Minis perfect for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

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I’ve painted the burgomeister mini. Unfortunately, I don’t have the kind of photo equipment needed for minis. He is placed next to a Hero Forge mini for scale. 

If you use miniatures for your Warhammer game (or Zweihänder or other similar games), the Dunkeldorf line of minis on Kickstarter are perfect. The minis are of mundane characters, which can be hard to get, or you have to pay a fair bit of money for Oldenhammer minis or for the Mordenheim line, which is pricey today.

The line consists of 12 minis (plus 3 – or more -additional minis from stretch goals being unlocked). All of them look like people you can meet in the Old World. There is a barber-surgeon, a rat catcher, a burgomeister (mayor) a courtesan and so on.

I noticed the project before the Kickstarter was launched, and when the call went out for bloggers to have a look at the early casts, I threw in my lot. Nicki, who is one of the people behind the project, was nice enough to send me three samples. So, I got three minis for free, and I’ve already backed the Kickstarter. I don’t consider myself biased, but now you know.

You can find it here: Dunkeldorf minis

In any case, below I’ve written some thoughts on the minis.

Minis with personality

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Here are the three sample minis I got. I only had time to paint one, as time is my most limited resource.

What I really love about these minis is that they have a lot more personality than the Citadel or Reaper minis that I usually get.

Their faces and body types are much more varied. The Citadel faces tend to be much more ‘standard handsome’ in my view, whereas these are angular or corpulent. That really makes them stand out.

I’m no expert on minis, and no great painter, but the three I got, are nicely – but not overly – detailed and straight forward to paint, with the exception of the rat catcher, which has a lot more small details – she looks more like an adventurer.

They are clearly for ‘low fantasy’ as they don’t carry fancy items and weapons, and they have the beard, dress and hairstyle of a classic Warhammer game.

The minis are also about 50% women, which is another plus for me, as there is a clear gap in my collection when it comes to female minis that can be used for PCs or NPCs.

As stretch goals, you also get some other ‘dressing’ like an anvil and a cat, which are nice, but something I will use less frequently.

My only ‘criticism’ is the barber surgeon. His profession is a bit harder to identify just from the mini. He could also have a sling bag or something, to make him look a bit more like an adventurer. That would improve his usefulness to me a bit. 

Low Risk

The Kickstarter was launched be a couple – from my native country if Denmark as it turns out – which already runs an online gaming store (King Games). That is a big upside, as it lowers the risk of the practical aspects of a kickstarter tripping them up. As they have an online store, they also have a registered company, are used to administration and the logistics of sending packages around. It is also not a hobby projects – as such – which means the risk of ‘work’ getting in the way, is low.

You have until April 4 to get your hands on the minis.  The kickstarter is already more than fully funded, but I wouldn’t mind more stretch goals being unlocked.

My Twitter handle is @RasmusNord01. I would love to see other people’s painted versions of these minis – and hear about the games you run. 

 

Is Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay for me? – A Warhammer Primer

Warhammer front pages
I’ve played and run Warhammer since 1st edition. We finished a more than 90 sessions long campaign in 2nd edition in 2015.

Dungeons & Dragons has brought a tsunami of new players to the table-top roleplaying game hobby. That is fantastic. But there are other games out there – games that appeal to different tastes or can add variety to your gaming-life. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) is one of the other classic games out there. I love both D&D and WFRP. This article will help you decide if WFRP is for you? The game was released in a fourth edition in late 2018 by Cubicle 7, so it is a perfect time to start.

As this is meant as a primer to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, I will not go into a deep comparison of the new edition versus older editions. But I will compare the fourth edition to other current games. In a later post, I hope to go into a more in-depth review of the 4th edition.

Before I go into the details, let me note that WFRP is not one thing. The setting has evolved over time, from edition to edition, and each group will play it in their own way. There is no ‘right way’ to play WFRP. That said, the current edition is not designed to emulate the high fantasy universe of the more well-known Warhammer Fantasy Battle, by Games Workshop. The rules and setting are close to the 1st and 2nd edition, but with a number of changes.

What is special about WFRP – in a few bullet points:

  •  The Warhammer role-playing universe has many of the common fantasy tropes like savage orcs, stubborn dwarves and prideful elves, but is set in a fantasy Europe in approximately the 16th century. There is gunpowder.
  •  Warhammer is known among many as ‘grim dark fantasy’. Violence is more explicit, magic is less prevalent and more adult themes and elements are common. You can expect gore, plague and diarrhea, bad teeth, amputated limbs from critical hits and drug-using sex cults (but which elements you include or focus on is ultimately up to you and your game master).
  • The ruinous powers – chaos – is the main enemy of most games. It is both an outside military threat, but also an insidious threat luring men with its power.
  • The game has a lot of humor as a contrast to the tragedy, violence, poverty and ugliness of the setting. In our group, it is often the quirky, down on their luck, sometimes pathetic, characters forced to make bad decision by circumstance that add a lot of laughter to the game.
  • Combat is violent and can easily result in amputations or death
  • It is low magic. You can play wizards and priests with spells. Characters ARE special in that way, but in the wide society that magic rare. There are no magic items in the core rules, which is an indication of how rare they are.
  • Your character probably doesn’t know how to read and write
  • The social status of the characters matters a lot. An adventuring group of mercenaries, tomb robbers, river wardens and peddlers are unlikely to be admitted to the count’s court, despite having “vital” information about an orc invasion.

D&D is essentially a game about fighting monsters and finding treasure. You can see that, looking at the three core rulebooks, one is about fighting monsters, one is about monsters you can fight and about a thirds of the final book is about the treasure you can find.

If you look at the Warhammer rulebook with the same lens, I would say the game is about struggling to achieve a better life in the face of adversity, poor luck, vengeful gods and an unforgiving and unfair world.  The adventures also happen in between your ‘regular’ life as a cavalry soldier, rat catcher or merchant – few hunter monsters or loot dungeons as a ‘career’.

What characters can I play?

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The servant is a classic career. Perhaps you accidentally burnt down the inn you worked in and ran away, or maybe you are the loyal servants of one of the other player characters, who is of a more lofty position? 

The character creation method and advancement system are one of the unique aspects of WFRP. Your character has a job (a career), and it is typically not glamourous, or quite the opposite, and you start at the bottom. There are 64 careers in total, each with four tiers in their ‘career path’. You can for example start the game as a peasant, a pauper, a dock hand, a body snatcher (digging up corpses, to sell them to physicians trying to learn anatomy (or is he really a necromancer…?)), an apothecary’s apprentice or potentially a noble scion or apprentice wizard. You can select what career you want – but you get bonus xp if you let the dice decide.

As you go on adventures, you both become more skilled (you improve your abilities and skills) and you advance your career – for example from pauper to beggar king or student lawyer to judge. Or you can break to new careers. Perhaps your Townsman is down on her luck and becomes a Pit fighter. Or you have an unfortunate adventure and your Boatman ends up as Outlaw. But essentially, the only restrictions on how you build your characters, what skills you take or talents you learn is set by the game master.

The game is excellent for a thematic game group: a cursed travelling circus, the crew of a river barge, a squad of watchmen, a criminal gang or the henchmen of a baron exiled to the Border Princes.

The amazing thing about this system is that it works as an internal story engine for each character. Each character’s development becomes its own cool story, partly driven by the trappings you need in your career. You may, for example, need to acquire a river boat to become a merchant or get your own gang of thugs to become a gang boss – all excellent role-playing drivers.

Clearly, your starting character is less competent than a D&D character. Furthermore, a D&D character will move from more mundane adventures to high fantasy at around 5th level in a few sessions. In WFRP you will stay much longer as more mundane and killable characters and may never move up to shape regional or world events.

