Monthly Archives: September 2011

The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild

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.

Switching Characters Mid-Scenario

Last night, I ran a fairly novel scenario. I pulled out the ol’ Star Wars D6 system (officially called The Star Wars Role-playing Game) by West End Games and I ran a scenario called “Operation Skyhook.” In the Star Wars universe, Operation Skyhook was the collective term for the missions involved with finding the Death Star plans and ultimately destroying the battlestation itself.

Unlike most one-shot adventures where you have one set of characters for the entire adventure, I had three sets of characters. The players started with one set for the first part of the adventure and switched sets for the second and third parts. The result was that they got to be part of something larger and they got to try out a variety of different characters with different skill sets.

The first part of the adventure involved a fairly ragtag group of Rebels and hired Smugglers stealing information from an Imperial outpost, only to discover that they were constructing a new superweapon on the planet that was the size of a moon! They landed under false pretenses, snuck around a little bit to discover more about this project, and then saw this sight:

And yes, Darth Vader really was there. That got the players themselves scared!

The little R2 droid downloaded as much data as he could, the Wookiee sacrificed himself to try and lead a slave uprising, and everyone else hightailed it back to their ship to blast off with the stolen information.

Everyone got new characters for events that took place some time later. Part of the info the R2 droid downloaded included information about an Imperial base on Dantua where the full Death Star plans were being held. So this time, the Rebel Alliance sent a strike team led by Kyle Katarn (basically the Chuck Norris of the Star Wars universe). With the help of two Imperial officers who were wanting to defect to the Rebellion, they managed to infiltrate the base, steal the plans, and get out.

The plans were delivered to Princess Leia, downloaded into R2-D2, and eventually wound up on Yavin IV. That’s where we picked up again. This time, the players got to be Red Squadron, including Wedge Antilles, Luke Skywalker, and Porkins (who was a surprisingly popular character at our table). They had 30 minutes real time to destroy the Death Star! I had a PowerPoint presentation going that served as a countdown timer and also played movie clips at certain points to show developments in the battle (for instance, when the TIE Fighters arrived, a video clip from the movie played where they arrived). The game was fast and furious as everyone was racing against the clock. Surprisingly, it was Wedge Antilles who wound up being the one to get a lucky shot to destroy the Death Star!

In the end, the scenario really worked out and everyone had a great time. I liked the idea of having different characters building off of each other story-wise and it also gave the players an opportunity to try different types of characters.

I wonder if this idea of playing with different characters in the same adventure could be used in other ways. For instance, maybe there could be a scenario that swapped back and forth between two sets of characters working together on the same mission. I think that the results might turn out really well, especially if the actions of one group directly affects the other!

Predictions About a New Star Wars RPG

First off, I apologize for the delay in posting. Now that university is in full swing, I’ve had less time to write for this blog. In the future, you can expect at least one post each week (which may be standardized to a certain day of the week). Thanks for reading and sorry about the delay!

Earlier in the summer, Fantasy Flight Games announced that they had purchased the license to Star Wars card, role-playing, and miniatures games. Furthermore, they already had two games in the works: X-wing, a tactical minis game, and Star Wars: The Card Game, a cooperative card game. No word yet on a role-playing game.

First off, I have to say that I’m really intrigued by this announcement. I’m a huge Star Wars fan ever since I was a kid and saw the Special Edition of A New Hope in theaters with my dad. I’ve bought my share of the figures and Legos, played some of the board games, played most of the computer games, tried the trading card game, read many of the books (got Heir to the Empire signed by Timothy Zahn at Origins!), and even got a chance to talk to the guy who played Chewbacca (also at Origins a few years ago). Fun fact: according to him, Chewbacca didn’t get a medal for destroying the Death Star because Carrie Fisher wasn’t tall enough to give him one.

I have no doubt that they will eventually create a new Star Wars RPG, but I’m wondering a bit about what it will look like and I’ve been wanting to speculate about that on my blog. So far, Fantasy Flight Games has published the Warhammer 40k Roleplay line (consisting of Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Death Watch, and Black Crusade), Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition, and a few other minor role-playing games. They are all fairly generic RPGs with a percentile systems and self-contained books, except for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. That one actually comes in a box set with color character sheets, several decks of cards for things like combat maneuvers, standup cardboard character figures, lots of little tokens and chips, and even a special set of dice. It’s all very beautiful and it’s nifty, but it’s also a bit expensive at nearly $100 (although one box gives everything that an entire group needs to have to play).

My prediction is that Fantasy Flight Games will make their Star Wars RPG similar to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition (henceforth abbreviated as WFRP3). Here are my predictions about what the final Star Wars RPG will look like when  it is released.

  • It will have similar production quality to WFRP3. There will be color cards and lots of new art depicting exciting things in the Star Wars universe.
  • It will come in a box set like WFRP3. This will have the added draw of encouraging Star Wars fans to try a role-playing game if it’s all self contained like a board game.
  • It will have fewer cards for combat maneuvers than WFRP3 (which included things like Shield Bash, Twin Shot, etc.). That’s less important in Star Wars where you’re just interested in shooting your blaster at the Stormtrooper or swinging your lightsaber.
  • There will however still be cards for basic combat maneuvers. There will be cards for things like shooting, brawling, dodging, and other basic things.
  • Jedi will definitely have combat cards. Things like lightsaber blaster bolt deflection, force powers, and other things will have cards to help players more easily keep track of things.
  • It will use a career system like WFRP3. In that system, your character could transition from a thug to a tomb raider to a soldier. This fits for Star Wars where we have a farm boy turn into a pilot who then turns into a Jedi.

A career system like this would work out rather well for Star Wars. This Thug could easily be a Bounty Hunter, for instance.

  • It will be set in the Galactic Civil War era. It’s the most recognizable era and it’s the same era that their two upcoming board games will be released in. I believe further supplements will allow for play in other eras with The Old Republic being the first era released (to coincide with the MMO coming out) and the Clone Wars being the next one since the TV show is still going on.
  • It will have special dice. The WFRP3 dice provide a unique way of describing the battle (e.g. he thrusts his sword and hits twice, but is fatigued by the effort). I think that would help work for the cinematic nature of Star Wars. It will be a different system of dice than the WFRP3 dice, but I predict that we will have something special like that.
  • The box set will be priced at $60. I estimate this since I’m guessing there will be about as many components as Arkham Horror, a very elaborate board game that is priced at $59.95. Thus the role-playing game will be within the price point of the same people who buy their elaborate board games. Moreover, it will be less than WFRP3 because Warhammer fans are already spending a lot on armies and such, but a lower price point will be needed to pull in casual Star Wars fans.

Anyway, that’s my predictions for a Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight Games. When that does get released, I’d like to revisit these and see what things I predicted correctly. All in all, I’m eagerly awaiting it and I’m cautiously optimistic that they will do a good job with it.

Pitching Story, Setting, or System

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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