Fourth episode of our TOR game is in the books. It was very satisfying! I’m smiling at myself that “satisfying” is now my benchmark for success; dunno if I will ever have, really need, or should ever again aim for “fucking awwwwwesome!” again. Satisfying. Yeah.
Our company was finally faced with a wide-open “soooo what do you want to do?” Fellowship phase aftermath. I talked through what all had happened through the end of 2948 and the beginning of 2949, set everyone up with stuff-at-home momentum, created a few new NPCs to start tapping into. The plan ended up being “let’s swing south to the Black Tarn and check out the progress on their new hall, look into Ingomer’s “bloody ghost” story, take a long hard look at Mogdred’s setup down there, then swing through East Bight, rest at Ceawin’s, then up north to Thranduil’s royal hunt.”
It’s great! Very open-ended. I love that everyone in the company gets a little of what they care about, and they all stick together and help each other out. Nice.
Anyway, I had a chance to roll out my modifications to Encounters, and I would say they were quite successful. I talked through them all, and the players raised some good concerns. Anyway, to re-outline with additional thoughts:
* Roleplaying through figuring out what the NPC is about = Good! This is pure RAW and will set both Tolerance as well as the best way to introduce yourself. The players ground up against the “awe is for a single awesome spokesman to represent the company” rule, mostly because the Dwarf is terrific at Awe but suuuucks at social skills. So they have to decide, you know, whether it’s worth pulling in Courtesy or even Riddle just so everyone has a chance to talk, even if those are not the preferred introduction modes. That whole system really worked well.
* Setting the high-level intent for an Encounter and holding off until it’s nailed down, that’s good. It’s hard. It’s a best-practice thing that feels an awful lot like “so what can you ask for in a Duel of Wits?” It also intersects badly with the rest of the system unless you bundle in Ralph Mazza’s Boons stuff. I didn’t do Boons but I’m going to try it out next time.
* Secret Tolerance is GOOD, especially when combined with “meeting Tolerance means something terrible happens.” Not RAW I think (Nicholas Hopkins you’re playing correctly), but the cat-and-mouse freakout about nudging up against Tolerance, that’s very nice.
Stuff I want to nail down tighter:
* Probably roll Boons in next time. That reorganizes the system around actual achievables, and sets up compromises. It’s good. In fact I think this is all I need to roll in, because this will fix other issues I have w/r/t the Encounter’s intent, Tolerance, and just what non-talky successes/failures look like. As written, I think, successes and failures of any rolls during Encounter count toward success level as well as breaking Tolerance. It feels very abstract, i.e. you roll Lore to gather info about some new shit that has just come to light, and you fail, and that…looks like it’s pissing off the NPC, even though it’s something entirely inside your own head.
We also had this awkward bit where a failed Lore roll split the company on whether to pursue their original intent — Amadeola helps us hunt the “bloody ghost” versus the belief that Amadeola cooked up the “bloody ghost” story to cover for internal badness (murrrrder?) at the Black Tarn. This is kind of where the Duel of Wits also falls down: you’re committed to this thing, even though your thing may reasonably change shape in the course of argument. I think Boons may fix this as well, esp. if they’re renegotiable along the way.
After a lengthy Encounter at the Black Tarn, they decide to head south into superbad forestland looking for Tyrant’s Hill. Amadeola’s folks never go that far south, because South Mirkwood is a bunch of scary bullshit.
We finally had our first bout of madness, which was pretty wild. The corruption tests started stacking up pretty bad against both the elf and the dwarf. The dwarf took a cultural virtue last session that I’m totally in love with: your standing Shadow counts as a bonus on all Common tests. Holy shit! So he’s up to, get this, 12 fucking Shadow. Oh my food. But he also doesn’t really care, since all, all of it goes away as soon as he goes mad. Meanwhile it’s a really sweet carrot. Who doesn’t want +12? It’s clever.
But it wasn’t the dwarf who broke, it was the elf. Her curse is power, so now her first negative Trait is Resentful. So flexible. So perfect. She also is in the middle of this love triangle with the Barding PC and this Beorning trader lady I introduced over the fellowship phase. They’ve already been catty toward each other, but now with Resentful? Niiiice.
The elf’s bout of madness was marvelous and scary and was entirely the player’s idea. They had stumbled onto Tyrant’s Hill and started evaluating Mogdred’s force disposition. And then someone fumbled their Stealth test and they stumbled onto a small patrol. They had a fight, didn’t kill anyone but did knock everyone out of the fight. The brave little hobbit got wounded, augh! But during the fight, the elf rolled an eyeball.
After the battle, they’re gathering the prisoners they’ve taken to start asking them questions. And the elf starts quietly slitting their throats. And since the GM gets to play the character, gosh yes I start spending Hope to avoid the PCs who are trying to stop me/her! She’s a fucking elf, totally at home in Mirkwood and an unstoppable killing machine when she needs to be. Yeah, they all died. The company is horrified.
So we ended the session sincerely torn between backing off to the Black Tarn and recovering the hobbit’s wound, or pushing forward through the narrows and resting with Ceawin’s folks. If they back off, they’ll miss Thranduil’s royal hunt. If they push on, the Narrows are no treat either.