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Old 08-26-2019, 07:09 AM   #21
Hobgoblin
 
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Default Re: Middle Earth Characters

I'd agree with Chris on spells. Gandalf, in particular, creates some of the most RPG-ish effects in good fantasy literature. His magical battle with the Balrog (before he knows what it is) is a good example, as are his blasting of Orcs in the Misty Mountains and his setting fire to wargs.

Here are some lines about the spell-duel with the Balrog:

Quote:
"I could think of nothing to do but to try to put a shutting-spell on the door. I know many; but to do things of that kind rightly requires time, and even then the door can be broken by strength.

...

Then something came into the chamber - I felt it through the door, and the orcs themselves were afraid and fell silent. It laid hold of the door, and then it perceived me and my spell.

What it was I cannot guess, but I have never felt such a challenge. The counter-spell was terrible. It nearly broke me. For an instant the door left my control and began to open! I had to speak a word of Command. That proved too great a strain. The door burst in pieces."
The assumptions there are interesting and quite RPG-ish: there are spells, many of them, and they're things that can be learned and countered.

There's also quite a lot of suggestion that there is lots of magic in Middle Earth that we never actually see being performed in the books. For example, the Mouth of Sauron "learned great sorcery", and the Witch-king of Angmar is described as "dwimmerlaik" and "sorcerer".

TFT's focus on creating magic items is quite a good fit with Middle Earth too; most of the magic in the books is in the form of enchanted weaponry and objects, whether it's the barrow-blades or Sting or the phial of Galadriel.

On the superiority of the Numenoreans to the Men of Middle Earth, there's this from the appendices of LotR:

Quote:
All told the Dunedain were thus from the beginning far fewer in number than the lesser men among whom they dwelt and whom they ruled, being lords of long life and great power and wisdom.
Emphasis mine. I think it's fairly clear that they were physically and mentally superior to the "lesser Men". A couple of points higher in everything in TFT terms, perhaps?
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Old 08-26-2019, 07:30 AM   #22
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The Witch-king would be hard to stat up; he's obviously a powerful fighter and a great sorcerer, but then there's the problem of the prophecy. Does that mean he's essentially invulnerable to attacks by men?

I'd probably sift the spell-book for un-Tolkienish things (the summonings and illusions, most probably) but give him everything that's left. After all, he's been a great sorcerer for thousands of years!

As for Beorn: I thought you could go with the cave-bear stats from ITL with a boost to DX and armour ("no weapon seemed to bite upon him"). But actually, I think he's meant to be much more powerful than that. He functions as a one-bear army, after all - routing the biggest Orcs, killing Bolg and driving wargs before him. So he's got to be sufficiently powerful to take on hundreds if not thousands of Orcs and wargs in close combat and come out the winner.

That, I think, makes Beorn more a character for a wargame than RPG combat. If you're staying faithful to the books, he's going to destroy any group of PCs unless they have someone like Gandalf among them.

As a comparison, Boromir was a fairly mighty hero of the Third Age, but he was killed by goblins (though he took quite a few of them with him - four of the big sort and many of the smaller ones too). Beorn, in contrast, routs a whole army of them and their wolf allies, including the huge goblins of their king's guard, and kills their king without a scratch being laid upon him. I don't think even the biggest TFT dragon would manage that!

I'd suggest that those sorts of characters might be best as non-combat encounters. If you think of the dwarves visiting Beorn (and the slightly chilling display of the severed Orc head and warg skin) or the sight of the Witch King riding out of Minas Morgul at the head of his cavalry, that's probably the best sort of way to use them in an RPG session.
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Old 08-26-2019, 09:35 AM   #23
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Default Re: Middle Earth Characters

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The Witch-king would be hard to stat up; he's obviously a powerful fighter and a great sorcerer, but then there's the problem of the prophecy. Does that mean he's essentially invulnerable to attacks by men?
No, that's not how it works. All that the prophecy meant was that he would not be killed by the hand of a man. He could be killed by anyone with the right weapon, but he wouldn't be.

