Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tolkien's Wild Hobbits

This is a follow-up to the earlier, "Hobbits as the Rangers of Basic". I started on it right after that post but didn't get a chance to finish until now.

* * * * *

How might one envision a Hobbit Ranger? Tolkien considered this idea in the late '30s when he was working on the sequel to The Hobbit, which eventually became Lord of the Rings. In these drafts, published in The Return of the Shadow (1988), the role of Strider was served by Trotter, a Hobbit Ranger. 

As the Hobbits approach Bree, the idea of "Wild Hobbits" is introduced:
"For not all hobbits lived in the Shire by any means. But the Outsiders were a rustic, not to say (though in the Shire it was often said) uncivilized sort. Some were in fact no better than tramps and wanderers, ready to dig a hole in any bank, and to stay there just as long or short a time as it suited them" (pg 132 of the Return of the Shadow). This sentence survived in edited form into the published Lord of the Rings as part of the introduction to Bree.

When Trotter first appears, he is described much as Aragorn in the Prancing Pony:
"...a queer-looking, brown-faced hobbit, sitting in the shadows behind the others, was also listening intently. He had an enormous mug (more like a jug) in front of him, and was smoking a broken-stemmed pipe right under his rather long nose. He was dressed in a dark rough brown cloth, and had a hood on, in spite of the warmth, - and very remarkably, he had wooden shoes!" (pg 137 of RotS).

Mr Butterbur, proprietor of the Prancing Poncy, describes him:
"O! that is one of the wild folk - rangers we call 'em. He has been coming in now and again (in autumn and winter mostly) the last few years; but he seldom talks. Not but what he can tell some rare tales when he has a mind, you take my word. What his right name is I never heard, but he's known around here as Trotter. You can can hear him coming along the road in those shoes: clitter-clap - when he walks on a path, which isn't often. Why does he wear 'em? Well that I can't say. But there ain't no accounting for East or West, as we say here, meaning the Rangers and Shire-folk, begging your pardon" (pg 137-138 of RotS).

Gandalf equates the Rangers with Wild Hobbits in his letter:
 "...I am giving this to a ranger (wild hobbit) known as Trotter: he is dark, long-haired, has wooden shoes! He is an old friend of mine and knows a great deal. He will guide you to Weathertop and further if necessary" (pg 154 of RotS). Tolkien considered having the wooden shoes be wooden feet - Trotter having lost his feet in Mordor (pg 413 of RotS), though he never developed this story further.

Trotter goes on to serve the same role in the following chapters as Strider; much of his dialogue and actions are unchanged in the final book, and the wild hobbit Rangers are much like the human Rangers. It's striking how much of our concept of Rangers in D&D comes from material that Tolkien originally wrote for a Hobbit character.

In one outline, "Trotter takes them to a wild hobbit hole, and gets his friend to run on ahead and send a message to Weathertop by pony" (pg 162). In draft form, this becomes: "Trotter also had a notion that if he came across any of his friends among the wild hobbits, one that he could rust, they might send him an ahead on the pony to Weathertop" (pg 166). 
In a later draft, Tolkien considers having the Rangers be a mix of Hobbits and Humans:
"In the wild lands east of Bree there roamed a few unsettled folk (men and hobbits). These the people of the Bree-land called Rangers. Some of them were well known in Bree, which they visited fairly frequently, and were welcome as bringers of news and tellers of strange tales" (pg 332 of RotS). 

In a draft of the Prologue of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien also writes:
"For [Hobbits] existed now only in the Shire, Bree, and lonely here and there were a few wild Hobbits in Eriador. And it is said that there were still a few 'wild hobbits' in the eaves of Mirkwood west and east of the Forest" (pg 10 of The People of the Middle-Earth). In the published Lord of the Rings, the area west of Mirkwood is identified as the ancestral home of Hobbits (see the Prologue), and also the place where some Stoors, possibly Smeagol's ancestors, returned after trouble appears in Eriador (See The Tale of Years in Appendix B). Eriador is is where the ancestral Hobbits migrated before settling in Bree and The Shire (Prologue), so it makes sense to associate remaining wild hobbits with this region.

