Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Hobbit – Riddles in the Dark

An aptly named chapter that hints at the darker nature of man.

Chapter Summary

Bilbo finds a magic ring and then plays a riddle game with a odd creature called Gollum. Bilbo wins the contest with a questionable riddle, which Gollum does not appreciate. After a chase through the goblin tunnels, Bilbo eventually makes his way to freedom.

Analysis and Discussion

This is the famous chapter in which Bilbo finds the Ring. The Ring in The Hobbit takes on the appearance of a simple magic ring which grants the wearer invisibility. The true nature of the Ring is not full revealed until the Lord of the Rings. With the writing of the Lord of the Rings a substantial rewrite of this chapter was required to bring it in line with the larger story of Middle Earth.

Most of this chapter consists of the riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum. Although all of the riddles told are well known at this point, it is an interesting read through none the less. The game of riddles is an old one, with riddles appearing in a number of works with perhaps the most famous of the older works being Oedipus and the riddle of the Sphinx. I suspect that the good professor took a lead from Norse mythology, of which he was very acquainted with, as the riddle game appears in a number of the Norse mythologies. This is clearly a nod to the older works.

In The Hobbit the theme of greed and the destruction it brings, is liberally sprinkled throughout. The dwarves are haunted by it, and it is gold that is at the very core of their journey. The Ring is also gold, and as the text points out it was a very beautiful golden ring, and it inspires a similar type of greed. The full back story of Gollum is not shared in this story, but there are some bits and pieces scattered about. The narrator describes Gollum as “…old Gollum, a small slimy creature.” The key descriptors here are old and slimy. Forgotten by all, but possessing a mighty treasure with the power to conquer Middle Earth, yet Gollum is possessed by small greed, and he has been forced to live life buried in the bowels of the Misty Mountains. He has become slimy and can no longer be considered clean.

The question of the Ring is whether it creates greed in the possessor or simply brings it to the surface. I would argue that man’s sin of greed is already present, and the Ring brings it to the forefront is a horrific way. Gollum was once a hobbit, but that can now no longer be said of his current condition. He has been transformed into something else entirely. The sinful nature of greed has now been moved from an inner vice to his outward appearance, which is a reflection of his inner flaws. He can no longer escape what he has become. Such is the power of greed, and this is what the Ring brings out in people. I call Gollum’s greed “small greed,” as he does not wish to conquest, but rather he wants to possess that which does not belong to him. His mind has warped events around the Ring coming into his possession, and remains convinced that it was rightfully his birthday present. It is interesting how things can become twisted as we try to rationalize events in the past, which clearly has happened, and even the narrator remains suspicious of Gollum’s birthday present claim. Even the name he gives the ring, “my precious,” hints at the greed that is in his heart. It is a frightening reminder that even little character flaws can have terrifying results. Fortunately for Bilbo, he does possess good character, and does not possess the Ring long enough to fully corrupt him. Although, one does not half to look very far to see what would have happened if Bilbo held on to the Ring longer than he did.

The back and forth that follows turns into a tense game with freedom or something worse as the stakes in the game. Bilbo holds his own well enough, as he is in the hot seat throughout the game. With the game lasting longer than Bilbo would have liked, his luck runs out as it is his turn, and he does not have a riddle to ask. He blurts out a question that Gollum takes as a riddle. The questionable riddle is now on the table, and Gollum knows that he been played unfairly. Not at all happy with the way the game has turned out, Gollum retreats back to his hole in hopes to find something to even the score, only to find that he no longer possesses his “precious.”

A cat and mouse chase leads Bilbo to the exit. Bilbo finds himself behind Gollum, armed with a sword and a magical ring, with freedom just up ahead. It would be a quick end to a pitiful creature, but something stays Bilbo’s hand.

“A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment….All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped. No great leap for a man, but a leap in the dark.”

That is quite a paragraph. Pity stayed his hand. It was the realization that Gollum was a victim of his own selfish nature, and the punishment was a severe one. Bilbo probably thought that he was unworthy to overturn a judgment that had been made. Whereas a knife in the back would have been so easy, he finds that he cannot do it. He takes a higher road, and with this realization comes strength and resolve. It was not a great leap, yet it was still a leap of faith into the unknown.

It is at this point, that marks a turning point in the journey for Bilbo, and he has moved from a passenger on a journey to an active participant in his own development. This is not to say that he does not face self doubts, or nagging notions of smallness, but rather he has discovered an inner source of strength that will guide him well in the trials that await ahead of him.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

James over at Grognardia stirred up a hornet’s nest with his “More than a Feeling” blog. His basic premise was that old school play is more than just a nostalgic feeling, but rather it is a certain style of play that was very common back in the early days of D&D. He goes on to say that if old school really is just a feeling, then it would be difficult to argue what is really old school, as feelings are very subjective and almost impossible to quantify objectively. James strikes me as a guy that likes to look at things through an objective lense, and shies away from subjective feelings, which is difficult to form a defensible position in which to engage in a meaningful debate.

I agree that D&D is game that when it was introduced was like nothing else on the market. Created by wargamers for wargamers, it offered something very different from the traditional wargame that featured cardboard counters or historical miniatures.

But, with that said, it is still a game. New school or old school, whatever you want to call it, this is still a game. With that in mind, the enjoyment for me, comes not from the rule set, but from the folks around the table.

Originally, I was going to call this blog, “It’s all about the GM.” In my mind, the GM holds a significant place at the table. The GM is one part referee and one part story teller. There are GM’s out there that I would join up in a heartbeat. They have a special knack for pulling the players into the game. Not everyone has this. Their ability to provide that magical touch transcends rule sets. When I was younger, there was a GM in our group, Mike, who was amazing. Sure his stuff was completely off the wall, but he could weave a good story. He liked the high-level epic stuff, and it was frequently said that his adventures were the only ones in which a death salad was a wandering monster. He did not run 1st level adventures. When you joined his game, you knew that it was not going to be a standard adventure with orcs and trolls. This was going to be something else entirely. And by the way, characters died on a regular basis, but the treasure was always very cool. I lost an 18th level paladin in 10 minutes in one of his adventures. It was crazy fun, and it was his style of play that made it fun.

