Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Season 1: A Timeline

The view of Moria Station from the Overhang

T.A. 2008

July 10 - Tari commissions a series of figures of the Valar from Gimli
July 27 - Thoron, an apprentice Gunslinger arrives in Moria Station, makes contact with Braith and Sterling, proprietors of the Overhang, and their associates: Kaa, a half-orc 'cleaner,' Gimli, a dwarven craftsman and Jae, a Silvan Elf courier. The Lord Balrog receives a gift: an unhatched Great Eagle egg, and the egg's mother, her wings clipped. The Balrog orders that the mother hatch the egg, whereupon he will consume the eaglet. The heroes decide to rescue the egg.
July 28 - Knowing they will be venturing up into the sunlight if they succeed in rescuing the egg, Gimli begins crafting a series of goggles for those who have lived underground their whole life.
July 30 - Thoron's remaining companions arrive: Galad, his mentor, a fully accomplished Gunslinger (one of the first), and Farson, Galad's other apprentice. An altercation with the local militia. Jae makes contact with MaeLiana, the daughter of a minor elven noble who possesses lore about eagles, and is able to advise the group as to how much time remains before the egg hatches. It is likely less than a month.
The Streets of Moria Station, lit by Gaslight

August 1 - A plan is formed to rescue the egg. Gimli crafts a facsimile egg as decoy.
August 2 - Thoron, Maeliana, and Tari descend through a series of ventilation tunnels about the Balrog's chambers. Once inside, Maeliana entreats upon the mother eagle to give over the egg and allow them to replace it with the decoy. Farson discovers Galad is a traitor, but is unable to stop Galad's treachery, as he is attacked at the Overhang by a group of guardsmen.. Galad attempts to kill Gimli and Kaa in the cold forges. Gimli and Kaa escape through mine shafts and tunnels, eventually coming upon an underground lake where they discover two Dwarven battle axes, treasures hidden at the coming of the Second Darkness. Braith, Sterling and Jae are attacked by Galad, but in the ensuing battle, Galad loses a hand, and Braith claims his pistols. The group returns to the Overhang in time to rescue Farason. Gimli vows to have revenge upon Galad, but Thoron and Farson prevail upon the group to allow proper justice to be served.
The group is visited by Morsein, a strange elf who believes he is the first of his kind in Middle Earth. He arranges with the members of the Kelumé resistance to assassinate Brodish Hair-Dragger, one of the Balrog's highest ranking captains (and Kaa's father). In order to make Brodish vulnerable, Morsein has arranged for a feast for all the elite of the Second Darkness currently residing in Moria. Brodish will be among them. The crew from the Overhang will be masquerading as guests and servants. With the feast taking place on the main platform of Moria Station, an opportunity will be provided to load the stolen Eagle egg into a train car, ready to be taken out of Moria Station.
Lower levels of Moria Station, above the Balrog's Chambers

August 3 - Gimli sets to work on the container for the egg. Galad escapes.
August 4 - The Feast at Moria station: the Kelumé resistance is betrayed by Morsein, Gimli dies in a final confrontation with Galad, and two new allies, Rhavas Grau, a train engineer and Aidan, his fireman, assist the group in escaping with the eagle egg. Tari undergoes a radical physical transformation from her interactions with Morsein. As the train smashes its way through Moria station, the Lord Balrog arrives, only to be thwarted by Sterling, who throws one of Gimli's fallen axes into the Balrog's eye. As the train moves onto the main line leading Westward to freedom, all of Moria Station's forces converge upon the escaping train.
August 5: The flight through the main tunnel of Moria to its West gate is fraught with peril. Despite a number of skirmishes with their pursuers, the Kelumé resistance reaches the West gate and bursts out into the dawn of a new day. Rhavas Grau orders Aidan to initiate a complex mechanism in one of the train cars. The roof of the car is blown, and with Aidan’s fire, a hot-air balloon rises. The adventurers board the car, laden with their luggage and equipment. Suddenly, as the balloon-car begins to lift off, the Lord Balrog descends them from the mountain in full fury. In response, Rhavas Grau takes a massive wrench in hand, and leaps from the airborn car, yelling “You Shall Not Pass!” as he falls upon the Balrog in mid-air combat. The balloon-car carries the group northward as the enigmatic train-engineer grapples the Balrog down to earth, lost to sight and knowledge. The eagle egg hatches, and its cries bring the remaining handful of Great Eagles to accompany the balloon-car further north along the ridge of the Misty Mountains.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Codex Transportica

