The One Ring: Derpening of Mirkwood, Pt 3

Last night’s session was dedicated almost entirely to hunting and fighting the Werewolf of Mirkwood. Despite being, basically, 2+ straight hours of fighting a single monster, it was a surprisingly satisfying session.

Some thoughts!

* I have moved from being meh about the Encounters system to actively disliking it. It’s dumb. It doesn’t work. Given the extraordinary popularity of the system, I tend to think I’ve missed…something. I don’t know what! OTOH it wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve discovered a fatal flaw in something and stood as the lone voice of reason howling against the fandom hordes. 

My gut is undecided on this. My most likely scenario is that my NPCs need to be pushing back in Encounters, making their own personality rolls. The game is totally unclear on how binding or effective NPC social effects may be. Can an NPC Persuade (via “personality”) a PC? No fucking idea. But this would, at the very least, allow for compromises and partial victories. As it stands, between the one-way nature of social conflict in TOR and the stupid Tolerance system, the characters don’t ever face possible failure or even compromise. I hate it. It’s broken.

TOR veterans, please tell me how you’re working Encounters. I need to see how it’s been drifted into something functional.

* I used the Hobbit Tales deck to generate hazards. Works okay. A little generic but also a little faster than rolling on two tables. I’ll use it again. The illustrations are nicely inspiring, at least. Allowing these hazards to play out into full scenes (and not just one-off resolutions, depending on the mood at the table) is healthy and good.

* Everyone’s finally earned enough XPs to up their Wisdom/Valor and get new Virtues/Rewards! Fun. After the godawful beatdown of hunting and killing the Werewolf of Mirkwood, they went straight to Fellowship and just blew off the rest of the year. The Hobbit, who through player bravery and some lucky rolls ended up being the one to kill the Werewolf (amazing, really), bought himself the Confidence virtue, and just in the nick of time: he was down to 2 Hope and 1 Shadow after the fight. Of course he won’t be buying Confidence again for a very long time.

Everyone took the title “Hero of the Woodmen” as their Fellowship action, which is just perfect. I’m loving that they can build and maintain their Standing across multiple locations via Titles, clever and smart. So now they have homes scattered across Woodmen territory. Neat!

Meanwhile, the players think it’s weird that the only thing Treasure is really good for is buying Standing. Since they don’t have any, it’s hard to illustrate the difference in the fiction between having roots in a community and being an untrustworthy wanderer.

Gonna try and get at least a couple of the characters involved in Holdings (per Darkening of Mirkwood). I think that’ll be interesting.

* Reverting the advancement point system to RAW was absolutely the right call. In fact my player who really wanted to just use Traits for everything saw it immediately. “But I like leaning on my Traits!” he says. And I’m like, go ahead, nothing’s stopping you! And sure enough, he looked at his APs and saw the work ahead of him. So, yay, correct diagnosis and an easy fix.

*Also on the Trait front, regarding the extreme ease that players can opt out of the Journey system entirely by spamming a good Trait (i.e. Bardings and their Hearty trait): my ad hoc ruling is that you can use any given Trait once per Journey. That makes for an interesting gamble, especially if they’re going somewhere new on the map and don’t know how hard it’ll be. It also helps mix up the fiction a little more.

* There’s this thing that wears me out, maybe more than anything else at any gaming table for any game: when a player maths out solutions with a complete disregard for fictional consequences. Turning a fictional situation to make a character statement into a math problem to solve just bums me out. Maybe it shouldn’t! But it also feels like taking the player at their word and letting them live with the fictional consequences is kind of passive-aggressive bullshit on my part. I’d prefer my players just talk honestly when these situations arise. But then there’s the investment and the winning. :-/

Ugh, agendas. Also Agendas. 

The big one last night was the point at which the company has to decide whether to venture into the Mountains of Mirkwood — the single most evil place in all of Middle Earth, right alongside fucking Mordor — or possibly turn back (which of course is a completely false dilemma: someone else suggested setting a trap and using their brains and, hey, awesome idea). When I heard “well, I can take four bouts of madness and still survive,” I had to scratch my head. Really? That’s your criteria? Your character isn’t saving the world, he’s on a critter hunt. Yeezus.

