Saturday, February 27, 2010

J. R. R. Tolkien's Thorongil (a.k.a. Aragorn II)

 I'm currently teaching Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as part of an advanced writing course entitled "Legends of Modern Fantasy," so I thought I'd pull a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and get some Tolkien chocolate in my BoL peanut butter.  I've therefore generated a character sheet for Aragorn II.  In TA 2957, the twenty-six year old Dunadan left Rivendell and traveled the length and breadth of Middle-earth for twenty-three years.  Using the alias "Thorongil" (Sindarin for "Eagle of the Star"), Aragorn served in the armies of Thengel of Rohan and Ecthelion of Gondor.  It's at this moment in his life that he most approximates the power level of a starting hero in BoL.

As a Dunadan, Aragorn is superior in all ways to the lesser varieties of Men.  I've therefore given him scores of 1 in all four of his attributes; the broad spread reflects his abilities not only as a mighty warrior but also as a leader of men (and future king).  Combat scores are more concentrated: I see little evidence in Lord of the Rings for giving Aragorn scores in Brawl and Ranged, especially at this point in his career.  As a result, I've split his four combat points between Melee and Defense.  The four-career requirement perfectly suits Aragorn: "Noble" stems from his upbringing in Imladris; "Physician," his birthright as Isildur's Heir; "Hunter," his destiny as "the greatest traveller and huntsman of this age of the world"; and "Soldier," his brief experience so far as a mercenary in Thengel's army.  (Thorongil's prominence in Gondor's campaigns against the Corsairs of Umbar suggests that Aragorn will soon be spending some advancement points on adding "Mariner" to his list of careers.)

Note that I have not equipped Aragorn with the Shards of Narsil—in this instance, I prefer the movie Aragorn's decision to carry a normal sword beyond the confines of Rivendell.  The Boon "Isildur's Heir" is a Middle-earth variant of "Marked by the Gods"; "Master Tracker" follows the lead of the BoL version of Legends of Steel in collapsing all of the terrain-specific tracking boons into a single boon.  "Hunted by the Enemy" is lifted right from the character sheet of Pellem Pharn in the main BoL rulebook.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Character Sheet Blues

The extant English-language character sheets for BoL are serviceable, but then I look at what the French players of the game get to use, and I weep for the Anglophone world.  (That link takes you to French blogger Kobayashi's site.)  Alas, I lack all design skills to produce anything in that ballpark . . .

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sokka of the Southern Water Tribe

The idea to stat up Sokka as a BoL hero came to me tonight when my daughter and I were watching Season 2 of Avatar.  I've represented him as he is at the end of Season 3 (just before the series finale—where he appears to lose both boomerang and "Space Sword").  At that point in his career, he is (or is about to turn) sixteen, a perfect age for a hero about to begin the adult phase of his adventurous career.

Attributes were no problem: Sokka's quirky intellect and ability to see what others fail to notice made it easy to justify a Mind of 3, and I put the other point in Agility.  Combat abilities were also fairly straightforward: Sokka's fighting skills seem to consist of an emergent talent with the sword (Melee 1), the luck not to get hit by better fighters (Defense 1), and a high level of skill with his boomerang and other thrown weapons (Ranged 2).

Careers represented the biggest challenge, but the three seasons of Avatar gave me some ideas.  As a member of the Southern Water Tribe, Sokka has an initial career of Barbarian 1, reflecting his ability to survive in the harsh conditions of the southern polar regions.  His career of Poet is largely based on the haiku contest in "Tales of Ba-Sing-Se" and on the advice he gives to his Fire Nation double in "Ember Island Players."  I've left the career rank at 0, though, since Sokka's performance abilities are more innate than trained.  Artificer 1 (coupled with his high Mind score of 3) simulates Sokka's inventive side, while Soldier 2 represents both his natural aptitude as a leader of men and his experience fighting the Fire Nation over the course of the series.

