Middle Earth/LotR RPGing using Cortex+ Heroic


There's another current LotR roleplaying thread. I posted something there that I thought I should repost in this thread:

In the session that we played I ran an action scene in which one of the Scene Distinctions was Uncertain Of What to do Next, and as the scene unfolded the player of the ranger declared actions that succeeded in eliminating that Distinction, meaning that he was then able to dictate to the table what the next step was. That was a nice alternative to (say) a BW Duel of Wits - the uncertainy being more about the situation than a disagreement between two characters - and I felt it emulated some of those parts of LotR where Aragorn in particular can see the range of options but is unsure what is the right choice of next action.

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Here are some more bits of actual play mostly cut-and-pasted from the other thread:

I started the session at Rivendell and got each player to establish a reason for leaving. The ranger had heard of orcs re-entering Angmar; Gandalf had hear rumours of a palantir discovered in the north.

A Doom Pool die was spent to have a second Nazgul turn up - Adunaphel joined Khamul (I was using the ICE identities for the Nazgul). Just as in LotR, so in the game, we didn't need to investigate the precise causal mechanism whereby the shadow's influence operates.

Gandalf used fiery blasts from Narya, plus Glamdring, to drive off the Nazgul. But once the party got to Forochel, orcs from Angmar had already carried off the (newly rediscovered) Palantir of Annuminas. In mechanical terms, the Doom Pool had come to include 2d12. The rules of Cortex+ Heroic enable the GM to spend 2d12 from the Doom Pool to end the scene. Which is what I did.

The growth of the Doom Pool is something that is managed mechanically. The size of the Doom Pool was in part due to the Limit on Narya The enemy seeks it ("unless you are performing a recovery action you must spend 1 PP to include a Narya power in a pool, in which case both 1s and 2s on your dice count as opportunities"). So Gandalf cutting loose with Narya increased the rate of Doom Pool growth.

What worked about all this, I felt, was that Gandalf was able to drive off Nazgul - which seems right - but that in doing so, he alerted the shadow to his presence which therefore stepped up its efforts (ie the orcs carry off the palantir). Spending 2d12 to end the scene gave the growth of the shadow a concrete meaning (ie a group of orcs carrying the palantir south).

I already mentioned what came next - the situation being one of uncertainty and the ranger resolving the doubt (mechanically, by eliminating the salient Scene Distinction). The group therefore set off in pursuit of the orcs. In this pursuit Gandalf used his magic to reach out to the palantir and infuence it to slow the orcs and sow dissension among them. This succeeded. (It also reminded me of Gandalf tricking the trolls in The Hobbit.)

I don't know how The One Ring handles this sort of thing, but I feel that a system that works in terms of scenes, - for pacing, for effects, for consequences - is probably better for producing LotR-ish action than one that is based more on range of effect, causal immediacy in consequences, etc.


So, having been reading the Lorien chapers of Book 2, I had a go at writing up Galadriel. I used my existing Noldor elf as a starting point. I went for Team as her weakest affiliation, because when she was allied with the sons of Feanor she helped lead the Noldor to disaster, and I went with Buddy as her strongest beause, together with Celeborn, she kept Lorien safe from the shadow for the whole Third Age.

I'm not entirely happy with what I've written up, but equally I don't think it's terrible. I haven't written any Milestones because I'm thinking of her as a NPC/ally rather than a PC.


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I don't know how The One Ring handles this sort of thing, but I feel that a system that works in terms of scenes, - for pacing, for effects, for consequences - is probably better for producing LotR-ish action...

The One Ring is set up very traditionally - the GM creates one or more 'adventures' and the players are expected to contrive reasons for each their characters to involve themselves.


The One Ring is set up very traditionally - the GM creates one or more 'adventures' and the players are expected to contrive reasons for each their characters to involve themselves.
That makes me think maybe I wouldn't enjoy it too much.

I know that it seems to have a fairly trditional approach to PC building - race (culture) with sub-specialisations + class (can't remember it's techincal term at the moment).

