some time. I had been tinkering with the setting and rules since late 2017, in between other projects, unable to leave it alone.

The second origin story is that early in 2018, I was on strike over a pension dispute. Which meant I had lots of time suddenly, and three weeks where I wasn’t being paid. Time to finish first draft of the game text. Time to launch a Kickstarter.

I knew the look I wanted for the book, and who I wanted for art. I was absolutely delighted when Jason Behnke agreed to come on board. So I started talking about the game, and other people seemed excited by the concept. I commissioned a logo from Stephanie McAlea, and spoke to her about maps.

And boom…it exploded when the Kickstarter launched. I was taken aback. I mean, it’s only RPG famous people who get exploding RPG Kickstarters, right? But Jason’s art and Stephanie’s logo gave a great impression, and something about the project seemed to tap into the zeitgeist. Soon I was able to bring some writer friends from the UK RPG community on board, people whose work I admire. Becky Annison, Richard August, Paul Baldowski, Neil Gow, Guy Milner, Newt Newport, I wanted them and I needed them. The project was bigger than me, by a long way.

And their work being out there fed the explosion. I had the funds for some really lavish art, and not just a single book but a whole line of short supplements. I knew what I wanted from the supplements too, short books all developing the background in a compelling way that’s useful for playing the game.

And Liminal is meant to be played. While I’m talking about that, I’m incredibly pleased by how the game went at conventions- Seven Hills, Continuum, Dragonmeet. I’m even more pleased that other people are playing it, using the quickstart and the pre-release rules document even before the game is released.

It’s going to loom large over gaming in 2019 too. The release is coming soon (the PDF should arrive in late January), and I’m both excited and a little scared.

Oh, and if you’d like to pre-order, you can still do so here:
https://liminal-rpg.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders

The One Ring: The Tale of the Years

This post is mainly for personal use (for me and my players), but it might be of more general interest. So here it is…events from our game of the One Ring, very loosely based on the Darkening of Mirkwood.

I’ve been really enjoying running this game.

The Company

  • Aeldra the Kind, of the Woodsmen. Former fiance of Ingold, son of Ingomer of the Woodsmen, who was slain by Mogdred, a former lieutenant of the necromancer.

  • Halbrog, a Ranger of the North.

  • Miriel, Warden of Mirkwood

  • Nali the Mason, a Dwarf of the Lonely Mountain

  • Hathus the Wanderer, a Woodsman (retired)
  • Rathar Broadshoulders of the Beornings (retired)

  • Eorgwyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan (retired)

Autumn 2947: The Company sets out from Dale, following King Bard’s mission of spreading the word of the Council of the North next Autumn. Crossing Mirkwood, they learn the truth about Mogdred from a mad hermit, namely that Ingold is Mogdred

The Company spend winter in the Beorning lands before travelling to the Woodsman lands in spring.

Spring 2948: The Company tells Ingomer, chieftain of the Woodsmen, the truth about Mogdred. They then travel into the forest to confront Mogdred. Aeldra the kind forces a realisation of who he was in a one on one fight.

Mogdred leads his men to fight orcs in Mirkwood, driving them out from the nearby area.

Mogdred attends the Council of the Woodsmen, and the Company convinces the sceptical Woodsmen to accept him as one of their number, and Mogdred’s fortress at Tyrant’s Hill as one of the Woodsmen holdings.

Summer 2948: Nali finds a mission from the dwarf Bofri son of Bombur. At Nali’s urging, the Company travel the old dwarf road through Mirkwood, and exorcise the Beacon Tower half-way through of its ghosts, retrieving the staff of the Roadwarden. Bofri the dwarf begins his work on restoring the dwarf road.

Autumn 2948: The Company cross Mirkwood, encountering the great spider Tauler, child of Ungoliant. They discover the East Bight is beset by Barrow Wights, and the lord of the East Bight, Ceawin the Generous, under the mental thrall of one of the Nazgul. They help him break free.

King Bard’s Great Council of the North discusses affairs of the free northern kingdoms, possible threats, and renews bonds of friendship between Dale, the Lonely Mountain, the Woodsmen, the Wood Elves, and the Beornings. The dwarf Nali presents King Dain of the dwarves with the Staff of the Roadwarden to give to Bofri.

