Friday, October 24, 2014


Long before I ever started this blog, probably shortly before (or, more likely, shortly after) I discovered The Forge and became really interested in the nuts and bolts of game design, I tried my hand at creating a system for a new fantasy very different from B/X or D&D.

In fact, I'm going to say it was before I discovered "indie game design" because that was about 2005, and this was an idea I came up with when traveling in Canada with my wife back in the early 2000s...maybe even before we got married (which was in 2000). Whew...a loooong time ago.

This game idea was called "LORE" (which was an acronym for something, though I can't remember exactly what), and I can't seem to find the docs that had my notes...they're probably on some old zip drive back in Seattle. Anyway, back in those days, my main objective was to make sure that character creation could model various (fantasy) literary personalities (Conan, Elric, etc.) from the get-go without needing to wade through a bunch of "low levels" to become a proficient character. And the main literary person I used to model the LORE system was Tolkien's character, Eowyn.

This pic is too small.
Eowyn is one of my favorite characters from least as far as bit parts go. I dig most everything about her; I identify with many things about her. I think many people do: for most of us there have been times that we've been underestimated in our lives or frustrated at the pull between doing one's duty and doing what we want to do. Those who are younger siblings may have felt the pang of being told we need to "stay home" while the older sibling goes off to do something we want to do...and older siblings (like myself) have felt the guilt of not being "responsible enough" (even when our rebellion is only within our own minds). There are some archetypal emotions at work here.

But, mainly I like Eowyn because she kicks ass. This is the equivalent of an unblooded, 1st level fighter...and yet she's not afraid to talk smack to the Lord of the Nazgul. And then she backs it up by killing off his evil dinosaur mount, going toe-to-toe with the guy, and sticking her sword betwixt his eyes. Eowyn is pretty least in Tolkien's book.

There's no crying in battle!
I am on record as saying I received immense enjoyment from the Peter Jackson LotR films, and that I feel they do an excellent job of staying true to their source material (if you own/watch the Extended Version DVDs...which I do). But while I really, really, REALLY like Miranda Otto in the role of Eowyn, and find her interpretation of the character quite good (along with Jackson's writing, she really helps fill out and bring life to a literary character), I pretty much HATE the direction/depiction of her climactic scene on the Pelennor Fields. What is this: cowering? Is she going to cry or something? And the cheap way she delivers the line, "I am no man" after the Witch-King is already on his knees? What the hell is that? Kicking an enemy when he's down?

The scene in the book shows a stronger, confident character. First off, she calls out the bad guy right from the beginning...she gives him a chance to back off, and lays all the cards on the table, long before the first clash of battle...even before drawing her sword. But here...I'll quote the text, and you tell me what sounds better:
"Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!" 
A cold voice answered: "Come not between the Nazgul nd his prey. Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where they flesh shall be devoured, and thy shriveled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye." 
A sword rang as it was drawn. "Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may."
"Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!" 
Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. "But no living man am I! You look upon a woman. Eowyn I am, Eomund's daughter. You stand between me and my lord and kin. Begone, if you be not deathless! For living or dark undead, I will smite you, if you touch him."
[see what I'm talking about? this isn't some chica who's in over her head, backed into a corner and just trying to make a stand. She's just as proud and lordly as Aragorn or Theoden or Boromir or any of them. Except, of course, she actually kills something bigger than an orc. She can talk the talk AND walk the walk]
The winged creature screamed at her, but the Ringwraith made no answer, and was silent, as if in sudden doubt. Very amazement for a moment conquered Merry's fear. He opened his eyes and the blackness was lifted from them. There some paces from him sat the great beast, and all seemed dark about it, and above it loomed the Nazgul Lord like a shadow of despair. A little to the left facing them stood she whom he had called Dernhelm. But the helm of her secrecy had fallen from her, and her bright hair, released from its bonds, gleamed with pale gold upon her shoulders. Her eyes grey as the sea were hard and fell, and yet tears were on her cheek. A sword was in her hand, and she raised her shield against the horror of her enemy's eyes...
...Suddenly the great beast beat its hideous wings, and the wind of them was foul. Again it leaped into the air, and then swiftly fell down upon Eowyn, shrieking, striking with beak and claw.
Still she did not blench: maiden of the Rohirrim, child of kings, slender but as a steel-blade, fair but terrible. A swift stroke she dealt, skilled and deadly. The outstretched neck she clove asunder, and the hewn head fell like a stone. Backward she sprang as the huge shape crashed to ruin, vast wings outspread, crumpled on the earth; and with its fall the shadow passed away. A light fell about her, and her hair shone in the sunrise. 
Out of the wreck rose the Black Rider, tall and threatening, towering above her. With a cry of hatred that stung the very ears like venom he let fall his mace. Her shield was shivered in many pieces, and her arm was broken; she stumbled to her knees. He bent over her like a cloud, and his eyes glittered; he raised his mace to kill.
[a few things to notice, here. One is the constant attention Tolkien pays to the Witch-King's eyes, for (aside from the crown floating above his head), nothing other part of the creature's head is visible. This is starkly different from the "empty helmet" (and hollow eyes) of Jackson. Then there's the potency of the Nazgul. In Tolkien's prose there's only two hits: "Me hitting you, you hitting the floor." Jackson's Nazgul swings his ridiculously over-sized flail no less than seven times before finally connecting with Eowyn's shield. It looks silly on screen (again, I say this as a fan of the film trilogy), making a battle between two champions look like...I don't know...a cheesy Kevin Costner-style fight scene. It makes me wince to watch the thing]
But suddenly he too stumbled forward with a cry of bitter pain, and his stroke went wide, driving into the ground. Merry's sword had stabbed him from behind, shearing through the black mantle, and passing up beneath the hauberk had pierced the sinew behind his mighty knee. 
"Eowyn! Eowyn!" cried Merry. Then tottering, struggling up, with her last strength she drove her sword between crown and mantle, as the great shoulders bowed before her. The sword broke sparkling into many shards. The crown rolled away with a clang. Eowyn fell forward upon her fallen foe. But lo! the mantle and hauberk were empty. Shapeless they lay now on the ground, torn and tumbled; and a cry went up into the shuddering air, and faded to a shrill wailing, passing with the wind, a voice bodiless and thin that died, and was swallowed up, and was never heard again in that age of this world.
See, there's no clever repartee from Eowyn once the fight starts...just business. She's "all in" before the Nazgul even decides she's worth his attention (I cut out the bits where he ignores the hobbit for a worm writhing in the mud). It's a classic scene of fantasy literature, that makes me dig the character much more than the weak-sauce portrayal in Jackson's film. This is why I still love those Rankin-Bass addition to their beautiful animation, they adhere as closely to the text as they can while still being edited for time constraints.

