We had what I think was my very favorite session of The One Ring last night. Lots of things worked out really well. And we had both our first retirement as well as our first refusal to retire. Terrifying and fascinating. Notes and thoughts in bullet form as always for your bathroom reading pleasure.
* Our dwarf finally got his fourth and final PC-side dark trait: Murderous. And it was so great. The session was 2951 of Darkening of Mirkwood, with Ceawin trying to appease the uneasy spirits south of his lands in the old barrows. Instead of making it an off-screen NPC thing, I had the dwarf himself actually craft the offering to the uneasy spirits: a beautiful and expensive helm to be placed in the barrows.
So they need to get the helm from the dwarf’s workshop (outside Woodman Hall) over to East Bight, yeah? They’ve figured out that the “short cut” through the Narrows is a terrible idea, so they’ve established a fairly safe route down around the bottom of Mirkwood. It takes like 2 weeks by horse to make the trip but whatever, they’re not getting poisoned by the Shadow along the way.
But they are well exposed to bad apples out of The Toft, this creepy town that was once enthralled to the Necromancer. I build the place up to be like a really creepy rural village you might not want to stop in on a long road trip.
So, anyway, since they didn’t really take any precautions to be secretive about their trip, word gets out that they’re moving this expensive bit of treasure. The hobbit lookout gets 3 great successes to spot the bandits, and I give them plenty of time to make a plan: stand and fight, or try to disappear in the woods (which are Southern Mirkwood, which is pretty much the most evil place in Middle-Earth other than Mordor itself).
Well, when they all made their awareness/hunting/whatever rolls to spot the bandits, the miserable Dwarf rolled an eyeball. And his scene was about his Murderous trait.
Something I’ve always been a bit skeptical about in The One Ring is that the GM takes over for the bout of madness. Ehhh…I’ve seen a couple times that neither the player nor the victims seem to really own their actions. When the elf decided to slit the throats of some of Mogdred’s men instead of bringing them back to Ingomer for questioning, that was me. And sure enough, neither the elf’s player nor anybody else in the party really holds him accountable for that. Weak.
This time, I asked the dwarf player who he felt most needed to be murdered in their company. And it was perfect, perfect for the game because he made a choice and everyone knew it.
He chose the hobbit, who has enjoyed a charmed life all game long. He’s never gone mad, he’s been miserable or weary maybe once each, he wisely took Confident as his first virtue when he had the chance, and he’s been extraordinarily lucky in our fight scenes. So the dwarf, overcome with jealousy, is sick of the little showboat’s bullshit as he once again tries to make (entirely reasonable and smart) plans about these bandits. He dives across the tiny campfire and lays into the character with his axe.
* One thing The One Ring doesn’t really do well is PvP combat. Related to that is that the game also doesn’t really handle non-combat actions that well. There are a few baked-in options (awe, inspire, defend, escape) but if you want to do anything other than stand toe-to-toe, well, you need to get creative if you want to stay within the framework.
We ended up structuring the fight around the Dwarf basically being an NPC, with the rest of the company positioning against him. It worked quite well, actually. And there were some great mechanical/story twists within the fight! Like, the dwarf is actually the hobbit’s focus character! So the hobbit’s player does not want the dwarf harmed, because that’ll mean taking a shadow point. So when it’s the Barding’s turn out in the open to try and wear down the dwarf (hopefully not wounding him but you never know, shit happens in combat), the hobbit in defensive drew the Barding’s attack to himself! I couldn’t figure out why that’d be illegal, so we rolled with it. Totally fascinating.
The hobbit’s plan was to draw the dwarf away from the rest of the company so nobody would get hurt. That’s pretty tricky to do within the Battle rules, which as a baseline offer nothing more than positioning for the company to defeat a group of enemies. But what The One Ring does have is its Trait rules, which I’m now convinced are the killer app of the game.
The most interesting Trait rule, IMO, is that you can use a Trait to make a common skill roll where you normally could not. So that’s what they did, injecting skills into the combat sequence where normally they’d only be allowed to make weapon checks (or the special actions attached to each combat position). This is totally genius! Because, guess what, not everyone’s gonna have the right tool for the job. The Barding, for example, is this smooth talker but has literally nothing available to stop a fight and get some words in edgewise. So trying to talk the dwarf down didn’t work. But the Hobbit, well, he’s True Hearted, so yeah, absolutely Persuade the Dwarf to ignore the rest of the company as you run away.
I have more thoughts on just how powerful the Trait rules are, but for now this is my current favorite thing about them.
