The Effective Noble

Copyright Jim Johnson © 2004

Edited by Joe Mandala for The Guild Companion

"Trained to excel in social and political situations and possessing the flexibility to handle most any other form of conflict, the Nobles of Middle-earth are equipped to handle whatever the Dark Enemy may throw at the people of the West."

'[Sam] could see Faramir's face, which was now unmasked: it was stern and commanding, and a keen wit lay behind his searching glance.'
ó The Two Towers

In a time of rising conflict and deepening Shadow, the Free Peoples of Middle-earth look to their leaders for guidance, support, and inspiration. They look to their Nobles - their community leaders, captains, liege lords, and kings. Trained to excel in social and political situations and possessing the flexibility to handle most any other form of conflict, the Nobles of Middle-earth are equipped to handle whatever the Dark Enemy may throw at the people of the West.

Decipher's The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game provides you with the ability to play such Nobles - an ageless Elven lord, a gentle Hobbit of the Shire's landed gentry, or even a bold Gondorian Knight. This article is for you, the player of such a Noble. It provides suggestions on creating your character's background; effectively selecting skills, traits, and order abilities; tips on advancing your Noble; and ideas on how most effectively to play your Noble hero.

Developing an Effective Noble

'Pippin looked at [Beregond]: tall and proud and noble, as all the men that he had yet seen in that land; and with a glitter in his eye as he thought of the battle.'
- The Return of the King

While The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game core book provides general information on creating a Noble, there naturally was not enough space in the book to go into comprehensive detail on creating a hero of each order. Following are a number of tips and suggestions to consider when creating a Noble hero for your Narrator's adventures.

Creating a Background

Perhaps the most important aspect of your character, especially in a roleplaying-focused game such as The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game, is your hero's background. Where is he from, who does he know, what are his goals and hopes and dreams? What does he want out of life? You should have some idea in mind what the answers are to these questions when creating your hero.

You should work with your Narrator and fellow players when creating a background for your hero. The Narrator may have specific ideas on where heroes should be from, so that they fit best into her story ideas. You may find inspiration by talking to your fellow players and listening to what their ideas are for their characters. You might even be able to create a mutual history or share a past event with another player's hero. Perhaps your Rohirric Noble spent time in Minas Tirith and became friends with another player's Gondorian minstrel. Perhaps a fellow player's Elven lordling from Mirkwood spent a lot of time interacting with your hero, who might be the son of a border lord.

A good background for your character does not necessarily require a long narrative, though your Narrator would almost certainly appreciate it. A simple list of ideas or a thumbnail sketch of your hero's background should (in most cases) be sufficient. Sometimes it is more enjoyable to create your hero's past as he encounters new situations in your Narrator's chronicle.

Selecting Effective Noble Statistics

Once you have some form of background for your character created and approved by your Narrator (if she requires such approval), it is time to select statistics that most effectively represent your character's history and abilities. If your character's background mentions that he consistently won the local archery tournaments, you would be well advised to give him a good to high Nimbleness in addition to several ranks in Ranged Combat. If your hero is known for his ability to diplomatically talk down potential fights, then you would be best served by representing that ability though a high Bearing attribute and several ranks of Debate or Persuade. Whatever the case, your hero's background should serve as the foundation for his statistics, at least at the start of his adventuring career.

Attributes

Bearing is by far the most important attribute for any Noble hero. Since Nobles are expected to be influential members of their society (if not explicitly leaders in their own right), and since most of the key skills Nobles tend to use have Bearing as their ideal governing attribute, any Noble worth his or her position should have a high score in Bearing. In fact, Bearing should probably be your character's highest attribute, though it does not necessarily have to be one of his two favoured attributes.

Before choosing your attributes, you should have at least a general idea of what advancement path your Noble hero may choose to follow once he begins to gain advancements. Will he become a Knight of the realm? If so, plan for a few advancements of Warrior and consider making Nimbleness or Strength a favoured attribute. Maybe you wish your Noble to pursue a learned path and move towards gaining several Loremaster or even Magician order advancements. If either of these are the case, Wits and Perception may be better choices for favoured attributes. Select your attributes with the long term, as well as the short term, in mind. You will not be able to change your mind later once your attributes are set, and improving attributes with advancement picks later is an expensive endeavour.

Reactions

Willpower usually proves to be the most effective reaction for Nobles, though a Noble with a more martial bent may choose to favour Stamina or Swiftness. The reaction you feel will fit your character's focus best should probably be his favoured reaction. Having a clear character concept in mind during character creation will serve you in selecting the best option for your hero.

