(See here the first part of this series.)
“I was wondering if you needed any work done. Running messages. Looking after animals. Anything, really,” said the Rothling boy. He was a peasant, thirteen or so years old.
My character, Kyllikki, wasn’t sure why the boy came to her. Kylikki is the court mage of the jarles, and normally wouldn’t handle this sort of request.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“Eowan Adricsson,” he said.
Adricsson. Adric was the name of one of the Rothinlings who had been injured on the expedition through the Essenwold. A monster had stung him on in the spine, right at the base of his skull. He survived, but the seithmann1 said he would never walk again. Adric was a laborer, not a warrior, but he’d fought alongside them just the same. Kyllikki had ordered Adric and the other laborers to accompany them on the expedition, and she felt responsible for his fate.
Eowan said he was looking for work to support his family over the winter while his father recovered. I’ve seen the critical hit tables, I thought. That guy is screwed.
The first order of business, of course, was to roll up my stats. I hadn’t straight-up rolled a character in ages. Despite my fears that my character would end up having an Intelligence score of 8 or a Constituion of 6, I managed to do remarkably well for myself. Kyllikki ended up with a 19 in both her Intelligence and Ego scores on a 3-18 scale. An Ego score of 19 out of 18? Does that make me a total asshole? My C harisma score was 13, but Charisma seems heavily tied to appearance in Arduin. (The descriptor for a 13 Charisma in The Compleat Arduin is as follows: “Nice looking. Bring home to mom.”)
Arduin also lets players roll on an Attribute Table that grants them randomly-assigned special abilities — and an associated penalty. Kyllikki rolled a 76, granting her a +5 Charisma bonus when she lies, but also a penalty to her saves to resist level drain.
Great. With my Ego of 19 and my Charisma bonus when lying, I’m pretty sure that I’m some sort of charming sociopath.
While I didn’t roll on the Female Attributes Table and end up with a 50 inch bust2 and a 20 inch waist, I did roll on the random appearance table. Kyllikki ended up with bright orange skin, golden eyes, and a tail, which my tyrannical GM forced me to change into something “more appropriate to the setting” to suit his narrow vision. Bummer.
With my ability scores out of the way, I chose some spells for myself. For the most part, I selected spells that related to divination, travel, and exploration with a few other spells that could be used for utility or combat. Kyllikki, I decided, would try to avoid combat when possible, and de-escalate conflicts when she could. Having lots of combat spells might mean that Kyllikki had few ways to solve her problems except with violence, a poor long-term strategy in an Arduin game. I envisioned Kyllikki as a trickster and a peacemaker who tried to find indirect, nonviolent solutions to her problems. She’s confident and brave, and she never gives up. And hey, if she has to tell a few white lies to keep some knuckleheaded knights from killing each other, then there’s nothing wrong with that.
Kyllikki’s first adventure was an investigation into a disturbance in a nearby forest. The Rothling headman of the local village said something about giant snakes eating the local people’s reindeer. Kyllikki went off to the forest with a Rothling forester to investigate.
While in the forest, we came across the local seithmann and his dire wolf companion. He confirmed our suspicions about monsters in the forests and agreed to aid us in our search. The deeper we went into the forest, the more we noticed that there was something wrong. Animals all over the forest were acting strangely, and some of them were unusually large and oddly colored. And then found the giant snake.
When the snake attacked, I looked at my character sheet and despaired. Maybe I should have taken Sorceror’s Arrow. Wouldn’t it have been useful to have at least one offensive spell? Ah well.
Then I noticed that one of my first-level spells, Captivating Gaze, had considerable combat utility: it could make any creature fall into a deep trance and obey any command I would give it, and taking damage only had a 30% chance of breaking the spell.
So in a rather unclimactic scene, Kyllikki hypnotized the snake while everyone else hacked it apart. On the second round of combat, the seithmann‘s wolf got a critical hit.
“Hold on,” said Geoffrey. “I have to look up the critical hit location table for giant snakes.”
Of course this game has a critical hit location table for giant snakes.