What adventures will we have?

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Fighting orcs in a dungeon is also a common experience in WFRP, but also far deadlier one…

A Warhammer game can be about exploring dungeons, kicking down doors, killing monsters and finding treasure. There are certainly plenty of fallen dwarf strongholds, ancient tombs and necromancer’s towers around. But the survival rate is likely going to be low.

More common adventures would be investigating strange murders that lead to a chaos cult, which has infiltrated the local town council. Or perhaps recovering the cargo of a stolen river barge or stealing a mysterious artefact from a local collector. It could also be the classic escorting a caravan across Axe Bite Pass or less D&D-like instigating a peasant uprising in the neighboring barony – all depending on what kind of characters you have.

It is likely, as you advance your careers, the goals and adventures become loftier – with a burgomeister (mayor), spy master and a cavalry officer in the group, the adventures will quickly turn political or very personal.

Because characters don’t have the repertoire of spells and special abilities of D&D, more investigation  focused adventures are easier to pull off, while combat heavy adventures are more difficult. You are not going to have 4-6 encounters in an adventuring day, as a critical hit can easily shatter your hip or crush your elbow, effectively crippling the character. Wounds like that takes 30+D10 days to heal, and you may need to find a surgeon to get if fully fixed. Let’s just hope the wound doesn’t get infected…

What is the system like?

The fundamental system is percentile – roll D100 below your percentage chance, which is a combination of your attribute and your relevant skill. An example would be a character with Dexterity 38 and Lockpick 15 for a total of 53%. You just have to roll under to succeed (in a simple scenario).

However, in this edition, there are more opposed rolls, which means you need to keep track of how well you succeed.

Compared to D&D, the characters are simpler with fewer complex combat options. The game has the equivalence of Feats, called Talents (examples are Nose for Trouble, Seasoned Traveller, Holy Hatred and Berserk Charge). There are more than in D&D, but many aren’t combat focused.

That said, there are some fiddly bits that I’d wager most people don’t remember in their first few sessions.

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Expect your characters to get badly hurt and develop ‘the galloping trots’ after eating ‘Mystery Meat Pie’ while on a stakeout – for the merriment of everyone. In Warhammer you are frequently faced with the smell of shit – and sometimes it is your own.

In combat the system works with more modifiers to attacks than D&D, most rolls are opposed and hit locations are important. It reminds me a bit of D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder in that way, where you often had to add and subtract multiple modifiers.

Critical hits are also more important than in D&D and you can fumble – including fumbling casting a spell. Furthermore, weapons and armor have qualities that influence each encounter.

All taken together, that makes the core of the combat more crunchy than D&D and a bit fiddly – but WFRP does not have the hundreds of complex spells, which at higher levels can bog down the game.

You can’t get resurrected in Warhammer, but it does have a system of Fate Points, which you can spend, if the dice turn against you or you did something stupid, like hunting skaven in the sewers beneath Altdorf. You might have 2 or 3, so deaths are likely over time.

What books do I need?

Shadows over bogenhafen
The Enemy Within Campaign is widely regarded as one of the best campaigns published for any RPG. Cubicle 7 may publish a 4th ed. version, as it is set in the same timeline as 1st edition.

For fourth edition you only need one book: the core rules. It has all the rules, 30+ pages of setting information, 25 pages on religion and a solid selection of monsters – enough for many, many games.

A starter set is out on PDF (should be out in print in June 2019). It contains more information about a specific town called Übersreik (a solid 65 pages), a long adventure and several short adventure ideas (48 pages), handouts and some premade characters. The starter set is meant to teach newcomers to the hobby to run the game. It has situationally specific boxes on the rules you need with examples.

The core rulebook is – in my view – not written to introduce new players to Warhammer. So, if you’ve never played WFRP, I think the starter set is a good option.

Do I need minis?

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You don’t need minis to play WFRP! But here are some of my Warhammer minis.

No. The game is less grid-focused than D&D, mainly because you have less need for spell area of effect and the like. But if you like miniatures, there are 30+ years of minis to pick from. Although, the old vintage ones can be pricey.

Where can I learn more?

There are dozens of books from the previous editions available. Some are classic campaigns and source books, like the Enemy Within, which still command high prices in good condition. But you can probably get many 2nd edition books cheaply.

There are also a large range of novels to get inspiration from, although the newer ones from Games Workshop are more related to the Fantasy Battle version of the setting.

My personal recommendations would be the original Gotrek and Felix short stories Troll Slayer (which you can find in the First Omnibus, containing Troll Slayer, Skaven Slayer & Demon Slayer ), the novel Beasts in Velvet as well as the collection of short stories Ignorant Armies – which are out of print. But the Ambassador and the other parts of that series is also a fine grim dark read.

Wilderland Adventures: The Watch on the Heath

I’m running all seven Wilderland Adventures for Adventures in Middle-Earth with my group of 7 players and writing about the experience. You can also read reviews of other AiME products on this blog (and other D&D stuff). These adventure blog-posts are part review and part suggestions for Loremasters on how to run or adjust the adventure, based on my experience of running it. And to provide context for those two things, I will also describe what happened during our play-through of the adventure. Art is copyright Cubicle 7 and pulled from their material.

We had a blast with the conclusion of Wilderland Adventures. The adventure lasted two sessions, with the second session almost wholly taken up by the final climactic battle with the Gibbet King.

The adventure is fairly straight forward with a cool location and interesting battle at the end. That said, I had to do quite a bit of prep to make the final part run smoothly, as there isn’t much advice for running it as tactical combat.

How it played out:

After returning to Dale and getting a just reward, they are approached by Oin, who takes them to the Lonely Mountain. Under the mountain, in the Chamber of Marzabul, they meet King Dain and the sage Munin, who tells them of the theft done by Lochmand.

LEgendary items
I made a list of weapons and armor for the characters to choose from. It seemed more interesting to hand them out in the beginning, as opposed to a reward when the game is done.

They complete the audience with great success and gain access to the armoury of the Lonely Mountain and get the book about Zirakinbar to study along the way. I had prepared a list of Legendary Items that they could sort of choose between, to make each item more memorable, and not just a free for all.

Here is the list I made (use if you like):
Legendary Weapons

After the audience, and some provisioning, they travel north to the Grey Mountains. Along the way they meet Witherfinger, and gain some valuable information, in an enjoyable role-playing encounter.

They are somewhat confounded by the strange landscape, and gain both an exhaustion level, and some of them several shadow points (for the first time in the campaign).

When they reach the mountains, they traverse the area with ice trolls, and wake up a single one of them. The four characters wipe it out before it gets it second initiative round.

Reaching Zirakinbar, they see the dragon approaching, and meet the ghost. I changed it to Lockmand instead of the old Master of Laketown, as that historic figure had not previously had anything to do with the campaign, and they’ve spent little time in Laketown. I also changed the treasure to be the one that Lockmand escaed with from Dale, which seems much more appropriate. It is still cursed gold and there was quite a bit of it.

With the information from the ghost, the players figure out that the Gibbet King probably plans to capture the dragon to either inhabit it (a great idea) or use it as mount.

As they have decoded the book, they enter the dwarf outpost from below and kill the two orcs working the furnaces, after which we end the first session of the adventure.

The Final Fight

The climax of Wilderland Adventures we played with five characters present. They sneak up through the fortress and avoid the entrance hall (wisely, it turns out).

They burst through the door to the Gibbet King, and it is initiative. A lot happens over the next 2½ hours and seven combat rounds, and it is hard for me to relay in the right order in writing.

But overall, the most combat effective characters focus on the big orcs, while the less combat effective focus on closing the doors (particularly the Scholar).

