TOR No More: Final Wrap-Up

Once again, real life has reared its ugly head. We’ve got some big life changes coming for one of our regulars, summer schedules are notoriously hectic, and it’s just been very hard to keep a dense game going in the long run. So I’m putting The One Ring to bed for now. We might maybe swing back around to it but if I’m being honest, we probably won’t. Pendragon and Mutant: Year Zero were both excellent long-form games and we could return to either, but probably won’t.

It’s been a good run! 10 sessions I think? And I have no regrets at all running it. Honestly I don’t even have an especially interesting postmortem. Here’s all I’ve got:

* The traits are the killer app of the game, even moreso than the Hope/Shadow economy. I think my favorite thing about them, truly innovative, is the mechanism that allows the players to roll dice when they normally “couldn’t.” That of course requires some sense of when dice can and cannot be rolled, which the game has (making common skill rolls during combat) but also is kind of hazy on (the GM has hard-framed a scene or consequence, maybe not knowing they’re doing hard framing, and the players intercede via a Trait).

There’s also this thing where a Trait can be used in lieu of a roll (that you could have already made) to succeed with a normal success. That works pretty well, but more than once there was this kind of vagueness about a) did the Trait give me the opportunity to roll? and b) so does that mean I’ve now succeeded? Just requires the GM always stay on top of the logic of the scene.

I like how Traits interact with advancement. I love how Shadow Traits bite you in the ass, actually making the game harder instead of easier as you advance. But maybe the most potent medicine in the cabinet is the fact that they provide such great guidance to play — especially the Shadow traits. There’s something super-powerful in knowing the track you’re on: players feel empowered to play their worst selves, even when motivated by nothing more than the virtue of doing so.

Traits are great. Highest marks.

* I should have paid much more attention to the Company Goal element. It’s so subtle but so important that all the players hash things out among themselves. It’s most definitely the game’s fruitful void: no social combat rules, no leverage, pure negotiating and compromising. It means the players themselves have no tools to go to, so I think quieter and less assertive players get the short end of the stick (the very oldest of table problems), but it is what it is.

It was super interesting to watch the Company Goal fall apart whenever I didn’t step in and ensure that it had been discussed. And it most assuredly did fall apart every time I didn’t specifically stop and make them settle on something. There was one outright argument during one of the sessions, even. Negotiating the Company Goal is completely core to the experience; if I ever return to this, I’ll make damned good and sure it happens every session.

It’s not perfect, though, since the GM (Loremaster whatever) has to spend a good bit of time in prologue before every session before the players have enough information to settle on a plan. Not the worst, not by a long shot, but it’s part of the game’s form factor.

I think if you stick to formalizing a Company Goal every session and you can be a hardass about rewarding XPs based on it, it’s a very solid method of encouraging communal effort. I’ve kind of gotten soft in my old age, though, and don’t love arguing with argumentative players who insist their efforts were aligned with the Company Goal (even if indirectly, obliquely, or by accident).

* Hope/Shadow is a very satisfying play economy. It evokes all the right feelings, gives the players both a sense of safety (I can succeed!) and a sense of dread (but at what cost?!). Solid design.

* There are tons of finicky little things about the game I wish were formally hammered out. True of every game ever published, of course. No “buts” attached to that. It’s just a fact. I do think the underlying philosophies of TOR’s game design are conflicted enough, though, that it’s hard to really nail down what they were going for all the time: trad with some new school gewgaws, with an extra layer of trad assumptions you have to filter for when trying to use the gewgaws. I’ve talked about that in previous threads and I don’t feel like re-litigating any of that. It makes me especially happy to play games where design and mechanical intent is straightforward (Burning Wheel, Apocalypse World, Fate, etc.).

* This was the first sprawling game in a very long time where I didn’t doodle up a Relationship Map. I love me a Relationship Map! But the fact that the Company travels around so much meant that I really needed to have lots of community-based r-maps maybe interconnected somehow. Some elaborate 3D thing maybe. Instead, I did up little tent cards for every NPC, with name and descriptive stuff on the front and notes to myself on the back. I’d set those up to indicate who was present in a scene.

This meant that sometimes I forgot about certain NPCs until I reviewed my notes (one sheet per year of play). It also meant that I could sometimes surprise the players when an old face reappeared. Not purposeful, just how it worked out.

* Related to the lack of R-map, kind of: I made a real effort to make all the Free Folk by-default friendly to the Company. Like, they might be suspicious of the Company if they wandered into a remote village, but the Company could reliably not worry about getting stabbed in their sleep everywhere all the time. Kind of an anti-Circle of Hands vibe, you know? I think the Cultural Title rules went a long way toward making this happen: oh hey, you’re heroes of the Woodmen, aren’t you? You’re one of Beorn’s thanes, awesome. And so on.