An interesting back-story for Trotter was tried out in the later drafts:  
"Peregrin was the grandson of Bilbo's mother's second sister Donnamira Took. He was a mere babe, five years old, when Bilbo came back from his journey; but he grew up a dark-haired and (for a hobbit) lanky lad, very much more of a Took than a Boffin. He was always trotting round to Hobbiton, for his father, Paladin Boffin, lived at Northope, only a mile or two behind the Hill. When Peregrin began to talk about mountains and dwarves, and forests and wolves, Paladin became alarmed, and finally forbade his son to go near Bag-end, and shut his door on Bilbo. 

Bilbo took this to heart, for he was extremely fond of Peregrin, but he did nothing to encourage him to visit Bag-end secretly. Peregrin then ran away from home and was found wandering about half-starved up on the moors of the Northfarthing. Finally, the day after he came of age (in the Spring of Bilbo's eightieth year) he disappeared, and was never found in spite of a search all over the Shire.

In former times Gandalf had always been held responsible for the occasional regrettable accidents of this kind; but now Bilbo got a large share of the blame, and after Peregrin's disappearance most of his younger relations were kept away from him. Though in fact Bilbo was probably more troubled by the loss of Peregrin than all the Boffins put together.

He had, however, other young friends, who for one reasons or another were not kept away from him. His favourite soon became Frodo Baggins..." (pg 385 of RotS).

The reference to Gandalf is based on Chapter 1 of the Hobbit:
"...and once in a while members of the Took clan-clan would go and have adventures" (pg 12), and "'Not the Gandalf who was responsible for so many quiet lads and lasses going off into the Blue for mad ventures? Anything from climbing trees to visiting elves - or sailing in ships, sailing to other shores!" (pg 14; the original 1937 version of the Hobbit said " stowing away aboard the ships that said to the Other Side?").

As he continued to draft, Tolkien eventually decided that having a human Trotter as a  worked better in the chapters following Rivendell, and the larger story, and changed his character and all of the Rangers to all humans. While Trotter didn't make it into the published LOTR, there are still references to hobbits acting more like the 'wild hobbits' than the typical Shire resident:

-The Fallohides, who are the ancestors of Tooks like Pippin, love the woodlands, prefer hunting over farming, and are elf-friends (pg 12 of the Fellowship of the Ring). This is later echoed in the 'Scouring of the Shire' where the Tooks that Pippin brings out of Tuckborough are described as hunters, with bow & axes. The history of the Hobbits in the Prologue also retains a strong association between the early Hobbit migrants and the Dunedain (who became the Rangers) in Eriador.

-Hobbit bowmen are sent to fight for the last King of Arnor against the Witch-King at the Battle of Fornost against the Witch-King (pg 14 of FotR). The draft of this section reports that they "took some part as allies of the king in the wars of Angmar (sending bowmen to battle)" (pg 9 of The Peoples of Middle-Earth).

-The 'Bounders' patrol the borders of the Shire to "see that Outsiders of any king, great or small, did not make themselves a nuisance" (pg 19). Aragorn & the human Rangers also  guard the borders of the Shire so we could imagine some contact here. ('Bounder' might be might be used as the name of a dedicated 'Hobbit Ranger' class).

-Sam's cousin Hal goes hunting up in the North Moors in Northfarthing, where he encounters a "Tree-Man" (pg 53 of FotR). This is the same location where a runaway young Trotter was found wandering (see above). Some of the farmers in the 'Scouring of the Shire' also have hunting bows.

-Smeagol's people, perhaps related to Stoors who returned to the vicinity of Mirkwood (see above), have an affinity for swimming & boating (pg 62).

