Assault on Vespin Tower: A Hackmaster adventure in MERP 

I’ve always wanted to play the Middle Earth Role Playing game (aka MERP) by Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE). Thing is, when I bought the books back in the ’90s I never got a chance to play it. So now that I discovered solo RP, it’s my chance to enjoy it.

A little background first. MERP was released back when ICE had gotten the rights from Tolkien enterprises. It uses a slim version of the Rolemaster system and has a limit of 10 levels, serving as an entry point to the Rolemaster books.
It’s a skill and level based system with professions. Resolution is done with d100 roll over mechanics, so it doesn’t suffer from BRP’s systems being broken at high skill levels.
There are lots of tables to resolve combat, critical hits, spells, fumbles, social interactions, moving maneuvers, static maneuvers, wilderness encounters, herbs, poisons and diseases, even weather and precipitation tables.
Character generation is pretty complicated. It can take you more than 30 minutes to create a custom character, and that is without spending time on background and personality.
As you understand the system is dense and crunchy. It can slow you down while playing, but again that depends on expectations. In this effort I don’t want to resolve actions in seconds, but to have a more vibrant world, and using the input from these tables may be just enough to colorize the solo story. The story will be slower, but denser. At least that’s my expectation.

Since I want to test if the system is to my liking I won’t be running it sandbox yet. I read through the Trollshaws sample adventures in the book, but I think it’s a bit on the deadly side for starting level characters. So I turned to a very simple sample adventure from Hackmaster basic. It’s called Assault on Vespin Tower. I won’t be indulging in details yet to avoid spoilers, but it’s really a 1-1/2-scene adventure. So it sounds perfect to start there. Plus it can fit in the MERP world, somewhere in Eriador I think.

For characters, I won’t be spending hours on chargen. Instead, I will be rolling on three random choices of the 16 preset characters in the book. So, the toughest thing will be to find a way to fit them all in an adventuring party. Another cool thing about the preset characters is that the book includes tables (I’ve said that MERP has tables right?) for each level of progression. So if you don’t want to spend time choosing how they will advance, what skill choices to make, etc, you just look up the table.

Overall I believe it’s going to be a nice change from the D6 system that has dice pools, since I will switching all those dice with a single pair of d10s. I’m certain that the time I will save from counting successes or adding numbers will be spent on looking up tables and adding modifiers!

For the Oracle, I am keeping MUNE and for the scene setup, the modified MUNE I describe here.

For random name and setting generation I am using donjon
For the town/keep map generation I am using watabou medieval fantasy city map generator
For NPC portraits I will be using dmheroes fantasy portrait generator.

So a roll on the sample characters. I get the following:

Camthalion, a Sindar Elf Warrior. He’s good with a bow, knows some spells, carries a sword and doesn’t wear armor. He wants to find what happened to his dead twin brother.

Dwalin, a Dwarf Scout. He’s armed with mace and shield and wears chain armor. He wants to help recover a mythical dragon-slaying hammer. For know, he wants to travel and get experience.

Leòwyn, a Rohirim Shield Maiden. She’s armed with sword and shield and wears armor. She is riding a horse. She wants to find the murderer of her lover.

Now, apart of Dwalin, the other two backgrounds don’t fit directly to the story, so I decided that they will join because they need money for their adventure. Therefore, here comes the story.

The setting


Inhyrst Keep. It’s in north Eriador.

I roll 1d12 for month, and I get 11: Hithui.
I roll for chance of rain (Temperate climate) at ST-8 Weather Table: and get no rain.
I roll for temperature and it’s around 3 Celsius (had to convert from Fahrenheit).

For those used to my narrative/game mechanics descriptions so far, I will be doing the opposite approach to writing this time. All game mechanics and everything will be unquoted, while the story I will be narrating will be I’m quoted text. I think it makes more sense this way.

At a cold fall day of Hithui, a young boy is ringing the bell in the town square of Inhyrst, north Eriador.
“Hear ye, hear ye!” He shouts. “Brave souls hear the call! Investigate Vespin tower, north of Inhyrst keep and earn 10 silver! Sign up at the constable’s office!”.

