Owlbears in Valinor: D&D Silliness with The Silmarillion
Some weeks ago, I finished DMing a three-session D&D outing with my usual circle of acquaintances. I had never actually DMed before, so it was a fun learning experience. Overall, I think I’m pretty decent at serving up a vaguely engaging story… my biggest weakness being combats. I am far, far too generous to my players, who tend to slaughter their way through anything I throw at them. But in fairness, I was a bit hamstrung by the nature of the setting, which meant that my choice of combat options was a tad limited.
You see, I was running with a home-made Tolkien campaign. Specifically, I decided to set the thing in First Age Valinor, during the time of the Two Trees – after the exile of Feanor to Formenos, but before the Darkening. I got the players to pick D&D Elvish subraces, and then reskinned them as Vanyar, Noldor, or Teleri (amusingly, there were no Noldor in the party. Everyone went Vanyar or Teleri). They could do as they pleased with classes, though Moon Druid got renamed Druid of the Silver Tree, and so on. Note also that none of the group (apart from me) knew anything about The Silmarillion, so the fact that everyone seems to have thoroughly enjoyed the outing was a positive sign. In fact, they now know their way around some of the major First Age characters, including all the Feanorians and their infamous preference for Þ over s… which is a delightful bonus.
Maedhros wanted to give his father a present he’d actually appreciate, so he hired the Level Three grouping to fetch a lock of Galadriel’s hair.
They started off in a tavern in Tirion, so I threw a bar-brawl at them. It became a tad anti-climactic courtesy of one of the players using Fog Cloud, but I was at least able to have Caranthir and Angrod as the brawl instigators. Turns out the Shibboleth really is serious business.
Next up… the party went looking for Galadriel at Finarfin’s house. They didn’t find Galadriel, but they did find Finrod instead, who proved a most affable host. He did, however, have one minor favour to ask… could the party dose Maglor’s wine with laxative, ahead of the upcoming Tirion musical competition? Finrod (with his harp) wants to win for a change. In return, Finrod offered generous rewards. After verifying that Finrod was not malicious, they agreed to that as well. I think some of them really took a shine to Finrod, which is nice.
This little side-quest and resulting misadventures took up the remainder of the first session. Well, that, and Melkor – who was quite the recurring villain – followed them around, offering rewards if they could get hold of the blueprints for Feanor’s palantiri. The party was suitably distrustful of the Dark Lord, even if he is on probation. Because this is Melkor, he eventually switched from bribery to blackmail. Not that that worked either.
They found Maglor at Nerdanel’s house… though not until after the statues out the front had fooled the party into thinking they were real. Maglor took a shine to one of the party performing on the lute, which allowed sufficient distraction to dose Maglor’s wine. Maglor then took his new friends to an expensive wine-bar to talk some more.
This is where things went a bit haywire. You see, Maglor really, really likes to talk music with his fans. But the party wanted to get back to Finrod. To provide a convenient escape-hook, I had bruised and bloodied Caranthir turn up as a distraction… but unfortunately, one of the party (one of the Teleri, who, as we shall see, will become quite the recurring character) decided to cast Suggestion on Caranthir.
Specifically, he suggested that Caranthir punch Maglor. And Caranthir failed his Wisdom save. Oh dear.
The Telerin player was later apprehended by the Tirion City Guard, and spent a few hours in the cells underneath the Royal Palace. To prevent further unpleasantness over a Telerin Elf using hostile magic against the Princes of the Noldor, Maedhros also had a chat with Fingolfin, the Acting King. Then Maedhros and five of his brothers (Celegorm was back at Formenos) went down to the prison cell, and each took turns at beating the hapless player up. Talk about sowing seeds for the later Kinslaying…
But Finrod proved as good as his word, offering everyone money and healing potions. This Finrod has a hobby of potion-brewing. He also explained that Galadriel was currently visiting Formenos herself, to spend some time hunting with Celegorm (and presumably dodging her creepy uncle). So it was off across country, with the Two Trees in their full splendour to the left.
I threw three boar at the party, but the boar didn’t last a round, even with a hit-point tweak. So I threw three Giant Boar at them too. That was a bit tougher, but honestly, they found that one easy too. Bastards.
Under the eaves of a large forest, the party ran across a Noldo coming the other way. It turned out this Noldo was Feanor’s old laboratory assistant, who has now been made redundant – and who proved perfectly willing to spill the beans. According to the assistant, Feanor has become quite paranoid at Formenos. He spends all his time in his laboratory with huge bronze automatons as servants, and he has filled the forest with strange, modified creatures to protect his fortress. That, and the modified creatures make for great hunting for Celegorm.
