Sunday, March 31, 2013

Tov, son of Aulë

Tov, 100 y.o., is a unique "holy man" whom has been granted great powers by Aulë (hopefully). His background is uncertain, his manerism out of sort, his appearance disturbing. However, once he begins to chant, no other dwarf in legends ever wielded such a powerful command. Dwarves, superstitious in nature, are convinced that he is destined to revive the cold-forges of Khazad-dum with his gift.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Drolf, son of Hemmolt, Attack-Lord of Iron Hill

Early life, 210 years ago.

Drolf originates from the gentry of Iron Hill. A Iron Hill of the long gone days when Dain II was the supreme King of dwarves and the lonely mountain was synonym to desolation. The best that he was expected to do in life was to rise to an officer rank in the Mansion Watch of the King. His father himself rose to the rank of Warden of the Lane Guard of Iron Hill: A highly prestigious rank. Drolf was groomed to be a frontline leader: he shirked on formal education and spent a lot of time in camps, honing axes and making mushroom stew for soldiers.

022 - Hush! We are in a library.

This encounter pitched the members of the Palantir Commission against the Guardians of the Royal Library of Annuminas. The combat lasted pretty much the whole evening and involved a number of pretty awesome twists and turns. Most combat options got used at least once as the players discovered the awsomness of GURPS tactical combat. Enjoy. 

The Stone knights of Arthedain


The increasingly esoteric Arthedain kings began to worry about their culture's survival as the threat from Angmar began to loom. The King commissioned the most talented mystiques to enchant stone knights to protect important places such as treasure vaults and barrows. 

Few believed that this kind of magic could be done, but the most brilliant minds of Arnor were brought together to create these undying guardians.  The cost was high: the soul of a tribute of high birth and valor had to be bound to a stone lich-form. Because of this high price in time of war, only a few of these knights were created.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Draft rules for Social Combat in GURPS

These rules are in draft stage and posted here for the playtesters. Initial thoughts were posted here.

Social Combat rules

draft 1
Christian Blouin (


A social combat is a multi-character engagement where NPCs and PCs posture in a conceptual map. When the engagement is over, the NPCs will act according to their location in the tactical map.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bain Stonetongue, son of Nain

Bain son of Nain

Year 2799 - Battle of Azanulbizar, End of War against Azog - ( 224 years ago)

Bain was born the year that his father dies at the hand of Azog. He grew up  in the shadow of an absent father and a war hero for an older brother. Bain was an astute student. His keen intellect made him skip grades and switch mentors many time before he even hit the age of 12. King Dain II’s advisors early on ensured that he would be well schooled, and probably wished that Bain had been the heir to the crown.

Dwarven Table of Organization and Equipment

This post expands on the organization and equipment table of the traditional dwarven armed force in the third and fourth age. 

The Mansion Watch

The mansion watch is the citadel inner guard for a King. It is composed of elite units. Back in the days of Khazad-dum, all member of the MW were equipped with magic armors and weapons.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Kalin Stonghold, son of Gloin

Kalin Stronghold, son of Gloin, age 160

Early life ( TA 2873 )

Kalin was born while his kins were in exile in the Grey Mountains. Son of Gloin, Kalin’s life path didn’t quite follow the same as his soon to be famous younger brother. Kalin grew up as a reserved youth, meeting the minimal warrior training and spending most of his waking hours scouring the few books that the family owned. These books unfortunately had a clear bias on retelling how dwarves had been hard done by everyone. Kalin developed strong opinions and shared them with passion. For many pragmatic dwarves, Kalin was wearisome to deal with. They tended to leave him alone.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Khazek Strongmoss, son of Erek

He was born 2996, just long enough after his father returned from the failed attempt to retake Moria. He grew up in the Lonely Mountain. As a Grey Mountain dwarf, he felt that he and his kin did not get the respect that was deserved. He quickly grew fond of the men of Dale and Esgaroth.

Farin II, son of Balin, War-Chanter of Erebor

Farin II, son of Balin, age 112

Year 2941 - Battle of the five armies - ( age 20 )

Barely at the age of reason, he joined the forces of Dain II and participated in The Battle of Five Armies. Assigned to a reinforcement, his Lot (dwarf unit equivalent to a company) was flanked by the second wave of goblins and with a terrible casualties only few got out of there alive. He lost an eye in the battle when covering the retreat of his comrades.