* Eye of Mordor rules, wow, the game is fucking grim now. Since the Enemy has retaken Dol Guldur, I’ve activated the Eye rules from Rivendell. They’re fantastic! Basically you come up with a baseline value for the company based on who’s in it (the Eye ignores hobbits but takes special interest in elves, for example), what they’re carrying (oh all those Famous Weapons you’ve been picking up with your Valor increases, yeah, the Eye finds them very interesting), who they are to the people in the area (helloooo Heroes of the Woodmen!), and so on. Then as the game proceeds, that value gets a bump every time the company gains Shadow, rolls an Eye, uses “magical” virtues (elf magic, dwarven “broken spells,” etc.), and so on. When the chase number equals the target of the terrain they’re in — it’s an inverse of the regular terrain TN table, with free lands having a very high chase value and the darklands obvs being very low — there’s a Revelation. The Enemy takes direct action against the company, or the company experiences supernaturally shitty luck, or whatever.
Combined with my “everything is blighted all the time” rule w/r/t Shadow gain from the terrain, that’s a fucking lot of bad-guy pressure applied to the company at all times.
The net result in our game was that the Revelation happened while the Hobbit recovered from his wound delivered by the dwarf. They’re chilling in East Bight and everyone wants to use their two-rolls-per-day option while they’re just sitting around. Okay, cool. So they’re investigating stories of orc attacks in the area, as well as the lights/voices of the uneasy dead. Then the roll an Eye, the Enemy reveals itself, and a Great Orc with a band of soldiers springs its trap on the company.
The game feels really dangerous now, I think.
* Fellowship phase after everything that went down was bittersweet and difficult and actually pretty amazing. I was saying that The One Ring doesn’t really pump me up but I gotta say I’m feeling pretty pumped now!
The Hobbit, having been nearly killed by someone he considered a dear friend, took the “There and Back Again” option from Rivendell: he left the company, went home to the Shire, and spent it with his family. He gained a permanent Shadow but got back like 6 Hope. Really the narratively perfect choice.
The Dwarf, looking down the barrel at his fifth and final bout of madness and with Murderous, Spiteful, Brutal etc on deck, realized he’d be a terrible danger to everyone. Without apologizing or explaining, he’s withdrawn to his workshop outside Woodmen Hall, his adventuring days behind him. Hobbits are not allowed in his workshop. No idea what the player is taking next, but he’s looking at the cool Rivendell options as well as a straight Woodman (which tbh they should have, given the focus of Darkening of Mirkwood).
The Barding, though, whoo boy. Miserable for almost the entire session, he decided to try and heal his Shadow through craftwork at his home in East Bight (where he’s been married to Ceawin’s daughter and now has a kid). Not only did he fail to do so, he rolled an Eye. While miserable. In the Fellowship phase. Boom, now he’s Treacherous. So he snuck into Ceawin’s hall and murdered him, freeing the clan from weak leadership. I think he’s just taken over the clan, actually. But talk about weak leadership! He’s only got status 2, and there are plenty of clansmen NPCs who surely must have higher status than him. Then there’s the matter of answering, or not, difficult questions about the death of Ceawin: lying and deception gets you 2 Shadow, after all. Tick tick tick.
Oh, and where the dwarf knew enough to retire before he hurt someone? The Barding says fuck that. They basically have a villain in the company now. Yowch.
* Magical Treasure rules from Rivendell are actually pretty neat. I wanted the elven weapon the hobbit retrieved from Dol Guldur last year to be magical thing, so I built it. And sure enough, he’s really anxious to discover/unlock the two hidden weapon goodies. Hard-pressed to find a Loremaster, though, and they haven’t set Rhosgobel up as a sanctuary yet, so… I’ve got goodies built for everyone else now as well.
* Status rules are starting to make a difference. Everyone has 1 or 2 status now, and they’re all starting to embellish the end-of-year stuff quite nicely. The elf, for example, has started formal patrols in Mirkwood of mixed human and elven troops (with her in command, since she’s Arrogant and all).
* The retirement/inheritance rules are ridiculous. We’ve played 7 sessions and they’ve earned, I think, a total of 18 XPs. The dwarf’s successor will only get 2 free XPs to start! The table goes to 250 XP, which by my calculations is about 100 sessions of play. So, you know, two solid years of weekly sessions to max that out. Come on.
* A recurring meta-problem has raised its ugly head again: the fact that my attention span typically limits the game to 10ish sessions. Well, we’re on #7 right now and thus far I don’t feel any itchiness to move on. But maybe! Anyway, that fact kind of fucks up games that rely on loooong reward cycles. For example, the dwarf burning out in 7 sessions: I’m not so sure the game is actually built to do that, you know? But maybe! Dwarves are exceptionally goth in the Tolkien as well as in The One Ring, and he did take the “get a bonus to common skills equal to your Shadow” virtue, so maybe? It certainly played out that the Dwarf blew out first, the human may blow out next, the elf is riding a very fine line and the Hobbit will hold out a good long time.
This happened in our Urban Shadows game as well: one of the players decided to go all-in on gaining Corruption, “knowing” the game wouldn’t last long enough for him to actually suffer for it. That’s kind of a bummer. I have no idea what to do about it. Probably nothing.