-Hobbit Outsiders: "There were probably many more Outsiders scattered about in the West of the World in those those days than the people of the Shire imagined. Some, doubtless, were no better than tramps, ready to dig a hole in any bank and stay only as long as it suited them" (Chapter 9). This is an edited version of the first sentence I quoted above, and the strongest remaining reference to the 'Wild Hobbits' remaining in the published book that I could find. The stereotypical view of a Hobbit is influenced by the Shire and may not accurately represent all Hobbits. 

-In some ways, the idea of Wild Hobbits is preserved in the Woses or "Wild Men" of Chapter 5 of The Return of the King, who (like Hobbits) are a short and secretive branch of humanity: "Remnants of an older time they be, living few and secretly, wild and wary as the beasts ... Let us be thankful they are not hunting us: for they use poisoned arrows, it is said, and they are woodcrafty beyond compare".

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Part 36: "They May Dare a Tiny Sip"

Part 36 of a comparison of Holmes' manuscript with the published Basic Set rulebook. Turn to pages 36-37 of your 'Blue Book' and follow along... (pages 35-36 for the 1st edition)


OD&D Vol 2 has a list of 26 potions, and Greyhawk expands this to 30. Holmes picks 10 of these for the Basic list, using only selections from the original 26. And for the most part these are from the very first part of the original list, specifically 9 of the first 12 potions.

The list of ten potions from the manuscript is unchanged in the published rulebook, although one (Speed) changes name in the 2nd edition. In the manuscript, Holmes uses "Speed" in the list of Potions, which conforms with OD&D, but "Haste" in the description section. This discrepancy made it into the first edition of the rulebook. The 2nd edition corrects this by changing the name in the list to "Haste". This differs from both AD&D and B/X, which both stick with "Speed".

Moldvay shortens the potion list to 8 items, dropping Giant Strength, Speed/Haste, Flying, and Delusion (all relegated to Expert), and adding ESP and Levitation back in from OD&D. So six of Holmes' choices went on to become standards of Basic.


This section is titled "Magical Potions" and begins with an introductory paragraph that expands on the one in OD&D Vol 2, pg 31. Holmes notes that potions can be used by any character, something implied in the original but not clearly spelled out. Greyhawk restricted the use of Giant Strength and Speed to Fighters only, but Holmes leaves this out.

OD&D notes that a "small sample can be taken" to determine a potion's effect. Holmes expands this into "If the characters lack a detect magic spell, they may dare a tiny sip to see what the result may be". The new first part perhaps implies that a Detect Magic spell will not only indicate that a potion is magical, but also tell what type of potion it is. The original Detect Magic reads, "A spell to determine if there has been some enchantment laid on a person, place or thing", which Holmes may have interpreted as including the type of enchantment, like the later Identify spell.

Holmes also clarifies that the variable duration of a potion (6 turns + 1d6 turns) is not known by the imbiber, only the DM.

For the descriptions of the ten potions, Holmes follows the OD&D descriptions closely. The original doesn't have descriptions for Invisibility or Flying, since they mimic spells, so he keeps these very short and close to the relevant spells.

Poison is also missing a description in original, possibly because its effect was considered obvious (save or die!), but is given a typically Gygaxian note in Greyhawk: "Referee will mislead players to the best of his ability in order to either make them believe it is a useful potion or to taste the poison, for even a small sip will suffice to kill" (pg 42). Holmes is more lenient, changing this to: "The Dungeon Master will, on careful questioning, give a hint that the potion is dangerous". He also makes explicit the saving throw. 

For Speed/Haste, Holmes follows the original (double movement) but also adds that the user "can deliver twice the usual number of blows during combat for the duration of the potion effect". This extra effect doesn't appear in the OD&D Speed Potion, or the Haste spell as it originally appears in Chainmail or OD&D. Gygax left this in the published rulebook, and it also appears as a feature of the Speed potion in AD&D and B/X.

In adding this feature, Holmes may have drawn from Empire of the Petal Throne (1975), which he was a fan of. The EPT Haste Spell specifies that "this does permit the "speeded" person to strike two blows (instead of one) per combat round" (pg 24). There is also a Eye of Hastening Destiny that gives triple speed and 3 attacks per round (pg 72).

