Monday, August 22, 2011

Go East, Young Hobbit

Name: Hugo Hornblower

Culture: Hobbit of the Shire

Cultural Blessing: Hobbit-sense (counts twice when calculating company Fellowship rating; when making a Wisdom roll, rolls Feat die twice and keeps best result)

Background: Restless Farmer

Calling: Wanderer

Basic Attributes: Body 3 (5), Heart 6 (7), Wits 5 (8)

Common Skills: Awe 0, Inspire 0, Persuade 3 (personality); Athletics 1, Travel 2, Stealth 3 (movement); Awareness 2, Insight 2, Search 2 (perception);Explore 1, Healing 0, Hunting 0 (survival); Song 2, Courtesy 3, Riddle 2 (custom); Craft 1, Battle 0, Lore 0 (vocation)

Weapon Skills: Bow 2, Short Sword 1, Dagger 1

Endurance: 22 (Fatigue 13)
Hope: 18 (Shadow 0)

Damage: 3
Parry: 6 (9 when fighting larger foes)
Armor: 2d+1

Valour: 1
Wisdom: 2 (Virtue: Small Folk)

Specialities: Folk-lore, Herb-lore, Small, Story-telling
Distinctive Features: Eager, Trusty

Shadow Weakness: Wandering-madness

Equipment: Short sword, bow, dagger, leather corslet, cap of iron and leather, buckler, traveling gear, pipe-weed samples

A descendent of Old Toby himself, Hugo Hornblower has traveled to Wilderland from the Shire in search, not of adventure, but of new markets for his family's pipe-weed products. He's a particularly tiny hobbit, and his ill-fitting protective gear (bought on sale from a desperate Dwarf smith) makes him look a bit ridiculous. But if you let him talk to you, you may find yourself placing a rather larger pipe-weed order in no time at all.

(Essentially, Hugo is the Middle-earth equivalent of a whiskey drummer.)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Vargold Baby Birthday

Regular readers will remember that Vargold went on a bit of a hiatus after my second child (a son) was born on 14 August 2010.  Well, here we are a year later, and the little barbarian is now one!

Here he plays with the shaker eggs from his brand new birthday drum kit.  Me, I'm going to try and get him to provide musical accompaniment to my ongoing reread of Lord of the Rings.  "Drums, drums in the deep.  They are coming . . ."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Beorning Bonus: Botild Openhand as Drawn by Jon Hodgson

Botild was created in partial response to "[The One Ring] Lets Make a PC," an ongoing thread devoted to the creation of sample characters for the game.  Begun by Skywalker, the thread morphed at post 55 from the group creation of an Elf loremaster to the creation of an entire company of PCs.  The participants are currently working on a Dwarven treasure-hunter and an as-yet indeterminate Woodman.  TOR artist extraordinaire Jon Hodgson (whom I first noticed for his work on the Dragon Warriors revival) took some time from his busy schedule to provide a sketch of the loremaster Gloreithel.  When I woke up this morning, though, I discovered that he had also generously produced this illustration:

Wow.  Just wow.  I have been wanting a Hodgson illustration for some time now, but I didn't think that one would just show up in response to one of my own creations.  Thank you, Jon!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Building a Better Beorning: Chargen in The One Ring, Conclusion

Here's Botild's complete character write-up (now with the Beorning byname I forgot in Part One of the series):

Name: Botild Openhand

Culture: Beorning

Cultural Blessing: Furious

Background: Head of the Family

Calling: Wanderer

Basic Attributes: Body 6 (8), Heart 4 (7), Wits 4 (5)

Common Skills: Awe 3, Inspire 1, Persuade 0 (personality); Athletics 2, Travel 2, Stealth 1 (movement); Awareness 2, Insight 3, Search 1 (perception); Explore 2, Healing 2, Hunting 3 (survival); Song 0, Courtesy 1, Riddle 1 (custom); Craft 1, Battle 0, Lore 0 (vocation)

Weapon Skills: Great spear 2, Axe 1, Dagger 1

Endurance: 28 (Fatigue 14)
Hope: 12 (Shadow 0)

Damage: 6
Parry: 4
Armor: 2d+1 (2d from leather corslet, +1 from Reward)

Valour: 2 (Close-fitting Reward applied to her leather corslet)
Wisdom: 1

Specialities: Beast-lore, Mountaineer
Distinctive Features: Curious, Folk-lore*, Generous

