Posts tagged Lord of the Rings

Gaming Tips from Lego The Lord of the Rings

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Lego Lord of the Rings Cover ArtWhile at the public library I’m spending my AmeriCorps service year at, I ran into the Lego Lord of the Rings video game. I’d played the first two Lego Star Wars games with my brother years ago and, after getting a chance to play it for just a little bit, decided it was so much fun that I would get the game myself! I destroyed the Ring, got all the mithril bricks, rounded up all the characters, and proudly achieved 100% completion. I’d say it was well worth it!

But that doesn’t explain the offbeat title of this blog post. Can a video game like Lego Lord of the Rings really teach us tips about how to play roleplaying games? Absolutely!

Have Some Fun on a Serious Quest

The Lego series by TT Games is noted for their humorous spin on the movies they represent. Lego Lord of the Rings continues this tradition by throwing in some humor. Sure, part of it is to entertain little kids, but part of it is just to make the game more fun to play.

One of my favorite things is the running gag with Eowyn wanting to fight, but not being allowed to. For instance, when the Wargs attack, Eowyn excitedly pulls out a sword and…

Theoden: You must lead the people to Helm's Deep.

Theoden: You must lead the people to Helm’s Deep. And make haste!

Lego Eowyn Angry

Eowyn: Awww! [Throws down her sword]

Sound like any players you know? A battle comes up, but they don’t get to fight and they get mad.

There was also some outright absurdity. While Boromir is trying to steal the Ring from Frodo at Amon Hen, Frodo builds a catapult in order to fire off a stone and distract him. Eomer’s horsemen do kind of a synchronized dance as they circle around Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas. Lurtz keeps firing arrows at Boromir, but when he runs out and he’s still not dead, he switches to some unorthodox ammo like brooms, bananas, and chickens.

Lego Lurtz and Boromir

I say embrace it. Let these things be fun. Sure, the quest can be serious and the stakes be the fate of the world, but ultimately roleplaying games are about having fun. Sure you don’t have to actually let them fire off bananas, but at least let them entertain the idea!

And for added fun, throw in a Mithril Disco Phial!

Non-Combat Diversions are Good

There are some interesting diversions in Lego Lord of the Rings. For instance, the Pass of Caradhras involves causing avalanches in order to clear rocks that block the way. Freeing Theoden from Saruman’s hold requires building traps to catch Grima Wormtongue so he won’t disrupt Gandalf. Camping on Weathertop leads to finding firewood and gathering food so that the Hobbits can cook up something to eat. I’ve actually had some games where what they’re making for dinner (complete with a Cooking roll for the quality) is actually a really fun moment in the session. Let this happen and enjoy it!

Sometimes Not Fighting is Just as Interesting

The second level (after the Prologue level involving Isildur defeating Sauron) features the four Hobbits spending most of the level avoiding the Black Rider on their way to Brandybuck Ferry. This means tossing rocks at branches, stirring up bees, and even lighting a bridge on fire. I found this to be pretty interesting overall. This was an enemy that couldn’t be defeated, so clever methods had to be devised in order to avoid it.

I think we need more of that in roleplaying games. Sometimes I think we get stuck in the D&D mentality of kicking down the door and killing everything inside (while also expecting it to be level-appropriate enemies). But interesting scenarios can happen when you are up against even just one enemy that is way out of your league and you need to think of some creative means of avoiding it.

It’s Okay to Split the Party to Pursue Different Objectvies

After Amon Hen, there are two groups of characters traveling simultaneously: Frodo & Sam and Aragorn, Gimli, & Legolas. You can swap between the two at will and continue with their stories and sometimes this is necessary. Personally, I think that there is no problem at all with separating the party like this if they are working towards a common goal. Indeed, this is most obvious at the end where Aragorn leads an attack on the Black Gate solely for the purpose of aiding Frodo and Sam.

I plan to write about this more at some point in the future (perhaps more officially than in a blog), but I think it would be really interesting to have a campaign where your party splits and then occasionally you swap back and forth between two sets of characters each working towards their own goals. Splitting the party to pursue different objectives can be a very interesting way to have a campaign become a saga.

Large Parties are Lots of Fun!

I think one of my favorite parts of the game was right after Rivendell when you had a grand total of nine in your party. And Lego Lord of the Rings didn’t skimp on that, no you have eight people following the lead character around on the overworld! It was a lot of fun walking around Middle Earth and switching between characters to use their special abilities and grab the goodies scattered all around. And levels like the Mines of Moria were really epic having a group just as large working together to fight off Orcs.

I definitely like having large parties because it makes things seem more epic. Granted, you probably need a system that can support it. I’ve found that Savage Worlds scales pretty well with larger groups, especially if many of the extras are, well, Extras. Dungeons & Dragons is usually okay if you just add one or two (under the players’ control, it’s no fun if the DM is rolling the dice!) but can still be somewhat cumbersome. Still, if you can pull it off, it can make things much more interesting.

Explore!