I hardly know what this is yet, but I think it's worth a look.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Synopsis Game 01: The Eagle has...landed

It is summer in the year T.A. 2008. The Kelumé, the Free People's resistance against the Second Darkness, have contacted Braìth and Sterling, the Eriadorian (human) owners of the Overhang to request they grant every possible accomodation to three operatives stealing into Khazad-dum via Moria Station. Since getting onto the platform at Moria Station requires very particular documentation, Braìth and Sterling set about procuring the proper documents, as well as the essential feature of a wax seal, done in the same sigil as the Lord Balrog's. Sterling, Braìth and their associates Kaa, a half-orc 'cleaner,' Gimli, a dwarven craftsman and Jae, a Silvan Elf courier all set about utilizing their contacts and skills, with the end result being a perfect replica of the proper documents necessary to gain access to Moria Station. In the process, Kaa was wounded bad enough to need medical attention, which was granted fortuitously by Tari, an acquaintance of Jae (who had also recently commissioned a series of ceramic icons of the Valar from Gimli).

As Jae descended the stairs from the Overhand towards Moria Station, a military procession announcing the Lord Balrog's presence entered the platform. While Jae was frozen in terror, unable to go on, Gimli and Braìth took up the document and continued toward one of two trains recently arrived. Their destination, a passenger train, was just disembarking. While Gimli and Braìth maintained a low profile, the Lord Balrog was presented with a shocking gift, representing a terrible blow to the hope of the Kelumé. A female Great Eagle, wings clipped, and her unhatched egg were presented as gifts, with the clear intention to force the female to hatch the egg, and then present the eaglet as a feast for the fallen Maia. The companions watching from the Overhang were shocked with horror at the prospect, even as Gimli and Braìth made contact with Braìth. After a brief altercation with the security force of Moria Station (which ended in an explosion which killed a number of the security force), they returned to the Overhang, where Tarondor (one of the Dunedain Rangers) revealed that his reason for coming to Khazad-dum was to retreive the Great Eagle egg. When Tari commented how confused she was by everything that was happening, the Kelumé retreated to a secret room in the cliff face behind the Overhang. Tari followed, undetected save by Tarondor.

When she was discovered, the group grudgingly resigned themselves to including her in their plans and mechanations, also having determined that they need to find a way to get the egg out of Khazad-dum before it hatches.

Memorable Quotes:

(right after the explosion went off on the main platform)GIMLI: Now, what would have made it explode like that?

KAA: So what I want to know is, when you've got some smelly orc drooling all over your face, and then they cut off your arms and legs and torture you, are you going to give us away?
KAA: Why not? I totally would!

KAA: (realizing a half-orc can do things in Middle-Earth other races wouldn't) I'm totally smoking a cigarette...

STERLING: So I'm interrogating you! Why are you here?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Overhang and Moria Station