Or possibly it is an interpretation of the Eldritch Wizardry (1976) alternate initiative rules. These rules are notoriously arcane, but end with a note that "HASTE will double effectiveness while SLOW will decrease it by one-half". However, these rules are only supposed to apply to missile fire and spells, not melee.

Note that since Holmes writes "deliver twice the usual number of blows", he actually means 4 blows per melee round, since his combat rules in the manuscript give ordinary weapons two blows per round.

In the Holmes Basic version of B2, Gygax has skeletons with a Haste spell on them that lets them attack twice per round, "once at the beginning and once at the end" (pg 21). This gives us a clue as to how to integrate the Haste Potion effect with Holmes Dex-based initiative.

In the published rulebook, the introductory paragraph and most of the potion descriptions are unchanged from the manuscript. A minor typo is introduced into the Haste potion, where "duration" is written as "durations".

The only major change is to Giant Strength. Holmes' original follows OD&D closely, "Confers the full advantages of Giant prowess including doing 2 dice of damage when scoring a hit", whereas the published version changes the "Giant" to "stone giant" and "2 dice" to "3-18 points", and adds "and having the same hit probability as a stone giant". This change conforms with the updated damage for stone giants introduced in Greyhawk. 

Continue on to Part 37 (forthcoming)
Or Go Back to Part 35: "A Potent Weapon in the Hands of a Dwarf"
Or Go Back to Start: The Holmes Manuscript

Friday, August 8, 2014

20 Backgrounds for OD&D

Archer from CHAINMAIL

Here are some Backgrounds for human characters in OD&D or Holmes Basic. The idea is inspired by the same concept in 5E and the DCC RPG, although I haven't looked at those closely, having just skimmed Basic 5E a few times, and played in a DCC RPG funnel once.

These particular backgrounds are mostly drawn from the types of Men found in the Monster Descriptions in OD&D Vol 2 (also used by Holmes in the manuscript for Basic), and the Specialists found in Vol 3, pg 22. A few others are sourced from other places in the OD&D rules to make a list of 20 for random rolling. The idea is that since these are mentioned in the books they are the most likely backgrounds for OD&D characters. This is analogous to Wayne Rossi's take on the implied setting of the OD&D rulebooks, and could be used together with that.

I'll eventually post these as a single-sheet reference table (Update: a downloadable one-page pdf can be found here), but for easier reading here they are as a list. Note these are limited to human characters since demi-humans already get their own bonuses at first level. These backgrounds can also be used for NPCs. Note that these backgrounds may be used with any character class, for example you could have a Berserker Magic-User or Smith turned Thief, etc. It's up to the player to come up with a reason why the character took up a character class.

Roll d20 for one in lieu of the standard roll for starting gold
Each background also gets a +2 Reaction Roll with others of the same background

1.  Alchemist
Ability: Beginner's Alchemy (make a Healing Potion in 1 week for 125 GP) 
Equipment: 1 Healing Potion, Mortar & Pestle
Starting Gold: 2d6 x 10
Note: Per OD&D Vol 3, an Alchemist can duplicate a potion from a formula "at a cost of one-half the potion's value" (pg 22). In OD&D Vol 1, the cost for a wizard to make a Healing Potion is given as 250 GP + 1 week (pg 7).

2. Amazon
Ability: Invoke Goddess (re-roll one die per day, but only if wearing bronze)
Equipment: Bronze Armor & Shield (AC 3), Bronze Sword, Long Bow, 2 Flasks Greek Fire (treat as Oil, with +1 damage) 
Starting Gold: 1d6 x 10
Note: This background is inspired by the picture of the Amazon in OD&D Vol 1, with details from the Amazons in J. Eric Holmes' novel, Maze of Peril

3. Animal Trainer 
Abilities: Animal Handling (+4 Reaction Roll for normal animals) 
Equipment: Mule, Guard Dog (1 HD, AC 7, 1d6 bite) 
Starting Gold: 2d6 x 10