Geoffrey found the table, and announced that the wolf ripped out the snake’s innards, killing it instantly. We made some lighthearted jokes about Freud, snakes, and misandry, and the game moved on. Unfortunately, the snake didn’t have a reindeer-shaped lump in its torso or any partially-digested reindeer in its stomach, so we were forced to conclude that there were almost certainly multiple giant snakes out there, wreaking havoc on the countryside.
The group of us eventually discovered the source of the disturbance: a statue of a goddess that had been lost in the war, her gold leaf chipped away and left to rot in a lake. The animals in the lake had been mutated into bloodthirsty monsters because of the goddess’s rage, Kyllikki guessed, and she returned to the castle to ask for the jarles’ permission to lead an expedition into the forest to pull the statue from the lake and return it to its proper place in a temple.
The expedition consisted of four spearman, a dozen laborers, and one of the household knights. The expedition met with some resistance: first, an attack of monstrous animals, and secondly, a group of undead — bandits, mostly likely, who had been slain while trying to steal the statue.
I noticed something interesting during the combat scenes: I wasn’t bored.
Let me explain. I find traditional RPG combat to be really, really dull. Although some people love it, I get bored and impatient with adding up modifiers and moving miniatures around. Even in with games more non-traditional, cinematic takes on combat I find that combat scenes tend to drag on forever, and after fifteen minutes or so I find myself bored out of my skull. Even in games where everyone at the table knows the system well, and the players don’t take too long on their turns, I still find that my attention wanders once combat starts.
In this game, things were different. Even though there were almost two dozen combatants in one fight, I was paying attention to every roll. There was real risk every time the dice were rolled. Not only are the critical hit tables brutal in Arduin, but hit points are static. Kyllikki has 36 hit points3, and that number will never increase. When many weapons deal 1d10+10 per attack and most combatants have two attacks per round, every roll matters.
The fight ended after four rounds, and the expedition was victorious. There were casualties. While no one died, one of the laborers was turned into a parapelegic, and one of the soldiers lost 1d4 fingers (he rolled a 4, poor guy). Kyllikki herself took a couple of serious injuries, and was down to fourteen hit points. Kyllikki did her best to salvage the expedition’s morale, and eventually freed the statue of the goddess from the mire.
Upon the expedition’s return to the castle, reactions were mixed. While the return of the goddess was met with celebration, others were less pleased with its outcome. Heidric, one of the household knights, decided that Kyllikki shouldn’t have been taking “his” men out into the woods and getting their fingers cut off. Kyllikki made some sort of smartass comment about how the spearmen belonged to the jarles, rather than to him (which is true, of course, but Heidric outranks Kyllikki and it’s always a bad idea to insult someone who outranks you in a feudal society). Heidric didn’t much like that, of course, and Kyllikki walked away from the encounter with the distinct feeling that she’d made an enemy that day.
“Look, Heidric,” I wanted to say. “This is Arduin. That guy probably could have lost 1d4 fingers getting out of bed in the morning.”
“No,” said Geoffrey. “That would be Rolemaster.”
“Oh,” I said.
Geoffrey got a thoughtful look on his face. “You know, I’ve considered converting this game over to Rolemaster. I still might.”
I laughed until I realize that he wasn’t joking.
Next in the series: Geoffrey begins to question his sanity, and the hunkiest knight in Rothlingsmark takes a spear to the head.
1. The seithmann, or “crazy Rothling who lives in the forest and talks to animals,” is a male practitioner of seithr. Seithr, of course, is just the word that Rothlings use for traditional magic and is not intended to be a faithful recreation of real-world seithr. The practice of seithr by men is not considered argr in this setting, because homophobia and sexism aren’t a part of the world of Rothlingsmark. ↩
3.This is a pretty good amount of hit points. Unlike in D&D, hit points are determined by a character’s race, rather than by their class. Kyllikki is Tauthra, which base their stats on Arduin’s elves. This is also why she has a Finnish name instead of the Anglo-Saxon and Norse-inspired names of the Rothling (dwarf) and Laumir (human) NPCs . The more you know! ↩