Gandalfs and Balrogs: Wanderings In Middle-Earth

   For today, since I’ve converted a Balor, it’s time to convert the original characters. What would Gandalf and the original Balrog look like in Eclipse the Codex Persona (available in print HERE or in a shareware version HERE) Classless d20?

   When you do things like this, it’s always best to look at the original source material, rather than getting caught up in enthusiasm. I understand the temptation to make Gandalf an archmage of vast power, and the Balrog a nigh-unstoppable monster – I loved Tolkien’s works too – but that really isn’t the way he wrote them.

   Tolkien’s Middle-Earth was magic-poor. When you came right down to it, Gandalf – one of the Istari, and one of the most powerful mages in the world – mostly played minor tricks with smoke and fire. He made a few small explosions, some flaming pinecones, a blinding flash or two, and played with smoke rings (hardly a major spell, and probably just Prestidigitation). He tricked some trolls with Ventriloquism, Spoke with Animals, cast a Light spell and a Hold Portal spell in the mines of Moria, caused an arrow to burst into flame (possibly just a dramatic form of Block/Missile, rather than a spell, although it might have been Protection from Arrows), recalled Theoden to sanity (probably Dispel Magic or Remove Curse if it was actually anything more than a good Diplomacy skill check), broke a stone bridge he was standing on (Stone Shape), used Suggestion to keep his friends from attacking him thinking he was Sarumon, cast Hold Person on Wormtongue, and engaged in a bit of mind-to-mind communication (Message).

   Of course, he also held the Ring of Fire, which may have helped out a bit with the fire tricks. (It might have been quite a lot of help if we count it as being a Ring of Fire Elemental Command).

   Really, he never did much of anything magical which would have exceeded third or fourth level as a d20 spell, if that. No Flight, no Teleport, no Polymorph Self, no Passwall, no Flesh to Stone – and, for that matter, no major healing or Raise Dead.

   He did stand up to a Balrog in hand-to-hand, albeit while wielding a magical sword (which shattered the Balrog’s sword) – but that’s hardly a demonstration of wizardly power. For that matter, Tolkien’s Balrogs were big and powerful – but there’s not much indication of them having any magical powers beyond some personal enhancement, their innate tricks with fire (which a Ring of Fire Elemental Command would have made Gandalf virtually immune to) and the ability to counter Gandalfs Hold Portal spell (either Dispel Magic or just hitting it really hard). Rather dramatically, the door broke – and the chamber collapsed – rather than the door simply opening (a possible argument for the “hitting it really hard” theory). Of course, the place was none too stable anyway. We’ll get back to the Balrog a bit later – but there’s no indication that they’re all that powerful either.

   Gandalf did survive an extremely long fall – but it was into deep water, and people in the real world have been known to do that without benefit of any special powers at all. Want to say he had some sort of charm which reduced falling damage? It would probably need a longer duration than Feather Fall, but reducing instead of negating damage would justify a considerably longer duration. We’ll stick with the druidical theme and call it “Catfall” – level one again, and a pretty reasonable spell to have ready going into what was basically a gigantic dungeon.

   To convert Gandalf to Eclipse: The Codex Persona d20 rules we’ll want to buy the abilities he actually displayed – six to eight levels of druidical-style spellcasting (but not most of the other druidical powers), corrupted so as to leave him fatigued when he used much magic, as occurred in Moria), a bit of Innate Enchantment for a few minor tricks and protections to account for his being an Istari, a few combat skills – Base Attack Bonus, Block (Melee and Missile), weapons proficiencies, decent hit dice, and a Relic – that Ring of Fire – probably built a lot like that Ring of Elemental Command. I already covered his other equipment under the Charms and Talismans of the Rings section.

   Lets see now, what do we need to build Gandalf?

Race: Istari (30 CP [Character Points]/+0 ECL)

  • Innate Enchantment (L0: Detect Magic, Guidance [+1 Competence Bonus to Attacks, Saves, and Checks], Light, Message, Prestidigitation, Read Magic, and Resistance [+1 Resistance Bonus to Saves], L1: Mage Armor [+4 Armor Bonus], Shield [+4 Shield Bonus], Immortal Vigor [+12+2x Con Mod Bonus HP], Protection From Evil [+2 Deflection Bonus to AC and +2 Resistance Bonus to Saves versus attacks by evil creatures, Immunity to Possession], Speak with Animals, Ventriloquism, +2 Int, +2 Wis, and +2 Con, all use-activated, at caster level one, personal-only where relevant, 21 CP). Note that the Innate Enchantments may vary somewhat from one Istari to another. Normally they’d also need to pay 1616 XP to activate all of those abilities, but – since they’re being provided as a racial bonus and in due respect to the Istari – I’ll waive that. By the time they get to be of even a moderate level 1616 XP is no longer going to make much of a difference anyway.
  • Immunity to having his Innate Enchantments Dispelled (6 CP)
  • Fast Learner, Specialized in Skills (+1 SP/Level, 3 CP)