Check out the video here. The dialogue and sequence is near word-for-word perfect.

Anyhoo, LORE of course was never completed, nor even developed to a point suitable for play-testing. But the idea of building a game capable of creating an "Eowyn-like" character is still something in which I'm interested. It's something I'm paying attention to as I work on the new heartbreaker (though, as magic is more prominent, it's unlikely I'll really get there. Hey, it's not supposed to be a LotR role-playing game!).

Just a couple more notes (I know this post is getting long):

Interesting that in Chainmail the Wraith figure can only be slain by another "fantasy character," like the Hero or Super Hero. I suppose Eowyn fits the bill as a "Hero" (she's certainly not the Super Heroic "Conan archetype"), which means she can slay a Nazgul on a 2D6 roll of 12. A pretty legendary task to be sure.

Second, in B/X both wraiths and (the more Nazgul appropriate) spectres are immune to normal weapons, so Eowyn wouldn't have been able to harm them anyway (though, of course, in B/X such creatures don't wield physical weapons, as they certainly do throughout Tolkien's books. Yes, I know, I know...there's a big difference between literature and RPGs. But I'm talking modeling, here, and many features of D&D were modeled after Tolkien's work). Eowyn isn't really an adventurer either (though perhaps she'd like to be one) and might be better modeled by Moldvay's NPC monster, the Noble:
"Noble" is a general term for the lord of a castle and any of his or her relatives.
The noble is is a three hit dice monster with AC 2 (presumably plate & shield) and damage of 1D8 (or per weapon). This would certainly be a good model for Theoden in B/X and probably both Eomer and Eowyn. But I'm just saying...

"Come get some, dwimmerlaik!"


  1. Some thoughts:

    I would say that noble works well for Eowyn, but not Eomer, and probably not Theoden. Eomer actively leads his army and directly fights orcs and foes. I would make him a fighter. He is a battle tested warrior. Theoden also did much the same so I would make him a fighter and probaby adjust for old age. That's assuming I needed stats for them in the first place.

    I also much preferred the book version of Eowyn vs. the Nazgul over the movie depiction. So much more badass in the books.

    One last thing to keep in mind, while Eowyn did not have a magic sword, Merry did have one. He carried a dagger of Westerness, a weapon wound with spells and created for fighting evil. His strike broke the spell of protection on the Nazgul and allowed Eowyn to kill it.

    How's this for an idea. If you strike a wraith or spectre with a magical weapon, they become vulnerable to mundane weapons for one round. Might make fighting them more interesting.

  2. In all fairness to the movie, she's crying in the scene from the book as well ("tears were on her cheek"). It doesn't seem unreasonable under the circumstances!

    1. @ Shadow:

      There's weeping for your dead lord and there's sobbing in fear.

      Look, I understand that it's terribly reasonable to be upset and freaked out: it's your first battle, you're facing an 8' tall supernatural creature, he's carrying something about the same size (if not shape) as a wrecking ball. It's reasonable and natural, yes...but it changes the characterization of a person, the interpretation of that person's character/personality.

      Many of us would hope that, placed in desperate circumstances, we'll respond with cool poise...but, of course, that's not likely to be the case. However in fantasy literature (or at the gaming table), whether reasonable or realistic, it's much easier to portray these heroics in the face of doom. That's a cool opportunity...and I'd like to see more of it.
      : )