I've tried to read it's resolution systems but have never got all the way through. It seemed to have quite a few moving parts.

That makes me think maybe I wouldn't enjoy it too much.

In it's structure, no, probably not :)

It's micro-systems are quite Tolkien-y... for example, characters have Hope and Shadow. If their hope drops below their shadow they get miserable... etc. There are structured rules for travel, which results in fatigue, which can increase Shadow or reduce hope, etc

But the game is structured around the GM presenting the characters with 'adventures' that s/he has chosen for them to resolve. Here's what is says about 'What does the Loremaster do?':

The One Ring said:
The Loremaster will involve elements of the adventure's plot as appropriate. These can be triggered either in response to player actions - for example, confronting a thief may lead the villain revealing information which leads to the next part of the adventure - or by a timeline of events, for example such as the Loremaster deciding that Orcs will raid the settlement the players are staying in just after midnight on the third night of their stay.

Player input is limited to triggering the next scripted element of the 'adventure' or responding to pre-scripted elements. At no point does the system suggest the players should be choosing the purpose of their characters.


Here's what is says about 'What does the Loremaster do?':

<snip rules extract>

Player input is limited to triggering the next scripted element of the 'adventure' or responding to pre-scripted elements. At no point does the system suggest the players should be choosing the purpose of their characters.
That doesn't sound that appealing to me. I'm not sure how much more LotRing my goup is going to do - particularly given current situation! - but I think at this stage we'll stick to this Cortex+ version, which probably has a bit more life left in it.


Over the past few weeks I've reread chapters 3 through 10 of Book II ie from leaving Rivendell to the Breaking of the Fellowship. In this post, I want to outline how I think the post-Moria sequence, up to the arrival at Parth Galen, could be thought of in Cortex+ Heroic terms.

What's the point? Partly to relieve boredom while stuck at home during the virus crisis! But also to show how I think this LotR-via-Cortex+ could work.

Here's my starting premise: that the final scene in Moria - in which the PCs have had some trouble finding their way to the eastern gates of Moria, are being chased and shot at by orcs, and have a Balrog pursuing them - ends with the GM spending 2d12 from the Doom Pool.

To help explain this a bit more, here are some brief thoughts about the Moria stuff that leads up to that final scene. First, Gandalf separates from the others to try and hold the door in the Chamber of Mazarbul. The declared action is to impose a Held Door complication on the orcs and trolls - the attempt fails, and the GM inflicts physical stress on Gandalf (ie he is hurled down the stair) and spends a die from the Doom Pool to rejoin the PCs. Somewhere around here, the GM also spends a die from the Doom Pool to establishe a Scene Complication - A Balrog is Come - which if not eliminatd by the end of the Scene allows a check using the Doom Pool to inflict emotional stress on all the PCs.

I think doing the Balrog as a complication with a SFX, rather than as a character, better fits the way the scene plays out.

The fiery fissure in the Second Hall is a Scene Distinction created by spending a d8 from the Doom Pool; that it's between the PCs and the orcs is a Complication created by one of the players, which the GM then eliminates by having trolls attack it (in the fiction they lay slabs across the fissure). I think in this last action sequence the GM uses the orcs to add to the Doom Pool (ie their shooting of arrows is mere colour), which grows the Doom Pool to 2d12.

When the GM spends those dice, the agreed resolution is that Gandalf is sacrificed but the other PCs escape without suffering further stress or trauma beyond the emotional stress from the Balrog is Come scene complication.

I think playing all this out could be quite exciting, but would also be frustrating for the players as the Doom Pool mounts and they seem unable to overcome the growing pressure the GM is bringing to bear. I think at the end of it - after dice have been spent to introduce the extra orcs and trolls, and the Balrog, as well as the other expenditures described above, the Doom Pool is then very low. This helps explain how the rest of Book II plays out in a way that puts the PCs under relatively little pressure until the very end.

