Wednesday, May 3, 2023

They Are Neither Renowned As Great Warriors, Nor Counted Among The Very Wise (two-page RPG)

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet. 


The passage seemed to go on for miles, and always the chill air flowed over them, rising as they went on to a bitter wind. The mountains seemed to be trying with their deadly breath to daunt them, to turn them back from the secrets of the high places, or to blow them away into the darkness behind.

Here is a game you can play with one or more friends. If you plan to run it, you should read both pages. If you plan to play—but not run—it, you should only read the first.

It is a silly little game that takes about two hours, maybe less. We do silly little games here sometimes. I have playtested it once, which is good enough to convince me it's fun. Ready for the prime time, on the blog circuit, bnaby.


Our intrepid two test hobbits, Snowdrop (Hobbit: 12; knife; boots; breakfast; cursed ring) and Bigby (Hobbit: 7; sling; cloak; tobacco) set off towards Murdor with fresh water in their canteens and a song in their hearts.

The first day saw them into the Razor Swamps, their path ahead blocked by spurting fire geysers as a gaggle of rich jerkass hobbits tracked them from behind, certain they had stolen something of theirs. Thinking quickly, they smothered themselves in bacteria-ridden muck from the swamp and dove through the fire, accepting some infection for safe passage. They drank nothing all day, keeping the good water filling their canteens in reserve.

Seven hours journey the next day saw them come along a gritty, poisoned stream, where dancing lights enticed them to submerge themselves and swim. Snowdrop waded in cautiously to investigate and was grabbed by a slow-moving bog mummy, but managed to distract it and pry herself free. Once they had made some distance, they drank their clean water and camped for the night.

A full eight hours travel on day three brought them to the Dark Gate, a hulking fortification amidst the horrid mountains that ring Murdor. They began taking sporadic boltfire from the battlements while caught in no hobbit's land, and suffered bacterial infection in the scratches and glancing wounds they obtained while scrambling for cover, plus more as they were forced to drink from the murky pools in the mountain foothills that night.

The hobbits continued to make good time with seven hours march on day four, which brought them high into the greasy, dust-slick slopes before they began to hear hissing shrieks from the skies above—ringseekers, mounted on horrible flying snakes! Snowdrop used her good boots to brace the pair on the slopes while Bigby covered both of them with his cloak, and they waited there for the ringseekers to disperse. Camping for the night, Snowdrop collected some flint from the mountain so as to be able to make fire in the future—though they decided not to risk one that night in fear of the patrolling ringseekers, and instead drank cold, bacteria-ridden water from the murky pools on the mountainface.

Day five saw the hobbits high into the mountains, where they crested a peak and were unexpectedly tumbled into the snow-filled valley beyond by a rogue gust of wind. They dug themselves into a hollow and, finding overproof whiskey and dried bread among the provisions of Snowdrop's hearty breakfast, burned those to keep warm. In this impromptu igloo they were approached by a ghostly dwarf-presence, which Bigby immediately mollified by offering it some of his tobacco before it was able to make any grim demands. As the snow was not specifically poisoned nor infected with bacteria, the two melted some with which to drink, clean their wounds, and refill their canteens.

Six hours on day six brought the hobbits to the numerous trapdoors and cave entrances which would let them into the Goblin Mines, all of which seemed frighteningly rickety and decrepit. Bigby confirmed that some trapdoor-paths were frayed rope ladders, and pulled two up to braid one mostly-sturdy rope from them which they could descend safely. As the pair abseiled down into the tunnels they heard something huge shuffling about below them, but Bigby slung a few stones down a side passage and whatever it was that they heard chased after the noise into the darkness.

On day seven the hobbits broke through into a lower layer of caverns—ancient dwarf tombs—when a distant rumbling shook the tunnel and broke several nearby urns, which began to emit a noxious poison fog. Bigby gathered the two under his waterproof cloak while they ran, but it did not prove gasproof and both suffered heavy metal poisoning from the fumes. Worse, their headlong rush drove them into a tunnel faced with the source of the rumbling they had heard: An enormous digging machine which ate through the dirt towards them. Snowdrop attempted in vain to dig a hiding-burrow while Bigby cast about for some (famously flammable) goblin grog and, finding some, set it aflame and hurled it into the behemoth's grinding maw where it caught something internally and stopped the monster...filling the tunnel with choking oilsmoke and further poisoning the hobbits as they ran. Later that day, stopped to rest, the pair risked a fire in the tunnels to boil some brackish water to drink.

Five hours into the eighth day, the hobbits spied a group of orcish secret policemen searching through the tunnels ahead. They took up some discarded goblin mining coveralls from a breakroom and attempted to sneak by, and while briefly halted in passing they managed to keep their cool and lie proficiently when asked if they'd seen any trace of hobbitses. Fleeing the encounter, a trick catwalk tilted down under them and threatened to slide them feetfirst into a goblin limb grinder—Snowdrop, being further down, sacrificed her good boots to save her hairy hobbit feet while Bigby, further up, was able to hurl bundles of nearby mining tools into the grinder to jam it.

