And here we have more of a debate over an old article… Well, I do try to respond to everyone except the spammers in detail, so – once again – here’s a complete response to Jeremy, since this is entirely too long for a comment. You can find the original article HERE, and the first response HERE.
“Now, I quite understand the desire to make your favorite characters high level.”
It has nothing to do with liking Gandalf (he’s a decent chap, I suppose) and everything to do with wanting a little internal consistency as to your standards of comparison, not to mention that it irritates me every time people attempt to pave over the fact that Istari are spirit beings incarnated in flesh whose powers stem from their pre-biological existence, and not being actual old humans who learned their magic. Whenever people just jump right in and make that completely unjustifiable comparison, it annoys me, especially when people try to spread that idea, like you — and the actual net effect is people start thinking its true.
The nice thing about using point-buy systems is that – barring math errors – they’re always consistent. As for consistency with the source material… You seem to have failed to notice that 1) The racial writeup is indeed for a spirit being incarnated in flesh (although, in Tolkien, every Elf, Dwarf, and Human is also a spirit being incarnated in flesh. Elves are even noted as sometimes getting to return after being killed). 2) The writeup doesn’t actually say anything about how Gandalf acquired his magic; that’s your own assumption being projected onto the article, and 3) Any game writeup compares disparate characters, origins, and sources of power. You can object to conclusions, but complaining about things being compared is simply demanding that your own personal comparison be taken as automatic truth. Sorry, but life does not work that way.
You’ve also failed to provide any actual references to the source material yourself. Is it that hard to actually find some segments that support whatever point it is you want to make? This would be a lot more fun if you actually supported your arguments.
The result of this mistaken line of thought (which you did not start, only perpetuate) is stuff like how I walk into a gaming store, open up a copy of MERP, full of hope, and find that it says “Oh yeah, the Istari opened up wizarding schools, so humans can learn magic too!” You go in expecting that a “Middle Earth Roleplaying Game” has some sort of accuracy instead of being a shameless D&D clone, and instead, you get the same old Harry Potter style wizards. Obviously, you didn’t start the fire, and its not your fault MERP was based more off D&D than Tolkien, and so I don’t blame you for these mistakes either.
I’m afraid that here you’re complaining that a third party’s interpretation of the source material – as adjusted to make a playable game – doesn’t agree with yours. Sadly, of course, that has no relevance here.
By the way, MERP was based off of Rolemaster, not D&D and the system is quite different. D&D clones use new wording but the same mechanics – since the mechanics cannot be copyrighted.
“Tolkien’s “Wizards” were old,”
Yup, distinctly unlike AD&D and D&D equivalents. And please don’t cite Elminister or Dumbledore — “human guy who learned magic and is now old” doesn’t even vaguely resemble “spirit who took the form of an old man.” There’s art of geezery wizards, which proves primarily that the artists for it, like most D&D fans, had the mental conception of wizards = Gandalf, but its vanishingly unlikely for any wizard PC to be old. Their starting age is going to be in their 20s and 30s — and there isn’t really an opportunity to go beyond that, 99% of the time. When there is, you will have old wizards alongside old party members in general.
Hm. You might want to do something about this Harry Potter obsession of yours, since it has nothing at all to do with the topic… Now, you do realize that the wizard stereotype goes back to the middle ages and beyond? What most people have in mind for “Wizard” is Merlin – and HERE we have an illustration for him some 700 years old. For a very nice line drawing, here’s one from Gustav Dore, 1868. A little more modern? Here’s a 1922 version by Wyeth. Considering that all three of those artists died before Tolkien came up with Gandalf, I think we can guess which way the inspiration flowed. For that matter, you might check the Artwork in first edition – where it was expected that it would take decades to rise in level, and by the time one gained the title of “Wizard” at level eleven you were quite likely to be old. Quite a few current games cover many years as well – and many player characters opt to start off older than required even if the game master doesn’t require it.
“they learned new things about magic,”
Yeah, but what makes D&D wizards distinct is that they verifiably learn new magic and add to their repertoire. I don’t think its at all clear or implied that Istari were ever apprentices — in fact, in all likelihood, Gandalf was a powerful spirit being that became a weaker being. The only time he demonstrates anything like learning new spells is after his reincarnation — and the difference between Grey and White may simply have been in an attitude shift caused by death and rebirth. The Istari were designed to give immortal council to mortals and to guide them; and indeed, an immortal being would in all likelihood be sagely. But linking their sageliness (that they have been around awhile) to their supernatural powers (which wholly stem from that they were created with that level of power) is a mistake; a connection is never implied.
