ECL Questions

historian

First Post
It's been years since I locked my 3E Epic Handbook away in some file yet to be found but I seem to recall that in the preface Gandalf (I'm not sure if White or Grey) was named as an example of an epic character.

Anyone have the citation?
 

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Belzamus

First Post
Besides saying "so bright as to turn day to night" when I think you meant the opposite, there are some points that can be debated here.

In the 3.5 rules, there are no particular penalties for fighting endlessly; battle-fatigue doesn't exist in D&D. You might extrapolate something out of the rules for requiring a full night of rest (though that's usually to regain spells), but that's iffy.

Surviving a fall down a chasm is as easy as casting feather fall a few hundred feet from the bottom.

When it's night (or really dark, like when you're underground), any burst of fire or lightning larger than a spark or a candle will make it seem as bright as day.

Likewise, the balrogs are expressly magical in that they are spirits, and have some clearly non-biological supernatural abilities, but the author doesn't seem to be saying otherwise that I can tell. In the article I cited above, which also links to this one, he's pretty methodical in his points.

I did mean the opposite. Oops.

And I was actually referring to mostly the second article, I agree that the Fellowship is in the ~2-6 range

I suppose we could infer something like a featherfall, I was just assuming, absent any mention of Gandalf using a spell to avoid the impact, he just straight-up tanked it.

Anyway, it's described as

But what would they say in song? Those that looked up from afar thought the mountain was crowned with storm. Thunder they heard, and lightning, they said, smote upon Celebdil, and leaped back broken into tongues of fire. Is not that enough? A great smoke rose about us, vapor and steam. Ice fell like rain. I threw down my enemy, and he fell from that high place and broke the mountain where he smote it in his ruin. The darkness took me and I strayed out of thought and time...

What I take from this is that this was a prolonged battle, not just a couple spells hurled back and forth, otherwise it wouldn't look like a "storm" to the on-lookers. From that, I conclude that not only are both combatants capable of casting the likes of fireball and chain lightning repeatedly, but that they are capable of surviving multiple such spells.

So, are we to conclude that both have high resistance or immunity to such attacks? If so, why are they not pursuing more effective means of attack?

Also, is a simple fireball spell capable of flashing ice to steam like that? /isn't so good with physics and DnD.

I'll leave whatever "breaking the mountain" means, since that's pretty ambiguous.

I also find it kind of... disheartening that a feat of endurance like fighting for 8 days straight while climbing however many miles nearly straight vertically counts for almost nothing simply because DnD has no system for emulating why those things should be special.

And about magical Balrogs, quoth Gandalf after the situation in the chamber of Mazarbul,

"What it was, I cannot guess, but I have never felt such a challenge. The counter-spell was terrible. It nearly broke me. For an instant the door left my control and began to open! I had to speak a word of Command. That proved too great a strain. The door burst into pieces.

So, from this we can glean that the Balrog is at least as skilled in magic as Gandalf. At the very least, he has a Dispel Magic SLA and a caster level sufficient to overcome Gandalf's Hold Portal.


But, that's all discounting something else I feel is rather significant. Both Gandalf and the Balrog are Maiar, lesser Ainur. We see in the Silmarillion that the Valar, the greater Ainur, are continent-busters. So, extrapolating down, a powerful Maiar might be in mountain-buster territory -- and we do see Huan causing widespread destruction simply from his roar.

Where I'm going with this is, the Balrog is a Maiar aspected to fire and destruction. I.e., one of the stronger Maiar in terms of combat abilities, so... should he not be higher than 8th level? That seems really low to me, no matter which way you approach it from.

For more scaling, Fingolfin was able to contend with Morgoth for... a week straight, was it? Who, even in his weakened form was causing tremendous geographic devastation with his strikes. And yet, his brother Feanor is explicitly stated to be the strongest of them all. And yet, Feanor is killed by a swarm of Balrogs.

If Balrogs are 8th level, and let's say a "swarm" means... 8, which seems to me about as many as could effectively coordinate against a single target... that would be... rusty here... a CR 14 encounter? So, Feanor is apparently level 13 ish, meaning Fingolfin would have to be... 11ish, at most? Meaning Morgoth could be no more than maybe level 15? Does this honestly sound right?

