The New Shadow: Tolkien and Table-Top Gaming

I have had Tolkien on the brain lately.  It started with re-watching the uncut movies and for the first time, watching the making of features.  Then Cubicle 7 dropped their news.

Before going to bed tonight, I was peeking around at the Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Here are the juicy, game-able bits:

256 From a letter to Colin Bailey 13 May 1964

[An account of Tolkien’s unfinished story ‘The New Shadow’. (See also no. 338.)]

I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall [of Mordor], but it proved both sinister and depressing.  Since we are dealing with Men it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good.  So that people of Gondor in times of peace, justice and prosperity, would become discontented and restless – whiel the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors – like Denethor or worse.  I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a centre of Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going round doing damage.  I could have written a ‘thriller’ about the plot and its discovery and overthrow – but it would be just that.  Not worth doing.

Not worth doing?  Oh man, what is wrong with thrillers?

Let’s get to letter 338:

…there would be secret societies practicing dark cults, and ‘orc-cults’ among adolescents.

Every once in a while there is a thread on, in which someone complains about how their group has wedged itself into a really difficult and complicated moral situation that will make the world an entirely different place from what was initially envisioned and planned for.  They are looking for an answer, a way to set the campaign back to rights and to my eye, the campaign seems to be just getting good.

This is how I feel reading these letters.  Since this era untouched and unfinished, it feels ripe for gaming.

Descendants of Agaron and Arwen, struggling to live up to their ancestors’ legends, punk noble kids in Gondor who have taken their grand-parents’ artifacts from Mordor, dusted it off and made Sauron as suddenly hip.  Yeah, cool kids taking out their eyes, replacing it with dwarf-wrought clockwork glass so their parents do not know that they are worshiping the long dead Lord of the Rings, putting on tusked masks and going out orcing during moonless nights.


Dig this answer to a letter asking about the other two colors of wizards:

I have not named the colours, because I do not know them.  I doubt if they had distinctive colours.  Distinction was only required in the case of the three who remained in the relatively small area of the North-west.  I really do not know anything clearly about the other two – since they do not concern the history of the N.W.  I think they went as emissaries to distance regions, East and South, far out of Numenorean range: missionaries to ‘enemy-occupied’ lands, as it were.  What success they had I do not know; but I fear that they failed, as Saruman did, though doubtless in different ways; and I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and ‘magic’ traditions that outlasted the Fall of Sauron.

Now we’re talking.  As the governors of Gondor struggle to govern among the flawed and prideful spawn of Aragorn, Satanic cults start up among the Gondorian noble kids, and apprentices of failed angels arrive from distant lands.  Lands that are bankrupt now that their patron, the Lord Eye has fallen silent have come to the Men of the West in order to start trade and learn the fate of the other Istari (wizards).

What a glorious mess.

Now we’re gaming.

Ring Worlds

Settings fascinate me and you can’t really admire settings without turning your eyes towards Tolkien’s quaint little home for all of his fictional elf languages. I always wondered how to get my game on in Middle-earth. The Rangers hack of Mouse Guard comes really close to hitting the nail on the head for me.

In an old Sons of Kryos episode, I talked with Jeff about how I’d game Middle-Earth, changing it to Middle-earths. The players would be charged with going to alternate Middle-Earths and seeking out various bearers of the One Ring. It is like a Tolkien issue of What if? in campaign form.

It is fun to think about the various characters who cam into contact with the ring and what a Middle-earth would look like with the One Ring in their clutches:

  • Bilbo
  • Gandalf
  • Elrond
  • The Beast Outside Moriah
  • Bill the Pony
  • The Balrog
  • Galadriel
  • Boromir
  • Faramir
  • Shelob

What wonderful villains each of them could be (all except Bill the Pony; we know that Bill is above the Ring’s lure).

Then I came across this, from the forward of the Lord of the Rings:

The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated by enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed by occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of the time have found Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.

Man, that is a setting I’d play a campaign in. Flesh out the wizards of different colors. Play out some wizarding politics. Suss out some more about the Southrons and ride us some oliphants.

I love the bittersweet end of the Lord of the Rings with the ring-bearers diminishing into the west and magic fading from Middle-earth but it would be nice to game in a place where the Shire doesn’t turn into strip malls and parking lots quite so fast.

EDIT: This is kind of embarassing. I have blogged about this before. Huh.

Thinking about sub-systems.

Preparing to play Diaspora tomorrow night has me thinking about sub-systems.

I had conversations with Luke a long time ago about BW’s sub-systems.  Burning Wheel has Fight!, Duel of Wits and Range & Cover as concrete sub-systems.  You can keep all of the other pieces intact (Circles, Resources, Bloody vs.) and change that to Lyrical Poetry, Jousting and Laying Seige for Arthurian flavah.  Or you could go with Pillaging, Kinslaying and Boasting for a kind of viking epic.

IMing with Joshua got me thinking about social combat for D&D.  What if there was a system that existed outside of classes.  All of your bonus was via social class, as described by a set of clearly defined set of parameters the GM had.  Social class was how you got your social hit points and social armor class.  Yes, you could kill the entire king and his court.  You are a 20th level fighter but he will destroy you socially.  Will you use your dungeon-made power to destroy those who beat you socially?

So, yeah, thinking about sub-systems is all.

Hip Deep in my paper, not yet in the dragon’s lair.

I was tinkering with my new threads page on ye old wordpress blog and came across this thread, Hip Deep in the Dragon’s Lair.  I really liked the idea of having a fast and easy go-to game ready to roll for BW that isn’t The Sword.

I think this idea will be my gift to myself once I finish this paper (tonight? tomorrow?).  I will burn up the rest of the characters and think on how I’d run it as a con game.

Nice to have something to look forward to (other than watching the UFC fights) after school work is done.

Under the Sea

I’m eying the Threat from the Sea Omnibus but the description isn’t moving me.

Are there any other undersea fantasy novels?

I can’t particularly think of any and re-reading the Scar has me yearning for a book about cities built around geo-thermal vents and ancient, newly sunk Atlanteans trying to adapt to a hostile, alien underwater world.

But really, is this something I want to read or something I want to write?

Things in an underwater fantasy world:

City built on a geo-thermal vent, with strange creatures who depend on the vent for power and life, maybe worshiping it.

Recently fallen Atlantis – kept alive underwater through magic, refusing to go back to the surface world that betrayed them and put their beloved marvel of a city under the ocean.

A gentle leviathan with worshipers who travel with it and have built their lives on and around the creature, perhaps with some people within it who were fed to it as holy sacrifices.

It could be that this is something I want to read more than something I want to write.

Burning MoBu City

Burning MoBu City

The modern age is upon is and the center of the modern world is MoBu City, a teeming, dense metropolis built on the grief, greed, hatred and faith of ages past.

What MoBu City is NOT:

This is not a place where magic has faded and the great epics are over. This is not a city that wears scars of past magical events in order to illustrate to the players that the greatest arcane feats were in the past. The scars of past magics are created to illustrate that sorcery is dangerous and has left its mark.

The only thing fading is the vassal system and the systems of government rising up to replace it could easily be worse.