Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Far Over Wood & Mountain Tall: Middle-earth in Whitehack Part I

Descending the Misty Mountains by Jon Hodgson
Farewell we call to hearth and hall! Though wind may blow and rain may fall, We must away ere break of day Far over wood and mountain tall. 
To Rivendell, where Elves yet dwell In glades beneath the misty fell, Through moor and waste we ride in haste, And whither then we cannot tell.
With foes ahead, behind us dread, Beneath the sky shall be our bed, Until at last our toil be passed, Our journey done, our errand sped.

We must away! We must away! We ride before the break of day!
- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
My my it has been a while. Finishing university and starting a new job can take the time away like nothing else. Gaming has been good though so back to projects and ideas I go!

Whitehack has a wonderfully large array of tools to work with when it comes to using it to tackle various settings and concepts. I'm currently several sessions into a Bronze Age Dark Souls hack that is working perfectly. I'm quite surprised that I've never thought to use it to tackle my favorite literary setting, Middle-earth. It's a chance to flex some system mastery and get around using the ideas and concepts I've picked up from the One Ring in a more OSR-flavored environment. So let's see how much we can do using the options and tools in Whitehack for this shall we?

Things to Tackle

I want to keep the elements I think are important to OSR style play (open world, exploration-centered rewards, emphasis on player skill, etc.) while having a lot of concepts I consider to be important to a Tolkienesque feel that can really capitalize on said elements (longer time spans, journeys, less emphasis on combat, magic that is magical).
  • Attributes
  • Classes & Groups
  • Rewards
  • The Shadow
  • Journeys & Travel

Attributes

We can use the rules for custom attributes we can change the traditional six into stats a little more thematic and fitting. In our case we can roll with the One Ring trio: Body, Heart, and Wits.
  • Body governs just about anything concerning the physical or your vigor. Being hardy, athletic, tall, swift, imposing, or even using your physical attractiveness fall under Body. 
  • Heart governs the character's capacity for emotion or enthusiasm. Anything using temper, energy, fiery passion, or intense determination falls under Heart. 
  • Wits governs the character's quick thinking and ability to be clever. Being attentive, strong-willed, alert, and vigilant falls under Wits.
Having fewer attributes does mean task rolls will be easier. A higher attribute will be more likely the larger the party is. This is largely fine as the nature of trained and untrained skills will help even things out. A character who has high Heart trying to sing a moving song will have a hard time if they aren't "trained" (i.e. they don't have a relevant group by Heart). I'd recommend that the Referee be a little more strict on what Groups are relevant for what tasks and what tasks rolls require a "Trained Roll". 
Wilibald Proudneck is a Level 1 Brave Hobbit Farmer. He has "Hobbit" and "Farmer" next to Wits. If he was trying to treat the injuries of a friend, the Referee would call for a Trained Roll. "Hobbit", not "Farmer", allows Wilibald to not only dodge the Double Negative penalty but to make a Double Positive Roll. 
The standard Custom Attribute (see above link) rules apply here. No characters get bonuses for high attributes and no task or action requires a hard coded attribute roll. Attributes are rolled in order, then bonuses are rolled. Even characters with high stats can get large bonuses! Some suggested general bonuses could be:
  • Body: +1 damage, +1 initiative, +1 HP
  • Heart: +1 to saves vs fear, +1 to saves vs Shadow, +1 to saves vs death
  • Wits: +1 initiative, +1 language, +1 inactive ability
But nothing is set in stone and the above isn't comprehensive! As usual, take player suggestions on bonuses when rolling. It's a very informal process that can really bring out unique characters. 
Wilibad succeeded on a bonus roll against Wits with a crit! He suggests that he get a +2 bonus to initiative for being quick to act and the Referee agrees. He also succeeded on his other bonus roll against Heart. The Referee suggests that he get a +1 bonus to saves vs death to represent his determination to carry on.  
Hobbit Scholar by Jon Hodgson

Classes & Groups

'For this is what your folk would call magic. I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem also to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic? '
'I did,' said Sam, trembling a little between fear and curiosity. `I'll have a peep, Lady, if you're willing.'
J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring
Magic in Middle-earth seems to very be subtle and natural(not "low magic"). Overt supernatural abilities should few and far between. The Deft's ability to easily best difficult circumstances and attempt the nigh impossible seems to fit better than the Wise outright doing the impossible on the daily. For that reason, we'll be using three basic classes:
  • The Strong 
  • The Brave
  • The Deft
That' right! No Wise Wizards or Wise Black NĂºmenĂ³reans here (for now at least)! Also that goes well with the three main stats. We are going to look at Tolkien magic as an assortment of supernatural gifts and special permissions. I think this will help ease into a more subtle and more "natural" sense of magic when it comes up in play. A Deft Beorning attuned to the teachings of Beorn or a Deft Elf attuned to to their enchanted rope or fine cloak.

Concerning Species Groups, standard play would assume Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits (perhaps a another post concerning Evil play might be needed?). Humans are the most common and get no Species group. Most Dwarves would put their Species next to Body and Heart. Elves would often go with Body and Wits. Hobbits would go with Heart and Wits most of the time. There are of course exceptions, but I think that is a solid base.

As always the Species Group governs the most common physical and cultural traits and doesn't mean that the species is a mono-culture. Remember that Dwarves and Hobbits should have a lower movement rate (MV). Affiliations can cover human tribes and social culture. Consider this conversion of the basic cultures in The One Ring, which goes over when the group would be relevant to gain a Double Positive Roll followed by what Trained Rolls it could qualify for:
  • Bardings: Relevant for task rolls that require great valour and a stout heart. Boating, old tales, smithing, swimming, trading, and wood working.
  • Beornings: Relevant for task rolls where you're injured or cornered by foes. Anduin lore, beast lore, cooking, fishing, mountaineering, and storytelling. 
  • Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain: Relevant for task rolls involving endurance or stubbornness. Fire-making, smithing, smoking, masonry, trading, and tunneling.
  • Elves of Mirkwood: Relevant for task rolls inside a forest, under the earth, or at night. Boating, Elven lore, fire making, Mirkwood lore, swimming, and wood working. 
  • Hobbits of the Shire: Relevant for task rolls involving a cheerful spirit or friendless between companions. Cooking, gardening, herbalism, smoking, storytelling, tunneling.
  • Woodman of the Wilderland: Relevant for task rolls during combat in the woods. Anduin lore, beast lore, fishing, herb lore, leech-craft, Mirkwood lore.
This could easily be extended to the other cultures such as the Dwarves from the Iron Mountains, Riders of Rohan, etc. 

Conversation with Smaug by Tolkien

Rewards

Whitehack awards XP for treasure, killing foes, and completing quests. I feel like XP for Quests (maybe extend that to journeys?) is fitting, "killing foes" needs to be changed to "outsmarting, evading, or otherwise besting foes", and the XP for gold does have its place ("let's go rob Smaug"). In a Middle-earth game I think that most of the XP should come from thematically appropriate exploits. We'll develop this more when we talk about travel and journeys. 

The next post will cover said journeys as well as the dark and corrupting influence of the Shadow. 

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