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So he's got to be sufficiently powerful to take on hundreds if not thousands of Orcs and wargs in close combat and come out the winner.
I don't think that is the case. Beorn does not route a whole army of orcs. In TFT stats, he would be formidable, but not invincible. He's a large bear. One thing TFT could use improvement on is the MA of animals like bears, wolves, and large cats. They should be far faster.
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Old 08-26-2019, 11:30 AM   #24
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No, that's not how it works. All that the prophecy meant was that he would not be killed by the hand of a man. He could be killed by anyone with the right weapon, but he wouldn't be.
Well, it's arguable (at least in the sense I'm going to outline), which is why I phrased it as a question. In the GM's Middle Earth, does the prophecy hold? And if it does, what are the implications in game terms? In the book, the Witch-king believes that no living man may "hinder" him. So the GM has to choose whether the prophecy has no significance (and the Witch-king's just peculiarly credulous), or it does have significance (and - somehow - has to be resolved satisfactorily).

In game terms, I think the most satisfactory route would be to have the Witch-king as a distant presence with the PCs most keen to avoid him (even if they happen to be burgling Minas Morgul!).

Then there's the whole business about having that "blade of Westernesse" to hand: "No other blade, not though mightier hands wielded it ...".

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I don't think that is the case. Beorn does not route a whole army of orcs.
Here's what Tolkien says:

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But even with the Eagles they were still outnumbered. In that last hour Beorn himself had appeared—no one knew how or from where. He came alone, and in bear’s shape; and he seemed to have grown almost to giant-size in his wrath.

The roar of his voice was like drums and guns; and he tossed wolves and goblins from his path like straws and feathers. He fell upon their rear, and broke like a clap of thunder through the ring. The dwarves were making a stand still about their lords upon a low rounded hill. Then Beorn stooped and lifted Thorin, who had fallen pierced with spears, and bore him out of the fray.

Swiftly he returned and his wrath was redoubled, so that nothing could withstand him, and no weapon seemed to bite upon him. He scattered the bodyguard, and pulled down Bolg himself and crushed him. Then dismay fell on the Goblins and they fled in all directions. But weariness left their enemies with the coming of new hope, and they pursued them closely, and prevented most of them from escaping where they could.
Emphasis mine. Beorn enters the fray, rescues Thorin, then re-enters it, scatters Bolg's bodyguard, kills Bolg and routs the goblin army (and presumably the warg army with them). It's after the Orcs break that their enemies give chase.

That's why every attempt to wargame the Battle of Five Armies that I've seen has Beorn as a (very powerful) unit even though he's but a single creature. In a game with a figure scale of 1:100, Beorn will be a single figure with a 1:1 scale. And he attacks unsupported. He's not even one of the Five Armies, but he's more decisive than any of them!


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In TFT stats, he would be formidable, but not invincible. He's a large bear.
As the quote above shows, he's a bit more than that! I mean, if you were to take the cave-bear stats from TFT and pit the bear against a even a few dozen Orcs and wargs (dire-wolf stats from TFT, perhaps), how long do you think the cave bear would survive? Yesterday, my son and I pitted three large trolls against seven 32-point, unarmoured human adventurers, and the adventurers held the field comfortably (albeit with a few casualties).

That illustrates the point I was making more generally about Middle Earth; it does often have an epic flavour, with heroes and villains that are more or less demigods (though Tolkien probably wouldn't have used that term) and formidable foes that are nevertheless usually dispatched with a single blow.

I think that's quite a hard note for satisfying RPGs to strike, although Heroquest (the Gloranthan one) can cover similar territory. Most fantasy RPGs, though, have more of a gritty, Fafhrd-and-the-Mouser/Conan feel, and TFT seems to me to be one of those. That's no slight on it at all - I think "gritty" generally makes for better encounters and campaigns than epic.

And of course, TFT can work fine for games in Middle Earth, because it's a great system. But if you don't tweak the standard stats to adjust for Middle Earth's idiosyncrasies, you'll probably get something that's more like "Fafhrd and the Mouser visit Middle Earth" than The Hobbit or The Fellowship of the Ring.

