The One Ring: Derpening of Mirkwood, Pt 8

I went to bed thinking it was just the worst session ever, but woke up thinking the game is stronger than ever. Weird!

It’s been maybe 3 weeks since we played. One missed week is usually enough to let the fizz out of the bottle, and more than half the time it’s me having spotted something shiny on the ground (hello Undying). Less than half the time it’s because nobody’s really paying much attention to the storylines, and they’ve got a game-fiction memory the size of a tiny commemorative thimble.

Last night we were down a player, and will be next week as well. We agreed we’d continue, especially since the missing player is also the one who took his Dwarf into retirement after his fourth bout of madness. There’s another character, a Barding, who’s also at his fourth bout of madness and decided to not retire him. Which is great! But on his very first roll, he rolled an Eye and that was that.

Thoughts in bullet form for your bathroom reading pleasure:

  • When the Barding player hit his fourth bout of madness, I had an idea about how it would play out so, per RAW, I took over the scene. But just previously, when the Dwarf experienced his fourth bout, I let him choose. And I felt weird about that. Lots of conflicting agendas happening: my desire for that scene to play out the way I wanted it to, not super-trusting the player to take the reins and really chew the scenery with his villainy.

Well I was stupid as hell, because that dude chewed the scenery on his fifth and final break! Having smothered a grievously wounded Ceawin in his sleep, the Barding had expected to take over the woodmen of East Bight (because he’s treacherous and scheming and all that). Well, the East Bight families decided instead to have a folk moot and decide among the families who would lead them. So the Barding stands up to make his case and eyeballs the roll. This time I let him play out his final break, and it was fabulous: he made a marvelous villain speech (who else do I have to kill to take the crown? Wasn’t killing Ceawin enough? You fools! etc.), tried to murder the crowd’s favored candidate on the spot, and fluttered away to the woods to continue scheming.

tl;dr let your players do their bouts of madness and give them total license to chew the scenery. It plays out just as well as Darkest Self in Monsterhearts, and if your players aren’t feeling it — you know, they want to mitigate and finesse and edge-case it — this is not the game for them.

  • Having to create a new character on the spot and shoehorn him into the company, we only had a couple hours to play out 2952. Which turns out to be fine, because it’s a pretty short year: march down the Old Forest Road to help an NPC on a fetch-quest. The fact the game survived a 50% turnover in the company and we had to do chargen on the spot should have been the death blow, but it was not. So yay us/them.
  • The Eye of Mordor rules + everything is blighted = wow, hard game. Mirkwood is just the worst fucking place. We started with a completely fresh character and he’s already had his first bout of madness, having spent three weeks stumbling around in the forest. They had the pursuit run up three times in the forest, which I used to juice up otherwise normal Hazards into full-blown terrifying scenes. My favorite: I drew the Hidden Lair card from Hobbit Tales and it became a freakshow temple built out of Dwarven paving stones in the middle of the Old Forest Road, a honeypot trap laid by the Ghost of the Forest (a nazgul). Nazguls are way bad news one at a time.
  • On the other hand, lengthy trips into the forest are starting to feel a teeny bit procedural, especially when it’s a roll-rich environment. There’s a lot of math setting up the Journey: 18 days in the Heart of Mirkwood in the summer means 3x TN18 Travel rolls and daily Corruption tests. Combined with Eye of Mordor, you do not go into the forest without the Enemy knowing you’re there. You just don’t. But it’s also a fairly heavy improvisational load for me to come up with stuff that frequently. It’s not terrible! But I think I need to brainstorm Mordor pursuit scenes in advance and keep them in my pocket.
  • Last night, I walked away thinking I’d just call this game and start something fresh. I’m so pleased that we’re not, though: we’ve lost two excellent character threads but gained an amazing villain (the treacherous Barding!) and injected some fresh new ideas into the company.


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26 thoughts on “The One Ring: Derpening of Mirkwood, Pt 8”

  1. Oh man, I now regret my game being on a long break. I hope we can get back to it soon. If not, I can console myself that my planned Hangout campaign will be there before I know it.

    I also did the weird haunted abandoned dwarf place by the road. And another Waystation now occupied by orcs. There was a quest to gather allies to clear that one out.

  2. I have an explicit goal with this game to develop some long-form campaign chops. I’ve run long games before! But under a badly unexamined traddy regime. I’m trying very hard to be more thoughtful and purposeful about laying different groundwork for the long haul. Darkening of Mirkwood is a big help with that, for sure.

  3. Journey rules can become just a mechanical slog of dice rolling, which kind of clashes with my natural inclination to Let It Ride. Glad to see you’re still having fun with it.

  4. Eloy Cintron it’s pretty great as long as you’re ready with the improv! Which I was not last night. The Hobbit Tales cards help some. It’s not perfect. I’m in dire need of ideas that aren’t big fight scenes.