Shadow Weakness: Wandering-madness

Equipment: Great spear, axe, dagger, leather corslet

Botild Openhand grew up on the eastern slopes of the Misty Mountains, tending her family's herds and wandering about the countryside.  Those carefree days ended at age ten when her mother died, forcing Botild into the role of lady of the house.  Four years later, fourteen-year-old Botild had to grow up once again when Beorn sent her father and older brother to help guard the passes over the Misty Mountains.  Botild was now in charge of the family holdings, but her generous nature helped them prosper and earned her the epithet of "Openhand" from her neighbors.  At age sixteen, Botild learned that her father had died in a skirmish with Orcs in the mountains.  Her brother returned home and took control of the estate.  He was grasping where his sister was generous; worse, he refused to find Botild a husband among the neighboring families, preferring a drudge at home to an ally abroad.  Botild initially did her best to do her sisterly duty, but a year of enduring her brother's casual cruelties proved to be too much even for her.  She left home with her father's spear in hand, determined to regain her childlike sense of wonder through exploration and adventure.  A year of wandering has done much to toughen her up, and she begins TA 2946 with a sense of hope for the future.

Overall I'm extremely pleased with TOR chargen.  Several people have complained online that the heroic cultures exert too powerful an influence over the process, that multiple characters from the same culture are essentially cookie-cutter copies of one another.  I'm not seeing that: there are certainly some points of contact between Botild and Beran of the Mountains, the pregen Beorning from the TOR rulebook (they both took the Head of the Family background; their base Attributes are thus the same, giving them identical Endurance and Hope as well as Damage and Parry; both have opted to prioritize Valor over Wisdom).  But the differences are clear: Beran made Body his most favored Attribute, followed by Wits whereas Botild put Heart first and then Body.  Their various Traits only overlap at Mountaineer; Beran is the grim warrior whose word is his bond, while Botild is a generous woman always on the lookout for the horizon.

What impressed me most was the way in which the sequence of the process generated backstory and hooks for play.  As I noted in an earlier post, I already had a strong image of Botild as an individual before I even began the customization process.  (This is more evidence against the idea that culture generates too much conformity in game.)  Customization only strengthened this view.  I'm actually disappointed to be planning on running a TOR campaign: I really want to play Botild Openhand now, especially when her company finds its way back to the Western Vales of Anduin and a confrontation with her skinflint brother becomes imminent . . .

Building a Better Beorning: Chargen in The One Ring, Part Two

The first step in hero customization is the determination of the hero's Calling, his or her particular motivation for adventure.  Like Background, the choice of Calling initiates a cascade of sub-choices.  There are currently five Callings available: Scholar (the acquisition of knowledge drives you forth into the Wild), Slayer (someone did you or yours wrong, and you're seeking the means of vengeance), Treasure-hunter (the ruins created by the long, tragic history of Middle-earth = PROFIT), Wanderer (the experience of new things is its own reward), and Warden (someone must protect the weak against the onset of the Shadow).  Each Calling allows a hero to determine two more favored skills (taken from Calling-specific skill groups), pick up one unique Trait, and (unfortunately) acquire a Shadow Weakness as well (i.e., the path you're like to follow if you're overwhelmed by the Shadow).  It's worth noting here that each heroic culture write-up lists suggested and unusual Callings; the latter are not forbidden to player heroes from that culture, but the game suggests that Loremasters generate stories from the character's willingness to flout his home culture's expectations.

The suggested Callings for Beornings are Slayer (haughty Beornings make enemies easily) and Warden (in the end, though, they stand up against the Shadow); the unusual Calling is Treasure-hunter (what is a Beorning going to spend his treasure on in the Vales of Anduin?).  There's a bit of the caretaker in Botild, so Warden could work.  But I think her sense of hard-won freedom from familial duty and strife inclines her more toward the path of the Wanderer, so that's my pick.  The Wanderer's favored skill groups are Custom (Craft, Battle, and Lore) and Survival (Explore, Healing, and Hunting).  In Botild's case, Healing seems like an obvious choice for a favored skill: she did spend all that time tending to her flocks, after all.  So Healing gets underlined.  The second favored skill can come from the same skill group or from the other one; I don't see Botild as being particular inclined to fixing things, skilled at warfare, or eager for facts (her curiosity is directed at experiences, not information).  I'll therefore underline Explore and boost it from 0 in a few steps.  The Wanderer's unique trait is Folk-lore, an aptitude for picking up the sort of social knowledge that interests Botild most.  Her Shadow Weakness is Wandering-madness, the temptation to completely break free of all ties that bind and lose herself in the moment.  Botild is going to have to work to establish an equilibrium between the responsibilities she's escaped for the moment and the freedom that could potentially lead her astray.