But that is really only half the story. For the GM, the fun is with the folks around the table. Nothing makes me chuckle more than when the characters blunder into something that turns out to be rather funny (like when paladin walked into the goblin trap that dropped a bunch of poop on his head - that was some funny stuff). To me, D&D has become the replacement for the guy’s poker night. Of course I like playing poker and drinking a beverage of choice as much as the next guy, and in that environment, it is still about the folks around the table. Winning the big hand is always a lot of fun. With the right folks around the table, D&D is a lot like that.

Now I will be the first to admit that there is a bit of nostalgia in those early games, and it is really hard to recreate that. I suspect that there are middle aged guys out there that played in the 80’s that are looking to recreate that spark, and my theory is that in some cases, this is what provides the fuel to the old school movement. This is definitely a feeling. But that feeling is hard to recreate without understanding what created that in the first place. I agree that the original rule set and the open style of play is at the heart of those early days. Everything was a bit looser, and the GM’s just made up stuff on the fly. This was all good stuff.

I think there is a natural evolution that creeps into games like this, and when more and more stuff gets published, the rule set gets longer and longer. I think that is the nature of the beast. With more rules, there is a sort of role playing physics that is created. Everyone knows the physics, as we all have the games. GM’s that deviate from these rules leave us a bit confused and may even create anger and disappointment. Things are not suppose to work like that we would argue. Magic ceases to be magic, and instead becomes physics that can be defined within a set of rules. I think there is a bit of fun that escapes when this happens. Rules Darwinism will eventually stamp out magic altogether, and the game magic that existed in the early days will go the way of the dinosaur, which would be a sad day indeed. Sometimes magic just needs to be magic.

So to come full circle on this blog post, it’s the people around the table that make the game fun. If you are going to spend 4+ hours playing this game, you really should like the folks you are gaming with. I definitely like a looser game, and I want to keep the magic in D&D. When I GM, I want to be fair and consistent, and I also want to be able to just wing it, and say “its magic” and not have to explain the theory behind it. In the early days, there was a feeling of adventure where anything could happen, and everyone at the table was aligned to this. The GM promised to bring the magic, and we promised to buy into his adventure.

In the early days, the fun was created by the people around the table, and today, for me, it is still about the people around the table.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


So this weekend is Dragon Boat Festival in China, so we are off to Chengdu to see the Pandas. For the pricy ticket of 1000 RMB ($145 USD) one can hold a panda and get a picture taken. This compares to the free price to wander around with the kangaroos and the $20US to hold the koala in Australia. It appears that China has Australia beat on market economics.

With this in mind, I will post today, and then it will be a couple of days before I can blog again.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

1 Page Dungeon Monstrosity - The Dwarven Hall

My 1 page dungeon monstrosity

I have noticed that other are posting their 1 page dungeons, so I will follow suit. I was going to wait until after the competition was done, but it since other are posting I am going to go ahead and post mine.

As one can tell, I squished a lot into this 1 page dungeon. As one is looking through it, note the color coded locks, which I think is one of the more interesting features of this dungeon. And of course it has a dragon as the final encounter, which I thought was appropriate!

The PDF version is a little easier to read, so if anyone wants the PDF, just send me an email, and I will send it off to you.
As a final note, Chatty has posted the complete list of everyone who entered, and folks are adding their websites with their 1 -page entries. I am looking forward to reading through all the entries!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Children of Hurin

As I am re-reading The Hobbit, a number of other bloggers are posting their commentary on The Children of Hurin, which is an altogether different book. The Hobbit is quite a bit lighter compared to the tragic tale of Hurin. The Hobbit is more of a standard work of fiction that flows with voice of the narrator, and makes it a very easy read to enjoy. The Children of Hurin reads like a legend of old, which is appropriate as the subject matter is from the first age, when gods walked with men, and the elves where at the height of their power. The Hobbit has an upbeat tone to it, and can be seen as having a positive ending with the defeat of Smaug, the return of the dwarves to the Lonely Mountain, and the Men of Lake-Town seem to be destined for better days ahead. I suspect that because of this, Tolkien is thought of as a lightweight story teller. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hurin is a tale of tragedy, with its dark foreshadowing of things to come. It is here that Tolkien's vision of the first age comes full circle when added to his earlier Silmarillion. Its heroes are beings of legend, and its villians are the darkest of foes, which are committed to the destruction of elves and men. There are very few books that can boast piting their heroes against gods, balrogs and dragons, and even fewer authors willing to let their heroes suffer the fate that befalls Hurin and his sons. Beowulf would be humbled in such great company.

Enclosed are links to 3 essays by Brian Murphy and Deuce Richardson

Brian’s review
Brian’s Top Fantasy Battles #7
Deuce’s review
Enjoy, as they are very good reads.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Hobbit – Over Hill and Under Hill

Enter the goblins.

Chapter Summary

Crossing through the Misty Mountains, Bilbo and the dwarves are captured by the goblins. Gandalf comes in and saves the day, leading the dwarves to safety. However, in the final sentences, as they are making their escape, Dori loses Bilbo and the chapter ends there.

Analysis and Discussion

The Misty Mountains serve as a physical boundary that separates the civilized from the wild. On the other side of the mountains one can find the appropriately named Mirkwood, which implies something quite sinister, and of course the dragon. It is fitting that Rivendell represents the calm before the storm, as a terrible lightning storm confronts the party in the opening pages of the chapter.

