Middle Earth: After Hours

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Middle Earth: After Hours

Post by Better Quell Jorel on Sun Mar 13, 2016 11:10 pm

Another game is completed; and once more the dust jacket of another campaign book is closed. And now, as with so many patchwork events in life, we have  only the memory. But now that we have the entire tapestry before us, how do we go about interpreting the experience? Good? Bad? Meh? Double meh with a slice of flan? I, of course can't speak for the entire group, but I'm willing nevertheless to share my thoughts of the game.

Overall, I'll say that I enjoyed it immensely. I can't recall a game when were allowed to invite some old friends out of retirement and play the old in a new way. I know we all hungered for a return to Middle Earth over the years; I know I certainly chomped at the bit.

I enjoyed the idea that our characters gained legendary status among men and monster status among the monsters in Middle Earth. So far as things that go bump in the night are concerned, we were certainly those that bumped back and slaughtered in spades. So well done to the GM for creating a world that not only existed but adapted and reacted when its protagonists returned.

As for adapting a GURPS game from an AD&D module, the integration worked well. The races from from the D&D mythos were not only transplanted, they were given function and purpose that meshed seamlessly into the fabric of the Tolkien universe. If I played this game and never read a book by Mr. Tolkien, I would certainly say that hobgoblins and jackal-headed men were a part of the Middle Earth world. Again, my hat is off to the GM for making smooth integration over what could have been a very messy transition.

If anything, I'd say the only real flaw to in this otherwise flawless gem came down to its players. Through a variety of factors (access to magicks galore, uber stats, uber weapons, and distance blow{Yes, that deserves its own category}), we came to regard ourselves as fairly unstoppable. Whenever a challenge arose, we rose to the task and soundly defeated it. We were a war machine purging the countryside of its ills. But as we conquered, we neglected to realize one thing: that victory after victory subtly padded our egos into thinking that we were nigh undefeatable. Tribes of orcs? Slain. A pair of balrogs? Tossed into arctic baths. Super hobgoblin warriors? Banished to the phantom zone. Brood of Ungoliant? We were the bug zapper.

And so, is it any wonder that when we faced something beyond our capabilities, we ignored every bit of advice to subdue it, choosing instead the approach that worked for us so well on so many other occasions? We walked into that final ring thinking we were invincible; we we even smug to the point of being rude to the very people trying to help or at least dissuade us from a direct course of action. We chose delusion over sense, we chose to believe that our ordeal would end as so many fairy stories do―with a fierce battle followed by assured victory. We played our Kobiyashi Maru game and lost it even though our GM gave us a way out we refused to follow. Hopefully the hard lesson learned here is that not every roleplaying climax needs to be decided through a final force of arms. Who knows? Perhaps we were the true monsters of this game since our enemies spared us when we would have killed them without a second thought.

Now, please don't think that I'm leaving myself out of this scathing rebuke. I'm talking collectively here, and I fell under this thinking perhaps even more than than anyone else. Perhaps this will give us pause  to think about our roles as players in future gaming worlds. Perhaps we will act with a little more flexibility and choose a path wiser than drawing our weapons and letting the Gods sort everything out.

So, my GM rating for this game? A well-deserved 10/10 for effort, resolve, and somehow managing all of this in the midst of the chaos of family and work.

As for the group ratings, I give us a score of 7/10.  It may have been higher, but a few pips were deducted when we failed to come up with a final solution other than our tried and true all-'Merican anthem of "fight, fight, fight for justice" theme song.
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Re: Middle Earth: After Hours

Post by grumpit on Mon Mar 14, 2016 3:12 pm

Let me start by saying that I love Jon’s game. I definitely enjoyed it and I eagerly await our next return to Middle Earth.

That said I find myself disagreeing with Jake on most of his points.  I for one was never convinced of our undefeatable nature. I entered most of the battles with trepidation and tried to defuse many of the conflicts so that we did not end up having to fight.  Plus I would like to point out that we only BARELY won several fight and we had no fights that multiple people where not grievously wounded.

Fighting and conflict is the nature of a roll playing game. We do not create our characters to be farmers or diplomats we are not trying to run a small business and have to keep our books.  No we are warriors and fighters who are there to kick ass and take names, it’s what we do. Because of this players will always respond in one of two ways when presented with a powerful enemy.

Can we kill this enemy yes or no? If the answer yes they then will always attempt to do so directly. If the answer is no they will then search for a method in which will allow them to defeat that enemy.

