The One Ring: Derpening of Mirkwood, Pt 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 Mutant: Year Zero.

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.

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17 thoughts on “The One Ring: Derpening of Mirkwood, Pt 5”

  1. Your Shadow has ramped up much faster than my group’s – but then they’ve not been into Mirkwood yet.

    (Also – is all Mirkwood blighted? I’m away from my books so can’t check).

    In terms of Hope recovery, there’s the There and Back Again undertaking in Rivendell, where you go home and recover a third of your starting Hope but also gain Shadow. Might help!

  2. At first this seemed too dark for Tolkien, but then I thought about Boromir, and it made more sense. Once he started on his path, he was an express train.

  3. The closest thing I have to compare this with is Star Wars d6 Dark Side points (which, IIRC, didn’t do anything until you had too many), and BW Grief. How different does it feel (from the GM’s seat, I guess)?

  4. Way faster than my experience. But then our adventures were all on the elf road and just starting South from Beorn’s to the hill country…so never got into the blight.

    But that scene from the Hobbit movie where Gandalf et al visit The Place and confront The Thing made it pretty clear that such places are rough, even for the wise…so for a new party of would be heroes…seems legit.

    After all, if there are places in Mirkwood so bad the elves fled them and refuse to even go there any more…

    But that does leave you in an interesting Role Play situation.

    I’d be tempted to encourage some characters be retired, at least temporarily, while a new younger character picks up the burden. Has a very Polaris feel.

  5. My players are just now hitting this spiral — they’ve been chasing spies and orc-cults around Gondor for the past several sessions, so they haven’t seen a lot of corrupted areas. But last time they took a wrong turn in the Paths of Erech and ended up gaining a bunch of shadow, with no time to take a fellowship phase before the campaign’s first big climactic battle. I don’t know that they’ve realized it yet, so I’m very interested to see how they come out of it in the end.

  6. Yeah, so additional details.

    First, yeah, new company. Nobody is especially wise! There are a couple 3s.

    Second: determining whether a region is “blighted” is so very loose. It’s this close to “GM decides,” and there’s no guidance as to what fictional considerations to make. There’s a table that lets you roll dice but that’s also weird: are The Narrows blighted now but maybe not later? Even on the same path? So instead I just assume everything is blighted, and they make their rolls per the schedule determined by the map.

    If I had it to do over again I’d probably do it the same way, tbqh. There’s some merit to throwing the “fuck it, blight everywhere” switch in 2951 per events in Darkening (spoilers!), but that’s when I’ll be switching on the Eye mechanism per Rivendell.

    I think there’s something to be said for pushing the system to its limit, as a player. Maybe even let the first company burn to the ground as these poor naive saps play in the woods looking for treasure. This assumes the players are incentivized to preserve their next characters, which you know…not all of them are, or will be. I’m not persuaded that that’s a conscious creative decision every time.

    Anyway, yeah, it feels like it’s playing out correctly. It’s brutal! But my Middle Earth is already a pretty rough neighborhood. There haven’t been any bad conflicts of expectations, at least on my side of the table. One advantage of not really knowing the Tolkien!

  7. The way this game handles passage of time sounds really interesting. Are there any specific rules for that, or do you just say “well, how long are you spending at home to recuperate before you head out again?”

  8. Noah Tucker straight TOR as well as Darkening of Mirkwood suggest one adventure phase per year. So you go do adventure phase stuff for as long as you want (typically keeping an eye on fatigue and shadow), then you do a fellowship phase, and then you play next year. 

    There’s some creative/logistical space there where you can do additional fellowship phases kind of…whenever. And to be honest I’m not sure what the rules say about how long a fellowship phase “has” to be. Like, if you were really hard-nosed about gaming that, I have no idea what the balance is. Like…go do a small thing and then take a break! Burn off that shadow. Now go do a thing and take a break! And burn off that shadow. And so on. 

    it’s a gap in the game that nobody’s tried exploiting yet, because I’ve framed it as “do what you want all summer, then go winter somewhere and take your fellowship actions.” It’s very similar to the pace of The Great Pendragon Campaign, which they’ve been a good ways into.

  9. My group has done pretty well on not accumulating shadow, but they haven’t hit Mirkwood hard at all. Last session there was lots of talk of dealing with Tyrant’s Hill in some fashion – which will let me unleash the shadow waterfall. We’ll see tomorrow!

  10. Tyrant’s Hill is a cluster fuck. Ditto the Mirkwood Mountains, when they thought they’d go werewolf hunting a couple years ago. Now that they’ve seen the darklands up close, they’re thinking long and hard about avoiding them now. As they should.

  11. Yeah, they’re feeling salty after ripping apart some goblins. They have other options, so maybe they won’t go that route – but if they do, they’ll certainly experience how bad it can get! (Puts on game face.)

  12. I would like to point out that the spiral was heightened by our resident dwarfs desire to use the cool exploit, in which he uses his shadow as a bonus to common rolls. He was rolling around with 6/8 shadow before we hit the mirk. So when we had two rolls a day at target 20 he went south in a hurry.

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