My gaming group gathered together to play some board games last fall, reconvening after our Deadlands Reloaded game had come to a premature conclusion due to summer. We hadn’t convened to play anything for months, so we settled down to give some board and card games—both new and old—a whirl.
I brought along my copy of Hobbit Tales from the Green Dragon Inn. I had purchased the game at Gen Con 2014 after hearing good reviews about it and I had the chance to play it a few times with other friends prior to this get-together. I figured it be a good match for these folks, given our long history of roleplaying and collegiate theatre. I wasn’t disappointed (aside from the fact the game doesn’t contain enough scoring chits for larger groups) and we had a great deal of fun coming up with implausible and highly-entertaining tall tales as the game played on.
While we were playing Hobbit Tales, one of my regulars, Scott, remarked that he owned a copy of The One Ring RPG and thought it looked promising, but wasn’t sure how it would play, given that it relies a lot on the game master being able to quickly incorporate player proposals into the game. I also owned a copy of the original slipcase rules and was impressed with both the games design and appearance. A number of people whose opinions I respect had also chimed in about how well it plays. Despite these positives, I doubted that I’d ever be able to wrangle four people into playing The One Ring given its Tolkien origins. While most of my players and friends are readers and fans of fantasy literature, we’re assuredly not an enclave of Tolkien scholars.
Scott’s statement about the game requiring a good game master to play it effectively smacked of a challenge to me. I after all once ran a game of Dallas the Roleplaying Game set in the far future on the grounds that “There are no bad games, just bad game masters.” I saw this as an opportunity to give the game trial run and see if I could pull off a Tolkien-based RPG. I proposed we get together and play through the introductory adventure included in the game, “The Marsh Bell,” and see how we liked The One Ring. Scott, three of my other longtime players (Dan, Dave, and Tom), and my girlfriend, Mary (herself a hardcore fan of The Lord of the Rings), agreed and we set a date to get together and create characters.
On October 27, 2014, we sat down to embark on a trial session of The One Ring. We spent the first part of the evening creating PCs (which took some time given the two rulebooks amongst five players), and the end result was a company comprised of Amaline the Beorning (Mary), Calvagh Flame-Fur of the Lonely Mountain (Tom), Denethor of the Woodland Realm (Dave), Fie Coppercrusher of the Lonely Mountain (Scott), and The Silent of the Woodmen (Dan). We had just enough time to play through the opening act, a meeting with Glóin wherein he hired the company to seek out the famed dwarf Balin and another mysterious companion believed lost on the road.
We played through the rest of the scenario over the course of the following weeks, concluding the adventure with a triumphant rescue (I’ll skip the details so as to not spoil it for others or bore folks with a prolonged actual play summary). We took a vote and all agreed to continue on with the game. Because I wanted this to be both fun and a minimum of prep work for me, I declared we’d play through the adventures contained in Tales from Wilderland, the first anthology of adventures produced by Cubicle 7 for game. We’ve just completed the third of those included scenarios and interest remains high. In fact, I’ve even been working on a prolonged campaign arc of my own devising that deals with the potential return of the Witch-king of Angmar during the years between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Our next session should see the company beginning to become embroiled in those dark events by their own choosing.
We try and squeeze a session of TOR in every other Sunday, but real life often pushes the game back an extra week, meaning we meet either every two or three weeks. We’ve just concluded our fourteenth session, making it the longest campaign I’ve run in about three years, and are scheduled to play this coming Sunday. From the Loremaster’s chair, the players still seem enthused about the game. We did have two players create new characters to address both the company’s utter ineptitude when it came to social situations and because they wanted to try character creation again now that they had a better grasp of the rules. Exit Calvagh and Fie and enter Dordin of the Lonely Mountain (Tom) and Milo Puddifoot of the Shire (Scott). The group also picked up a sixth player, John (or Jase, depending on whose speaking), and his character of Brand the Barding. The company now has representatives of all six starting cultures included in the rulebook and a wide array of skills applicable to most situations.
All in all, I’m finding that despite being set in Middle-Earth, I don’t feel tied down with canon. The default setting of Wilderland has enough room to pursue new ideas and introduce new characters, even when including the additional material developed by Cubicle 7. The rule mechanics are a nice mix of old school and new school, and excel at capturing the feeling of Tolkien’s tales. For a person who never expected to be running a game in Middle-Earth, I’m certainly having a blast doing so! I hope we continue on for a while and the company becomes the heroes they truly deserve to be.
In the future, I’ll have more to say about The One Ring campaign and some of the material I’ve developed for it. But we’re also looking at another round of the SBG before next week’s TOR game, so my mind is slowly being dragged back towards the miniatures game. We’ll take a look at Battle Games in Middle-Earth issue #2 next and the forces of Good that came with it.