The slayer moves up to the Gibbet King and throws him into the big fire in the second round (given the information earlier, I think the players – reasonably – expected a bigger effect from that).

In the same round, I think, Raenar arrives through the northern tunnel (which is quite important, as if he arrives in one of the tunnel where they need to close a door, it could spell trouble).

One of the orcs then push the cage out of the fire, and the Gibbet King begins to mesmerize the dragon.

When the fire doesn’t kill the Gibbet King in the second round, he uses his legendary weapon to pry open the cage and destroy the body, but the Gibbet King switches to one of the orc corpses, which I ruled caused the spell to falter.

Meanwhile, the Warden uses his Grim Visage dwarf helmet ability, which causes some of the Mordor orcs to flee, and the warrior and wanderer slays the orcs holding the chain, and the ones that come to replace them.

As Raenar is now free of his spell, he in annoyance breathes down on the area where the orcs with the chain were, which includes the Gibbet King and Fegor, the woodman Wanderer, and Raddu the dwarf Slayer. The dwarf resists well, but Fegor is down to one hit point.

Raenar now demands that they all kneel before him, and Fegor does so and throws all his gold out to him. He rolls high enough to be spared the wrath. And more characters kneel before him.

At this point they get the final door closed, and the reinforcements from the 1st floor begins to arrive, which the Dunedaín holds back.

The sound builds and the characters kill the troll reinforcement, and the rest of the orcs pull back, seeing the carnage and a dragon.

The characters then flee to rooms with doors and to the Raven’s Perch, and I judge that Raenar retreats. My reasoning is that he so weary of their legendary weapons, given his back story, and the damaging sound, which he is unfamiliar with, that it deems it wiser to retreat.

I’m of course also aware that after many rounds of combat, the group would stand no chance against him.

How was the adventure?

Journey
It was a fun and fitting adventure to end the series. I’m not sure the overall plot completely makes sense, as the “diversion” of the attack at Celduin, seems a bit overkill to sneak past Dale and the Lonely Mountain in the vast wilderness surrounding it. But, never mind!

Dragons, dungeons, ancient artefacts and dark magic. What more can you ask for in an adventure!?

I think the mood set was very well done and the places and characters very suitable for Middle-Earth and the stature of the heroes.

It is timed well to move the characters into a very dangerous area with lots of opportunities to gain shadow, which they know from the previous adventure, is bad, when facing the Gibbet King. That is good foreshadowing.

The dragon adds real drama, as it is an almost insurmountable challenge at that level. It also helps show that there are still great threats and adventures for characters of mid-level.

As we won’t be coming back to Middle-Earth anytime soon, when this campaign is done (I’m running a homebrew final adventure), it was great that they got to see the Lonely Mountain and meet King Daín in this ‘tour de Middle-Earth’.

The Secrets of Mazarbul mechanic, with a character gaining exhaustion to gain useful information, I really liked. I think the adventure would be less interesting, if the players don’t get the information in it.

A few nit pickings:

Why, oh why was the Chamber of Winds not part of the pre-made battle maps in the book? A baffling choice, as it is one of the maps that will be used with 100% certainty, and which is the most complex to draw. It would have made the battle even more memorable and made my life a bit easier.

Lockmand, as written, dies in his cell, killed by the Gibbet King, making capturing him even more pointless. I think my change makes a lot more sense (see below), if I do say so myself.

The guard rooms in Zirakinbar suddenly have 1d6+1 orcs. That is a weird change in design all of the sudden. It all the other adventures it has been x amount of orcs per character and the difference in difficulty between rolling a 1 and a 6 is very significant.

What changes did I make?

Not many significant changes, but I made a lot of notes for the end to run smoothly. Some of them I think would have been nice to have in the published text.

I imagined that Lockmand joined Gibbet King on his journey with the gold and was rewarded with a stab in the back when they arrived. He is now the ghost they meet, who more realistically has useful knowledge of their plot. And the gold was the treasure he used at the feast. The old Master of Laketown may feature a lot in the One Ring products, but this campaign does not take place in Laketown, or makes him part of the story in any way, so my players would have had no idea who he was.

Zirakinbar
I ruled that closing a gate was one action. I placed the bonfire north west of 9. 

Based on the playtest feedback, they must have a good sense of how long the final battle would last, and when the dragon should arrive and so on. I made a plan and adjusted a little bit on the fly. It looks like this:

End of round 2: Raenar arrives in the northern tunnel. You can adjust the difficulty, by letting him arrive in one of the tunnels he needs to close.

Round 3: Raenar approaches the Gibbet King, who now has him under his spell

Round 4-5: The orcs try to place the chain on Raenar

Round 6: Reinforcement orcs arrive from the ground floor (if they aren’t dead)

I let the other orcs try to lift the chain as well, but they did not last against the characters.

I also placed the big bonfire mentioned in the text on the map, in the middle.

In the adventure, the noise takes six (!) rounds to build to a damaging level, but that is way too late for it to have an effect on the battle, so I let it build for a round or two, before I began dishing out damage.

In Conclusion:

A worthy end to a generally strong series of adventures. My players enjoyed it, maybe because it goes to the core of the game: Dungeons & Dragons – but in Middle-Earth style.

I will write an overall review in the beginning of the new year. The next three sessions were a homebrewed adventured in Eriador, and I will cap this series of blog posts with some final thoughts on Adventures in Middle-Earth.

Wilderland Adventures: A Darkness in the Marshes

I’m running all seven Wilderland Adventures for Adventures in Middle-Earth with my group of 7 players and writing about the experience. You can also read reviews of other AiME products on this blog (and other D&D stuff). These adventure blog-posts are part review and part suggestions for Loremasters on how to run or adjust the adventure, based on my experience of running it. And to provide context for those two things, I will also describe what happened during our play-through of the adventure. Art is copyright Cubicle 7 and pulled from their material.

A Darkness in the Marshes is the first of the adventures in the series that is tightly connected with the storyline of the main bad guy of the seven adventures – the Gibbet King.

Radagast
I really like how Radagast is used in this adventure. I think the blessings he provides should have been used more in the Mirkwood campaign.

In the adventure, the characters are tasked by Radagast to find out what it is that stirs in the west. It is an information gathering mission – not search and destroy (to my player’s later frustration). He sends them to Mountain Hall, a woodmen settlement in the mountains, where the chief knows a lot. From Mountain Hall they can find their way to the old evil fortress Dwimmerhorn and learn something about the evil that threatens the area.

The adventure has a lot of atmosphere, and – as always – the style and mood of the adventure is closely aligned with original Tolkien canon. However, my run of it was not as successful as I had hoped and anticipated. The reasons lie partly with the adventure, partly with my players and partly with me.

On the one hand the adventures is good because the characters can fail to get to the key scene and the information at the end. The problem is, if they fail, the finale of the adventure will be unsatisfying, and you will miss the foreshadowing before the final adventure.

A second problem is mechanical, primarily with the chase system used if the characters are discovered. It didn’t seem to work – at least the way I understood it.

Thirdly, the fortress they have to investigate, appeals differently to more traditional D&D players. There are monsters to kill and human slaves they ought to rescue. Being unable to do those things doesn’t sit well with players who like being heroes, kicking down doors and slaying orcs.

To review the adventures, I intentionally keep fairly close to the adventure as written. For a better play experience, I could have customized it more to accommodate my player’s style.

How it played out:

The adventure took two sessions and a bit. For the first part I had six players and for the last part I only had four. All of them were 5th level.

The adventured started of really well. They meet Radagast and ask most of the questions anticipated in the adventure. They get their answers and are offered the blessing. My players declined a blessing, because they didn’t fear the more mundane dangers much, so they wanted to avoid being noticed by a greater danger.