The final lesson is to allow for lots of exploration! Unlike previous Lego games where you have a central “hub” (such as the Mos Eisley Cantina), Lego Lord of the Rings takes place all over Middle Earth. You start in Hobbiton and throughout the course of the game you travel all the way to Mordor (of course, one does not simply walk into Mordor!). Getting from here to there over a perilous journey can be one of the more interesting parts of a roleplaying game. In fact it’s one thing that I think The One Ring does especially well (as described in my previous review).

So there you have it, several lessons in roleplaying games that a video game taught us. Isn’t that cool?

Lego Lord of the Rings Characters
And yes, I’m fully aware that the title is actually Lego The Lord of the Rings, but I think that the initial “the” sounds redundant and breaks the flow so I drop it.

Linear Wizards, Quadratic Warriors

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Nope, the title is not a typo. I’m talking about the problem of linear wizards versus quadratic warriors. Sure, the other way around gets a lot of publicity, especially with Dungeons & Dragons 3.x and Pathfinder. And indeed, it is a problem when high levels warriors stab an enemy and only dealing a quarter damage while wizards conjure a firey malestrom that outright kills all the enemies.

But that pales in comparison to the travesty of linear wizards and quadratic warriors! I mean, what good is it to spend years with your nose in a book studying cantrips if your warrior counterparts are slaying gods? These problems do crop up occasionally in roleplaying games, but they are much more prevalent in other forms of media.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Conan the BarbarianConan the Barbarian for instance has warrior classes being severely overpowered compared to magic users. They have to spend days of preparation and ritual in order to pull of magic (although it can be impressive at times). But in combat, they’re just normal people in a robe that Conan can kill without them so much as get off a magic missile! Apparently in some of the later books, magic is said to be declining due to Conan setting up a kingdom based on logic and reason (or something). So Conan’s power grows while wizards’ power actually shrinks!

Lord of the Rings codifies the problem pretty well. Let’s face it; Gandalf did diddly squat with his magic throughout the series. He starts off by telekinetically shoving Saruman off his feet and using a Light cantrip in Moria. As he levels up in the series, he gains the ability to shine a magic flashlight against the Ringwraith to scare them off. You could blame this on the XP tax of getting resurrected, and in all fairness, he did manage to pull off exorcising Saruman from Theoden who seems considerably more powerful, but even still, Gandalf’s feats of magic are pretty weak.

Compare this to the warriors in the series. Gimli and Legolas start off killing just a few orcs in Moria, then advance to swathing through dozens and dozens of orcs on the battlefield, not to mention taking down an entire oliphaunt. Aragorn levels up to the point where he can take advantage of the Followers provided by AD&D 2nd Edition rules and gains an entire army of soldiers as well as an undead army, not to mention gains a fair amount of prowess in battle on his own. Even Merry managed to level up enough to be able to kill the Witch-King himself (which is even more ironic considering that a scene from the Extended Edition shows that the Witch-King handed it to Gandalf earlier in the film).

In fact, the only way that Gandalf is able to do anything remotely effective is to switch to his sword and become more like a warrior. He fights in battle this way and even kills the Balrog not by using his magic, but by stabbing it repeatedly. Clearly, Lord of the Rings has a problem with Gandalf advancing linearly (or flatlining) and everybody else quadratically outpacing him.

Gandalf decides that the only way to stay competitive is to take the sword and take the Longsword Proficiency feat.

Gandalf decides that the only way to stay competitive is to keep the sword he found as loot and take the Longsword Proficiency feat.

I’m really surprised that this glaring issue hasn’t received more attention. The various Lord of the Rings RPGs figured that nobody would want to play a wizard so they just make everyone the overpowered warriors. Star Wars: Edge of the Empire makes bounty hunters and smugglers pretty effective so I have to as: will they overshadow Jedi? Superheroes games like Mutants & Masterminds or even the Platinum Warlock’s own Cold Steel Wardens falls into this trap with Batman-type martial superheroes being on par with, if not superior to the X-Men?

We as gamers need to fight back! If you’re against linear warriors and quadratic wizards, then be concerned that the pendulum doesn’t swing to far and we wind up with linear wizards and quadratic warriors!

And yes, this is all a parody.

The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the wild

The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild

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The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the wildThis semester, I’ve been playing in a weekly campaign in Middle Earth using The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild, a new role-playing game from Cubicle 7. It’s set in the northern parts of Middle Earth after the events of The Hobbit and allows you to play Dwarves, Wood Elves, Men from the Mirkwood areas, and Hobbits. Cubicle 7 is planning to release future sets that move the timeline closer to the War of the Ring while also moving geographically closer to Mordor.

The game comes in a box set containing two books (one for “adventurers” and one for “loremasters”), two maps of the region, and a set of six d6s and one modified d12. The d12 has the numbers 1-10 and an “Eye of Sauron” symbol for a critical failure as well as a “Gandalf Rune” for a critical success (a normal d12 can be used too with an 11 being the Eye and a 12 being the Rune). The basic mechanic is to roll a number of dice equal to your skill level and roll the modified d12 along with it, adding up the total and trying to reach a target number.