   Now that’s a fairly impressive race – but, in d20, most of those bonuses will not stack with items or protective spells you pick up later, which is somewhat limiting.

Now, for his personal powers:

  • Eight levels of Corrupted Druidical or Basic Clerical Spellcasting (43 CP). He’d have a modified spell list of course, trading out most of the healing spells and some of the nature-related stuff for a few of the wizard- or bard-style utility spells, but that’s pretty easy. As an alternative, we could use Hexcrafting – but that would require a bit too much explanation for an example.
  • Adept x2 (may buy Knowledge Skills at half price, 12 CP)
  • Block (Master Missile and Master Melee, DC 15 Reflex save to block an attack using an Attack of Opportunity, 24 CP)
  • +6 BAB (Warcraft, 36 CP)
  • +4 Fortitude (12 CP), +4 Reflex (12 CP), +8 Will (24 CP)
  • 36 SP (most of his skill points would come from a high intelligence and the racial bonus, 36 CP)
  • Proficiency with all Simple and Martial Weapons (9 CP)
  • Privileges and Contacts (probably about 12 CP worth; he did seem to know all kinds of people and be welcome almost everywhere).
  • Combat Reflexes (he was pretty good at hacking up the goblins trying to get by him after all, and that will let him block attacks more often too).

   That’s 226 CP so far, exclusive of hit dice. So lets call him about level eight and buy d8 hit dice, for another 32 CP, making a total of 258 CP.

   Of course, he gets 16 bonus CP from Duties, another 16 from his Restrictions (no armor or dark magic), and he has some Disadvantages – Vows, a History, and being Hunted – for another 10.

   The base L8 allowance is 216 CP, so that gives us a total of 258 CP – just right. Of course, we still have his allotment of three level-based bonus feats and two bonus characteristic points to spend, plus a couple of magic items.

   Narya, The Ring of Fire, is a relic, and provides 30 points of Fire Resistance (Immunity: Common / Severe / Major [30 points], 9 CP), and several Inherent Spells: Produce Flame 4/Day, Flaming Sphere 2/Day, Pyrotechnics 2/Day, Wall of Fire 1/Day, and Flame Strike 1/Day, at a net cost of 30 CP – however, as a Relic, there’s a divisor of 6, making the whole thing worth 6 CP if you made it yourself. Since it was a present, however, it doesn’t cost any of Gandalfs personal CP.

   We could give it some more subtle abilities – bestowing a low-grade Immunity to Aging and Weariness, plus a Blessing effect to extend those powers about the wearer, some mystic-artist style abilities to let it inspire heroics and “rekindle hearts to the valor of old”, and have it give a lesser boost to the user’s fire magic abilities – but honestly, this is a d20 version of Gandalf, and most d20 players would call that a “Ring of Bardic Powers” not a “Ring of Fire”. It just wouldn’t be d20 without some provision for blasting things.

   Similarly, we could give call it “Corrupted” – opening the user to the awareness and influence of whoever wears the One Ring and reducing the net cost to 4 CP – but that will never actually come into play unless all is lost anyway, so it really isn’t a problem worth giving a bonus for.

   As for Glamdring, it can either be taken as a Talisman, as a 3-point Relic (Imbuement, Improved and Focused, making it a +1 Holy Longsword at the moment, albeit with the potential for further improvement), or as a +1 Holy Longsword (18,000 GP – a bit more than a L8 character could usually be expected to have in items, but hardly outside the bounds of possibility). I’ll go with the talismanic version, for consistency with the earlier Charms and Talismans of the Rings post. That makes it +1 magic and good-aligned – still fairly impressive in a low-magic world. Given the way that it shattered the Balrogs sword, you might want to count it as being adamant as well – but Gandalf never simply hacked his way through stone with it, so that might not be entirely suitable. Maybe he just knows Sunder, or the Game Master felt that partially disarming the Balrog would make for a more balanced fight – or the disadvantages of overheating your weapons (as listed with the Balrog conversion, below), just happened to come up.