Here are those ensuing scenes as I envisage them:

* Transition scene by the Dimril waters - this is mostly a recovery scene, though Aragorn's player spend a PP to create a Knowledge of Lothlorien resource. Maybe ditto for Legolas. Frodo and Sam's players each give a PP to Aragorn to add his Healing specialty to their checks. (The fact that this happens only after they start walking is mere colour, that follows from Aragorn's player being the first to declare an action and narrating the company moving off as part of that.) The GM narrates Gollum's padding feet - that's also just colour at this point, maybe accompanying a Doom Pool growth resulting from Frodo's recovery check. Legolas's Nimrodel song might be a recovery action based on Performance speciality.

* Action scene meeting the elves of Lorien. The goal here is to eliminate a Suspcious Elves Scene Distinction, without which the PCs can't pass through the enchanted wood. Maybe the GM introduces a Pursuing Orcs Scene Complication that makes those checks harder; or maybe a player introduces a Warning of Orcs Asset to make those checks easier. Aragorn's player helps recuce the Distinction by agreeing that all the PCs be blindfolded - depending on details this might also have involved checks vs Gimli or Legolas to inflict some Emotional or Mental stress. At the end one of the players - Frodo's or Aragorn's establishes the Cerin Amroth asset which is used to support some sort of recovery action, or maybe to persuade the GM that the scene has ended so successfully that some sort of persistent asset can be carried forward. Or maybe it satisfies a Milestone and earns XP.

* Transition scene in Lorien. Most of the PCs recover in this scene. For Gimli and Legolas, the fiction around this - given that they're mostly recovering Mental and/or Emotional stress - is their growing friendship. The meeting with Celeborn and Galadriel is colour that supports this.

The Mirror of Galadriel is interesting. I think it's best seen as Resource creation - based on a Social specialty for Sam and maybe the same for Frodo, or perhaps a Lore specialty in his case. For Sam, the Resource is something like Renewed Resolve because he's seen the harm that will come to The Shire and is resolved to first go with Frodo and then return to deal with that. And for Frodo it's something like Knowledge of the Rings - both the enemy and Galadriel's ring of power.

Another way of looking at this is that Frodo's player does not spend a PP to create a Resource but rather rolls against the Doom Pool to create an Asset. This would then introduce an element of real risk when he offers the ring to Galadriel. But clearly it all works out well for Frodo's player with no Doom Pool growth, because Galadriel does not succumb to temptation.

The end of this transition scene is the gift of boats, cloaks and various items. I think the boats are best scene as a Scene Distinction for the next (action) Scene - Elven Boats. That is, they're purely GM-side.

At this point the cloaks are pure fiction, but establish an unlockable - 5 XP to gain an Elven Cloak power trait with the Invisibility power (at d8) and the Gear limit.

The other gifts vary. I think the belts for Boromir, Merry and Pippin are mere colour. Likewise the hair for Gimili. Of course these could be fictional premises for later action declarations to establish the favour of Lorien (eg as an asset, or to reduce a complication).

Legolas's player spends XP to upgrade his Weapon power - the gift of the bow. Aragorn fulfills a Milestone and gains the Elfstone. Sam's gift is a 5 or 10 XP unlockable to restore ruin to the Shire. And Frodo spends 10 XP to gain a new power set, Phial of Galadriel, which is Light Control D6, has the Elbereth Gilthoniel SFX to add a D6 and step up the effect die when using the power to inflict a complication on a creature of shadow, and has the Gear Limit and the Limit A light in dark places, when all other lights go out which means that it may only be used to create light, not to reduce or eliminate it.

* Action scene to sail down the Great River. This scene has the Elven Boats Scene Distinction - which can both underpin action declarations by the PCs but also be used or targetted by the GM. If the Distinction is eliminated then of course the PCs can't keep travelling down the river! There is a Many Days to the Falls of Rauros Scene Distinction which has to be eliminated by the players to comlete their journey. And I think Enemies on the East Bank or something similar as the third Scene Distinction.

