Posts tagged The One Ring

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.

What Encourages or Discourages Avoiding Combat?

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Due to changes in my schedule, I’ve decided to move my “new post day” from Saturday to Wednesday. This should result in a much more reliable weekly posting schedule from now on.

The RPG Blog Carnival topic for the month of April was “Combat Avoidance” and was hosted by Exchange of Realities. Yeah, I know it’s May now, but it is a topic that I really want to talk about.

Combat has always been the heart of role-playing games. After all, Dungeons & Dragons evolved from miniatures wargaming where there is nothing but combat! I’d estimate that 95% of the role-playing games out there have some sort of rules about how to handle fighting and combat (with the remaining 5% being either aimed at kids or deliberately made so as to avoid combat). Although the GM has a lot of say into how much combat there is in a game, I think that there are definitely some external factors that encourage or discourage avoiding combat during gameplay. I would say that the big ones are the expectations of the setting, the expectations of the system, and the danger level to characters.

Expectations of the Setting

Here are the first lines in the “Makin’ Heroes” chapter of Deadlands Reloaded:

Strap on your six-guns and saddle up, amigo. It’s time to make your salty gunslinger, mysterious huckster, or savage brave.

And here is an excerpt from the “Characters” chapter of The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild:

Whatever their motivation or purpose, most characters created for The One Ring are individuals who have chosen to abandon their day-to-day activities and become adventurers. They are not soldiers or captains following the commands of a lord, nor are they subtle wizards trying to weave the threads spun by fate: they are bold souls putting themselves in peril by their own free will, sometimes simply for the love of adventure itself.

Notice something? They each describe the characters in their games very differently. The quote from Deadlands provides three archetypical characters, all of which are typically combat-oriented (even though you can play one that is not). The preceding sentence even makes pretty broad statement about Deadlands characters having six-guns. The One Ring however describes characters in terms of their love of adventure and specifically says that they are not soldiers (even though there is a “soldier” career). It’s quite conceivable that characters in this system would not be combat oriented, and indeed many of the characters in the source material, like Bilbo and Frodo, are not.

So which is more likely to avoid a typical combat, the “salty gunslinger” or the “adventurer.” Probably the adventurer. Why? Because that’s what the setting expects them to do. The setting also creates an expectation for what the characters’ default behavior will be when coming up against something hostile. In Dungeons & Dragons, the default behavior when confronted with a dragon is probably to fight it, not talk to it, and to only run if the fight is unwinnable. But in The One Ring, the default behavior would probably be to riddle with the dragon or run, but to fight it as a last resort (like if it’s burning Lake Town to the ground).

Expectations of the System

There’s a pretty easy litmus test for how much combat is expected in the system: how much of a character sheet is devoted to combat? Here’s a Dungeons & Dragons 4e 5th Level Dragonborn Rogue I found online using the standard D&D 4e character sheet. Aside from the sections on skills, senses, character info, gear, and arguably ability scores, the entire character sheet is devoted to combat (including 2 out of 4 pages devoted specifically to cards describing combat maneuvers). I estimate that about 85% of the character sheet is for describing stuff about combat. You might extrapolate then that 85% of D&D 4e is about combat, which in my experience (especially considering the official Wizards of the Coast convention games) is about right.

In fact, one of the big criticisms from D&D 3.x fans when D&D 4e first came out was that it was too focused on combat and not enough on role-playing. Often times they cited the fact that there weren’t profession skills or other non-combat character options. I won’t take either side on this, but I do wonder if part of the reason was that the D&D 3.5 character sheet from the PHB had about 60% of it devoted to combat, implying that combat only featured in 60% of the time.

So what does that mean for combat avoidance? With more space on the character sheet for non-combat related items, it would make sense that characters have more things to do to avoid combat. In D&D 3.x, you might have the means to avoid 40% of combats whereas in D&D 4e, you only have the means to avoid 15% of them. Now I’ll be the first to say that this is not a definitive measure and there are no doubt many factors, like GM play-style, that have a greater influence. But the fact remains that in a system where the important parts of your character are what they can do in combat, then it is less likely that it will be avoided.