Character creation process for Reclaming Khazad-dûm

What this campaign is all about

The year is 15 of the Fourth age, we are in Erebor. The prophecy is that King Thorin III Stonehelm's heir will be Durin VII: the last Dwarven King before the decline of the race of Khazâd. Thorin III is determined to reclaim the heart of Middle-Earth on time for the ascension of his (still to be born) heir.

You are to play the role of members of the extended Royal Family. The King is an impulsive and overconfident ruler with a poor knack for details. It is clear to the PCs that reclaiming Khazad-dûm is bound to fail if the King can't be saved from his fury and all of the infighting within the royal circle.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The GURPS Middle-Earth Dwarf


The dwarves in this post refer specifically to Dunrin's folks, or the descendants of the Longbeard clan. During the third age, dwarves were held back by pessimism [-5], which has come to pass in the fourth age. They now have the outlook of a race reborn (overconfidence [-5]). However, most non-dwarf folk still see them as a race in decline (Social Stigma (race in decline) [-1]). 

Games that I'd love to run in the near future.

My bi-weekly game leaves me with some time to think of play styles that I want to try with GURPS.  I'm thinking of a small group, G+/Roll20 game (I just can't get MapTool to run on my computer).

Reclaiming Moria (Dwarves in Hell)

Let's cave-in this shaft first...
The dwarves of Erebor are aching to put their hands on Mithril all over again. They also want to avenge Durin's and Balin's death to the hands of the terror of the deep. An expedition of a few companies of soldiers and engineers are to reclaim as much of Moria as they can from the fiery hordes that outnumber them 100 to 1.
Play Style : Dwarf Fotress meets GURPS, Dungeoneering, Engineering, social combat, operational-level military simulation, they indeed dug too deep...
Time Period : 4th Age Middle-Earth (TL4)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Social Combats in GURPS

This post explores the use of a mechanic analogous to Diaspora's Social Combat. I like to use role playing where combat isn't the only technical way to play, and merely the extension of diplomacy by other means.  I like to offer a mechanic for players to let them use their wits to exploit. The idea of social combat is to move characters and NPCs through conceptual states to achieve an outcome, without losing all of their composure. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Arthedain-tradition seer

Not all spell casters are Istaris. This is a fantasy world, after all. However, creating spell casters that are not too far off the Tolkien lore is a balancing act. Even the MERP system, dedicated to Middle-Earth, delivered wizards as if Middle-Earth was a suburb of the Waterdeep. These are not action wizards, but let see how we can bring sparkles into the campaign without making the PCs maiars.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The GURPS Middle-Earth elf


The elf of Middle-Earth is an unaging [15] creature that belongs to a civilization in decline. This makes them incurious to the affairs of men and other races  [-5] . They mature for 50 years into very handsome [16] individuals that are known to be  immune to diseases [10]. They are renowned for their accute vision 4 [8], a legendary tolerance to temperature (Temperature tolerance 1 [1]), and the most bizarre property preventing them from trampling whatever they set foot on: snow, leaves, flowers, etc (Silence 1 [5]).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Experience for Session 5

This session was rather eventful. There shall be candies to hand out. Let me know if I forgot anything in particular. Achievement and Roleplay are free points, given respectively for accomplishing some key objective, or playing your character particularly well.

021 - The vault of the Royal Library

October 30th, FA 15

The deep purple of night faded to gray. A scene of carnage that couldn't be missed laid beyond the door frame of the stone house. The company members preferred to stay inside and chug their coffee. This night had been a long one. Most members kept the watch at some point during the night: many lived in fear of seeing the corpses of the trolls rise all over again to exact their revenge. Of course this didn't happen: this was all night fright. The hunting hours for the trolls had gone by in peace and quiet.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

020 - The blind scouts

October 30th, FA 15

Finbert and Irina slowly teetered in the dark up the road, through the tunnel and finally reched the troll camp. The ease to defeat two trolls almost convinced the company to casually walk to meet the other trolls in their home. The idea was turned down, probably for the best. However, the hobbits wanted to see what was going on over there. Although seeing is something that they could hardly do as the world was at this time made of two shades of black and one dark purple [-4 to all checks].