One of the more interesting bits in The Hobbit is the description of the storm in which stone giants are tossing rocks at each other. This is the only place that I know of where the stone giants are mentioned. The mental image of the giants throwing rocks as the lightning flashes is quite vivid, and gives the storm a more ominous feel to it. It is as if the giants are part of the storm, not just merely passive spectators to nature’s fury. It also raises questions as to whether the storm is natural or unnatural. In the follow up Lord of the Rings, again the Misty Mountains serve as a barrier, and it is a snow storm that confronts Frodo’s party, forcing them to take an underground route. The implication in there is that the storm is a product of something malevolent, and not the work of the natural world.

As Bilbo’s party takes shelter from the storm, they are confronted and captured by the goblins. Throughout The Hobbit, the term goblin is used, while in the larger follow on work, the term orc is used. One frequently used explanation is that Misty Mountain goblins are smaller than orcs, and are more concentrated in the mountains, while the orcs range throughout Middle Earth. In The Hobbit, the goblins appear almost comical when compared to the orcs found in the Lord of the Rings. I suspect that nature of The Hobbit as a whole is intended for a younger audience, and the term orc is meant to imply something a bit darker and fouler than what is found the earlier work. This supports the claim that Tolkien meant for the Lord of the Rings to be a deeper work than what is found in The Hobbit, and as such tackles grimmer and grittier themes than those present in The Hobbit.

In the previous chapter, Elrond identifies the elven swords Orcrist and Glamdring. It is interesting to note that even Gandalf did not know of their names nor of their history. I suspect that he had a good idea of where they came from, but clearly the details eluded him. When Orcrist is presented to the great goblin after the dwarves were captured, he immediately knew what it was. I find this point very interesting, and worthy of some further discussion. Often in literature, the heroes of the story do not realize the tools that they possess to get some particularly difficult task accomplished. This is frequently used to create a story arc of discovery which unfolds as the heroes progress through the story. While the heroes may not understand what they possess, the villains always know. There is this theme in literature that suggests evil understands the power of good, and cannot stand before these instruments. They intuitively know, and shy away from these instruments. In this tale, the Great Goblin, and the rest of his pack understand what Thorin is carrying, even if Thorin does not. Their reaction is immediate.

“Also, he has not explained this!.....The Great Goblin gave a truly awful howl of rage when he looked at it, and all his soldiers gnashed their teeth, clashed their shields, and stamped. They knew the sword at once.”

This reaction is similar to how a vampire would react when confronted with a holy symbol. The reaction is immediate, as the revulsion is powerful.

“They hated it and hated worse any one that carried it.”

Gandalf appears, and rescues the dwarves from certain death. The goblins take chase, and Tolkien gives us an insight into the nature of goblins with his description of the chase. He uses the phrase, “..flap of the goblin feet, many many feet..” This gives an image of rodents scurrying through an underground tunnel, which I suspect was done on purpose. In the short story The Rats in the Walls, Lovecraft weaves a tale of horror based on the sound of rats racing behind the walls. While I am not sure if Tolkien ever read this tale, I can say that he was clearly tapping into this imagery with this choice of words, and the comparison between goblins and rats is an interesting one.

Monstrous Discussions – Goblins

For the record, I really like goblins. They are small creatures that inhabit caves and other dark places. They are not as fierce as their larger cousins, the hobgoblin or the bugbear, but there is still something special about them. They can be played serious or they can be played light and humorous, as they are meant to challenge low level players. I really like Paizo’s reimaging of the goblin that they did for Pathfinder #1, and expanded upon in their Classic Monsters Revisited.

In this chapter, I think Tolkien was looking for something in between sinister and comical. He was considerate of the younger audience when he wrote, yet he did not water the content down too much. The goblins in The Hobbit are not simply mindless beasts, but they do possess some level of rational thought. The Great Goblin could have had them killed right away, but he was willing to trade words with Thorin, before deciding that they would be better off dead.

This feel of the goblins still colors my image of them, and in particular, it is the animated version of the goblins that has stuck with me throughout the years. After the Fellowship movie, smallish creatures that can climb walls like vermin has given me another dimension to add to the goblins. This goes back to the comparison to rats, which resonates rather well with me. In some ways, I do consider goblins to be the rats of the dungeon.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Chordille Keep - The Goblin Lair

The Goblin Lair (areas 13-16)
This series of rooms now hosts a goblin war band led by a goblin brute. All the goblins in the area fear the brute, as his reputation is much greater than his actual fighting prowess. Most of the other races that make up the bestial host leave him alone, as he is particularly difficult to work with. As the characters wander into this area, it is likely to become one large melee as the goblins will join in any fight, as they do not want to face the wrath of the brute. In any combat, after 2 rounds, all the goblins in these rooms will come out to investigate. Once the goblins in the barracks join in any fight, roll once on the random re-enforcement chart to see what additional re-enforcements are available.
13. The Goblin Brute.
This is where the goblin brute can be found with his two body guards. As soon as an intruder enters, the goblin body guards will attack immediately. The goblin brute will attempt to attack the weakest party member, in order to preserve his combat legacy. The goblins in the neighboring rooms will come and investigate in 2 rounds.
1 goblin brute. AC 17, HD3, HP18, Dam 1d6+1 (short sword)
2 goblins. AC 15, HD1, HP5, Dam 1d6 (short sword)
Treasure: 4d6 gold, potion of bull’s strength

Goblin barracks (Area 14 & 15).
Areas 14 and 15 are the goblin barracks. At any given time, there will be 2 goblins in each room, with a 20% chance of additional goblins being in the rooms or close by. Each goblin has 1d4 gold. Once combat is joined, there is a chance that additional goblins join in. Roll once on the chart below to see what re-enforcements are available. The concept is to provide a larger scale battle with random re-enforcements joining in.

