Monday, January 12, 2015

Play Report: The One Ring, Jan. 11th

Yesterday, I got together with four of my friends and ran a game of The One Ring. It was an adventure I had written myself, called "The Hound of Sauron." It was my first time running this game, and the first session I have GM'd since September (with a single one-shot run back in November). Three of the four players made their characters in-session. Character creation is very swift and easy. I'd put it about the same level as Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. 

Weeks before the adventure, I had made an arrangement with one of the players. He wanted to play a Ranger of the North, which was tricky because there aren't any Rangers of the North in Wilderland, the default setting for The One Ring. I ended up basing the entire plot of the adventure on making this exception; I told him he was traveling into Wilderland to hunt a hound of Sauron, named Roshr, who had slain many of his brethren and then traveled East. In the opening moments of the adventure, the Ranger met the three other elf of Mirkwood, a Barding, and a Beorning...while in pursuit of the beast. They formed a fellowship and vowed to send the monster back to the Shadow!

Most of the adventure was travel, with the Ranger following Roshr's trail. The hound's trail eventually led into Mirkwood, in the Narrows of the Forest. Upon entering the forest, the fellowship ran into Radagast the Brown and beseeched him for aid. Radagast refused to directly involve himself out of fear of scaring off Roshr (he'd rather the beast be drawn out and slain then to continue to skulk in the forest, working for the Enemy), but did say that Twitters, one of his nightingale friends, would watch over them.

Finally, the fellowship entered a clearing in the woods and confronted Roshr. Roshr had two warg packmates with him, and together, they attacked! The fellowship emerged victorious. Twitters flew off and informed Radagast that the deed had been done, to which Radagast went to the party in his rabbit-drawn sleigh and gave them a lift to Rhosgobel, which became the party's first sanctuary.

Things I Liked/Went Well:

1. The system: The One Ring has all kinds of little procedural systems in it (journey resolution, combat, encounters, fellowship phase actions), codefied and fairly well-defined, that kept the game running extremely smoothly. In fact, The One Ring seems extremely well-suited to running very short games (1-2 hr sessions), giving a complete gaming experience that doesn't feel rushed or cut off arbitrarily.

2. The setting: You absolutely cannot go wrong with Middle Earth. The world has so much history and culture. It can feel a little intimidating, and there is the whole Imaginary Ceiling thing, but Tolkien's world has tons of places to explore and create stories in without ever bumping into a continuity problem. And because of the way society in Middle Earth is set up, with divided cultures spread over hundreds of miles, you don't even have to know that much, because chances are the average peasant doesn't know that much, either! But if you take the time to learn the history around the adventure, it can be very intrinsically rewarding for a One Ring GM...

3. The adventure: "The Hound of Sauron" was one of the easiest complete adventures I've ever written. Though I spent a week or two brainstorming the story, I had all the mechanical details I needed written out in front of me in barely a day's work. As a result of all those cool little sub-systems inside the game, I didn't have to worry much at all about how I needed to frame things, what kind of rolls I'd need everyone to make, stats and difficulty numbers, etc. Most of that is already covered in the system itself, so just the smallest amount of prep is really necessary. In fact, despite the intricate setting, running The One Ring prep-less would actually be quite doable, since, again, the game's subsystems for journeys, encounters, and combat are very capable of carrying most of the action for you. This frees you up to think about narrative details and just getting it all to mesh together.

Things that don't work/disappointed me:

1. The final conflict: In the One Ring, NPCs have an "attribute level" that is their default stat for everything. This attribute level is on a scale of 1-10, with the bigger movers and shakers of the world (Beorn, King Bard, etc.) in the 10-range. Roshr, the hound of Sauron, had an attribute level of 6, so I thought he'd be a capable, if not difficult, challenge for the beginning fellowship, especially with two wargs (attribute level 5), helping him out. However, I learned the hard way that attribute level is not equivalent to, say, D&D's encounter levels.  Turns out that attribute level is not a very good indicator of equivalent fighting prowess. Only one member of the party got seriously injured (and even that wasn't life-threatening). One of the wargs got one-shotted by the Elf; the other got two-shotted by the Beorning. And Roshr himself lost over half his endurance in the opening volley of the combat (a mere two arrows hitting him). Granted, the players were rolling exceptionally well, but still, what I thought would be one of the harder fights my group's ever had was actually a steam-roll. It was fun and exciting, but also just a little underwhelming. I'm definitely going to have to take a much closer look at the bestiary and make sure I understand the tactical uses of each monster when I create another combat for this fellowship!

2. Roleplaying (or lack thereof): With the game's systems doing so much of the heavy-lifting for you, it's easy to get lazy and just let the adventure turn into a series of dice rolls, which I kind of did, especially in the second half of the adventure. It's important to build-in some opportunities in the adventures to let the fellowship bond with each other, roleplay, and generally have an opportunity not just to do heroic stuff, but to act like heroes doing that kind of heroic stuff.

Overall, though, I think the adventure went really well, and I look forward to getting this game to the table again soon!
The Narrows, where the adventure's climax took place, is in Southern Mirkwood, southeast of Rhosgobel and northeast of Dul Guldur.

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