Friday, February 19, 2010


One thing about Vargold that I want to warn readers about is my propensity to tinker with posted entries until they're just right.  This is especially so in the case of fictional S&S heroes that I'm translating into BoL terms: comments from readers and further reflection will often cause me to rethink how I've statted up these heroes.  (In fact, you'll notice shortly that the Grey Mouser entry will be changing in responses to points made in this Lords of Lemuria thread about 0-rank careers representing aptitudes instead of minimal experience.)  I know that some bloggers like to leave their entries as is, but posts like the hero stats feel differently to me than other entries--they're more like gaming resources than stages in an ongoing discussion.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Gracious Grognard

Work beckons, but I wanted to take a brief moment to thank my old Internet compadre James Maliszewski for plugging Vargold on Grognardia, his amazing Old School Gaming blog.  Barbarians of Lemuria (the current RPG focus on this blog) isn't echt Old School--the game has as much in common with many more recent RPG systems as it does with those of the 1970s.  But I like to think that BoL shares the same spirit of free-wheeling fun and pulp inspiration that informs the early games of Gygax, Arneson, Barker, and St. Andre--as well as the retro-clones of the last decade.  In any event, I can't recommend Grognardia enough.  Thanks again, James!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fritz Leiber's Grey Mouser

As was the case with my earlier post on Fafhrd, the following set of stats represents the Mouser as he appears in "Ill Met in Lankhmar."  That story makes it clear that, not only has the Mouser been in Lankhmar for some time, but that his daring thefts have begun to earn him a degree of notoriety.  (Even a hick from the sticks like Fafhrd has heard of the Mouser's exploits as the .)  So I've given him the career of "Thief" at 3, the highest possible value for a starting character.  Augmenting this career selection is one determined by the acrobatics that he displays on several occasions in the story (e.g., making the ascent to his love-nest for Ivrian early in the tale and then escaping from Thieves' House over the roofs of Lankhmar toward the end).  These stunts thus make it clear that the Mouser also has "Tumbler" at a rank of 1.  (Here I differ from the BoL rulebook assumption that "Dancer/Tumbler" is largely a woman's career.)

In "The Unholy Grail," Leiber reveals that the Mouser's first training was as a hedge wizard's apprentice.  (He was known as "Mouse" at the time.)  Although he successfully casts several spells in this story, it's clear that his magical knowledge is shallow--after all, he's not routinely casting spells in the stories that follow.  I therefore rank his "Magician" career at 0.  I have also given him "Scholar" at 0, a more future-oriented selection that reflects the Mouser's curiosity and penchant for arcane lore.  ("Bazaar of the Bizarre" is lurking behind my thinking here.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian

The following set of stats represent Robert E. Howard's Conan as he appears at the start of "The Tower of the Elephant."  In this story, Conan is relatively new to Zamora and to urban civilization; I've therefore rated his "Thief" career at 0.  He gets "Blacksmith" at 0 as well; this career reflects his childhood in his father's smithy back in Cimmeria.  The "Mercenary" rank of 1 stems from his mercenary service alongside the Aesir (depicted in "The Frost-Giant's Daughter").  "Barbarian" is of course a no-brainer for Conan, clocking in at the highest possible starting rank of 3.

At this point in his life, Conan is as fast as he is mighty, so I devoted the same number of points (2) to both Strength and Agility.  Melee is his highest combat ability; I thought about making Brawl equal in value, but Conan's fight with the spider convinced me that he knows how to avoid getting hit (and thus merits a Defense score of 1).  "Country Bumpkin" is an obvious fault for the young Cimmerian; "Sneaky" reflects his natural stealthiness; "Marked by the Gods," his uncanny instincts that repeatedly save him just in the nick of time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd

The following set of stats represents Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd as he appears at the start of "Ill Met in Lankhmar."  (As "The Circle Curse" reveals, Fafhrd and the Mouser gain a great many Advancement Points in the three years of exile following the events of "Ill Met.")  "Barbarian" is an obvious career choice.  "Minstrel" corresponds to Fafhrd's skaldic training in the Cold Wastes; it also reflects the actor's training he acquires from his brief time with Vlana.  "Pirate" has a rank of 0 because "The Snow Women" makes it clear that Fafhrd only went a-viking the one time--and spent much of it talking to Mouse.  "Thief" also has a rank of 0: it's clear from "Ill Met" that Fafhrd's thieving upon his arrival in Lankhmar mostly consists of mugging other thieves.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuuva the Strong

[Played by Amity]

Tuuva is from Valgard, and left her tribe for unknown, and unspoken-of, reasons.  She tried for a time to make a living as a mercenary, but she doesn't play well with others, even other warriors, and the profession didn't exactly suit her: not enough killing.  She once overheard two mercenaries talking about a visit to "the Arena," and the life of a gladiator sounded heavenly to her: a bed, ample food, and a chance to kill as many things as she wanted.  She left mercenary work immediately and headed to the gladiatorial ring.

Gladiators are only supposed to kill when they have been given the sign, and often non-fatal matches are "rigged" so that particular crowd favorites come out on top.  Unfortunately for Tuuva, once the blood-lust takes a hold of her she often can't reign herself in, and during a fight that was supposed to be "to-the-pain" only, she killed her opponent.  She then killed several guards who entered the arena to subdue her.  The Master of Games had no interest in harboring an out-of-control and obviously dangerous gladiator, so Tuuva was sold into slavery.