The idea that the party would try and imprison the enemy so we can then run away and let the elves deal with it is something I don’t think any reasonable roll playing group would ever consider.

As for the game and GM.

I give Jon high marks running a world with substance and detail. Tolkin is often vague on many things and I think Jon does a great job of filling in those details and making them his own.

I think Jon did an excellent job of creating a moral quandary in regards to whether or not the hobgoblins were evil and leaving open the possibility of friendship.

I think he did an outstanding job of creating enemies and battle’s that where both challenging and satisfying all the while keep the players on the knifes edge of a party wipe.

I would have liked to see more roll playing and emotion in some of the NPCs but overall he did a good job. I did enjoy his lesser man performance.

As for the D&D module that Jon used I think he did a very good job on converting it over to GURPS Middle Earth. However I felt that there was a clear lack of clues and focus from it. The vague, nebulous nature of the main quest was not clear or focused enough.

We have to find a lost city before Sauron does! This is fine it creates pressure and a sense of urgency but we had no idea what to do, or where to go once we got to the city. We did not know what it was that Sauron was looking for. Maybe it was his Nazgul or maybe it was something else. We had absolutely no idea what it was. We had to guess that it must have been the Nazgul but we could not know that for sure.

We were supposed to trust the Jackals but had no reason what-so-ever to do so. Particularly since we had already established that there was a Morgoth vs Sauron element in the game. As the Nazgul had himself said the jackals were abominations and should not have existed, echoing what a few of the players thought as well, even that they may have been servants of Morgoth.

What clues that might have been were too subtle or misunderstood by the players to be any help.

It was a race against time as the Nazgul was becoming more powerful each day. It however seemed to be a race in which the players did not know where to find the start or the stop line.

I can take a large share of the blame for the failure by making everyone slow down to explore more then it seems I should have. I can only speak for myself but the reason for this was I was totally lost on what we should, needed or could do.

In the end I liked the campaign; it was fun and had a lot of great elements to it. But main story was too vague and lacked direction the players needed to be successful.

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Re: Middle Earth: After Hours

Post by Better Quell Jorel on Mon Mar 14, 2016 11:20 pm

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the game, Alex. I was sort of afraid this thread would get swept under the rug like so many of the other things I post here on the forum.

Gracias for stating your opinion. Very Happy Very Happy
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Re: Middle Earth: After Hours

Post by Casey on Wed Mar 23, 2016 1:50 am

The Son of Dior wrote:Overall, I'll say that I enjoyed it immensely.

Good. That would have been pretty lame if you had hated the game that entire time. Smile


The Son of Dior wrote:I enjoyed the idea that our characters gained legendary status among men and monster status among the monsters in Middle Earth. So far as things that go bump in the night are concerned, we were certainly those that bumped back and slaughtered in spades.

That is very true. One of these days we'll keep a body count just to see how many enemies you kill. But amongst your victories:


  • Completely cleaned out practically all baddies in the north east region of the Grand Duchy

  • Killed a couple of Balrogs

  • Cripplingly disrupted a major group of Sauronic agents

  • Killed a spawn of Ungoliant

  • Killed a very powerful coven of Morgoth worshiping Hobgoblins

  • etc.


The Son of Dior wrote:As for adapting a GURPS game from an AD&D module, the integration worked well. The races from from the D&D mythos were not only transplanted, they were given function and purpose that meshed seamlessly into the fabric of the Tolkien universe. If I played this game and never read a book by Mr. Tolkien, I would certainly say that hobgoblins and jackal-headed men were a part of the Middle Earth world. Again, my hat is off to the GM for making smooth integration over what could have been a very messy transition.

Haha! That was so messy. Shoving an AD&D module into Middle Earth, and then converting it into a GURPS game? Oh my. Tolkien is spinning in his grave. I skipped almost all of the "monster" combats that I could (sorry, I just can't see Gelatinous Cubes in a game like this), and heavily modified many other parts so that it would fit. I'm glad it was seamless for you. Smile


The Son of Dior wrote:If anything, I'd say the only real flaw to in this otherwise flawless gem came down to its players.

I disagree 100%.


The Son of Dior wrote:And so, is it any wonder that when we faced something beyond our capabilities, we ignored every bit of advice to subdue it, choosing instead the approach that worked for us so well on so many other occasions? We walked into that final ring thinking we were invincible; we we even smug to the point of being rude to the very people trying to help or at least dissuade us from a direct course of action.

There's some truth there, but that doesn't make it the players' fault.


The Son of Dior wrote:Now, please don't think that I'm leaving myself out of this scathing rebuke.