The next step of customization is the determination of favored attributes.  These are boosted Body, Heart, and Wits values representing a hero's particular inclinations; when a player spends a Hope point to augment a Common skill roll, he adds his regular attribute score to a regular skill and his favored score to a favored skill.  Each hero adds three points to one attribute, two to a second, and one to a third.

Looking at the character sheet, I see that all of Botild's favored skills are clustered under Body (Athletics, Awareness, Explore) and Heart (Healing).  Since her base Heart of 4 is lower than her base Body of 6, I'm going to add the three points to Heart for a favored total of 7 and the two points to Body for a favored total of 8.  Poor old Wits will have to make do with a favored total of 5 (up one from 4).

I now get ten points to spend on raising my skills (both Common and Weapon).  I have to be careful here: skills cost their new level in points, and each level must be paid for (e.g., going from 0 to 3 is going to cost six of the ten points).  Worse: weapon skills cost two per level and are also cumulative in cost.

Some tough choices here.  I established that Explore was one of Botild's favored skills, so I want to put enough points there to make that decision worthwhile.  A score of 2 (average) eats up three of my ten points.  Now I have seven left.  I'm going to bring Healing up to 2 as well; since it was already at a 1, I'm out just two points (total of five left).  Botild has seen a bit of Wilderland before play begins, so Travel goes from 0 to 2 (three points, two left), and she's learned to overcome some of her Beorning brusqueness, raising Courtesy from 0 to 1 as well (one point, one left).  I don't have enough points left to raise any of her existing Weapon skills, but then I never pictured her as a front-line fighter: she's more like to fight from a defensive stance, protecting her allies and herself.  I do think she's picked up some woodcraft by now, though, so I drop the last point into Stealth, making it a 1 (one point, zero left).

I'm getting close to finished here.  Time to start calculating some key secondary stats, Endurance and Hope.  For a Beorning, Endurance equals 24 + Heart; Hope, 8 + Heart.

Botild's Endurance is 28; her Hope is 12.

Gear is based on a character's choices.  Each hero gets a free weapon for each of the Weapon skills he has at 1 or greater.  Heroes also start with one suit of armor and may choose one piece of headgear and one shield.  Traveling gear (season-appropriate clothing, water, food, blankets, etc.) is also provided free of charge.  Any other starting gear is a result of negotiation with the Loremaster (with the hero's cultural Standard of Living as a touchstone).  Equipment is encumbering of course, and a character's total encumbrance from gear equals his Fatigue score.

Botild's Weapon skills mean that she owns a great spear (encumbrance 4), an axe (encumbrance 2), and a dagger (encumbrance 0).  She's a wanderer, not a warrior, so I don't get her any headgear or shield.  (Not that she could use a shield while wielding her great spear!)  At the same time, Wilderland is a dangerous place, so I opt for a leather corslet (encumbrance 8).  Her total encumbrance gives her a Fatigue score of 14, half her Endurance score (giving her a lot of wiggle room before she becomes Weary).  In spring and summer, her traveling gear raises her Fatigue to 15; in autumn and winter, it's 16 instead.

Some more calculations now: a hero's Damage score equals their basic Body rating, while their Parry score is identical to their basic Wits rating.  (Weapons and shields respectively modify these scores.)

Botild hits hard: on a great success, she adds her Damage score of 6 to her spear's Damage rating of 9 for a total damage of 15; on an extraordinary success, she adds double her score of 6, generating a total damage of 21—enough to drop all but the toughest Orcs in a single blow.  That said, she's not the best at getting out of harm's way, what with no shield and a Parry score of 4.  But then that fits her generally defensive approach to combat.

The last major choice to be made involves ranking the hero's Valor and Wisdom scores.  These function as reputation indicators, and they also represent opportunities for heroes to acquire power-ups.  These bonuses begin piling up at rank 2 (and every rank thereafter, all the way up to the maximum rank of 6 in each score).  A new TOR character begins with a rank of 2 in one score and a rank of 1 in the other, giving the hero a power-up before play begins.  If the hero opts for Valor 2 and Wisdom 1, she gains a Reward (a new piece of culturally-specific equipment or an upgrade to an existing bit of normal gear).  If she opts instead for Wisdom 2 and Valor 1, she can choose one of several culture-specific Virtues—or select one of several generic stat boosts instead.

