Eclipse d20 and Tolkien’s Rings Of Power

English: Fictional coat of arms of Mordor, in ...

Here’s looking at you Frodo!

One Book To Rule Them All, One Book To Find Them.

One Book To Bring Them In, And To The Setting Bind Them.

Today it’s a question from Alzrius – and one that I’m surprised has taken this long to come up. It is, after all, a perennial topic of discussion. My answer, of course, is absolutely definite, and will doubtless end all debate on the topic for the rest of time.

And if you believe that, I have MANY fine bridges, parks, and mythical subcontinents to sell you.

You’ve written a number of articles on Middle Earth/The Lord of the Rings. We’ve had an article examining the likely levels of the Fellowship in general, as well as Gandalf and the Balrog in particular (along with not one but two spirited defenses of those stats), as well as Federation Apocalypse-style “identities” for both Sauron and Melkor-Morgoth. You’ve looked at the charms and talismans and the silmarils, but the most famous items of Tolkien’s world have never been “statted up” here. So then…

Based on what we know of them, what would the One Ring, the Lesser Rings, and the Mirror of Galadriel look like using the Eclipse rules?

 -Alzrius

  • “Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
  • Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
  • Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die,
  • One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne”

-Tolkien, The Lord Of The Rings.

To properly convert the rings to a game, you need to start off with a basic question…

Where did the rings come from?

Sauron wanted to bring the Elves under his command – so he came to them in a fair seeming, and taught them secret lore. With that knowledge their craftsmen created many Rings of Power – including Lesser Rings (about which little or nothing is known) and Great Rings – sixteen of which were made with Sauron’s direct assistance, and three of which were made by Celebrimbor using Sauron’s lore but without his direct aid.

Sauron then created the One Ring to control the wearers of the other Great Rings (presumably the wearers of lesser rings could perhaps be spied on, but not controlled – or surely Sauron would have used such a resource) – but the Elves noticed in time to remove their rings, and did not fall to his control. Foiled in his chief purpose, Sauron then went to great lengths to steal the sixteen rings that he had helped create. He did not find the three however. (The true extant of his efforts to do so are unknown; perhaps, at the time and in his arrogance, he believed that Celebrimbor could only have created minor trinkets without his direct aid and did not fully exert himself). With the sixteen in his possesion, Sauron then corrupted them and handed them out to powerful but presumably corruptible individuals whom he believed would be more pliable than the elves the rings had originally been intended for.

As it happened, the Dwarves proved rather intractable; their rings could exaggerate their worst tendencies – greed, suspicion, and anger – and enhanced their abilities to allow them to become very very rich- but apparently couldn’t make them invisible, turn them into wraiths, extend (or shorten) their lives, or bring them under Sauron’s control. After all, the Dwarves had been made tough, enduring, and resistant, to live in the days when Morgoth still blighted Arda – a durability that apparently served them equally well against his lieutenant.

Humans proved more vulnerable. According to Tolkien…

Those who used the Nine Rings became mighty in their day, kings, sorcerers, and warriors of old. They obtained glory and great wealth…They had, as it seemed, unending life, yet life became unendurable to them. They could walk, if they would, unseen by all eyes in this world beneath the sun, and they could see things in worlds invisible to mortal men…

It’s strongly implied that, after their corruption was complete (which apparently took quite some time), Sauron took the rings back from the Nazgul – which may be why he still controlled them utterly after he lost the One Ring. After all, if they’d still been wearing their rings, their cloaks and masks should have been just as invisible as their original gear had long since become. It seems likely that Sauron didn’t use those rings to make more Nazgul because he needed them to control the ones he already had – and he didn’t use the ones he recovered from the Dwarves later on to make more Nazgul because, without the One Ring, they wouldn’t be under his control.

So what did they do?

Again, according to Tolkien…

The chief power (of all the rings alike) was the prevention or slowing of decay (i.e. `change’ viewed as a regrettable thing), the preservation of what is desired or loved, or its semblance – this is more or less an Elvish motive. But also they enhanced the natural powers of a possessor – thus approaching `magic’, a motive easily corruptible into evil, a lust for domination. And finally they had other powers, more directly derived from Sauron…such as rendering invisible the material body, and making things of the invisible world visible.

That covers the life-extension bit; it’s not much use slowing down external change and decay if you can’t endure to enjoy it. It also covers making the rings themselves difficult (but hardly impossible) to destroy; that too would be a change. Of course, magic items are often taken as being fairly difficult to destroy, so that works too.

