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Author Topic: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)  (Read 2084 times)

Offline robh

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Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« on: December 04, 2021, 02:09:48 PM »
Does anyone have/know a good resource for analysis of the magic used in Tolkien's works (not derivatives)?

Offline Hobgoblin

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #1 on: December 04, 2021, 03:17:29 PM »
It doesn't have a specific magic category, but the Henneth-Annun site has lots of useful grouped quotes. Here, for example, is the entry on Gandalf's staff (with a section on its magical uses):

http://www.henneth-annun.net/things_view.cfm?thid=433

Offline robh

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #2 on: December 04, 2021, 11:12:17 PM »
Thanks for the link, that is a site I had completely forgotten about.

Offline Chief Lackey Rich

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2021, 12:13:46 PM »
Tolkein's magic system is so (in modern parlance) "soft" it's hard to analyze in gaming terms, and it's pretty clear that elves (and likely others, particularly Dwarves) regard a lot of stuff we'd call magic as simple craft projects. 

Also pretty inconsistent, especially between the Hobbit and the trilogy.  For ex, if obvious that-isn't-just-craft-skills magic is so rare, where'd that troll get a coin pouch that mouths off when Bilbo tries to pickpocket it?  Its diction sure doesn't suggest elvish or Dwarvish origins, which implies either trolls are capable of some petty magic or they stole or traded for it from someone.  Trolls having some innate magic is very suitable for mythological Scandinavian trolls, but it feels out of place in the trilogy with its less fairy tale feel.

Offline Hobgoblin

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2021, 02:04:18 PM »
Yeah, that's a great analysis - and the troll's purse is a really good example.

There are a few places in LotR where magic is explicitly discussed in a vaguely "battlefield" role, so it might be worth looking at those chapters. Off the top of my head, these are a few examples:

Outside Moria - the encounter with the wargs and then the opening of the door (I recall that Gandalf says something about trying every spell he knows).

Inside Moria - the struggle with the balrog after it enters the Chamber of Mazarbul ("The counter-spell nearly broke me!").

Gandalf's encounter with the Witch-King during the Siege of Minas Tirith and the breaking of the gates of the city.

As Rich says, there's a strong suggestion that objects made by Elves and Dwarves are likely to be inherently magical.

Offline CPBelt

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2021, 02:49:12 PM »
I always feel it's important to remember how JRRT wrote his novels. The Hobbit was intended as a children's book. So all the 'magic' in the novel was to make kids giggle or express wonderment. IIRC many years later JRRT would complain how he wrote those trolls. Things change over decades as one develops an entire mythology, multiple languages, and world.  This has been a discussion for decades, especially in LotR RPGs.

Thanks for posting the link, Hobgoblin. It's a great resource!

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Offline Chief Lackey Rich

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2021, 06:10:22 PM »
Outside Moria - the encounter with the wargs and then the opening of the door (I recall that Gandalf says something about trying every spell he knows).

IIRC there's also a bit in the Hobbit (I know, different writing style separated by years and experience) that mentions the Dwarves trying all the fragments of opening spells they could recall to get the Lonely Mountain's secret door to open up.

Quote
Inside Moria - the struggle with the balrog after it enters the Chamber of Mazarbul ("The counter-spell nearly broke me!").

Another example of magic being used to open (for the Balrog) or hold closed (for Gandalf) a door.  Between that, the Gates, and teh Hobbit thing I just mentioned, seems to be a common-ish type of magical trick.  Certainly inspired D&D Knock and Hold Portal spells, not that Gygax would admit it within earshot of a lawyer.  :)

Quote
Gandalf's encounter with the Witch-King during the Siege of Minas Tirith and the breaking of the gates of the city.

And when those gates are replaced after the war the Dwarves (and maybe the elves?) weave spells into them to keep them from being sundered again.  Grond had spells of breaking laid on it as well.  Definitely a theme running through here.

Quote
As Rich says, there's a strong suggestion that objects made by Elves and Dwarves are likely to be inherently magical.

Not that they'll call it that.  But those elvish cloaks are pretty amazing camouflage, rendering you nearly invisible at any distance if you keep still.  Lembas seems to have more going for it than just food preservation and calorie enhancement, and Gollum (who's tainted by his long association with the Ring) can't swallow the stuff at all, suggesting conflicting magic.  The Hobbit definitely mentions Dwarves making clever mechanical toys in years past that may have had some magic in them.  "Magic items" show up quite a lot in Tolkein, including some pretty flashy stuff like the Phial of Galadriel or weapons that glow to warn of the presence of certain foes (Biter and Beater, Sting).   

