MERP: Trying to Map Middle Earth

I got pretty obsessed with Middle Earth again when I started playing MERP. Pete Fenlon put together a bunch of great Middle Earth maps that were published through ICE in the 1980s, and I have all of those (I think) but they didn’t have everything, and they didn’t have it all on one big digital map. When I game in my world (Navah), I have maps of different scales, all digital, usually with a multitude of layers (geographic features, water, cities & towns, trails & roads, names, forests, secret features) that let me print off whatever maps I want for either myself or my players. All of the ICE maps are set in the Third Age, and our campaign is in the Second, so names are incorrect, and there’s a lot of things missing that are listed in the ICE modules themselves. So I have now made four abortive efforts to create my wondrous map, and have decided to concentrate on mapping only the Anduin Valley (for our campaign) in the Second Age, and then go back and work on my world. Here’s why:

1. First Attempt: I have all those Pete Fenlon maps, so why not scan them in and just stitch them together? Because production of each of these included a camera, which created lens distortion. The further one is from the center, the greater the distortion. To get Northern Mirkwood to match up with Southern Mirkwood and the Anduin Valley, I have to cut up the Valley into 3-4 pieces, move those about in various layers, then distort those pieces to make them match up, make corrections by hand to the sections that don’t match up, and then merge them all again. It would look good, but it would add a lot of distortion to the image. Also, I’d still want to remove all the names from the map (so I can put those on separate layers — Players, 3rd Age, Referee’s 3rd Age, Players’ 2nd Age, Referee’s 2nd Age, etc.) and again I would be left recreating mountain and forest sections that were written over on the original map.

2. Second Attempt: Remember that great black and white map from the LOTR back in the 1970s? The one with all of the red lettering? Well, there’s a huge scan out there of that. It’s covered with the words, and someone’s green and blue markings, but I can remove all of that and then patch the sections where the words were. So I do that, but what I learn is that the resolution is so poor that I’m basically going to have to redraw the entire map, and THEN add in all the details that ICE made. Not my idea of fun either. But anyway, I got the initial clean-up done, and some of you might want to use it, so here it is. I redrew the trails, added some trees (some well, some not so well — I was about to make a tree template png to redo that), and added new symbols for Minas Arnor and Minas Ithil.

B&W map of Middle Earth, without names

3. Third Attempt: My referee gives me the map he uses. Michael Heilemann put it together for his One Ring game. Kudos to him for actually finishing that  effort of stitching Pete’s maps together! He has one that is aged (colors off, etc.) but here’s his unaged map.

Unfortunately, the resolution on Michael’s map is not as good as I was getting in my stitching effort. Here’s what I mean:
My MERP stitch map compared with the completed one on the web.
You can see the junk at the right showing that mine was done, but for some reason the resolution was better, anyways. But it didn’t satisfy my desire for the best MERP map ever. So…

4. Fourth Attempt: I am giving up on a grand detailed Middle Earth map and instead concentrating on an Anduin Valley map for our campaign. When Peter Jackson tried to make the Hobbit into a trilogy of movies (shudder!), he hired some enthusiastic map makers. They came up with a cool Google Earth style view of Middle Earth (go to “Explore the Map”), or at least the area involved with the Hobbit. It’s actually six maps. Four of these make up the physical landscape, and are 4 tiles of equivalent size. I glued those together and will try using that as my map, though there are a lot of problems. Right off the bat I can see that Mirkwood Forest comes way too close to the River Anduin, but maybe I can play that off by saying that this is the Second Age, and the forest is larger. I’ll let you know what happens. The other two maps, by the way, were a map showing the heights of the peaks, and a mask map of the water regions, so they could add sparkle and waves.

And in the meantime, I’ll just reread the ICE stuff and organize my old Pete Fenlon maps so I can find them easier. However, I see that Pete Fenlon released a style pack in The Cartographer’s Annual 2, so I think I’ll buy that as well.

