Well, it was a bit ahead of what I thought was going to be the schedule, but my Saturday gaming group had our first go at playing Cubicle 7's One Ring RPG. Seems the GM really was eager to back behind the GM screen for the first time in almost twenty years. A short summary would be to say that we had a lot of fun and the game mechanics generally worked really well. But this particular tale is going to grow in the telling ;)
At the GM's request, all five players sat down at the same time to build our characters (he expressly told me not to make a character as he knew I had the PDFs) so that we'd have an idea of what each person's strong points were and where the others might shore-up their less-than-stellar aspects. So after a half-hour or so actually putting pencil to paper (we'd spent an hour previously just discussing what sorts of characters we wanted to play), we had our Company, consisting of a Human Warden, an Elf Scholar, a Beorning Orc-Slayer, a male Hobbit Treasure Hunter, and a female Hobbit Wanderer, with the Hobbits being cousins as a way to connect the two of them. We've got a broad skill base to draw upon, with my character jokingly being dubbed "proto-Aragorn" due to how many of the journey and combat based skills I'm pretty good at. Brander's still going to need to work on getting his stubble up to Viggo's impressive standards though :) The GM had done some online research, and provided a plethora of names from Middle Earth for us to use as a resource, including translations. I ended up choosing Brander (Fiery Sword) for my Human Warden's name. I have to say that character creation is generally painless, but I'll go through that process another time.
Our characters at the ready, the GM ran a short intro-adventure to let us get used to the system and have our characters met up. We didn't met at an inn, but rather at the site of an attack upon a trade caravan that was a few days out from Esgaroth (near Long Lake). The Hobbits (Rorimac aka 'Rory' and Mirabella) and the Beorning (Grimbald) were traveling with the caravan, fresh from a stop at Beorn's place, with the later serving as a guard and the Hobbits as fellow travelers. The Elf (Caranlas) was simply gallivanting in Mirkwood (he apparently does that a lot according to his background), with Brander the proto-Ranger having been tracking a group of raiders that had been harassing travelers of late. The bad guys turned out to a group of orc raiders that attacked just as the sun had begun to set.
The way One Ring handles combat is really neat, with your base Target Number to hit or be hit determined by how ferociously you decided to attack the enemy, so the more offensive you get, the easier it is to hit and be hit, while playing it safe and fighting defensively means you're going to miss a whole lot more. It can also be fairly nasty, as armor only helps against attacks that have a chance to deal an injury. As a group, we weren't overly thrilled with that notion, Grimbald's player most of all as his armor proved to be of no help whatsoever against being nicked at until he dropped (orcs pretty much spent the first round ganging up on him), so we might adopt a house rule to make armor a bit more useful in general. As expected, Grimbald with his long-handled axe dealt out horrific amounts of damage per swing, while I wound up being the most difficult to hurt in melee thanks to my high Parry rating, though the Elf went unscathed due to his own high Parry score and distance. What's also cool is that you have the option to use various skills to help your allies with a quick burst of recovery or overawing the enemies and causing them to lose their own fighting spirit, which I did to end the fight by pretty much scaring off the few remaining orcs after we'd taken down the orc boss. So bonus points to the designers for having codified rules for using some of the more social-based skills to do more in combat than just attacking the bad guy. I'll admit that damage output looked a tad low, but after a couple of combats, I now see that it's quite easy to rack up some impressive damage if the dice are on your side (which I bore witness to by taking down a warg in one blow thanks to a phenomenal check result).
I suppose I should give mention to how dice work in One Ring. It uses a single d12 (called the Feat Die) and you add a number of d6's (called Success Dice) equal to your rating in whatever skill you're using. So Brander, with a Swords skill at 2, would roll 1d12 + 2d6 when trying to cut down an orc. Now, the part where One Ring gets a bit tricky is that the 11 and 12 on the d12 and the 6 on the d6 have different effects. On the Feat Die, an 11 represents the Eye of Sauron, and counts as a zero for your hero's check as well as potentially triggering something nasty, but a 12 represents the rune for Gandalf, which means you automatically get a basic success at whatever you were trying to do. Now with the Success Dice, each 6 you roll increases the degree of the success and makes the task you were attempting that much more successful, such as dealing a lot more damage in combat or learning extra information when searching an area. However, in case this seems a bit swingy to some folks, particularly the d20 crowd with their long-standing use of modifiers to a die roll, each character has three Attributes, called Body, Heart, and Wits, that can be added to a roll by spending what's called Hope Point, of which a hero has a finite supply and represents their courage and ability to keeping going when lesser folk would give up.
