I confess, last night happening at all was a coin toss.
I think it’s the slow accumulation of this thing that’s been happening since the first session: I’m hitting all the campaign marks that are in Darkening of Mirkwood but I’m doing them out of sequence, because I’m only reading a year or two ahead. Folks mentioned spoiler problems in a previous post so I won’t talk specifics, but the redacted that they were supposed to face in 2952 last night was something they’d already defeated previously. Not a deal breaker! There are reasons why redacted might have come back. But it means the freshness and surprise aren’t there.
So I sat there transcribing the year, like I always do, and I’m thinking “do I even care about this game now?” I decided to just let it play out, see how I felt afterward.
In any case, it didn’t matter because after I laid out the “so this is how the year has shaped up so far” stuff — it takes about 30 minutes at the top of each session — they decided not to engage with redacted at all and go do another thing. Which is great. The constrained sandbox is working well for this, and it feels a bit more open even than The Great Pendragon Campaign because they don’t have patrons sending the company off on mandatory errands.
Observations in bullet form:
* The elf had her third and fourth bouts of madness, and her player decided it was time to retire her. She ended out Tyrannical, which was badass and terrifying. But retiring as someone with tyrannical urges makes for an interesting NPC opportunity in the future: not necessarily a villain, but not necessarily trustworthy either.
* Instead of heading into the Mountains of Mirkwood to deal with redacted, the company had an opportunity to stay out of the forest and visit Beorn’s people finally. There have been raids and stories of slavery coming out from up there (nice work in Darkening moving folks around to different areas of the map). And that let me finally, finally get into the Kinstrife storyline out of Tales from Wilderland.
What’s neat about the Tales things is that they get enormously more interesting once the characters are a ways down the Shadow track and you’ve turned on the Eye of Mordor rules from Rivendell. They tend to be pretty programmatic, so adding more random inputs helps make the scenarios feel more dynamic. IMO running them straight, without Darkening as maybe a one-shot or whatever, would be pretty boring.
* So we had an amazing little chain of events add up to some difficult shenanigans. The hobbit, who has avoided being miserable for eight sessions, finally slipped over into it as he was pursuing this suspected murderer through the woods (it’s a Kinstrife thing, no real spoilers here). Aaaaand the Eye of Mordor counter had ticked over the area’s chase number (because the elf decided to use her elf-light spell to help set the trap). Aaaaaand the hobbit rolled an Eye in the course of capturing the suspect. So he experiences his first bout of madness just as Mordor decides to pay attention. It was pretty great.
* On that note, I feel like we’re hitting a pretty good balance on working out really interesting bouts of madness and Mordor chases. Sometimes the players have ideas, sometimes I do, and we collaborate nicely on the outcome. Where one player will happily chew the scenery with the bout, another might not have a good head for (melo)drama.
In the case of the hobbit’s break/chase scene, he picked up Idle as his first shadow trait. So he knocks the guy to the ground, looks at the suspect, looks at his sword, looks at the ground, and just plops down. Just…gives up. Fugues out. And because the chase is active, the outlaws with whom the suspect has taken up show up in force and collect the hobbit, bundling him up for a juicy payoff from Beorn or the Woodmen or whomever. He’s known to be a Hero of the Woodmen after all!
In the case of the elf’s Tyrannical break, she’d just wounded/defeated the outlaw bandit in a big battle scene. So we escalated that: she’d beheaded the guy, grabbed the head, and rallied a bunch of misfits and easily-led to her side — Beorn himself losing followers, some outlaws falling into line, Woodmen involved in the battle coming to her side. Then she marched her sudden makeshift army into south Mirkwood to begin inflicting rough justice on anyone she feels deserves it. She’s retired into this sort of pseudo-Mogdred role, but instead of throwing in with the Shadow she’s an aggressive, unreasonable anti-Shadow crusader. Better hope you don’t have any permanent Shadow, or you might get a visit.
* At this point, yeah, at the end of the session I once again felt pretty renewed and excited to play. I kind of wish I could suss out what was interfering with my interest beforehand. Some of it I know is the turnover in the company: now that the elf has retired, that leaves just the hobbit as the original company member. Are they still a company? I love the pseudodynastic quality of retirement, passing along XPs, and having a new character in line. But the game doesn’t really discuss much of what happens beyond that. I’m not even sure what it’d say, honestly.
The first time we replaced a hero, the new character had no direct line back. That may have been a mistake because now we need to start cooking up entirely new storyline for the replacement. The replacement is a Beorning, and this last year was Beorning-intensive (the company received titles, land and standing from Beorn as reward for their help), so that’s already moving forward well.
I know for sure that this week’s orgy of violence in Orlando has made me feel really reluctant to celebrate or fetishize violence.
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