Thursday, May 18, 2017

Musings on Majesty

I love RPGs based on intellectual properties. These games provide fully fleshed out settings, backgrounds, tones, and are often filled with ready-made adventure hooks. A really well-written IP-based RPG that's created by folks who have a genuine passion for the material is a magnificent thing. But, what do you do when the rest of your group isn't as passionate about that intellectual property as you are?

I have a new local group and we've been gaming together for a few months now. They're great. Strong communication, mutual respect for one another, and a willingness to learn the mechanics of the game at hand. I really can't ask for more.

That being said, I've wanted to run a game of The One Ring for years - since the game's release really. I know Tolkien inside and out. I love the depth and majesty of his creation. I want to sing in the Hall of Fire in Imladris. I want to stand atop the Eagles Eyries. To shop in the great marketplace of Dale. I want to walk under the shadowed canopy of Mirkwood.

There is beauty and adventure beyond your doorstep.

I want my players to understand the depth and beauty of legends like that of Beren & Luthien. I want them to marvel at the foreboding magnificence of Orthanc. I want them to revel in the mead hall of Edoras.

Though they are fans of the Lord of the Rings films, they do not share my fierce love of Middle-Earth as a whole. So, how do I pass that on to them? How do I get them to buy into the subtle aspects of the source material that separate it from traditional D&D? How do I provide to them a genuine Middle-earth experience at the gaming table? Is it possible?

Just some musings and rumblings from a passionate fanboy.


  1. Frankly, I don't think so.

    I love the One Ring roleplaying game, having run several sessions in it. But finding players who appreciate the source material is hard. On my first run, I had a player dwarf insult a major setting hero and quest giver... good start.

    The person chosing the PC from the Dalelands actually disliked the role of being the party's face even though he was best suited for it. He had no idea about Tolkien lore and was overwhelmed by having to run the dialogue encounter.

    In other words, the first two attempts at running the One Ring were a disaster. The first GM gave up on it and handed it to me to run it. I run a half-decent game but could not get player buy-in and eventually stopped. We were play-testing anyway, so running two modules was enough for the group.

    Later sessions with other groups proved to be rather successful. 2nd edition helped, the experience of having fallen in all of the pitfalls of 1st edition helped, and having read all the releases of game sourcebooks since helped. It is a very fine RPG, the love for the setting is apparent.

    And having said that, I gave up on running a campaign in it for the time being. "The Darkening of Mirkwood" for example is superb, but I cannot help but think that it is too doomy-gloomy for any of my players in the long run. It's funny how people can sit through Dark Souls on their consoles without comment but in a tabletop RPG it has to be all success and nice...

    Anyway. The One Ring is a tough sell. The setting disfavors the PCs heavily because until the Ring War it doesn't really get better. These rails by which you are supposed to abide are ... disheartening for many players. Unless you have a group of players devoted to Tolkien, the tone of the game gets to you. It did to me, and I just read it and GMed it. In a sense I find Dark Sun more lighthearted (ha!) than the One Ring...

    I think unless you can assemble people at least with mild devotion to Tolkien, it's just an ill fit in the long run.

    "I want my players to understand the depth and beauty of legends like that of Beren & Luthien." I don't think that's going to happen in a roleplaying game. But maybe someone picks up the books to delve in deeper, who knows?

  2. I think it could work as long as you are prepared to introduce them slowly to each corner of Middle Earth *and* they are prepared to pay the part of generally kind and honourable adventurers.

    It took you a long time to explore and learn Middle Earth and it will take that time for your players to learn to love it to.

    What Middle Earth really needs though is respect, both from the players to the setting and from the PCs to the NPCs. Without that, the game will never feel right.

    I guess done people might struggle with knowing what is coming with the metaplot already well known. Have you considered making your own fantasy setting in the style of Middle Earth? It might solve your problems and could be even more rewarding in the long run.

  3. I suggest running a session like the book, The Hobbit. Lots of action and a sense of how the races interact in Middle Earth with just hints of all the great events happening elsewhere. If they enjoy themselves, then maybe they'll want to pursue some of those events.

  4. If you don't present it as a LOTR game, but start off the campaign as you would any other and as the setting builds and the players buy into the story setting then start to throw in subtle references that would not be in the movies. As they are invested into their characters you can mention that you are drawing from the Lord of the Rings books as inspiration. The books can be intimidating to people to just dive into.

  5. I think it can be done, but as a poster said above, you'll need to be patient, especially if you're gaming with total Middle Earth neophytes. I think one of the hardest things you're going to have to do is keep your own expectations at middling level to prevent them from spoiling your attempt.

    If it were me, and I am a rabid Tolkien-ite, I might have a series of movie nights before play and watch one of the series together; then over a pint or two, I would discuss the movies, how much deeper Middle Earth is, how cool it would be to play there, and my vision for a game. At the end of the series, you could roll up characters. The point is to set up a common vocabulary before you take the plunge.

    Another thing I would do is totally old-school it using a gaming engine I love and am seriously comfortable with. You sound like you could RPG Middle Earth regardless of system. Why learn a new one and make the learning curve even steeper and raise the stress level? Use the One Ring source books for reference and inspiration, leave the mechanics OSR.

    Finally, I wouldn't sweat deviating from canon. If you need to change up the timeline, introduce a new bad-guy or race, tweak a civilization, move a canon character about for the sake of your story-telling: do it. If it isn't a leaf out of the Professor's Red Book of Westmarch, it's okay. Fun is the order of the day. Back in MERP days, ICE came out with some of the most amazing source books (the ones with Angus MacBride illustrations), a lot of it taking place in regions Tolkien only hinted at, some of them totally made up by MERP writers. I remember being rather put off by it at first, but I later understood that LotR was a great fantasy book...but maybe not a great RPG and it might need a nudge here or there to make it so.

    If you love Middle Earth and enthusiastically present it to your players, concentrating your GMing on the Fun-Factor, the players may not get it at first, but they will appreciate your enthusiasm. Over time they'll learn to appreciate Middle Earth too. If not...TPCK and find some folks that do...LOL!


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