Re-enforcement chart (roll once)

Die Roll (1d8) Re-enforcements

1. No further re-enforcements
2. 1 additional goblin joins in 1 round
3. 2 additional goblins join 2 rounds after combat starts
4. 3 additional goblins join 3 rounds after combat starts
5. 1 goblin riding a goblin dog joins in 3 rounds.
6. 1 goblin joins after 1 round, and another goblin joins after 3 rounds.
7. 1 additional goblin joins in 2 rounds
8. No further re-enforcements

14. Goblin barracks
2 goblins. AC 15, HD1, HP3, Dam 1d6 (short sword)

15. Goblin barracks
2 goblins. AC 15, HD1, HP3, Dam 1d6 (short sword)

16. Goblin Kennels
This was once a small guard post, and is now a kennel for goblin dogs. A particularly nasty smell comes from this door, with characters having a 25% chance of noticing it prior going into the room. There is nothing of value in this room, as the goblin dog has made a complete mess of the place.
1 goblin dog. AC 13, HD1, HP8, Dam (bite) +2 1d6+3 plus allergic reaction. (See Pathfinder #1)
As long as the goblin brute is still alive, the areas 13-16 will re-populate with additional goblins. Once the goblin brute has been defeated, the remaining goblins will leave the area, and rats will move in.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


I really like Fanzines, and I believe that they are critical to the success in any hobby. Since Dragon was pulled back by Wizards of the Coast, they have been popping up everywhere. I think Wolfgang was the first to launch KQ, which is a really slick magazine, and I believe it is the spiritual successor to The Dragon. I also buy PDF’s of Knockspell and Fight On! The other day, I downloaded Knockspell volume 2 and I am in the process of reading through it. Knockspell is quickly becoming one of my favorites of the Fanzines. There is something about its old school feel that I really like. In the intro editorial, Matt makes a comment that he will be supporting both S&W and OSRIC in Knockspell going forward, which really made my day.

As I look over the landscape of the publishing industry, it is increasing easy for Fanzines to be created, and with print on demand capability available, costs can be kept down and access is available across the globe. I suspect that the print on demand industry is a growing one, and that we will see more changes to the way that content is brought to the end user. The PDF industry has taken off, and as I remarked in my blog a couple of weeks ago, products like Kindle make electronic books a lot friendlier to use. Reading books on a computer screen is a bit clunky, but reading them off a light weight device that is optimized for reading books is altogether different. I still believe that a color Kindle is on the horizon, whether it is produced by Amazon or another company makes no difference, as I think it is only a question of time.

It is interesting how technology has changed the way we view things. Digital content is becoming increasingly important. The printer is really taking a backseat to digital storage. Why print out pictures when one can simply store them on a website or a sharedrive/sharepoint. While I love my notebook computer, it’s the harddrive that I really care about. I almost always have my external harddrive with me for back up and to store pictures and my multitude of game stuff, which now takes up 4 gigs of space, and is growing almost daily.

It is interesting to ponder what would D&D have looked like if Gary and Dave had created it today instead of 35+ years ago.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Hobbit – A Short Rest

With this chapter Tolkien introduces us to Elrond and the Rivendell elves. Elrond comes across as the wise old scholar that puts names to the swords that were found in the previous chapter and shows Gandalf and crew the moon-letters on Thorin’s map.

What I found most interesting about this chapter was how the elves were described. The party encounters the elves just outside Rivendell laughing and singing silly songs.

“So they laughed and sang in the trees; and pretty fair nonsense I daresay you think it. Not that they would care; they would only laugh all the more if you told them so. They were elves of course.”

“Then off they went into another song as ridiculous as the one I have written down in full.”

Compare this to the more somber elf found in the Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. There is no talk about the long defeat, or about the tragic history of the elves. These elves are a kin to happy-go-lucky types, that do not worry about anything. Silly songs do not portray a race in decline and that will eventually pass over to the west. The heritage of Gondolin is only briefly mentioned and is left for the reader to decide what kind of legacy it is. It is only years later that the fully glory of what was Gondolin and its tragic downfall were made public with the publish of The Silmarillion.

There are points in the book where it is clear that this is a children’s story, and this is one of them. It feels like when the good professor first wrote about the elves, he had a lighter vision of them and turned much darker the more he wrote. Galadriel’s discussions with Frodo are in stark contrast to what we find here in beginning of Chapter 3.

Elrond takes center stage in the back half of the chapter, and he is described a bit differently than the elves that were encountered earlier.

“He was as noble and as fair in face as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer. He comes into many tales, but his part in the story of Bilbo’s great adventure is only a small one..”

There are no silly songs in his make-up. As Elrond looks at the map, we gain a sense of his character.

“He took it and gazed long at it, and he shook his head; for if he did not altogether approve of dwarves and their love of gold, he hated dragons and their cruel wickedness, and he grieved to remember the ruin of the town of Dale..”

There is a note of seriousness to him, and a compassion for those that have been wronged by evil. The fact that he grieves for Dale shows his human side and that he does care about the affairs of men. As was stated by the narrator, his part in this tale is small, but there are hints of his larger role in the history of middle earth.

Monstrous Discussions – Elves

Elves have always been one of my favorite races. That is probably akin to saying that dwarves are not one of my favorite races, which would be true from a player’s perspective.

I am of the opinion that D&D elves borrow quite a bit from Tolkien’s elves. Tolkien’s elves come in a couple of different flavors, but in the hobbit we see a distinction between the high elf of Rivendell and the wood elf of Mirkwood. In D&D terms, I would call these high elves and wood elves. Since the creation of the AD&D monster manual, the number of elf subtypes has grown considerably, but I would still argue that most are a spin off from the civilized high elf and the more savage wood elf. I have to admit, that when I think of the D&D elf, they have a Tolkien flavor to them. Some may disagree with me, but I cannot shake this from my mind. Tolkien in The Silmarillion, gives the elves a noble and heroic face, and this resonates with me. The elven heroes described are beings of legend that went toe to toe with the worst of Melkor’s servants, and frequently emerged victorious from these battles, although in some cases the scars of battle would remain with them. These were mighty beings. While I agree that this type of heroic elf does not fit well in a D&D world, I find that there is a place for their spirit of nobility.

