First Read: The One Ring

So we wrap up Motobushido, right? And the players are curious to hear what else I want to run. Right now my play list is:

* Cartel
* The One Ring
* The Clay That Woke

I pull the TOR books off the shelf. I have the core book, Rivendell, Darkening of Mirkwood and Tales from the Wilderlands. Everything is beautifully produced of course. 

I open up the TOR books and start showing off the maps — there’s a neat metagame element to moving your company of fellows around! And we talk about the various cultures you can play! And I talk about the valor/will split when you meet someone new. All these little flourishes and gestures I’ve been picking up the past few months.

“So like…what do you actually do?” someone asks.

I stop. “Well I’d probably just run stuff from Tales. Here are some thumbnails. Let’s see…this one, you help some dude out of the forest. Here’s another one…something about a hobbit stew…hm.”

They’re staring at me. Eyebrows are going up. I start panicking, which means I start improvising. 

“Uh um well, I’m the first to confess that honestly I don’t know much about the Lord of the Rings stuff. So I’m relying on the system to barf up Tolkien for me. And so I guess you…walk around doing Tolkieny things?”

More staring. Then someone asks, “So is there a premise?”

Me: “Uh…it happens between The Hobbit and LOTR. There’s still a Shadow, there are still bad guys, but it’s not all-out war yet. Just spooky stuff.”

Them: “Are you standing up to the Shadow?”

Me: “I…think mostly you’re avoiding it. There’s lots of stuff about running away.”

Eyebrows are now going the opposite direction. Many furrowed brows.


So The One Ring got shelved and the mean boys laughed at me for buying four books of a game they all know full well is not in my wheelhouse. :-/

0 thoughts on “First Read: The One Ring”


    Would it really be so different from running Pendragon? I mean, romping around in someone else’s canon, fighting stuff, passing the seasons, etc.

    OTOH, it’s pretty trad (adventuring parties, etc.); you play because you want to appreciate Tolkien.

  2. No, I suck!

    But a) playing in an author’s fantasy world and b) running through prepared campaigns (GPC vs. Tales, etc.) seem like touchpoints between the two, in terms of pitching it to your group.

  3. Here’s a player’s account of what we did with The One Ring over the weekend:

    But yes, absolutely, you’re standing up to the Shadow. You’re an adventuring company doing good deeds and going on quests. It’s a great game for getting the feel of Tolkien’s books. It’s pretty “trad”. I like it a lot, but unless capturing the feel of Middle Earth in the mechanics in a largely trad game (with some nifty bits, that are boardgamey in a good way) is something you want to do, it’s not your ideal game!

  4. It’s a traditional Hero path. Yes you stand up to the darkness, but sometimes that darkness is too much for mere folk like you.

    Starting core characters are regular peeps. They may have unusual backgrounds that make them unique, but the “only” thing heroic about them is that they were willing to leave home, join with others and act, while their families stayed home and took care of their own.

    The game assumes a traditional zero to hero arc, where one day you’ll be worthy of standing before the Wise and unlocking your word hoard. But initially you’re just Jenny from the Block who decided to do something more than wait for someone else to do something.

    The spaces where Paul Beakley​ will want to play are right there on the character sheet (and the rules that address the stuff on the character sheets). You have backgrounds that are full of character hooks. But most importantly, you have Callings.

    If “go on adventures in Middle Earth” isn’t enough of a hook, Callings are what you’re looking for. They are the arrow that points to “what do you do” “why did my character leave home.”

    Brilliantly they tie into madness via your Shadow Weakness. That thing that motivated you to hit the road and head toward danger is also the thing that can destroy you.

    For my group “we get to have adventures in Middle Earth? Sweet” was as much as they needed.

    For you high brow types, here’s what you do:

    1) ignore everything else to start.

    2) Look up every section that deals with: Calling, Shadow, Shadow Weakness, Hope, Misery, Fellowship Focus, Madness, Misdeeds, and Flaws. (Easiest if you can search a PDF).

    That’s alot of game terms, but really it’s just a single subsystem. The central “why are we playing this game” subsystem.

    If you can’t figure out what to do from there your name isn’t Paul Beakley​ .

    Don’t get lost in the traditional trappings. It may not be quite as avant garde as motobushido, but it has all those little squirrelly character parts to spring board off of.

  5. I think I’d totally run TOR in a long con setting! I’m no stranger to trad play. I think the setup and prep looked more daunting than it actually is or has to be.

    The 1.5 sessions of Motobushido prep for 2.5 sessions of play has kind of cooled my jets for low-ROI games. And I know me! I’ve been there when I ran a game a couple times and was ready to move on because the right-now enthusiasm wasn’t there.

    But if I knew we’d be in and out in whatever, eight hours? Rock on, let’s do it.

  6. There’s no real prep if you use the published adventures to create your locations, NPCs and adversaries. If you sandbox it, then you get whatever prep level you have in any sandbox game (I struggle with sandbox play, because I want to overprep everything — going into MZ0 and just rolling and winging zone travel was emotionally stressful)

    It is a game for players who want to engage the system. The subsystems interlock in really elegant and important ways. But it sounds like your troop was into that for moto, so shouldn’t be a problem.

    But this: loading up on gear –> fatigue –> reduced effectiveness –> spending hope to restore effectiveness –> misery –> madness –> my character changing and going all Boromir…is so delicious once you see all the clogs clicking along that I find it has a pretty big payoff for the learning curve.

