Author Topic: Trip down MERP memory lane: Replaying The Loons of Long Hill  (Read 482 times)

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Offline Frabby

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Trip down MERP memory lane: Replaying The Loons of Long Hill
« on: September 13, 2021, 01:33:59 AM »
Back in 2019, my then 9 year old son had "guest starred" in a minor role in the last adventure I had GMed. My players were cool with it.
Since then, Covid has put our long-running (20+ years) RPG group on hiatus. :(

My son liked it and in the Covid break I thus set up a RPG group with him, a classmate, classmate's 12-year-old brother, and their mother. Except for my son, none of them had RPGed before.
I dug out ye olde MERP rulebook, as the rules have an elegant simplicity to them that I feel is well-suited to beginners (and kids aged 10-12); and we would play the classic MERP intro adventure, "The Loons of Long Hill". As essentially a treasure hunt it seemed well-suited for a bunch of kids, and even when set in the Trollshaws it was not neccessarily a violent adventure as there were only two predetermined conflict points with certain NPCs (Taim with his boar, and Malm), both of which could theoretically be resolved through roleplaying and without bloodshed; same with Fuilcwian whom I recalled as a very interesting NPC.

I was a bit curious how well it would work. Maybe nostalgia's rose-tinted glasses had warped my memory from 30+ years ago when I first played, then GMed, that adventure myself?

Turns out, not at all! We had an absolute blast!
Upon re-reading after 30 years, the adventure is a gem with tremendous potential. My older, more experienced self found so many plot hooks and nuances that I had overlooked earlier that it was a genuine pleasure to GM this, even though I had to fix or improvise a few things.
My hat is off to the original authors for what I feel is arguably the best official MERP adventure!

To begin with, Cigfa Bairg is a fun NPC with a lot of potential for a GM with several decades of experience. I managed to bring her across as equal parts crippled old woman in distress and abrasive creepy witch. While the players accepted her offer and promised to bring her the horn, they also had a sense that there was much more to the quest than she was letting on.
The relationship between Cigfa and Fuilcwian is a bit odd, and I never understood why he would possess a key to the vault. This I tweaked the story a bit: Cigfa would explain that Fuilcwian and his father had organized the raid on her village to steal the key to the vault from Cigfa's relative. After all, she knows of the hiding place and unless she tells the players that Fuilcwian has a key in his possession, they key will never become an issue as the players will never learn of it. It follows that there is probably a connection there, and linking the raid to the key just ties those loose ends together and also explains the hate between Cigfa and Fuilcwian that goes back to their days as kids.

Fuilcwian had a sufficiently threatening presence and behavior that the players never even considered attacking him in his hill-fort. They came up with a clever cover story to get the info about the Long Hill from him, but couldn't find a way to raise the issue of the key with him with any success so didn't get the key.

During the following travels, I inserted a scene where they were alerted to a neraby fight during the night: A troll was fighting a trio of orcs. The idea was to have a bunch of weakened foes for the players to get a grip on the combat rules without risking too much, and on the sidelines show them how much of a fight even weakened orcs (or even a troll) can be so that they wouldn't run headlong into the Trollshaws spoiling for a fight they couldn't expect to win.
Like player groups tend to do, they took a wait-and-see approach, let the fight play out, and only later reconnoitered the ruined log hut where the fight had taken place. They found a dead troll outside, a dead orc inside and a nearly-dead orc on a cot (the third had run off). I'm somewhat proud to report that they actually decided to nurse the wounded orc, hoping to get some information out of him. The orc wasn't overly thankful though and later tried to ambush one of the players at the first opportunity, which did finally give at least two of the players a fight they could easily win.

When they found Long Hill they raised enough of a ruckus to alert virtually everybody for miles around to their presence. Which, incidentally, made others - namely Taim and Malm - wary. They tried to find another entrance for a time, not trusting the dangerous stair down, and one player ran into Malm who used his jolly appearance to quiz the player for information about the group and their intentions (but saw no reason to attack just yet).
Taim meanwhile fired a warning arrow from a hiding place and warned the others to stay off his turf.

Later the players relocated to the top of the cliff, established a base camp there where they left a guard, and went down the stair first in the cliffside and then into the cave. While three were exploring underground, Malm tried to rob their camp and had a close fight with the guard. Much of the group's equipment was damaged or thrown off the cliff in the standoff. Malm eventually fled but the guard, too, was severely wounded.

At the bottom of the stair down in the cave, the lead character naturally stumbled into the spear trap (like it happened in virtually every group I GMed as well as when I was a player). Without realizing that Taim is watching them they eventually proceed to the vault in the middle of the lake, where a lucky roll easily unlocked the door.