In the adventure, the group is supposed to be guided by a local scout named Banna. I declined to use her, as my group already has a Wanderer, who has special knowledge of the area they travel in. I wanted him to shine, and the journeys are – so far – more than easy enough. And as far as I can tell, she has no real function in the adventure.

Mountain Hall
The Mountain Hall village has some threads to other plots and adventures you can use in a wider scoped campaign.

They arrive at mountain hall after a couple of unsuccessful journey events with an exhaustion level. As they have a woodman with them, it is fairly easy to gain access and they are led to Hartfast, the chief of the settlement.

The audience with him goes well. The dwarves offer assistance with his goblin problems and with the mining operation – as is noted in the adventure is an option, which is a nice touch – and the adventurers get descent lodgings.

The Dunedaín of the group discovers the goblin saboteurs and with a pretty astonishing amount of natural 20’s all the goblins are quickly killed, the missing guard is found, and the group are accepted as heroes.

The Dunedaín also use his foresight virtue to get a premonition that Magric the Trapper, who was offered as guide to Dwimmerhorn, is going to betray them.

They see the Horn of Warning, meet Magric and move into the marsh. The escaped slave Walar comes running, and they have the encounter with orcs and wolves. I added a couple of wolves to the encounter to make it a bit more challenging.

As they are forewarned of Magric, they are ready for his treachery and quickly slays him. It is weird that there are no stats for him. He isn’t even given – as far as I can see – one of the standard profiles from the LM Guide.

After the encounter we finish the first sessions.

A dungeon! But not quite…

Dwimmerhorn
Dwimmerhorn is an adventuring location with a lot of atmosphere, but you might need a more fleshed out dungeon below.

The characters speak with the escaped slave, Walar, and learns a few things about Dwimmerhorn and they get a rough map of the place.

They decide to all sneak up via the hidden path. After a few failures, and some falling damage, they get to the top. From there they can see the temple and that orcs feed a prisoner to the wargs.

The group is kind of split between those who want to burn down a building and/or help the slaves escape and kill the leader of the orcs, and those who want to simply investigate.

They sneak forward to one of the storage rooms and wait to see what happens. I let Ghor the Despoiler walk from the ruined keep to the temple with a couple of hooded cultists (hoping they will follow). Instead they debate and decide to sneak into the ruined keep to look for information (which isn’t an unreasonable expectation), despite knowing there are human servants in there, but overlooks the risk of a fight that warns all the orcs.

In any case, they fail at sneaking undetected into the keep. When discovered, they again debate what to do: Continue to the keep and defend it and hope the tunnel to the dungeons is there, go to the temple instead and hope for a tunnel down to the dungeons below the fortress or simply escaping over the wall?

They decide to go into the keep. I place a handful of servants in there and they dispatch them and bar the door, while orcs surround the building. This gives them a couple of rounds to search, and as they find nothing, they decide to climb to the top of the ruined keep, jump down to the encircling wall and escape down the cliff, with a few extra arrows being short at them due to the route they took.

Fleeing from Dwimmerhorn we use the chase system in the book, which I can’t see works as intended. My group decides to use the forced march option back to Mountain Hall and they only get one journey event. As far as I can tell, that effectively means they can’t be caught by the orcs (more on this below), and they arrive at Mountain Hall.

As Magric was killed, there is no confrontation at the gate, as scripted in the adventure, and they are let into the settlement, where they can rest.

The adventure concludes with Ghor and some orcs sneaking into the settlement to assassinate them. I added two additional Snaga Trackers (against four characters), but they killed them all fairly easily. Partly, the reason for them handling this encounter easily is that their main melee character is dwarf slayer, which means he fights without armor and has advantage against poison, and both features are big advantages in this fight.

How was the adventure?

The adventure is pretty good overall, but our playthrough was far from optimal, for various reasons.

  • When you put a dungeon in front of my players they want to investigate it. As a game catering to D&D players looking for something different, I think there is a bit of misalignment of expectations between regular D&D players and the location as presented.
  • The chase system doesn’t work, in my view, and fails to bring a sense of danger and pursuit to the adventure. I wanted there to be a real chance that a character had to sacrifice himself to hold off the pursuers, as that would have been epic, but there was zero chance of that.
  • The missing dungeon I had recognized as a problem, but due to time constraints I didn’t add that to the adventure. I should have found a map online and had it with me (more on that below).
  • It is in the spirit of Middle-Earth, but the adventure sets the characters up to eventually be discovered, so they have to flee. The reason is that they want the evil mastermind to vacate the fortress, so the plot can go on. Not every player will enjoy that. It is a bit railroady.
  • We failed to get to the big pay off at the end. We will see how that affects the rest of the campaign.

The betrayer, Magric, seems kind of obvious, but it is in line with the world. He seems fair but feels foul. The adventure has him almost automatically escape. I let them kill him, particularly since the Dunedaín had used an inspiration on his Foresight of the Kindred virtue to foretell his betrayal.

If you’ve had a different experience, I would love to hear about it in the comments!

What would I change/do differently

Make a dungeon

I would definitely have a large dungeon map ready with some detailed locations and monsters for a regular dungeon crawl with pursuers behind them. Or I could have made a couple of events including some dark slimy monsters to meet below the fortress for a more cinematic approach.

dysons
For some cool maps, you could for example go to Dyson’s Dodecahedron.

When my players fled into the keep, I should have let the entrance to the dungeon be there and winged a couple of encounters and let them struggle all the way to a secret underground exit, after which they would have to sneak past sentries posted around the fortress to keep them from escaping.

The chase system needs to be reworked to a greater or lesser extent, unless you wish to avoid a greater risk of character sacrificing herself to slow the pursuers. At the minimum, the characters have to be caught unless they take some action to avoid it.

The chase system

wolves
I think it is quite important you add some actions the pursuing orcs take to catch up to the PC’s. It will make it more dramatic and prompt the players to take counter measures.

As written, the characters get a Lead of 2, if discovered inside the fortress. Each failed roll made to resolve the journey decreases the lead by 1. But, they only get 1D2 journey events. Already, the risk of capture is low. Unless, if I understand it correctly, they get a journey event that requires each character to roll, then the risk increases substantially.

However, if the characters attempt the force march option the lead increases by 2 for each of the two attempts – they don’t all have to make the constitution save.

On top of that, they can attempt to throw off pursuers by eg. Covering their trail. If they succeed they increase the lead, or decrease it, if they fail. If you forced march, the negative consequences outweigh the positives.

To correct it, you can increase the journey events to 1d2+1.

I would also add some proactive actions the orcs take to catch them, which I think would also spur the characters to take countermeasures. If you do that, you might keep the journey events at 1d2-

For example:

  • Wolf scouts are sent to harry them, and they are ambushed, with the wolves targeting any mounts or wounded they might have. It also decreases their lead by 1.
  • The orcs march through the night (effectively also use the forced march option to decrease lead by 2). The characters can hear the howls of the wolves growing closer.
  • The orcs blow horns which summons a patrol from another direction or a flock of crows to watch them.

I should have narrated the chase more, but I didn’t have much to attach it to. They had such a big mechanical lead that it was hard to make it sound dramatic.

Additionally…

I should have had Walar, the escaped slave, hint at that they are keeping something of great importance in the temple. Perhaps the coffin with it arrived and he saw it being brought into the temple? Had they known that they would have investigated it.

great orc
Ghor is CR 5, but a Great Orc is CR4. The main difference is that Ghor has about 20 more hit points and does a little more damage, but great orcs have a massive AC of 20. 5 more than Ghor with AC 15. I think Ghor needs more AC to last through a fight, and perhaps a second special ability to make things interesting.

