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.

Sleepless Night in MoBu City

I could not sleep. My room is clean and after another night of hard work it might even be downright tidy. Strange.

I read the article on Tu’Narath from Dragon. I really liked the history of the Githyanki and history of the -yanki/-zari split along with how Gith sealed the pact with Red Dragons by venturing into hell and talking to Dispater. Neat stuff. Then the article took a turn, where they sought to mess with the status quo and boy-howdy, I am all for that. It was an interesting try but didn’t light my fire.

It got me thinking about fantasy cities, though and the Make Your Own New Crobuzon thing and an IM conversation I had with Rob Donoghue about possibly making a city with all of the Burning Wheel lifepathed stocks. I had this vague images of Great Spider webs connecting crumbling elven towers.

MoBu City was born.

It is a city built out of raw hatred, greed, faith, spite, and ancestral taint. A wyrd-weaver will read your fortunes in her web in the Tower Districts. Afraid to be smashed come sunrise, trolls mine coal that is fed into tremendous furnaces that keep the trains running. Great Wolf packs stay in the city only long enough to sell their hunt and be gone before the city’s stink can settle into their fur.

I dunno, it was that kind of night.

Registry of Mad and Beautiful Cities

Intrepid travelers have been returning from far away lands, reporting on the strange and wonderful cities they have found. As more cities are reported, they will be posted below.

Perhaps, some day, some mad cartography will make a map so that we can see how these cities are connected:

If you should come across a description of a city like these, please post a link below so that it can be added to the registry.

New Labyrinth: Githyanki, Minotaur, Sprite, Otyugh, Illithid, Red Dragon
The minotaur have built many of the winding alleys of the city, leading it to be almost unmappable and very difficult to navigate. This pleases the minotaur aesthetic, as they not only lived in labyrinths in their home country but their religion worships the winding roads that life leads you on.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

The Maw: Goblin, Umber Hulk, Homonculi, Aboleth,Kruthik, Eidolon
The Maw is a completely separate political entity from the goblin empire–the Strand of Jewels–but a large number of goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears have made their home in the city, attracted by the foreign wealth it offers, and eager to wield whatever political and business connections they might have throughout the archipelago to carve themselves a piece of it.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Peryyn-Bynner, The Blood Sea City: Sahuagin, Hobgoblin, Satyr, Banshrae, Neogi, Myconid
The Sea Devils and the Human / Hobgoblin Congress fought a bloody war decades previously, but capitalism won the day, and the various races realised they could profit far more working together than bickering.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Var-Orizar: Wraith, Thri-Kreen, Kobold, Lamia, Giant Scorpion, Living Scirocco
The bulk of the population are the wraiths of the original inhabitants of Var-Orizar. Quiescent in the harsh, dream-destroying light of day, at night they return to life, re-enacting their lives over and over again.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Eidolon: Rakshasah, Quickling, Grell, Owlbear, Shadow, Mimic
The Grell are newcomers; five years ago, two hundred of them entered the city from the sea, floating silently over the waves from the distant lands of the South. Even now, nobody is entirely certain what to make of them…but they seem to be a hard-working lot, despite their odd appearance, and their bizarrely discordant music has become inexplicably popular in the waterfront taverns.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Boolyut, the Citadel of Mud: Myconid, Kuo-toa, Zombie, Ogre, Clay Golem
However, in the centuries since the golems’ creation, the magic that keeps them quiescent and controlled has begun to wane, and at least one has had to be put down by myconid guards.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Name Unknown: Part 1, Part 2 Sahuagin, Griffon, Satyr, Ghoul, Displacer Beast, Shambling Mound
Before anyone knew what has happening, the brothels and drug houses had been taken over by a remarkably social group of Satyrs. Together, they run much of the businesses that cater to the baser natures of the sailors, tradesmen, and soldiers that move through the city, its ever transient population providing an ever replenishing supply of coin.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Name Unknown: azer, gnoll, sahuagin, black pudding, eye tyrant, ravid
Gnolls built and settled the city originally, according to legend, and imported the first human settlers as slaves millennia ago. Whether the myths of Hessl, who smashed her chains and those of fifty gnollish guards before her execution, or the myths of Fook, Hessl’s mate who led the first successful slave uprising, human supremacists are in the city known as Hessl-Fooks, or simply fookers.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Scalehaven: City of the Snake God: Yuan-Ti, Salamander, Kobold, Flame Skull, Gibbering Beast, Bay Hydra
Mammalian races are certainly residents of Scalehaven, but they are not the strongest presence there. Most of the denizens are of a decidedly colder blood.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Bastion, the Last Fortress: Valpurgeist (Ravenloft), Gnoll, Iron Golem, Gelatinous Cube, Umber Hulk, Beholder
Everyone gets one life, and one life only. This is the promise of the Fortress Queens. Live it well, for the Great War needs you after. Ever after. Because the demons outside will never stop coming. And so, neither can you.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Name Unknown: Devil, Shifter, Sahuagin, Homonculi, Fowlspawn, Sorrowspawn
The city’s on a weak point in the fabric of reality, making it easy to summon things from beyond. Devil-summoning is common and quite acceptable; the city has comprehensive pacts with a number of infernal powers.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Her Majesty : Azer, Gargoyle, Drider, Gibbering Mouther, Purple Worm, Hag
In the first age, airships traveled through the heavens, from plane to plane, carrying entire civilizations on their mighty decks. Those days are gone, the worlds are divided and the airships are no more. All have gone but one, know only as “Her Majesty”, this behemoth swam into our world and crash landed into a great volcano.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Deep Zion: Gnome, Kuo-Toa, Treant, Lamia, Rot Harbringer, Marrowshriek Skeletons
For every world that exists, there are a thousand that do not. In the real world, a thousand years ago the Dwarves of Mount Zion rose in revolt and slaughtered the giants who built the city. Now they rule it, a prosperous and powerful city-state that stands as one of the greatest bastions of the Empire.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