Danger Level

On a more practical level, combat is typically avoided if there is a lot of danger of a character suffering ill consequences because of it. In Call of Cthulhu, investigators almost always avoid combat because there is a very good chance that they will die if they fight (or they will go insane, or both). Contrast that with a system like Hollow Earth Expedition where there is little danger of getting into a fight with Nazis, even if they have guns and you are using your fists. If combat is the most direct means of achieving your goals (as it would be if there are Nazis in the way of claiming the lost treasure) and there is little danger, then combat avoidance is very unlikely. The risk is small compared to the reward. But if there is a lot of risk, you might try some safer alternatives to avoid combat altogether.

I’ll reiterate once again that at the end of the day, the GM probably has more influence than these factors in determining how much combat there is. For instance, I’ve seen sessions of D&D 4e run without combat. But you might want to think about these external factors if you are wanting to encourage or discourage combat in your game session.

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.

Pitching Story, Setting, or System

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Yesterday was the first meeting of the semester for the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild and we had a fantastic turnout including a lot of new faces! I’m optimistic for this year and I’m glad that we were able to bring in more people to share our love of gaming with!

One of the big things we do at the first meeting is announce the upcoming semester’s role-playing campaigns. Turns out that we’ve got quite a few (as you can see here) and many of them are full, which is very exciting!

I noticed that the GMs pitched their campaigns in different ways. Some emphasized the story, others emphasized the setting and still others emphasized the system. That’s not to say that the other aspects weren’t noted, they just weren’t the focus of the elevator pitch. To better illustrate my point, I’m going to give the gist of three different pitches I heard for campaigns at the meeting.

Story-Centered Pitch:Necessary Evil

I’ll be running Necessary Evil, a premade plot-point campaign using the Savage Worlds system. The premise is that the big bad aliens invaded Earth, the superheroes banded together to fight them, and they got massacred. So now it’s up to the supervillains to save the world. The fate of the world lies with the scum of the earth!

This one’s actually my upcoming campaign (and I’m very excited about it). To me, the important thing about the campaign is the story because it’s so unique and it’s what I hope will draw people in. It does use a system that is popular in the Guild right now (and that I like) and I know there are a lot of supers fans out there, but those were my secondary selling points. Still, it seemed to work since I got a full table of gamers that night!

Setting-Centered Pitch:The One Ring

I’m running The One Ring, a new system released by Cubicle 7. It takes place in Middle Earth after the events of The Hobbit. The action will be taking place in the region of northern Mirkwood, the Lonely Mountain, and the eastern slopes of the Misty Mountains that is growing under the influence of “The Shadow.”

You can see from Chris’ description of his game that the big focus is on playing in Middle Earth. Very little is given about the story and the system isn’t that big of a focus either. Perhaps players know what type of stories might come from this if they were familiar with the setting, so advertising the story was unnecessary. And Chris did get a good turnout of players for this (including me!).

System-Centered Pitch:

I’ll be running a campaign titled Hard Rain using a system called Cold Steel Wardens. If that doesn’t ring a bell, it’s because it isn’t out yet since…I’m writing it! I’ve got about 65,000 words written and I’m looking for players to help alpha test it. This game is about the Iron Age of comics, which you might recognize from works like Watchmen, or Dark Knight Rises where the heroes are flawed individuals with struggles. Also, anybody who attends 2/3rds of the sessions will get their characters as pregens in the hopefully forthcoming finished product!

This is perhaps an atypical system-centered pitch in that Andy (the Platinum Warlock) is asking for testers for his new system. However, the pitch is definitely focused on advertising the system in order to draw players in. No mention is made of the story of this particular campaign and, while the setting may be closely linked to the system, it’s not a strong focus of the pitch. You might see a similar situation if a GM were to advertise that they were running “Dungeons & Dragons” with no mention of a storyline (although a type of setting may be implied).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the focus of a pitch tends to be whatever aspect of the campaign that the GM is most excited about. For me it was the Necessary Evil storyline, for Chris it was the Middle Earth setting, and for Andy it was the system that he was writing. Each was effective in drawing players and so I would argue that no approach is a “bad” approach.

I would encourage GMs to be aware of what aspect of their campaigns that they are most excited about and pitch their campaigns with that as their focus. It’s my opinion that an excited GM is the most influential aspect of getting the players excited. Sure there are other factors, such as personal tastes, but if you’re not showing your excitement, how are the players going to be excited along with you?

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