I decide to prioritize Valor over Wisdom and give Botild Valor 2 and Wisdom 1.  She's now entitled to a Reward.  I look over the three Beorning Cultural Rewards—the Giant-slaying Spear, the Noble Armor, and the Splitting Axe—and don't feel the love.  So it's a generic upgrade instead.  Botild's leather armor is already light enough, so there's no real reason to classify it as of Cunning Make (-2 to Encumbrance).  But it might also be Close-fitting (+1 to Protection, raising the corslet from 2d to 2d+1).  Alternately, I could make her spear Grievous (+2 damage for a total of 11), Keen (the weapon's Edge rating—the number the attacker must equal or beat on his Feat die roll to cause a Wound—drops by 1 to a value of 8), or Fell (the weapon's Injury rating—the number the target must equal or beat on his Protection roll to avoid taking a Wound—goes up by 2 to a value of 18).  In the end, I opt to make the leather corslet Close-fitting: the bonus to Protection fits Botild's general defensive posture, and it might even allow her to risk more aggressive combat stances (she'll get hit more often, but will be able to avoid Wounds more easily).

That's it for individual customization.  In my final post in this series, I'll present Botild's complete write-up and offer some general reflections on chargen in TOR.

Building a Better Beorning: Chargen in The One Ring, Part One

To set the mood for this post, I've placed Tolkien's depiction of Beorn's Hall just to the left of this text.  The first step in creating a TOR character is the choice of the character's home culture.  I did that in the last post, selecting the Beornings.  This decision brings certain conclusions with it, but it also leaves room for individual choice between cultural options.  I'm going to work my way through the TOR discussion of the Beorning culture, recording game-related decisions in italics when I'm asked to make them.

One decision to make right away is the character's sex.  There are no mechanical repercussions to this choice, but it will inflect all concept-related choices that follow.  I have no particular predilection for a character gender, so let's roll a six-sided die: odds, the character is male; evens, it's female.

I rolled a 4.  Looks like this character will be female.

Each heroic culture in TOR has a set standard of living that conveys the culture's relative prosperity (and thus an individual character's ability to make purchases).  Beornings have a Martial standard of living, one akin to that of the heroic culture presented in Germanic epics like Beowulf: the chieftain is the source of all wealth, rewarding individuals for bravery, loyalty, and daring deeds accomplished.  A Martial character has his or her personal gear, along with a few coins to cover simple accommodations and meals.

I put "Martial" down on the character sheet.

Heroic cultures also provide cultural-specific blessings (akin to D&D feats).  The Beorning blessing is "Furious": when a Beorning receives a wound in battle, he ignores all effects of being Weary and/or Miserable for the remainder of the combat in question.  There's the berserker quality I mentioned in my intro post.

I put "Furious" down on the character sheet.

Now it's time to see which skills Beorning cultures provides a character.  In TOR, skills are broken into two categories: Common and Weapon.  All Beorning heroes receive the following Common skills: Awe 3, Inspire 1, Persuade 0; Athletics 2, Travel 0, Stealth 0; Awareness 2, Insight 3, Search 1; Explore 0, Healing 1, Hunting 3; Song 0, Courtesy 0, Riddle 1; and Craft 1, Battle 0, Lore 0.  (An underlined skill is a favored skill, receiving a bonus in certain circumstances; Beornings are clearly athletic types.)  Heroes are giving a choice of Weapon skills.  Beornings may either select (Axes) 2, Spear 1, Dagger 1 or Great spear 2, Axe 1, Dagger 1.  A Weapon skill in parentheses is actually a Cultural Weapons skill: someone taking "(Axes) 2" would add two skill dice when using any type of axe.

I first of all record my beginning scores in the game's eighteen Common skills, underlining "Athletics" on the character sheet to convey its favored status.  Then I consider the two Weapon skill packages: since I've played a lot of axe-using characters over the years, I'll be different this time round and take the second package.  Now my character has a favored skill in "Great Spear" and basic skill in "Axe" and "Dagger."

My next choice involves Specialties, culturally-specific Traits that register expertise in a given trade or activity.  I can choose two of the following: Anduin-lore, Beast-lore, Fishing, Mountaineer, Story-telling.  In game, I can invoke these Traits to gain automatic successes, make a skill roll where the Loremaster would normally say "no," or gain an Advancement Point in a Common skill group related to the Trait in question.