4. Archer
Abilities: Rapid Fire (Fire arrows twice per round if not moving or in melee) 
Equipment: Long Bow, Quiver, 15 arrows, 5 silver arrows 
Starting Gold: 2d6 x 10
Note: Their Ability comes from the Chainmail rules for "Archers"

5. Bandit (or Brigand, if chaotic)
Abilities: Evasion (Flee combat without being hit, but only if wearing leather armor)
Equipment: Cloak, Leather Armor, Shield, Short Bow, Quiver, 20 arrows, Treasure Map (ruin)
Starting Gold: 2d6 x 10

6. Barkeep 
Abilities: Ear for Listening (Knows 2d6 local rumors)
Equipment: Fine Spirits (50 GP value, +2 Reaction Roll if a shot is offered, 10 shots total)
Starting Gold: 2d6 x 10
Note: This background is inspired by the section on Rumors in OD&D Vol 3, pg 23

7. Berserker          
Abilities: Rage (+2 to attack & AC 7 if no armor, will not flee/surrender), +1 hp at 1st level)
Equipment: Bearskin Cloak, Tooth-bitten Shield        
Starting Gold: 1d6 x 10

8. Buccaneer (or Pirate, if chaotic, or Sailor)
Abilities: Swimming (-20% chance of drowning), Ship-craft, Rope Use
Equipment: Cutlass, Spyglass, Treasure Map (island), Pet Monkey (1 hp), 50’ Rope with Grappling Hook           
Starting Gold: 3d6 x 10

9. Caveman           
Abilities: Tough (+1 HD at 1st level, but will not wear any armor), Hunting, Illiterate         
Equipment: Furs, Club or Stone Axe & Spear, Hide Sack with Meat & Fruit          
Starting Gold: None

10. Engineer          
Abilities: Eye for Construction (detect dungeon traps as a dwarf & secret doors as an elf) Equipment: Lantern, Steel Mirror, Chalk Stick, Level, Measuring Stick (6’, ruled)          
Starting Gold: 3d6 x 10

11. Flyer      
Abilities: Aerial Combat Training, Tumbling (-1 point per die falling damage)
Equipment: Potion of Flying, Leather Armor, 5 Javelins       
Starting Gold: 2d6 x 10
Note: This background is inspired by the relatively long section on Aerial Combat in OD&D, Vol 3, pgs 25-28

12. Gemcutter 
Abilities: Appraise (gems & jewelry), Cut Gems (Increase value of a gem 10%, 4 in 6)            Equipment: Magnifying Lens, Diamond Dust (50 GP value, use 10 GP to cut gem)        
Starting Gold: 2d6 x 10
Note: This background is inspired by the gems and jewelry found in the OD&D Vol 2 Treasure Tables. Jeweler-Gemcutter also appeared later as a Specialist in the 1E DMG.

13. Man-At-Arms     
Abilities: Years of Guard Duty (surprised only on 1 in 6)     
Equipment: Chain mail, Shield, Sword, Dagger, Light Crossbow, 30 Quarrels in Case          
Starting Gold: 2d6 x 10

14. Merman            
Abilities: Breath Underwater, Leathery Skin (AC7, +1 hp at lvl 1), -1 to attack rolls on land
Equipment: Trident, 20 Darts         
Starting Gold: 1d6 x 10
Note: In OD&D, it unstated whether Merman have fish tails, or are just humans that live underwater. If using the former, this character can be of half normal human and have legs.

15. Nomad (or Dervish)
Abilities: Surprise Outdoors (1-4 in 6, if wearing only leather), Archery while Riding             
Equipment: Light Horse, Lance, Horse Bow, Leather Armor   
Starting Gold: 1d6 x 10

16. Orcish   
Abilities: Brawling (+1 on attack rolls if not in full daylight, 1d6 damage without weapon)  
Equipment: Leather Armor, Shield, Hand Axe           
Starting Gold: 1d6 x 10
Note: This is basically a Half-Orc, and is inspired by the Orc men-at-arms available in Vol 3 of OD&D (pg 23) and the Orcs listed as Neutral in Vol 1 of OD&D.

