Over the past few years Tolkien’s work has come up several times in relation to Eclipse d20. That’s no surprise really; Tolkien’s works – most notable The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion – are deeply entangled in the foundations of fantasy gaming.
Thus we’ve had Eclipse conversions for the Fellowship of the Ring, for the Charms and Talismans of the Rings, for Gandalf and the Balrog, for the Silmarils, and even for Morgoth and Sauron – albeit as Identities (temporary roles that you can drop into while visiting that dimension) for the Manifold Campaign.
Now, occasionally someone objects – and anyone who puts in a large objection gets a large answer. Here’s the latest from Jeremy, in reply to the Gandalf and the Balrog post. As always, I’ll be going through the entire thing bit by bit in order.
-The idea of a level 8 balrog is pretty shocking, and based on a trainwreck of false assumptions.
Now, I quite understand the desire to make your favorite characters high level. What I suspect you’re missing is that Tolkien set his tale against a fairly realistic background; Most of his characters were level zero or one. World-class experts were level two or three.
An eighth level character was, in comparison and in the setting, of incredibly high level. For a discussion of that, try the Converting Literary Characters link.
“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.
Except, of course, that Tolkien’s work was among the inspirations for the original game – which led to a dispute with the Tolkien estate over the inclusion of Hobbits, Ents, extremely recognizable Rangers, Gandalf’s stunt with the flaming acorns, and a variety of other intellectual properties. The Tolkien Estate forced TSR to change a lot of names. In fact, we can quote one segment from an interview with Gygax that mentioned the topic… (The full interview can be found at theonering.net).
(Interviewer) “Do you enjoy the works of JRR Tolkien? If so, How did he influence your work?”
(Gary Gygax) “Oh-oh! I am going to be in trouble from the get-go! I loved THE HOBBIT, read it once to myself, then about three or four times aloud to my children.
As a Swords & Sorcery novel fan from way back–I read my first Conan yarn about 1948, was a fan and collector of the pulp SF and fantasy magazines since 1950, I was not as enamored of The Trilogy as were most of my contemporaries. While I loved Bombadil, the Nazgul too, the story was too slow-paced for me.
How did it influence the D&D game? Whoa, plenty, of course. Just about all the players were huge JRRT fans, and so they insisted that I put as much Tolkien-influence material into the game as possible. Anyone reading this that recalls the original D&D game will know that there were Balrogs, Ents, and Hobbits in it. Later those were removed, and new, non-JRRT things substituted–Balor demons, Treants, and Halflings.
Indeed, who can doubt the excellence of Tolkien’s writing? So of course it had a strong impact on A/D&D games. A look at my recommended fantasy books reading list in the back of the original DUNGEON MASTERS GUILD will show a long list of other influential fantasy authors, though.”
So that tells us where the relationship begins. Lets compare. Tolkien’s Istari studied differing fields of magic (EG: such as Sauroman studing the Rings of Power, The Silmarillion page 362), and learned things about them. They used components and tools (acorns, existing fires, staves, words of power) in working their magic. They could not work without components – as per Gandalf’s being unable to burn snow.
Now lets check the System Reference Document under “Spell-Like Abilities”:
A spell-like ability has no verbal, somatic, or material component, nor does it require a focus or have an XP cost. The user activates it mentally.
Ah. There we have it. Tolkien’s “wizards” may have had some spell-like abilities, but many of their magical powers were definitely not spell-like abilities.
Lets see about the “resemblance”… Tolkien’s “Wizards” were old, they were scholars of magic and other lore, they learned new things about magic, they invoked magic through words and components, and they had a limited reserve of magical power (thus we have Gandalf being fatigued after using a Word of Power to try and hold a door closed against the Balrog). Yep. Sounds like a pretty throughly stereotypical “Wizard” to me – and that’s a stereotype that goes back LONG before Gygax OR Tolkien.
Or to say that Keebler elves and Santa’s elves are obviously the exact same thing as D&D elves.
Ah, a classic (and totally irrelevant) strawman argument. I generally don’t find it necessary to invent silly statements and try to assign them to someone with an opposing viewpoint. I also decline to engage in partial quoting out of context. That’s why your complete post is quoted in this answer, with each piece in order, and with each item answered.
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?