The Company send word to the wizard Radagast about the Nazgul and the Barrow Wights, and talk to the Council of the North. They are advised that to defeat the Barrow Wights, they must find the barrow of their chief, and expose it to the sun. Radagast finds the location of the barrow the Company seeks, and leaves to consult with the wizard Saruman about the Nazgul.

The chief of the elven king’s hunters, Ruithel, goes missing seeking Tauler.

Winter 2948/49: Mogdred’s forces defeat an attack by orcs on the southern flank of the Woodsmen realm. Viglunding raiders attack Beorn’s lands, capturing slaves and burning the Elfwood, taking control of the western end of the elf path through Mirkwood.

Spring 2949: The Company bargain for the release of Ruithel from dwarves exiled from the Grey Mountains. They gain forces from the Woodsmen, and 50 elven archers for the Beornings to attack the Viglundings.

Summer 2949: The Company goes to the Viglunding lands to rescue the slaves taken prisoner- including Rathar’s associate Gisalric, and Frar the Beardless, chieftain of the dwarf exiles. The Beornings then go to war. Rathar kills the Viglunding chief, Viglund, in single combat. The Viglundings will no more be a threat, their very name to be forgotten.

And Rathar retires from adventuring with a steading in the borderlands to the north of the Beorning country, a reward for his efforts.

The Company decides to travel to the East Bight in spring to deal with the Wights. Perhaps they will find a group to journey with then (which they won’t in the Autumn), and not have a tough time crossing Mirkwood again.

Winter 2949/2950: The Wise and those touched by Shadow have dark dreams. The Dark Lord Sauron, the Necromancer as he was known when in Mirkwood, has risen again in Mordor.

Spring 2950: The Company sets off across the Narrows of the Forest for the East Bight. On the way, they discover the waters of Black Tarn and one of the River Maidens is corrupted by the influence of one of the Great Spiders, Tyulquin. To free Black Tarn from the blight, they seek out Tyulquin’s rival, Tauler, who after considerable persuasion leads the Company to Tyulquin’s lair. He will, with their cooperation, slay Tyulquin.

There, Tauler and Tyulquin fight, and Tauler is slain. The Company finish off the wounded Tyulquin, and with two of the three Great Spiders of Mirkwood dead, retreat to their new sanctuary in central Mirkwood, the dwarven Beacon Tower.

Summer 2950: While in the Beacon Tower, the Company join an elven celebration held by Orophal the Harper and Ruithel the Hunter. Both are wounded but happy. They celebrate killing the Werewolf of Mirkwood, and celebrate still more when they hear of the Company’s deeds with the Great Spiders. But the Werewolf returns in another body. The Company dispatch it, and explore the werewolf’s lair. They find the remains of one of the two Great Lamps of Balthi, which once shone with a light of the ancient world. The other of these lamps shines in Woodland Hall, in a secret chamber.

The Company, pursued by the Werewolf, reformed again, and accompanying wargs. travel with the wounded elves to Marshfoot, where the elves take a boat to the Woodland Realm. The Company caution the elves not to mention the other lamp in Woodland Hall.

Autumn 2950: The Company reach East Bight, and receive cryptic warnings in dreams of a coming attack by orcs and perhaps more. Aeldra the Kind slays the Wight King, ending the wight threat to the people of East Bight.

Winter 2950/2951: One of the Nazgul, a messenger, visits Mogdred of Tyrant’s Hill to claim his alliance to the dark lord. Mogdred and his men drive off the messenger with arrow fire.

Spring 2951: War comes to East Bight…a force of orcs from the east, and orcs from the forest, attacking from the west. A Nazgul is also present, and calls the wights. East Bight should be overwhelmed.

But the Company have not been idle. The wights do not march despite the Nazgul’s call; their king was slain, and the horn aiding their summoning was not blown. The Company also journeyed over winter to the Lonely Mountain and the Woodland Realm; forces of elves and dwarves march to help the East Bight, and Thranduil gives to Miriel a war banner from the time of Gil Galad.

The war banner drives away the Nazgul despite Nali the Dwarf being grievously affected by the Black Breath. The forces of Men, Elves, and Dwarves defeat the orcs and trolls, with Nali slaying the orc leader, a Great Orc and heir to Azog and Bolg.