    It is geared to longer play so you may have to retool a few things to see the cycle in a shorter time.

    We’d played a dozen or so sessions and got to see the shorter cycles fire off a few times, the middle cycle really ramp up but not yet climax, and the long cycles were sitting out there tantalizing…we could see what they’d do, but base game speed wasn’t enough to budge them yet.

  7. Following on from Ralph Mazza​’s points, for the LongCon game I gave out a fair bit of starting XP and AP. I should have also given put some starting Shadow.

    I’d do it again in a heartbeat!

  8. I get the sense that TOR has great huge interlocking gears, which normally excites me but also is daunting because of my 8-10 session absolute upper limit. So Darkening is just never gonna happen, and I know it.

    I’m skeptical of the interface between “you have reasons for adventuring” and “here, do this prewritten scenario.” That makes character motivation sound like bullshit. My players are definitely more okay with being told to go do a thing because it’s what’s prepped than I am.

    Also deeply skeptical the game is really that exciting without some deep Tolkien fandom getting and keeping you excited.

    Probably it’s a mood thing. Taking a couple weeks off will be nice.


    This is my response every time I sit down and try (once again) to read through and understand the book. I want to love this game. I keep buying the books, too!

    But I still have no idea how to play it, run it, or what to do with it at the table.

  10. Yeah, that first part is a legit observation. Kind of the classic story telling system RPG problem and despite its many awesomely elegant mechanics not one that TOR managed to solve. Pendragon and Edge of the Empire both have that same friction where the character sheet has all these wonderful personal motivators but the game takes so much effort to prep properly that in the interest of time and sanity you fall back on published stuff…which then often drops the ball on all the cool character sheet stuff. My group was willing to give a pass on that but for your tastes I’d probably recommending kitbashing the parts from the published adventures (locations and NPCs and such) as part of your own character focused prep but not actually “running them” per se.

    Interestingly part of my current attraction with MYZ is the effort to reduce prep time so that one can play a traditional mechanic game that’s character focused and not have to rely on published stuff.

    That’s also the appeal of Cypher System / Numenara that we talked about recently. It’s a less traditional game mechanically, but very traditional in terms of GM/player dynamics and its specifically engineered (haven’t played to say how successful it is) for low prep GMing. Like most creatures IIRC are ton of color and like one stat.

  11. I love the One Ring. It’s the best Lord of the Rings RPG ever made.  That’s why you should only play it if you really want to play a Lord of the Rings game.  Half of the fun is the excitement of playing in Middle Earth; if that provides no excitement you are only getting half of the intended enjoyment.  

    It’s like any other game with a deep setting (Eclipse Phase, Castle Falkenstein, , Glorantha), I think.  In general those games are only worth investing play-time in if there is something about the setting that really grabs you and makes you want to play in that setting, specifically.  You have to be invested in them.

  12. As an aside, when I ran it we didn’t have much problem coming up with a player directed plot-line for the 7 session mini-campaign we ran, but a lot of the reason for that was I was able to interpret what people were asking for in Middle Earth terms.  I”ve been living an breathing Middle Earth since I was like 10 years old.  So when we sat down to create characters and people started talking about the sorts of things they were interested in, I was able to link those things up to bits of Middle Earth lore, feed it back to them, and jointly arrive at cool group of characters with some connections to each other, a strong goal/motivation for the group of characters to be together at game start, and a clear picture of the threats/obstacles/opportunities facing them.

    If Middle Earth is not your “native land”, I’m not sure how that would work.

  13. Investment and enthusiasm is probably equally important in any licensed canon-intensive setting. I guess it’s because I feel so very alienated from Tolkien that I can’t get past it (like I can with Pendragon, which also has that weird veneer of history, cryptohistory, diffuse and contradictory fictional sources, cultural elements, etc.)

  14. Paul Beakley I’m not sure licensing is a necessary feature.  I think licensing is correlated, in that lots of licensed properties also have lots of canon, but something like Numenera or Eclipse Phase seem to have the same issue.

    This is in contrast to what might be called “High Concept” games like Motobushido, Spirit of ’77, the Warren, even Shadowrun, where there may be a very strange setting/situation premise, but it is well summarized by its elevator pitch, and no further knowledge of the setting is important to overall enjoyment.

  15. I totally misused “licensed” up there! Well spotted, totally not what I intended to focus on. I was eating the most amazing ramen right when I wrote that, so forgive me, my mind was elsewhere.

    I guess I’m thinking about how I react to Middle Earth versus uh…The ‘Verse or the Star Wars universe. Some of that is for sure specific to my personal relationship to Middle Earth: I still have no idea why anyone does anything in the trilogy other than as a MacGuffin for a travelogue of the area. Literally nothing thematic or emotional or human jumps out at me, like, at all. Even when I try to read it as a WWII allegory I’m like ehhhhh.

    There’s also the awesome weight of the canon that is honestly kind of intimidating. I feel the same way trying to play Edge of the Empire with a Star Wars superfan, which I did and subsequently failed at. There’s at least one hardcore LOTR fanperson in my circle, and they’re pretty stoked to play because, I think, they assume the game will adequately/successfully barf forth Tolkien no matter what I do. Which is maybe true.

    #badatfandom  or whatever. I’ll happily jump on a high-concept game (like the ones you mentioned up there) way before I’ll jump on someone else’s world.

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