Skills

Without a doubt, the Noble's talents focus on the social skills, being Debate, Inquire, Insight, Inspire, Intimidate, Perform, and Persuade. You should plan to have good to high scores in several of these skills, depending on where you want your Noble hero to focus. Perhaps you envision adding a few advancements of Minstrel to your Noble - if so, you will want a few ranks of Insight, Inspire, and Perform. Maybe you see your Noble becoming a master negotiator: in this case, it would be useful to have several ranks in Debate, Insight, and Persuade.

An area where the Noble proves to be a valuable order is in its flexibility. The Noble considers Armed Combat, Craft, Language, Lore, Observe, Ranged Combat, and Ride as order skills in addition to most of the social skills mentioned above. Because of this, the Noble has access to most of the key skills any good hero of Middle-earth may need in the fight against the Shadow. This flexibility in order skills is one of the Noble's greatest strengths, especially when combined with the option to attain additional orders.

A Noble with a future as a Warrior or a Knight can readily develop his martial skills. One with a destiny as a minstrel could improve his observation skills and his ability to perform with voice or instrument. A Noble seeking higher learning has access to lore and language skills, which would serve well for a future as a loremaster or magician. Having at least a general idea of what your character may aspire toward will help you select skills during character generation.

Racial Background Skills

Each starting hero gets six picks to spend on skills and/or edges, which represent the character's background before taking on an order. While you could select a background racial package from the core book, you should probably spend those six picks in a customised and specific fashion.

Note that two of the more useful skills for a Noble hero - Insight and Perform - are not Noble order skills. As a result, any time you wish to improve these skills with advancement picks you will end up paying more for them than for an order skill. You might want to assign some of your six racial background picks to these two skills if you plan to have your Noble hero make use of either of them. Since all races have these two skills as options in their racial backgrounds, you are free to select them.

It is usually not an effective use of these six picks to select ranks in order skills or on Language or Lore skills. You will be able to select ranks in order skills with the 20 order skill picks, and you will gain a wealth of Language and Lore skills elsewhere during character creation. Therefore, it would be more effective to spend these six racial background picks either on skills that you will not be able to improve easily later, or on edges that enhance your hero's skills and abilities. (Read on for effective selection of edges.)

Language and Lore Skills

Taking your Wits score and multiplying it by three gives you a pool of skill picks used to select your Noble's Language and Lore skills. Nobles tend to need the ability to speak in more than one language, and generally have a broad knowledge, even if only of their own people and culture. If your hero has a high Wits score, feel free to take a wide variety of Language and Lore skills, even if you only place +1 to +3 ranks in each skill. These racial skills are inexpensive to improve, so you should feel free to give your Noble hero as wide a knowledge base as is practicable to reflect his background.

Order Skills

There are 20 order skill picks to spend among the previously mentioned order skills. You could simply select one of the pre-generated order packages, but since you have been completely customizing your character up to this point, you might as well continue to do so and spend those 20 picks in exactly the skills you feel would benefit your hero most. The only limitation you have to consider is that no zero-advancement character may have more than +6 ranks in any one skill. So you should feel free to assign up to +6 ranks in the one skill for which you feel your hero should be renowned. Spend the remainder of the points as you see fit, but do consider that a balance of skills is preferable to having just a handful at high ranks. Order skills are inexpensive to improve, so feel free to spend those 20 picks liberally among the Noble's order skills.

A note on skill specialties: Remember that you may select one free specialty per skill during character generation. The immediate +2 bonus a specialty provides to its related skill is a benefit you should not ignore. Whenever possible, select a specialty for each skill in which you spent at least one rank. Do not forget that Insight and Inspire, two key Noble order skills, may have specialties per the official errata.

While you can spend skill picks on additional specialties, you will likely not need more than one specialty per skill as a starting hero. Concentrate more on spending the skill picks on skill ranks than on skill specialties. It costs just one advancement pick to select a new skill specialization, and there will be many an opportunity to do so as your hero gains advancements.

Free Picks

The last step of character generation is receiving five free picks and spending them as you would an advancement's worth of picks. You can gain more ranks in skills, buy additional edges, or improve your attributes. You cannot purchase additional order abilities with these free picks. The most effective use of these picks would be to spend them on skill ranks, increasing those skills you already selected, or taking a rank or two in a new skill or skills.

Order Abilities

The core rulebook provides only five order abilities for the Noble order. You will want to select one that either complements your hero's selected strengths or helps to shore up any weaknesses you built into your character. Let us look at the order abilities to determine which may be the most effective selection for your Noble hero.