 

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MERP: Escaping the Mines

Elentari, Hammrammr, Araluth, & Bregor lead forty freed slaves, including Theyn Osric, into another slave mine. There the six guards run away, followed quickly by the five guards in the center. The group swells to sixty freedmen, including Jor and Leosil. Arms are not plentiful — over their flight they scavenge 12 scimitars, 10 pickaxes, 7 daggers, 2 clubs, and 2 spears. They flee downwards, cutting two suspension bridges behind them, but the goblins still pursue them from one of the remaining tunnels. The group keeps going, assisting the wounded, with Hammrammr in rear guard and Jor, Osric, and Leosil in the middle, while Elentari, Araluth, & Bregor lead. They reach an underground lake and kill the sole guard, and then start ferrying the wounded across to the other side, 15 at a time. Jor, Osric, and Leosil are sent to the other side. Elentari, Araluth, Bregor, and Hammrammr prepare to hold the rear.

On the other side, a group of goblins descends, and Jor sends a lightning bolt among them. The goblins flee, and the party pursues, only to retreat once more as a Stone Troll comes towards them.

On the near side, Araluth uses two oils to create a flaming barrier 40 feet in front of them, giving them a few rounds of arrow fire to attack. Araluth dons his chainmail and Hammrammr removes his clothes and transforms into a bear. As the fire dies down, Hammrammr attacks and the others follow with sword and shield. They kill another three orcs, then Bregor is sorely wounded and is sent with the third ferry across the water, just as Leosil shouts that there is a Cave Troll. So much for sending Bregor to safety. Hammrammr is taking a lot of wounds, but he does have more hit points as a bear. He’s not doing much more damage though. Beorn is usually pictured as a giant bear, and even in his smallest representation, he’s tearing through the goblins.

David Wenzel's illustration of Beorn killing orcs at the Battle of Five Armies.

There’s even a painting by Tolkien himself showing how he saw a bear fighting goblins.

Tolkien's Polar Bear fights the goblins easily

And here we paused. Our treasure so far? 17 c. and 3 s. but among the freed miners are 4 dwarves, 2 elves, and 12 Northmen. We haven’t lost any…. yet. That will probably change in the next session. We went the same way that Marty the escaped slave did, but we never found him. Too bad, I was hoping we would meet up.

 

 

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Magic the Gathering Cards for the Cold War

The Spanish blog 1d10 en la mochila posted a set of cards based on Magic the Gathering but aimed at re-enacting the Cold War. Natxo corrected me on these. Originally I thought he had created these for his 4th grade English class, but what really happened was that the students developed the cards themselves. Better pedagogical practice, really. The history is messed up at times, which might expect. Here’s some examples:

  • Stalin gives the Soviets +2, instead of killing millions of his own countrymen.
  • Khrushchev actually resurrects Stalin, rather then burying him with the Secret Speech.
  • The Russian bomber in the game is a B-29 Superfortress, not a Tupolev TU-95.
  • South Korea uses a picture from Vietnam (black top rather than white is the giveaway).

On the other hand, the U.S. comes off looking awfully good, with 4 American medics giving lives to everyone and 3 Privilege cards showing how good it is on the other side of the wall. Thanks to Natxo for correcting me! It is always good to see a creative teacher and the work his students do!

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Thinking about Experience Levels and Journeyman

Journeyman doesn’t have levels. It is a skill-based system where characters accrue expertise through training over time. Some characters accrue those skills faster than others.  There are four types of people: Background, Colorful, Significant, and Heroic. The difference between these is how quickly they accrue skills. Heroic characters develop skills twice as fast as Significant characters, who develop twice as fast as Colorful characters, who develop twice as fast as Background characters. Player Characters are Significant characters, and can acquire mastery of weapons by the time they are 21, whereas it may take a Background character 50 years or more to become that skilled. Heroic characters are NPC characters like Conan, who is a master at the age of 14 or 15. Normal NPCs are usually Colorful characters — better than Background folks but about half as good as the Player Characters.

So what does this have to do with levels? Well, a lot of players come from systems like D&D which does have levels, and they are sometimes confused about how to rank characters. The way to think about it is to remember that in Original D&D, a warrior’s level was the number of men that character was worth on the battlefield. So, a 7th level fighter was as good as 7 other men. In Journeyman, a typical Background warrior youth might have a 5 skill in Weapons. A Colorful Character of the same age would have a 10, while a Significant character would have a 20, and a Heroic character might have 40. If the Background character is level 1, the Colorful is level 2, the Significant level 4, and the Heroic is level 8. That’s one way of thinking about it, though the better the warrior is, the more critical hits he will score and the less fumbles, which makes a big difference.  Heroic character would actually deal more like 10 times the damage that a background character would, thanks to critical hits, which would make him the equivalent of 10th level.

