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Capturing the "feel" of Tolkien.

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
One thing I have noticed listening to Fellowship is that the greatest danger from Tolkien's perspective is corruptibility. There are many examples in the recounting of the legends of the past of great heroes making terrible mistakes, and the wisest and most powerful of the good guys themselves fear their own corruption. In fact, the only reason Frodo is chosen as Ringbearer is that he (and hobbits in general, apparently) can resist the corrupting power of the Ring longer.

I'm not sure exactly how you translate that to a TTRPG, but it seems important.
In 4e you would make the corruption a disease track LOL
 

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aramis erak

Legend
I think you misunderstand: I am not asking how to do the thing, I am asking YOU how you have done the thing. It's just a discussion, not a request for advice.
Use The One Ring with the Rivendell expansion and the player's guide.

Specifically - the rules elements needed
  • the journey rules, while a bit mathy, support travelogue sequences with all party members mattering and being affected.
  • the combat system mostly ignores positioning, and strongly works with clustering
    • The stance system really does allow for a lot of game in the system, while also reflecting and abstracting the realities of a multitude of combat elements nicely.
    • It allows for a lot more narrative freedom than traditional minis-on-grid style combat systems.
  • The Song rules in Rivendell - Tolkien's characters sing. A lot. These rules give a great reward for characters doing so, even if the players can't carry a tune.
  • The social and tolerance rules give reasons for people to stop listening, but allow players to collectively contribute to a group negotiation.
  • The Treasure rules in Rivendell allow for the feel of the troll-hoard in The Hobbit.
  • The Shadow rules, which really should be introduced only after a few character years, are excellent for curbing the use of magic.
  • The various rewards are essentially low-level magics; the lots of little magics feel of Tolkien is well within the scope of the mechanics.
The key caveats:
  • The journey and combat rules require MUCH description to work right.
  • If players are not willing to buy into the "lots of really small magics" mindset, the ambiance is much harder.
  • If players are too risk averse, character growth stymies.
  • don't be too stingy with use of traits.
 

pemerton

Legend
One thing I have noticed listening to Fellowship is that the greatest danger from Tolkien's perspective is corruptibility. There are many examples in the recounting of the legends of the past of great heroes making terrible mistakes, and the wisest and most powerful of the good guys themselves fear their own corruption. In fact, the only reason Frodo is chosen as Ringbearer is that he (and hobbits in general, apparently) can resist the corrupting power of the Ring longer.

I'm not sure exactly how you translate that to a TTRPG, but it seems important.
In my Cortex+ Heroic take, this sort of thing is part of the Doom Pool. For instance, and inspired by dwarves in Burning Wheel (which has the most JRRT-ish Elves, Dwarves and Orcs of any RPG system I know), the dwarf PC has the following ability:

I must have it! When you take an action to acquire riches, or to gain something of beauty or craftsmanship, you may add a die from the Doom Pool. After your action, step up the die and return it to the Doom Pool.​

Similarly, when Gandalf uses Narya to do something other than aid recovery/healing, the Doom Pool is more likely to grow. (The Growing Dead limit, for those who know the system.)

How that plays out in terms of corruption is then about how I, as GM, use those extra Doom Pool dice to affect the characters.

In Burning Wheel, corruption is itself a character ability (called an Emotional Attribute) that generally can be used as a self-buff but tends to grow especially when used, and if it gets too high the character must leave play. (Eg an Elf overcome by Grief - one Elven version of "corruption" - either sails west or fades away; an Elf overcome by Spite - a different, more sinister Elven version of "corruption" - might throw him-/herself into a fiery pit, or commit suicide in some other fashion.) So there's not the degree of GM mediation that exists in my Cortex+ Heroic approach.
 

dave2008

Legend
More importantly, and closer on point with this topic, is the element of fear and despair in the form of Shadow. In D&D, its all about hit points and super-heroics. But Shadow represents the emotional toll of the characters as they succumb to the growing threat and corruption that the forces of Sauron (Evil) represent (i.e. the greed of the dwarves, the desire for power of men, etc.).
That is the part of the TOR and AiME that I don't like and doesn't feel like Tolkein to me. When I read the books I don't get the sense of the Shadow affecting everyone. It definitely comes into play for some, but it never felt pervasive to me in the books. That mechanic just rubs me the wrong way.

EDIT: Clearly this is just my opinion, and the mechanic is fine. It just doesn't feel like Tolkien to me. That being said, I've always preferred the Hobbit to tLotR.
 
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Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
That is the part of the TOR and AiME that I don't like and doesn't feel like Tolkein to me. When I read the books I don't get the sense of the Shadow affecting everyone. It definitely comes into play for some, but it never felt pervasive to me in the books. That mechanic just rubs me the wrong way.
I'll ask you to elaborate with more specific details, if you don't mind. My own experience is with The One Ring with only a cursory glance at AiME to see that similar mechanics exist, but I cannot speak for how well it translates to the D&D mechanics.

As far as the books, I found them very long-winded, meandering, and sometimes hard to follow. Even the reader for audible books has a very dry, monotone performance, though his lethargic-inducing drone seems somehow wonderfully appropriate. So I appreciate how the movies drew more details and emotion from the writing, and that has become my baseline for getting that Tolkien feel at the table. That could be the difference in our perspectives.

One of the aspects I really like is how the focus and strength is on the Fellowship the group creates with their characters. This bond enforces each character's Hope score, as well as certain traits or actions, which opposes and staves off the Shadow. Only when a character gains more Shadow points than their Hope score do they succumb to a bout of madness and begin their descent into corruption.

