Saturday 25 January 2014

The DOOM of the OSR

Bullshit clickbait title, couldn't resist it. This has nothing to do with that.

Has anyone ever taken advantage of Tolkienesque DOOMs for roleplaying?

In the Silmarillion a DOOM (always capitalised in this post) is like curse, or fate, prediction or pronouncement laid upon a person or a group.

A DOOM is always right and it is always a bit dark and almost always concerns the death or destruction of that character or people and how it will come about. There is an angle/demigod guy whose whole job it uttering DOOMS at odd moments. They seem to be brought about either by, or in connection with, major powers. Like the sub-gods that rule Middle Earth. Melkor for the most part.

Having a DOOM is also kind of slightly cool. It guarantees that you are totally fucked. But it also almost guarantees that you will do something fucking amazing. One guy goes down fighting a gang of Balrogs, a DOOMed magic dog beats up wearwolves, Sauron and the worlds biggest wolf, another guy bones his sister and kills a dragon. You know if you are DOOMed then at least life will be interesting.

Huan is Jake the Dog.

The doom is like a living thing in the story, hunting the characters. People can go towards their DOOM and it may retreat, or they may hide from it and it will stalk them, but it never goes away. Strong characters who head straight at their DOOm seem to do a bit better, or at least casue less damage to others before they go.

The doom acts just like a railroady DM. It knows what is meant to happen and just keeps shuffling the deck until it does. The DM is a bit like Melkor anyway. Watching, planning, sending forth forces and lies.

You can get caught up in someone else’s DOOM if you are close to them, friends with them, or owe them loyalty, fall in love with them or just help them too much. Even if you fall into conflict with them. This would be a good way to realistically bind together a group of adventurers.

(A lot of characters in the Silmarillion spend a lot of time constructing large underground complexes, filling them with treasure, then running away. Clearly so in millennia to come people can do D&D adventures in the same place.)

The idea-word DOOM is quite metal and would/might satisfy OSR alpha players. Having a fortune is mundane, a ‘fate’ is a bit boring and bland, a ‘weird’ is better, a DOOM is excellent. It’s even more fun to say.

“You feel youself move closer to your DOOM.”

Constructing a DOOM could be a game opening session mixed in with char-gen. Lots of hippy games do the thing where you build the world and the characters at the same time. AW, Fate, Microscope. You could just run a game of Microscope to make the DOOM and then create characters caught in the DOOM.

Is it disempowering for a player to play to an inevitable end if they helped to construct that end? Would the means of getting there and the unexpected evolutions of the DOOm be interesting enough? You can struggle manfully against your doom, or towards it. You made it so it must be pretty good. It seems to work in Call of Cthulhu. Everyone knows they are probably not getting out alive.

The whole period, or at least the kind of period covered by the Silmarillion is much more interesting for RPGing in than the LOTR era because there is more stuff and more mad characters and more potential for strange things. Also the elves are more like mad 70’s rock stars and less like cosplayers, which makes them interesting to play and be around. And you know almost everyone’s going to die. And the gods might turn up.

Also you get to curse people and oath things. Having an oath or a curse is at least as good as having a class. It tells you what you need to be doing in the same way.

What if your character dies? Just Pendragon it and bring in the family? Family DOOMs work quite well in the Silmarillion.

No XP but maybe you get DOOM points that make you stronger the closer you get to your DOOM so you can pull off some last-ditch heroic bullshit at the end.

Maybe the DM (Melkor) tries to make your doom as pathetic as possible, you try to make it as metal as possible.

Anyway that’s my idea for a Tolkien RPG. Its DOOM based. Make the DOOM, let that create the characters in the world. Players play the characters, DM plays the DOOM. Finish when the DOOM is done.

(Tom maybe you already invented this?)


  1. Maybe opting to take a DOOM gets you a free roll on the BOON table?

  2. It might be a table you roll on at chargen with variously DOOMs, geases, quests, gift/curses, taboos of personal power, obligations, ex-lovers and embroilments. To encourage DOOM laden play I would allow transfer of 75% of xp from old character to new if s/he dies in a manner befitting the DOOM.

  3. i doom everybody - greater dooms and lesser dooms available

  4. This is awesome. Huan is at least in the top 3 Tolkien characters.

  5. I would totally play this. Fuck the assumption that the PCs are heroes who are destined/have the option to do great things. Plus, it gives the campaign/game a definite arc to it. And think of all the great roleplay/mood that comes from the knowledge of: "I will not survive this next session. My doom will come to pass."