Monday, September 21, 2015

Swords & Wizardry & One Ring & Darkest Dungeon

Our regular Sunday night White Star game didn't make last night, so I had to come up with something quickly for +Brenda Wolfe and +Jesse Wolfe. They won't let me rest if we don't game on Sunday. I had about 20 minutes to decide what to do. I'd spent Saturday re-organizing my gaming bookshelf, and forgot that I had the One Ring RPG. When I got it a few months ago, I flipped through it and decided against running it -- the system looks neat, but learning, then teaching a new system to gamers that are fairly casual didn't seem like something I wanted to spend time on at the time. And on Sunday night, I certainly didn't have time to teach it. We had probably 2 hours before everyone had to get to bed. But, my eyes lingered on the book and I made a quick decision: We're going to use the setting and D&D Rules Cyclopedia. We can do this.

 I've never run a game in Middle-Earth, but have enjoyed the books since I was 12. They were the first books I read to Jesse and he's very familiar with the movies, so there's a good precedent. Brenda read them for the first time when she was pregnant with +Lukas Wolfe. She used to walk a couple of miles every day, so she'd read them while she walked -- and she loved them. Decision made. Everyone knows BX D&D and everyone loves Middle-Earth.

I skimmed the introductory adventure - seemed pretty simple -- Balin and Oin (yes that Balin and that Oin) were off delivering an invitation to the King of the Eagles for the annual gathering of the Five Armies, but they had never arrived at their destination. Gloin (yes, that Gloin) was worried and put out a call for adventurers to track down what happened to them.

Zithras, apprentice mage and the hulking warrior Shren responded, got the low down from Balin and even needled out of him that he feared that the Elvenking may have the two dwarfs in his dungeons again. Zithras, being a wily sort, even got out of the old dwarf that he feared for his brother's life because of a prophetic dream of the younger dwarf drowning in dark waters.

The two set out  out to equip for the journey. While asking around in the local Lake-Town inn about the river path and other helpful information, they attracted four likely assistants. The boatman, Danel, weary of his boring life, Mara and Frazen, woman-and-man-at-arms respectively, and the hunched and stringy haired Gorin, a scholar of the secret ways and powers of the world. Equipped and fresh-faced, the party set out for the Stair of Girion and the boatman village, for portage down the falls. After a long day across the lake, the party spent a festive evening with the boatmen, teasing out clues to the dangers ahead in the Long Marshes.
We had to break for the evening because everyone had to be up early, but the players seemed to enjoy the two hours of basic interactive role-playing. A little bit of dicing, but no combat.

I took the One Ring books to bed with me and read through character creation again, thinking maybe we could run the system. Again, I thought it was too complicated to get without having ever played it -- and then teach it to my players, especially when we have only a couple of hours a week to game. But, it got me thinking. There are interesting and unique concepts to the Middle-Earth milieu. The threat of the "shadow" or corruption of all mortal things and how the Enemy exploits that. The concept of Hope as a mechanic to fight against corruption. And the stress of travel, fighting, killing, seeing death and destruction, strange magicks and foul beasts. It immediately reminded me of Darkest Dungeons -- but also, the designer did a fine job of capturing the idea of the adventurer as just a regular person facing all these horrors, with only his or her own will against the chaos.

I thought about this all day, and in my spare moments, jotted down how it could work in a B/X system. It just didn't fit. But Swords and Wizardry... I've been doing a lot of development and gaming with White Star, which is S&W Whitebox based and I thought it was a better fit. Beyond that, S&W Complete, with it's AD&D classes made a lot more sense in Middle-Earth, as well. Middle-Earth is low magic, but I saw a way to limit Magic-Users and other spellcasters with the shadow/corruption idea.

This is what I came up with as a start.

Shadow and Hope

Characters gain shadow points, which accumulate through fear, exposure to powerful magicks, great hoards, horrible monsters, tragedies, and other calamities. Shadow points inch characters closer to corruption. Shadow points can be burned by GM against the character to trigger fumbles and other unfortunate calamities. If Shadow points equals or exceeds hope, certain beings, items and situations cause characters to temporarily lose their minds. In addition, the character must make a Saving Throw or receive an affliction (see below).