019 - Why can't we all be friends

October 29th, FA 15

Once the trolls walked away from the camp, the members of the company hustled to come up with a plan. It seemed probable that the trolls were to come back on the same path. The main challenge of setting an ambush was that none but Halin could see in the dark. It was decided that the four walls of the camp would be used as a strong point to constrain the trolls into a tight space. Meanwhile, Finbert would act as a bait, well in sight in the old city gate barbacane. Irina was to cover with her bow while Sir Galdor and his squire Kasper would hide, mounted on their horses, across the road from the camp.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The GURPS Middle-Earth Troll


Trolls were created by Morgoth in the First age to be oversized fighting minions. They were fashioned from stone, and have the fatal flaw to revert back it when exposed to direct sunlight (overcast skies are fine, but seen as unpredictable). Although bred for fighting, many sub-population of trolls have diversified and defined culture of their own. As trolls are not very intelligent, and usually hungry, the bulk of their culture is centered on eating and hoarding. The late because they are big, the former as a remnant of their design as pillagers. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The GURPS hobbit

I wonder if there are apple pies East of the Misty


The hobbit needs no introduction. It is a mysterious Middle-Earth creature, and an interesting kind of folk to roleplay. There used to be three kinds of hobbits: the stoors, the harfoot and the fallohide. Today, they are all known as Shire-folk or Bree-folk, although each hobbit has to select one of three sets of character traits which relates to these distant ancestries.

Experience for Session 4

Session 4 saw some scouting and some traveling. The heroes for this session was Arnadil's prep-work back in Minas Tirith and Edoras. The other story heroes are Irina and Finbert for scouting into the great unknown white. Here is the breakdown of experience granted for this session:

Flight or fight!

Many attempts to roleplay NPCs in combat requires to get them to make "flight or fight" decisions. Coming up with formal mechanics to model this would be probably inelegant. However, some kind of mechanics, even if vague, allow players to employ other strategy than to kill or render unconscious. Here is an attempt to sketch this down.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The feint : turning what you are good at into a combat asset.

In this tactical tip post, I'm going over the feint and all of its nuances. Some characters in the Palantir Commission campaign would benefit from adding one of these sweet moves into their tool chest. The relevant sections in the GURPS sourcebooks is Martial Arts p.100-101.

All of these options are different flavors of the feint action. In order to do a feint, you must take either a feint action, or combine the feint with an attack in a all-out attack (feint).

Saturday, March 9, 2013

018 - Close encounter of the troll kind

October 29th, FA 15

The daylight was drifting to blue, the snow did not relent. The company was standing where once there was a city gate. To the north, a road was leading into the barrack sector and the King's foundries. The path there laid, untouched by feet of any kind. Arnadil climbed atop of a low wall segment, in search for a shelter. Both horses and dogs were restless, Sir Galdor couldn't really contain the great danes' nervous energy. Luckily, Kasper managed to get the dogs to regroup, sit down and most importantly to shut up. Araliniel was tending to the horses, also nervous as if they could smell that death was prowling from the stony wastes. 

Arnadil opened the way in and spotted a nearby small stone house. Most of its walls were still standing up. He signaled all others to bring the horses within. They quickly setup a fireless, joyless camp. 

017 - The ruins of Annuminas

October 29th, FA 15

The Southern wall of Annuminas and the hobbits' footprints
in the snow.
On the previous evening, the company was gathered at the farmstead of Old Bruck, a hobbit that Irina knew well. Old Bruck told them that orcs were in the habit of setting winter quarters in Annuminas. However, they rarely dared to approach the Shire. Nonethless, folks in Long-Cleaves were a cautious kind of people, most knowing very well how to fend off invaders.

They ate a fine meal, had a bit of singing. As the evening waned, Arnadil pulled form his travel bag a scroll case and laid its content on the table. 

