Using High Level Characters
Using High Level Characters
Just as Eru prescribed a Balance of Things in Arda, most Gamemasters attempt to instill a balance of play in their role play¬ing games. There is undoubtedly more drama, and more fun, in a situation where the outcome is frequently in doubt. Poor play balance inevitably produces foregone conclusions, leaving players with an un¬fulfilling sense of futility.
Few things upset play balance like the improper use of high level characters — individuals who dominate the course of action, leav¬ing the players with few alternatives and too much or too little hope. This is particularly true for role playing games set in Third and Fourth Age Middle-earth, a land where relatively few high level individuals live.
The following two sections will help a Gamemaster decide when and how to use powerful characters in a Middle-earth role playing adventure or campaign.
Selecting High Level Characters
As its title states, LOME describes “lords,” individuals of substan¬tial power and/or impact in Middle-earth’s history. These characters are provided in order to give the Gamemaster some thorough background information, but they also serve as a framework for judg¬ing the appropriate level of power for characters of various races, numerous locations, and different temporal settings.
You may, of course, wish to use the characters from LOME as par-ticipants. This can be a rather delicate endeavor. In such case, take into account the following guidelines:
- (1) The later the setting, the less powerful the actors
- ICE’s Middle-earth products are designed for games set in the Third and Fourth Ages of Endor, eras in which the number and strength of the continent’s powerful individuals were con-siderably lower than they were in the First and Second Ages. The further one goes back in the history of Middle-earth, the stronger the characters.
Select high level characters accordingly. For instance, a Fourth Age setting in a given locale might be dominated by a few 11th level figures, while the same place in the Second Age might have been ruled by a dozen or more 20th level characters. The reasons for this situation are many, but the primary factor is that the original fathers of the various Free Peoples were exceedingly strong. The further the line evolves away from these individuals, the weaker the average member of the population. This is particularly the case with races other than Men (although this rule holds very true for the Dúnedain).
- (2) The Valar rarely come to Middle-earth
- The Powers of Aman make few visits to Endor and, after the Change of the World near the end of the Second Age, this rule becomes stronger. Vala characters prefer to manifest themselves in¬directly, either through Maia emissaries (e.g., the Wizards), via natural forces (e.g., freak storms), or through dreams (e.g., Elbereth’s “visitations” to Elves).
- (3) The Vanyar confine themselves to Aman
- The line of the Vanyar Elves historically stayed out of Middle-earth once they settled in the Undying Lands.
- (4) As time passes, there are fewer Elves in Endor
- There are many reasons for the slow but steady Elven exodus from Middle-earth. Many Elves long “for the sea,” or for the glories of Aman. Others weary of Endor (or even Arda) and either depart for the Undying Lands or die. Still others seek their loved ones across the Great Sea.
- (5) More conspicuous individuals attract attention and often danger
- A certain percentage of powerful individuals in¬variably die at the hands of rivals. The ranks of the power¬ful are pruned from within, and often at a faster rate than the influx of new powers can adequately replace.
Keep these factors in mind when determining the type, number, and strength of the powerful characters in your game.
Balancing The Use Of Powerful Characters
Middle-earth is a rich and varied place in which to adventure; but, like any well-developed world, it has been carefully crafted. It is also a modest setting, with relatively few extremely potent inhabitants. The vast majority of its peoples and creatures are low level, and on¬ly a few gifted and lucky figures ever reach 11th level. Fewer still ex¬ceed 20th level. Therefore, a Gamemaster must exercise prudent plan¬ning and a good deal of restraint when adding any of the characters found in LOME.
The following tips will help a Gamemaster maintain play balance while utilizing high level characters in his game.
- (1) Those who serve Eru, serve his Balance
- The powerful servants of Eru subscribe to a code similar to that of the Order of Wizards (see Section 5.14). Overt power is used on¬ly in defiance of the Balance, for even well-meaning force can disrupt the Nature of Things. Thus, the loyal and Maiar who come to Endor deliberately restrain themselves. They attempt to work with, rather than dominate, lesser folk. Most of all, they avoid drawing attention to themselves out of con¬cern for inflicting fear upon others and out of need to avoid the watchful eye of any opposition. (Note how the Istari’s levels are characterized according to a dual scheme, with their offensive powers only about half to two thirds of their defen¬sive capabilities.)
- (2) Even the most powerful of Elves is bound by Fate
- Fate grips the lives of the immortals to a much greater degree than it affects Men. The Elves of Middle-earth, for instance, fre¬quently find themselves drawn to some unswerving doom. Thus, even a powerful Elf’s life may run its course toward a particular end, regardless of the Elf’s attempts to divert Fate. The details of his destiny may not be dictated, but the result might be unavoidable. A Gamemaster can use this fac¬tor to preordain certain “balancing” results for Elves of great power, especially in the case of Elven Non-player Characters.
- (3) Even when they do come to Middle-earth, Vala and Maia characters adopt form (i.e., their fana)
- When entering the very “material” setting of the world of Eru’s Children, the otherwise incorporeal Ainur take forms. This means that they must suffer from some of the weaknesses inherent in their adopted bodies (e.g., emotions like greed and jealousy). As a result, the Ainur who operate in Middle-earth act at a reduc¬ed level of effectiveness. (See Section 5.12 and note how the Istari’s levels were reduced when the Wizards took forms and entered Endor.)
- (4) Strength deteriorates over time
- Even among the immortals, the use of power can drain an individual over time. This is particularly true of renegade Maia and Vala characters who use massive amounts of power outside the context of Eru’s thought. Unsanctioned and unrestrained, these out¬bursts of energy sap strength, making the character more and more dependent on outer means of support (e.g., items of his own creation). The loss of power may be enough to pre¬vent an otherwise incorporeal spirit from changing form. So, a powerful figure who has been around for a long time may well be weakened during his long stay.
- (5) Power attracts power
- Powerful individuals tend to con-centrate, either to unite their strength, or to combat one another for control. This means that high level characters often impact only indirectly in most areas. In addition, a display of power may attract opposition from other well- endowed figures and can be unwise. For instance, Sauron no doubt enslaved or eliminated most of his significant opposi¬tion in many areas of Middle-earth. Thus, the powerful often hide their strengths.
These hints provide the Gamemaster with some reasons why high level characters might not operate at their peak of power. This means that there are some built-in checks implicit in any Middle-earth set¬ting. A Gamemaster need not feel compelled to avoid powerful characters simply because of their potential impact.
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