As a final thought, in early D&D elves were both magic users and fighters. This combined legacy would stay with them up through 3rd edition. In 4th edition, this legacy gets split apart and the magic using elves now become eladrin. From a mechanics stand point, it makes perfect sense. In essence, eladrin now replaces the high elf and the wood elves are now just elves. From a flavor stand point, I think we have lost a little. I suspect this is because eladrin just does not sound very Tolkien to me.

Just call me old fashioned.....

Work really interferes with fun

After a hectic week followed by a vacation in Hangzhou, I am ready to get back to blogging. I actually feel very guilty if I do not blog for a couple of days, and I meant to write some stuff up on Monday, but I just did not get there. Last week I was hosting a summit with all our regional partners, and it just chewed up any time I had.

Over the weekend my family went to Hangzhou which is a beautiful city located about 3 hours south of Shanghai. The city is centered around West Lake which is a good sized lake. Once it was the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty, before the Mongols came and then the capital was relocated to Beijing. It is rumored that Marco Polo visited the city and called it the finest city in the world. Without a doubt, the area around West Lake is very stunning. Wikipedia has a good article on the city, and can be found here.

Now that I am back, I will start posting again on a regular basis.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Chordille Keep - The Grand Entrance

12. Grand entrance to the keep.
Once the grand entrance to the keep, now it lies as a burnt out hulk of what it once was. The main double doors are mostly destroyed and only parts of the doors remain hanging on their hinges. The charred remnants of a red carpet are lie on the ground, as a bitter reminder of what was. The Bestial Host has posted a pair of goblin guards and a goblin dog. If confronted by an opponent stronger than themselves, they will run to the goblin lair that is located in areas 13-16.
2 goblins. AC 15, HD1, HP3, Dam 1d6 (short sword)
1 goblin dog. AC 13, HD1, HP8, Dam (bite) +2 1d6+3 plus allergic reaction. (See Pathfinder #1)
Treasure 1d6 gold


On subsequent revisits, if the goblins in areas 13-16 have been defeated, a band of orcs will have moved in, otherwise the goblins post another 2 guards and a goblin dog.
4 Orcs. AC 16, HD1, HP5, Dam 1d8 (long sword)
Treasure: 1d10 gold

Amazon’s Kindle Reader

So I was updating my wish list yesterday at Amazon, looking forward to getting my next batch of books upon my arrival back to the States, when I noticed Amazon’s ad for Kindle DX. Sure I knew that Amazon had launched Kindle, but to be honest, I did not pay that much attention to it. But something caught my eye yesterday, and I looked a bit deeper.

The DX version is due to be released shortly, and it is slightly bigger than the earlier version. According to Amazon, there are over 275,000 books that are available in this format, and it can read PDF files. It is very thin and light, and looks like it is easy to use and to carry around. Interesting stuff. Clearly this is the shape of things to come.

However, I do have some concerns. Its price is a bit steep at nearly $500. One can buy a notebook computer for that price. Netbooks are pushing the $200 price point, so this feels overpriced in comparison. Its screen is black and white only. To be honest, I am a bit shocked on this. Most LCD/LED screens are color, and I am not sure why this is not color. While B&W is fine for most things, there are a number of books that are fully color. Its internal 4GB storage is a bit light too. From what I can tell, the device is suppose to contact one’s Amazon account and access the various books that have been saved there. This requires wireless access, and I suspect that the actual book one is reading is Kindle’s internal storage.

It is an interesting idea, and I suspect that at some point I may even buy one. However, there are a couple of features that I would like to see added. Color, larger internal flash or HDD storage, and compatibility with one’s notebook. What I mean by this last statement is that in addition to accessing one’s web page, one should be able to drop and drag from the notebook to the Kindle device. I was reading a bit on PDF’s, and I would like to be able to select the PDF and drag to the Kindle. From what I could tell, one has to email the PDF file to an account in order to make it available. For the larger PDF files, this seems easier said than done.

Anyway, if anyone has actually used this device I would be interested to hear your feedback on it. I do suspect that this is the shape of things to come.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Hobbit – Roast Mutton

Running late in the morning, Bilbo joins the dwarves and they end up in sacks, captured by trolls.

While that is an accurate summary of the chapter, I want to dig into the encounter with the trolls as that dominates the chapter. Cold and hungry, the dwarves send Bilbo to check out the fire in the woods. As it turns out, the fire belonged to three trolls – Bert, Tom, and William, who are sick of mutton, and would like a different type of meat on their patter. Tolkien describes the trolls as “Three large persons sitting round a very large fire of beech-logs.” To be honest, this description is rather blasé. This begs the question of, when one thinks of a troll, what image pops into mind? I suppose it depends a bit on what mythology one looks at.

A snippet from Wikipedia:

A troll is a fearsome member of a race of creatures from Norse mythology. Originally more or less the Nordic equivalents of giants, although often smaller in size, the different depictions have come to range from the fiendish giants – similar to the ogres of England (also called Trolls at times, see Troller's Gill) – to a devious, more human-like folk of the wilderness, living underground in hills, caves or mounds. In the Faroe islands, Orkney and Shetland tales, trolls are called trows, adopted from the Norse language when these islands were settled by Vikings.

Nordic literature, art and music from the romantic era and onwards has adapted trolls in various manners – often in the form of an aboriginal race, endowed with oversized ears and noses. From here, as well as from Scandinavian fairy tales such as Three Billy Goats Gruff, trolls have achieved international recognition, and in modern fantasy literature and role-playing games, trolls are featured to the extent of being stock characters.

Again from Wikipedia, the Tolkien troll:

In J. R. R. Tolkien's world of Middle-earth, Trolls are very large humanoids of great strength and poor intellect. While in Norse mythology, the Troll was a magical creature with special skills, and are so accepted to this day in Scandinavia, in Tolkien's writings they are portrayed as evil, stupid, with crude habits, although still intelligent enough to communicate with a known language.