17. Pilgrim  
Abilities: Traveling (Add 1 hex to daily movement)             
Equipment: Sturdy Staff, Holy Relic (Turns Undead as 3rd Level Cleric 2d6 times)        
Starting Gold: 2d6 x 10
Note: Pilgrims were added to the other types of Men in the 1E Monster Manual

18. Sage      
Abilities: Identify Magic Item (Takes 1 week and uses 100 gp of material components)       Equipment: Reference Books, Blank Vellum Book, Ink & Quill 
Starting Gold: 3d6 x 10

19. Smith (or Armorer)
Abilities: Fire-tough (-1 point per dice fire damage), Forging (Weapons/armor at 1/2 cost) 
Equipment:  Chainmail, Shield, Hammer, Tongs, 12 Iron Spikes, Crowbar 
Starting Gold: 2d6 x 10

20. Spy       
Abilities: Double Talk (+2 on reaction rolls), Disguise, Languages (Double normal number)
Equipment: 2 Daggers (1 hidden in boot)     
Starting Gold: 2d6 x 10

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Malchor's Starting Gold

Above is the Encumbrance example from the Holmes Basic rulebook. We know that this entire section was not present in the original manuscript and was instead added by someone at TSR, likely Gygax himself. There's a similar type of Encumbrance example at pg 225 of the first edition Dungeon Masters Guide. (One side note: if you have the second or third edition of the rulebook, the 10' pole is missing from the end of this list, perhaps because a later editor decided there wasn't enough space before the next header, "Light").

I was going through some old notes and found a list where I calculated Malchor's starting gold. For posterity, here are my calculations:

2 daggers = 6 gp
1 backpack, 1 large sack, 2 small sacks = 9
50' of rope, 12 iron spikes, 1 quart of wine = 3
Standard rations = 5 (assuming 1 week's worth)
2 flasks oil = 4 
2 vials of holy water = 50 
1 garlic bud, 1 wolvesbane bunch = 15
1 water skin, tinder box, 10' pole = 5
1 lantern, filled with oil = 10, plus 2 if the oil represents another flask

= 107 gp spent on equipment, or 109 gp if the oil in the lantern represents a separate flask.

Plus he has 20 gp. This brings the total to 127 or 129 gp, which suggests he had at least 130 gp for starting gold. This is slightly above average (105 gp for a 3d6 x 10 roll). Perhaps he spent the 1 or 3 gp at the tavern ("drinks for rumors") before setting off.

In the manuscript, Malchor was Flubbit, based on a name that Gygax had used back in the Greyhawk supplement, and appeared in two examples. In the published rulebook, he appears as Malchor in three examples. In addition to his equipment, we learn he has an INT of 10, which means he can know between 4-6 spells of each level, one of which is Sleep, which he casts in the Combat Example. Given this, he might have been advised to make a scroll of Sleep per the Holmes rules (for 100 gp/1 week) rather than spend so much money on holy water (50 gp, by far his largest expense). Of course, Gygax wrote this example and he may not have realized that the Holmes scroll rules were tweaked from the OD&D rules, which only allow "Wizards and above" (11th level & up) to make magic items, including scrolls. Gygax's example instead follows the typical old school magic-user, who usually had a surplus of money for dungeoneering equipment because there was no need to purchase armor or weapons.  

Update: Here's an alternate idea for a dungeoneering equipment packs in Holmes, based on Malchor's equipment. It includes everything that Malchor has, except for the Holy Water Daggers, the 10' pole and the separate flask of Oil in the Lantern.

Adventurer's Pack (50 gp)
Leather Backpack
1 Large Sack & 2 Small Sacks
50' rope
Standard Rations
12 iron Spikes
Water/Wine Skin with 1 Quart of Wine
2 Flasks of Oil
1 Tinder Box
1 Garlic Bud
1 Wolvesbane Bunch