Located on the outer circumference of the vast chasm containing Durin's Stair (also known as the Endless Stair), the Overhang is an inn and tavern built on a large overhanging outcrop of rock. As a result, patrons of the Overhang are afforded an excellent view of the central pillar of Durin's Stair, as well as the recent network of rails and sidings for the recently completed train station built on top of a huge natural basalt abutment which has been leveled by Dwarven engineering. The Moria Station is built on the abutment to increase the security surrounding arrivals and departures; the only way onto the abutment besides the rails is a 70' long bridge which connects to one of the "abyss' numerous natural basalt abutments," (Moria 54) which in turn has a number of bridges leading out to other abutments or a platform adjoining Durin's stair. Security at the station is extreme; papers signed by one of the various Steam Lords across Middle-Earth are required to disembark and enter Moria. The residents of Moria who are not in official positions within the rule of the Second Darkness are rarely permitted to leave the underground city, and so only those who have visitor status are permitted onto the platform without the proper paperwork, usually bearing the seal of the Balrog of Moria himself. Moria station runs from the Greatwood (Mirkwood) Line directly, running east to west. The line has not connected to the yet-to-be-completed Cardolan line, since construction of that last leg of the Great Endor Railway (GER) continues to be harried by the terrorist efforts of the Rangers of the North. Moria Station is also a stop-off for the Anduin spur line which runs North to South along the Eastern edge of the Misty Mountains, following the Great River Anduin, connecting Orthanc with Moria, Goblin-gate, Gundabad, and ultimately, Angmar. As a result, it is a constant site of activity, a swarm of armed forces, workers, and official dignitaries moving to and from the underground city.

The Overhang is known for it's excellent brews, clean rooms, and friendly staff. These attributes are those which are spoken of loudly, in conversational tones. What is whispered in dark corners and passed in encrypted messages is that the Overhang is the meeting point for members of the Kelumé ("rising up," Q.), the bourgeoning resistance against the Second Darkness. Table conversations are as likely to be about how the day's work has gone as they are to concern the rising tide of Light against the Shadow.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Moria and Lórien: T.A. 1970-2008

When Saruman and the Witch-King began their assault on Middle-Earth, the Dwarves of Moria, under the leadership of Durin VI, responded with an action which arguably preserved the culture and people of Lórien, simultaneously redressing a grievous wrong which had plagued the relations between the Elves of Lórien and the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm for over a thousand years.

The Dwarves of Khazad-dûm and the Elves of Eregion had enjoyed an amicable relationship of trade, commerce and craftsmanship:

"The discovery of mithril [circa. S.A. 700] prompted a Noldor migration into Eregion. Coming in search of new material for their wondrous crafts, these Elves settled in smaller Elven towns and built a great city at the junction of the Rivers Sirannon and Glanduin. Mithril excite the ever-curious Noldor, Elves who rivaled--and often surpassed--the Dwarves in the art of smithcraft...Within decades of finding mithril, Durin's folk had completed a subterranean road beneath the Silvertine that connected their city and mines to the Elven realm of Eregion. The West-gate of Khazad-dûm was opened, and goods bound for the Noldor stores and forges no longer had to travel the long route over the Redhorn Pass. Khazad-dûm [now] spanned the Misty Mountains. Elf-crafts and Dwarven things flowed freely and the Dwarf-city become known for its increasingly opulent splendor. It was truly a golden time" (Moria 13).

However, this peace and goodwill was not to endure. In S.A. 1697, the Dwarves of Khazad-dûm closed the West Gate "in defense against the onslaught" of Sauron's armies, and, "in doing so, shut out Eregion's Elven refugees" (18-19). When the Dark Lord's armies invaded Eregion, the "Dwarven warriors refused to leave the protective confines of their city, while the Deep-elves battled the Dark On'es host through the ravines and holly-covered hills of Eregion. By day, the Noldor withstood waves of pitiless Men; at night, the assailing ranks were filled with countless Orcs and Trolls. Sauron's horde broke through and stormed the Elf-city of Ost-in-Edhil. Seeking refuge for his beleaguered people, Celebrimbor sent envoys to Durin III. The Dwarf-king refused to open the West-gate to the Elves, just as he had denied warriors for the defense of Eregion. The escape route was closed, and the Noldor slaughtered" (14). This action was the genesis of "Moria," the Elven name for Khazad-dûm, which means "the Black Chasm" (19).