Soon after, the most weird company Inhyrst has seen in a while, has assembled. A dwarf, a blonde shield maiden and a gray elf.
Constable Anulf watches them carefully one after the other, his thick long hair falling in front of his face.
“Alright fellas!” He says as he brings out a document. “This is a writ, authorizing you to investigate Vespin tower, located 10 miles north. Once you have successfully completed your task, return here, to report and get your payment. Any questions?”

Q: Who will ask?
A: Dwalin, he has the highest Intuition.

The dwarf, Dwalin steps forward. “Sir, what has happened that needs investigating?” He asks.
Anulf sighs. “It’s been over a month since the tower’s previous watch disappeared. Their replacements were drinking their asses off in Vew, so we have no clue what happened. Now, sign your names under the writ, and a good luck to all of you.” He doesn’t seem to care to talk further, as if his work is done already.

I roll for the time, it’s afternoon, 4 pm.

I roll on the ST-10 Encounters Table. Activity Roll: 70 – Avoidance Roll 14 + 30 Due to Roads = 86. There is an e/s result which means encounter/sighting.
I ask the Oracle:
Q: Is it animal?
A: Yes
I roll on the Creatures of Middle Earth, Animals Encounter Chart and get that it’s eagles.
Ok, they saw some eagles flying, no big deal, they move on. I won’t stop to write a text about it.

At around 8 pm they arrive at the tower. Since its fall in northern Endor, it must be night already.

Q: Is the scene stable?
A: No, roll 1d8 on TWENE: Remove major element.

So the adventure states that at night time there is a goblin (orc in our case) lookout with a crossbow at the top of the tower. Therefore I decide that instead he has taken a longer nap and hasn’t gotten up to the tower yet.

Their travel to Vespin tower is uneventful. The dwarf and the elf march on, while Leòwyn trots on her horse slowly beside them.
Finally they see the tower in the distance. Leòwyn dismounts and they all start a slow stealthy walk towards the tower. The 30′ high tower has no entrance. They approach to see if the rope winch that the garrison uses to get inside is available, but it’s not there.
Camthalion turns to the party. “I will climb up the tower and tie the rope down for you to follow.” They nod in agreement and he starts his ascent.

Climbing is a Moving Maneuver. I will follow the description of the adventure and say it’s hard to climb. Camthalion wears no armor and has a +35 MM bonus.
Climb: 86+35=121: 90%. He climbs 9′.
Climb: 43+35=78: 50%. He climbs 5′.
Climb: 83+35=118: 90%. He climbs 9′.
Climb: 84+35=119: 90%. He climbs 9′. He reaches the top in just 4 attempts.

He ties up a 50′ rope and Leòwyn follows up.
She is wearing her Chain armor and has a -15 MM penalty. She’s climbing with a rope, so now it’s a Medium task Moving Maneuver.
Climb: 74-15=59: 40%. She climbs 4′.
Climb: 08-15=-7: 5%. She climbs 0,5′.
Climb: 39-15=24: 20%. She climbs 2′.
Climb: 38-15=23: 20%. She climbs 2′.
Climb: 51-15=36: 20%. She climbs 2′.
Climb: 45-15=30: 20%. She climbs 2′.
Climb: 29-15=14: 10%. She climbs 1′.
Climb: 85-15=70: 50%. She climbs 5′.
Climb: 74-15=59: 40%. She climbs 4′.
Climb: 30-15=15: 10%. She climbs 1′.
Climb:73-15=58: 40%. She climbs 4′.
Climb: 05-(oh no! it’s an open ended fumble, you re-roll and add it minus)18-15=-28: Fumble! Just a few feet before reaching the top. I hope she doesn’t fall.
I roll on the FT-4, Moving Maneuver Failure Table, with a modification -10 for being a Medium MM.
Roll: 06-10=-4: “You hesitate and fail to act.” Phew! That was close.
Climb: 69-15=54: 30%. She climbs 3′. She has reached the top, in 13 attempts.

Dwalin follows. He is wearing Chain armor and has a -5 MM penalty. Since he’s using the rope as well, it’a a Medium task Moving Maneuver.
Climb: 99+53-5 = 147: 110%. He climbs 11′. Wow an open ended upwards result.
Climb: 66-5=61: 40%. He climbs 4′.
Climb: 21-5=16: 10%. He climbs 1′.
Climb: 17-5=12: 10%. He climbs 1′.
Climb: 58-5=53: 30%. He climbs 3′.
Climb: 74-5=69: 50%. He climbs 5′.
Climb: 50-5=45: 30%. He climbs 2′.
Climb: 98+72-5=165: 120%. He climbs 12′. With another open ended upwards roll, Dwalin reaches the top.