An important difference between level systems and Journeyman is that one does not increase in the amount of damage that one can take in Journeyman. There are no hit points. The amount of damage one can take is determined by one’s MASS and by the armor or protection one has. More than that, one typically divides one’s skill against multiple attackers, which make it even easier to get hit. Because of this, it is much easier to get wounded or killed in Journeyman. Combat is usually short and bloody, which I like. The combat feels like combat, and for that reason players will often try to either stay out of it or work to gain an unfair advantage, just as in the real world. Spending less time on combat also makes more time for character interaction and development outside combat, which leads to more richly developed characters. Finally, without experience points and levels, there is no reward for killing everything that moves (unless one’s character just loves killing!).

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Navah: The Waller-Walshe Gang War

Two years have passed since the party’s last adventure.  There are no experience or levels in Journeyman. Instead, skills are accrued over time. It is my belief that adventures are infrequent things, and that 2-5 years pass between them, giving the characters a chance to improve, to seek romance or promotion, or to devote some time to a career.

Josette spent that time ensconced in the library of the Imperial College of Magic, training in Telepathy, Sorcery, and Shaping. She also refreshed her gang of spirits, binding a bear pouka and a medium earth elemental to supplement her Selkie and small fire elemental.

Brendon easily enlisted in the Royal Archers, though what he trained in won’t be known until his player returns from his honeymoon.

Alexios practiced his art, poorly. He made a profit but was flogged twice (the laws of Anthavar have become more severe over the many years we have been playing, but I haven’t revised the yearly update rules recently, so he got off easy). Alexios worked on his weapons, Marksmanship, and Sneak. He also had two new romances, both with older women. His first was a 41 year old merchant with 9 kids, who now serves as his second fence. The second was with a 51 year old knight whose political power may prove useful in the future. He toyed briefly with the idea of revisiting Gardell to see if any two-year-olds bore a family resemblance, but after learning that such a visit would cut into his training (and hence his skill increases), he decided to put it off.

Ian enlisted as a man-at-arms for the first year, and then invested 500 p. in greasing some palms for a promotion, and made it into the Royal Archers, a much more remunerative post. He began a romance with a Seer, and continued it for a second year. He swears he is not thinking of marriage, but she sees a different future for him.

Somehow, Brendon and Alexios both made enemies of the masters of the Cheesemakers’ Guild. I have no idea how that will enter the game yet.

The night’s game began with the death of Alagga Swerd, a Night Guardsman in the Maze. The original rumor of her death was that it was an overdose, but in reality it was an overdose of steel in the belly, all too common in the Maze.

While this was interesting, the main adventure began when Ian’s neighbors Falairmmalind & Meredith Pountfrete screamed that their baby had been stolen. A number of baby thefts had occurred recently, so much so that Uncle Toby of the Broken Branch gang had offered 10,000 s. to anyone who brought an end to the thefts.

A good deal of time was wasted at the start as Ian hired a seer to scan not only himself but all of the rest of the party as well, at 300 p. a pop. He wanted to be sure none of them had stolen the baby. That lost a good four hours on the search.

Once that was done, the party tried a number of methods to discover the culprit, but none were successful. Josette and Ian went door to door up near Wellom Way, where Alagga’s body had been found. Brendan and Alexios went to talk to some of the Apple Pie Gang that Alexios knew. Brendan managed to screw that up again, and Alexios was furious that another of his underground contacts was turned against him, so Alexios sent Brendan into the Apple Pie Inn to interrogate the leader of the Apple Pie gang. Brendan was surrounded, threatened, and tossed out into the pig feces of the road. Alexios enjoyed his belly laugh. Finally, Josette was approached by a talking cat who claimed to know who did the deed, and who led them to an innkeeper who identified her as Meryld de Neuton, a local addict. He didn’t know who her supplier was, but by chance he pointed them to the exact right drug dealer, Andrew Trewe. Andrew remained calm under questioning, but Josette read his surface thoughts and signaled to the others that he knew more than he let on. As Alexios mentioned the reward, Andrew bolted, but he tumbled over something in the alley (perhaps a cat) and Ian caught him. Brendan threatened to skin the  man alive, while Ian begged Brendan to take it easy and just skin one hand. Since Brendan’s player was on his honeymoon, the parts of Ian and Brendan were both played by a single player, who carried on some rather amusing schizoid arguments between his two identities. Excellent roleplaying!