I think somewhere in here the GM also introduces the Log with Eyes Scene Complication, that is used to make it harder for the PCs to avoid physical stress (in the fiction, they need to keep watch) and makes it harder to avoid attacks from enemies (in the fiction, Gollum might be informing on the PCs' movements).

After the first Action Sequence, the GM spends a D6 from the Doom Pool to turn the Enemies Distinction into an actual mob of orcs. These orcs don't just shoot their arrows to grow the Doom Pool - they inflict Physical Stress via area attack! They also have a SFX that allows them to call in a flying Nazgul - probably by stepping up an asset that they create. Legolas's player eliminates this asset by shooting it out of the sky with his mighty shot in the dark. (Perhaps the GM also introduced a D6 Darkness Scene Complication.)

The rapids of Sarn Gebir are probably a high Scene Complication, which then the PCs eliminate via their portage strategy. (Perhaps a Portage-way Asset helps here, together with Boromir's Enhanced Strength.)

The Scene ends with the Many Days Distinction eliminated (the action is to steer around Tol Brandir to the west bank), and the PCs arrival (in the fiction) at Parth Galen.

I think this then runs straight into another Action Scene, which begins with Frodo's player trying to create an asset by going off alone to think. But I won't try and analyse all that then happens in this post.


I'm now dipping in and out of Book V. Here's a write-up of Denethor. (Those who are paying attention will notice I've changd from Solo/Buddy/Team to Alone/Companion/Company - same mechanics, better terminology.)


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We played a second session of this campaign today. I don't kmow if it was the best RPGing ever, but it was my first session since the shutdown began, and so I enjoyed it a lot!

We played through 1 Action Scene, which went on longer than I anticipated because I got some good rolls early and the players got some poor rolls to further boost mine. And everything was a bit slower than it normally would be due to online playing.

At the end of the first session the PCs - Gandlaf, Nehar the Dunadan, Mirenlea the Noldor maiden and Dwalin the Dwarven traveller - were pursuing Orcs south towards Eregion. The Orcs were bearing the Palantir of Amon Sul, which they had taken possession of in the north of Eriador while the PCs were distracted by wolves and Nazgul.

There were two Scene Distinctions: All Things Are Silent, With a Sense of Watchfulness and Fear; and, In Pursuit of the Orcs. The latter started the session at d10 (having been whittled down from d12 towards the end of the previous session) and had to be stepped down to d4 for the PCs to win the scene by completing their pursuit.

I had two NPCs in the scene: a group of 3d6 Orcs (the ones being pursued) and a mysterious presence whom the players conjectured, particularly as evidence accumulated, to be Saruman.

I won't go through everything blow-by-blow (and don't have the memory for it anyway), but the initial actions involved trying to bear down on the Orcs. Some of this was tested against the Doom Pool, which was fairly low (starting at d6 and d10) but some against the Orcs where it seemed to make sense for them to be actively resisting the attempt to catch them. When the Orcs took their first action I resolved it as an attempt to inflict emotional stress - resulting from their foul tracks and markings in the lands they were passing through (I was inspired by the passage in Book IV of LotR where Frodo comes to the cross-roads in Ithilien and the statute of the king is knocked down and defaced). This was surprisingly successful, so two of the PCs took heavy emotional stress. I was also able to turn an action by Gandalf back upon him (spending a die from the Doom Pool to use my reaction effect die as if it was a successful action) and so inflicted mental stress there.

Somewhere about here Mirenlea the Noldor found herself stressed out by Emotional stress - narrated as her wrath at the Orcs overtaking her - but Gandalf was able to calm here down - via a successful recovery action that brought her back in at d12 emotional stress, and which also failed to help Dwalin and hence stepped his emotional stress up to d12.