(Why, yes. I am justifying Owlbears in Valinor. Blaming Feanor seems as good a handwave as any).
The party persuaded the Noldo to accompany them to Formenos.
Along the way, they found the paw-prints of a bear on the road. So they opted to follow the trail into the woods, reasoning that they wanted to find it before it found them. They found it, sure enough. But rather than fight it, they managed to talk to it instead. After feeding it with some of the boar-meat, it even became quite docile. Cue, the second Owlbear I had up my sleeve, along with a couple of adorable cubs. The party rolled well on Animal Handling again, which made the critters less homicidal. Fair enough. The Owlbears were just hungry.
The party decided to pay the Noldo to lead the Owlbear family back to Tirion, on the basis that Finrod might want them. How very thoughtful… though I had some evil plans there.
Despite well and truly mangling the art of cooking an eel, the party arrived at Formenos and initially claimed to be hired staff. Then they decided to declare themselves as messengers from Maedhros. Luckily for them, Galadriel and Celegorm were in the drawing room, and currently engaged in some friendly cousinly arm-wrestling. So the “messengers” got to deliver their message in person.
To cut a long story short, the party rolled an excellent persuasion effort on Galadriel, asking for a lock of hair, while managing to successfully convince her that they were not really agents of her Mad Uncle. Which, to be fair, they weren’t, even if aforementioned hair will wind up with aforementioned Mad Uncle. Galadriel’s price for a lock of hair? She wanted the party to bring her some Giant Spider Eyes. Finrod apparently needed some for his potions, and this way she doesn’t need to fetch the Eyes herself.
After dinner (introducing King Finwe, whom in hindsight I should have given a mistress or two), I threw some Animated Armour, Animated Swords, and a Flying Rug at the party while they were about to sleep. The explanation here was that this was another of Feanor’s misguided burglar alarms… which didn’t prove overly threatening on account of the Rug rolling terribly. Damn it. I had high expectations for that Rug – a lesson that it is perfectly OK to tinker with spell-save DCs as well as Hit Points.
One of the party had to temporarily leave, so I ret-conned that they stayed a few more days at Formenos. The remaining party took a rowing boat up a river towards the spider-infested mountains (I’ve decided that the Pelori have a northerly extension that passes reasonably close to Formenos). Along the way they had a battle with a beefy Water Weird/Elemental, which was made even beefier by its resistances. Not that any of them were under real threat. But I’d suggest that such critters are a reasonable combat idea, given that this is sodding Valinor.
I also took the opportunity to troll the party. Having already thrown Owlbears at them, I had them hear – and then encounter – a regular Owl.
The party befriended the Owl – this was really one of those outings where Rangers got a chance to shine – and had it lead them to a narrow crevice in the mountains, where they could find Giant Spiders. The Owl was promised something to munch on in return.
Yes, I made the Spiders a bit beefier than normal, in terms of Hit Points, but as ever I was extremely generous to my players, keeping the arachnids in batches of three, and some distance apart. I console myself that while the result of the fight was never in doubt, I allowed everyone copious chances to use their class abilities. Which they definitely enjoyed.
So they collected the requisite Spider-Eyes, and wandered back down to the boat… only to be confronted with the arrival of Celegorm and the remaining player. Celegorm brought news that Melkor had been seen heading in this direction…
I hadn’t really anticipated this thing running three sessions, but it somehow worked out that way. As we shall see, I also took the opportunity to include certain fandom in-jokes, which the players – despite not being familiar with The Silmarillion – latched onto gleefully. One of the highlights of my DMing experience thus far.
So anyway… Celegorm had taken to boring his hapless travelling companion with his endless and repetitive hunting stories. But now that he was here… I had the fun of making Celegorm (of all people) a sort of DMPC. Not that the party strictly needed him for protection, but I thought it made more narrative sense if he’d been sent up from Formenos with a warning from his father. It also provides more Silmarillion flavour if the party deal with the House of Feanor in that sort of manner.
So the party started boating back (and walking: there wasn’t room in the boat for everyone, so Celegorm and our infamous Telerin friend walked on the bank beside the river).
Then the mist appeared.
Specifically, three lots of Vampiric Mist. In hindsight, I could have chucked four at them, since it turned out that the Mist had the same problem as the Rug – that spell-save DC was simply too low. Though when the Mist connected with the players, the result was suitably satisfying. Reducing maximum Hit Points is nothing to be sniffed at.