   As for attributes, a nice, high Intelligence and Constitution are in order, and a pretty good Charisma, Wisdom, and Dexterity seem reasonable – but we have no evidence that his Strength was more than average. He was sent on a tough job though, and was especially chosen by the Vala for it. I’d presume they chose someone well above average, so we’ll use point buy attributes with the 32-point allowance for a “High Powered Campaign”. I prefer dice myself, but this is something of a design exercise. So: Str 10 (2 Points), Int 16 (Effective 18, 10 points), Wis 12 (Effective 14, 4 Points), Con 14 (Effective 16, 6 Points), Dex 14 (6 Points), and Chr 12 (4 Points). He has tramped across a continent and a couple of thousand years of history, so we’ll put those +2 level-based bonus points into Con, for an effective 18. If you don’t like that, put them into Wisdom or something instead.

   So: we can expect an average of 92 HP, Saves of Reflex +8, Fortitude +10, and Will +12 (with an extra +1 against effects with evil origins), two sword attacks at +10 and +5 for 1d8+1 [Crit 19-20/x2], three Attacks of Opportunity (these can also be used to block incoming ranged and melee attacks on a 7+), an Armor Class of 20 (22 versus evil creatures), 91 Skill Points (and half cost on Knowledges, so quite a lot of them), some useful – if fairly minor – innate talents, a fair selection of spells, and a ring of fire to fall back on.

   Use the three bonus feats to buy whatever you think is a must-have for him. I’d probably get a +2 boost to his Reflex Saves (making him more durable by improving his chances to Block, as well as helping him evade some attacks) or Augment Attack (+1d6 damage with swords versus evil creatures), and perhaps Improved Initiative (he always did seem to react pretty quickly) and either Spontaneous Metamagic/Quickening or Reflex Action and Evasive (Reflex Action specialized in Spellcasting plus immunity to Attacks of Opportunity when casting a spell using a reflexive action) to cover his speaking a “Word of Power”. We don’t need to buy “Returning” because – although he returned from his apparent near-certain doom – it’s because he was “sent back”, not under his own power.

   That’s pretty formidable for an eighth level character. It may actually be too formidable – Gandalf was known for wisdom, not for hacking his way through dozens of enemies or for gratuitous use of his magic – but d20 characters are virtually always known for just those things, so I’ll let it go. If you want to be more “realistic” about it, cut down on the “Block” ability and buy some more skills or something.

   Not powerful enough? Why not? The Fellowship had trouble enough with a troll and a few orcs. Bilbo and company were captured by Goblins and treed by a bunch of wolves. OK, they were big, clever, and malevolent wolves – but, like it or not, a dozen or so eighth-level characters should go through a modest army of wolves and goblins without breaking into a sweat. Most of the Fellowship can reasonably be pegged around level four or so – where a swarm of goblins or wolves is still a serious menace, even if you do have an eighth level protector along.

Now, what would the Balrog look like?

   As noted earlier, Tolkien’s Balrogs are were strong and powerful, wielded tolerably potent flame-effects in personal combat, and were either strong enough, or had enough ability to resist or dispel magic, to burst a magically-locked heavy stone door. They may or may not have actually been “large” creatures, but it’s a fair enough guess. They certainly weren’t colossal things that could have squashed the entire fellowship by falling on them, despite the movie.

   Of course, Gandalf killed one single-handed – albeit after a lengthy battle – and plenty of them died in the Silmarillion. Various elven heroes took them out, and at times the elves fought them by the swarm. They were lesser foes than dragons, although they were “cloaked in darkness and terrifying”.

   While there are one or two places in the Silmarillion where Balrogs “passed over” a land, there’s no indication that the phrase means more than when I “pass over” a road – and there are several instances of them dying when cast down from a height. The Balrog in Moria may have had a shadow about it that “reached out like two vast wings” – but it leaped a fissure rather than flying across it. Balrogs don’t fly. When slain, they do not return. They do not wield any direct external magics greater than Gandalfs – which, as shown earlier, are not all that potent by d20 standards.

   Still, they are easily capable of dominating swarms of Orcs, are more than a match for a party of low-level adventurers, and have spawned many terrifying legends amongst the normal – first and second level – population.

   That still wouldn’t be that much to go on – except that we’ve got a reasonable conversion for Gandalf to refer to. Since he turned out to be level eight, it seems reasonable that his apparently near-equal opponent should also be level eight. Gandalf may have been weary when they fought – but that doesn’t really translate into d20, just as there are no penalties in d20 for wounds.