I also spent a d8 from the Doom Pool to introduce a new Scene Distinction, Crebain from Dunland, which had an additional rider that If this Scene Distinction is not eliminated by the time that the company reaches Ost-in-Edhil, the next scene begins with a Watched Scene Distinction: each time it is used in a pool, step up the Doom Pool. The attempt by the Elf to eliminate the Crebain by calling up wind and a storm (stunting of her Weather Influence power and using her Singer of Songs distinction) failed; but then Dwalin succeeded by leading the PCs into the secret ways of Moria: this being the only way the player of the dwarf and I could see that his character had a way of targetting and elminiating that particular Scene Distinction.

Only after performing this action did Dwalin's player realise that he'd also earned 10 XP for completing one of his Milestones, by returning to the halls from which his people had been exiled. We have to work out a new Milestone to replace this one.

The PCs entering Moria created too good an opportunity to pass up, and so I spent a d10 from the Doom Pool to split the PCs up as they got lost in the cavernous halls and maze-like tunnels. I made both Dwalin and Merinlea be alone, while Gandalf and the Dunadan remained together. The practical affect of this was to create some amusing reconfiguration of Affiliation dice. In the fiction, Dwalin had hurried off into the halls of his ancestors; while Merinlea's wrath had also led her off hunting the Orcs of Moria.

At an earlier stage I had spend a die from the Doom Pool to step the Orcs up from 3d6 to 3d8, using the rationale that proximity to their home in the Misty Mountains and to the end of their travels bouyed their spirits; and in Moria I spent another die to add a 4th d8, as reinforcements joined them.

There were three main series of events in Moria: Dwalin met the mysterious stranger, an old man with a walking stick and a lantern. The stranger remarked that it was rare now to see one of the Dwarvenfolk in their old halls, but that he was there to look for gold and trinkets and invited the Dwarf to join him. Mechanically this was an attempt to impose a Lust for Gold complication - but it failed, and then (as I was able to pass the action order to myself at that point) the frustrated stranger tried to clock Dwalin on the head with his stick instead, but that also failed. But he did use his magical powers to rust away his coat of mail. (Mechanically, I triggered the Gear limit to shut down Dawlin's Enhanced Durability power.) Dwalin's player had already shut down his Axe power at an earlier stage (to gain a PP), which had been narrated, I think, as throwing it away in frustration or dropping it in fear. So having evaded the depradations of the stranger, he went off to find an axe in the ancient armouries of Moria (mechaincally, he succeeded in a check vs the Doom Pool to recover his Axe power).

Nehar and Gandalf found themselves being assailed by the orcs: mechanically, when the Orcs turn came up I decided that, the PCs having gone into Moria, the pursuers would become the pursued! This went poorly for them as I inflicted Physical Stress but Nehar was unable to succeed in attack rolls against the Orcs. Gandalf, when taking the action to help Mirenlea recover from being stressed out, had shutdown Glamrding to get a PP to help with the action, which - in the fiction - was a declaration that calm was needed and that he was resheathing his sword by way of demonstration. So now he had to take an action vs the Doom Pool to recover that power ie to draw his sword. So wasn't able to actually fight until the very end.

But before that came, Mirenlea took some actions. Her first, at the end of an action order, was to finally eliminate the In Pursuit of the Orcs Scene Distinction. In the fiction, she could hear the clamour of battle echoing through the tunnels. Mechanically, she succeeded on a check against the Orcs to hunt them down. Her player then passed the top action of the order back to her, and she decided to go down in a blaze of glory. Her Milestone Hold Back the Shadow would give her 10 XP if stressed out while helping an ally; and she has the Deeds of Grief SFX which lets her include her Emotional Stress in her pool but (i) steps it up, and (ii) adds that stress as a die to the Doom Pool. So she decided to synergise, generating an Asset for Nehar to use against the Orcs at the cost of stressing herself out by including her Emotional Stress in her pool and stepping it up past 12. This succeeded, but as noted above Nehar was still unsuccessful in fighting against the Orcs.