Courtier: This order ability grants you a +2 bonus to all Persuade and Debate tests and gives you some assistance when using Insight. This would be a good order ability to take if you intentionally slighted those two skills when assigning skill picks, or if you want your hero to have a special focus in those two skills.

Cross-order Skill: This order ability illustrates the flexibility of the Noble order. In addition to the broad range of order skills, this ability allows you to treat one other non-order skill as an order skill. This would be useful if you are looking to make your hero a jack-of-all-trades.

Deference: The bonuses this order ability provides toward social situations make this very effective as an ability. Even though it requires you to have a relevant Duty flaw, its bonuses more than outweigh the flaw.

Domain: Depending on your Narrator's chronicle, this order ability may prove to be either very useful or nearly useless. As it effectively ties a Noble to a particular location, you should select this ability only after consulting your Narrator.

Noble Mien: Similar in construction to Courtier, this order ability grants a +2 bonus to all Inspire and Intimidate tests. This would be a good order ability to choose if you intentionally shorted those two skills when assigning skill picks, or if you want your hero to have a special focus in those two skills.

Traits

Now that you have selected your attributes, reactions, skills, and order abilities, it is time to add some flavour (represented by edges and flaws) to your Noble and make him a truly unique hero of Middle-earth. You have several opportunities during character generation to select edges and flaws. With the six racial background picks, you may pick one edge per pick. You gain one order edge from your order package, and you may select up to four flaws and receive either an edge or +1 skill rank in recompense. Finally, you may spend one or more of the five free picks at the end of character generation on edges. However, be sure to check with your Narrator as she may have set a limit on how many edges a starting hero may have at the beginning of a chronicle.

Edges

Some edges are better suited for a Noble hero than others. Following are brief descriptions of several edges, highlighting their value to a Noble hero.

Ally: Most Nobles have at least one ally they can call upon for aid. Some, like Lord Elrond of Rivendell and the Steward Denethor of Gondor, have dozens.

Command: Some Nobles, especially those with martial training, make good leaders on the field of battle. They often have the ability to command a military force, the size of which depends in part upon their rank and position.

Elf-friend: This is a very useful edge, especially considering that you can expand it into an 'X-friend' edge, where 'X' represents any culture or group. (For example, you could choose Dwarf-friend, Hobbit-friend, or Friend of the Riddermark.)

Friends: Many Nobles have friends they can call upon for information. This would be a good edge to take if you want to have a number of contacts throughout Middle-earth.

Hoard: Many a Noble boasts a sizeable fortune. In uncertain times, having a cache of wealth could prove most useful.

Rank: Perhaps the most important edge for a Noble; at least one pick in Rank is mandatory for any Noble hero (i.e., every zero-advancement Noble must have at least Rank 1). Without some form of rank, a Noble is little more than another member of society. It is their rank in society that makes them noble; hence this requirement.

Stern: Leaders are often required to present a stern and commanding voice and demeanour. The +2 bonus to Debate and Intimidate tests that this edge confers could either support weak skills or enhance already-strong ones.

Warwise: Nobles geared toward being leaders on the field of battle, such as Éomer and Elfhelm, would benefit from this edge.

Wise: Some Nobles, such as Elrond of Rivendell, are renowned for their intelligence and wisdom. Taking this edge suggests your hero is sought after in times when a bright mind, and clear, is needed.

Flaws

Likewise, some flaws are better suited for a Noble hero than others. Following is a short list and description of some ideal flaws for Nobles.

Arrogant: Some Nobles have little respect for the people beneath their station. Take this flaw if your hero is of that sort.

Duty: Many Nobles have one or more duties placed upon them thanks to their position or rank in society. In order to take the Deference order ability, your hero must have at least one appropriate Duty flaw.

Fealty: Most Nobles have sworn some form of allegiance to a leader or lord. Note that you may only have Fealty toward another person; you may never have fealty toward a place. Duty, or perhaps an Oath, would better handle such a characterization.

Oath: Some Nobles have sworn a powerfully binding oath - one that would have dreadful ramifications if it were to be broken.

Enemy: Many Nobles have the misfortune to develop dedicated enemies over the course of their lives. If you want your hero to have a consistent foe that turns up in the chronicle on a regular basis, select this flaw.

Rival: Some Nobles, especially those with court positions, may have a rival who vies for the hero's position or is envious of the attention your hero receives from those in places of power and authority.

Advancement

As your Noble gains advancements, you will want to improve his skills and abilities in such a way that he remains an effective and valuable member of your group of heroes. Having a plan of advancement (whether short term or long term) is a good idea, if only to get a gauge of the direction in which you would like to see your hero grow. Perhaps you want your Noble to become a noble knight of the realm (something like Prince Imrahil) or perhaps you would like to see him grow into an effective leader of men (such as Faramir).