I mean maybe, right? Do I take a player at their word? Do I stop the proceedings and try to have a heart-to-heart? In the moment, I hate this. As a practical human matter, it’s really fine as long as everyone in the conversation is participating honestly. Boy that last part, though. Hard to know for sure.

The Darkening timeline proceeds to the next year! My feeling is that, like The Great Pendragon Campaign, the passage of years is important enough that I should be keeping the Adventure phases of each year short and snappy, and focus more on the heroes’ lives during Fellowship.

<- Part 2 | Part 4 ->

27 thoughts on “The One Ring: Derpening of Mirkwood, Pt 3”

  1. If I recall correctly, there is an optional system in Rivendell that makes treasure a bit more interesting, because it lets the GM make special treasure lists that are customized to characters, and allows players to take the special treasures instead of treasure points.

  2. Adam D yeah, I’ve read that. That whole system is a tiny bit confusing to me but I want to swing back around on it. It would be neat to have more of a choice and split up the drive to chase Treasure: some folks want political sway, some folks want swag.

  3. What I do with encounters is:

    (*) I skip introductions and go round the table, having everyone play it out and roll (or Trait it once per Encounter). If someone wants to not roll, that’s fine. Skip them, but then they’re “out” and the encounter relies on others.

    (*) Going over Tolerance in a tense encounter is a case of nope, you’ve blown it, you effectively have no successes. That way there’s tension if the players decide to push on further or stop before it’s too late.

    (*) An Eye of Sauron costs a point of Tolerance, even on a success.

    This worked quite well for me in a political conflict the PCs were in to make peace between the Bardings and Dwarves over a piece of treasure. They were down to one Tolerance and didn’t have enough successes for the ideal outcome.

    If there isn’t the tension; no failure or partial success conditions, I’ll skip the encounter system. I will do it with Patrons if the PCs want a favour, or the first time (kind of a job interview), but not in general.

  4. Having the Eye cost Tolerance, that’s interesting.

    One angle I was considering is that Tolerance is the total # of rolls you get, period, for any given intent. And then stick to the success table: 1 success is basically a near-loss, 2-3 is okay, 4-5 is good, 6-7 is extraordinary. That still doesn’t really give me the scaffolding for conflicts of interest and criss-crossing intents. How do you know when the NPC has earned a compromise of some sort?

  5. And Standing is great! It feeds into interfering with “big events” (though I wish the rules here were more concrete) and Tolerance in your own culture or where you have a title. It’s kind of a big deal in the fiction.

    Mind you, my PCs really want to increase Standing at the moment.

  6. Well, anything below 4 successes is a compromise for me, and anything below 6 may be less than ideal. I’m really interested now in trying out your idea of Tolerance being the total number of rolls you get.

    The encounter system can feel too easy on the PCs. I’ve considered raising the difficulty above 14 when an NPC works against them. Probably add their Attribute level if they have relevant skills or traits. I’m definitely trying that next time.

  7. Yeah, I wish there was a more direct and obvious interaction between standing and the encounters.

    Oh, and holdings are great! I’ve been using them heavily in my current campaign. The players are super invested in them.

  8. Interesting notes on Encounters, Paul. I’ve had little experience with them, and thought I wasn’t getting them right, but it sounds like you had a similar experience… bummer. I feel like cutting those out entirely.

    The Math part… yeah. It’s easy to get lost in the mechanics. I’ve had problems with my group in the Journeys, where it all just becomes a series of dry, storyless mechanical mathematical procedure. Soulless. 

    Funny how Burning Wheel, a game which might have similar problems when it comes to engaging subsystems like DoW or Fight! doesn’t have that problem (at least for me and my group). Engaging those complex mechanics and rolls is fun to us. Probably because each roll is BW is deeply tied to the fiction, whereas in Journey, only some rolls seem to be more important than others. It can feel like just bookkeeping.  The actual EFFECTS of the Journey only come into play during a combat encounter.

    Good stuff, as always. Keep it coming.

  9. Paul Mitchener​ yeah, I’d treat anything less than 5, I think, successes as some kind of compromise. And 7+ actually overshooting their intent. With 5-6 basically being the bullseye.

    But this leaves out the NPC making their own rolls, you know? RAW is very much built on the assumption that only heroes have anything to say.

