Monday, January 22, 2018

This Could Be Hobbit Forming, Part 2

Note: Part 1 is here and more discussion is here.

Well I have one kid down sick and another I had to rush to the ER because he cut off the tip of his finger.  (Both kids will be fine).  But that, of course, means no weekend gaming report.

What I did though was give a little more thought on what my Middle Earth game might be like.

I know there are some perfectly good Lord of the Rings/Middle Earth games out there.  I played MERP in the past and I was one of the playtesters for the Cubicle 7 The One Ring game.  I will talk about those at a later date.  There are also some other games that others have let me know work well for Middle Earth.  I might touch on those too, no idea yet.  One, Rolemaster, intrigues me because it is not the sort of game I normally would do with RM.

No. Today I want to talk about something I have wanted to do forever.  D&D in Middle-Earth.  So per my normal weekend-game prep I set some books up on the old-treadmill and went for a run.

I think by now we all know that the effect of Tolkien on D&D has been purposefully diminished over the years.  The reasons are varied (and various) but largely seem due to avoid more legal issues.

The evidence is there that Tolkien did have an influence on D&D.  Here is my copy of Chainmail with the Fantasy Supplement.

Moving in on this.

So here we have "Hobbits", "Balrogs" "Ents" and even "Nazgul" among the standard "Elves" and "Dwarves".   These were scrubbed from later editions.

Regardless of all of that, it brings up my first candidate.  Original D&D.

OD&D has a LOT going for it.  The rules are really stripped down, the class selection is few and the overall power level is what I feel represents the average to high-level adventurers in Middle Earth. Despite wizards, dragons, and rings, Middle Earth is a low magic setting.  Even great swords like those forged by the elven smiths in Gondolin are at best what, +3?  Nothing like a vorpal sword, or even a sword of sharpness.  OD&D does this really well.

The biggest issue I have with OD&D is that I already had a grand experiment with it.  Back in 1988 I spent a summer playing in an OD&D campaign with rather mundane characters; 3d6 in order, no substitutions unless an ability was lower than 7.  Now don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the hell out of that game.  But I am not sure if I want to do that again or not.

Naturally, I thought, maybe Basic D&D is the way to go.

I am planning on limiting my Middle Earth game to just 10th level.  If I throw in the Expert set I might go to 12.   Here again, there are a ton of compelling reasons, for me, to use this.
I love Basic era D&D.  I can do so much with it.  I also even think that race-as-class would work; except for a halfling burglar.

While I really wanted to stick with something pure D&D at about the 1-mile mark I came to a realization.  The game I want does exist.   It is OD&D like.  Limited to 10 levels. And has the feel I Want in a game.   It is +James Spahn's The Hero's Journey Fantasy Roleplaying.

Hero's Journey is James Spahn's love letter to the Hobbit and the kinds of adventures inspired by it.  This is not a grimdark game so it would fit my needs perfectly.  Plus James has worked on Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle Earth RPG so he has the background to pull it off.

Now. I have no idea if I would include my own Hedge Witch in this.  She doesn't really fit, but I pulled my book anyway to see.  Hero's Journey not only has the feel I want, but it also has the classes I am looking for.  While I am not likely to use OD&D/Basic/HJ's Wizard or Magic-user at all, I do see a spot for the cleric.  Only instead of serving gods they the scholars of Arda.  Plus we will need some healing magic.

I think I am going to come up with a basic character concept, maybe even a couple, and see how well I can create them in these games and selcted Middle-Earth dedicated games.
Obviously I will have to use a young hobbit adventurer, a dwarf fighter of some sort maybe an elf and a human too.

This won't be a long-term or even a serious campaign, but one I can run when I have the desire to do something light.

Just need to find a time to set it all in.  I am thinking at the start of the Third Age or maybe near the end of the Second Age.


Robert Conley said...

The problem with Heroes Journey is D&D's traditional magic system is still woven into it. I think it would work with a version of the AiME Scholar in place of the Cleric and Wizard.

JB said...

I'm not familiar with Heroes Journey...though now I'm intrigued!

I think low level B/X can be an excellent fit for Middle Earth, especially considering how characters like Gandalf and Sauron can be modeled as low level powers (5th and 11th level respectively; see Bill Seligman's article in The Dragon magazine #5). I've have argued many times (probably too often) that Bilbo was NEVER a "thief," and I prefer the straight racial classes of dwarves and halflings to model these folks of Middle Earth.

It is really the elves that are the toughest to model for an ME game, as the ones on display are all of the fighting variety except for high level NPCs (Elrond, Galadriel, etc.) who could rightly sub in for clerics (there aren't really any "priests of Arda" that I've read about...even in the later Chris Tolkien works). Well, and Aragorn...he's really about as close to a cleric as you'll find in ANY of Tolkien (healing, turning wraiths, etc.). Probably just re-name clerics "rangers" (or Numenoreans or something) and go with it.
: )

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Classes and magic are going to take some work to be sure.

But I have to start somewhere! ;)

JB said...

Actually, Tim, I have to admit your recent posts (and those of other bloggers I follow) have positively inspired me. If it wasn't for the sick kid I'M nursing at home (unexpectedly...though at least no emergency rooms were required), I'd have already begun work on my "B/X Guide to Middle Earth."
; )

Alan said...


Given Gandalf's use of a sword and toughness, it might work to model him as a B/X elf.

Doctor Futurity said...

Interesting if you go with Hero's Journey....I like it's character generation and pretty much everything except the combat and armor rules, which I feel don't work well in actual play.

Theodric the Obscure said...

Nice observations all around. I've been enjoying this series.

Red Dice Diaries said...

This looks really interesting, I'm hoping to start a Tolkien-like OSR campaign soon as have been looking at using The Hero's Journey as a basis; although I don't want to do actual Middle-Earth I definitely want a campaign world inspired by it so it's great to read about someone using OSR for a Tolkien-style game.