New Kroy: Lizard Folk, Kobold, Sahuagin, Larva Mage, Shambling Mound, Chuul

The lizard realms were devastated by disease when the humans first arrived; their overlords abandoned them or were slain by human wizardry, their priesthood was suppressed, their cities were plundered.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Vicida: Bullywugs, Warforged, Dopplegangers, Purple Worm, Marut, Predatory Vines

Much of the Gilded’s time is spent on internal struggles over property and inheritance. Bullywug’s breed fast but don’t live long, and their mating patterns are complicated to say the very least. This means that inheritance is a constant consideration, and the basis of unending argument and occasional violence. If you imagine the biggest, richest family you can, and then imagine that the patriarch or matriarch (who uses the purse strings to control the next generation, which is rife with a sense of entitlement) keels over every decade or so, you’re off to a good start.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Los Kimeros : Hadozee, Gnomes, Dopplegangers, Vampiric Mist, Myconids, Neogi

‘Kimeros is a sight to see. The three Ziggurats, each reaching nearly 2000 feet into the sky, are connected by an elaborated network of rope bridges, thick guywires, and a unique monorail. The tops are modeled on local flowers. A combination of sunlight and wind direction makes the Ziggurats sing a harmonious tune. The cloud whales will sing back to the towers when then pass the city at twilight – returning from the plains of floating mountains or feeding in the southern marshlands on stirges. The rest of the city is built upon the 3 hills surrounding the Ziggurats and huge natural harbor known as the Blue Crescent.

My buddy, Pete sent this to me via e-mail. I will ask him to post it up on SG so that I can link to the complete text.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Kalinos: angels, maruts, devas, wraiths, giant ants, sorrowsworn shadowraven swarm

When the gods died, the world was pretty shaken up. Most mortals might not have known what was happening in the heavens if not for the sudden appearance of angels to tell the story. These fearsome beings came in great number, and a lot of them came to Kalinos.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Cruithven: Banshrae, Rakshasa, Satyr, Battlebriar, Harpy, Swordwing

Cruithven is a river-port city artfully blended into its forest backdrop through the use of Battlebriar exterior walls and living hedge-maze street partitions. Ruled by Banshrae, it is marked by their desire for the music that they love but cannot create themselves. Those whose singing surpasses that of the Banshrae’s pet Harpies may find themselves well-rewarded, however, culminating in the role of the Master of Feasts, the bard to whom much of the Banshrae’s day-to-day authority is delegated. The Satyr-dominated Fife and Drum Corps commands the Battlebriars and maintains law and order within the city. Trade flows actively, bolstered by sybaritic Rakshasa merchants who secretly hawk wares pilfered from the lairs of Swordwings who have collected the relics of an ancient fallen empire.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

Azorad, City of the Magi: Tiefling, Oni, Kenku, Archon, Naga, Star Spawn

In fact, the Convocation of Archmagi maintain a sort of royal guard consisting of the finest warriors from each element. Some have expressed concerns about maintaining a small army of powerful elemental beings in the city, but so far the magi are doing an excellent job segregating the elements and playing them off one another, not to mention encouraging competition within each element for appointments to the royal guard.

Ancient Sword Subject Divider

City Name : Monsters!

Cool Quote

“I wish that everyone knew that the most creative force they will ever meet in gaming isn’t a game designer or a writer but the people they are sitting next to every week.

I wish all gaming experiences harvested the creative powers of our friends and helped us create and learn and destroy and explore beautiful, terrible and just plain cool-ass shit together.”
– some guy

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Githyanki Therapy defined

What is Githyanki Therapy?

This is the act of posting a mad and beautiful idea on the internet, bonus points for posting it in such a way so that others can participate and/or post their own mad and beautiful ideas.

For me, this usually has something to do with Githyanki. I have no idea quite why. Maybe it is because they wield silver swords or worship their liche queen or have a pact with red dragons whom they often ride into battle.

Githyanki Therapy is usually something I do after I have taken part in some kind of stupid-ass internet argument and for the record, all internet arguments are stupid. I know there are times when I see sexism, racism and homophobia and I have to speak up but when I do I should drop some thoughts and run-run-run. It just never ends well.

That is Githyanki Therapy. Go forth and find your Githyanki, some odd little thing that you enjoy and when the internet aggravates you or you have made the internet a lamer place, post about that thing in a way that is both mad and beautiful.