Legends take Durin III's Ring of Power into account for his rejection of Celebrimbor's pleas, since, while the Rings of Power given to the Dwarf Lords never resulted in Sauron's mastery over them, they have been held responsible for the increase in greed and paranoia amongst the Dwarves. The Dwarven version of the story is that Durin III's "acted out of concern for his people" (14), assessing the defense of Eregion a lost cause and any aid to the Elves too great a risk to his own people. "In any case, Durin III withheld aid when it was sorely needed, and the Elves never forgave him or his kindred" (14).

Nearly 4000 years later, history repeated itself. In 1972, Lórien, threatened by the alliance between Saruman and the Witch-King (popularly known as the "Second Darkness") turned to the Dwarves of Moria for assistance. Amroth and Nimrodel, rulers of Lorien following the Last Alliance, simply begged passage through Moria to Eregion, and then on to the Grey Havens to escape the fall of Middle-Earth. Durin VI agreed, but when the Elven host reached the West Gate and found Eregion had fallen to the Dark Alliance's Host, the Dwarven King saw the opportunity to strengthen his own people's chances to withstand the coming tide of darkness by forging new ties with the Elves of Lórien. The compact made between Durin VI and Amroth proved to be a powerful one, and the Elves and Dwarves of Khazad-dûm may well have held the underground citadel indefinitely, had it not been for the unearthing of one of the Darkness' greatest minions in the depths of the Seventh Deep of Khazad-dûm. The unearthing of the Balrog of Moria in 1980 was too great a power for even the combined might of the Elves and Dwarves with the host of the Second Darkness on both their doorsteps. The battle between the Balrog and the denizens of Khazad-dûm resulted in the opening of the Eastern gate, and as Dwarves and Elves attempted to flee, they were cut down by the waiting hordes of Orcs, Trolls, Black Numenoreans, and the subjugated peoples of Middle-Earth. The Dark Alliance had found entry to Moria through the East Gate, and with the Balrog on one side and an army on the other, Durin VI and Amroth had no choice but to surrender.

Nimrodel, overcome with fear of the Balrog, cast herself from the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, sending Amroth into a killing fury. The wrath of the Elf Lord in his sorrow was great, and while he succeeded in sorely wounding the Balrog, the forces of Darkness prevailed. The Elves and Dwarves of Khazad-dûm found themselves under the heel of Saruman and the Witch-King. Since that fateful day in early 1981, Khazad-dûm has become Moria the Dark Chasm once again.

Now, in 2008, Elven and Dwarven craftspeople create weapons which oppress the Free Peoples. Slaves from all corners of Middle-Earth labor in the Mines of Moria, seeking Mithril, Laen, and other precious metals, not to mention coal to feed the engines of steam which belch black clouds into once-blue skies. It has become a saying amongst the peoples of Moria that they are glad they are captive beneath the earth, since they have never had to see the sorrow of Middle-Earth under the gloom of the Second Darkness. However, there are whispers of hope, whispers that remind that the darkness is only a veil hiding skies which remain blue. It only remains for those whose hope can give birth to courage to clear the skies of the darkness, to let the light shine once again.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A New Beginning

Welcome to "Lord of the Steam," the blog for my gaming group's newest MERP (Middle-earth Roleplaying) campaign. The setting is simple, albeit nearly blasphemous to a die-hard Tolkien fan. Imagine Saruman making the decision to abdicate his responsibilities as one of the Istari 1000 years earlier than the War of the Ring, when the Witch King of Angmar was finishing off the kingdom of Arnor. Imagine an alliance, not between Sauron and Saruman, but between the Witch King and Saruman. Imagine that it succeeds, not because of superior magic, but because of two technological innovations; the discovery of the steam engine, and the invention of gunpowder.