Like a squirrel running up a tree, Camthalion free-climbs to the top of the tower. He has brought a coil of rope with him, and ties it up, so that his companions can follow.
Leòwyn goes first. She is wearing full chain armor, and that doesn’t help at all during the climb up. Just before the top. She hesitates for a moment, worrying Camthalion and Dwalin who have waited around 2 minutes for her to get to the top, but finally, she takes her final steps, assisted with the rope and puts her feet on the tower top.
Dwalin, brings out the renowned dwarf strength and tries to antagonize the elf, but he can’t win his time, even with the rope. He reaches the top, and Camthalion points to him the trapdoor near the edge.

Here I should have spent some time, setting up the scene, using a grid maybe. Nevertheless I went with Theater of The Mind.
First of all I ask The Oracle.
Q: Is the scene stable?
A: No, and, roll 1d10 on TWENE.
TWENE Roll: 5: Increase major element. Instead of 3 orcs, there will be 4 orcs!.
A side note here. MERP treats goblins and orcs as the same race, so for the goblins that the Hackmaster adventure states, I will be using orcs. I will be using the weak orc stats from ST-2 Creature Summary Table.
The group opens the trap door, and I roll an Easy perception roll for the orcs to notice.
Perception Roll: 65+18+20=103. From the MT-2 Static Maneuver Table, Perception & Track, I get: “You gain some information. Try again in 3 rounds.”
I decide that this means, that they are a bit worried. Maybe they heard the trapdoor open, but they didn’t bother to check it out, as they’re still dizzy from the sleep, and eating the guard’s leg.
Looking inside, the trio sees the four orcs, and they decide that the faster way to deal with them will be to jump down, instead of slowly walking down the ladder one by one.
I give a Light difficulty to the Jump maneuver.
Camthalion Jumps: 12+35= 47: 30%, activity in next round -70%.
Leòwyn Jumps: 70-15=55: 30%, activity in next round -70%.
Dwalin Jumps: 45-5=40: 20%, activity in next round -80%.

Camthalion looks through the trapdoor, he notices 4 orcs below, sitting around, not doing much of anything. In the corner is a pile of mutilated corpses, probably belonging to the garrison. He draws his sword, shows 4 fingers to his teammates, and jumps down through the trapdoor. Leòwyn and Dwalin jump down armed, as well.

Okay, so here goes my first combat in MERP. Initiative in MERP is a bit different than what we’re used. It seems derived from wargaming. Actions are resolved in the following sequence.

  1. Spells
  2. Missile Combat
  3. Moving Maneuvers
  4. Melee Combat
  5. Movement
  6. Static Maneuvers

When two characters are in the same order, then the one with highest Moving Maneuver bonus goes first. I won’t go into details about detailed rules like opportunity actions, etc. Just giving the overall structure.
So for this combat, Camthalion goes first, then the orcs, then Leòwyn and Dwalin last.
The party has the penalties from the jumping, so they will go full parry instead (according to MERP rules, the Offensive Bonus can be partially or completely be turned to Defensive Bonus).
According to ST-11 Action Table, the orcs will have a -30 penalty due to drawing their weapons. I’m going to give Orc1 a spear, and the rest Short Swords.

I’m going to present the results in a table

Round 1

CamthalionOrc167025-70 due to previous activity-28No hit 
Orc1Camthalion93525+23-30 due to unsheathing,-5,+10 using spear 2H-29No hit 
Orc2Leòwyn823540+38-30 due to unsheathing, -10 Short Sword vs Chain-1No hit 
Orc3Dwalin443530+51-30 due to unsheathing, -10 Short Sword vs Chain-42No hit 
Orc4Camthalion623525-30 due to unsheathing, +10 Short Sword vs No armor52No hit 
LeòwynOrc2231525-70 due to previous activity-57No hit 
DwalinOrc310025-80 due to previous activity-95No hit 