The invisibility relied on the user becoming partially a creature of the “wraith-world” – and it may or may not have worked on creatures that already were a part of that world. It never comes up directly – but apparently Sauron was not invisible while fighting Isildur, despite wearing the One Ring during the fight.

“Word of God” also informs us that the Three did not have powers derived from Sauron, and so did not make people invisible. There are a few references indicating that they MIGHT have some special powers of their own – most notably Círdan’s statement on giving Narya to Gandalf that “This is the Ring of Fire, and with it you may rekindle hearts in a world that grows chill.”

Of course, that could just be an elf being poetic about presenting someone with a major magical gift. It’s been suggested that Narya, as the Ring of Fire, helped Gandalf with Fire Magic and Inspired Others, that Nenya (Water) helped Galadriel with Water Magic and Prophecy, and that Vilya (Air) helped Elrond with Air Magic and Sensory / Divinatory powers – but there really isn’t much of any evidence for the Three having any special powers beyond the standard power boost and preservation effect at all. They might have been invisible – nobody mentions seeing them – but nobody mentions seeing other rings, cloak broaches, or similar items either. They might also just appear to be simple rings on the physical side; since wearing jewelry isn’t exactly uncommon such a minor ornament could easily pass unnoticed.

Whether or not any of the sixteen had special powers is not recorded – but Tolkien never really tells us much of anything about them anyway.

The One Ring did, of course, have at least one special power. According to Tolkien:

While he (Sauron) wore the One Ring he could perceive all the things that were done by means of the lesser rings, and he could see and govern the very thoughts of those that wore them.” – although, as noted above, “lesser rings” here probably refers to the nineteen, not to the truly minor rings.

It amplified the user’s power of course, and greatly extended Sauron’s dominance and control – but power-amplification is a general property of all the great rings.

There are some bits – Sam understanding the Orcs, and Frodo’s interaction with Galadriel – which might indicate that the One Ring can grant the user a touch of telepathy, but Gollum certainly didn’t show any signs of it. The ring may have extended the user’s ability to control and dominate others in general – but such manipulation was a part of Sauron’s nature long before the forging of the One Ring and it’s noted that Frodo would have to become far stronger, and train his will to the domination of others before he could use that power, so this is more likely just an aspect of the basic “heightens the user’s abilities” power. The same goes for the apparently-heightened ability to frighten Gollum and Orcs – although both of those were likely rather nervous to begin with. The power of command was hardly absolute anyway; even Sauron couldn’t always hold command of his forces with it – “So great was the might and splendour of the Númenóreans that Sauron’s own servants deserted him”,

It tended to be addictive, and to corrupt people – but so did pretty much every other external or “unnatural” source of power in Tolkien’s world. Political power corrupted rulers, the desire for long lives corrupted men, magical lore corrupted Saruman, and even the lesser rings and palantir’s were dangerous. The One Ring was arguably worse – but it was also far more potent. This… is really more of a limitation than a special “power”. Tellingly, Tom Bombadil – who simply did not CARE about such things – was immune.

According to Gandalf:

A Ring of Power looks after itself… It may slip off treacherously, but its keeper never abandons it. At most he plays with the idea of handing it on to someone else’s care—and that only at an early stage, when it first begins to grip. But as far as I know Bilbo alone in history has ever gone beyond playing, and really done it. He needed all my help, too. And even so he would never have just forsaken it, or cast it aside. It was not Gollum… but the Ring itself that decided things. The Ring left him.

Except, of course, that this is blatantly untrue; multiple elves took off their rings when they became threats, the Dwarves were not affected by such problems, and Gandalf himself was given one freely. Evidently Gandalf is – at the least – skipping a LOT of unnecessary details to make a general point. It may be difficult to give up a Great Ring, but apparently it’s hardly impossible.

Finally, it can often get itself put on, or fall off, in an effort to get back to Sauron. On the other hand, it pretty obviously couldn’t do anything about being kept in a hole in some rocks, or on a mantlepiece, for many years. Not exactly a world-shaking enchantment there. It apparently has some limited awareness and ability to make decisions – but it isn’t very smart, and it can’t keep it’s current bearer from using it’s power.

So how do we turn this into mechanics?

The first thing to remember is that Middle-Earth is a realistic, low-magic, world.

Normal People are level one. Experienced, trained, types (and pretty much any dwarf) are level two. The adventurous and talented (and pretty much any elf) may hit level three. Level four is pretty much the peak for trained, talented, heroic humans and experienced elves and dwarves – and mere experience simply does not lead to increased power in Arda after you hit your level cap.