Shadow points can be reduced by GM burn, rest in a safe place, magical healing, good things happening, etc. Additionally, shadow points are accumulated by spellcasters in two ways: Any spellcaster can take a Shadow point per level of the spell and cast that spell beyond their allotted number of spells per day. Anytime a magic-user attempts to learn a spell, he or she must make a Saving Throw, or accumulate 1 Shadow point per level of the spell.

Hope is the average of Int/Wis/Chr as a base score. Hope can be used similar to Luck in DCC -- 1 point of luck per point added to any roll. 2 points of Hope allows you to re-roll any roll. Three points of Hope allow you to roll two dice and take the best result.

Stress reduces Hope, as well. Hunger, fatigue, certain weather, getting lost, death or serious injury in the party, betrayal, etc. In these instances, the character must make a Saving Throw or lose some number of Hope, depending on the situation.

Successes increase Hope: Critical hits, defeating an enemy with HD > than the party average level, Every 1000 XP. Hope gained in this way cannot exceed the character's maximum. Hope increases each level and certain magicks or other effects can increase total Hope.

Afflictions occur when Shadow equals or exceeds Hope and a Saving Throw is failed. The Affliction is temporary -- the character makes a Save each day with a penalty/bonus depending on the Shadow/Hope level. If a character is afflicted and receives another affliction, the second affliction is permanent until magically healed or the character has a full week of rest in a safe locale. A Saving Throw is made daily after the first week with the same penalty/bonus based on the Shadow/Hope level. There are debilitating afflictions and "virtues" which present as beneficial, but give the GM an opportunity to force a character's hand.


  • Paranoid -- Cannot heal shadow with rest; -2 saves vs illusions, 1/day, forced to refuse aid from party member.(GM activated with Shadow point burn)
  • Coward -- -2 to attacks when party outnumbered or outclassed (HD), -2 to saves against fear, When at 1/2 hit points, attacks at -4. 1/day Character forced to flee from danger (GM activated with Shadow point burn)
  • Selfish -- -2 to Shadow checks when character has something to gain; -2 to saves against area attacks, 1/day refuses to assist another party member (GM activated with Shadow point burn)
  • Irrational -- ??? not sure yet, -2 to saves against poisons; 1/day performs random action when faced with a stressful situation (as a Confusion spell) (GM activated with Shadow point burn)
  • Hopeless -- Shadow point accumulation doubled; -2 saves against diseases; 1/day Character's ennui causes a Shadow Saving Throw for the whole party ((GM activated with Shadow point burn)
  • Abusive -- Acts last in combat; -2 saves against shadow creatures effects; 1/day Character's abusive attitude causes a Shadow Saving Throw for the whole party ((GM activated with Shadow point burn)
  • Greedy -- Attacks enemy with the most valuable gear; -2 saves against treasure-based shadow (dragon fever); 1/day Attempts to steal from another party member ((GM activated with Shadow point burn)


  • Powerful -- Damage +2; Saves +2 vs mind control; Shadow points can't be reduced
  • Courageous -- Shadow -2; Taking damage for another character reduces everyone's Shadow by 2; Must fight the most powerful enemy. 
  • Stalwart -- Shadow total halved; +2 to saves against affliction/corruption; Must stand and fight, last man standing
  • Vigorous -- Heal 1 HD; +2 saves versus disease/poison; Gains x2 Stress
  • Focused -- +2 to attack; Critical hit on 19; Saves +2 vs shadow creatures; Surprised on a 1-3

So, that may be too complicated, but I wanted to try it out. It definitely changes the D&D dynamic -- great hoards of treasure have the potential to corrupt. It provides consequences for murder-hobo actions. Codifying it with rules and things may not fit the S&W style. We'll see. I'm still mining One Ring for some other stuff, as well.

I have some ideas for alternate XP methods -- more "story awards" and roleplaying bonuses. +Brenda Wolfe 's character told a story by the lake-men's campfire, so I awarded her 100 XP. Nothing too innovative -- I've done this a bit in the past, but I think it may be critical here.

We played another short session tonight with the new rules. More on that later...

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