Monday, September 5, 2011

Magical Dwarves and Sneaky Halflings

"They brought up their ponies, and carried away the pots of gold, and buried them very secretly not far from the track by the river, putting a great many spells over them, just in case they ever had the chance to come back and recover them."

That line is from the Roast Mutton chapter of "The Hobbit". I'm reading the Douglas A. Anderson annotated version of J.R.R. Tolkien's book before the movie comes out and re-reading the book I read as a 4th grader in elementary school as an adult has been really interesting.

That quoted line really struck me as I read over it. It didn't say specifically that Gandalf cast the spells... I got the picture that the dwarves know some spells which really got me thinking about dwarves in general and how in the Middle Earth world dwarves are more like their Norse mythological roots.

Douglas A talks about how almost all the dwarven names are pulled directly from the Poetic Edda (1923 Henry Adams Bellows translation) which I have never read, but I'm thinking of looking for a copy in English. I also found it interesting in his annotation that he spoke of a dwarf who cursed a man to roam the woods as a wild bear in the Blue Fairy Book 1889 edited by Andrew Lang (Douglas was making the point that the bear man is a Beorn prototype, however I was thinking more about the fact that the dwarf had magical abilities). In our ancestors folk myths of dwarves, they are magical creatures with magical abilities; I wonder why Gary decided to make them almost "anti-magical" in D&D? As I keep reading this book I'm going to think more and more about how (and if) I should adopt this stuff for my next D&D game. I kind of like the idea of dwarves having some magical abilities...

On a completely different note, it really spoke to me that Bilbo not only can hide in the woods at will (as the BX Halfling can), but in addition Bilbo shows that he can "move silently" with ease, and attempts to pick pockets of the trolls in this chapter. I think the current BX halfling abilities mock the hiding ability, but maybe the halfling should have a marginally better aptitude at moving silently and some other thief abilities than the average human does (not trained thieves). Perhaps it would be as simple as giving halflings some bonus to surprise checks (they may already have that in the B/X system or I might be crossing my systems) or give them a +1 on a d6 or approximately a +20% chance to attempt these things.

I probably won't implement any of this in one of my campaigns without a lot of thought, but it is interesting to imagine how one could adjust the B/X system to increase the Tolkeinishness of the system. I've also been reading the MERP roleplaying system and while I love rolemaster (it is a perverse sick love) the system as it stands really doesn't exactly match the flavor of tolkien. The art was amazing IMHO, the background they put in the MERP books is great, but the system mechanics are pretty far away from the Middle Earth universe as presented in the Hobbit and LOTR.

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