Lets see now… the article doesn’t rate anything except his spellcasting in comparison to a mage. Instead it evaluates all of his displayed abilities, including his swordfighting – but by d20 standards there’s no avoiding the fact that his magic was not so good. Sauroman trapped Gandalf by locking him on a rooftop. Evidently Gandalf had no Gate, Teleport, Fly, or even Feather Fall spell. He couldn’t conjure himself a rope. He couldn’t polymorph himself and fly away. Instead, when he had urgent things to do, he… waited around until he could talk a giant eagle into giving him a lift.
Now that’s clever, and evocative, and a wonderful bit of fantasy – but in d20 terms it says that he wasn’t all that much of a spellcaster.
As far as using a sword goes… plenty of D&D wizards used swords, even in first edition. Even if you didn’t dual or multi-class, if you found a really good sword it was well worth taking that -4 non-proficiency penalty.
“Longevity” (fairly easy to achieve) is not at all the same as “immortality” (which Gandalf quite obviously did not have – except as every spirit had it).
Rating all of Gandalf’s abilities on his vague coincidental similarity to a D&D spellcaster would be like watching Equilibrium 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.
Ah, more strawmen. First up, we’ve already disposed of that “coincidence” theory. Far more importantly, this also demonstrates rather neatly that you either didn’t bother to actually read the article you’re complaining about or that you didn’t understand it – or you’d have noticed that this is an Eclipse Classless writeup (not a Wizard) that does quite well with a sword and is using druidical or clerical magic with a modified spell list – which is a far better match to the abilities Gandalf actually displayed in the books.
That’s the result of cataloging the abilities Gandalf displayed in the original source material. He would indeed make a lousy d20 wizard – which is why he has not been built as one. Are there any abilities which have been left out? You’re quite welcome to provide the relevant quote and page number (those vary between editions, but are often helpful in locating the right section anyway).
You’re actually inadvertently correct on the next bit! “Cleric John Preston” has no “Cleric Levels”. What he calls himself is quite irrelevant; he’s not a spellcaster, he’s living in a world with no apparent magic, and he pretty certainly can’t channel positive energy to turn the undead. He’s not a d20 Cleric, he’d be a modern-setting d20 combat oriented character.
Perhaps sadly, buying all the abilities that Gandalf displayed in the source material only required eight levels worth of character points. It’s not that the character was “rated at level eight”. It’s that building a character who could do everything that Gandalf could do only required eight levels worth of points. Arguing about classes is irrelevant.
The bit about Batman… is derived entirely from your notion that the name given to something is important and the strawman argument that I should think it is. Here’s a hint; I don’t think that what you label something changes what it is. I know a car mechanic named “Jesus” (spanish spelling, and not uncommon). Does that mean that I should assume that he repairs engines by calling for miracles?
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.
I fear that all I can recall along those lines is a statement that the Istari were not permitted to oppose Sauron power to power. Can you actually provide a quote and a page number where it says that Gandalf didn’t use his full power against Sauroman’s army? Or the dweller in the pool? Or the Witch-King? Or, for that matter, the Balrog?
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.
Ah, here you are missing a few things. Morgoth started off as the second most powerful entity in the cosmos – right after Tolkien’s stand-in for “Omnipotent Creator”. In the beginning, Melkor alone was a match for most of the Vala put together.
Fortunately for our heroic elves, in Tolkien’s writings, evil inevitably decayed and weakened.
“And Arien Morgoth feared with a great fear, but dared not come nigh her, having indeed no longer the power; for as he grew in malice, and sent forth from himself the evil that he conceived in lies and creatures of wickedness, his might passed into them and was dispersed, and he himself became ever more bound to the earth, unwilling to issue from his dark strongholds.”
-The Silmarillion, page 113.
Arien was a Maia. Of course, the Balrogs were also Maia. Morgoth was afraid of a minor member of a host that he once opposed singlehanded.