The final encounter with Ghor was not as close nor as interesting as it could have been. It also has some mechanical silliness. The DC to hear the orcs, while sleeping, with passive perception, is 12. 12! Perception is probably the most common skill in any party. I had them roll with disadvantage instead against DC 15, but most still made it.

As mentioned, I added a couple of Snaga’s, and I boosted Ghor’s AC to 17. But the characters defended a house, and could keep the dwarf slayer in front as the main target, and he is very hard to kill.

Also, would they try to assassinate the characters, when they didn’t see the Chain of Thangorodrim or the Gibbet King?

All in all

I think this can be an epic adventure. It just wasn’t when we played it. The first part ran well with roleplaying that oozed atmosphere and Tolkien-vibes.

But half of my players for the second session wanted action and they wanted to be heroes by killing Ghor, rescuing slaves and perhaps setting the orc barracks on fire. It is a very typical D&D approach, and I’m often like that myself. They were fundamentally not in the mood for ‘information gathering’ and that happens. Sometimes you just want to kick in the door and roll initiative.

If I had added a chase through the dungeon, and spotted the flaws in the chase system, and corrected them, I think the session would have been more memorable (and it would expand the adventure to three sessions).

In a couple of days we move on to the Crossing of Celduin, which I hope will run more to my (and my player’s) expectations.

 

 

Review: Eaves of Mirkwood

Eaves
Eaves of Mirkwood also contains pre-generated characters.

Eaves of Mirkwood is a combination-product for Cubicle 7’s Adventures in Middle-Earth. It contains a Loremaster’s Screen and an introductory adventure which contains brief versions of the rules unique to Adventures in Middle-Earth and some pre-generated characters. You can therefore play Eaves of Mirkwood without the Player’s Guide to Adventure’s in Middle Earth.

I’ve now run the Eaves of Mirkwood adventure and used the Loremaster’s Screen on several occasions (running Wilderland Adventures) and will below provide my point of view on the product, and give a little advice on running the adventure.

Overall, we enjoyed the adventure a lot. The Loremaster’s Screen is more of a mixed bag.

Odd product combination

Eaves of Mirkwood costs 20£ in Cubicle 7’s online store. I think that is a very reasonable price, comparable with the 15$ for a regular D&D screen. That said, I find the product composition weird. I don’t understand why you would package an introductory adventure, that is supposed to pull new players to the game, with a screen, which is something that Loremasters that play regularly needs?

I think the screen fits much better with the Road Goes Ever On product (a collection of inspiration, journey tables and other things, which you can read about here). I would have made the adventure and ‘light’ version of the rules freely available for download, to get more players, and thereby more revenue.

As a note, I can see the screen came with a Laketown sourcebook in the One Ring Game – the game Adventure’s in Middle-Earth was converted from.

The Screen

part of screen illustration
This is most of the illustration used on the screen (without the text box).

[EDIT: Below I have some critique of the screen, which Cubicle 7 really couldn’t do, so it isn’t quite fair. I would like info from the core game, but to print it on the screen, they also had to print the full OGL text on the screen itself, which is obviously unfeasible. I stand by most of the core points though. To make the ultimate most useful screen, you need to rework the screen a bit – or make your own.]

To me the core product is the screen itself. The cover art is a beautiful illustration of Laketown. If you look carefully, you can see the Lonely Mountain and the ribcage of Smaug sticking out of the water. It fits very well with the campaign that Cubicle 7 supports.

You could argue that a more generic illustration of typical Middle-Earth landscape, heroes and monsters would suit a broader spectrum of groups, who might play in different ages of Middle-Earth or different geographical locations. But it certainly looks good.

What is a good screen?

The core purpose of a screen is, in my view, to help the game master run the game more smoothly. Therefore, it needs the information you most commonly need to referen on it, or – like on my original D&D screen – assist you common improvisational tasks, such as deciding encounter distance, which happens often in regular D&D. So that is the curve I’m grading on.

To be fair, my regular D&D screen is also not perfect, in my view.

The screen has four panels.

  • 1 is Starting Attitudes and Degeneration.
  • 2 is Anguish, Blighted Lands, Misdeeds, Tainted Treasure and Page References.
  • 3 are rule summaries for journeys, Audiences, Corruption and the page numbers for Fellowship phase undertakings.
  • 4 are raw embarkation and arrival tables.

To me, it seems like the team at Cubicle 7 has stretched to use all their own tables, with not enough regard for what a Loremaster needs.

What do I use:

I use the Starting Attitudes in every session. It is a matrix with more than 100 results, so it is impossible to remember.

I could have used the journey rules summaries in the beginning of the campaign, but I remember the rules now.

Why aren’t I using the rest?

I run Wilderland Adventures, so I don’t need to invent my own journey events. Therefore, it is difficult to say if I would find the raw tables helpful? I think some Loremasters might find them quite helpful for improvising journeys. But I can’t say for sure.

All the information on misdeeds, degeneration, tainted treasure, blighted lands and shadow points seems misplaced to me. The misdeeds chart might be useful, if I didn’t run a published adventure, and I ran over a long period of time. The other overviews look so rarely used to me, that I would much rather want other information available.

The page references I don’t use, because I have a pretty good sense of where to find things in the books after having played 8 sessions.

Listing the page numbers for the eight Fellowship phase events seems particularly as weird filler, as the first page is already in the page overview and they only cover three pages in the book.

What am I missing

conditions
There are many Conditions in D&D and it can be hard to remember which one has which game effect.

Every time I use the Starting attitudes, I get annoyed that they didn’t also the Final Audience Check DC chart, which is the reason why you need the culture matrix in the first place!

Secondly, I’m slightly annoyed they didn’t include an overview of the different Exhaustion levels. It is on my regular D&D screen, but it is a much more prevalent mechanic in Middle-Earth.

I would argue that most of the Conditions should be included.

In a thread in the Adventures in Middle-Earth Facebook group, I mentioned this fact. Jonny Hodgson from Cubicle 7 was very nice to answer that they weren’t included due to the space they eat up [EDIT: because of the OGL, which wasn’t clear in the post to me].

All in all, I’m fond of the art, but somewhat disappointed with the information presented on the screen.

The Adventure:

Snorri
Snorri is one of the NPC’s the characters meet in Eaves of Mirkwood.

I ran Eaves of Mirkwood as part of a homebrew quest for one of my characters. I had three characters of levels 3 and 4, and I only had to make minor modifications to make it work.

It is fundamentally a very fun and thematic adventure, which a Loremaster could easily turn into an adventure lasting two or three sessions.

In short, the adventure is a journey through Mirkwood, where the characters encounter some dwarves fighting orcs. After the fight, the dwarves invites the characters to feast on roast pig. One of the dwarves took it from where it was tied in the woods. It turns out that a nearby village had tied it there in order to sacrifice it to a great warg. The villagers are pissed and capture the players, while they sleep after drinking too much beer. During their audience with the village chief the angry warg attacks with its orcs, and the characters have to defeat it.

How was the adventure?

We had a great time playing the adventure. The feast with the dwarves and the final battle are particularly well done. When the characters meet the dwarves there is an extended scene for the feast. It includes a smoking game (blowing different smoke rings), there is a riddle contest and the text of a dwarven song. The smoking game rules are worth a third of the product price on its own in my view!

The warg and the final battle is very well described, and the players thought the talking warg was a scary and cool bad guy. The battle is also quite hard.

Warning to new Loremasters

warg
The Warg’s ‘Pack Tactics’ ability makes it even more dangerous accompanied by a minion or two.

The last encounter looks extremely volatile to me.

If you are new to the D&D system you should be aware, that the Warg is an incredibly tough opponent against a 1st level party for a number of reasons.