Round 2

CamthalionOrc136232534No hit 
Orc1Camthalion553525-5,+10 using spear 2H70No hit 
Orc2Leòwyn053540-10 Short Sword vs Chain-10No hit 
Orc3Dwalin373530-10 Short Sword vs Chain32No hit 
Orc4Camthalion203525+10 Short Sword vs No armor40No hit 
LeòwynOrc299+2838+152512730E52: minor forearm wound. +4 hits. 2 hits per round. Stunned 1 round.
DwalinOrc3951+152552No hit 

Round 3

CamthalionOrc119232517No hit 
Orc1Camthalion173525-5,+10 using spear 2H32No hit 
Orc3Dwalin463530-10 Short Sword vs Chain41No hit 
Orc4Camthalion653525+10 Short Sword vs No armor859A-17: weak strike yields no extra damage. +0 hits.
LeòwynOrc25638+1525849A57: minor forearm wound. +4 hits. 2 hits per round. Stunned 1 round. Orc2 is down.
DwalinOrc32451+152565No hit 

Round 4

CamthalionOrc145232542No hit 
Orc1Camthalion713525-5,+10 using spear 2H8613B42: Minor forearm wound. +2 hits. If no arm armour stunned 1 round.
Orc3Dwalin353530-10 Short Sword vs Chain0No hit 
Orc4Camthalion073525+10 Short Sword vs No armor27No hit. 
LeòwynOrc42838+152556No hit 
DwalinOrc34551+15259610B71: blow breaks bone in leg. +12 hits. -40 to activity. Stunned 2 rounds.

Round 5

Orc1Camthalion493525-5,+10 using spear 2H64No hit 
Orc4Leòwyn713540-10 Short Sword vs Chain56No hit. 
LeòwynOrc46338+15259111B28: minor chest wound. +3 hits. 1 hit/round. -5 to activity.
DwalinOrc37351+152511414D17: minor fracture of ribs. +5 hits. -5 to activity. Orc3 is down.

Round 6

CamthalionOrc16625Full OB to parry41No hit 
Orc1Camthalion713525+23-5,+10 using spear 2H68No hit 
Orc4Leòwyn433540-10 Short Sword vs Chain, -5 to activity23No hit. 
DwalinOrc30351+152544No hit 

Round 7

CamthalionOrc19523259311B79: medium thigh wound. +6 hits. 1 hit/round. -10 to activity. Stunned 2 rounds.
Orc4Leòwyn383540-10 Short Sword vs Chain, -5 to activity18No hit. 
LeòwynOrc49538+152512321E43: minor chest wound. +3 hits. 1 hit per round. -5 to activity. Orc4 is down.
DwalinOrc17451+152511514D11: minor fracture of ribs. +5 hits. -5 to activity. Orc1 is down.

The fight is over.

Having nowhere to run, the cornered orcs, growl curses in their orcish dialects, draw weapons and charge at the group. Two of them are locked in combat with Camthalion, who does his best to keep them at bay, but is wounded twice, while the two others facing off the dwarf and the rohirrim.
These two are no match for the goblins, and soon Leòwyn kills one while Dwalin offs the other, breaking its thigh bones so much it can’t move. Then they turn their attention to the ones surrounding Camthalion, and dispatch them with ease.

There are 12 torches, 13 cp and 2 spears as described in the Assault on Vespin Tower adventure.

The party gathers up any provisions they find. They would like to bury the dead, but its going to be deep night soon. Instead they choose to return to Inhyrst keep to report.

Camthalion casts a healing spell from Surface Ways.
Roll on AT-9 Base Spells Attack Table: 84+30=114: -55, and a further -50 bonus to RRT Resistance Rolls Table, since the subject (himself) is willing to heal. I roll on the RRT: 6-105=-99, Success. He can heal 1d10 hit points. I roll, and get only 1 hit point healed.

The party goes back to Inhyrst.
I roll on the ST-10 Encounters Table. Activity Roll: 63 – Avoidance Roll: 80 + 30 Due to Roads – 50 Due to Night = 0. There is no encounter.
They go to the constable to report what they found, and get a room at the inn for the night to rest.

