BackgroundThe Council of Fennas Drúnin was the first freeform that I ran, other than the games that I wrote and ran in Edinburgh. It is a 16-player, 4-hour game, set in Fennas Drúnin, a small town in Tolkien's Middle-earth. The game concerns a meeting of the Town Council.
In its present form, it has had seven runs, three prior to 2002 and four since 2009, with at least one more in the pipeline for 2012.
The Council of Fennas Drúnin arose out of a normal round-the-table roleplaying game that I ran for a group of friends from about 1994 onwards. It ran every 5th or 6th weekend and generally we either played for the whole of Saturday or the whole weekend if we were feeling keen.
The game was set in Tolkien's Middle-earth and was based around a group of characters who were all members of a small Dunlending village called Carn Aldred, located deep inside the Trollshaws.
This was something of a departure for me, for although I had run several long Middle-earth campaigns before, this had two key differences, both of which were the prime motivators behind the game for me as a referee.
The first was that in all my previous roleplaying games, the characters had largely been rootless individuals who wandered around the landscape of Northern Middle-earth getting into various scrapes. For a change I wanted to see what would happen with a group of characters who had a home, who had families, responsibilities.
The second difference was that the characters were from the other side of the tracks so to speak. In my previous games, the Trollshaws had been no-man's land, a rough wilderness where the characters went adventuring and sometimes met with a grizzly end. Although the Dunlendings had existed in those games, they weren't too well developed and generally looked upon as "bad guys" by the characters. This time, I wanted to run a game where the characters looked upon the Dúnedain and general Middle-earth culture with suspicion. Not that the Dunlendings were evil. They were just a simple tribe of woodsmen who wanted to be left in peace to live their lives as they had always done.
So I created the Dunlending tribes and the whole political background and into it I placed the village of Carn Aldred, complete with a population of 15 families. Then I had my players take on the roles of the young men and women of the village and gave them each a family, complete with ready-made relatives. So the Dunlendings game was born.
The scenarios were fairly run-of-the-mill, with the characters being called upon to combat various threats to the village which included, if I recall correctly, a couple of trolls and an man and his pet orc. This was all taking place against the political backdrop of a continuing conflict with the Hillmen, the other indiginous tribesmen of the Trollshaws. They had recently united under King Broggha and were trying to drive the Dunlendings out the Trollshaws by taxing and starving them out of existance.
Into this game came the plot of Fennas Drúnin and the Mayor's Chain of Office. Without giving the game away, the whole of the plot of the Council of Fennas Drúnin was in fact an off-stage episode played out in my head to ensure that the off-stage events kept up with the on-stage events in the Trollshaws and also to allow me to work through the consequences of the characters' actions and let them experience the repercussions.
In the game, the characters did actually briefly visit Fennas Drúnin, but they only touched upon the surface of what was quite a complex and in-depth town that I had created for them. However, the course of events that they triggered off did actually lead to the trial of Yasmin, who had been accused of the murder of Hescen, both characters having been NPCs in the game. Again, the events happened off-stage and this time they led directly to the game that is now the Council of Fennas Drúnin.
The original "Council of Fennas Drúnin"I wrote and ran the original Council of Fennas Drúnin in order to play out the trial of Yasmin. I had originally planned to decide the whole outcome myself, but circumstances contrived to provide me with the perfect opportunity for a game.
Every now and then I met up with a group loosely termed the Brighton crowd, mostly gaming friends of Andrew Rilstone, through who I got to know them. One of the group, Pod (Ian Flower), had been a player in the Dunlendings game, but had dropped out when he went to work in Saudi Arabia. However, Pod was coming back home to Northampton for a weekend and the group was getting together and looking for a couple of games to play.
It seemed an ideal opportunity to work through the trial of Yasmin and run a good game at the same time, so the Council of Fennas Drúnin was born.
The only overlap between the two groups was Pod, and my good friend, Natalie Ford, who played a character called Adeyn in the Dunlendings game and was drafted in to play Yasmin in Council of Fennas Drúnin. Basically, Natalie knew a lot of what was going on in the Trollshaws and I wanted someone who knew what was going on to play Yasmin, who also had a good knowledge of the Trollshaws. Everyone else played Council members who knew very little about the Trollshaws, so it worked very well.
The end of the Dunlendings gameAfter that, the paths of the Council of Fennas Drúnin and the Dunlendings game diverged again. The Dunlendings game ran its natural course and then some as I tried to extend it beyond its natural life. The characters had won their battle with King Broggha and I should have ended the game then and there with a "and they all lived happily ever after". Instead, I carried on.