Ok, but that's not the point...


The Son of Dior wrote:So, my GM rating for this game? A well-deserved 10/10

I disagree 100%. But I sincerely appreciate the compliment. Wink



The Son of Dior wrote:...managing all of this in the midst of the chaos of family and work.


You have no idea.  Shocked


The Son of Dior wrote:As for the group ratings, I give us a score of 7/10.

I disagree 100%.


The Son of Dior wrote:a few pips were deducted when we failed to come up with a final solution

Again, that's not quite the point. To me, role playing is not a win/lose game. Sure, you can fail in the outcome of the quest, as you guys did, but that doesn't mean you lost the game. It just means that you failed in a particular quest. Certainly, the players ought to fight for their desired outcome (or the GM will have fits trying to figure out what the heck the party is doing), but that doesn't (to me) make it a bad game if the players don't achieve that goal. It doesn't even mean that the players played badly. All it means is that for whatever reason - the players missed something, they had a string of bad luck, whatever - the players didn't achieve whatever goal it was they were after.

Smile
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Re: Middle Earth: After Hours

Post by Casey on Wed Mar 23, 2016 3:12 am

grumpit wrote:Let me start by saying that I love Jon’s game. I definitely enjoyed it and I eagerly await our next return to Middle Earth

Yay! TWO people didn't think my game sucked!  Very Happy


grumpit wrote:That said I find myself disagreeing with Jake on most of his points.  I for one was never convinced of our undefeatable nature. I entered most of the battles with trepidation and tried to defuse many of the conflicts so that we did not end up having to fight.  Plus I would like to point out that we only BARELY won several fight and we had no fights that multiple people where not grievously wounded.

You weren't there for the first part of the game, where the PCs trounced almost without thought whatever it was they came across. In one game, the PCs attacked TWO goblin caves and wiped them both out, without really being in any mortal peril. I didn't much have a problem with that, as I had designed the game to become progressively more difficult, as far as combat went.

I would say that the first real fight where the PCs were in danger of actually dying was the fight with the balrogs, although even there the party was almost sure to win, but they might have taken a PC (or two) with them. Even during epic fight in the Temple of Morgoth the PCs heavily outmatched the enemies. That's fine. I think that's how it should be most of the time in an RPG.

The fight with Shararur (the spider), easily could have become a Total Party Wipe. Although almost all of the hobgoblins died, the PCs fared pretty well. Despite what you might think, I was rather pleased at how well you did in that fight. Dealing out damage as quickly and as efficiently as that is to be commended for a party composed mostly of fighters.


grumpit wrote:Fighting and conflict is the nature of a roll playing game. We do not create our characters to be farmers or diplomats we are not trying to run a small business and have to keep our books.  No we are warriors and fighters who are there to kick ass and take names, it’s what we do. Because of this players will always respond in one of two ways when presented with a powerful enemy.

Can we kill this enemy yes or no? If the answer yes they then will always attempt to do so directly. If the answer is no they will then search for a method in which will allow them to defeat that enemy.

I disagree with you, in a way. To me, an RPG MUST be more than "we went there, we fought them, then we went somewhere else, and we fought them too." Such a game gets very boring very quickly. Even if the GM is clever (I'm not saying that I am) and creates challenging obstacles that the PCs must overcome, if it all boils down to fighting, the GM is doing it wrong. Yes, combat is fun. Yes, combat may be a large reason why we play the game, but I don't think that it can't be the only thing that happens if there is going to be an entertaining game.


grumpit wrote:The idea that the party would try and imprison the enemy so we can then run away and let the elves deal with it is something I don’t think any reasonable roll playing group would ever consider.

Again, I disagree with you on this. I think that there is nothing wrong with the GM (especially if he's a d*ckhead Wink ) creating a scenario where the PCs must choose to disengage from fighting someone. In such a game, the PCs would in essence be more powerful than everyone else in the game world. I think that the PCs figuring out who they can fight and who they can't can be part of the plot. I certainly wasn't trying to "Kobayashi Maru" you. I didn't (intentionally, anyway) set you up in a situation that would automatically destroy you. However, the circumstances (at that point) merely dictated that you were up against an enemy that you didn't have the power to defeat.


grumpit wrote:I give Jon high marks running a world with substance and detail. Tolkin is often vague on many things and I think Jon does a great job of filling in those details and making them his own.

