The One Ring
Derpening of Mirkwood 5

After a week off, everyone was eager to jump back in on their adventure phase. It involves lots of tramping around Mirkwood, which is just this miserably blighted zone. And we stumbled into the game’s corruption death spiral.

Basically it goes like this: when your Shadow equals or exceeds your Hope, you become Miserable. When you’re Miserable, eventually you’ll experience a bout of madness in which you pick up a new bad trait, wipe your old Shadow, and pick up one permanent Shadow. It’s really similar to how Rot works in MYZ.

Well, so, play the game long enough and you see how hard it is to get Hope back. If you’ve had a bout of madness, you’ve certainly burned your Hope down. But then that damned permanent Shadow is right there, waiting to make you Miserable again and again. One of our characters went from zero to three permanent Shadow points (and three shadow traits, and three really terrible scenes played out) in one session. The dwarf started with one and now has three, and the elf went from zero to two.

On top of the ever narrowing window between Hope and Shadow, those shadow traits! They’re for the GM to hammer you with an additional d12 (take the lower of the two), which is the die that triggers the bout of madness! Eventually the H/S window closes, and you’re permanently Miserable.

I found the process to be surprisingly fast. It’s incentivizing! It’s also quite sudden. They went from “let’s push through to Ceawin’s Hall, heal our wounds, and make Thranduil’s hunt in time” to “fuck this, we’re fucking done, we’re totally fucked, oh my god we’re all gonna die” in a couple hours.

Not surprisingly, I think, this session also featured the most interesting roleplaying interpersonal scenes. Two characters had lovely mirrored bouts of madness in the same scene; another alienated Black Tarn’s clan during a freak out; and the human (who is now haughty, scornful and scheming!) decided Ceawin needs to ally with Lake-Town so seduced his daughter. There goes Ceawin’s plans to tie the clans together through marriage (as well as the Beorning woman who’d taken an interest in him).

From the outside, the fiction is suddenly brutal and intense. Good! I can’t tell how it feels from the inside, though. Two of the players have really keyed into their bad traits, a good excuse to ham up how they’ve already been aiming themselves. The third, the dwarf, is checked out now that he’s cruel and brutal, which doesn’t especially map to his internal vision I think. The rules say the GM plays the character through the madness but I opened it up to the players: they seemed to own their situation better when they were part of it. When I took over, there was enough emotional distance that it felt more like inconvenience than horror.

At this point I’m not sure how they recover. Really, really modest adventure phases for several years I guess? Sequential Fellowship phases? Only the Hobbit bought the Confidence virtue, and he is managing his shadow very carefully: no madness! The others got excited with fancy power-ups and now they don’t have the XPs to raise their wisdom. And maybe that’s okay: over the next two to five years, they tend to their knitting, rebuild their internal reserves, and build the courage to go back out into the world.

Visual Inspirations

A piece of art jeff fearnow posted last week (?) sent me back down memory lane once again to the Terran Trade Authority meta-series. I used to have Stewart Cowley’s original four books (first in the list here: a thousand years ago but I have no idea where they went off to. Too many moves, bad decisions by Past Paul I guess. If you’re not familiar with these — and if you’re not 40+ yo you might not be — they’re basically big coffee table books filled with gorgeous spaceship concept art, with documentary-style text running throughout as if you were holding some future historical artifact. I love it. It’s marvelous.

I was reminded there was a TTA RPG! Which, to be honest, is on my list of dream projects to do someday (along with a Race for the Galaxy RPG, but the licensing might be a very tough nut to crack). Did anyone ever play it? It’s based on “Omni System,” which I don’t know much or anything about. I guess Talislanta 5e is built on it. Don’t know much about it either.

I may need to start getting more coffee table art books so I can freebase the visual stimulation. The Dark North ( is allegedly coming my way someday; thinking it’d be rad as fuck to somehow distribute an Apocalypse World game setup amongst players who key into, or are assigned, pieces from the collection. Maybe hack Microscope into using the material somehow?

What have some of your favorite visual inspirations been? Looking for ideas and leads.

TIME Stories

The Marcy Case


We played the second TIME Stories scenario today, The Marcy Case. And I’m feeling really, really salty about it. So I’m gonna talk about it here.

I’ll do my level best to avoid spoilers while also explaining myself in such a way that, hopefully, folks who have been through this scenario can understand what I’m talking about. The safe bet though is to just skip this thread if you intend to ever go through this thing.

This is the spoiler space.

This is the end of the spoiler space. You’ve been warned.

I’m not kidding.