If it does, then I want to hear, what does an epic level character in fluff look like? :p


(btw, does it sound like I'm annoyed at all? I hope not. I just love debating this stuff.)
 
Last edited:

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Belzamus said:
(btw, does it sound like I'm annoyed at all? I hope not. I just love debating this stuff.) :p

No worries, man. I love debating this stuff too. ;)

I suppose we could infer something like a featherfall, I was just assuming, absent any mention of Gandalf using a spell to avoid the impact, he just straight-up tanked it.

This is basically the case for most of these points, as the language leaves room for a fairly wide interpretation. Especially salient in this regard is magic in Middle Earth, as it tends to be referenced rather than described.

For me, given that the two are a wizard and a supernatural creature, it seemed more likely to me that they have some sort of magical method of cushioning their fall, such as via feather fall or something similar. I suppose they could have just taken the impact damage, since even a fall of several miles will top out at 20d6. :p

Anyway, it's described as

[...]

What I take from this is that this was a prolonged battle, not just a couple spells hurled back and forth, otherwise it wouldn't look like a "storm" to the on-lookers. From that, I conclude that not only are both combatants capable of casting the likes of fireball and chain lightning repeatedly, but that they are capable of surviving multiple such spells.

So, are we to conclude that both have high resistance or immunity to such attacks? If so, why are they not pursuing more effective means of attack?

Is the part about it being eight days long described somewhere else, because I'm not really seeing anything in the quoted passage to make me think this was a particularly long fight. Storms can be fairly brief, after all.

Likewise, the amount of lightning and fire tossed about could reasonably have been as brief as two or three castings per combatant. Throw in some good saves and low damage rolls, maybe a protective spell or two, and it's fairly reasonable to assume a modest damage output (particularly since the damage was still enough to be deadly for both of them).

Likewise, if you haven't prepared the right spells (and have set spell-like abilities) then you pretty much have to go with the strategy you've got (though that's supposition, as there's little to say either way about the efficacy of a given attack in that fight).

Also, is a simple fireball spell capable of flashing ice to steam like that? /isn't so good with physics and DnD.

I think this one varied across editions, but I'd just chalk it up to flavor text from the GM.

I'll leave whatever "breaking the mountain" means, since that's pretty ambiguous.

Fair enough.

I also find it kind of... disheartening that a feat of endurance like fighting for 8 days straight while climbing however many miles nearly straight vertically counts for almost nothing simply because DnD has no system for emulating why those things should be special.

Yeah, that one can be rather disappointing, particularly if you want to include combat fatigue as a tactic (which, when it comes to actual fighting, is a major component of any battle). To date, the only times I've seen rules for this are when I've asked two different (minor) third-party companies about coming up with systems for this, and while both did, they left something to be desired...though I suspect that's simply due to the nature of how D&D combat works.

And about magical Balrogs, quoth Gandalf after the situation in the chamber of Mazarbul,

[...]

So, from this we can glean that the Balrog is at least as skilled in magic as Gandalf. At the very least, he has a Dispel Magic SLA and a caster level sufficient to overcome Gandalf's Hold Portal.

Yeah, but that's a very rough approximation that Gandalf and that Balrog were evenly matched. Which does make sense overall, since fighting a foe with a CR equal to your level, by yourself, will result in an equal match under the game rules. Hence why both died. There's nothing here about their objective measurement of power, though.

But, that's all discounting something else I feel is rather significant. Both Gandalf and the Balrog are Maiar, lesser Ainur. We see in the Silmarillion that the Valar, the greater Ainur, are continent-busters. So, extrapolating down, a powerful Maiar might be in mountain-buster territory -- and we do see Huan causing widespread destruction simply from his roar.

This is tricky, because it's based on the idea that since X are similar to Y, they must have similar abilities. However, based on my limited understanding of real-world lore about angels, different ones had different specialties, and so different powers - is there perhaps room for understanding that only some valar could crack continents?

Even if not, then that's still iffy in regards to maiar. Balors and dretches are both demons, for example, but the latter is far and away weaker than the former.

Where I'm going with this is, the Balrog is a Maiar aspected to fire and destruction. I.e., one of the stronger Maiar in terms of combat abilities, so... should he not be higher than 8th level? That seems really low to me, no matter which way you approach it from.