Sorry, but that’s your own extrapolation again; the writeup says nothing at all about Gandalf ever being an apprentice, where his power came from, how it was acquired, or whether it would improve. You claimed that there was no evidence that the Istari learned new things about magic – and I simply pointed out that, according to Tolkien, they did indeed both study magic and acquire additional magical lore (the idea that that translated to new spells is your own interpolation again). As for the “acquiring new powers through study” making D&D wizards different… Sorry, but that’s one place where AD&D wizards are strictly according to tradition. Look at the reputation that Sir Francis Bacon acquired.
“Ah, a classic (and totally irrelevant) strawman argument.”
Its not irrelevant. D&D elves resemble LotR elves far, FAR more than the wizard vs wizard comparison, yet Gary has said many times that the only thing he actually took from LotR is that they dislike orcs (and who doesn’t?).
It’s still quite irrelevant; the point of a comparison is to look for differences – and we’re not talking about D&D Elves versus Tolkien’s elves.
“First up, we’ve already disposed of that “coincidence” theory.”
Er, no we haven’t. At no point in the quoted interview he mention wizards, and I’m pretty sure everyone knows, by now, that D&D casters are based off of Jack Vance, hence, Vancian magic. D&D takes from a wide variety of inspiration, and Gary has said, many many times, that the inspiration from LotR is purely superficial.
Incidentally, while Gandalf bears even less resemblance to a D&D wizard (or other caster) than Sauron or Morgoth do (who can actually be verified as engaging in something vaguely like magical research and even in spending XP components), you know who he does bear resemblance to? Odin, and Tolkien himself said that both Odin and
Sorry, but your argument was that there was no relationship. Being a part of the inspiration is a pretty obvious relationship. In any case, I’ve already pointed out the flaw in your argument here; I gave Gandalf all the abilities he displayed in the books; the total number of character points required made him level eight. He didn’t become level eight because of the comparison. Are you now arguing that – in terms of d20 magic – Gandalf was a wizard?
Now, if you’d read Vance’s Dying Earth series you’d know that – while a few of Vance’s spells appear in D&D – Vance’s “Wizards” rarely knew more than a few spells, but those spells were generally extremely powerful. The “memorization” and “fire and forget” casting system is based on Vance’s notions. Most of the actual spells, the progression system, the breaking up of spells into discrete levels, and most of the other details are not.
I’d also recommend proofreading your replies. Leaving out words and dropping sentences before they come to any point does not help your arguments.
“or you’d have noticed that this is an Eclipse Classless writeup (not a Wizard).”
Right. You nonetheless, of course, are comparing him to various caster types, and starting the discussion using the fact that he doesn’t use Fly, Teleport, etc. (wizard spells, generally). First establishing that he’s not a very good wizard, and then making him out to be about comparable to a level 8 caster.
Wrong again; If you had really read it, you’d realize that the point was that he didn’t use high-level spells of ANY type – which was why other spell lists and healing were mentioned. Giving him the abilities he actually displayed didn’t require a high level build – or can you provide some examples of abilities that Gandalf displayed in Tolkien’s books that the given build does not cover? I notice that you’ve skipped past that possibility – and that would be the quick and easy way to demonstrate that the build was flawed.
“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?”
Even by your very conservative estimation of Gandalf (and rating a balrog off of Gandalf instead of rating Gandalf off a balrog), I’m pretty sure a guy who can fling spells and fight for eight days straight is going to have no trouble against mobs of orcs, yet he is never portrayed as cleaning up large herds of orcs for the Fellowship while everyone relaxes in the shade. When he fights the Balrog, its an eight day laser light show; but the most he does against typical monsters is use Fire Seeds, once, four books ago.
This, of course, was in response to your claim that Gandalf was always holding back; you do notice that you’re evading rather than answering here? OK though, lets look at that; Gandalf’s description of the fight with the Balrog is on Page 105 in my copy of The Two Towers, in “The White Rider” section…
“Long I fell, and he fell with me. His fire was about me. I was burned. Then we plunged into the deep water, and all was dark. Cold it was, as the tide of death; almost it froze my heart.