And of course there's rings - LotR only really talks about the twenty "big" rings, but the way Gandalf and the Dwarves react to Bilbo's ring in the Hobbit suggests that lesser ones must have existed, at least in legends.  Presumably their effects were relatively petty, although invisibility doesn't strike me as all that minor a power to have.  I'd say there's an argument for "minor rings" existing still stands in the trilogy, otherwise Gandalf's failure to immediately suspect Bilbo's prize was one of the Big Twenty (several of which were unaccounted for at that point) is really hard to explain. 
« Last Edit: December 05, 2021, 07:25:45 PM by Chief Lackey Rich »

Online AKULA

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2021, 06:37:59 PM »
An excellent thread...I have nothing to add right now as I feel like I’ve got mash potato where my brain should be, but it’s interesting reading the examples already mentioned.

 8)
     

Offline robh

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2021, 06:53:25 PM »
There is a very good overview of Magic in Tolkien's works here:

http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Magic

The site is a great resource, if a little academic at times (but a whole lot better than the innumerable and usually really tedious Doctorate and Thesis papers on the works of Tolkien that abound)

I have decided to move on from gaming LOTR with Impetus to a vastly different set of rules and need to understand how magic could work without going down the awful GW War of the Ring/Warhammer style spell catalogue and hero characters.

Mainly it would be about morale effects which are fairly easy to get a handle on. But there are also things like the darkening of the skies that covers the Mordor and Isengard forces; does that make the evil forces better in combat? or just braver?, or the opposing good forces worse in combat? or just afraid?
Can Gandalf or the Elves affect that either way through their magic?

The Orcs and Goblins recognise the named weapons used by some of the heroes and are afraid of them, but is that just a morale thing or should there be some combat effect also (like the blade Merry uses to wound the Witch King)?

Offline Ethelred the Almost Ready

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2021, 03:34:53 AM »
I only have a brief moment to send a  post so this is all off the cuff without any references.
Most (but not all) magic tends to pertain to the nature of an object, hence a door can have a spell to keep it closed or one can use a spell to open it - the opening and closing of a door being part of it's intrinsic nature.
There often has to be something for the magic to work on - Gandalf doesn't send out bolts of fire to kill wargs, but rather he uses his magic on pinecones to light and fire them at the wargs.
In the First Age we see songs as a way of using magic.  Luthien uses a song to make her hair grow long.  Finrod uses songs to hide the identity of himself and his followers while Sauron uses songs to strip them of their false identities.

In a war game magic needs to be subtle.
I would consider using magic near a river to make fog to conceal a unit.  A wood elf might be able to make plants and vines grab at their enemies, slowing them down.  As you mention, there are the effects of unnatural darkness (possibly a bonus to the morale of the Enemy but if this fails the creatures of Morgoth/Sauron will then have a reduction in their morale).  A powerful Noldo might have an aura that instills fear in Orcs.  If the Eye of Sauron is turned towards his forces all units might be deemed to be"in command" despite how far they may be from a commander.
These would all be one-off effects - you couldn't do the same "spell" twice in a battle.

Powerful characters might be allowed a certain number of "Fate" rolls.  This might allow them to do something extraordinary (extra attacks - a battlefield alternative to a feat like The Leap of Beren) or reroll when they fail a dice roll.  Once fate is used up they may be more vulnerable - the risk to a leader/character goes up once fate is exhausted.


Offline Ethelred the Almost Ready

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2021, 10:26:22 PM »
As you can probably guess, this is a topic that I have interest in.  As I have a few moments between work, I have also posted this (not a "primary" reference, but I think gives a reasonable summary of magic):
https://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/lordoftherings/magic/principles.html

It does not mention necromancy. 


This blog is useful.  A bit of searching may help find some answers:
https://middle-earth.xenite.org/how-did-elvish-magic-work-in-middle-earth/




Offline robh

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #11 on: December 07, 2021, 06:28:48 PM »
Thanks for those links, plenty to ponder there, a lot of concepts that I remember from the old ICE MERP game.

Offline Ethelred the Almost Ready

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #12 on: December 07, 2021, 09:30:35 PM »
ICE rules were great.  I liked the full rules with the fumble tables "You stumble over an imaginary deceased turtle ......." :D

Offline DivisMal

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #13 on: December 07, 2021, 10:22:29 PM »
Great thread. Cannot contribute much at the moment, but am very interested gow this will develope.