Beyond that… Elves who have lived in Valinor could reasonably reach level five, and legendary heroes (most likely touched by greater powers) could surpass those limits by one or two levels – becoming truly superhuman. Powerful spirit beings… well, everything Gandalf could do (and a fair number of things he didn’t) could be covered by an eighth level build. Sure, Sauron led an immense army and did a lot of evil things – but so did Napoleon, and I’m pretty sure that HE was just a human without any particular high-level powers.

And you had to train and grow to use the powers that a Ring of Power made available – and that’s pretty easy to represent in d20 terms.

So:

  • Immunity/Normal Level Limits (Common, Severe, Minor (+3 on the cap, 6 CP) for the ninteen, Major (+5 on the cap, 9 CP) for the One Ring. Of course that’s a natural-law immunity (and, like most such, grossly powerful for it’s cost; level five or seven when most of the world is limited to level two? YES please!), and thus should be carefully watched – and in Arda is a twisted power that goes against the will of the Creator. Worse, it’s effectively Specialized and Corrupted/the power of a ring cannot more than double your base potential (thus Gollum, with a base potential of Level Two, was no more than a match for Sam – who had definitely achieved heroic stature) and the more you employ the unnatural power of a ring to exceed your normal limits, the more twisted and corrupt you grow. That’s not necessarily evil at first – but using even a part of the “unsullied” power of Nenya inflicted a terrible longing for the West (and spiritual healing) on Galadriel even as it left her unable to find true peace or joy in Middle-Earth. Gandalf… had enough power of his own that he never sought to use the level-boosting power of Narya, while it is perhaps notable that Elrond, the possesser of Vilya… did very little save sit in a small valley for many centuries. Extreme agoraphobia perhaps?

Thus rings were given to powerful mortal men – who then eventually reached level seven, with powers well beyond those available to normal humans, if not quite on the level of Gandalf or the Maia. With their final transformations – and their bodies partially in the spirit world and physically dead – they became resistant to most attacks, allowing them to devastate small armies of ordinary (level 1-2) people. To most of the world they were deadly terrors, and even heroic elves would find them daunting – although (as is only sensible with closely-matched contingently immortal opponents and worlds with realistic injuries) they were apparently reluctant to actually fight it out.

Dwarves could endure or resist most of the corruption of the Great Rings (even if they did make them rather unpleasant people), and could not be influenced by Sauron despite the One Ring. To the rulers of the Dwarves the rings brought leadership, expertise in crafts and trade, and many other strengths, By the exercise of those enhanced capabilities, the Dwarven ring-bearers became wealthy and powerful – and so Sauron spared no effort to reclaim those rings; on the fingers of dwarves they simply placed greater power in the hands of his rivals and enemies.

It’s interesting – if beyond the scope of this article – to consider what might have happened if the elves had given the Great Rings to the dwarves as soon as Sauron forged the One Ring – or if the One Ring had been taken by a dwarven hero instead of by Isildur… A possible backstory for a variant Shadowrun campaign perhaps?

  • The power of Preservation is, at it’s simplest, simply a small Immunity to Time – preventing aging (Uncommon, Major, Minor, Corrupted/the user will eventually find extended life a burden and – of course – doesn’t get to break their level cap just due to age, 3 CP). The Great Rings, however, were capable of extending that power beyond the wearer, preserving ancient beauties and entire realms in some (very ill-defined) fashion. That’s a little bit awkward; affecting entire realms calls for some rather specialized powers.

Still, those individuals who DO use the rings for such things are always great elven leaders – which tells us how to get there.

  • The Great Rings bestow Dominion (6 CP) – and thus indirect access to the Battle Magic ability, allowing spells to affect entire realms – given followers and time (which the elves have plenty of). To cast those spells we’ll use the Hexcrafting system, buying two “cards” for a narrowly-focused preservation/healing “deck”, specialized/all effects must be subtle and relatively long-term (6 CP). That will allow someone with a Greater Ring and a realm to extend their powers across it – and to weave subtle effects (such as reducing aging and decay) to protect and maintain it.

Of course Dominion effects are useful in many other ways – to inspire thousands, bestow offices, influence large-scale political events, and ward off certain ill effects, such as disease. Pretty much all things that various ring-users were noted for. That fits nicely.

So that’s our basic Great Ring – 18 CP. Of course, they are cursed thanks to the use of Sauron’s evil lore in their forging; they render their user’s open to Sauron’s telepathic control as long as they wear the ring. That’s (-3 CP) and reduces their base cost as a Relic to 2 CP. That’s not actually very expensive – but what makes the Great Rings so powerful is that they let their wearers break Arda’s level caps to some extent.