Here's where the character individuation really begins; the Specialties I pick will say a lot about my character's upbringing.  I'm going to pick "Beast-lore" and "Mountaineer."  My character is essentially Heidi-on-steroids: a gangly Beorning woman who grew up on the slopes of the Misty Mountains tending her family's herds.  A spear doubles as a walking staff in these conditions, and it's good for keeping the Wargs off as well.

A flurry of choices follows, all springing from a decision about the character's Background.  Each heroic culture provides six of these.  The Beorning choices are Child of Two Folks (you're the product of a Beorning-Woodman union), Errand-rider (you are known for carrying messages between the clans), Head of the Family (you've watched over the homestead while your father protected the mountain passes at Beorn's orders), Light-foot (you're excellent at sneaking around in the woods), Keeper of Tales (you spent lots of time listening to the wisdom your old granddad chose to impart), and Voice from the Past (you've grown up keeping the songs of the clan in your heart).  Each background sets your basic attributes of Body, Heart, and Wits; grants you another favored skill; and provides you with a choice of two Distinctive Features (Traits that signify your personality instead of your expertise).

The two Background that make the most sense for my character are "Head of the Family" (which connects to the idea of her shepherd history) and "Light-foot" (which could apply to any character who has spent much time outdoors).  I'm going to opt for "Head of the Family"--a foreboding choice: what would have caused my character to give up her obligations to go adventuring?  This Background sets the character's Body at 6, Heart at 4, and Wits at 4.  She also gains Awareness as a favored skill (which I then underline on the character sheet).  Finally, she can choose two Distinctive Features from the set of Curious, Determined, Generous, Grim, Hardy, Steadfast, Trusty, and Wilful.  I'm beginning to think that this character may have been dispossessed: she should have inherited the clanhold when her father died fighting Orcs in the passes of the mountains, but her no-good brother came home and displaced her.  So let's give her "Generous"--her kindness to other clans paid off when she finally left her grasping brother, but it also kept her from fighting to keep her patrimony--and "Curious"--familial duty was all well and good, but now she actually is free to find out what lies on the other side of the mountain.

At this point, I've completed the Heroic Culture phase of chargen.  The only remaining tasks are to pick a name for the character and determine her age at the start of play.  Since "Beorn" is itself an Anglo-Saxon name, I'm going to go to Kate Monk's Onomastikon and pick out an Anglo-Saxon female name for my hero: Botild.  The rulebook suggests that Beornings go adventuring sometime between 16 and 30; let's split the difference and say that Botild left home at 23, well after she should have been married (but clearly wasn't because her cheap brother preferred to keep a drudge at home rather than pay a dowry to another clan).  Coming up next: customization!

Building a Better Beorning: Chargen in The One Ring, Introduction

A friend at Gen Con last Friday and a few too many positive posts on the game caused me to give in and acquire a copy of The One Ring boxed set.  Overall I'm very pleased with the game--it's surely one of the best looking RPGs ever published.  I also feel that it goes further in recreating the feel of Middle-earth than any other Tolkien RPG before it.

I thought that I would create a character here on the blog as (a) a way of learning the rules for myself and (b) letting others get a sense of what the game entails (and thus becoming more able to decide whether or not it's for them).  As many of you may have heard, Cubicle 7 is taking a graduated approach to the game: the first boxed set introduces the basic rules and provides relevant game information for adventures in Wilderland (aka Rhovanion), the northeastern quarter of Middle-earth that is home to the majority of action in Tolkien's The Hobbit.  Characters are thus restricted in origin to one of the six Free Peoples inhabiting that region: the Bardings, the Beornings, the Dwarves of Erebor, the Elves of Mirkwood, the Hobbits of the Shire, and the Woodmen  of Wilderland.  Since Vargold is a blog nominally dedicated to barbaric games and narratives, it seems appropriate for my first test character to be as close to a barbarian as one can get in Tolkien and still be on the side of the setting's protagonists.  So Bardings, Dwarves, Elves, and Hobbits will have to wait their turn.  The Woodmen are a viable choice under the conditions just laid out, but the Beornings (what with their berserkr chieftain Beorn) are an even better one.

Let's build a Beorning, then!  In my next blog post, I'll handle the first stage of TOR chargen, that related to heroic culture.  The post after that will cover individual customization.