Monday, January 26, 2015

Recap of The One Ring: The Council of the North

Yesterday, I had seven(!) friends over for the next session of my One Ring game, called "The Council of the North." In the adventure, the fellowship traveled from Rhosgobel to Dale to attend the Council of the North, where delegates from the Elves of Mirkwood, the Kingdom Under the Mountain, and Laketown appealed to King Bard for aid.

The trek across the Wilderland was fairly uneventful, until the fellowship ignored the advice of the elves within their own group and decided to take the Old Forest Road. There, the Shadow still was very strong, the Road overgrown and spiders weaving webs across its length. The fellowship endured grave hardship...including a massive battle with the spiders...before they finally arrived in Dale, worn down but relatively unharmed.

In Dale, the dwarf, elf, and Laketown delegates (each were played by a PC) made their case to King Bard. The elves requested aid to help clear the Old Forest road and reopen it to travel. The dwarves were resuming deep mining operations in the Kingdom Under the Mountain and were running into roving goblin tribes. And the new Laketown was without a trained milita, which they needed to help enforce the ban on travel to the ruins of old Laketown, where townsfolk afflicted with dragon sickness were drowning themselves as they searched the lake floor for gems and gold that fell from Smaug during his final attack.

Mechanically, I handled this as a series of skill rolls, though each roll had to be justified in the fiction by a line of argument (e.g. The dwarf would say something like "helping us with our problems will allow trade to flourish throughout the region," and then I'd let him use his persuade skill). The companions of the fellowship unaffiliated with the delegations had the King's ear as a neutral party, and thus were able to influence him with whatever path they felt was appropriate. After some frantic, rushed debate (we were running out of time), the elf delegation won, and so King Bard will lend his aid to cleansing the Old Forest Road of the Shadow. No doubt the fellowship's own adventures there influenced their opinions!

Overall, the session went well. Here are the things I liked:

1. The procedural nature of the system continues to be a lot of fun for me. The standardized way travel, combat, and encounters are handled allowed us to cover long stretches of time relatively quickly. What might have taken several sessions in other RPGs was covered in about three hours, here.

2. I left most of the journey "open form", meaning I let the fellowship decide how simple or complex they wanted it. In between Travel rolls, I let the players run their own scenes, where they got to illustrate their character's traits. Optionally, I let them put their skills to the test, as well, with success granting them Advancement points, and failure penalizing them in some way (though I don't think anyone failed a skill test in this manner). This seemed to work very well, and allowed the travel to flow.

And here are a few things I didn't like:

1. I never thought I'd ever have this problem, but I had too many players. Six is a stretch. Seven was a mess! It was a fun, lovable mess, but it was definitely a mess, with all the side conversations, wise-cracks, and meanderings that a larger group tends to have. The dramatic nature of The One Ring was poorly suited to handle this, and quite frankly, I was, too!

2. Further compounding matters, three of the seven players were not present at the last session, and one of the three had to wait to make her character till the day of. So the first hour of the session was helping with character creation and explaining the system to the others. Combine this with the problems listed in #1, above, and it was surprising we even got as much accomplished as we did!

3. I was overprepared for the previous session, and underprepared for this one. I had figured that the procedural systems to the game, plus the players' scene setting and the Council "mini-game", would have been enough, but a few issues came up during the game I wasn't ready for. This of course happens in any good roleplaying game, but these were issues that, in retrospect, I could have seen coming. Combat, for example; that big fight scene with the spiders was improvised off a Hazard roll. I had no combat encounters planned in advance, and was quite happy about that. It would have helped, though, if I had gone over the monster stats earlier, brushed up on combat, and made sure I had a balanced, fun combat encounter ready to go, if I needed one. I think I scrambled well enough, but the resulting encounter ate up minutes that probably would have been better spent developing the Council scenes.

So overall, it was a good, though not great, session. I had a lot of fun, and I look forward to the next one!

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