[Actual Play] The One Ring 2e

Old Fezziwig

a man builds a city with banks and cathedrals
So I sat down with my buddy to start a game of The One Ring 2e earlier this week, and I thought that an actual play thread might be interesting.

Right now, it's just the two of us, one-on-one, and I didn't start him with any real particulars — the setting is well-established, and he's a Tolkien junkie, so I just gave him the book and asked him to make a character. What he came back with was Baldr, a Barding champion and the second son of a merchant family from Dale, still working for his father in Dale. Because the second edition assumes play in Eriador, I'm relying on the maps from the 1st edition of the game for Rhovanion. The assumptions are a little different, but they should work. (Or not, we'll find out if this is my first "mistake" or not, as the game goes on.)

Because I'm lazy busy, I did minimal prep, reskinning a location from Tales of the Lonelands to use for our first session. None of this prep was used, however, because we zigged rather than zagged on the first roll of the game. But I get ahead of myself.

We spent the first hour of our session talking through Baldr's family, his prospects, what they sell, where they go, and so on. I think my buddy expected this to some extent, as he was ready with the following information:

(1) Baldr's father is a merchant, prosperous and well-liked in Dale, with connections to King Bard;
(2) the family has a large three-story house in Dale;
(3) they trade metal goods, including weapons (including reselling Dwarven weapons!), throughout Rhovanion, including down to Rhûn [GM's contemporaneous mental note: what?], and they employ about 15-20 men;
(4) he has an older brother and younger brother;
(5) the older brother is set to inherit the family business;
(6) Baldr works as a caravan leader, delivering his family's goods throughout Wilderland (and apparently Rhûn, too);
(7) the younger brother does the same, but he didn't come back from the last trip, going missing/going dead in Rhûn two months ago (of course); and
(8) the only survivor of that caravan was the family's weaponmaster, who returned to Dale badly wounded two weeks ago. (Mixing sci-fi/fantasy classics, our reference point here was Duncan Idaho. Well, my buddy's reference point was Duncan Idaho. Mine was Gurney Halleck because it's been donks since I read Dune, and I haven't bothered to watch the new movie.)

So far, so good. We had a situation, and it was time for me as GM to start turning the screws. So I asked my first question: "What's your older brother's name?" This was greeted with an offer to tell me later. I insisted we name him now. (RPGs are fun!) We used the list of names in the book to give names to his family and the trading company. His father is Sigmarr and the proprietor of the Black Arrow Mercantile Company. His older brother is Arn, his younger brother is Torwald, the weaponmaster is Sigibert, and his sister and mother are both Walda. (That is, they're both named Walda. It's not a Chinatown situation, but, note-to-self, there's still time to ruin Tolkien.) Sigibert is a Woodman, and everyone else is a Barding. My buddy was surprised to find out Baldr had a younger sister, but he accepted this with good grace and we started working out relationships: Sigmarr (indifferent, business-minded), Arn (complicated, thinks Baldr's dumb), Torwald (good, but he's not around right now), Walda younger (close).

The other big question I had was to return to sort out this whole selling-weapons-to-Rhûn bit. So I asked if he thought Torwald was dead or missing. He's presumed dead, but Baldr thinks he's missing. And Baldr wants to go look for him. If he's dead, though, who killed him? Easterlings. "And your father still sells weapons down in Rhûn? To Easterlings?" Apparently, yes. I guess we all have to eat. (The specific answer here was, to me, brutally funny: his father asked himself, "how do we fix this by a process?" and decided that it "sucked, but life goes on." I think these were Denethor's words after he received news of Boromir's death, too.)

It's around now that we started play in earnest. It's 2965, Bard is King of the Kingdom of Dale, Dáin II Ironfoot is King under the Mountain, and Thranduil still rules the Woodland Realm. And Sigmarr, proprietor of the Black Arrow Mercantile Company, wants to hire some dwarven mercenaries to help guard his shipments of metal all over Rhovanion, and he's sending his heir and the spare out to the Iron Hills to find some. Strictly, TOR 2e starts the game in spring. I forgot this and started the game on 30 Narvinyë (Why? Because it was 30 January in real life <-- this is what we call "fixing things by a process").

While he was saddling the horses, Baldr noticed Walda (his sister) in the stables. She was up early. He finds out from her that Sigibert has gone missing. His room's made up, his stuff's gone, and he's taken his horse. Baldr says this won't do and heads up to his father's solarium to tell Sigmarr. On the way up, he meets Arn. Arn is not interested in changing plans. Baldr wants to ask Dad. Arn physically blocks Baldr from going up. I call for the first roll, a straight Persuade test. My buddy rolls the Eye of Sauron out of the gate and fails. (Zig -- or maybe Zigibert? -- which is the sound of my prep going in the round file.) Arn and Baldr head back down to the stables, grab two of their remaining men-at-arms, (Nari and Nefstan), and head due east to the Iron Hills.