Arnor falls, and in its wake, so does Gondor. The men of Westernesse are scattered to the wind. The elves of Lothlorien, Rivendell and the Grey Havens prepare to leave Middle-earth, but as the Swan ships prepare to depart, they are engulfed in a firestorm. A flight of dragons, (either awakened from the Grey Mountains or machined like the dragons in Michael Swanwick's Dragons of Babel), descend on the Havens with teams of Uruk-Hai bombadiers and "pilots" (taking a page from Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon where dragons are literally like B-52 bombers, with full crews). The elves of Thranduil's kingdom are the last safe haven for elves in Middle Earth. Mirkwood, not yet the abode of darkness it will become with the growth of the "Necromancer's" power, becomes a place for free peoples to hide. The Dwarves make their peace with the new world order, becoming unwilling servants of the Shadow who retain their customs, traditions, and even methods of warfare fiercely, believing their radical traditionalism to be a form of resistance.

The famed underground citadel of Khazad-dum is the last bastion of Dwarves to become servile. While they were able to hold out against exterior assault, there is nothing that can save the Dwarves of Khazad-dum when they delve deeply, uncovering the Balrog of Moria in T.A. 1981. The underground kingdom falls, and the victory Sauron would seek in 1000 years at the War of the Ring is won.

But beneath the surface of occupied obedience, a desire for resistance begins to grow in the hearts of the oppressed people of Middle-earth. And in T.A. 2008, nearly 400 years after Saruman and the Witch-King first made their alliance, the opportunity to strike back has finally come.

This is our campaign, which we'll be sharing with you all here at this blog. We'll be giving our tips and hints on how to launch your own MERP-based Steampunk campaign, character profiles, as well as sharing chronicled versions of our games. We hope it will inspire those of you who love Rolemaster gaming and have access to the MERP sourcebooks to try some Tolkienesque blasphemy of your own.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008


A recap of the February game ...

Shasta’s sprit needed to be healed. Her wounding and near death had left her broken, and it was decided that those who could go would venture out in search of the wellspring. Shadrach, Ben, Addle and Hawk prepare and pack and venture out into the sands.

The journey is not as strange as is our guide, who only Shadrach can see and talk with. The journey he had to take just to be able to find her was long enough, though maybe not so long for him. She seems a bit of a jealous lover more than a guide, but the rest of the group can only trust him in this.

We come upon some brigands who seem very interested in talking, which seems rather at odds with their being brigands but is still better than the alternative. They also seem quite happy to furnish us with the name and location of a rival band, and move us along.

What they seemed and what they were collide that first night in the very same spot we have chosen to make camp. Attacking on Hawk’s watch they are quickly dealt with, and the leader left only maimed. This is rather a miracle, as Addle decided dropping a live grenade amongst our company during the defense might liven things up a bit.

Interrogating the survivor proves rather easy, and isn’t without benefit. Bruises, as he is called, knows the area and its pitfalls well. He is happy to trade this information for his freedom as we patch him up. We are just has happy to have him along to ensure his information is correct. He will have to come along with only the one arm, as we lack the skill to mend that.

That morning a shortcut is proposed. Bruises must be attempting to get this business over quickly. Of course, he could be quite ready to die as well. The new route will bring us to our destination much faster, but is a way rarely taken, and for good reason.

The valley stretching out ahead of us now is the stuff of stories. Sand and wind become living things, where no other living things will last. Navigating the twisters themselves might not much of an impediment, but attempting it with your head wrapped so that you might preserve your face and eyes has proven to be a task not many are up for. Leaving the animals and taking only what we might need, we wrap ourselves and clasp hands. Ben, with timing and precision, steers true.

Our human chain emerges through roaring winds and pelting sands, and into the entrance of a great catacomb. The twisting path leads down and down, leaving us eventually in a vast chamber littered with sarcophagus and a single pillar that stretches up and out of sight. As the rest of us wonder and wander, Shad reaches the top of the pillar to find a large piece of amber. Feeling as if he has no other choice, Shad takes the stone, and choice is indeed removed from us.

At once this solid pillar turns to salt and dust while all around the dust and sarcophagus turn out mummies like some dark tale. Grinning like a fool, Shad leads us a merry chase, amber in hand, to a room not unlike the first. In fact, it is exactly like the first, only there is no glint of amber from above to entice Shadrach to climb. Wincing still from his fall off the first pillar, he climbs anyways as chaos ensues in this dark room.