Deep is the abyss that is spanned by Durin’s Bridge, and none has measured it said Gimli
Yet it has a bottom, beyond light and knowledge, said Gandalf. Thither I came at last, to the uttermost foundations of stone, He was with me still. His fire was quenched, but now he was a thing of slime, stronger than a strangling snake. We fought far under the living earth, where time is not counted. Ever he clutched me, and ever I hewed him, till at last he fled into dark tunnels. They were not made by Durin’s folk, Gimli son of Gloin. Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he (1). Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day. In that despair my enemy was my only hope, and I pursued him, clutching at his heel. Thus he brought me back at last to the secret ways of Khazad-dum; too well he knew them all. Ever up now we went, until we came to the endless stair.
Long has that been lost, said Gimli. Many have said that it was never made save in legend, but others say that it was destroyed.
It was made, and it had not been destroyed, said Gandalf. From the lowest dungeon to the highest peak it climbed, ascending in unbroken spiral in many thousand steps, until it issued at last in Durin’s Tower carved in the living rock of Ziraksigil, the pinnacle of the Silvertine. There upon Celebdil was a lonely window in the snow, and before it lay a narrow space, a dizzy eyrie above the mists of the world. The sun shone fiercely there, but all below was wrapped in cloud. Out he sprang, and even as I came behind, he burst into new flame. There was none to see, or perhaps in after ages songs would still be sung of the Battle of the Peak. Suddenly Gandalf laughed. But what would they say in song? Those that looked up from afar thought that the mountain was crowned with storm. Thunder they heard, and lightning, they said, smote upon Celebdil, and leaped back broken into tongues of fire. Is not that enough? A great smoke rose about us, vapor and steam. Ice fell like rain. I threw down my enemy, and he fell from the high place and broke the mountain-side where he smote in his ruin. Then darkness took me, and I strayed out of thought and time, and I wandered far on roads that I will not tell.”
1) This is odd, since Sauron predates the creation of Arda and is presumably as old as the rest of the spirits Iluvatar created; evidently Gandalf is being poetic rather than entirely literal.
Hm. I don’t see anything there about “an eight day laser light show”. They fell a long way, and hit deep water. After getting out, the fight – sword against unarmed combat, since the Balrog no longer had a weapon – continued until the Balrog ran away (apparently it wasn’t entirely stupid). Being lost, Gandalf pursued the Balrog a very long way – apparently not trying to kill it until AFTER it showed him the way out. Once out, and standing on ice and snow, the Balrog burst into flames again, and there was a lot of steam. Ice was knocked loose, and slid down the sides of the mountain. Something very noisy happened – perhaps a Lighting Bolt – and the Balrog was knocked off the peak and hit something hard instead of water this time. Oops!
As Tolkien wrote it it’s a wonderful and evocative passage, but it doesn’t imply a lot of magic anywhere. Personally, I think the desperate struggle – as much against physical limitations as against each other – is a lot more impressive and heroic than if they were two Dragonball-Z characters powering up and throwing energy bolts at each other.
Trying to count days won’t get us anywhere though. We don’t know how much time was spent fumbling around in the dark or wandering far “on roads that I will not tell”.
As for rating a Balrog off of Gandalf instead of the other way around… There’s no other choice if we’re actually going to stick with what’s in the source material. We have a fair amount of information on Gandalf, but very little actual information on Balrogs.
“Morgoth was afraid of a minor member of a host that he once opposed singlehanded.”
Wait, lets back up to the Two Trees and Ungoliant. Ignoring that Morgoth seems to take all damage as vile damage (or something) and thus for obvious reasons never fights unless he has to, I don’t think Two-Trees Morgoth really had time to weaken noticeably. Ungoliant, after sucking the Two Trees dry, is then powerful enough to challenge him. On the other hand, Gothmog (iirc) the balrog shows up to save him. We could say that Gothmog is only level 8 (or higher but still comparable to the Moria balrog, as he’s obviously strong by balrog standards either way), but it strains my suspension of disbelief to think that a sub-epic Morgoth is going to be able to go on to manufacture tons and tons of dragons and volcanic mountain ranges and what not.
Actually that’s backing up roughly four to five hundred years. Remember; the Silmarillion covers rather a long time and a lot of people have put a lot of effort into sorting out the chronology; most of the timelines (googling a few is easy) make it about that much. As for how long Morgath had to weaken before that… lets check THIS timeline, or perhaps THIS one. Hm. Yep. At that point, per Tolkien’s chronology, Morgath had had some 5000 years of Valinor – each equivalent to almost ten earthly years – to weaken. That seems sufficient.
In any case, in your (inaccurate) version here, two-trees Morgoth launched a sabotage-strike with the help of another creature against two defenseless trees and then… ran away. So; Ungoliant, swollen with the power of the two trees is a threat to someone who is pretty obviously terrible at combat. A combat specialist (actually, according to Tolkien, a LOT of combat specialists) shows up and scares off Ungoliant. That doesn’t really say much about anyone’s talents outside of combat.