Andrew spilled what he knew, and Josette confirmed he told the truth. If they had pressed him further, the adventure might have ended much sooner, but they accepted his description of where to find Meryld and let him go, promising to visit him later if necessary. Meryld, it turned out, had overdosed, and there was no sign of baby Bailey. When they returned to find Andrew, he had fled, only to turn up with a slit throat the next day.

With leads drying up, Garyyan the talking cat revealed that she was tracking the baby snatchers because she believed they were connected with a faery drug ring smuggling Elfin Dreamwax into town in exchange for human male babies to be sold to the Red Elves. She told the party she could guide them to Faery and the Red Elfin city of Cramoisi, where they might pick up the trail, but the party was distracted by internal dissension that bordered on fist fights, and also by an increase in violence in the Maze. Ian went to his Sergeant in the Archers to explain that the reason he had not been at work the last two days was that he had been looking for a missing baby, which a magical beast had told him had been taken by the Red Elves. Sgt. Frizwald was not having any, and kicked both Ian and his friend Brendan out of the Archers and made them turn in their tabards.

At dinner on the third night of the adventure, Alexios (a member of the Walshe gang) was attacked by six bravos from the Waller gang. The rest of the party aided him and quickly tore through the attackers. Alexios’ new weapon skills proved their worth, while Josette’s bear clawed attackers down with ease. Josette’s fire elemental sent one foe fleeing from the inn, only to die two blocks later from his burns. Ian tried to leap a table but ended on his face, and then faced a vastly inferior foe who would just not give up. Ian delivered two grim wounds and a major wound, but the bravo kept making his WILL rolls against the onset of shock and his Courage rolls to keep fighting. Alexios attacked him from the back, and again, he sustained another grim wound but kept fighting. It took yet another grim wound to his abdomen by Ian to put him down. The remaining two foes surrendered. One died from blood loss and the other tourniqueted his near-severed leg and dragged himself from the inn, grimly nodding in polite agreement as Alexios lectured him at length on his stupidity for attacking them. Ian’s player meanwhile gleefully traced a bloody trail on the hex map and even added a touch of blood to his sword on his cardboard hero. Along the way, the party learned that Edolina Waller’s son Grieg had been killed, and the gang blamed his death on Rametta Walshe, so there was an open contract out on all of the Walshe gang members.

Alexios tried to use this moment to endear himself with Rametta, sending money and blades to her. Ultimately, he went to her personally, and was welcomed by Rametta and given the task of joining the rest of her men in protecting her. He went outside to get the rest of the party, and when he came in he was stunned to see two of Rametta’s men cutting down the rest. He literally refused to believe it, even as Josette tried to convince him of what was happening. As the party stared, one of the men swung his longsword at double normal speed, killing a man with each stroke. The men he was cutting down were Rametta’s best, men more skilled than even Ian with the blade. The first to die was Yellowknife, Rametta’s own son, followed by Georg of Barton and Otho the Unlucky. The stranger’s left flank was guarded by a dancing sword who held two men at bay, and his right flank was protected by a young man of great skill. Josette had her earth elemental form a protective wall around Rametta and herself, while Alexios lunged towards the stranger’s left flank, only to be met by the dancing sword. Ian initially hoped for a way to enter the melee, but as he watched the stranger, his apprehension mounted. The man struck twice as fast as anyone should, and with the strength of two to three men. The stranger cut through a man’s entire thigh, plate mail and all. His skill with a blade was unparalleled. Ian was a master of the sword twice over, but he knew he could not stand against this man in single combat. And the stranger’s plate armor glinted strangely in the low light, hinting that it too was unusual. The night ended here, as the party considered the possibility that they might need to retreat, and fairly quickly.

Ridiculous attack with a longsword splits an axe handle and then a chest

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Navah: Treasure Trove

The party struck it rich. They had found ancient gold coins, gold necklaces, jade ornaments, rubies, and diamonds. On the Seveysas Queen’s guards, they found jade ear plugs and gold-covered battle masks. In Anthavar, the Emperor demands half of all such found treasures under the law of Treasure Trove. Usually, players ignore that law, but the party decided to follow it. And probably made their lives a whole lot easier while making about the same amount.