I thought it was fire and shadow, but leaving that aside, the placement of a "stronger" creature is still relative. If you accept Justin Alexander's premise that, in the real world, the most legendary people of history (in terms of mastering a given area) are no higher than 5th level, then an 8th-level creature starts to look like something of a demi-god.

For more scaling, Fingolfin was able to contend with Morgoth for... a week straight, was it? Who, even in his weakened form was causing tremendous geographic devastation with his strikes. And yet, his brother Feanor is explicitly stated to be the strongest of them all. And yet, Feanor is killed by a swarm of Balrogs.

If Balrogs are 8th level, and let's say a "swarm" means... 8, which seems to me about as many as could effectively coordinate against a single target... that would be... rusty here... a CR 14 encounter? So, Feanor is apparently level 13 ish, meaning Fingolfin would have to be... 11ish, at most? Meaning Morgoth could be no more than maybe level 15? Does this honestly sound right?

The objective point here is the level of destruction Morgoth was causing (was he still that destructive even after being weakened? Likewise, when exactly did he fight Fingolfin?). That's hard to do in D&D, since it keeps most things to a tactical level. One could suppose that some 7th- or 8th-level spell-like abilities, perhaps with metamagic, could passably recreate that. Even if not, there are some third-party supplements that make it possible.

Add in that such things don't necessarily reflect on things like hit points, saving throws, etc. and you can make a reasonable case for a CR 15 Morgoth.

Likewise, economy of actions is pretty important in D&D, and being surrounded by eight creatures can quickly overcome a single opponent. It's certainly not impossible (particularly with some bad rolls for Feanor and some good ones for the balrogs) that eight CR 8 creatures can down a 14th-level character.

If it does, then I want to hear, what does an epic level character in fluff look like? :p

Bear in mind, that's going to depend on the relative disparity between the epic character and the viewing characters. To a group of 1st-level mortals, watching the CR 15 Morgoth being defeated is like watching a god being taken down.
 

Belzamus

First Post
You make some very strong points. Going to have to think about this for a bit (need to be off to class soon).

But I'll just mentioned that in the Tale of Years in Appendix B (I believe) of LotR, it outlines both Gandalf's fall and the battle on the peak, and there's an 8-day gap between them, and from his description, it sounds like they were alternatively fighting and chasing each other up through the tunnels the entire time.

And I'll see if I can dig up a quote from the Silm about Fingolfin's battle. He fought Morgoth is his weakened state, and even still, Morgoth was raising fissures and bursts of lava with his strikes, but... that could also be an effect of his weapon, I suppose.

Now, one thing I simply will not budge on is that Ancalagon the Black is most certainly epic. :p Not only did he stop the entire host of the Ainur and the Noldor during the War of Wrath, but his wingspan was enough to blot out the sun, and his fall shattered Thangorodrim which was, IIRC, a fortress somewhat taller than Mount Everest. :O

I wonder if he'd get up into the Mega- size categories... probably not, but that's solidly Macro.

More later.
 

historian

First Post
Hey Belzamus:

You make some very strong points. Going to have to think about this for a bit (need to be off to class soon).

But I'll just mentioned that in the Tale of Years in Appendix B (I believe) of LotR, it outlines both Gandalf's fall and the battle on the peak, and there's an 8-day gap between them, and from his description, it sounds like they were alternatively fighting and chasing each other up through the tunnels the entire time.

And I'll see if I can dig up a quote from the Silm about Fingolfin's battle. He fought Morgoth is his weakened state, and even still, Morgoth was raising fissures and bursts of lava with his strikes, but... that could also be an effect of his weapon, I suppose.

Now, one thing I simply will not budge on is that Ancalagon the Black is most certainly epic. :p Not only did he stop the entire host of the Ainur and the Noldor during the War of Wrath, but his wingspan was enough to blot out the sun, and his fall shattered Thangorodrim which was, IIRC, a fortress somewhat taller than Mount Everest. :O

I wonder if he'd get up into the Mega- size categories... probably not, but that's solidly Macro.

More later.

Ancalagon converts to 67 HD under the MERP Guidelines.

I forget Fingolfin's exact level at the moment but he's a bear of a character. He would easily best Gothmog (Balrog) or Ancalagon in melee combat.