First of all, the warg’s attack does so much damage that almost any 1st level character is likely to go down from one hit. The average damage is 11, and only two of the six pre-generated characters can withstand more than one average damage hit. And, when a character goes down it can quickly turn into a death spiral.

The warg also has a fear aura, which the group’s melee types are likely to fail their saves against half the time, making the encounter more volatile.

Eaves minis
Our setup of the final boss encounter.

The adventure advises that with more than four characters the Loremaster should add one orc per character. That makes the warg even more dangerous. Its pack tactic ability will ensure that with allies it is likely to hit around 75% of the time.

I added three orcs against my group of two 3rd level characters and one 4th level character, and it was still a tough encounter that could have gone both ways.

I love the fact that the encounter has a lot of tactical elements and that they get to roll saving throws. It makes it very dramatic. But I worry that the very cool boss is too ‘swingy’ an encounter.

One option is to have the dwarves participate in the fight and add an orc or two on top. The Warg attacks a dwarf first and wound him grievously and throw him to the ground. That way, the players see what they are up against, and you create drama by wounding or killing their allies – a classic game master trick.

I didn’t have time to include the dwarves. But with experienced players, you could have the players control the dwarves.

Expanding the adventure

If you plan to use this to play more than one session, or a longer session, you could expand the adventure a bit.

It would be natural for Eaves of Mirkwood to be the first part of the adventure. Instead of defeating the Warg, the characters manage to kill some orcs and drive it off. You could divide the action in the village into two – first they run down and face orcs that have climbed the palisades and then they have to run back and fight the warg, which is about to eat the village elder.

As a second part, you could have the characters go to get allies in order to defeat the warg and the orcs in their lair. This could be wood elves or woodmen in another village. That would require an audience and perhaps a small quest to demonstrate that they have the ability to lead such an expedition.

The third part would be the characters leading an expedition on a short journey to the warg lair – a ruin in Mirkwood or a series of caves – where they have to face the orcs, together with the three dwarves and the allies they’ve been able to muster.

That way the characters would be third level when they face the warg and its allies. A much less ‘swingy’ fight, and you get much more mileage out of a very cool big bad evil guy (wolf).

And if you want to homebrew after that, the warg could always be a lieutenant of something worse…

Final words

All in all, it is a solid product, and I’m glad I got to use the adventure. The adventure captures the mood of Middle-Earth perfectly and I’m confident newcomers to Adventures in Middle-Earth or newcomers to roleplaying-games will enjoy it. But I do think combining a screen with an intro adventure is a bit odd. The screen itself is useful, but not perfect.

If you’ve used the adventure as an introduction to people, who’ve never played with the D&D 5e rules or who’s never played and RPG before, I would love to hear from you on how that went? Was is accessible? Too complex? How did the final encounter go?

Wilderland Adventures: Kinstrife & dark tidings

I’m running all seven Wilderland Adventures with my group of 7 players. You can also read reviews of other AiME products on this blog. These adventure blog-posts are part review and part suggestions for Loremasters on how to run or adjust the adventure, based on my experience of running it. And to provide context for those two things, I will also describe what happened during the adventure. Art is copyright Cubicle 7 and pulled from their material.

I had 4-5 players for this third adventure in the series.

Mirkwood full cover
If you want to run a longer campaign in Middle-Earth, I’ve written about this long campaign – which can be combined with Wilderland Adventures.

Kinstrife & dark tidings is an adventure with a darker mood and more focus on investigation, particularly compared to the second adventure. It has some action in the second half of the adventure. The adventure centres around a murder inside a family and the escape of the murderer – a young conflicted Beorning. Can the characters catch him, and can he redeem himself before Beorn’s judgement?

I think it was a good adventure, with a great atmosphere, but the second half didn’t play out quite as well as I had imagined. It partly depends on the group of course, our engagement on the day, my decisions, time left etc., but it is in the second half I would make a few modifications.

We played it over two and a half sessions. I would probably stretch it to three, and modify it a bit, if I were to run it again.

How it played out

Session 4 & 5:

Beorns home
Visiting Beorn’s home and the role-playing around it was probably my favourite part of the adventure.

We played the introduction to the adventure at the end of session 4. The characters stumble upon a boat with two dead Beorning warriors and discern that it would be the right thing to bring them back to Beorn’s house. They bring the bodies to Beorn and are relatively well received, they participate in the wake for the warriors, the Dunedaín of the group speaks of the ancient heroics of men, and the audience goes well. They are invited for the funeral and tasked with finding the murderer.

They find his tracks along the river, and the wanderer uses his special ability to gain almost magical insight, if he rolls high enough.

He rolls a 23 and I describe how he can see that the footsteps is of a man who has a heavy soul, a soul that weighs him down, and that worked very well. It was very Tolkinesque.

They encounter some travelling dwarves, fail a persuasion check, and learn little. Then they pass the Old Road and reaches a house where the murderer, whom they learn was named Oderic, stayed.

A day later they reach Stonyford, the village where Oderic came from, and they are grudgingly admitted. Here the warden employs his special ability to gain information, and they learn of Oderic’s fosterfather and his foster sister and the circumstances of the murder (as understood by the villagers). They manage to get into the angry foster fathers house and talk sense to him, and they get a good portion of the story from his foster-sister Brunhild, and learn that he was indeed there and took a boat to get across the river.

The group follows and tracks him to a small forest, finding clues and a dead merchant along the way. They find the bandit camp, which Oderic has joined, scout it, and understand that he is a ‘guest under guard’.

When he slips into the forest, and is followed by two guards, they attack the guards. They defeat them, Oderic bursts into the clearing, they invoke Brunhild’s name, he calms down, and that is where I ended the session.

Session 6:

file
I ran the final battle with minis, using the beautiful battle maps that comes with the adventure. I think that was a mistake.

We start the session with confronting Oderic and convincing him to return with the group. With some wrangling and rolling they manage to convince him that the bandits are evil and he reveals that they mean to attack the Beornings.

The group marches quickly to warn Beorn. They encounter a group of bandits on the way out of the woods. They get to the Old Ford, start warning the Beornings about the approaching bandits and get to Beorn’s house. Here they rest while Beorn gathers his troops. The next day they march to face Valter the Bloody and his bandits. The armies meet at the Old Ford, the group break through the shield wall and fights Valter, and slay him, when Beorn comes and finishes the fight. Afterwards they find the mummified head in his pack.

Finally, Oderic gets his sentence, and I thought that had a cool mood. The characters speak for him, and he is sentenced to paying a man’s worth to Brunhilde and afterwards he is to become a ward with one of Beorn’s men, to teach him better ways.

How was the adventure?

The mood was great. The interaction with Beorn worked really well, and the first part of the adventure had a very strong Tolkien atmosphere. The second part presented some challenges to me, partly because of the conversion to D&D 5e.

The investigative part is quite well done. There are multiple versions of what happened in the village, and the great thing is that there is no doubt that Oderic killed his foster-sisters husband (or is there?). Therefore, the players can deal with the motive, which in many ways is more interesting than ¨’who dun it’, and it never leads to a blind end. The success of the investigation is never in doubt, as it doesn’t rely on a dice roll or players asking the right question. That is good design.

Furthermore, both the Wanderer and the Warden really gets to show off their special abilities, such as Ever Watchful, which makes them shine, and I can tell the players enjoy.

I think tracking Oderic and the events along the way also works well and adds to the mood.

Valter the Bloody
Valter the Bloody is actually a cool bad guy. But he doesn’t get much screen time.

When the characters encounter the bandit camp, which was around half-way, things become a little less smooth.