I also had a nice convenient off-screen fight to take Celegorm out of the picture. Alas, our Telerin friend decided to follow him, so in addition to the Mist, the party also had a Shambling Mound to deal with. I also suddenly had to estimate what Celegorm’s stats actually were, since, yes, the Shambling Mound did roll well enough to engulf Celegorm… and poor Turko kept failing his saves to escape.
In the end, the party successfully rescued Celegorm son of Feanor from a walking compost heap. A concept so funny I keep smiling about it. One imagines that this will not make its way into those extended hunting stories…
Then Melkor turned up.
The Dark Lord congratulated the party on their ingenuity, and made another attempt to bribe/threaten/cajole them into helping him. Which failed. Melkor stormed off back into the surrounding forest, while the party explained to Celegorm that the Dark Lord was after his father’s palantiri. Celegorm replied that his Dad would be delighted to have his paranoid tendencies confirmed.
Alas, our Telerin friend decided to follow Melkor into the forest. Melkor realised he was there, of course, and pulled a Hold Person, followed by Suggestion. The Suggestion actually failed, so the Dark Lord contented himself with knocking the player out. This led to the following exchange:
- ME: “You awake hours later, with a bump on your head and a terrible headache.”
- PLAYER: “Was I violated?” [Seriously: why would you ask a DM that?]
- ME: “You also notice that your posterior feels sore, and that you are wearing a red wig, black eye-liner, and red-and-black-themed jewellery. Someone has removed your pants.”
Why, yes, dear reader. I threw Angbang (https://fanlore.org/wiki/Angbang) at them. But Melkor had other plans.
The rest of the party were surprised by their Telerin friend emerging from the forest. The bastards were instantly sceptical… but no, it wasn’t Melkor. It was actually a re-skinned banshee, cloaked in disguise, since necromantic ability allows one to manipulate and control houseless Elven spirits. And if Sauron can do it, surely Melkor can do it. As I have said, finding appropriate enemies for a Valinor campaign requires getting creative with interpretations.
In the event, the banshee’s wail only knocked out one of the party before the players tore it to pieces. In hindsight, I could perhaps have included the banshee in the Vampiric Mist fight, though one has to be careful in case the players roll poorly.
Anyway, the party (and Celegorm) had to go looking for the poor Telerin muppet, whom they found with little difficulty. Having Rangers and Celegorm in the party helped there, and I dare say our Son of Feanor was looking for a chance to redeem himself after his misadventure with the compost heap. For the Teler’s part, he had managed to antagonise a Water Weird/Elemental all by himself, one which had just wanted to be left alone.
From there, it was back to Formenos. Galadriel was so delighted by the party’s story that she gave them two locks of her hair. This being a D&D party, they promptly went down to Feanor’s laboratory, and sold one to the Man Himself… though not before setting off a Fireball trap that did some 62 points of damage. Feanor gave them all rich rewards, even agreeing to take on the Telerin Elf as an apprentice in exchange for the hair (why, yes, dear reader. This episode puts the Kinslaying in an entirely different light…). To troll Melkor, Feanor also drew up some blueprints for a palantir that would not work, and gave that to the party to on-sell to the Dark Lord.
Then it was back over to Tirion. The party noticed the well-picked skeleton of an Elf on the road back… and Owlbear tracks leading away. Such was the fate of the poor laboratory assistant.
Once back in Tirion, the party gave the other lock of hair to Maedhros, who coughed up the promised reward too. There was, however, one truly glorious moment there, where one of the party – no, not the Teler this time. He couldn’t go near Maedhros because of the Suggestion incident with Caranthir – piped up with the following question:
- PLAYER (one with notably low Charisma): “Tell me, is it true you fuck your cousin?”
- MAEDHROS: “….”
Recall that none of these players have read The Silmarillion (or even encountered Tolkien outside the movie adaptations). Having them interact with fandom weirdness – even if I don’t subscribe to that weirdness myself – makes for a fun experience, I think, and as DM I appreciated them latching onto those particular nuggets. Introducing them to the craziness of Angbang and Russingon in a D&D social context… why not? I’ve already introduced them to the Shibboleth and other bits and pieces.
As an Epilogue, the party found Melkor, and gave him the useless palantiri blueprints. He gifted them gold in return… which turned out to be bags of chocolate coins. Because of course it was. A fluffy way to end a thoroughly fluffy campaign.
So that went well, I thought. Some DMing lessons for me, but a fair bit of fun for everyone involved. As an aside, I have an idea for a follow-up: Across the Ice, where the party has the fun of taking part in Fingolfin’s trek across the Helcaraxe. If that goes well, I might look at putting them in Beleriand, for something a bit meatier.