Because this is the first session, I decided to engage the Journey rules so we could both get used to them, and we map out a seven-hex journey due East from Dale to the Iron Hills. Because they're a prosperous merchant family, they're well-equipped for winter travel, and this should be a milk run through regular, nondangerous wilderness. The first Travel roll fails, so one hex in, we have an event. I roll a Chance Meeting on the Event table and narrate Nari failing to return while he's out hunting for dinner. When Baldr follows him, he finds Nari sitting at a fire drinking ale with three dwarves. The dwarves are from the Iron Hills, heading to Dale. Their leader is Beli, and he's accompanied by his sister's sons, Borin and Burin. It turns out that orcs are starting to come down from the hills, and, with the reestablishment of the Kingdom under the Mountain, the Iron Hills are a little light on fighting men. They'll certainly ask Dáin for some help, but they're going to Dale to see if there might be some men willing to shore up their defenses. Baldr suggests joining their camps for the evening, and they accept.

(Full disclosure, I blew the Journey roll. There was supposed to be another test rolled here to determine whether Baldr suffers fatigue, but it worked out as an interesting narrative scene, and I'll just have to do better next time. My initial thought is that TOR 2e has gorgeous but poorly organized books, and that the processes of play are a little fuzzier than they seem.)

When Arn arrives with Nefstan, Baldr gives him the low down, which gives him an idea. Arn pitches that the dwarves should go see Sigmarr for help rather than King Bard, and Baldr supports him by breaking out the Good Apple Brandy, which is one of Baldr's useful items and gives a bonus on Enhearten rolls. Which is what we end up rolling here, to test Baldr's ability to properly share the brandy and show the dwarves a good time. I set out the stakes explicitly — success will mean that Beli and the lads go to Sigmarr, strengthening the relationship between Black Arrow Mercantile and the Iron Hills, but failure will mean that they'll go directly to King Bard and let them know that Sigmarr's trying to insert himself into the Kingdom's business. This is our first actual success, and Beli and the lads love the apple brandy, share their fine dwarven ale with Arn and Baldr, and everyone's friends. In the morning, as everyone's packing up, Baldr asks Beli about the situation in the Iron Hills. Beli tells him two things: (1) Grór II The Fortunate has been put in charge of the Iron Hills on Dáin's behalf, and his nickname is ironic — he's not lucky, he's useless, and fortunate to have fallen into a job above his station and competence. There's the suggestion that Dáin did this intentionally, as Grór is absolutely no threat to him whatsoever. (2) On the other hand, there is someone useful/promising. Beli says, "Nár is the dwarf that you want. He's got a touch of the adventurer in him."

This is where we wrapped up. It was a school night, as it were, and my buddy's on the East Coast. We're playing again in two weeks, when we'll pick up the journey to the Iron Hills and find out about Nár. I'm looking forward to it.

Edit: I should say that I'm relying on The Tolkien Gateway for all sorts of setting detail. Things like, who rules the Iron Hills after Dáin becomes King under the Mountain? When I get blanks, I start making things up. Which is probably apparent.
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Old Fezziwig

a man builds a city with banks and cathedrals
We finally picked this game up again last night and got a short session in. When we left off with Baldr and Arn, they were packing up their horses in the morning and exchanging goodbyes with Beli, Borin, and Burin. This is the morning of 1 Nénimë in game.

Before play started in earnest, we did chat a little bit about Black Arrow Mercantile Co. and their position on selling weapons to the Easterlings. My buddy's explanation was that Sigmarr mainly sold "implements" to the Easterlings, but, occasionally, a sword might fall off the wagon. (Which I can only assume is what their pamphlets say: Black Arrow Mercantile Co., Shovels, Rakes, Hoes, and Other Implements of Destruction.)

Clarification made, we picked up the journey to the Iron Hills again. In a broad sense, the end result of the journey was that it took, all told, about five days from Dale to the Iron Hills. (Two failed Travel rolls, and three successful ones got them into the gates of the Iron Hills in the late afternoon of the last day.) I forewent harsh consequences for the failed rolls, leaning into more atmospheric consequences. The first day, after the drunken revelry of the night before, was a bit of a slog and kind of just a miserable day of travel with everyone a bit hungover. Baldr attempted to liven things up with a funny story, but he failed, getting a couple courtesy chuckles from Nari and Nefstan. The next day was better in terms of travel, but the sounds of wolves in the distance at night put a bit of a damper on everyone's mood. The group has the sense of the wild closing in on them as they go to sleep. From here, things turn up. They make excellent time the next two days, catching a great view of the aurora over the Iron Hills the next night at they eat some potato and herb stew, which carries over into their last day of travel, with them reaching the gates on 4 Nénimë in the afternoon.