Okay, so the scenario comes down to deciding which of several victims to save from a major catastrophe. We worked out all the possible victims and fully explored the map in three runs, taking a couple hours to do so. On the fourth run, we had a perfect execution of where to go, what all we could bring with us and what all we could ignore, and so on. We knew about everything except the final location, which you can only unlock with a very specific set of clues and shit. Standard TIME Stories stuff.

Well, so, the ultimate twist — AGAIN THIS IS SPOILER ZONE HERE — is that you have to deliver the correct victim, and you only get one shot. Confirming that you’ve delivered the correct victim relies on matching two visual cues on the cards. The cues are quite obvious once you’ve seen the “correct” half.

We chose the wrong character (we brought all the victims, which, you know… maybe we could be even more efficient if we knew exactly who to bring), and we failed the mission. But we also got to look at the visual cue, which meant we got to “solve” the mission without working out the logic.

And to be honest, it felt like cheating. It also felt like the game compelled/tricked me/us into cheating. Now I have to say, I’m resenting the experience.

This could have been designed in some other way, because honestly matching up the visual cues is just cheesy. You don’t actually have to work out the logic — the puzzle pieces are all there if you slow down long enough to look — and it feels like a huge rip-off. We didn’t even bother going through the loop again, because we knew it was purely procedural. The solution we stumbled into felt like it betrayed the rest of the fiction. I hate that.

I think what led me to this is that the Asylum scenario also relies on a visual cue, rather than working through a deduction/logic/elimination puzzle like The Marcy Case is built around. So I was keyed into the visuals much more than the actual clues.

If they had just built the final test in a different way, I’m certain we’d have stuck it out once more and worked through the long list of clues.

I feel ripped off. I feel like the game tricked me into ripping myself off. Blargh, I hate this feeling.


Hooooly wow is it good. Probably the best Star Wars game I’ve played, and I do love Armada and Imperial Assault.

At the core the game is really simple: each side (it’s just two sides, although you can play each side as a two player team) has a small but growing collection of Leaders. You either assign leaders to missions, or hold them in reserve to later counter enemy missions or move the troops around. Then you start carrying out missions and moving and blowing stuff up pewpewpew.

It’s super asymmetrical! I played the Rebels, so my job was to get my Reputation (victory points) high enough that the galaxy throws off its shackles. My wife played the Empire, and her job was to sprawl across the map, subjugate systems, and find my base. Empire wins if they can destroy the base; Rebels win if they run the clock.

I really thought the Rebels had the harder job at first, but man it’s a big map for the Empire to cover. The cat and mouse is delicious: when you send a personality out on a mission, you send them into the middle of enemy territory. So do you oppose them? If you do, the presence of your leader will keep you from taking forces out of that space. Lots of tense decisions.

The game leverages lots of EU material, so I’m not sure how that looks going forward with the new Disney management. Lots of room for interesting non-movie expansions in the future, I think.

I suspect the game is really strong for about three or four plays per side, but I might be wrong about that. I hope so! I get that from eyeballing the arc the game spools out: the Rebels start earning vps through winning hearts and minds, then winning fights, then blowing up the Death Star(s). Maybe there’s more variety than it appears?

Dunno, but for now it’s fun as hell.

The One Ring

Hey TOR-heads! How are y’all handling treasure hoards? Like…where do you put them, how common are they, etc? It looks like stumbling on a hoard here and there, doing the treasure-hunter thing, is how you get your status up sometime before everyone dies of old age. Otherwise you’re getting whatever an NPC gives you, and/or running a holding (per Darkening of Mirkwood).

So what do you say? The barrows seem like obvious places to go treasure hunting. Do your monsters hoard treasure? That seems more like D&D than LOTR, at least as a universal principle.

 It’s like $120 for tokens — tokens — but oh my word take a look at these things.

Also coins. If you’ve never blinged a boardgame out with metal money, you haven’t lived.

Tiny Epic Galaxies

Amusing little game that way way overstays its welcome with five players, all of whom are deeply analytical, serious competitors. I thought this would be the warm-up before we played something more serious, but alas it was nearly 3 hours for something that’s supposed to last more like 30 minutes.

Basically it goes like this: you start with a small pool of dice, custom dealies with art on all the faces. You assemble your turn out of the die rolls, maximizing your turn but manipulating the order of your actions. There are some neat little economies at work that let you reroll or follow what someone else does on their turn. You’re either improving your “galaxy” our you’re trying to colonize new worlds. End game is triggered when someone earns a particular value, and then everyone checks to see if they fulfilled their secret goal. Very tight, very tidy.

I got to play this at RinCon last October with two other players and really enjoyed it. Honestly it’s probably an excellent 3-4p game. Small, cheap, very clever.