Running in the background, I had an even more high level plot going on, one which the characters (and players) didn't even know they were involved in. Rather than stop the game, I sprang this plot on them and forced the characters to leave their village. They took to wandering Middle-earth, looking for a way to save their people from an even worse threat than that posed by King Broggha.
While there were good in-game reasons for this and it seemed like a good idea at the time to me, it wasn't, and the characters, berefet of their roots, stopped being fun to play and the game staggered to a slow death about a year later.
In true fashion, the Council of Fennas Drúnin outlived the game that spawned it and, after several years in hibernation, got resurrected for the June 1999 Short Tales convention in London. I had been looking for a chance to get back into running live-action games again and while The Man in Black was still flying around in my head as the game I really wanted to run, I decided to ease myself back into things a bit more easily, and so resurected the Council of Fennas Drúnin instead.
Not that the Council of Fennas Drúnin is in any way inferior to The Man in Black, it's just about half the size and four times easier to run in terms of pre-game preparation...
The first run, Short Tales, June 1999I'd been threatening to run something for a while, having been involved in the Convivium/SFC Press weekend long games for several years and Short Tales, a day long convention held in central London for 4-6 hour games, seemed the ideal opportunity.
I think that the original game had eight or nine players, and I had cast everyone, except Natalie, as Council members. However, when it came to Short Tales, I saw a chance to expand the game and so wrote the various non-Council members, such as Arrand, Haldir, Anvelig and the delightful Kara, all of whom had been NPCs in the original run. This way, rather than getting all their information from the referee in the guise of the various NPCs, the Council members had player characters they could interact with, characters who also had their own motivations and allegiences.
I also re-vamped the 10 Council members and re-wrote all the character sheets so that they were a bit easier to digest (though no amount of re-writing is going to make 6 or 7 pages of background that easy to digest!).
It was at the time of re-writing the various bits and pieces of the game that I discovered the joys of the web as a means of disseminating game information. Due to the large amounts of information the players had to absorb, I knew that the Council of Fennas Drúnin would have to be pre-cast and I also knew that there was a reasonable number of gamers on the web, so I put all the background information and the casting form on my newly created site and bingo! 14 out of the 15 players who signed up had web-access and my life was made so much easier...
The first run of the re-written game went very well and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Noteable highlights included David Shannon as an outrageous Rannor the Butcher, who definitely did not "know his place" and did well to avoid a good flogging for his insolence. Well done, David. The other memorable character was Kara, Lieutenant of Forak's Violators, who was played by Louise Holden, another player from the original round-the-table Dunlendings game. She spent most of the game with her big, black boots resting in a very intimidating fashion on the railings of the public gallery. I'd also like to thank Keith Nellist for his portrayal of Ostomir the Mayor, which played a big part in the successful running of the game and to Nathan, who, due to a mix up in the sign-up process turned up thinking he was playing. Unfortunately this was the first I'd heard about it, and as the game was fully cast, there wasn't much I could do about it. So, I asked him if he'd mind playing the various NPCs that were still in the game (Hescen's parents, Hallas, the Sergeant of the Town Guard, Coerba, the Boatman, etc). As it turned out, this was an unforseen masterstroke as Nathan was brilliant in the various roles and had a really good time. Not only that, having someone who was in effect a second referee made a huge difference to the game itself and took a lot of pressure off me.
I can't say too much about what happened in the game without giving the whole plot away, but the most amusing part was when there was a near riot amongst the townsfolk who somehow were under the mistaken impression that Forak's Violators were about to invade the town...
The second run, Intercon XV, March 2000I took the Council of Fennas Drúnin across the Atlantic to New England and the magnificent Intercon XV convention, where it enjoyed what was probably an even more successful run. Since the first run of the re-written game, I had expanded the game by one character, converting Coerba the Boatman into a player character, and had re-written a few bits and pieces after the some feedback from the previous run. The most significant change was the introduction of the lock-in, where Council members couldn't leave the Keep until the Council had finished its business. This made the Council members more reliant on the non-Council members for information, and drew them into the game a lot more, with each Council member having a favoured non-member to do their errands for them.
While the web had been a useful tool in the Short Tales run, this time it was indispensable. I had been dreading sending character backgrounds and character sheets across the Atlanic, but fortunately all 16 of my sign-ups were on e-mail and even though sign-ups were slow (we got the last one less than a week before the game), we still managed to get everything to the players before the game.
Joining me on this run was AJ Smith, who had played Nerid, Son of Bannor in the Short Tales run, and rather rashly volunteered to run it (AJ assures me he enjoyed himself). Having a co-referee made such a difference to the game and makes me wonder why I ever thought of running it on my own in the first place. AJ also made a major contribution in proof-reading 50,000 words of character sheets and in doing a lot of the pre-game preparation for me. Thanks, AJ.