Summer 2951: Radagast the Brown returns from a visit to the necromancer’s old fortress of Dol Guldor and hence to Saruman the White in Isengard. Radagast reports to the Company that forces are moving to reoccupy the Necromancer’s old fortress, including at least one of the Nazgul. And there is a traitor among the Wood Elves. Further, the Necromancer’s torturer, the Gibbet King, has returned to make mischief somewhere north of the Misty Mountains.

Miriel tells King Thranduil about the Lamp of Balthi. Unknown to Miriel, he sends a group, led by Ruithel, to steal it from Woodland Hall.

Autumn 2951: The Company travel to the old kingdom of Éotheod chasing rumours of the Gibbet King. Miriel has a vision alerting her to what the elven king has done. She tells the Company; Nali in particular is unhappy and sends a raven to alert the Woodsmen.

They find some of the Hillmen to be the Gibbet King’s followers, and orcs strike to kidnap the children of those who don’t follow him. The Company pursue the orcs all the way to Angmar, and catch them almost within sight of Carn Dûm. They take the children back to Rivendell. On the way they meet a group of elves and rangers, including Ruthiel who abandoned her mission and learned where the Company went.

Spring/Summer 2952: The Company, hearing rumours of conflicts between the Wood Elves and Woodsmen cross the Misty Mountains from Rivendell. The High Pass is blocked, but the Redhorn Gate is passable, and they come into the Dimrill Dale. They find a dwarven tower at the edge of the dale, Durin’s Watch, occupied by wraiths.

In the Woodsmen lands, the heroes negotiate with the Woodsmen and Elves, and learn that Ormal the Lampmaker, the greatest practitioner of wood elf magic, believes he can rekindle the broken lamp of Balthi given access to the still functioning lamp that still hangs in Woodland Hall.

A compromise is struck; the wood elves will not take the lamp, but rather Ormal will study it in Woodland Hall, watched.

The heroes also learn that the Nazgul and a group of orcs are nearby. With the aid of Ragagast, they rout three of the Nazgul, destroying their material forms for now.

Summer/Autumn 2952: The heroes journey south, to see Saruman to ask his advice on dealing with the Werewolf of Mirkwood and the Gibbet King. It’s a long journey, and on the way they clear a notable hazard on Hag Island on the river, and lay the wraiths of Dimrill Watch to rest. Halbrog declines to take a cursed sword from the treasure there.

They stop off in Gondor before heading across Rohan to Isengard. Saruman, after some persuasion, agrees to advise them. Halbrog agrees to become Saruman’s emissary, and the white wizard gifts him a ring he made. Miriel stays with Saruman for the winter to learn from him, and the other companions go home for the winter.

Saruman is able to tell the companions that he believes the Werewolf can be dispersed if the lamp of Balti is shone onto it immediately after its material form is slain, as long as no other wolves are nearby for the spirit to jump into. More research is needed on the Gibbet King, though Saraman does mention a sword in a wight’s horde on the Barrow Downs which might be of aid.

Winter 2952/2953: Halbrog meets Gandalf briefly in Bree. Gandalf seeks the Company’s aid on matters of importance, and will see them in Rivendell that Autumn. Until then, he has urgent business of his own. Wights have been seen outside the Barrow Downs!

Spring/Summer 2953: It is time for the Company to deal with the Werewolf of Mirkwood, who is running rampage around the eaves of Mirkwood, leading a pack of hundreds of wargs. The Comapany persuade the Woodsmen and Radagast to go along with their plan, taking the lamp of Balthi, and attacking the pack, while Radagast uses his magic to separate them.

The Company take on the Werewolf, defeat it, and Miriel shines the lamp of Balthi in its face. It begs the elf for mercy, but Miriel rather mocks it, refusing, seeing the spirit needs punishment. At which point the spirit of the werewolf jumps into Miriel! The wood elf is able to trap it for now within herself.

The group travel to see Beorn for help with Miriel’s problem. Beorn takes them into the misty mountains, where they see a mysterious hunter who takes away the werewolf spirit…and Beorn as well. The Company travel back to break the news to the Beornings and deal with the delicate issue of leadership.

On the way they sense one of the Nazgul in the distance and see a large force of orcs and trolls coming down from the Misty Mountains into Beorning lands. They bury most of the force with a carefully crafted landslide, and intend to fight the vanguard of the force who were ahead of the slide, but are forced to flee.