But then Gandalf took his action, and went all-out wizard: Glamdring plus AoE Fiery Blasts against the Orcs. It was a mighty roll, dealig 4 lots of d10 stress which was enough to knock out the 4d8 Orcs - but with a 1 and a 2 in the roll, and the Limit The enemy seeks it which makes 2s counts as Opportunities when Narya is unsed for anything but a recovery action, I was able to step up the lowest die in the Doom Pool - a d8 - twice, taking it to d12. Together with the earlier d12 from Mirenlea's emotional stress I now had 2d12 which I spent to end the Scene (and the session) - with the result that while the Orcs were defeated the PCs did not find the Palantir on them. It seemed that the mysterious stranger had been able to take it.

I had been planning to run from this Action Scene straight into another, but that was before the PCs had entered Moria and beaten the Orcs. So the next scene will be a Transition Scene.

And as the PCs rest in the deeps of Moria, here is their status (before stepping back or other recovery):

The Doom Pool has a single d10;

Néhar has d12 physical stress;

Gandalf has d12 physical stress and d8 mental stress;

Merinlea has been stressed out and so has d6 emotional trauma;

Dwalin has d12 emotional stress and his Enhanced Durability is shut down.​

I'm hoping we will be able to play again in a fortnight (our standard schedule). In the meantime I'll keep posting any new content I come up with. (Is there a Balrog in the offing?)

The mechanics support the play pretty much exactly as expected. Is that your group's sense of it while playing?

Trying to remember; did you rename Affiliations to Solo, Companion, Fellowship or something like that?

The Doom Pool is perfect. Do you feel Affiliations, Distinctions, et al do the work necessary to express the "Hope (by way of ally presence/inspiration)" theme of play (the inverse of the growing Doom from the Doom Pool)?
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Affiliations are Alone, Companion, Company. So no mechanical difference from MHRP but more apt descriptors. I rewrote the PC sheets with the new labels, and also marked up the PDFs with Comic Sans text boxes to reflect existing stress, assets and the like - for me that is the pinnacle of graphic design! - and I emailed them out before the session. So the players were working off those files and were using the new descriptors without any confusion or jarring. Which did make for good Tolkien-esque flavour.

As with most systems, I think there is a varying degree of buy-in from different players. I think Dwalin's player is probably the most enthusiastic embracer of the system (he also plays the skinchanger in our Vikings Cortex+ game) and is always riffing between ficiton and mechanics. He especially likes playing around with his character's Distinctions to toggle between d8 and d4 +1 PP.

Generally the character's Distinctions are for bringing out the flavour of the PCs - like they do in MHRP - rather than interconnections/hope, which is done more by particular actions (eg asset-creation or recovery actions; or when Gandalf made a point of sheathing Glamdring, which mechanically was a shutdown to earn 1 PP to help a recovery action succeed) and also how those interact with Milestones.

Gandalf's player noticed how as soon as he cut loose vs the Orcs the Doom Pool grew to the 2d12 level. The way I've built the PCs, with relatively low numbers and also lots of abilities that encourage growing the Doom Pool, is producing a strong sense of overhanging threat/risk.

I think it's too early to say whether it's a good fit or merely reasonable. I think there is enough data in to say that it's not terrible!


Arcadian Knight
No actual play post yet written - but some of the players in my group were curious about what a Hobbit would look like, so here it is.
The Hobbits were THE heroes for Tolkien so of course they should be central to doing it right!!! I was wondering as I went through this where are the Hobbits.

Simple Motives (Temptations of power are lost on them)
Trusts Those Deserving (Looks foul yet feels fair) - perhaps this is just uncommon common sense but it seems more.


Arcadian Knight
But the game is structured around the GM presenting the characters with 'adventures' that s/he has chosen for them to resolve.
Funny part is I didnt even do it that way in AD&D, I liked having player defined motives very central to the action for me to hang various elements off of. Had many creating their own custom cultures and races, classes or even personal curses they were under I made sure there choices and motivations heavily drove plot even without making it explicit. After awhile I swapped out to other games because the mechanics were not serving me.

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