Offline SBMiniaturesGuy

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Re: Magic in Lord of the Rings? (canon sources)
« Reply #14 on: December 10, 2021, 05:23:56 PM »
Great thread! I usually play ME games with the Dux Arda fan mod for the Dux Britanniarum Dark Ages rules. From Dux Arda:

On Magic in Middle Earth
We include Magic in Dux Arda, but only the “common” magic of the peoples of Middle Earth.  For example, Wise Men, Runes Smiths, Crones, and Sorcerers (who channel the power of dark spirits aligned with Sauron) may have access to special knowledge and powers that can aid in Pre-Game or during a Battle; while Elves may be able to confuse a foe with illusions.
High Magic is only wielded by the mighty Wizards (Maiar like Gandalf, who are essentially minor Angels) and Sauron. Sorry, no flinging folks about with blasts of Magic. Instead we stick to the Magic in Dux Britanniarum rules in the Too Far Lardies Christmas Special 2015, modified for each Faction in Dux Arda.

https://sbminisguy.wordpress.com/2020/04/11/dux-arda-full-faction-book-cards-for-wargaming-middle-earth-with-dux-britanniarum/




In the Book of the Dwarves campaign book I provide some examples of Dwarven magic, based on scraps of lore I could dig up from Tolkien's various letters and Silmarillion works,  and so on, and some other canon-style materials: https://sbminisguy.wordpress.com/2019/02/04/faction-book-for-dux-arda-durins-folk-book-of-the-dwarves/

DWARVISH MAGIC
Status Level   Powers
Kazak Rikkin   For a Thief’s Hoard a Dushuk  (or Healer) may join your retinue.
   
Kaz'ad Rikkin   For a Tribune’s Tribute, an Urű (or Wise One) may join your retinue. Will fight as a Warrior.
   
Thuum   You may build a Smithy for a Patrician’s Purse. This will take 12 months to complete, at which point a Master Smith will join your retinue. Will fight as an Elite.
   
King   A Rune Smith will join your retinue if you build a Forge for a Prefect’s Riches. Will fight as an Elite.
   

Dushuk
These are low level healers who have some knowledge of plants with which to heal wounds. Some say their powers go beyond this life, but then there are many fools who believe anything. These will reside in the Lord’s halls, never venturing out into the field with an Army.

Ability: If a Noble or Lord is killed in battle the Dushuk may administer potions in the hope of fending off death. After a battle, on a D6 roll of 5 or 6 the Dushuk will restore a slain Noble to life. He was mostly dead, not all dead!

Urű
These are recognized Wise Men who have considerable knowledge of things of this world and beyond. They may accompany a Lord into the field with his Army where their knowledge can be of practical use.

Ability One: If a Noble or Lord is killed during battle the Wise Man may administer potions in the hope of fending off death. On a D6 roll of 4 to 6 the dead Noble will be restored to life.

Ability Two: Seek Aule’s favor - Begnino Numinae. The Wise Man may call upon his deep reverence and knowledge of the Valar Aule for favor and guidance in the coming battle.

Ability Three: Create a Life Sustaining Potion which may be used once by one Noble or Lord. This involves lengthy alchemy and will cost a Thief’s Hoard to produce.


Master Smith
These are highly skilled smiths who can work magic into the weapons and armor they produce. They have all the abilities of an Uru but also add a fourth ability.

Ability Four: Forge a Magical Blade which enhances the fighting skills of a Noble or Lord who wields it; or a Magical Armor which protects the Noble or Lord in battle. This involved intricate metalwork and will cost a Tribune’s Tribute to create.

Rune Smith
These are highly skilled Master Smiths who are steeped in the old magics of the Dwarves, and can work magic into the items they produce. They have all the abilities of a Master Smith but also add a fifth ability.

Ability Five: Create magic items of power. They may produce a Powerful Magic Blade, or a Magic Horn. This involved intricate metalwork and will cost a Tribune’s Tribute to create.


Dwarvish Spells & Magical Items
Spells or magical items of the Dwarves are handled as follows:

Life Sustaining Potion
When the Noble or Lord using this potion suffers his first wound of the game, reduce his Status as normal, but do not roll for Force Morale as his men are aware that he will not be hurt due to this protection.

Magical Armor
A Noble or Lord wearing this armor completely ignores the first wound he suffers during a game. Do not roll for Force Morale.

Magical Blade
A Lord or Noble wielding this blade will add 1D6 when fighting in combat.

Powerful Magical Blade
A Lord or Noble wielding this blade will add 1D6 when fighting in combat. He may also reroll the first 1 rolled in each Phase of combat.

Magic Horn
Once per game a Lord or Noble wielding this magic battle horn may blow a rallying call which heartens those who can hear it. This provides an immediate Rally action to all Groups and Formations within 3d6+6 inches of that Lord or Noble figure. They may remove 1d6 of Shock. This also adds a +1 to the dice roll to any attempt to overcome a Spirit Wall.

Feel free to add your own items to this list. The Dwarves were great crafters, and common items could include weapons, armor, rings and jewelry, instruments and clever mechanical devices.






« Last Edit: December 10, 2021, 05:28:09 PM by SBMiniaturesGuy »
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