What's also neat with One Ring is they actually give a structured set of rules for traveling, which does fit as journeys play a big part in both the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, with each hero taking at least one particular role (guide, scout, look-out, hunter) and then making checks to see if any hazards or troubles come up, as well as the occasional check to see if you wind up exhausted from traveling, and depending on how the heroes roll on their travel checks, you might have a random encounter, which I think is a better way than the GM rolling randomly on a chart; the better the heroes roll, the easier their journey. It's here where Brander's proto-Aragorn status showed up, as he's pretty decent at each of those roles, with the GM permitting me to act as both guide and scout (dunno if that's allowed by the rules though). Since we were only a few day's out from Esgaroth, we didn't have to make many rolls, and it went pretty smoothly. We largely used it as a chance to roleplay a bit and get a feel for our characters; it would seem that Mirabelle is quite taken with the brave Human that had come her rescue and slain the nasty orc-hound that was going to make a meal of her (something she needled her cousin Rory about, seeing as how Rory's player was to busy trying to finish off a different orc rather than come to her aid). For his part, Brander seems bemused by the halfing girl and has become a bit fond of her, much the way an older brother is fond of a kid sister.
Which brings me to another important part of the game, the Company. Now in most RPGs, the PCs are simply lumped together, with few perks for sticking together as a group other than strength in numbers. Not so with One Ring, as it takes a cue from its source materials and introduces two important group-related traits. The first of these is the Fellowship Score, which can help keep a member of the group from losing all heart when things look bleak, but there is also a hero's Fellowship Focus. Much like Samwise Gamgee was devoted to Frodo in Lord of the Rings, a hero's Fellowship Focus has several key effects. The first is that if your Focus gets through a battle without being injured or killed, you regain a spent Hope Point, while the second is that if you spend a Hope Point in some way that benefits your Fellowship Focus, you get that Hope Point back. So, from the bit of roleplay that occured during the journey, Brander selected Mirabelle as his Fellowship Focus, kind of like how Aragorn might have taken Frodo as his Fellowship Focus when the Fellowship set out from Rivendell on their quest.
The GM did manage to spring a surprise encounter on us in the form of a pair of overly large wolves, which were made quick work of though their dread howls left both Hobbits badly shaken, though the Beorning was able to use his knowledge of beasts to quickly suss out that the beasts were afraid of fire, urging the little folk to use tree branches to make impromptu torches and hold the wolves at bay while the rest of us set about dispatching the monsters. Which brings up another aspect of One Ring, something that may look a tad familiar to FATE players, that of Traits, which describe certain aspects of your character, be it things they know or certain skills they have. These traits can be used to allow a basic success on a fairly simple action or as a basis to permit a roll or to help earn some experience after making a successful roll. You don't have to pay anything to invoke them, but you do need the approval of both the GM and the rest of party to gain any sort of benefit. So in the above example, Grimbald used his Beast-lore trait to see if there was a simple way for the Hobbits to protect themselves from the wolves other than cowering away. Being a man of the wild, we all agreed that the trait would fit the scene, and so the GM suggested that most wild animals are quite afraid of fire, and that these wolves were trying to avoid getting too close to the campfire we'd just built.
Two days later, we roll into Esgaroth, the trade caravan leader quite thankful for the extra aid, and giving each of use a bit of treasure as way of payment (even the Hobbits, as they'd helped out quite a bit along the way instead of just being along for the ride). Instead of the usual method of breaking out monetary rewards into different types and coinage, One Ring simply uses Treasure Points, which can represent just about anything from sacks of gold to precious gems to pieces of art and most anything in between except for special items such as magical swords or mithral armor (no rules on getting those outside of character advancement as of yet). The journey over, we then entered what is called the Fellowship phase, or the stuff that heroes do once the adventure is over and they head back to base to recover. The Fellowship phase when you spend your gathered experience and accomplish a particular undertaking, be it making some subtle tweaks to your character's Traits (within reason), raising your standard of living, or finding/contacting a patron.
So, that was our first adventure in the realm of Middle Earth using the One Ring RPG. And it was quite fun, with us getting into the spirit of things and talking in a manner not too far removed from how Tolkien has the various characters talk. The GM's already got the next adventure planed out, but that will have to wait until April, to which I'm very much looking forward to.