Scouting the camp and getting to Oderic worked ok. But I think there are a few ways I could have made the bandit camp more interesting. I think it is a shame, for example, that the villain, Valter the Bloody, isn’t set up to meet the characters. It can happen, depending on how extracting Oderic happens. It is worth considering not making him an easy target. If he stays within the camp, the characters will have to disguise themselves, or offer themselves up for service to get to him. That could lead to some interesting role-playing and let them understand Valter better.

A couple of weak points

The conclusion of the adventures has a few weaknesses, in my view.

Mainly, Oderic should get more ‘screen time’ before they get back to Beorn. There is a long description of his personality in the adventure, and the different aspects of his persona needs time and space to play out.

There is an option to force march back to Beorn to warn him, which makes sense, but there are no benefits in the adventure for doing so. There are no rewards for that risk (getting exhaustion levels), and it requires DC 15 con saves every day, so it is a gamble.
There is no set timeline with consequences, depending on their speed, and there is no discussion of what Valter does as a response to Oderic escaping/being kidnapped.

In my case the characters achieve the ‘normal outcome’ and has to fight Valter’s forces at the Old Ford, but in reality fighting at a river crossing is a massive disadvantage for the attackers as it restricts their movement.

The way to set up the battle on a grid with minis isn’t really supported either. There are no suggestions in the text on how to run it. It is clear that in the original adventure it is more a ‘story event’. I used minis in two long lines facing each other, where the characters had to break through, and it was ok, but a somewhat wasted opportunity to use the terrain to make it interesting and tactical.

Lastly, Beorn shows up as a bear. It is very thematic, but – and the players were quick to point this out – why didn’t he just show up sooner to decide the outcome of the battle and probably spare the lives of many of his men? I think the underlying premise is that Beorn never openly transforms into a bear, and that is fine, but why show up at the last minute?

What did I or would I change?

My changes were in the second half of the adventure, but in hindsight, I could have added things to Stonyford.

rumours
There are many rumours in Stonyford, which is a great help to the Loremaster. 

The small village Stonyford has an old ruined watchtower. Because it is mentioned half the group went there. I should have made something for them to find. A small dungeon or something. That would have improved the pacing. They would have like a bit of action at this point.

When the group finds Oderic, I added that Oderic had heard Valter speak to some kind of unseen advisor in his tent. I think the mummified head is a bit too vague a clue, so I wanted to underscore that a bit. They’ve not connected the dots yet anyway, and I didn’t expect them to.

I would add more events and opportunity for interaction after Oderic joins the group. He has been built up by stories, but he needs more play time to display his faults and qualities to the characters. It could be that they meet Beornings at the Old Ford who wants to expense justice right away, or simply shames him – how does he react to that? A second combat encounter with his new allies can also reveal his character.

With five characters I also added a second bandit warrior to watch over Oderic, to make the encounter a little tougher. It worked well.

Make a timeline and consequences

I added degrees of success to the Forced March mechanic. Basically, in the final battle, the enemy would have surprise if they didn’t force march, the characters would have a surprise round if they succeeded with one day of forced march, and advantage for 1d4 rounds if they succeeded with two or three days of forced march.

I didn’t have enough time to do this, but I think you could develop more of a timeline with Valter’s actions, after Oderic’s disappearance, and combine that with the forced march rules. You could merge that with a timeline of how many warriors Beorn can gather in a day. The more days Beorn has, the stronger a force he can assemble, and getting the word to him early would become more meaningful.

I have paid to have the battle maps printed, but in the situation, I should have either: improvised my own map to manage the design of the terrain, or run the battle as a story. In my experience the story method works well, because the miniatures doesn’t really capture the chaos of battle well. That way you can also add bits of narrative events for each character in between.

All in all, it was a good adventure with a good atmosphere. But with a little effort the second half could be made more dramatic and interesting. 

Last week I ran Eaves of Mirkwood combined with a home brew adventure for a side quest. Will write about it soon. Next time we will begin Those who tarry no longer, which I really look forward to.

Happy Easter and happy gaming!

/Rasmus

 

 

Review: Mirkwood Campaign

Adventures_in_Middle-earth_front_cover_1000px
Adventures in Middle-Earth is made by Cubicle 7, and a conversion to D&D 5e. from The One Ring RPG. You can read my review of the core book here.

The Mirkwood Campaign is a campaign framework for an Adventures in Middle-Earth campaign, set in and around Mirkwood. The campaign evolves over 30 years and contains one or two adventures – or at least an adventure framework – for every year, which takes the players from 5th to around 15th level.

I think it is a very strong campaign framework, with a grand narrative scope and an epic ending. But the format is also unlike any published campaign I’ve read, which is why this review is more than just evaluating if it is good or bad.

The purpose of the review

I think the most important thing I can do for other Loremasters, who consider buying this campaign, is to do some expectation management.

My job is to make you – the reader – able to judge whether this campaign is something you and your players would like playing? That is not easy, as there are many variables, and this is not a standard campaign format.

The approach Cubicle 7 has picked to present the campaign and the philosophy behind it might surprise or disappoint Loremasters, if they expect something else.

Perhaps an easy first step is to tell you what the Mirkwood Campaign is NOT?

  • It is not a Sand Box campaign with a selection of locations and NPC’s with motivations that will influence the game.
  • It is not a series of fully fleshed out adventures, like Wilderland Adventures or classic campaigns like the Enemy Within (classic Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay).

Spoiler Alert!  If you are a player, you should consider not reading any further.

What is the campaign about?

Holdings
There are also rules for player Holdings in the campaign – a farm, inn or other permanent residence where the characters live. It fits nicely with the long years of the campaign.

The campaign takes place in and around Mirkwood, and the outcome of the campaign decides if the Woodmen of Mirkwood and the Beornings are able to withstand the Shadow during the War of the Ring, decades after the campaign concludes. The three Nazgûl that moves into Dol Guldur are the main antagonists, with the Werewolf of Mirkwood as a primary lieutenant. The struggle over the Lamp of Balthi in Woodmen Town is also central to the campaign.

During the campaign the players will be instrumental in countering the influence and machinations of the Nazgûl. That is cool. I think the overall scope of the campaign will be immensely satisfying for any players interested in the Middle-Earth setting.

It is however recommended that at least one character is a woodman, and that is important advice. The characters need to care – or have been made to care through level 1-5 – about the place and the people living there. Otherwise, many of the adventuring hooks won’t feel that important. That said, there are also good hooks for dwarves and wood elves through the campaign.

What kind of product is it?

Structurally, the campaign book is divided into five periods,  of 5-10 years. For each year in a period there is an overview of important Events that happens that year, an Adventure that is central to the main story, and a Year’s End, which describes the general outcome of the year.

The campaign begins around level 5, so you either need to make your own adventures up to that point or run some or all of Wilderland Adventures to get the players to the required level.

The Events for each year are a source for potential adventures, but the described Adventure is one that drives the epic story arc forward.

The adventures vary in scope, detail and quality. As a Loremaster, you are expected to do quite a bit of work yourself. Most of the adventures are not ‘ready to run’. There are no maps of key adventuring locations, such as Tyrant’s Hill, and it is up to the Loremaster to weave the adventures into a cohesive campaign, with hooks and motivations that align with this epic narrative.

Varying detail level

folkmoot
Is the guy with the orc heads a good ally?

As an example of one of the less impressive adventures is The Folk-moot at Rhosgobel. It is one of the first adventures, where the Woodmen will make some very important political decisions that will influence the rest of the campaign.
There are several NPC’s at Rhosgobel, some of them detailed in the Rhovanion Region Guide, but there is nothing on how they stand on each position, or any indication of how they might want to influence the characters. There is also no hook as to why the players are there. And – more importantly – no hook as to why they should get involved or care about the decisions being made.  Because the players don’t know that the decisions made at the end of this adventure will matter in the rest of the campaign, you should consider at the beginning of the campaign, why this moot should matter to them?