  10. Paul Beakley​​​, oh, that’s interesting, the idea of 7+ introducing complications. So not only have you impressed the Elven King, and he’s given you permission to do what you’re asking, but his daughter has fallen in love with you.

    NPC rolls would deviate for me so much from RAW that I’d end up writing a new social system…

    One place I might be going wrong is skipping the introduction phase. That could be pinch point where only certain skills (and perhaps certain characters) come into play, and makes life more difficult. I didn’t quite understand, and it struck me as some fiddliness which I ignored, but I ought to take a look again at the original rules.

  11. TOR is dumb. There are so many beautiful and innovative ideas in that game that makes me want to love it to pieces. But… Every single one of them suffers from unforgivable flaws and leaves a half-baked taste in my mouth.

    So, you are not alone Paul Beakley. Not at all. I’ve reached a point where I buy new supplements for the ambience of setting and art alone. If I ever try to play this again I will most likely use another system. Last time we tried FATE. It went so-so. I’m tempted to do a 13th Age hack since I know I love that game.

  12. So I am fine with the player who says “meh, I can go insane 4 more times, let’s try it!” because I think that player is engaging with a lead foot on the accelerator of their character, which I think makes perfect sense in a RPG played by grownups – there’s a strong possibility that this IS going to be the biggest deal thing that they handle, not because of anything in the game or indeed in anyone’s plans, but someone might have a child or might have ANOTHER child or they might move away or someone might get tired of it (I suspect your fellow players can sense your frustrations with the game and may have good reason to believe that the game might not last that much longer), or someone’s work schedule might change, and the game might evaporate.  In such a circumstance you are insane NOT to treat the immediate crisis as the biggest one in the game; after all, it might be the last.

  13. Jason Corley You make an excellent point! If that’s the point, I’m totally cool with it. And that’s where I just don’t know whether to treat the player as an honest broker or not. It’s something that is more apparent at the table than in a discussion thread. I just can’t tell, and there’s some history/baggage at work as well.

  14. Ara Kooser Okay so recap my replies from the other thread:

    1) Looks like RAW to me. I’m not seeing any major change to what you’re describing.

    2) Totally understand that 1 Encounter = 1 Intent.

    3) You mentioned that your players actually do fail their Encounter tests, which makes Tolerance matter. I cannot say I’ve ever seen my players fail an Encounter test (and if they do, they typically spend Hope). I suppose if two things were true — if Tolerance is secret (I’ve been lazy about it during our learn-to-play phase) and if the encounter is actually a failure should Tolerance be exceeded — then this might be more interesting. Now it’s a press-your-luck game, and I can get behind that.

    What continues to be dissatisfying to me in Encounters:

    * The target is always TN14, I think, barring a fiat-y adjustment by the GM for in-fiction reasons. Which I’m not opposed to BUT this is the kind of heavy lifting I don’t love to do in a game without guidelines.

    * The NPCs don’t seem to ever roll in an Encounter. Every time I say it I think that’ can’t be right.

    * The direction of the Encounter, as written, is always toward ever-greater success. Because it looks like the NPCs never roll, it’s really a test of just how well you succeed, which to me is uninteresting.

    * As written, Tolerance doesn’t mean the encounter failed. It just means you can’t propose any further tasks. 

    Oh wait, there’s also a sentence that basically says “or it means whatever the GM wants.” Oh FFS.

    Encounters suck, man. Just writing about them pisses me off now. I gotta fix this.

  15. Ara Kooser I. Uh. But why?! Like, what does that even look like in the fiction?

    Are folks just more resistant and grumpy out in the countryside? I mean that’s a super interesting take. I’d have never in a million years considered that.

  16. Hmhmhm. Thinking.

    It’s a really interesting idea. I was gonna say, at first, that my impulse would be to look at the Shadow rating of the area rather than the landscape, and they tend to be related (but not always). But then again I suppose you could look at the Shadow level as guidance as to how exceeding Tolerance may play out: a polite end to the talks with King Bard in the middle of the free lands, total fucking chaos in the darklands.

    Mostly the whole thing feels so slippery and fiat-y at this point that it’s not really a system at all. Heck, it’s barely guidelines.

  17. Ain’t that the truth.

    You’ve really got me thinking about this landscape TN thing. You could really apply it to everything everywhere, couldn’t you? I mean the net result is to tweak the Hope drain based on the landscape.

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