Matter of fact he would best just about anyone but Manwe, Tulkas, Morgoth, and possibly Ingwe in melee.

Ingwe probably has the coolest and most interesting suite of powers of any characters as he was gifted with several of the Valars' principal items.

Like you I have atough time choking down either Gandalf or Durin's Bane as 8th level D&D characters.

Also, I reviewed the MERP conversion guidelines yesterday and they do suggest multiplying the conversion factor by either .6 or .75 if dissatisfied with the conversions.
 

Belzamus

First Post
Still digging through the Silm for quotes, but had another thought on the issue.

I think we almost have to accept that the Gandalf who battled Durin's Bane was in many respects equal in "stature" to Olorin the Maia and not constrained by the Istari limitations, as... well, he fought on even terms with a Maia. Glamdring was certainly a factor, having been used to kill Balrogs before, but even so, the only alternative is that the Balrog was either weakened after millennia (no evidence for this that I can think of) or that Balrogs are significantly weaker than standard Maia.

As, let us recall and I believe as you alluded to Alzrius, Olorin was of the court of Lorien and a Maia of Wisdom and Dreams (IIRC) not a warrior. So, the contention that Durin's Bane was bested by such an entity whilst constrained into human form seems suspect to me, at best.

Also, again IIRC, "Balrog" literally means "Spirit of Might" and they were the angry, warrior-type Maiar whom Melkor seduced to his service. As we see, Sauron did not become a Balrog despite being a fellow Maia, though we'll never know if this was by choice or by his nature as a Maia of skill and craftsmanship.

Last point, I don't believe Tolkien ever specifies if the Balrogs' "100% invested" nature in their physical forms grants them greater power than other Maia who can, for lack of a better term, "respawn" if physically slain.

P.S. one other point. Tolkien changed his idea about Balrogs late in his life. In the original Siege of Gondolin, there were hundreds, and I could very easily see those Balrogs as 8th level monsters. However, he later amended it so that there were only 7 Balrogs total and made them corrupted Maia, which is, I'm almost positive, the version that made it into LotR, but I could be wrong.
 

Betrayor

First Post
About Durin's Bane I would think that he was weakened since he was hiding,for me it was more like imprisoning ailbeit in a prison of his own making...
I think that the Istari were unable to show their true power at all not just unwilling....
We can see that for example in the Hobbit where Gandalf is prepared to jump from a high tree and commit suicide all because of some wolves.....
In any case third age was an age of diminishing and I think that everyone involved was weakening....
 

Belzamus

First Post
Okay, Alzrius, here is the fight between Morgoth and Fingolfin. It's... unfortunately written in extremely flowery language, so drawing any sort of concrete evidence from it is going to be nearly impossible.

That was the last time in those wars that he passed the doors of his stronghold, and it is said that he took the challenge willingly; for though his might was greatest of all things in the world, alone of the Valar he knew fear. But he could not deny the challenge before the face of his captains; for the rocks rang with the shrill music of Fingolfin's horn, and his voice came keen and clear down into the depths of Angband; and Fingolfin named Morgoth craven, and lord of slaves. Therefore Morgoth came, climbing slowly from his subterranean throne, and the rumour of his feet was like thunder underground. And he issued forth clad in black armour; and he stood before the King like a tower, iron-crowned, and his vast shield, sable unblazoned, cast a shadow over him like a stormcloud. But Fingolfin gleamed beneath it as a star; for his mail was overlaid with silver, and his blue shield was set with crystals; and he drew his sword Ringil, that glittered like ice.

Then Morgoth hurled aloft Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld, and swung it down like a bolt of thunder. But Fingolfin sprang aside, and Grond rent a mighty pit in the earth, whence smoke and fire darted. Many times Morgoth essayed to smite him, and each time Fingolfin leaped away, as a lightening shoots from under a dark cloud; and he wounded Morgoth with seven wounds, and seven times Morgoth gave a cry of anguish, whereat the hosts of Angband fell upon their faces in dismay, and the cries echoed in the Northlands.

But at the last the King grew weary, and Morgoth bore down his shield upon him. Thrice he was crushed to his knees, and thrice arose again and bore up his broken shield and stricken helm. But the earth was all rent and pitted about him, and he stumbled and fell backward before the feet of Morgoth; and Morgoth set his left foot upon his neck, and the weight of it was like a fallen hill. Yet with his last and desperate stroke Fingolfin hewed the foot with Ringil, and the blood gushed forth black and smoking and filled the pits of Grond.

