Yesterday evening we played our first game of The One Ring RPG using the just-released 2e Alpha Rules. We’re playing through the Laughter of Dragons campaign and we have well-established characters (c.50XP) on their 15th session of play.
I explain this uptop because these learning points may not age well as the communities experience with 2nd Edition settles down, and they may not be applicable for those starting up a 2nd Edition game from fresh.
These are my first order thoughts on what I learned from LMing that session. They may not apply to everyone and you may well have done more rules reading than I had opportunity to!
You can see the video of the session here and a shorter video talking about character conversion here.
Note: We wanted to play as close to published rules as possible with no homebrew or house rules to start with. If you’re willing to do that differently then some of these lessons may not apply to you.
1. Character Conversion is relatively straightforward
Or: it’s as hard as you make it, and specialities can be translated through the Useful Items rules.
So our Dwarves all came from Cultures that aren’t part of 2e; more accurately they are all gathered together into one single culture. This mainly impacted on the spread of Cultural Virtues available to the players, as many of them were simply not translated over.
My guidance to the players was to avoid trying to rebuild their characters from the ground up – i.e. do NOT create a new 2e character and then spend accumulated experience to get back to where you were. My suspicion is that would be a bit of a timesink and we’d be trying to cross the streams too much.
The assumptions built into 1e might not translate over into 2e.
Instead I asked them to lift and shift as much as they could – if this broke the number of skill levels they should have based upon experience, I simply didn’t care. I felt it wouldn’t be a game breaker.
I asked them to try to find 2e analogues for what they already had and if they couldn’t find one to choose something new from the 2e set to simply replace it.
You can find out more detail about what they did here, but in the main it proved to be straightforward for them to achieve. Most of the players felt they were missing out on specialities, so they used the Useful Items (p.50 of the Alpha rules PDF) to fill in those gaps.
This approach didn’t appear to hamper the game in any way and allowed the characters to remain at a similar “power level” as they were in 1e.
2. Expect the first session(s) to be about the rules more than the Game
By this I mean that the story and player actions may well take a back step to everybody just working out the rules. We knew this was going to be an issue, but it still stole more time from the actual play than I preferred.
I was more keen to work out each rule to get a hard and fast take on it then to park and move on, because I wanted to get it in our heads early. But still we spent a good time just trying to parse rules text, that we were half-remembering from a read through.
In our first session I deliberately went with Council > Journey > Combat to play all of the key sub-systems early and I think that was the right thing. One player loved the Journeys and was cool on the rest, one player thinks that combat in 2e is the bee’s knees. It helps to keep player engagement when they have something that excites them about the new system.
3. Play the game to learn the moving parts before modding it
This is as much a preference as a learning point, but I think that the at the table experience really brought home what we really cared about.
Spending Hope for dice rather than a fixed number? No body actually cared in practice.
Are the weapon damages too low and weapons nerfed? Not appreciably; the characters that are martially powerful downed roughly equivalent opponents in the same number of rounds as before.
Did the change to TNs make it much harder to succeed? Kinda; on this I’m a little more open minded and want some experience. It is much easier to rapidly expand a dice pool (see the next point) than in 1e, so we found that players would quite often be rolling more dice for important rolls than it looked like they would on paper.
And rolling more success dice means more Tengwars which can usually then really ramp up the success factors.
There’s definitely an interaction here that best emerges in play and makes the white-room simulations based on a character sheet not representative of actual play.
That being said, this is something to keep an eye on as we gain more experience.
4. It is Very easy for players to ramp up dice pools
This really surprised me; in some scenes players were moving from a 2 success dice to 5 through various modifiers (e.g. a Distinctive Feature powering a hope spend [2d], in a Council with a Friend [1d]) on top of a skill being Favoured.
This interacts with the increased TNs in a way that I didn’t anticipate in advance; but what I really liked about this is that the difficulty was much more in the gift of the players, involved choices around spending resources and took a mental load from me that meant I could spend my energy thinking about the scene and the story.
The players rejoiced in having more dice and as time moves on, I can see them starting to think about the synergies that they can get from helping each other, which drives player interaction and engagement.
The Favoured dice mechanic works in a subtly better way than Advantage in D&D 5th Edition. The fact that it’s a d12 makes the range of inconsequential numbers more narrow (ever had advantage and rolled a pair of 8s in D&D? Feels like a wasted opportunity) and being able to discard a rolled Eye of Sauron feels like literally dodging the Enemy.
I would not have understood all of this without playing the game.
5. Councils need to be considered and framed out of character to be effective
I think this is true of Encounters in 1e as well. The stakes need to be explicit to the players as much as the characters and they need opportunity to consider their goals in the context of those stakes.
This requires some conversation ahead of the Council, and also a level of meta-discussion during the Council itself. Our experience was this naturally breaks up the feel of the narrative into a more disjoint experience, and I think LMs are going to have to work hard to keep the momentum going.
It might lessen as people get more used to it, but I think that this is going to be a place where I’ll be investing a lot of prep time.
The structure of Councils is more explicit than in 1e and I much prefer it for that. When 2e lands be prepared to walk your players through the structure for the first few Councils and I think that out of character conversations ahead of and during the Council will be necessary to get the most from them.
I would also suggest rolling the skills first and then doing the narration once the result is known as it can really improve the scene’s congruence (a fantastic RP speech makes no difference because the player rolled low is frustrating).
6. Events in Journeys are as big as you make them
Events are going to happen; the rules force that issue. The question then becomes whether they are simple skill-checks with a narrative wrapper, mini-encounters that add flavour and interest to the world, or events that lead to players getting pulled away from their quest to follow at a thread they’re interested in.
You’ll know your players and there’s a certain player style that will follow threads to the nth degree even if they have no bearing on the overall story. This is often triggered by a GM adding just a bit too much flavour to a description and that translating itself into an assumption there’s more behind it.
Just be aware of that, I guess.
Oh and it is really as big as you make it. The emphasis on what the event is narratively lives with the LM and we may want to offload some of that or just have some pre-planned events that can be dropped in as needed.
7. Become familiar with Adversaries
I didn’t. Mostly because I read the rules from front to back in that order and by the time I came to their section I was (a) tired and (b) low on time. For me, a + b = “I’m sure I can wing this bit.”
Turns out that I could but not as well as I would’ve liked.
I think that I robbed the combat scene of some of the threat that it could’ve possessed because I didn’t utilise the enemies to the extent that I could have done.
The players enjoyed it (they were winning!) but it might have made them over-confident… Well in truth, they’re mostly Dwarves armed to the teeth, over-confidence is their only weakness.
So, there we have it. The key learning from my first TOR 2e session. I hope that this helps other Loremasters and players out in getting ready for and playing their own sessions.
Good luck and let us know how it’s going!