He’d gone a long way downhill, long before Fingolfin
Now, the passage you’re probably thinking of is on page 180 of my copy of the Silmarillion in “Of the ruin of Beleriand”. It states that
Then Morgoth hurled aloft Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld, and swung it down like a bolt of thunder. But Fingolfin sprang aside, and Grond rent a mighty pit in the earth, whence smoke and fire darted. Many times Morgoth essayed to smite him…
Hm. I don’t actually see anything there about magma or cracking the planetary crust. Even discounting the possibility that Grond is a +1 Flaming Hammer with some odd special ability that tries to drop it’s target into an instant pit (or better, which is very likely; it is a quasi-deities primary weapon after all), have you ever tried making fire with flint and steel? If you strike a massive metal object against earth and stone hard enough you’ll get smoke, sparks, and even fire if there’s anything at all to burn (such as grass or dry dirt with some organic content) or if you hit hard enough to reduce some rock to a molten state.
Just as importantly, evidently the “mighty pit” was not so large that Fingolfin couldn’t leap aside – and we know that Fingolfin didn’t have any super-leaping powers or he wouldn’t have had to walk the rest of the time. So; Morgoth’s blows were not up to impacts like the one that formed Meteor Crater – and that impact did not punch through the planetary crust, although it created plenty of magma as kinetic energy transformed to heat.
Of course, if it had punched through the planetary crust there would (after some delay for travel time) have been a full-scale explosive volcanic eruption covering miles – which isn’t mentioned.
As for character builds that can do silly amounts of damage or make mountain ranges at low level… Try googling “Pun-Pun” or “Hulking Hurler” or any of dozens of other optimized builds. In fact it’s harder to do that sort of thing in Eclipse than in basic d20 – but you can. There are some examples (including the powers you need to purchase to be Morgoth) up on the site here.
Of course, Fingolfin was NOT an “appropriate challenger”. He lost. Badly. He did do some points of damage – but there’s no indication that the wounds he inflicted were more than painful annoyances, and he got pulverized when he got hit. All this is telling us is that – in melee – Morgoth had a powerful weapon and bad aim. That’s not too surprising since he wasn’t a melee combatant and (in Eclipse) probably never bought any base attack bonus.
Your entire argument thus comes down to “I think these two elves must have been high level”. You think that because they fought Melkor/Morgoth and did some damage before being pulverized.
Lets see… fifth or sixth level combat character in melee against a noncombat fifteenth level character.
Yep. That’s about the outcome I’d expect.
Lets check reality; Look at olympic records versus physical DC ratings. Look at the difficulty of doing original research. Almost everyone who has ever lived can be accurately represented in d20 at or below level three. There might be a few who’d require level four – but I wouldn’t count on it.
Level six is literally superhuman.
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.
Ah, by “The Lore”. Lets take a quick look at the Silmarillion then. That is, after all, the only place where we’ll find information to compare lots of Dragons and Balrogs.
Page 229: Here we have Balrogs and Dragons both on the field. Glaurung split two elvish armies – and it’s noted that, if it hadn’t been for the intervention of the dwarves (who managed to wound Glaurung) the dragons would have exterminated the Noldor.
At that same battle it took Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, and another Balrog attacking from behind, to take down King Fingon.
Hm. Group of dragons versus two elvish armies – including Fingon. Elves need rescue – but it takes two Balrogs, including probably the most powerful one ever, to take down Fingon on his own.
Page 291: Balrogs and Dragons at the fall of Gondolin. Gothmog Lord of Balrogs and the Elven King kill each other. Dragons destroy the city.
Page 292: Glorfindel and a Balrog both die in a fight and a fall from a height.
Page 302: The War of Wrath. The Host of the Valar annihilates the Balrogs in a single line – “The Balrogs were destroyed, save some few that fled and hid”. The Dragons are then unleashed, and the Host of the Valar – which just casually destroyed the Balrogs – is driven back. There is battle in the air “all the day and through a dark night of doubt”. The hosts of the Valar prevailed only with the rising of the sun.
That’s the last appearance of Balrogs in the book. Dragons, however, are mentioned several times more. Evidently quite a few got away and didn’t need to hide.
I really can’t find anything that says that Balrogs are really in the same class as Dragons. Could “The Lore” perhaps provide a page number and reference?
Basically the argument in this complaint is entirely circular; “I’m sure that some of these characters were high level, so the others must also have been of high level!”.
Well, I agree; they were – at levels five to eight – of fabulously high level for a realistic world. In magic-rich worlds, where incredible superhuman abilities are all too common, they really wouldn’t stand out much.