I don't think tweaking stats and rules to reflect Middle Earth rather than Cidri is a particularly outré suggestion either. I mean, a Cidrian Orc is clearly not quite the same thing as a Middle Earth Orc, so why not make appropriate changes to reflect that? There's so much fun to be had by digging into Tolkien's texts and finding stuff to model game profiles on. This is much more true than with almost any other fantasy author, I think, because Tolkien really cared about internal consistency (to a quite obsessive degree in some cases).
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Old 08-26-2019, 12:49 PM   #25
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I think there are two different issues here: 1) are the main gears of a game system a good basis for most of the inhabitants, places, events, etc. of a setting you have in mind; and 2) is there a way for you to describe special features of that setting (either literary or from your imagination) in a way that adds to rather than destroys the core game system? I feel like TFT is one of several very good systems for describing the common inhabitants of middle earth and their interactions, and that the apparent exceptions can be addressed in relatively trivial ways. For example:

Elves: they are special because they are old and highly experienced. So, make them old and highly experienced. If you start with a standard TFT elf template and then add 10-20,000 XP you will pretty much always end up with a character having 40 stat points (say, ST 12, DX 18, IQ 10) and 20-30 points worth of talents and spells. In a world inhabited by 30 point humanoids with 8-10 points in talents, that is a very special being. Yet vulnerable to the dangers of battle and adventure (as they should be). There is nothing wrong with Elves in TFT.

Beorn: He's not a bear; he's an enormous werebear, meaning he is invulnerable to non-silver weapons, heals 1 point of damage per turn, and I'd say he plausibly has a ST of 40-60. This means he is basically invincible to mundane foes. Surround him with allies on a battle field, and he becomes unstoppable, even playing RAW. Fighting all day, at a very conservative murder rate of 1 goblin per minute, he would single handedly account for a legion of foes. There is nothing wrong with Beorn in TFT.

The Witch King: Start with a powerful magician king, transform him in a specialized kind of Wight, and pile on 10-20,000 XP worth of talents, spells and ST for whatever passes as his 'staff' (perhaps his ring?). The only thing needed is a sort of limiting enchantment or curse that provides the vulnerability that will spell his doom. That is easy: just make it up, like you would any other spell, item or magical force you wanted to have exist in your campaign. There is nothing wrong with the Witch King in TFT that can't be solved with a pretty simple declaration by the GM of a unique magical effect.
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Old 08-26-2019, 01:16 PM   #26
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Default Re: Middle Earth Characters

One defining characteristic of Middle Earth is that it is deadly. One orc can kill pretty much anybody, just like in TFT. Just because Beorn's slaying of Bolg's bodyguard demoralizes the rest of the orcs, it does not mean that he could singlehandedly take on an army. He surprised the army's leaders and killed them, which heartened their foes who seized upon the moment to press a successful attack. In TFT terms, one can imagine Beorn probably attacking from behind, killing a few of the bodyguards before anyone even notices and maybe rolling double or triple damage on his first swipe at Bolg. Seeing such terrible carnage come out of nowhere, the orcs panic.

If Beorn could destroy whole armies, there would have been little need for the White Council to attack the Necromancer (Sauron) in force. Beorn would, in effect, be more powerful than Galadriel, Elrond, Gandalf, and Saruman--hardly an orthodox interpretation of the story.

I heartily disagree that the heroes of Middle Earth are like demigods (save for Gandalf who sort of is). The whole point is that they were ordinary people who had to step up to lay their lives on the line; they had to live out their mighty dooms. Galadriel and Elrond wer powerful partly due to their age and experience, but also their possession of the rings. And, Galadriel had basked in the light of Valinor before coming to Middle Earth. But Aragon and Faramir were just men--certainly not 32 point characters in TFT terms, but absolutely bound by the limits of their mortal frames.

One could certainly stat up Beorn with ST 100 DX 15 and a high IQ, if that is your vision of him. I would stick closer to stats for a big bear.
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Old 08-26-2019, 02:46 PM   #27
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Exactly. Isildur cut the one ring off of Sauron's hand (he's a god who walks among us!), and was then killed by an arrow shot by some orc (he's a chump!). The system you want for a game set in a world where all this is possible is one where people might have special powers or items, but everyone is at some sort of quantifiable risk from everyone.
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Old 08-26-2019, 03:23 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by Shostak View Post
One defining characteristic of Middle Earth is that it is deadly. One orc can kill pretty much anybody, just like in TFT. Just because Beorn's slaying of Bolg's bodyguard demoralizes the rest of the orcs, it does not mean that he could singlehandedly take on an army.
But he fights through two armies (Orcs and wolves) to get to Bolg & co. And those two armies vastly outnumber those of the Men, Dwarves and Elves. Beorn isn't fighting alongside the three armies; he attacks the Orc and wolf armies when they're facing the other way. Or, to put it another way, he charges single-handedly (pawedly?!) into the rear of two enemy armies - and he does it twice.