Sad but true: I don’t think hardly any of my other games feature friendly NPCs that will go out of their way to find, greet and be nice to the PCs. But, like, in our last session, Gierbald the Kinslayer (he’s nicer than his title makes him sound) kind of stumbled back into the Company after several years of absence and they all partied together. It was nice! And I think it helped the players feel not so isolated and distrustful.

That’s something I’m going to bring to future games: not everyone needs to apply negative pressure to the characters. Positive pressure, or even just friendship, is okay! (Duh.)

* I have Opinions on how to run the game as a one-shot. I think it could be done! Like as a convention game or whatever. I may try it. Mostly it involves building pregens that are pre-loaded with a Shadow Trait and maybe some temporary Shadow when the game starts. Get the economic pressures into play a little faster.

Annnnnd that’s it. Hope you’ve enjoyed the TOR posts. Thinking about what to run next!

The AP Series

19 thoughts on “TOR No More: Final Wrap-Up”

  1. I’ll miss your One Ring posts. But as you say, 10 sessions ain’t bad, and it sounds like you got a lot out of it.

    In my games of One Ring as one shot, it’s failed in a single 3 to 4 hour slot for me (down maybe to me being too ambitious), but as a “double” game played over two slots it was superb. I’ll be doing more convention stuff in that format.

  2. “That’s something I’m going to bring to future games: not everyone needs to apply negative pressure to the characters. Positive pressure, or even just friendship, is okay!”

    I often forget to apply this principle, but it’s usually magic when I remember, especially for my long-running games.

    I’ll not likely play it, but thanks for your TOR posts.

  3. On the point about NPCs, I once had a good talk with a fellow who ran really good games where players would invest heavily in the world and in helping people and building communities.

    As I talked to him it seemed like one of his core secrets was having NPCs who aren’t total dicks. Which.. duh, right?

    I think sometimes we’re so interested in drama and hard choices and “realistic” people that we forget part of drama and hard choices and realism is that lots of people are decent, do form communities, etc. And if you want players to really invest in NPCs and build ties with them, having them be, you know, not total dicks all the time is helpful.

    If all your NPCs are difficult, annoying, etc. (much less bad, hateful, or outright liars) then your PCs are going to be heavily incented to be libertarian loner heroes. Because who wants to build a commune with a bunch of assholes?

  4. Oh man so true.

    It’s been super interesting to see which players really cottoned to the social landscape of (my) TOR and which ones did not. The combination of Company Goal and a world where folks are mostly decent, I think, fucked with their expectations so much that half my players felt frustrated and maybe didn’t have that much fun.

    There’s definitely something to be said for the grim satisfaction of crushing your opposition in Burning Wheel, but this game ended up being the opposite of that experience.

    Meanwhile, at least one and very often two of my regulars keep bugging me to run BW again. Now I’m thinking about how I might do it in such a way as to foil their urge for that grim satisfaction! Which makes me a terrible person, maybe. Customer is always right, etc. blah.

  5. Hm. All-friendly Burning Wheel… where the wheel burns so that you can roast marshmallows on it.

    I’m 100% in.

    Instinct: always bring a guitar to any gathering, in case there is a singalong.

  6. Songs!

    The TOR Songs rules from Rivendell are marvelous! I even enjoyed the occasional squirm of discomfort when the Hobbit called for everyone to sing “the traveling song” or whatever.

    I kind of hoped someone would write some lyrics and make new Company members learn it before they could go out.

  7. I find uniformly oppositional NPCs tiresome, it feels like I’m not getting anywhere. One of my beliefs is that players invest primarily in the things they invent or shape (e.g. their characters, NPCs they created in their backstory, their plans and the consequences of those plans) – so having an NPC come by and saying, “Hey, nice job taking down that orcnest!” is a cheap way for the GM to telegraph that they’re building on player offers.

    One of the things I’ve found in the Grunweld campaign is that 100% of the time I had an NPC do that, the PCs immediately asked them for a favor. This strikes me as exceedingly functional.

  8. If somebody could advise on how to prep TOR as a 4-shot before September, I’d be interested.

    If someone wanted to come to Minneapolis and run TOR as a 4-shot in late September, that would be even better.

  9. I would recommend that if one is going to go to Minneapolis they do so no later than November.

    Because after that it pretty much sucks for six months.

Leave a Reply