The party, tired and wounded returns to Inhyrst. The guards at the gates look at them. “Halt! Who goes there?”.
“Evening! We have returned from Vespin tower.” Leòwyn replies. “We are to report to constable Anulf.”
Some indiscernible speech between the guards is heard, and then the gates slowly open to allow the group to get through. The wounded Camthalion, and the orc blood on Leòwyn’s clothes make an impression on the guards, who quickly ditch their attitude, and step aside for the party. “I will get the constable.” One of them says, and runs off. The other offers them some water.
A couple minutes later the guard returns. “Come, to the constable’s office. He is waiting for you.”

Anulf watches them from top to bottom. “I don’t like being awoken in the middle of the night, but it’s best that you came now, so that noone sees you. I wouldn’t like panic and gossip to spread in the keep. Now tell me, what happened?”.
“Orcs!” Dwalin says with a deep voice. “Bloody orcs. They had slaughtered the garrison and were eating their limbs.”
Anulf’s face goes white for a second. “Orcs? Here? Did you..”
“We made short work of the vile creatures.” Leòwyn cuts Anulf off. “Had no time in the middle of the night to tend to the dead though. You will have to send your men in the morning.”
“Oh, my.” Anulf gasps. “I need to bring this to the commander. We are not ready for orcs.” He pulls open the drawer of his desk and gets a pouch out. “Here are your ten silver. Go rest. These are perilous times.”

The party has gained 10 silver pieces more.
Now for the experience points. MERP has a lot of tables for sharing experience. There is experience on hits received, kills performed, criticals scored (deducted from the kill experience), spells cast, static and moving maneuvers performed, traveling times, idea points and miscellaneous. Here goes.

Hits points:
Camthalion received 24 hits. He gains +24 experience points.

Critical points scored. Table ET-1 Critical Point Table:
Since Leòwyn and Dwalin scored criticals only on the orcs they killed, I won’t bother calculating those.
Camthalion scored a critical on one of Dwalin’s kills. It’s a Critical B against a Level 1 opponent, which gives +10 EP.
Also Camthalion received an A and a B critical, so he receives +100 and +200 EP respectively.

Kill points. Table ET-2 Kill Point Table:
Leòwyn killed two orcs. From the table, cross-referencing the level differences, its +200 EP for both.
Dwalin also killed two orcs. From the table, cross-referencing the level differences, its +200 EP for both. But Camthalion assisted with an ‘A’ critical, so Dwalin gets -10 EP.

Maneuver points. ET-3 Maneuver Point Table:
The group performed no static maneuvers, only the climbing and jumping maneuvers. From the Table, I get the following. Only successfully accomplished maneuvers count. So these are 3×100% (10′) climbs. The jumps were not fully successful, so I won’t calculate those.
Camthalion gets 3 Hard moving maneuvers at +100 EP each. Leòwyn and Dwalin made 3 Medium moving maneuvers at +50 EP each.

Spell points. ET-4 Spell Point Table:
Camthalion casted a successful healing spell, and gains +100 EP according to the table.

Idea points. None given.

Travel points:
Since its a civilized area that they travel into, I will grant them 1/2 EP for each mile they traveled. They gain +10 EP each.

Miscellaneous points:
For successfully completing the adventure. I will reward them as per the Assault on Vespin Tower. +65 EP each. I know that there must have been a conversion or something, but I guess that will do.

So total experience points awarded.

CharacterExperience Points
Camthalion809 EP
Leòwyn625 EP
Dwalin615 EP

Briefing Summary: Overall I liked the system and I had fun. Yes, there is a lot of back and forth between tables. What I enjoyed is the fact that going crunch-heavy, frees you from the shackles of playing GM and player at the same time. The wargamey nature of the old-school games has rules so strict that you can’t arbitrate freely as in other games.
One small combat took long (in real time) to resolve, but I liked every second of it. I still have a lot to learn, as there are rules that I can forget easily and have to go back and apply some modifier. Also I will need to print out several copies of the tables in the book so that I don’t go running back and forth all the time. The bookkeeping sheets are important as well. Nevertheless, even without any of those, just the book and some A4 sheets, it all worked out fine.
There was a discussion recently regarding “Writing with dice.” I’ve noticed that in this particular case, this was severely limited. There was no character development either though, or any nice story scenes.