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He surprised the army's leaders and killed them, which heartened their foes who seized upon the moment to press a successful attack.
That's not what the text says, though. The weary Men, Elves and Dwarves don't press their attack; they pursue the orcs once they're routed.

And Bolg's bodyguard are engaged in combat; Beorn fights through other goblins and wolves to get to them. So, yes, he surprises the leaders, but only because he mounts an onslaught of such unstoppable ferocity. It's not like Beorn reaches them instantly.

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In TFT terms, one can imagine Beorn probably attacking from behind, killing a few of the bodyguards before anyone even notices and maybe rolling double or triple damage on his first swipe at Bolg. Seeing such terrible carnage come out of nowhere, the orcs panic.
But he gets to Bolg in his second foray. It's hard to imagine that the Orcs weren't watching their backs after his first attack. And in TFT terms, the rear ranks would be free to turn to face, no?

What I'm saying here is that if you simply stat up Beorn as an ordinary TFT cave bear (or whatever), the chances of your getting the result in the book are infinitesimally small. You have to have him perform two attacks into massed Orcs, some of them very large and well armed, and one fighting retreat carrying a stricken ally between the attacks. Just think how many rear and flank attacks all those Orcs will get!

And remember that there are thousands of Orcs. Their army is described as "a vast host" with "countless" banners, and they severely outnumber the couple of thousand or so on the other side.

So I simply can't see how you could play that encounter straight in TFT and achieve the outcome that happens in the books. A cave bear surrounded by huge numbers of orcs and dire wolves would perish pretty quickly in TFT.


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If Beorn could destroy whole armies, there would have been little need for the White Council to attack the Necromancer (Sauron) in force. Beorn would, in effect, be more powerful than Galadriel, Elrond, Gandalf, and Saruman--hardly an orthodox interpretation of the story.
Well, fighting Orcs and Wolves is surely a bit different from taking on the powers of the Necromancer, who is clearly a more powerful figure than Beorn. But there's also the point that Beorn is independent, surly and doesn't do what he's told. Gandalf is wary of him.

And he doesn't destroy the army; he routs it. Tolkien spells out every step of it in the quote above.

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I heartily disagree that the heroes of Middle Earth are like demigods (save for Gandalf who sort of is). The whole point is that they were ordinary people who had to step up to lay their lives on the line; they had to live out their mighty dooms. Galadriel and Elrond wer powerful partly due to their age and experience, but also their possession of the rings. And, Galadriel had basked in the light of Valinor before coming to Middle Earth. But Aragon and Faramir were just men--certainly not 32 point characters in TFT terms, but absolutely bound by the limits of their mortal frames.
The "demigods" I was thinking of were principally the First Age heroes: Fingolfin, Ecthelion, etc., but I think Galadriel and Elrond fit the bill to some extent too. By "demigod", I'm thinking of characters like Achilles (an actual demigod) in the Iliad. It seems to me that many of those First Age characters are very much in that mode (Hurin slaughtering the troll-guard of Gothmog, for example).

Aragorn and Faramir are a bit different, yes, but Aragorn is hardly a normal Man. And he does get a bit Achilles-like from time to time.

Another way of looking at it is that Tolkien switches between "novelistic" and "epic" modes in The Lord of the Rings and, to a lesser extent, The Hobbit. The "novelistic" characters are the Hobbits, Gollum, the Men of Bree and the Orcs. Gandalf flits between; so too do the members of the Fellowship. But the "epic" action is heroic or superheroic and very different from the "novelistic" action. The Aragorn of Moria can be knocked aside by an Orc; the Aragorn of Helm's Deep or the Pelennor can cut through swathes of them unharmed.

Beorn, at the end of The Hobbit, is a full-blown epic character; he charges into enemy armies on his own; he appears invulnerable to weapons; and he routs an army. And the book at that point is in a very different mode to the encounters with the Orcs in the Misty Mountains or the wargs in the forest.

My contention here is that the gulf between those modes is so vast that I wouldn't even attempt the "epic" mode mechanically in TFT (which could do an excellent job with the "novelistic" mode). But again, the "epic" heroics are often so powerful (Gandalf v Balrog, for example) that they're probably best treated as a backdrop for the PCs to have their adventures against.