In The Hobbit they speak with very thick Cockney accents. They turn to stone when exposed to sunlight and they enjoy eating meat (such as mutton, hobbits and Dwarves) and drinking beer. While threatening, the trolls in The Hobbit serve as a comic element. They even have normal names: Tom, Bert and William (Bill) Huggins (the only one with a given surname).

The fallen Vala and first Dark Lord, Morgoth, created the first Trolls before the First Age. They were strong and vicious, but stupid creatures. The major weakness of at least some Trolls was that they turned to stone in sunlight. Nobody knows how he managed to breed them, though it is stated by Treebeard of the Ents that Trolls were "made in mockery of" them, as Orcs were of Elves, though not necessarily from Entish stock. However, they are likely a corrupted form of some other race of Middle-earth, as neither Morgoth nor Sauron have access to the Secret Fire, and cannot therefore create things; only corrupt that which already exists. There is reference that sunlight will return them to the stone from which they were made in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

I cannot help but notice the differences between the trolls from The Hobbit and from The Lord of the Rings. The trolls from The Lord of the Rings are terrifying creatures that are instruments of war, while in The Hobbit they come across a bit differently. Now part of this is due to the difference in the tone of the stories. The Hobbit is a much lighter tale, when compared to The Lord of the Rings, and there are parts in The Hobbit that make it feel a bit disconnected from the larger work. The narrator’s voice in The Hobbit gives it a story book feel, and insulates the reader from the grimmer nature of the larger work.

As stated in the above quote from Wikipedia, the trolls in The Hobbit, while fierce and dangerous in their own right, come across as a bit comical. Upon reading the description from The Hobbit, I have a mental picture of a hillbilly like giant, not entirely unlike the giant from Jack in the Beanstalk. Even their names, Tom, Bert and William come across as rather plain, and uninspiring. I am not struck with notion that these trolls are the elite of Dark Lord’s army. Gandalf easily tricks them into staying up all night until the dawn turns them to stone, and he does not come across as sounding concerned that there was going to be an unfavorably outcome. Clearly he was concerned when he heard that there were trolls in the area, and he hustled back to check on Bilbo and the dwarves, but I get the feeling that once he saw what was going on, he easily took control of the situation. Once again, Gandalf steps into the role of the supernatural aid, coming to the rescue in the nick of time, providing aid to an otherwise hopeless situation.

With trolls defeated, Gandalf leads the group to the trolls hideout, and they find a number of strange weapons. In the next chapter, Elrond will identify them as elvish blades that date back to Gondolin, which I found to be a nice tie into the larger story that is Middle Earth.

Monstrous Discussions – The Troll

To go back to the discussion on the trolls for a moment more. The D&D troll is a green rubbery creature that has powers of regeneration, and it harkens back to an earlier time in literature. The D&D troll feels a bit like a solitary creature that does not naturally interact well with other humanoids. The D&D troll just does not feel like the Tolkien troll, which has always left me scratching my head. There is a part of me that really likes the idea of the Tolkien trolls which is a beast of war that fights along side the orcs. The orc is a great humanoid opponent for low to mid class characters. However, sometimes one needs to step it up a notch and provide a similar yet different experience in an encounter. This is where the Tolkien troll would fit in well. Now, one can argue that the ogre fits into this category, and I would be inclined to agree. However, there is something about the Tolkien troll that I just like.

In the animated Hobbit, one of the trolls had tusks, and I rather liked that look. I do want my trolls to look rather bestial, and not just like large humanoids. In Peter Jackson’s film version, the trolls looked like monstrous humanoids, with the emphasis on monstrous. I my own mind, I picture them as something in between. Upon further consideration, I just like the tusks.

Since the troll’s first appearance in the monster manuals, there have been a number of sub type trolls created, which allow for plenty of diversity, and I suspect that everyone has their favorite type of troll. There are also a number of different kinds of trolls in Tolkien’s work. Perhaps my favorite type from Tolkien is the Olog-hai.

Olog-hai from Wikipedia:

Olog-hai were "strong, agile, fierce, and cunning" trolls created by Sauron, not unlike the Uruk-hai, and were able to withstand sunlight while under the sway of Sauron's will. They seldom spoke and were said to know no language other than the Black Speech, in which Olog-hai means "troll-folk" (singular Olog "troll"). Because of their cunning, they were thought by some to be giant Orcs, rather than trolls.

I know there have been a number of different types of half orcs created in D&D that captures the essence of the Olog-hai, with the half orc/half ogre being the closest to this. With that said, I think need to sneak a couple of these trolls into my next campaign. These would be perfect in a mega-dungeon that features a large number of orcs.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dragon Age

Well I am a bit behind on my reading, and of course I will blame work. This week was a short one, and next week I am hosting a conference all week, which will chew up a significant portion of my time. Bummer!

I am hoping to post 1 or 2 Hobbit summaries this weekend, and next week will be light on the postings.

In other news, Green Ronin will be making a pen and paper RPG of Bioware’s Dragon Age. I am not a huge computer gaming person. Job and family responsibilities chew up most of my time. When I was younger, I did play a lot more. The Ultima series was one of my favorites, and I hope to post a blog about that soon. Bioware has put out a number of games, of which Neverwinter Nights was one of my favorites. I have played Neverwinter Hordes of the Underdark quite a bit a number of years ago. I have Neverwinter 2, but I really have not played it that much. I will probably buy Dragon Age, but I am not sure how much I will really get a chance to play. I was a bit curious when it was announced that Green Ronin would put out a pen and paper version that will go on sale in the fall. I am hoping that this is at Gencon, as I would look forward to talk with Chris and his team about it. I am not sure that I will buy it, but I do want to flip through it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Hobbit – An Unexpected Party

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

There are a number of books that one can recognize by the opening line, and The Hobbit is one of them, which just goes to show how popular this tale is. The narrator goes on to describe hobbits and their holes, which is painted on the page in a way that one can picture a comfy little home, not unlike what we can see walking through our neighborhood.