016 - The road to and through the Shire

Walking in the wake of a winter drake

October 15th to 28th (map)

The company resumed their long journey to Annuminas on the morning of October 15th. Provisions were purchased for the coming 10 days. With the early light of Fall, they set out across the Gwathlo river, heading north to Sarnford: a fording point into the Shire.

The road was reasonable, and the weather cool. Finbert expressed his concerns that it was unusual and worrisome to see this much frost and snow on the ground south of the Shire at this time of year. His concern kept on growing as the accumulation on the ground began to increase. His chief concern was that the apple season may have been shortened, but to each its own fears.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Skill pile-up in GURPS

Abstract (if you don't like long blog posts)

In this post, I explore the resolution of tasks when performed by more than one character. I focus on a searching task that must be completed within a given time frame, and seeking an object that is assumed to be there. I wrote this to help me prepare for an upcoming challenge that may happen in the Palantir quest. It is also usable in the more general case where multiple testing overestimates the odds of success when too many people are trying to do the same thing
  • Observation: More people added to an already crowded kitchen doesn't result in a better meal.  
  • Cause: There is a cognitive and communication-based overhead to the division of a task.
  • Leadership: A leader overcomes this cognitive/communication overhead
  • Conclusion : A successful leadership manages the division of a task to overcome this overhead.
  • Conclusion : Leading all but one worker into a set of complementary supporting tasks brings the highest possible payoff, but is also the most sensitive to incompetence of the lousiest team members (and leaders).  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

015 - Sniffing the air for a winter drake.

This encounter reports on a solo session with the campaign's new addition: Irina Took. It was meant to be both a send-off and a playtest. It worked out great: we used the invention rules (see last part), had some role play and lots of exploration of what can be done with a ST 6 hobbit without an ounce of aggression in her (and a 25lb bow).

October 20th FA 15

It snowed in and around the Shire since early-September. Folks in the Shire are worried: there is something queer about this weather, but no one can imagine the real reason for all that snow. Irina knows, and she'd rather not spread the word.

She met in Bree with the Shire's bounders and Dunadain rangers in early September. The rangers are pretty sure that the hatchling of a winter drake has descended from the Blue Mountains. Since then, it has been prowling in the low-lands for food and a hoard. There are reports in the Northfarthing of missing livestock coinciding with snow squalls and general bad weather. The colleagues agreed to be on the look out for white-outs and any other traces of a prowler. This is the reason why Irina was on the road to Tharbad on that quiet morning. The plan was simple: if a drake shows up, she will melt in the woodlands and shadow the beast, if possible. 

There was, however, no snow squalls to be seen all around. Rather, a deafening silence. Irina could hear the snow flakes falling in the ground with an almost audible tinkling sound. Amid the creaking of her own footsteps, she first heard the sound of voices beyond the crest of the next hill. Irina scanned the surroundings and found a path through fallen trees and tall grass to scoot out of sight without leaving an obvious dotted trail of footsteps in the snow [She succeeded with a wide margin a hard Survival check].  She snuck under an evergreen where she could observe the road, unseen. 

Three northmen walked by her, discussing enthusiastically about the sheeps that they were to steal from the Shire's outlying herds. Irina knew that this chance encounter had to be dealt with. When the men noticed the footsteps on the road, they began to look for the trail that would take them to Irina. However, their tracking skills were no match against Irina's master work at sneaking out [their margin of success was less than Irina's, which was a bit lucky to begin with]. The oldest of the northmen explained to what looked like his sons that such a strange disappearance of footsteps could only be the work of the Shire's Bounders. All seemed to get nervous, searching around for the outline of a shadow menace, ready to duck oncoming arrows. After much discussions, they decided to leave the road and enter the woodlands. 

Irina decided to shadow the sheep rustlers. She could follow the men very closely without arousing suspicions [quick contest Per vs Stealth, which Irina won with a critical success!]. Irina followed them for an hour, waiting for an occasion to do something. Being a Hobbit, she had no intention to really hurt them. She considered harassing them with pot-shots with her bow until they turned around. In the end, she chose an unexpected solution. She figured out that, having cultural familiarity with "The North", and being herself a very charismatics person, she would attempt to befriend the men and divert them from their original goal. She began to sing a song that she knew was widely known among the northmen, and approached them from behind [singing check success with +3 margin] in the least threatening manner. The men were initially worried, but soon took down their guards when they saw a jolly middle-age hobbit female singing one of their favorite song [the reaction roll was done at +6, +2 for voice, +1 for fashion sense, +3 for the song... and got a Very Good reaction level]. Disarmed by a smile and a song!

