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September 17, 2018 0 comments

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Emulating the Epic Trilogy

Look what you have done to me, Darkmaster! Last night I finished reading The Sword of Shannara [shudder]. It was as disappointing as I remember it being the first time I read it at age 12 or so—a shameless and embarrassing and not-even-well-written imitation of Tolkien, though I recognize it as necessary for the establishment of the whole epic high-fantasy genre that we all love and need. Next up: Lord Foul’s Bane, of which I have equally repellent memories.

But I’m not here to criticize. I’m here, as always, with a new thought. VsD emulates these fictions, and these fictions (broadly and grandly speaking) contain a diverse group of heroes [check] who go on a long, overland quest [?] to defeat, usually while commanding armies in the midst of mass combat [?], the Dark Lord [check]. Do you see what I’m driving at?

I wonder just how ambitious VsD’s emulation is. Will the full rules have guidance and mechanics for crafting a Level 1-10 campaign that brings PCs from the status of local adventurers to heroes of the Land who overthrow the Dark Lord?

I’m thinking of something along the lines of the Adventurer Conquerer King System in the OSR camp. In that retroclone of B/X, first characters are adventurers, then military heroes, then rulers. In VsD, heroes might first be local adventurers, then characters on a long overland journey quest, then captains commanding armies or parties of scouts sneaking into the Dark Lands to overthrow the Dark Lord.

A challenge I see to this macrostructure is the power levels of the NPCs. It seems that VsD still is pretty firmly tied to its source mechanics. Many fairly mundane Creatures are well above Level 10. I’m not sure what the scope of the full VsD release might be, but characters posing any real threat (at least around Levels 10) to any Dark Lord seems unlikely.

So this raises another design question: How do you imagine the roles of the PCs in terms of VsD’s narrative inspirations? Are the PCs supposed to be the heroes who ultimately overcome the Big Bad, or are they always in the shadow of the Dark Lord and—by extension—the shadows of the“real” heroes who actually can do something about the world’s big problem? This latter is what VsD’s source game said through the godlike stats of its notable NPCs. So far, VsD seems to be saying this, as well.

Unless the emulation is ordinary characters overcoming overwhelming odds. I can see this. It’s interesting to imagine how this can be emulated with mechanics.

Hello Gabe,

I’m thinking of something along the lines of the Adventurer Conquerer King System in the OSR camp. In that retroclone of B/X, first characters are adventurers, then military heroes, then rulers. In VsD, heroes might first be local adventurers, then characters on a long overland journey quest, then captains commanding armies or parties of scouts sneaking into the Dark Lands to overthrow the Dark Lord.

Yes we are taking in serious consideration what you mentioned. I would like to invite you to look on the character sheet's back page, on the bottom right you'll see a box called Heroic Path. This is a mechanic that we are actually working right now, and we are trying to figure out how to create a heroic path for the character that is now measured only by the number of levels but by his action in dramatic moments.
As I mentioned, this is still under heavy playtest so I can't spoiler too much, or Max and Tom will yell at me 🙂

Anyway, we appreciate all this feedback that you are providing so please keep it coming!

Best,

Nik

"Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles..." "Doesn't sound too bad, I'll try to stay awake"

Yes, Sword isn't really that good, Brooks tries too hard to write another lotr there. The Elfstones and the Wishsong are much better IMHO (my favourite Brook's novel would be Magic Kingdom for Sale, though!). Lord Foul's Bane and the following Thomas Covenant books are another matter. They have their highs and lows, but I think that many modern fantasy authors like Abercrombie or Martin owe a lot to Donaldson.

Regarding the monsters in VsD, the only creatures above level 10 in the QS are the Fellwing, the Mountain Giant, the Kraken, the Giant Eagle, and the Fire Drake. None of these strikes me as particularly mundane, to tell the truth!

However, as Nik said, the full rules will widen the scope of the game a bit, including mechanics for developing characters beyond what's given simply by their level.
Also, consider that, in general, PCs tend to have an edge over most of the monsters/NPCs of their level, because they'll tend to have better stats and other bonuses coming from their background options, which most of the monsters haven't.
On the other hand, we've decided to make certain adversaries truly epic by putting them well above the maximum level PCs can reach. This is both to give them a sense of scale and to reflect certain patterns of the genre, where the protagonists battle and defeat enemies that should be far more powerful than them, often with the aid of a magical artifact or by cooperating together.

Don't worry thought, in VsD you won't find level 180 creatures or NPCs with impossibly high stats!

We also have something on battles and military actions, but we're still considering if it really has a place in the core book. There's a lot of stuff to cover, and we don't want to end up with a book rivaling with The Lord of the Rings in size!

Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

Dennis L. McKiernan is another one who apes Tolkien way too closely. Of course, he actually intended his first work (The Iron Tower trilogy) to be a follow up to LotR that was denied by the Tolkien estate.

Quote from Anthony Emmel on April 26, 2019, 7:17 pm

Dennis L. McKiernan is another one who apes Tolkien way too closely. Of course, he actually intended his first work (The Iron Tower trilogy) to be a follow up to LotR that was denied by the Tolkien estate.

 

Gonna have to check his works out!

Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

 

While McKiernan's early work was very much a slavish (though reasonably entertaining) pastiche of Tolkien, in his later novels he developed more of his own voice. His Mithgar books (I think there are 13 of them) are essentially light, fun reads with decent characterizations and occasionally interesting worldbuilding. Perhaps more relevant to this forum, McKiernan is a longtime Rolemaster player, and even shared his Mithgar house rules: http://www.geocities.ws/mithgarpedia/mithrole.html

Quote from Brandon Bosworth on June 26, 2019, 1:03 am

 

While McKiernan's early work was very much a slavish (though reasonably entertaining) pastiche of Tolkien, in his later novels he developed more of his own voice. His Mithgar books (I think there are 13 of them) are essentially light, fun reads with decent characterizations and occasionally interesting worldbuilding. Perhaps more relevant to this forum, McKiernan is a longtime Rolemaster player, and even shared his Mithgar house rules: http://www.geocities.ws/mithgarpedia/mithrole.html

Cool, would you suggest one of his books in particular?

Do not meddle in the affairs of Wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger.

Hmmmm.... I haven't read all of his books, so my expertise is somewhat limited.

The Iron Tower Trilogy were published first, and are also the most blatantly inspired by Lord of the Rings. They were followed by the Silver Call Duology (which was actually written first): imagine if after the War of the Ring Gimli decided to lead a small army to reclaim Moria.

McKiernan's later standalones are much better written and less Tolkienish. 'Dragondoom' is often cited as his best work. I rather enjoyed 'Voyage of the Fox Rider,' partially because I liked the idea of an Elf, a Mage, and a bunch of Dwarves sailing the high seas on an adventure rather cool.

A list of the Mithgar books can be found on McKiernan's website. He lists both publication order and chronological order: https://www.mithgar.com/pubwrks.htm