Although the fact that Morgoth is pretty obviously terrible at combat by this point explains why a mortal combat specialist can give him so much trouble pretty easily.
“There are some examples (including the powers you need to purchase to be Morgoth) up on the site here.”
Point. I glanced over it; how would him creating dragons fit into those abilities?
Pretty easily; in Tolkien’s works Morgoth is the originator of evil, who infused his power into the physical world to the point where evil creatures would continue to carry out his will even after he is banished from the world. Making dragons isn’t that hard (as an evil overlord he could do it with transformation, ritual magic, or by having your support staff do the work), it’s controlling them after you make them that’s hard – and the creator of all evil gets that as a simple Privilege.
“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.”
Exactly what you’d expect, personalities clash 1 on 1 and the guys that spew ridiculous amounts of fire burn everything down. The draconic claim to fame is flight and lots and lots of area effect fire, while balrogs handle individually potent adversaries.
Really? What I’d expect is for the “personalities” to lead the defenders from amidst their squads of bodyguards. D20’s sillier dungeon-crawl conventions don’t apply to Tolkien’s warfare. This is not a d20 city full mooks. It’s full of centuries-old experienced, elves, many of them combatants.
Even more sadly for this argument, winged dragons that can fly do not appear until the War of Wrath (The Silmarillion, page 302). The notion that “Balrogs handle individually potent adversaries” is entirely your own interpolation – or can you provide a quote and a page reference? Still, if you had been correct about the flying dragons, then the Balrogs would have made a rather minor – and stupid – contribution. Why get killed instead of letting the dragons rain fire on the heroic types until they died?
“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.”
Yes… I would definitely expect a swarm of one comparable thing to do more than merely two comparable things? Not to mention that huge hordes of firebreathers facing off against tree-loving mooks is going to end in obvious tragedy.
Really, I hate to have to ask, but did you actually read the books, or are you basing your opinions on secondary interpretations? After all, if you had actually checked this section, you’d find that “Morgath loosed his Balrogs” upon the city – that is to say, a lot of them. So much for “a swarm” versus “merely two”. Secondarily, these are Noldor – centuries old, lovers of cities, highly experienced, and not at all “mooks”. Who do you think Fingon practiced with? (Are you thinking of the elves who preferred not to go to Valinor? They might fit in under “tree-loving mooks).
“Evidently quite a few got away and didn’t need to hide.”
Not to mention that dragons improve and get better over time.
The other important thing is that, if we assume Morgoth and balrogs are so emaciated in the power level department as you say, then dragons get completely crazy by comparison. There is a dragon that was so huge that, when it died, it collapsed an entire dwarven civilization underground. That’s quite beyond even a Colossal Red Dragon. Not to mention that, as you say, the dragons had a good chance of taking the Valar. I find it difficult to believe that total scrubs on par with level six elves are going to be able to create dragons that are hundreds of times their power level.
Ah; I see that you’re skipping past the War of Wrath section. You do realize that when you skip past an argument instead of answering it you concede the point? Here you’re attempting to skip past the “Dragons versus Balrogs” discussion to complain that dragons are too powerful… For that you want a quote and a page number. You also want to avoid trying to drag standard d20 dragons into things, since the discussion is about the exact opposite – converting Tolkien’s creatures to accurate d20 representations; how powerful a standard d20 dragon is is totally irrelevant.
As for creating weapons that are more powerful and destructive than you are being hard to believe… I take it that you do not believe that mankind has developed tanks, bomber planes, and nuclear weapons either since those are better at destroying things than an unarmed engineer is?
“Basically the argument in this complaint is entirely circular”
The pot calls the kettle black.
Okay, How does the level 5-8 elf king thing square off, again? Morgoth (lv?)needs help vs Ungoliant (lv?) from Gothmog (lv8?), and Gothmog later kills and is killed by the Elven King (lv5-8?). Morgoth doesn’t manage to harm Ungoliant at this point at all, so we can assume she’s at “full,” and this suggests that Ungoliant is grown to a power level over Morgoth even moreso than Morgoth was over Fingolfin. Gothmog (level 8, apparently) pretty much immediately drives Ungoliant off. That suggests Ungoliant was at least two levels below Gothmog, so she’d be about level 6. She herself whooped Morgoth, so he’s probably another two levels below her, which leaves us with a level 4 Morgoth. Gothmog and the Elven King (elite awesome heroes are, apparently, level 5-8, so ) are about evenly matched and kill each other. Meanwhile, Fingolfin would have to be about… level 1, tops, as Morgoth would be about as strong as your average troll — and that would have been way back before his diminishment.