Here was another thing that I altered. Since the vault is below the waterline I didn't simply resolve the flooding trap with a "disarm traps" maneuver. How is the vault kept dry without a pump mechanism anyways? Instead, I described the flooding trap and disarming it basically allowed the players to rob the vault while water was streaming in. Which meant they only had two or three rounds to grab stuff and escape, but they couldn't get it all before the chamber was flooded (and any light sources doused). Having to chose parts of a treasure under time pressure was also a fun thing. (Luckily, they remembered that they had primarily come for the horn so they took it.) Characters who had collected coins would later roll for what they had actually grabbed.

Wet, cold, with two characters injured (one from the trap, the other from Malm), and much of their regular traveling equipment including food now lost they crawled back up the stair. That was when Taim decided he wasn't going to let them steal his treasure.
Long story short, they fared very poorly in the fight. Two characters went down, the third was overcome by Taim's boar. The fourth was wounded and incapacitated... but had the desperate idea to find out what the magic horn could do? By pure happenstance he chose to blow the "recall" mouthpiece and managed to magically teleport two of his unconscious companions back into the cave. Then the horn's power had run out (for the day). The last character was captured and questioned by Taim, but managed to give the impression that Malm was with the party and still at large. Taim went to hunt for Malm, and again long story short, the captured character escaped and the party fled with much of the treasure. They would later find a lookout point and determine Malm and Taim were following them independently; they set a trap for Malm, ambushed and killed him. Feeling Taim and the boar were too strong for them, they then continued to flee and eventually Taim gave up pursuing them.

On the way back the group then even considered seeing Fuilcwian again to question him about he horn. But when they found the hill fort was now occupied by his whole extended family, they decided against the idea. They discussed if they should really give Cigfa the powerful magical artifact after all, but ultimately decided to honor their promise.

Given that we're talking 10-12 year old kids here who played this, I was very impressed with their conduct and some of the ideas they came up with.

Offline MisterK

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Re: Trip down MERP memory lane: Replaying The Loons of Long Hill
« Reply #1 on: September 13, 2021, 03:46:05 AM »
I believe that such an audience was the choice target of the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game - the rules were actually (much) lighter and simpler than MERP and the Middle Earth setting was more adequately (though not perfectly - spell magic was still an issue) translated, in my opinion.

I would advise you to have a peek at it if you do not already know it and plan to organise more of the same :)

Offline RandalThor

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Re: Trip down MERP memory lane: Replaying The Loons of Long Hill
« Reply #2 on: September 13, 2021, 08:12:30 PM »
Back in 2019, my then 9 year old son had "guest starred" in a minor role in the last adventure I had GMed. My players were cool with it.
Since then, Covid has put our long-running (20+ years) RPG group on hiatus. :(

BIG SNIP

Given that we're talking 10-12 year old kids here who played this, I was very impressed with their conduct and some of the ideas they came up with.
Very cool. Sounds like a rip-roaring good time.
Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Scratch that. Power attracts the corruptible.

Rules should not replace the brain and thinking.

Offline Hurin

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Re: Trip down MERP memory lane: Replaying The Loons of Long Hill
« Reply #3 on: September 13, 2021, 11:46:23 PM »
I'm so looking forward to gaming with my kids. They're still a bit too young for it, but soon...
'Last of all, Húrin stood alone. Then he cast aside his shield, and wielded an axe two-handed'. --J.R.R. Tolkien

Offline sulimo

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Re: Trip down MERP memory lane: Replaying The Loons of Long Hill
« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2021, 04:15:52 PM »
Nice to see Loons of the Long Fell still being played this many years later.

I have converted The Loons of the Long Fell adventure to Fantasy Grounds. I ran a group through there back in February/March, with continuing adventures in the Trollshaws area. Started with Loons, then they went to rescue Leddon from the Trolls, then they investigated the Abandoned Castle. They are currently trying to work their way through Cameth Brin, they just fought a small band of Orcs in that had taken over the old fort.

It took a lot of work to convert the adventures, was was worth it to be able to run adventures with everyone being remote.

They are playing in the Fourth Age. I have a pretty long campaign planned for them. They are slowly working their way through the individual adventures. We try to play on the weekends, but sometimes we need to delay for a week or so. We have another session planned for this coming Saturday.

After Cameth Brin they will be looking at one of the adventures from Dark Mage of Rhudaur (which I have converted as well), then probably off to Rivendell, which is what I am working on converting now.