On the ‘bare bones’ side is an adventure, where the characters get involved in reclaiming a dwarven stronghold. The books lays out the plot, but you have to make the dungeon and any adversaries yourself.

A fleshed out example is one of the last adventures called Nine in the Hall, which is basically a horror adventure ready to run. It is – by the way – very cool that you can run a horror style adventure at around 13th level. That is virtually impossible in regular D&D, given all the magic available to the characters.

Nice long term view

The author, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, generally does a good job of presenting the effects on the campaign of different outcomes of adventures. For example, if the characters fail or if they support one, or another, NPC in an undertaking, how does that affect the coming years and the campaign.

Are the adventures good?

Most are good – or work with a strong core idea. There are several adventures in the book that I find great, very dramatic and interesting, such as Saving the Maiden, where the adventures have to journey to the Parliament of Spiders and negotiate with two of Shelob’s Children and then go and confront the third child of Shelob, Tyluqin, in her lair. Or when the characters -unexpectedly, face a Nazgûl the first time. And, as mentioned, one of the two final adventures, fits perfectly with the Middle-Earth mood.

A few of the adventures feel a bit underdeveloped, even for frameworks, and a few feels too railroaded for my taste, or have assumptions built into them that are odd.

Odd or underdeveloped

Hollow tree
If this concealed the entrance to a larger interesting dungeon, it would be more interesting.

For example, in the adventure, Questing Beast, the players come upon two dwarves, who have kidnapped an important elf. Never mind that this is sort of random (fate I guess) as part of the hunt of the White Deer, but the fact that the location they are holding the elf is just a hollow tree, seems underwhelming to me. There are obviously plenty of ruins in Middle-Earth (just check out the Road Goes Ever On supplement), so why not make this into something interesting? An elven ruin with some secrets and maybe a monster lurking somewhere?

An example of odd assumptions is, when the Werewolf of Mirkwood begins attacking the wood elves, the adventurers track it to its lair, and find the remains of a legendary elven lamp (although they probably don’t realise this at the time). The adventure assumes that the players describe the lamp to the elves, and maybe figure out what it is, but my players would with 99%  certainty bring the remains of the lamp with them. They also might try to restore it or investigate it further. But that isn’t at all considered in the adventure.

Probably the poorest example, in my view, is when the Forest Dragon wakes up. I was quite disappointed with that adventure. There has been no effort made into making facing a dragon in Middle-Earth feel epic or interesting. It is just a ‘hunt this monster’ story, and the dragon doesn’t do anything interesting, the Enemy isn’t doing anything interesting with it, and it doesn’t have a cool lair or any interesting abilities.

Is the campaign good?

Yes. Very good. Excellent even. I think. No, I’m sure it is. But there are a few clunky parts that I think could frustrate me.

I think there should have been more advice, particularly for new or less experienced game masters, on how to weave this framework into a campaign. A page or two of with an example would be useful.

The finale of the campaign is fantastic, and the fact that there are two different adventures to end the campaign, depending on how the characters decide to defend against the Shadow is very cool. Option 2 needs some work to have an epic finale, but the overall idea is good.

As I mentioned, as a whole, I think player’s would find the grand tale very very satisfying, if the ending is done right.

In general, the campaign does a good job of allowing failures as an outcome of an adventure – and that the failures impact the outcome of the campaign. You are given suggestions how to adjust most adventures depending on whether, for example the Woodmen are allies with Tyrant’s Hill or whether a particular ruler is still alive. That is great.

What are my main critique points?

There are instances where it feels railroaded. For example, where someone escapes, or something automatically happens, because that development or person is important to a future story. In a story driven game like this, you can have it happen ‘off screen’ as the ‘appendix’ to the story, and my players would be fine with it. But if it is part of the action, it is dissatisfying.

I also miss a flow-chart or graphic presentation of all the different adventures, with key decision points and a discussion of progression/leveling through the campaign.

Too much NPC Wizards

I think the Wizards are overused as participants in the adventures. They are to join the group in four adventures and show up in others. I think including them in two of the adventures, makes sense. I rarely enjoy having powerful NPCs participating in an adventure. If an immortal wizard of vast power is leading a group of 7-8th level characters, they will defer to him.  And because it is Middle-Earth, the players will know exactly how powerful that NPC is. Scouting Dol Guldur as 6th level sounds much more interesting, if  they alone. The solution in Wilderland Adventures, where Radagast is a patron that confers a useful blessing for a mission is much better. I would use that more.

Uninspiring locations

Too many locations are not very inspiring to me, as I mentioned. Perhaps it is the difference in play style from the One Ring, which the campaign originally was developed for, to Adventures in Middle-Earth, where I still think you need a measure of old-fashioned dungeon exploration.

It may be also be the play-style difference when it comes to the maps. There are no local maps of dungeons, locations or the like, which I’m going to need. I would have liked some.

Conversion problems

Werewolf and nazgul
Fighting a Nazgûl and the Werewolf is a very cool encounter, and it happens, but I think the stats don’t match their fear factor.

The game mechanics, and particularly combat mechanics, of D&D seems to be a weak point for the people at Cubicle 7. It is as if they haven’t run a mid-to-high level game for players who care about the mechanics.

If you are an experience Dungeon Master, these things will be relatively obvious, but for newer players it may not, and that could lead to disappointing/less dramatic moments.

One example is the Werewolf of Mirkwood. It is Challenge Rating 6, according to the Loremaster’s guide. The players will face it at around 6th level, at 10th level and again at 12th or 13th level, where they with the Lamp of Balthi have advantage on all attacks and their foe disadvantage. That they haven’t added significant amounts of minions or lieutenants is odd. There isn’t even a text box addressing this is baffling to me.

The Dragon of Mirkwood has the same problem. It is CR 12, and they are to face it at level 12. As any DM, who has run a significant amount of games will know, a single foe, with two attacks versus a group of characters, with probably six or seven attacks between them is not going to last beyond round three.

Finally, the Nazgûl are weaker now, compared to the time of the War of the Ring, but I still think they are on the weak side. And they don’t have enough tricks. They don’t even have Legendary Actions or Legendary Resistance. That is a weird design choice to me…

Silly difficulty

On the other hand, in one of the later adventures, the characters suddenly face wisdom saving throws of DC 20, which even proficient characters will fail half the time, and those who aren’t proficient will almost surely fail. Or when on a trip with Beorn, characters have to pass two out of three DC 15 constitution saves. If they don’t they can’t continue in the adventure. I guess they have to sit and watch or go home for the rest of the evening?

Outlaw
Not exactly an epic foe for a 13th level character…

Finally, the consistent use of the standard NPCs from the Loremaster’s Guide becomes silly. At 12th or 13th level, the characters are supposed to deal with a band of outlaws, numbering between twice and four times the number of characters. According to the adventure, they can ‘get allies to besiege the tower’. But Outlaws have 33 hit points, AC 15 and +3 to their attack rolls. How is that going to challenge four 12th level characters – even in the Middle-Earth system? If they were to really score top marks, they should have added descriptions of a couple of tough lieutenants that you could add to the mix.

It can seem like it is simply lack of effort in converting an otherwise excellent campaign.

Final Words

The Loremaster gets a huge helping hand to run this campaign, but she will have to make a significant effort herself to weave the character’s tale into this grand narrative and flesh out the weaker points (and drawing maps). The Mirkwood Campaign will be an epic and memorable tale for every player who is along for the journey, I’m sure.

I hope I will find time to run it within a couple of years.

Agree? Disagree? Have you run it? Please, let me know in the comments!