No matter who is shooting, the mummies still pursue us. Stone or not, Shad is still trying to climb, though what he plans to do only he has had time to contemplate. Just as things look dire, Hawk levels a shot that eases some pressure. Shad takes the opportunity to collect himself and push for the top of the pillar. Upon doing so, he places the amber atop this second pillar. A sigh filled with dust and time echoes through the hall as the mummies return to dust.

Ensuring everyone still had all of their pieces (which elicits a dark stare from Bruises), Shadrach limps to the door moving us on.

The next challenge is less of a mystery. At least to Addle. The rest of us are happy to leave him to it. A few of us do watch with mild interest as he calculates his way through a sand powered Babbage Machine. Watching or not, everyone is caught off guard when the flowing noises build quickly to a crescendo. There is a moment only where all of our eyes meet in confusion before we are overwhelmed by sand.

The twisting and turning ride is not without its bumps and scrapes. The hard part, as anyone who surfs the sands will tell you, is the landing. Addle, probably still lost in thought about that daft machine, would not have fared so well without Shadrach’s supporting hand.

While the others are dusting themselves off and testing their limbs, Hawk rises up, spits out a wad of sand, and keenly assesses the situation. While the sand continues to settle, noise is actually building, and that has Hawk worried.

His caution proves contagious, and the group naturally moves into a defensive position. Even still, nobody is ready for the sands to rise up once more. It seems as if the core of the earth is banking its fires into this room, but what is taking shaping and life deep in this cave like space it truly what has everyone worried.

It seems to take hours, though only seconds pass. What stands before us, be it maggoty flesh or writhing sand, is a boar with huge tusks and fiery eyes. There is a moment of complete silence only, and then the great boar sets upon us.

It seems maddened. Perhaps we have awoken it from peaceful slumber, or perhaps not. Regardless, it charges around attacking any of us that it may reach. Each of us tries to buy time for the others to get a shot, though bullets only seem to enrage it more. We are all tossed around, and Hawk, holding out for a better shot is caught once badly in the leg. Rushing his next shot from the ground, he takes the boar through the eye.

Slowly, it is unknit before our eyes. As the sands swallow it back up, the tusks fall, still solid, to the floor of the cave.

After a time, we move on, to find an opening at the back of the cave, and the grotto that opened up beyond was breathtaking. There was a feeling of peace and healing, transmuted through the light bouncing off the water and dancing on the ceiling. There was a sleeping power that began to slowly uncoil itself, and coalesce above the gently moving water in a vaguely human form.

We had assumed that our challenge was won, having passed through much harrowing and unknown danger. We had assumed wrong. The source of power in this wellspring was a capricious spirit who had been much entertained by our trials in reaching it's spring. It was Hawk's feeling that our adventures and success aided us in this encounter, but how would any of us ever apprehend that.

What was set before us was a wager. Each of us could make a wager and pass through the pool, knowing not how the dice were weighted.

What happened for each man in that time was very personal, and time passed very differently for each there.

Shadrach, used to the lively exuberant life of the circus, wagered his injured leg in the hopes that he would be healed. Addle wagered his telegraphic knowledge for knowledge of the books that we have been seeking. Both won their wagers, Shadrach walking smoothly from the pool and Addle emerging with a curious map of sorts upon his skin.

Ben, having come up against the harsh reality of a situation much the same as this, passed on the wager.

Hawk wagered the dark side of his fears against the light side of the same. He submerged slowly in the pool, but fought its power, thrashing in blind panic. After a mighty exertion, he crawled, exhausted, from the pool, with both a blessing and a curse bestowed upon him.

Bruises, the noble thief, marveled at the arc his life had seemed to scribe upon the sky that day. His life, taken and given more than once that day, was wagered for the life spark we sought for Shasta. His wager was well won.

We left the sands, returning to Shasta and the rest of the group.