The party first celebrated Carnival with the people of Gardell. Ian received a gift of a forever torch from his mentor, and spent the week with Imani, the dim but beautiful carpenter who loves him. Alexios, having failed to pickpocket the locals of anything valuable, spent some quality time with several impressionable teen girls. Brandon did likewise with a stout guardswoman. Josette guarded the gold, but not without some local kids getting into it and messing around with the gold masks, which let the cat out of the bag.

The party took passage on a flatboat going down the Black River to the City of Lions, and once there, reported their find (minus the untraceable rubies and diamonds) to the guards, who then escorted them to the College of Wizardry at the Palace. Custanc Howom, a professor of Spiritology, verified that the skins were Seveysas, not Gelmer, and ensured that the players were paid their half of the value of the trove immediately. Custanc then hurried away with his horde, having ensorcelled the guards and wiping their memories of the event. The party went away happy, all unknowing.

Josette bought some spell focusing crystals, +1 plate armor, and other items. Ian likewise bought +1 plate and had his sword inscribed with silver. Alexios bought a +1 shortsword with silver engraving, and ordered a +1 backsword to match, and then he and Brendan went in the Maze to see his fence, Derrick.

Brendan and Alexios were trailed rather obviously by six footpads, whom they gave the slip by going into the Jeweled Mug Tavern. Inside, three operators from the Broken Branch gang tried to provoke a fight so their pickpocket would have a chance on the two men, but Brendan and Alexios avoided a fight and backed out of the inn instead. Outside, the six footpads spotted them again and gave chase, and the two men were forced to hop a fence and squeeze through a thin alley to escape. Along the way, an assassin team made the first of several fumbled attempts on the pair and killed an innocent bystander with a poison dart.

Brendan & Alexios made it to Derrick’s shop and purchased a mithril lockpick set and a bottle of Elvish healing unguent (both illegal). Alexios hoped that Derrick might have some Boots of Silence at a reduced price (i.e. stolen), but he did not. Instead, Derrick sent them on to speak with Rametta Walshe (the head of their gang) herself.

On their way, the two men encountered a black marketer selling an air dagger for a ridiculously low price. Brendan purchased it, whereupon the seller unwisely ran down the street yelling, “I just made a thousand shillings!” He did not survive the night.

Turning down an alley, the two men encountered two dead bravos who had just knifed each other. Not realizing that they had been the targets, Brendan and Alexios stole coins and swords from the dead men and moved on.

Next, they spoke to Rametta, but Brendan made the error of being overly informal with the gang lord, and she had him taken outside. Alexios made the correct hand signals to prove himself a member of her gang, but Rametta also had no Boots of Silence to sell. Alexios managed to annoy her as well, and mentioned that Derrick had sent them, of which Rametta took ominous note. Both men were hustled into the street and told not to return. They next went back to Derrick and warned him that Rametta’s men might be paying a call on him. Derrick promptly skipped town for a while.

In the end, Alexios purchased the boots through legal means at one of the city’s covenants.

Adventures occur every 2-5 years, so the Referee announced that the party’s next adventure would be two years later. At the next game the party will get two years of training and subadventures, including perhaps a second-story job or two, since Alexios mentioned that’s how he was spending those years.

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MERP: Slave Rebellion

After hours of torture, Jor tells the orcs that there were two other people with him (a human and a dwarf) and that they came from the other tunnel than he originally appeared in. He thus managed to direct the orcs directly towards the other half of the party, who thankfully were prepared and killed three of the orcs while the other two escaped.

Jor and Leosil led an abortive revolt against their orc masters and were quickly beaten to the ground. Only Marty, a fearful human prisoner, seized the opportunity to flee down a tunnel towards an unknown fate. At least he will die free.

Araluth, Hammrammr, Elentari, and Bregor led a more successful revolt in another cavern, killing two orcs by arrow and then three more by sword. Araluth called to Theyn Osric, who fought his captors. By the end, the party had swelled in size by 40 prisoners, about half of whom found Orcish scimitars and daggers to wield. Using a key taken from the original three orcs, the party freed the slaves and then headed to the next slave mine to free those slaves. The mine they were headed for was the one with Jor and Leosil. Hopefully they will be freed next time.

 

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