Thank you. I tried VERY hard in this game to do just that. From your comments and Jake's above it seems that I did reasonably well bringing a new area to life.



grumpit wrote:I think Jon did an excellent job of creating a moral quandary in regards to whether or not the hobgoblins were evil and leaving open the possibility of friendship.

Aha. Now we get to that. And this is where I think you prove your earlier point (about being diplomats) wrong. The group did very well with the "moral quandary" (good choice of words) regarding the hobgoblins. When it came time to fight the first one of them you (ok, that would be Milamber), refused to do so.

I was very conscientious about having encounters in the game not be "one off": your choices affected people and changed things down the road. Nothing happens in a vacuum. People talk amongst themselves about what they experience; an encounter with a group such as yours is talked about quite a bit. This causes people to react differently when they meet you, for good or for ill. In the case of the hobgoblins, Milamber refusing to kill Narcissus, your fair treatment of Krasgat, your willingness to talk with Kihos, and your honesty and willingness to work with Ashklug was a very powerful agent of change in the timeline of Middle Earth that you are in.

So that's the "diplomacy" part of the game. The PCs could have reverted to the AD&D mentality that this game was designed for. Yes, in the game you were meant to kill the hobgoblins, as they were just "monsters". That change that I made to the game was intentional. If you had done that, yes, you would not have had the necessity to be diplomats, and would have waded from carnage to carnage, because "We do not create our characters to be farmers or diplomats". Wink

However, I think that by seeing things differently, and by playing something else than a combat simulation game, you added another dimension that made the game infinitely more enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. You made it possible for your characters to see the personality of other people, to know their fears and their cultures and their desires and their motivations. Out of all the things that I liked about this game, the personification and humanization of something that was only ever meant to be a "monster" was easily my most favorite part.


grumpit wrote:I think he did an outstanding job of creating enemies and battle’s that where both challenging and satisfying all the while keep the players on the knifes edge of a party wipe.

Yeah, that was difficult, and I knew that it would be going into this game. At the level you guys are at, it was very hard designing combats that you couldn't just fight through while you drink your tea, but that also wouldn't kill you in the first three rounds.


grumpit wrote:I would have liked to see more roll playing and emotion in some of the NPCs but overall he did a good job. I did enjoy his lesser man performance.

I know. This is something that I struggle with as a GM. My performances almost always come off as completely deadpan. I hate it. It makes the personalities of the game much harder to believe and care about (see my previous comments about that). I really did try hard this game not to be like that, but because I was trying to keep track of so many things simultaneously, I frequently failed at that.

I think in some respects I did better: the family at Sukiskyn, the Elves of Rifflian, and Ahiktos (haha, remember him?) come to mind. I also think I did okay with the hobgoblins and the balrogs. There might be others, but that will be up to your judicious review.


grumpit wrote:I felt that there was a clear lack of clues and focus from it. The vague, nebulous nature of the main quest was not clear or focused enough.

This was semi-intentional. The goal in the module was (I'm not kidding) to get to the city, kill a few baddies, and loot everything while two civilizations murderously destroy each other. Seriously. And it was supposed to be obvious to the players that they were there to kill and loot with really little explanation why. Hence, for you guys (who did not go there for plunder), the goal was different. No, you didn't know exactly what to do once you got there. That point was brought up several times before you even set foot in the city.

As far as being in a race without knowing where the start and finish line were? You guys didn't really even know you were in a race. It was all completely open ended. The clues yes were very subtle, but again that's not the point.


grumpit wrote:We were supposed to trust the Jackals but had no reason what-so-ever to do so. Particularly since we had already established that there was a Morgoth vs Sauron element in the game. As the Nazgul had himself said the jackals were abominations and should not have existed, echoing what a few of the players thought as well, even that they may have been servants of Morgoth.

This is the point. It goes back to the issues of not knowing why you're there in the first place, not finding any clear and convincing clues, and exploring the dead parts of the city. You can only learn so much from empty buildings and silent walking corpses. You needed to find someone alive. Whether that was the Jackal headed priests or the cavemen, there needs to be some communication about what it is that's going on.

And no, you shouldn't have trusted the jackals, certainly not at first. This is borne out of GM knowledge that the High Priest was part of a long line of his type that intentionally lied to his own people and kept another race in virtual slavery. So trust - definitely not. However, that's where the diplomacy comes in. If two groups get along, there's no need for it - you just help each other out and don't have to explain anything or negotiate. But just because an NPC (Ashklug) says that they cannot  be trusted, or another one (Khar Edhen) says that they are an abomination, doesn't mean that the PCs need to abandon the one group that can give them information (two groups, if you count the cavemen). It does mean that some tact might be required, as well as some general wiliness, but it doesn't mean that it was better to just leave and go on trying to search on your own again.