(I'm not entirely pleased with how the Journey rules work. Three rolls to figure out what's happening (one for distance traveled before an event, one for the target of the event, and one for the type of the event) kind of stopped play dead in their tracks. I feel like I have a better read on the process now, so I'm willing to keep on going with the RAW, but it's a lot of rolls to establish one thing. My Rolemaster and WFRP 2e books are looking askance at me right now, and their disappointment is palpable, but I said what I said.)

At the gates, Baldr and Arn notice that there's a token guard presence. Mostly older dwarves, all lightly armed and not at all the elite of whatever military arrangements Dáin has made. Baldr greets the dwarves most politely, sending Grór greetings from his father, and explaining his mission. He makes a point to bring up his brother and explain Black Arrow's aims here. Also, he asks to be directed to Nár. I feel like this is kind of a critical moment, so I call for a Courtesy roll. Determining what success would look like was easy: you'll be brought right to Nár. But describing failure was tricky. My initial thought was that Arn blows it by saying something rude or overly direct or haughty, but I wasn't convinced about that, so I asked my buddy, "Hey, is Arn good at his job? Or is in over his head?" Turns out Arn is good at his job. So we pivoted and set the stakes differently — Nár would be less accessible on a failure; basically, he'd be imprisoned. Getting his help would be much harder.

We didn't have to deal with that, though, as my buddy rolled well, getting a great success and having one Success die to spend on effect. He spent it on widening the impact of his greeting. I narrated a crowd of dwarves hearing his pitch to the castellan and it having a favorable impact on them. Mechanically, I told him that when he makes his pitch to ask Nár or Grór for help and men, he'd be favoured on the roll.

He and Arn are assigned an "attaché" from the dwarven military to assist them while they visit. His name is Frór, and he's lean with a red-plaited beard and wears light leather armor with ornamental metalwork. He's been assigned to them for the length of their stay and brings them to quarters appointed in the style of the Bardings over the gates, with a view into the valley. Arn, as the senior brother, gives Baldr leave to go find Nár and heads off into the halls of the Iron Hills to seek craftsdwarves and ale. It's an uneasy parting, but not an unwelcome one. Arn's here for business and grateful not to go chasing after "feral" dwarves.

Frór does know where Nár is and brings Baldr deep into the halls of the dwarves, past the mines and forges, and to a large cavern. At the edge of what's almost an escarpment, he finds a group of dwarven veterans, well-armed and in full armor. Their leader has a white beard and is missing an eye (his helm is closed over his bad eye). His good eye is green and piercing. This is Nár. When he sees Baldr, he says, "We were expecting to see gobbos up the other side, but this is interesting, too." He invites the Barding back to his small camp to talk.

(I can't imagine Tolkien would have ever used the word "gobbos." But I did, and therefore Nár did. I look forward to doing better going forward.)

The dwarves tap a keg of a deep, roasty porter and share some trail rations with Baldr and Frór. Baldr decides not to waste the old dwarf's time and, after the toasts are done, makes his pitch. In short, it comes to something along the lines of "My brother could be dead right now. Need security for the trip to the south. Humbly request. Extra soldiering. Help to find out what happened to my brother," but in full sentences.

Because this is what Baldr and my buddy want from this trip to the Iron Hills, I decided to make it a big deal and use the Council rules. I set the Resistance at 6 — this is a Bold request, and the dwarves'll get less out of it than Baldr and Black Arrow Mercantile. I could have reasonably said it was Outrageous, and I may have set it that way if Grór were asked, but Nár's more open to this sort of thing. For the Introduction roll, he uses Persuade, taking the favoured bonus from earlier and spends 1 Hope for an extra Success die. The final roll is 21 against TN 16, including a six on the extra die, so the Time Limit for the Council is 8. Which means that next session will run through the Interactions and Baldr will be looking to get 6 Successes in no more than 8 attempts. It should run mostly in the same way as a 4e skill challenge, so I'm looking forward to seeing if my sense of similarity pays off in actual play in two weeks.

(My only other real note is that I'm still trying to figure out how I want to handle NPCs traveling with the "Company." I've been using NPCs as modifiers to die rolls, granting favoured if the task is something they're good at. For instance, on the night of the aurora, Nefstan was sent out hunting. I had my buddy roll using Baldr's skill, but favoured, to reflect Nefstan's skill. I'm going to reread to see if there's more concrete guidance on this in the book, but it's been okay so far. Building up full stats for NPCs that are mostly color makes me not want to use NPCs, which is admittedly crazy talk for an RPG, so this is the solution that I've come up with so far.)

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