In my mind I see Bilbo as young adult that is moving closer to middle age, and in some ways he might already be there. I also picture Bilbo as slightly pudgy, and a tad out of shape, as his comfortable life is getting the better of him. The narrator makes it clear that hobbits are not ones for adventure. They like things that are comfortable. Men, elves and dwarves live beyond the Shire, and the hobbits are very happy about that. In short, they live in a suburbia that is removed from the hustle and bustle of the big city. It’s about two pages into the story when Gandalf shows up, and then Bilbo’s life gets turned upside down.

A nice little story, but one that I think hits very close to home. How many of us are in our middle ages and comfortable with the way things are? Gandalf, in The Hobbit, represents supernatural aid which is a concept that is found in all the great epics and a number of lesser works. He is a part of the world, yet separate, and clearly possesses powers and wisdom that are beyond the normal person. The book does not go into the details of Gandalf’s history or background, which is saved for The Silmarillion, and to be honest, it is not necessary for this book. When Gandalf comes visiting, he is not there just to catch up on the local gossip. He is there to call Bilbo to become something more than he is now, and that means moving out of his comfort zone. Bilbo struggles with this throughout the second half of the chapter. It’s his Tookish blood that contrasts sharply with his natural hobbit sense of proper being. While we do not have Tookish blood in us, we can still relate to Bilbo’s inner conflict.

One of the more interesting parts to this first chapter is that Gandalf not only chooses Bilbo, but also goes as far as to mark his door, so that the dwarves can find him. So, Bilbo is both chosen and marked, and as a result he is called to be a hero. The call of the hero is used throughout literature, and the examples are too numerous to count. In literature it is easy to identify the call, as this is clearly called out. In real life, it is a bit different, and sometimes not so obvious. Often the call comes unexpected times and in unexpected ways. I think inside each of us, there is part of us that wants the adventure and wants to move out of our comfort zone. However, we have the grid of life with bills and family to support and the responsibility of getting a job to take care of these things. Quitting the job to go off on a crazy lark, is not something that responsible folks do, and this prevents us from moving too far from that comfort zone. This is where Bilbo is.

Enter the dwarves. As an aside, I find it interesting that both hobbits and dwarves live in holes underground, and it serves as a sort of common starting point for character development.

In the second half of the books we get introduced to the 13 dwarves and their leader Thorin Oakenshield. Throughout the book, Bilbo and Thorin are the main characters and we see Bilbo grow while Thorin never moves past his own paradigm. The dialog between them provides a means for us to understand their outlook on how they perceive their situation, which provides an interesting commentary on personal growth and internal paradigm shifts (or the lack thereof).

Thorin quickly establishes himself as a dwarf on a misson, and he is really not interested in what others have to offer, nor is he interested in changing his view on things. When Gandalf pulls the map out, he immediately reminds Thorin that he should be thanking him, not accusing him. Gandalf is working to create value in the conversation however, Thorin continues to remain suspicious throughout the conversation.

“But apparently they made a map, and I should like to know how Gandalf got a hold of it, and why it did not come down to me, the rightful heir.”

The implication of privilege, rights and a bit of selfishness is clearly evident here, and a bit of verbal waste is being created.

As Bilbo gets into bed, he hears Thorin humming about their long-forgotten gold, and “…it gave him very uncomfortable dreams.” A bit of foreshadowing is present here along with a subtle jab at the selfish nature of greed. Apparently Thorin’s conscious is a bit less disconcerting than Bilbo’s, and already we see the gap between the two perspectives.

Game commentary

There are folks that say that Tolkien did not have a significant impact on the creation of D&D. This is a fairly held view as Gary remained adamant that Tolkien was not a significant source of inspiration. After rereading the first chapter, I would like to poke on this statement a bit.

The start of an adventure is usually a bit of a struggle for the DM. Why is everyone together, especially considering that a party normally consists of races and classes that are all over the place. The typical starting point is in a tavern sharing a beverage of choice, and there is nothing wrong with this approach, except of course that it remains very much over used.

When I look at The Hobbit, I see a bunch of dwarves (and a wizard) converge at Bilbo’s “tavern” for a bit of tea. They are looking for a burglar (thief/rogue) to round out their party to go off in search of treasure. They possess a secret treasure map and proceed to start to plan their journey to defeat the dragon and take its treasure, which they are claiming rightfully, belongs to them. They have to plan an overland trek followed by a small dungeon that contains the actual treasure and the dragon. I am summarizing a bit, but I think I have captured the essence of the main points. I think that most would agree that this feels a bit like the start of a D&D adventure.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Chordille Keep - Inner Keep (area 11)

11. Ruined room
With the razing of the keep, and number of rooms were totally destroyed. In the case of this room, most of the ceiling has collapsed into the room, creating a mess. Most creatures avoid this room, although there is a 10% chance of a vermin crawling in through the hole in the ceiling to come searching for food or to just hide. Other than that, there is nothing of significance in the room.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Tolkien Updates

Apparently May is Tolkien month. I had no idea....

On Sunday, the short film The Hunt for Gollum was released and is available for viewing here. I just finished watching it, and it is not bad. It is worth taking a look.

On Tuesday, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by JRR Tolkien and edited by his son Christopher will be released and it is up on Amazon for pre-orders. I have just added it to my wish list, and it will be part of my June Amazon order.

And last, but certainly not least, I am reading The Hobbit, and it will feature heavily on my blog over the next 2-3 weeks.