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One could certainly stat up Beorn with ST 100 DX 15 and a high IQ, if that is your vision of him. I would stick closer to stats for a big bear.
But how do you think that version of Beorn (the ST 100 one) would get on in a (crowded!) game of Melee against, say, ten dire wolves and twenty-five orcs (five of them elites with a 40-point build, perhaps)? Let's assume those orcs were kitted out with the normal orcish gear (mail, shields, bows, spears and scimitars). Remember, he's got to get through their ranks (and survive!) three times! And their ranks can be replenished for each of his three sorties. I'd back the orcs!
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Old 08-26-2019, 04:01 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by larsdangly View Post
I think there are two different issues here: 1) are the main gears of a game system a good basis for most of the inhabitants, places, events, etc. of a setting you have in mind; and 2) is there a way for you to describe special features of that setting (either literary or from your imagination) in a way that adds to rather than destroys the core game system? I feel like TFT is one of several very good systems for describing the common inhabitants of middle earth and their interactions, and that the apparent exceptions can be addressed in relatively trivial ways.
I agree. I'd file something like the differences between the orcs of Cidri and Middle Earth under (2) - and I think TFT would cope fine with a setting-specific special rule or two to capture the flavour of Middle Earth's orcs. I don't see that there's a real difference between giving reptile-men better hand-to-hand abilities and halflings the Thrown Weapons talent for free and allowing low-ST orcs to use heavy weapons. Or any similar tweak that would allow them to die as easily as they do in the books but yet be as deadly as they are.

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Elves: they are special because they are old and highly experienced. So, make them old and highly experienced. If you start with a standard TFT elf template and then add 10-20,000 XP you will pretty much always end up with a character having 40 stat points (say, ST 12, DX 18, IQ 10) and 20-30 points worth of talents and spells. In a world inhabited by 30 point humanoids with 8-10 points in talents, that is a very special being. Yet vulnerable to the dangers of battle and adventure (as they should be). There is nothing wrong with Elves in TFT.
Yes, this is true. But I'd note that Tolkien's elves are also special because they're special. And I don't think the lower starting ST (for a young elf) is quite right for Tolkien's elves, who are tall and strong.

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: He's not a bear; he's an enormous werebear, meaning he is invulnerable to non-silver weapons, heals 1 point of damage per turn, and I'd say he plausibly has a ST of 40-60. This means he is basically invincible to mundane foes. Surround him with allies on a battle field, and he becomes unstoppable, even playing RAW. Fighting all day, at a very conservative murder rate of 1 goblin per minute, he would single handedly account for a legion of foes. There is nothing wrong with Beorn in TFT.
Yes, that's a great way to model it. My only quibble would be that the silver thing isn't in Tolkien - nor is it in the traditions he was drawing on (Beorn's most obvious antecedent is the spirit-bear of Bodvar Bjarki in Hrolf Kraki's Saga).

In any case, the ITL werewolf isn't invulnerable to non-silver weapons; he can just heal 1 point of non-silver-caused wounds every other turn. (Is there an official werebear somewhere?) So if Beorn's a two-hex creature, he's going to get a lot of 2d bites in the flanks and rear. So I'm not sure he'd be unstoppable RAW. But where I think we agree is that there's no need to do it RAW; Beorn isn't the Cidrian were-creature but something a bit different.

I do think, though, that that bit of difference would take him into the demigod/epic hero territory one way or another. But that - I think - is as it should be. Even Gandalf seemed to be a bit nervous around Beorn!

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The Witch King: Start with a powerful magician king, transform him in a specialized kind of Wight, and pile on 10-20,000 XP worth of talents, spells and ST for whatever passes as his 'staff' (perhaps his ring?). The only thing needed is a sort of limiting enchantment or curse that provides the vulnerability that will spell his doom. That is easy: just make it up, like you would any other spell, item or magical force you wanted to have exist in your campaign. There is nothing wrong with the Witch King in TFT that can't be solved with a pretty simple declaration by the GM of a unique magical effect.
Yes, that's a smart way of doing it. I suppose what I'm really thinking here is "Why stat up the Witch-king unless you're running an 'alternative-history' Middle Earth in which he isn't killed by Eowyn." But then again, why not?
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Old 08-26-2019, 07:24 PM   #30
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Good thoughts all around, but technically any role play in Middle Earth is an alternate Middle Earth. But seriously I think it’d be cool to have players run into him pre-LOTR or do a showdown with him and Gandalf for fun.
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