In the movies, which draw directly from the books, we can see such instances occur when Boromir attacks Frodo, when Legolas despairs before the Battle at Helms Deep, and when Frodo sends Samwise away. Each time, the Shadow weakens the strength of each Fellowship. But it is the courage, tenacity, and friendship that gets them through. That is very Tolkien to me. :)
 

Arilyn

Hero
That is the part of the TOR and AiME that I don't like and doesn't feel like Tolkein to me. When I read the books I don't get the sense of the Shadow affecting everyone. It definitely comes into play for some, but it never felt pervasive to me in the books. That mechanic just rubs me the wrong way.

EDIT: Clearly this is just my opinion, and the mechanic is fine. It just doesn't feel like Tolkien to me. That being said, I've always preferred the Hobbit to tLotR.
I love Tor, but agree with what you are saying. We actually altered the rules to make shadow points easier to get rid of, if they accumulated just from travelling through areas like Mirkwood. We ruled gaining more permanent corruption requires committing evil deeds or succumbing to powerful dark artifacts.

The books are about heroic characters, and there is despair and anxiety, of course, but no sense that anybody was actually becoming corrupt. Frodo is an exception because he was carrying the ring. Boromir stumbled, but ultimately won out morally through his sacrifice. There is no indication that anyone else was pick up shadow points by stumbling across dragon gold or travelling through corrupted lands.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
One thing I might add to D&D in order to help get a certain aspect of Tolkien feel in there is some sort of "emotional endurance" track similar to levels of exhaustion. In so many places in the book, the stress of being watched by the Enemy and of constantly fighting seems more dangerous than physical exhaustion or damage. Gandalf even carries a special healing potion for stress out of Rivendell.

As an aside: the Jackson films are absolutely wonderful, and Fellowship of the Ring is my favorite movie of all time, but a lot of small changes were made and elements cut that amount to them being an"okay" adaptation of the books, despite being "great" films if that makes sense. Some characters are very different -- Aragorn being chief among them -- and in a lot of places,a thoughtful approach from the books was replaced with action adventure in the films. All that is to say, as @Jacob Lewis hinted, trying to recreate the "feel" of Tolkien is a significantly different thing if you are aiming at the books versus the films.
 

dave2008

Legend
I'll ask you to elaborate with more specific details, if you don't mind. My own experience is with The One Ring with only a cursory glance at AiME to see that similar mechanics exist, but I cannot speak for how well it translates to the D&D mechanics.
To clarify, I have not played either TOR or AiME. I have only read them and read about them. The concept of the shadow mechanic just doesn't mesh with my middle-school boy impressions of the books. If I read them again, 30+ years later, maybe that would change.

As far as the books, I found them very long-winded, meandering, and sometimes hard to follow. Even the reader for audible books has a very dry, monotone performance, though his lethargic-inducing drone seems somehow wonderfully appropriate. So I appreciate how the movies drew more details and emotion from the writing, and that has become my baseline for getting that Tolkien feel at the table. That could be the difference in our perspectives.
I'm with you on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I really enjoy the Hobbit. I have reread that book as an adult and I enjoyed it even more. One of the few books that made me laugh-out-loud while reading it. Undoubtedly that skews my perspective; the Hobbit has little of the "darkness" of LOR.

Regarding the movies, I enjoyed them, but was also disappointed with some changes. The Fellowship was the best of the three IMO. In general I didn't like the Hobbit movies - to many changes for my taste.

One of the aspects I really like is how the focus and strength is on the Fellowship the group creates with their characters. This bond enforces each character's Hope score, as well as certain traits or actions, which opposes and staves off the Shadow. Only when a character gains more Shadow points than their Hope score do they succumb to a bout of madness and begin their descent into corruption.
It is just something I don't find essential to Middle Earth or something I really want to track.

In the movies, which draw directly from the books, we can see such instances occur when Boromir attacks Frodo, when Legolas despairs before the Battle at Helms Deep, and when Frodo sends Samwise away. Each time, the Shadow weakens the strength of each Fellowship. But it is the courage, tenacity, and friendship that gets them through. That is very Tolkien to me. :)
I guess when I think of the book and movies the major instances of despiar/ shadow infection involve the One Ring. That is essential to story of the Lord of the Rings, but not to playing a game in Middle Earth IMO.
 

dave2008

Legend
One thing I might add to D&D in order to help get a certain aspect of Tolkien feel in there is some sort of "emotional endurance" track similar to levels of exhaustion. In so many places in the book, the stress of being watched by the Enemy and of constantly fighting seems more dangerous than physical exhaustion or damage. Gandalf even carries a special healing potion for stress out of Rivendell.
I think that could work, but I really think that "feel" is only prevalent in the LOR trilogy. I would think that mechanic is not needed if a campaign is set more around the Hobbit. So what is the Tolkien feel: LOR or the Hobbit or the Silmarillion or the 4th age or something else?
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I think that could work, but I really think that "feel" is only prevalent in the LOR trilogy. I would think that mechanic is not needed if a campaign is set more around the Hobbit. So what is the Tolkien feel: LOR or the Hobbit or the Silmarillion or the 4th age or something else?
This is a good distinction to make. In my own head, I define it as the Lord of the Rings feel - hope vs despair, heroism in the face of ultimate failure, the bonds of friendship and the power of love, and sacrifice. Certainly going back to the first age, more classical mythical ideals pervade, and in The Hobbit you have a much more fairy tale adventure sensibility.
 

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