Chordille Keep - Inner Keep (area 10)

10. Hobgoblin guards
The fire damage to this room makes it impossible to determine what this room was used for prior to the razing of the keep. A small band of hobgoblins have moved into this ruined room, and have staked a claim to it. The sergeant in room 9 is ok with this development as it allows him to keep a close eye on his small band from the bestial host. There is some wreckage that remains in the room, but the hobgoblins have made it a point to remove most of it to make room for their bedrolls and such.
5 hobgoblins. AC 15, HD1, HP6, Dam 1d8 (long sword)
Treasure: 2d10 gold

On subsequent revisits, if the hobgoblins have been defeated, a band of orcs will have moved in.
5 Orcs. AC 16, HD1, HP5, Dam 1d8 (long sword)
Treasure: 1d10 gold

The Hobbit – Initial Thoughts

I thought I would offer my initial thoughts about The Hobbit before I actually start reading. It has been a number of years since I last read it, and I am looking forward to reading through it again. Tolkien remains one of my favorite authors as I continue to be amazed at the detail that he put into Middle Earth.

I remember my first introduction to The Hobbit was the Rankin/Bass version in 1977. I was fairly young at the time, and I had not seen anything like it prior to that point. Needless to say I was fascinated by the entire thing. Looking back on the animated show through a much more mature lense, the gaps and short comings are fairly obvious, but at the time I thought it was great, as it captured my imagination like nothing else had. I also remember my father hinting that there was more to the story, but would not elaborate more than that.

It would be several years later that I actually had the book in my hands, which was the soft cover illustrated version from the Rank/Bass production. While I enjoyed reading that particular book, as some of the illustrations were quite striking, I will say that the binding on that version was crap and it promptly fell apart. It would be a significant number of years later before I would pick up a sturdier version which matched my hardcover Lord of the Ring editions. I am happy to report that the matching sets still sit on top of my small bookcase that is in our bedroom next to my bed, and I do not expect to be moving them any time soon.

Just recently, I bought the annotated version for my son, which he has read through, and now I find myself running short of books to read here in China, prior to my return to the States which is scheduled for late June, making it a good time to pick it up and read through again. As an aside, after this book, I will have 2 more books left from the bunch I brought that needs to last me two months. Now one of them is Martin's A Feast of Crows, which comes in at almost 1000 pages, so all is not lost.

While Tolkien wrote The Hobbit as a children’s story, it is one of those books that appeals to a wide range of ages, as it is a simple tale at its heart which the younger folks can enjoy, and it provides a deeper reading for the more advanced reader. The language and tone of The Hobbit is a softer voice when compared to the more serious tone of its sequel, but that does not take away from the enjoyment of the book no matter what the age. The style of prose between the two works is an interesting contrast, and I will be commenting on that as I make my way through the book.

So with that, I am looking forward to flipping through the pages of the annotated version and once again visiting Middle Earth.

Dungeon Contest - Submitted!

Now I can say that it is complete, and it has been mailed in!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Hobbit Re-read Project

I am almost done with Bran Mak Morn By Howard, and I am getting ready to re-read The Hobbit by JRRT. I am reading the Del Rey versions of Howard’s stories, and I cannot say enough good things about them. The Del Rey team just did a wonderful job with Howard’s books, and I would recommend them to anyone. I liked Bran Mak Morn a bit better than Howard’s Conan stories, as I think that Worms of the Earth is probably one of his best works. As an aside, one of these days I plan to write up a blog on that story, as it is very good. Howard only really wrote six Bran Mak Morn tales, which is a shame as I think the main character is very compelling and I would have liked to have seen more tales written, especially if they could have as well written as Worms was. That being said, I have a soft spot for Howard’s Solomon Kane stories, and I really wish he wrote and developed Kane more. When I get back to the States, I hope to pick up Kull, which I hope is as octane heavy as Howard’s other works were.

I have probably read The Hobbit two times, compared to The Lord of the Rings, which I have read at least four times, and some sections I have read a lot more than that. JRRT remains one of my all time favorite authors, as the depth of his Middle Earth creation is nothing short of amazing. As I am reading The Hobbit, my plan is post blogs on the various sections and offer up my commentary on them. Early next week I plan to post my first blog which will represent my initial thoughts on the work as a whole, and then I will start digging in.

Dungeon Contest - Done!

…Well almost done.

I am going to sleep on it and take one more read through to make to catch any lingering items, and then I will submit it tomorrow. Once the deadline has passed, I will be posting it on my blog. The current title is “The Dwarven Tomb,” which I may change to “The Dwarven Hall,” as there are no crypts in it, although I was originally planning on having 2 crypt areas. I designed it using excel and power point, and I am happy with the overall dungeon layout. I was able to do just about everything I wanted to. Even though it is basically one level, I was able to create vertical separation in the level, which I think adds an extra element to a dungeon level. I was also able to add a color key concept that would create a bit of a puzzle for the players. The challenge with a one page limitation is that the designer has to keep the design tight, especially considering that the dungeon layout takes up a significant bit of real estate on the page. I suspect that tomorrow I will try to add some last minute content into an already full page.

I will be the first to say that this is a hard dungeon, and is probably a bit harder than I was initially thinking. My gut feel says that this is for 10th -12th level characters. There is a wide range of encounters, with some easy ones and some very challenging levels, which I am very happy with. Also, as a bonus I added a wandering demon grue into the mix, which the GM can have some fun with. As I am writing this, I think I will add another comment in my write up on this as it is just too fun not to.

Looking back on the contest, I had fun creating it, and we shall see what the judges think. I am very interested to see what everyone else is creating as I imagine there will be some very creative designs. My thanks go out to Chatty and team for creating the contest. My personal thought is that this is exactly the type of thing that WotC should be running to generate interest in the game. Paizo doing something a little different as they are running their RPG Superstar contest which is a great way for them to find new talent for their own in house projects. For a design house that needs to stay lean, they need to makes sure that they have a steady pool of designers to tap into. This one page contest is perfect for the fans to get involved in, as it is fairly easy to create. I suspect that this is the first of a number of contests that will in the offering as summer comes along, which I think is great.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Dungeon Contest - Update

This weekend is a 5 day weekend in China. My goal is to finish up my 1 page dungeon. At this point it is basically done. I have it mapped out and I have made my first pass through all the rooms. I do want to have another review before I submit.

Tomorrow I will post a longer blog.