Multiple Orders

While The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game allows a Noble hero to multi-order with any of the other eight basic orders, some of those orders are more complementary to the Noble than others. Following are brief descriptions of how each basic order might complement the existing Noble hero.

Barbarian: Unless your hero is of a less-than-civilised people such as the Dunlendings or the Drúedain, taking advancements in this order is not a good option for a Noble hero.

Craftsman: Many a shopkeeper has a streak of nobility in him. If your hero aspires to a craft, or perhaps desires to own an inn or run a business, taking an advancement or two in this order could be worthwhile.

Loremaster: Taking a few advancements in Loremaster is good for the Noble concentrated on learning or one who may be interested in adding minor spellcasting abilities to his repertoire of talents. Denethor, Steward of Gondor, is a good example of a Noble\Loremaster.

Magician: Nobles inclined to learn more of the arcane arts would naturally benefit from several advancements in Magician.

Mariner: Taking a few advancements in Mariner would be useful for those nobles who tend lands and people along the many coastlines of the West. Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth likely has a couple of advancements in Mariner.

Minstrel: Many a bard possesses noble blood, especially those who entertain at the court of a realm's leader. If your hero's Perform, Inspire, or Persuade skills are high, he might benefit from an advancement or two in this order.

Rogue: While we can consider few Rogues to be truly noble, there are always exceptions. It would make for an interesting chronicle if a Noble were to take advancements in Rogue.

Warrior: As Middle-earth is a world full of conflict and danger, a Noble would certainly benefit from a few advancements in Warrior, especially if the hero planned to take command of military units.

Elite Orders

A Noble hero, whether multi-ordered or not, may aspire to achieve advancements in any of the elite orders presented in The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game. Like the basic orders, though, some elite orders are more complementary toward the Noble than others are. Following are brief descriptions of how each elite order might work with a Noble hero.

Archer: A Noble interested in taking his ranged combat abilities to the utmost level would do well to aspire toward this elite order. Having a few advancements in Warrior would support this, as well.

Captain: The leadership quality inherent in many Nobles makes them a good choice for commanding troops, especially when combined with the martial abilities of a Warrior. Several ranks in Captain adequately represent the idea of a Noble commander leading his troops on the field. Faramir of Gondor is an example of a Noble\Warrior\Captain.

Knight: Some Noble\Warriors who do not choose to lead men opt to attain the pinnacle of martial nobility-the accolade of knighthood. Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth makes for a good example of a dashing Knight, and true.

Ranger: This elite order would be a good choice for those Nobles who tend to patrol the lands surrounding a lord's realm or those who have developed wanderlust and travel from realm to realm.

Spy: Nobles who have advancements in Minstrel or Rogue (as just two examples) could conceivably be tapped to act as an informant or spy for his liege lord (or other personages in higher positions).

Wizard: Nobles interested in pursuing the mystical arts and who have advancements in either Loremaster or Magician (or both) can continue their development in that area by taking this elite order.

Playing a Noble

While no one person or article can tell you how best to play your character, the following guidelines may prove useful when playing your Noble hero.

The primary strength of the Noble order is in social skills. You should not be afraid to make use of these skills as needed. If someone in the party needs to step up and make a persuasive speech to prevent a band of raiders from attacking, that someone should in all likelihood be your hero. If the heroes need to strike a hard bargain with a wily merchant, your Noble will likely be the one handling the negotiations. If an inspirational speech needs to be made at a critical juncture of an adventure and your hero is in position to make it, do so. Do not be afraid to make the best of your hero's strengths.

Nobles tend to be leaders of their people, and as a result are often deferred to at times when a decision must be made. Even if your hero does not have the Deference order ability, you may find that other heroes and non-player characters defer to your character. What this means for you is that sometimes your hero will be expected or even required to make a decision. If you are a more passive player, or are the type who prefers others to make decisions, you will find that you may need to flex your playing style just enough to make a decision.

Another aspect of deference is that sometimes non-player characters will be willing to do your bidding. If you have a position of authority over someone, or are of a higher social rank than a person is, you might be able to use your position and rank to "lean" on someone a little to either get something you need or to simply get your way. You will want to be careful how you approach this however, as your Narrator may choose non-player characters reactions to your requests in a different way than you might have expected.

Conclusion

As Noble characters play important roles in The Lord of the Rings, so should Noble player characters in any given chronicle. It is hoped that the advice detailed in this article will aid you in creating and playing interesting, exciting, and effective Noble heroes. Build your characters intelligently and have them take their place among the brave and daring leaders of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth.