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.