Thus died Fingolfin, High King of the Noldor, most proud and valiant of the Elven-kings of old. The Orcs made no boast of that duel at the gate; neither do the Elves sing of it, for their sorrow is too deep. Yet the tale of it is remembered still, for Thorondor King of Eagles brought the tidings to Gondolin, and to Hithlum afar off. And Morgoth took the body of the Elven-king and broke it, and would cast it to his wolves; but Thorondor came hasting from his eyrie amoung the peaks of Crissaegrim, and he stooped upon Morgoth and marred his face. The rushing of the wings of Thorondor was lie the noise of the winds of Manwë, and he seized the body in his mighty talons, and soaring suddenly above the darts of the Orcs he bore the King away. And he laid him upon a mountain-top that looked from the north upon the hidden valley of Gondolin; and Turgon coming built a high cairn over his father. No Orc dared ever after to pass over the mount of Fingolfin or draw nigh his tomb, until the doom of Gondolin was come and treachery was born among his kin. Morgoth went ever halt of one foot after that day, and the pain of his wounds could not be healed; and in his face was the scar that Thorondor made.

Great was the lamentation in Hithlum when the fall of Fingolfin became known, and Fingon in sorrow took the lordship of the house of Fingolfin and the kingdom of the Noldor; but his young son Ereinion (who was after named Gil-galad) he sent to the Havens."

The only relevant bit seems to be the sentence I bolded.
 

Deinos

First Post
The idea of a level 8 balrog is pretty shocking, and based on a trainwreck of false assumptions.

"Tolkien’s Middle-Earth was magic-poor. When you came right down to it, Gandalf – one of the Istari, and one of the most powerful mages in the world..."

He's an Istari. They don't bear ANY resemblance to D&D wizards, other than a handful of spell effects (all of which are used as spell-like abilities, with no hint of him having learned them at Hogwarts); they have a similar name, and that is where the resemblance begins and ends. Or to say that Keebler elves and Santa's elves are obviously the exact same thing as D&D elves.

I mean, rating an angelic being who fights with a sword on his coincidental similarity to a D&D mage (who are not known for being physically supernatural immortal beings or for using swords)? Really?

Rating all of Gandalf's abilities on his vague coincidental similarity to a D&D spellcaster would be like watching Equlibrium and declaring that Cleric John Preston must be a low level cleric, since he never casts spells, or watching a movie about Batman and concluding that since bats have 1 hit dice, and that he is called Batman and not Dire Batman, he must be a level 1 character.

We also know that Gandalf was definitely holding back whenever he was using magic near a human, at any rate. Although the motive Istari have for holding back is different, even in D&D, a high level character would likely let his companions fight their own battles whenever possible, just like Gandalf -- for one thing, they'd need the XP more than him, and for another, that draws a lot of attention.

His evidence that balrogs are only level 8?

"Various elven heroes took them out, and at times the elves fought them by the swarm. They were lesser foes than dragons, although they were 'cloaked in darkness and terrifying'."

"Since he turned out to be level eight, it seems reasonable that his apparently near-equal opponent should also be level eight."

He neglects to mention that at least two of these elven heroes were appropriate challengers to a being that is definitely on par with a Physical God of Greek myth (and Valar definitely seem to fulfill the exact role that the usual godly pantheon in other "campaigns" do), Morgoth, who could do things like will entire volcanic mountain ranges into being (to use as his FENCE) and whose blows hit so hard that they shattered the earth right down to the MAGMA below.

Seriously, what kind of damage is that? If any level 15 character you know can make entire volcanic mountain ranges spring up, please, link me to your character build. If any power attacker before level 20 can shatter the earth on a MISS right down to the lava, please, link em to your character build.

In addition, he says "they were lesser foes than dragons," a statement not well represented by the lore. There were dragons more powerful than the typical balrog, but the reverse is also true.

Balrogs are generally portrayed as being right on par with the big fire breathing dragons, but not the super-ancient ones. So the usual CR 20 assumption seems right on track, especially because they were still powerful enough to challenge, in groups, people who could cross swords with full-on deities.
 

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