Of course, to your point buy system, you could simply add “Kryptonite: Vs Spiders” to Morgoth, “Kryptonite: Vs Balrogs” to Ungoliant, and “Kryptonite: Vs Elves” to Balrogs.
Lets see… Morgoth (Noncombatant and physical coward, as seen at the end of the War of Wrath, Silmarillion, Page 303) is intimidated by a freshly-empowered Ungoliant (Nasty spider-monster). He gets tangled up in webbing, and calls for help – and a sizeable number of his Balrogs come and run Ungoliant off. To check that section…
“But Ungoliant had grown great, and he (Morgoth) less by the power that had gone out of him, and she enmeshed him in a web of clinging thongs to strangle him. Then Morgoth sent forth a terrible cry, that echoed in the mountains… Far beneath the ruined halls of Angband, in vaults to which the Valar in the haste of their assault had not descended, Balrogs lurked still, awaiting ever the return of their Lord… they came to Lammoth as a tempest of fire. With their whips of flame they smote asunder the webs of Ungoliant, and she quailed, and turned to flight, belching black vapors to cover her”. – The Silmarillion, Page 86 – “Of the flight of the Noldor”.
So; we have intimidation, webs (and now you know why flame is an instant cure for the Web spell!), and a swarm of Balrogs – who suffice to scare off a giant spider. No actual combat takes place – and power has nothing to do with it unless you count Morgoth’s ability to scream so piercingly that it’s heard many many miles away.
Of course we’ve also established that you do not remember the books clearly, and are not bothering to refer to them to make your arguments; You stated that Gothmog (not mentioned) drove Ungoliant off – not that a swarm of Balrogs did so. Arguments based on your personal third-party reinvention of the books are not convincing.
Gothmog and an Elven King did kill each other. Therefore we can say that they were either about equal, or one was already wounded, or external aid was involved (it’s not like they were having an isolated white-room duel), or one was lucky.
Sorry, but this argument is still based on your own personal reinvention of what happened in the books and on the notion that levels are all-important – when even in basic d20 they’re not; the situation, your particular build, how you use your abilities, and the luck of the dice can be far more important than your level.
Its especially bizarre to imagine that the great heroes of an immortal and magical but biological race would be judged by the same level standard as the best historical Earth heroes, when the latter only had one lifetime to improve, and the former can gain levels indefinitely. It is even more bizarre when the dragons vs Valar battle soundly demonstrates that magical and immortal, but biological creatures do grow over time — massively so — and can even become strong enough to take on Valar.
Is the craftsmanship of Eru just that much suckier than that of Morgoth that dragons ramp up in power level with age and experience but elves can’t?
Here you have entirely missed the point; the greatest elven heroes are indeed superhuman – but “superhuman” starts around level five in d20, which was what was being pointed out. That’s also an independent line of argument, but it does tend to support the basic premise.
Of course, Tolkien’s world doesn’t have levels. It’s characters do not tend to gain much in power over time; Legolas did not incredibly overshadow everyone but Gandalf did he? In Tolkien’s world – just as in Christian theology – uncorrupted spirits, and the corrupted ones that do not try to create their own minions, have constant power. Those spirits who put their power into other things are weakened permanently thereby. Sauron permanently weakened his personal power by making the One Ring. Morgoth spent so much of his power as to cripple himself. Feanor didn’t just pick up a couple of levels and make Silmarils Mark II; he made them, some of his power passed into them – and he would never be able to make such a thing again.
Yes, the elven heroes are mildly superhuman. That puts them around level 5-8. Now, can you actually present a reference from Tolkien’s books that says that dragons grow more powerful after they finish growing? That’s a D&D convention – not a Tolkien convention.
You’re contradicting yourself; first you point out that there was little indication that Gandalf grew in power (although he certainly learned things), and then you want to apply d20 leveling conventions to the elves. I’d agree that Gandalf didn’t show much power growth through the books unless (and it is unless, since Tolkien made no definite statements on the matter) his powers improved after he was “sent back” – and that probably wouldn’t have anything to do with “experience” anyway.
I’d really suggest calming down and a careful re-reading of the primary source material – The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the Silmarillion.
- Return to Middle Earth – Gandalf and the Eclipse (ruscumag.wordpress.com)