Day nine, four hours in, Bigby led the way through a series of underground and mostly-abandoned records offices as the mines gave way to the barrack-warrens beneath the Training Grounds. Opening a door with uncharacteristic caution, he luckily and hobbit-ly managed to prevent a makeshift noise alarm from being sounded. A seemingly never-ending armored column of orcish war machines trundled down a vast underground highway ahead, but the pair managed to cross by reusing their goblin disguises from earlier along with invoking the names of some orcish officers found in the records and reports of the offices they had just crossed.

Bigby continued to lead the way on day ten, six hours into which he blundered directly into the wrist-thick strands of a giant spiderweb stretched across the tunnel, and Snowdrop became entangled as well when she tried to free him with her knife. The rough clatter of bone and metal heralded the arrival of burned-dead infantry who proceeded to roughly cut the hobbits free, inflicting heavy metal poisoning with nicks from their jagged, rusty blades. Bigby took advantage of this to break out of their grasp, but Snowdrop was further wounded by the bacteria-laden clawed fingers of the burned-dead as she failed to struggle free and had to be rescued by Bigby.

The eleventh day saw the hobbits finally back above-ground, winding their way through a network of mazelike trenches while the evil eye of g_d searched for them with burning gaze. Fortunately a trench network is a fairly easy place to hide from such, and no special precautions were necessary. Snowdrop collected some handfuls of shrapnel for later.

Seven hours into day twelve, the two crossed a cratered and bone-dry wasteland under Bigby's cloak while a last, forlorn ringseeker flew circles overhead in fruitless search. Both badly fatigued this late in the march, they failed to take proper care around the coils of concertina wire stretched through foxholes and barricades and suffered more poisoning.

After six hours of marching on the thirteenth day, the hobbits came to the foot of Doom Mountain, and rested by a stream laden with metallic sand (of which they drank deeply). While they were doing so, a piteous voice warned them of "great danger from the skies above" and bid them join it in a muck-filled dugout by the side of the water. Not trusting it, Snowdrop turned her face skyward and was instantly and permanently blinded when a column of burning golden light scorched down from the heavens—Bigby managed to wrestle her into the stream to save her from being cooked alive, and chased off the piteous hobbit mutant when it mocked them for not heeding it. He kept watch through the night to make sure the creature didn't return, and was vindicated by continued signs of its presence.

On the fourteenth day Bigby led the now-blind Snowdrop to a fractally sharp forest of obsidian spikes. He wrapped his cloak around his arm for protection and smashed through the brittle glass with his canteen, which ruined the cloak but allowed him to escape with only lightly infected scratches. The hobbit mutant awaited them on the other side, but they threatened it away, and Snowdrop stayed awake through the night to keep it at bay with hurled handfuls of shrapnel targeted by ear.

On the fifteenth day, very near the peak now, the two happened across something exceedingly unlikely: a small spring of cool, pure water issuing from the side of Doom Mountain. Not trusting it, they lured the hobbit mutant toward them by promising it the ring (it was desperate, and very stupid) and shoved it in. When no ill effects befell it, they chased it away again and rested and drank and bathed luxuriously until a lavaflow forced them to find higher ground, where Bigby again kept watch through the night.

On the sixteenth day the pair of hobbits reached the summit, the ring above the glowing, lava-filled caldera where the ring must be destroyed. The hobbit mutant charged them from behind in a last, futile ploy, but Bigby tripped it easily into the fire below. Inching out over the edge, Snowdrop produced the ring, paused... and, failing her final hobbit check, put it on. Fortunately Bigby was waiting for this moment and wrestled her down, and, knowing that he would never be able to dispose of the ring himself if he possessed it (due to the bacterial infection and heavy metal poisoning having by now entirely suppressed his already low hobbit-ness), he realized what must be done: He pushed the blind, screaming Snowdrop bodily into the pit, cursed ring and all.


And that was that. Nobody actually started dying of bacterial infection nor heavy metal poisoning through the whole game, mostly due to luck, but they still provided a nice sense of urgency and did force a few hobbit-roll failures near the end. 

The encounters got ahead of the hazards early and forced some interpretation to make them fit, but a two-page RPG was always going to require some interpretation anyway.

If you play this and have fun, let me know. If you play it and hate it, I meant for that to happen; fuck you, I guess.

"The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo; adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually—their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on—and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end." 
—Jolkien Rolkien Rolkien Tolkien, I assume 


  1. This is awesome, thanks for sharing! Could work as a solo game as well...

    I like how you capture and present a darker side of the good ol' Tolkienian "eco-Hobbetism" - Hobbets vs Heavy Metal Poisoning and radiation and mutation and so on. Bakshi's Wizards and LotR meet.

    1. Thanks! One of the things that stuck with me very well from lord of the rings and such was the depiction of Mordor as a sort of military-industrial-wasteland and the juxtaposition of the idyllic hobbits against it, so I leaned in a bit.

      I thought briefly about making it a solo game, but decided I simply wasn't smart enough. If you hack it into one, please let me know, because that sounds cool.

    2. I'm not a big solo RPG aficionado, but I think this is already pretty "soloable" as-is. The Hazard & Encounter table provides a solid mechanic, almost like a gameboard.