Both books are in beautiful full color with a lot of original art that generally matches the style and appearance from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies (as opposed to some of the illustrations in the books printed prior to the movies’ release). It really does a good job of capturing the feel of Middle Earth and helping to get everyone excited about playing in the setting.

Character stats are derived from three aspects: their race, their background (i.e. their race-specific upbringing and reason for adventuring), and their calling (i.e. their profession as an adventurer). Each race has six backgrounds and there are a total of six callings, although it wouldn’t be that hard to create your own. One of the players in our group created a custom calling that they called a “Shadowhunter.” My character was a Hobbit named Drogo Brownlock who was a Bucklander and felt called to be a Treasure Hunter. I kind of saw him as a burglar like Bilbo, but he was actually good at his job.

Another aspect of characters is their Wisdom and Valor stats. Each is used to resist the influence of evil, with Wisdom helping against corruption and Valor helping against fear. But they are also an indicator of how much the character has grown personally during the adventure. With each point of Wisdom, the character gains a special ability (similar to a D&D feat) to mark how they have learned special talents. Nothing special there.

Valor really impressed me. When you increase it, your character gains some sort of special or magical item, either as plunder or given as a gift. At first, that may sound a bit strange, but it fits well with the Tolkien theme. When Bilbo tried burgling from the fearsome stone trolls, he likely upped his Valor stat afterwards and consequently he found Sting in the plunder. The Fellowship visited Lothlorien and, because they increased their Valor stats after going through the Mines of Moria and faced all sorts of fear, they were given gifts from the Elves. It’s a mechanic that may be a bit strange at first, but it really does help fit with the theme and make those special items truly special.

Gameplay is divided into two phases, the Adventuring Phase and the Fellowship Phase. The Adventuring Phase is much like you would find in any fantasy role-playing game. You decide to go on a quest, you fight, you save the day. The Fellowship Phase represents an intermediate time where character development is taking place. This may be taking a journey to visit someone, making a return visit to your homeland, spending your treasure, or establishing a safe haven (a.k.a. freeloading off of Elrond’s house). Stat advancements are purchased during this time, so it also represents taking time to train skills or to receive gifts (like the aforementioned Elven gifts). Each player is required to share (preferably as a short story) what their character is doing during that time. All this is probably more suited for long term campaigns rather than one-shot adventures, but it really does support the storytelling and character development common in Tolkien’s works.

Combat is rather simple with characters either being in either a Forward, Open, Defensive, or Rearward battle stance. In the Forward stance, they are more likely to go first and have a lower target number to hit their enemy, but also have a lower target number to be hit. The remaining stances raise the target number to hit the enemy, but also raise the target number to be hit. Ranged attacks are only allowed from the Rearward stance, but a character can only be in a Rearward stance if two or more characters are in the close combat stances. Characters hit by normal attacks lose Endurance, which may cause them to be wearied or too tired to fight effectively. If a piercing blow is delivered, the hero is wounded (and if already wounded, they are dead). Although it may seem rather lethal, it encourages players to run if things are looking bad. Tolkien never felt the need to give much detail to battles (the chapter on the Battle of Helm’s Deep is incredibly short) and this system enables these sorts of fights to take place quickly and easily while still maintaining the overall feel.

The biggest problem I have with The One Ring is that the books are poorly organized. For instance, our group were playing a premade scenario and were told to make a “Corruption Test.” It wasn’t listed in the index and we couldn’t find any reference to it in the chapter on Adventuring Mechanics. Turns out that it was buried in the chapter describing Character Advancement under the section about Wisdom (where you wouldn’t think to look if you don’t know the two are related). Similarly, it took us a long while to figure out how attacking and damage worked in combat because it was vaguely written and in a strange place in the book. It’s not impossible to find what you’re looking for and there isn’t anything missing, but it shouldn’t be this hard to figure it all out.

There’s also some weird quirks in the system. My Hobbit had the “Cooking” speciality meaning that I knew how to cook and didn’t need to make any die rolls for it. However it also says that the action of cooking is handled by the Craft skill, which I was untrained in. We joked that this meant Drogo could cook at leisure, but if he ever had time pressure or had to make it really good, he would panic and forget everything he knew.

Also since every roll includes the modified d12 and a Rune symbol is an automatic critical success, it means that one in every 12 times the character can accomplish whatever they try to do. It’s cinematic, but can get a little ridiculous at times. One of our players tried to jokingly cheat this by rolling his untrained Search skill and saying, “I’m looking around for the secret ruins that nobody has seen in a hundred years. Do I see them?” and rolled, hoping for an automatic success.

Although it does some things poorly, The One Ring does does a lot of things very well and includes a lot of unique mechanics that help evoke the feel of the Tolkien setting. I’m enjoying playing it and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a game system for playing in Middle Earth.

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