Highlights of this run were the totally venomous Amoriel the Seamstress, superbly played by Margaret Simkins (then Landreth), and another intimidating portrayal of Karras, Lieutenant of Forak's Violators, played by Steve Martin, who also spent most of his time with his big black boots on the railing of the public gallery. Strange how that character brings out the black boots in people...
Also worthy of a mention was Daniel Abraham's impassioned speech as Haldir the Blacksmith's son and Vivian Abraham's injured innocence as Yasmin. Best of all though was Timothy Quinn's portrayal of the Mayor, who despite admitting to one or two things he really ought not have done, managed to escape the censure of the Council. So successful was he at this that he ended the game with the nickname of "Mr Teflon" from AJ!
The third run, Fallcon, October 2001The Council of Fennas Drúnin had another UK outing at Dennis Douglas' excellent Fallcon in Oxford. Once again, the game filled and we had 16 players ready for another four hours of debate. Joining me for a second time as co-referee was AJ Smith.
Both AJ and I really enjoyed this run as again the quality of the roleplaying was outstanding. One of the most interesting things is the wide variety of outcomes that we got from the different games, despite them having identical starting conditions. This game managed to see Hamma the Leather Worker (played by Malk Williams) being elected as the town's first ever non-Dúnadan Mayor.
Highlights were Nickey Barnard's portrayal of Derna the Bargewoman, complete with several impassioned outbursts from the public gallery and Jane Mitton's patient (one might say resigned) and composed Yasmin. I also particularly enjoyed Tym Norris' Echor the Builder, with his frequent cries of "my head hurts!" as he struggled to make sense of the multiple and often conflicting versions of events presented to him throughout the day. Best of all was David Townsend's Ostomir the Mayor and his verbal jousts with all and sundry, but especially Chris Boote as Aradil the Tanner.
A special mention has to go to Mark Booth, playing Darbeth the Cobbler, for his incredibly complicated inter-relationship diagram, showing who knew who, etc. The level of detail was staggering, even showing which characters frequented which inn!
The fourth & fifth runs, Brit Invasion II, October 2009After an eight year break, The Council of Fennas Drúnin made a reappearance at Brit Invasion II in Chicago in October 2009. It was all rather short notice with the game being running twice on the same day, replacing Under Angmar's Shadow, which had to be pulled at short notice.
Running the game twice on the same day was an interesting challenge, but it seemed to work quite well. There were far too many highlights from the two runs to mention all of them, but it is worth noting that this was the first time that we have actually had a cage to put Yasmin in! What was perhaps the most impressive part was how two runs, just hours apart, produced such dramatically different outcomes.
The sixth run, Madison, October 2010I ran the Council of Fennas Drúnin again the following year for my friend David Simkins as part of his research project for his PhD. I ran the game with the help of David & Margaret Simkins in their house in Madison, Wisconsin. The players were mostly local freeformers, a few of whom I knew from my games in Chicago.
This was another of my favourite runs of the game, which started very slowly, but which picked up pace as we went along. Chris Hitchcock was outstanding as the Mayor, juggling one crisis after another, and he was most impressed at the end of the game when I told him how well his character had come out of the game compared to previous Mayors (he was up there with Teflon Tim!). It was also a notable run since it was the first time since the first run that I had been without AJ as my co-referee.
The seventh run, Intercon L, March 2012The Council of Fennas Drúnin made its reappearance at Intercon, 12 years after it was first run there. The cast combined familiar faces with plenty of players new to my games. After his absence for the Madison run, I was re-joined by my co-conspirator, AJ, as my fellow referee.
Once again we were blessed with another excellent performance from the Mayor (played by Jansen Smith, who was new to my games). He did an excellent job as he ducked and weaved his way to the end of the game. AJ and I were also highly amused by the Council deciding to make the peasant, Brunwen (played by Jen Eastman-Lawrence), do all the writing since she was probably the least-qualified council member for the job!
The eighth run, Intercon L, March 2012The Council of Fennas Drúnin made a long-overdue reappearance in the UK at Consequences F, more than 10 years after it was last run on these shores.
There is something about the role of the Mayor that seems to bring out the best in players. This time we were blessed by Paul Betty, who turned in probably the most inspired performance in the role yet. I also enjoyed Nick Curd as Beradan while Liz Hayward did a particularly pained looking Yasmin. Once again it was a joy to watch all my players, old and new, take the characters in unexpected directions.
I've noticed, though, that the more I tell the players the game is not "CSI Fennas Drúnin", the more they play "CSI Fennas Drúnin". So, for all future runs, this game is totally "CSI Fennas Drúnin", okay? Let's see if that works...