For the Sixteen and the One, Invisibility is up next – but in d20 terms what Tolkien describes is a lot closer to a partial shift into the Ethereal Plane than it is to classical invisibility, although it leaves the user fully corporeal. It works in combat too, but can leave you with a partial shadow and doesn’t cover up things like footprints – as Bilbo found out to his distress.

  • Ergo… what we want is Immunity to Visual Detection (Very Common, Minor, Great), Specialized and Corrupted/the user leaves betraying traces on the environment, is partially phased into the wraith-realm/ethereal and thus is not invisible on that level and can interact with creatures there and even be attacked by them, user will eventually fade permanently into the wraith-realm and become a wraith (how fast depends on how much they use this function of a ring), does not work on creatures that are dual-aspected and already exist in the wraith-realm (8 CP).

While this DOES allow the user to see into the unseen world, and interact with spirits, and so on, this generally is not a good thing for mortals. They are dreadfully exposed when they do so.

The Sixteen might have other powers of course – but there’s no real evidence of it beyond Tolkien’s mention of “other powers”. It’s possible that Tolkien was counting their addictive nature as a power but in Eclipse terms it’s another three-point disadvantage on the things, giving the Sixteen a base cost of (26 – 6) CP – or three CP as Relics, making them tools of tremendous power in a low-level world.

  • Special Powers for the Three are pretty speculative – but I’ll gratuitously say that the prior speculation about them aiding particular types of magic is accurate. Ergo, lets buy them 1d6+2 Mana (using the Spell Enhancement option) and Rite of Chi with +2 Bonus Uses, all Specialized and Corrupted/may only be used to enhance spells related to the ring’s theme, may not enhance spells by more than two levels (6 CP).

That gives the Three a total cost of (24 – 3) = 21 CP each, or 3 CP as Relics – another set of mighty devices indeed, especially in low-level world.

Finally, of course, we have the One Ring – an artifact perhaps as mighty as the Silmarils.

There’s some evidence that it gave Frodo heightened perceptions, precognitive dreams (although those could easily have been interference from other sources) and perhaps the ability to curse Gollum (although that might just be a dramatic speech) and project minor illusions as Frodo and Sam approached Mordor – but that could just as easily be the two of them growing in strength and tapping into a bit of the rings power to pick up an extra level… All of those abilities are available as low-grade psychic abilities in the Witchcraft magical system, that’s the cheapest, simplest, and most “natural” type of magic for anyone to acquire – and it would be hard to deny that the ring was beginning to have it’s way with Frodo towards the end.

After all, after traipsing halfway across Middle-Earth, I’d say that both Sam and Frodo had enough experience points to hit level five – and the ring would enable that, albeit with a rather supernatural bent anyway. There aren’t any powers required here.

The special powers of the One Ring were…

  • Immunity to Separation: the One Ring remained in contact with the other Great Rings – indeed, if something happened to it, they would be magically destroyed as well – regardless of range. It continued to sustain the extended lives of it’s ex-bearer’s (such as Gollum and Bilbo) until it’s destruction and – I’ll presume – that it serves as a telepathic link to the minds of those wearing other Great Rings.

Of course it DOESN’T seem to be able to transmit other magical effects, or simply return to it’s master across space, or any of that. Ergo, this power is Specialized and Corrupted; despite all the tricks I can think of for it, that’s all it does. That’s (Very Common, Major, Great, and – after those limitations – a net cost of 10 CP).

It has the power to influence it’s user’s mind a bit (no matter how hard that is to work into a RPG, where the players will tend to stare at the GM and say “like heck I will! I have ability “x” that negates that!”), can slip off or lose itself if you’re not careful, and it seems to have enough awareness of it’s surroundings to make an effort to get back to Sauron.

That’s not actually a power that’s of any use to the bearer; it only benefits Sauron – and thus is a power that HE has to buy directly. The One Ring is functionally an Item Familiar. That’s…

  • Companion (6 CP), with Transfer (12 CP worth) – which provides the One Ring with the points to buy Shaping (Specialized in those minor mental and physical manipulations) and Unique Returning – making it indestructible except for a single method. This is a lot more important for the One Ring than for the Silmarils of course; nobody wants to damage the pretty Silmarils, but a LOT of people would like to see something nasty happen to the One Ring. Fortunately for Sauron, that 18 CP cost is Specialized and Corrupted: the One Ring is basically unanimated (thus it’s getting stuck at the bottom of a river for so long), it has no effective link back to Sauron when it’s not in use, it cannot really signal the Nazgul or Sauron’s other servants, and so on. That takes the cost to Sauron of this ability down to (6 CP) – a reasonable enough investment in keeping it safe given how important it is to him.

So the total cost of the One Ring is 20 CP (as with the Sixteen), +10 CP (the no-separation function) +1 (the higher level boost) = 31 CP. That’s a five-point relic. Not as awesome as the writeup for the Silmarils – but still a device of power enough to change the course of history in a low-level world. Sauron’s little safety precaution increased his personal cost to 11 CP – about half a levels worth of character points.

Why did destroying the ring effectively destroy Sauron?

Why did Sauron wind up Specializing his ability to take a physical form (“will not work if the One Ring is destroyed), and a chunk of his other most basic powers, just to get enough points to forge the One Ring? It’s really not THAT expensive!

The answer there involves two factors – Level Caps and Age. Sauron was OLD. He’d already invested all his character points in various abilities, and most of them were already specialized and corrupted so as to increase his effective power. He didn’t have any leftover character points to invest, and couldn’t pull any out of less-vital powers because those powers were already using those modifiers. Thus he had to raid some pretty fundamental abilities for points. It was safe enough; after all, no one would ever be willing to destroy the One Ring!

Oh, wait…

Oh yes. As for the Mirror of Galadriel… It shows visions, which may or may not be accurate. It may show what might be, or a vision of the past, or it’s visions may be interfered with by other powers. Basically it’s just a variation on a Talismantic version of a Seeing Crystal from the Practical Enchanter.

Eclipse: The Codex Persona is available in a Freeware PDF Version, in Print, and in a Paid PDF Version that includes Eclipse II (245 pages of Eclipse races, character and power builds, items, relics, martial arts, and other material) and the web expansion.

The Practical Enchanter can be found in a Print Edition (Lulu), an Electronic Edition (RPGNow), and a Shareware Edition (RPGNow).  There’s an RPGNow Staff Review too.

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5 Responses

  1. A truly excellent article, thank you for writing it!

    Two quick questions though, your write-up of the three here – which includes Narya, seems quite different from how it’s written in your Gandalf & the Balrog article. Presumably, the version written here should use its mana to replicate the fire-specific spells written in the other article?

    More generally, how would level caps have applied to Sauron in the first place? According to your Sauron article, he’d be a level twelve or thirteen character; is he able to gain any levels at all without the One Ring? Or does that raise his potential limit even more? In other words, that limitation appears devastating to normal people, but as you noted, Sauron’s “basic” form makes him able to handle the entire Council of the Wise on his own, albeit with difficulty.

    • Basically it’s because I’m taking two entirely different approaches; the original writeup for Gandalf and the Balrog was about those characters could be represented in a more-or-less standard (if probably low-level) d20 / Eclipse game – and why it was a mistake to assume that they were necessarily of very high level.

      But that was why the bit about Narya was there:

      “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.”

      This approach is focused more on how Tolkien’s Rings of Power functioned within Tolkien’s setting – a much more subtle world, and one without all the elements that make d20 a game. If Gandalf was coming along with the party in a standard game… I’d probably use the writeup for Narya that’s with the rest of his statistics. It works a lot better for that purpose. (After all, if you told a player in a standard game that is or her character had acquired a Great Ring, and that it’s great power was to let said character break the games non-existent level caps… I suspect that it wouldn’t go over very well). Now if the adventure was actually set in middle-earth… I’d probably go with this version.

      Of course there really isn’t any direct evidence at all that the Three helped with particular types of magic outside of the general power boost – and it would be kind of appropriate to have everything but the Invisibility and Dominance abilities that Sauron added be elven-subtle – but this IS still d20.

      Sauron personally is a bit of a unique case; After all, Morgoth was second only to Iluvater – pretty much the local name for a/the monotheistic omnipotent god – and Sauron was his greatest Lieutenant, second only to the Valar. Ergo, in game terms, taking eight as the basic level for a “trained” Maia like Gandalf (to leave open the possibility that Radagast the Brown and some of the others might be only level seven) that gives us a level limit of twelve for Sauron – who is definitely “(anti-)heroic” among the Maia (+2 to the base cap, just like for a mortal) and is about as “touched by a greater power” (Morgoth, +2) as is possible in Arda.

      With the Ring and +5 levels… he’d be up on the scale of the Vala (16-18 I’d say, with Melkor himself – at least at the beginning – likely around 21-24)). Fortunately, Sauron was plot-appropriately stupid. Overconfident in his enhanced power, he – at that point a seventeenth level artificer, sorcerer, and manipulator – decided to engage a bunch of physically-focused, if much lower level (and far luckier), mortal heroes in melee. He killed at least two of them (and likely more), but eventually got pulverized. Apparently not even the One Ring could make up for a really STUPID plan.

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