As far as being evil, worshiping Sauron/Morgoth, well, you're partly correct. The priests were evil in the most banal sense of those who use religion to gain power. The general populace of the jackal-headed people were just that - people. Some are kind, some are mean; some are smart, some are dumb. Sure they're kind of douche bags for having slaves, but I suppose that's a topic of moral relativity that could be discussed for many cultures from throughout history. I'm not sure that labeling a whole race as evil after having an actual discussion with only one of them is too fair.

Now I know I say this from my comfortable Monday Morning GM chair. I'm not going to pretend to know what you were thinking or how your characters perceived the circumstances. Perhaps the players/characters expected to find a scroll, or a wizened hermit, or a magical sword that would have shown them the way. I don't know, and if that's the case I'm not sure that there's any blame to be had with anyone: if such were the plot of the module, certainly you should have ditched the standoffish jackal headed priests and set out on your own. At any rate, I felt that Raina taking her time to look around and explore the city was actually the wise choice, for the precise reason you stated. It was only after you found two potential sources of living information that striking out on your own again became a losing proposition.

Alright, enough talking from me!
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Re: Middle Earth: After Hours

Post by grumpit on Wed Mar 23, 2016 10:29 am

grumpit wrote:Fighting and conflict is the nature of a roll playing game. We do not create our characters to be farmers or diplomats we are not trying to run a small business and have to keep our books.  No we are warriors and fighters who are there to kick ass and take names, it’s what we do. Because of this players will always respond in one of two ways when presented with a powerful enemy.

Can we kill this enemy yes or no? If the answer yes they then will always attempt to do so directly. If the answer is no they will then search for a method in which will allow them to defeat that enemy.

Saule wrote:I disagree with you, in a way. To me, an RPG MUST be more than "we went there, we fought them, then we went somewhere else, and we fought them too." Such a game gets very boring very quickly. Even if the GM is clever (I'm not saying that I am) and creates challenging obstacles that the PCs must overcome, if it all boils down to fighting, the GM is doing it wrong. Yes, combat is fun. Yes, combat may be a large reason why we play the game, but I don't think that it can't be the only thing that happens if there is going to be an entertaining game.

I chose all the wrong words when I wrote that. I agree with that we need and enjoy having dynamic roll playing options to explore and often times we will try to use diplomacy, as you pointed out I did so many times. What I meant to say was that with certain types of evil and overly powerful enemies the players would never explore any other options then fighting. I feel that a Nazgul is the perfect example of one such enemy.

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Re: Middle Earth: After Hours

Post by Better Quell Jorel on Wed Mar 23, 2016 1:00 pm

Again, I disagree with you on this. I think that there is nothing wrong with the GM (especially if he's a d*ckhead Wink ) creating a scenario where the PCs must choose to disengage from fighting someone.

And that's my opinion as well. There's more than one way to solve a puzzle box, and shooting it in frustration should not be the only option we have as PCs.

Again, that's not quite the point. To me, role playing is not a win/lose game. Sure, you can fail in the outcome of the quest, as you guys did, but that doesn't mean you lost the game. It just means that you failed in a particular quest. Certainly, the players ought to fight for their desired outcome (or the GM will have fits trying to figure out what the heck the party is doing), but that doesn't (to me) make it a bad game if the players don't achieve that goal. It doesn't even mean that the players played badly. All it means is that for whatever reason - the players missed something, they had a string of bad luck, whatever - the players didn't achieve whatever goal it was they were after.

I agree with you entirely here. Some the best storytelling that can be had in roleplaying is when the PCs lose a fight or fail horribly in attempting to resolve a quest or situation. When that sure expectation is kicked out from under you feet, PCs, and even GMs, are often left squirming on how to resolve the situation. I honestly wish we did it more often.

No, I don't think we lost the game on account of the final fight. I believe, like you, that we performed rather admirably in defying the odds and coming up with victory after victory. The failure, as I see it, falls to our stubborn reliance on our sword arm as the only way to achieve that victory. As you said, we should have seen reason in choosing another option; we did see reason that binding the Nazgul was another way to resolve the conflict. But we glanced at our lovely merit badges of victory and figured we could pull off another win.

That is what irks me most about our PC performance in that final game; it's that we chose the sure lazy path based on our past track record of perfect victories. We didn't lose the game per say, but we certainly ended things on a dissonant key in part due to our intransigence.
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