She was disconsolate over losing her place in the Arena, and could not understand the concept of commercial slavery: the man who had bought her was, in her eyes, weak and pitiful, and he had not beaten her in battle.  Why should she be his slave?  She had soon attacked her new master for "insulting" her, and was subsequently sentenced to death in the very ring she had once called home.

Tuuva is very tall and very muscular, with fair skin and red hair.  At first glance, she looks more like a man than a woman, but her features are handsome enough.  She is dressed in the garb of a slave, though she also wears a peculiar necklace, crafted in the style of the Northern tribes.  Not even her former master dared to try to take it from her.  She doesn't speak much, and when asked about her past, she says nothing -- but will absently caress the necklace.

Know, oh prince . . .

An introduction, however brief, is probably necessary at this point.  The immediate rationale for Vargold's existence is to serve as an archive for the Barbarians of Lemuria game I've just started running.  Thus you'll see character write-ups, monster stats, and the like as time goes by.  But I'm also going to reserve the right to occasionally use the blog as a sounding board for my thoughts on RPGing and fantasy literature as well.

A comment about the blog's name.  Vargold (ON "wolf-time") is a compound noun taken from a passage in the Völuspá, the first poem in the Poetic Edda.  Here's the passage in the 1968 translation of the poem by W. H. Auden and P. B. Taylor:
Brother shall strike brother and both fall,
Sisters' sons defiled with incest;
Evil be on earth, an age of whoredom,
Of sharp sword-play and shields clashing,
A wind-age, a wolf-age till the world ruins:
No man to another shall mercy show.
It seemed like an appropriate term to use for a sword-and-sorcery gaming blog. :)

Monday, February 8, 2010


As pointed out in the "New initiative rules in the Legendary Edition" thread on the Lords of Lemuria web forum, BoL's current initiative rule (roll 1d6, add Agility, act in descending order from highest total) seems out of place when compared to the usual model for tests in the game (roll 2d6, add attribute, add career if applicable, check for Mighty Successes and Calamitous Failures).

We'll therefore be using a variant of one of the house rules suggested in that thread.  Heroes and NPCs will check initiative at the start of combat; their results will stand for the duration of the battle (unless something in the fiction of the game happens to necessitate a new initiative check).  Each participant (or group of participants in the case of NPCs and creatures) will roll 2d6, add Agility, and see if the result beats the standard target number of 9.  (A player can ask to apply a relevant career bonus to this roll; however, if the bonus is granted, that career cannot be utilized again in the ensuing combat.)  Results should be read as follows:

Calamitous Failure = Unable to act in the first round of the combat; thereafter always goes last.

Failure = Acts in descending order of total result after all successes have gone.

Success = Acts in descending order of total result after any Mighty and/or Legendary Successes have gone but before any failures may go.

Mighty Success = Gains an extra action in the first round of the combat; thereafter always goes first (unless someone spends a Hero Point/Villain Point to gain a Legendary Success).

Legendary Success = Gains two extra actions in the first round of the combat; thereafter always goes first.

The extra actions for Mighty and Legendary Successes represent "getting the jump" on the rest of the combatants.  Ties are broken according to the rules provided on p. 36 of the Legendary Edition (but Mighty Success and Legendary Success totals always trump regular successes, even if the regular success total is numerically higher).

Quaris the Fallen

[Played by Rob]

Quaris is the last scion of a once mighty Satarlan noble house.  His father spent the last of the family fortune to buy his son a lieutenant's commission in the city's Sky Navy.  The money was well-spent: Quaris swiftly rose through the ranks, earning the captaincy of his own boat before he was thirty years old.    Unfortunately, success breeds envy, and the young sky pilot soon came into conflict with a brace of jealous officers with even bluer blood.  They framed Quaris for bribery, costing him his career and his freedom.  Sentenced to hard labor in Sartarla's allanium mines, the fallen officer fought for and won a place amongst the other convicts.  One of the prisoners taught him the basics of thievery, skills that made possible Quaris's escape from the mines.  He returned to Satarla, hoping to expose those who betrayed him, but was soon recaptured and sentenced to death by combat in the city's arena.  There he and his cellmates—Tuuva the Valgardian shield-maiden and Vanuth the Satarlan hustler—defeated a mighty jemadar man-eater and escaped in a sky boat piloted by a mysterious sorcerer . . .