  5. Long-form campaigns are my very favorite. It sounds like you have a great start to this one. Villains are best when the players know them, and they certainly know this one.

  6. Paul Beakley in your copious free time…I’d love to hear specifics and examples of using those cards. I was underwhelmed with Hobbit Tales as a game, but the idea of using them for TOR was very appealing, but then I never got to.

  7. Paolo Greco​ it depends! Come on man, this is RPGs, zillions of different styles out there.

    In my personal experience, I’ve run into players and play styles where the first and highest priority is to mitigate risk. Well, so, if I give that player the mandate “to really chew up the scenery, show us how terrible you can be!”, it would not be surprising at all to have that sort of player minimize the threat: instead of flying into a wild ranting rage, he slips off in the darkness, never to be seen again. Or whatever.

    This player has, in fact, on occasion tried to lawyer his way through scenes: I can’t make that target, what if I go for something smaller? I don’t want to face that consequence, so I’ll change my goal. Which, you know, kind of depends on the game you’re playing. Some games are built for that negotiation, and some are not.

    Lots of ways to play, lots of different tastes and needs. For a player who needs to mitigate risk, giving them the directive to be a bad guy is just going to stress them out and disappoint everyone with different expectations. And I’m totally not judging them! Although I find risk-mitigation difficult, personally, for me to GM toward and to play alongside.

  8. Ralph Mazza I just look at the image, the affected journey role, and the implied consequence. Really it’s no big deal. Just another thing to look at and think about, which is useful to me because I haven’t been working out Hazards and Hunts in advance.

    Probably good lonely fun would be to work those things out for each region. But wow that’s a lot of work.

  9. Ara Winter oh oh I wanted to mention! This time we ran the Mordor Hunt tokens out in the open. I liked it! They haaaated watching me gleefully splashing the pot as they ground through the Heart of Mirkwood, eyeballing and corrupting all the way. Three hunts! And they’re all ugh, just a plain hazard kthx.

  10. This post is just as interesting as the previous ones, but is pretty spoilery, about the ghost of Mirkwood…
    Nice reading, though, I wouldn’t let my PCs read this.

  11. When you were playing Mutant: Year Zero, you mentioned how the game had become too easy. Or atleast too predictable. Would you say TOR’s difficulty has swung too far in the other direction? Or is this more of a player skill thing, than system mechanic. When the player’s learn how to better manage their hope and shadow, will the difficulty ease up a bit? It sounds like, as they moving forward the game is only going to get harder. Anyways would love to hear your thoughts.

  12. Great idea, using the Hobbit Tales. I must pick them up and give them a try. Thanks for the Derpening! A most excellent read.

  13. Aaron Berger​​ interesting question! I love it. Okay.

    So the Mordor rules were a one-time escalation, right? Individual rolls aren’t any harder but there are many more of them now. And this game isn’t really built on interesting failure the way, say, Burning Wheel is. The mechanisms are nearly identical but the reward cycle is different.

    So instead of interesting failure being the main point of engagement, you’ve got hope/shadow management. You can succeed nearly always, but it’ll cost you. And Traits make it so you’ll succeed (almost) the rest of the time. If you’ve failed in TOR it’s on your terms. But all those extra rolls mean increasingly more chances to flub a roll, or spend precious hope.

    Now in some ways its most certainly getting harder for the characters! Specifically, permanent Shadow. Because along with that are new shadow traits, and an ever growing range for the GM to use them. The designers did a nice job of stepping around lots of obvious overlap.

    So…Yeah, I think in some ways the game is getting harder as they go. It’s really hard to get back hope. It’s impossible to rid yourself of permanent shadow. The more your Valor goes up, the fancier your gear gets (which the Eye pays attention to). The higher your skills get, the more expensive they are to level up (prompting you to not use Traits and instead gamble on rolls).

    Lots of layers of things affecting each other.

  14. If you’ve not picked it up yet, take a look at Journeys & Maps – it’s in PDF currently and out in print soon. It’s got pages and pages of ready made hazards, plus random tables for ruins and some non- hazard encounters too.

  15. Thanks so much. Makes me very excited to continue (or restart) my own stalled campaign. Couple of questions:

    1. Where do you get the Hobbit Tales cards? Is that a supplement?

    2. You reference The Eye several times – is that an in-game condition that activates at some point in the campaign?

    Thanks! Love the villain Barding. Corrupted PCs make the best bad guys.

  16. Artem Safarov nice!

    1. It’s its own game, actually. I got mine through Amazon.

    2. The Eye of Sauron rules are introduced in the Rivendell supplement.

  17. Just from a player’s perspective (Paul’s group) yes it’s all getting very dark. At first I was feeling the death of fun but then I realized the game is doing an extraordinary job of mimicking the rise of the shadow. The world is getting dark. Once I got over that fictional hurdle the whole thing feels right. By the way if you find a nice shiney sword don’t crit a nazgul with it.

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