   Level eight gives us a base of 216 character points to work with. Of course, just as with Gandalf, there are some bonuses; although the Balrog presumably lost the points it would have gained from its Duties to Melkor when it fled his service, it still has three sets of Restrictions – being blatantly monstrous and evil, being unable to use armor (the stuff keeps melting), and being hunted by well-informed forces of good (everybody knows about Balrogs), for a total of +3 CP per level. Personal disadvantages include being Irreverent (not even evil gods will grant clerical magic, responsibilities, or help, to a creature that fled the service of its previous godly master), being Outcast (even other evils don’t like to associate with a Balrog unless forced. Terrified slaves are easy to get, loyal henchmen are nearly impossible), and Accursed (their flame is really hard on equipment: even the best weapons tend to grow over-heated, out of temper, and fragile in their hands), for another +10 points – giving us a grand total of 250 to work with, plus the basic level-based allotment of three bonus feats and two bonus characteristic points to spend.

   That looks a lot like Gandalf – which it probably should: they’re both spirits from the Undying Lands in material forms, and are pretty much warped reflections of each other.

Race: Corrupted Maiar (31 CP – Right at the limit of a +0 ECL).

  • +2 Str and +2 Chr (24 CP).
  • Fast Learner x2 (Specialized in buying larger hit dice: 1d20 at L1, base of d8’s later, 12 CP)
  • Innate Enchantments (L0: Detect Magic, Read Magic, and Resistance [+1 Resistance Bonus to Saves], L1: Mage Armor [+4 Armor Bonus], Shield [+4 Shield Bonus], Immortal Vigor [+12+2x Con Mod Bonus HP], Psychic Whip [the wielder may make “unarmed” attacks at ranges of up to 40′ with one hand, including attempts to trip, grapple, and snatch things], Fast Healing I [Heals up to 20 HP per level per day at one point per round], Jump [+10 to Jump checks], Bane [all enemies within 50′ must save each round or take a -1 to attacks and saves against fear effects], Resist Energy [resistance 10 to all energy forms], +2 Str, +2 Dex, and +2 Chr, all at caster level one, personal-only where relevant, 20 CP). Note that the Innate Enchantments may vary somewhat from one Balrog to the next. Normally they’d also need to pay 1544 XP to activate all of those abilities, but they bullied the GM, and are generally NPC’s anyway, so I’ll let them off this time. By the time they get to be level three or four 1544 XP isn’t going to make much of a difference anyway.
  • Immunity to having his Innate Enchantments Dispelled (6 CP)

   Fortunately for Balrogs, the entire package is specialized: the user is an obvious demonic horror, is subject to spells that target evil creatures (whether or not it actually is evil), and can be damaged by holy water, positive-energy, and light-based effects (1d6 per level of the spell or effect). Balrogs can get rid of these limitations – returning to what they once were – either by accepting a +1 ECL adjustment or by dropping the attribute adjustments and paying off 7 CP worth of the other abilities.

Their personal abilities include:

  • Hit Dice 8d12 (Fast Learner bonus + 32 CP)
  • BAB: +4 Warcraft (Balrogs rely excessively on their strength and ability to increase their size, 24 CP)
  • Saves: +4 Fortitude (12 CP), +4 Reflex (12 CP), and +4 Will (12 CP)
  • Skills: 21 SP (21 CP)
  • Proficiency with all Simple and Martial Weapons (9 CP) 
  • Spell Resistance of [Level + 5] (6 CP)
  • Martial Arts/1d6 Natural Weapons (6 CP)
  • Occult Sense/Darksight (6 CP)
  • Presence/Aura of Fear (Improved and Superior: +4 to all rolls to intimidate or dominate others, would-be attackers mustmake Will saves at DC [13 + Cha Mod} each round, although members of groups who are currently being attacked get a +5 bonus, 18 CP).
  • DR 10/Magic, 5/-. The 5/- applies against all forms of damage, both physical and energy (12 CP for the 5/-, the remainder is Specialized (physical attacks only) and Corrupted (can be bypassed with magic weaponry), for a net cost of eight additional CP. (8 CP).
  • +4 Natural Armor (Defender, +[Level/] natural armor, +3 additional steps, 24 CP).
  • Channeling: 3 + (4x Cha Mod) uses/day (24 CP) plus some L3 and L6 4-Spell Conversion Packages (24 CP).
    • L3) Deeper Darkness, Dispel Magic, Nondetection, and Prayer.
    • L6) Fire Shield (Hot only, lasts ten minutes/level, also does damage if the user touches someone), Freedom of Movement (lasts 24 hours), Righteous Might (lasts one minute/level), and Unhallow.