Things could have gone bad, but they didn't. The northmen were unwilling to confront the jolly hobbit standing in their way, and lied about their motives by telling her that they were hunting. Irina, smilling at the inadequate "hunting" equipment of the sheep rustlers, offered to take them to a deer feeding ground and help them find meat. She knew of a spot [Area Knowledge success], and lead them to a place teeming with deers. On site, she found some the deers feeding trails [Naturalist check]. The northmen were not hunters by any stretch: they were loud, smelled too much and probably couldn't hit a deer with their spears. She instructed them to stay in place while she scouted ahead. 

Irina sneaked into position, but the deer bolted just before she could get a fully aimed shot [Per vs stealth failed by 1]. The shot was a 20 yd, with a Move 6 target. Irina managed a hit on the leg as the deer disappeared in the thick evergreen underbrush. The deer was weaker, but still fast. Irina patiently tracked the animal [Easy tracking check in the snow], moving silently until she found the wounded beast again. The deer was still, and she slipped quietly at 15 yd without being noticed. She took her time, aimed for the vitals and got a clean hit on the unsuspecting target. The deer fell to the ground [unconscious and stunned, not dead]. Irina, reluctantly, finished the beast with a swift slip of her hunting knife. 

The northmen were brought in, picked up the deer. The new friends walked back to the road. The northmen are unlikely to come back to steal sheeps now. It is more difficult after making a personal contact with a local. Beside, they know that they are no match to her hunting and shadowing skills. The older northmen offered her a beaded necklace as token of thanks. The harvest was not as big as planned, but should be as tasty. 

Irina headed for Sarnford, back to the shire. On the road, she could see a number of horse footsteps and a the tracks of a heavy cart. It looks like a group of human just snuck by while she was hunting. 

Other Notes: Before the encounter. We worked out why a hobbit would ever want to leave the Shire and travel with the Palantir Commission. We established that she nearly died of a fever in the spring. This near death experience triggered the Took's itch, a malady that flips the desire of hobbits to stay home on its head. She had a series of disagreements with her husband on the topic, and they decided to amicably go their own way. Irina is older (45), and there are lots of Bounders around to take over. She needs to see new places. 

Herb lore and GURPS' invention rules
We also gamed the preparation of two herbal brews from earlier on in the summer: Irina's brain explosion and Irina's Sniffle buster. The brain explosion gives the highest of 2 d6 FP for an hour, but cause a crash 1 hours later by the highest of three d6. She found out about the right plant: the root of a pond rush [herb lore], which she knew where to find [Area Knowledge], and harvest [naturalist]. She brew a few doses [herb lore, again]. Her attempt to dry the roots so that she could prepare the herbal mixture off season, however, failed [Hard check -4]. We use the invention rules for her to create the Sniffle buster tincture. She followed a similar process as for the brain explosion infusion, but then had to make a prototype and test it for a few weeks. She found a major bug (drowsiness), and a minor bug (tastes like dung, so she is adding honey...). She found only a small patch of source material, unfortunately, well outside the Shire.  When the first snow arrived, the live plant died and she ran out of fresh material. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Good, evil and magic in the world of the Palantir Commission

I realized after starting a Middle-Earth RPG campaign that the Middle-Earth universe, although very deep in some aspects, was also very shallow for anything that doesn't directly support the narrative of the canonical stories. The economy makes no sense, for example. The MERP universe merely has overlayed a D&D world over known names of places and beasts. I kept less than 10% of the content of the MERP module "The Palantir Quest": I'm redrawing maps, and essentially changing the nature of the adventure path altogether. The original module and adventure felt like an old Forgotten Realm module. This article is about reconciling fantasy and Tolkien's work.  Gelatinous cubes don't HAVE to exist in Middle-Earth, but there ought to be a way to have cool magic going on even when Galdalf isn't around.