   That neatly expends our 250 CP, although it still leaves us with three level-based bonus feats. I’d recommend Combat Reflexes (it’s almost certain to be fighting multiple opponents). Combative ones may want to get their BAB up to +6 (requiring both remaining bonus Feats). Those who prefer minions may want Leadership, or to get some spells they can use effectively at range.

   For attributes we’ll use the Elite Array – which gives us Str 15+1 (20), Int 10, Wis 8, Con 13+1, Dex 12 (14), and Chr 14 (18). Not bad.

   So: we can expect an average of 98 HP, Saves of Reflex +7, Fortitude +7, and Will +4, one attack at +9 and damage of (weapon +5), three Attacks of Opportunity, an Armor Class of 24, 21 Skill Points (probably mostly spent on senses), good damage reduction, the ability to so terrify most opponents as to render them unable to attack reliably, some useful – if fairly minor – innate talents, and some decent channeling abilities. Certainly enough to face tremendous numbers of low-level opponents lacking magical weapons, as well as enough to represent a reasonable challenge for a party of adventurers.

   Would our Balrog really lose out to Gandalf after a lengthy fight? Hard to say. It depends on how much damage each takes in the fall, who the environment favors, what spells Gandalf uses, and an tremendous number of die rolls / authorial privilege. It does look fairly competitive though: strength versus skill, block versus damage reduction, fast healing versus ring of fire…

   Should be fun.


4 Responses

  1. […] That, and the article on Gandalf and the Balrog – has recently led to some discussion over conversions of the rest of the Fellowship, Since […]

  2. The idea of a level 8 balrog is pretty shocking, and based on a trainwreck of false assumptions.

    “Tolkien’s Middle-Earth was magic-poor. When you came right down to it, Gandalf – one of the Istari, and one of the most powerful mages in the world…”

    He’s an Istari. They don’t bear ANY resemblance to D&D wizards, other than a handful of spell effects (all of which are used as spell-like abilities, with no hint of him having learned them at Hogwarts); they have a similar name, and that is where the resemblance begins and ends. Or to say that Keebler elves and Santa’s elves are obviously the exact same thing as D&D elves.

    I mean, rating an angelic being who fights with a sword on his coincidental similarity to a D&D mage (who are not known for being physically supernatural immortal beings or for using swords)? Really?

    Rating all of Gandalf’s abilities on his vague coincidental similarity to a D&D spellcaster would be like watching Equlibrium and declaring that Cleric John Preston must be a low level cleric, since he never casts spells, or watching a movie about Batman and concluding that since bats have 1 hit dice, and that he is called Batman and not Dire Batman, he must be a level 1 character.

    We also know that Gandalf was definitely holding back whenever he was using magic near a human, at any rate. Although the motive Istari have for holding back is different, even in D&D, a high level character would likely let his companions fight their own battles whenever possible, just like Gandalf — for one thing, they’d need the XP more than him, and for another, that draws a lot of attention.

    His evidence that balrogs are only level 8?

    “Various elven heroes took them out, and at times the elves fought them by the swarm. They were lesser foes than dragons, although they were ‘cloaked in darkness and terrifying’.”

    “Since he turned out to be level eight, it seems reasonable that his apparently near-equal opponent should also be level eight.”

    He neglects to mention that at least two of these elven heroes were appropriate challengers to a being that is definitely on par with a Physical God of Greek myth (and Valar definitely seem to fulfill the exact role that the usual godly pantheon in other “campaigns” do), Morgoth, who could do things like will entire volcanic mountain ranges into being (to use as his FENCE) and whose blows hit so hard that they shattered the earth right down to the MAGMA below.

    Seriously, what kind of damage is that? If any level 15 character you know can make entire volcanic mountain ranges spring up, please, link me to your character build. If any power attacker before level 20 can shatter the earth on a MISS right down to the lava, please, link em to your character build.

    In addition, he says “they were lesser foes than dragons,” a statement not well represented by the lore. There were dragons more powerful than the typical balor, but the reverse is also true.

  3. […] ECL Tolkien’s Istari and Corrupted Maiar (scroll down to the racial […]

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