April 9, 2012

One Ring: The Marsh Bell, Part One

My Saturday night group played our second session of the One Ring this past Saturday, kicking of the "Marsh Bell" adventure from the back of the Loremaster's Guide. Needless to say there will be some mild spoilers ahead.

Our band of would be adventerur were each in Esgaroth, each of us kind of doing our own thing. As it happened, Rory Hornblower heard through his uncle Mungo (a Hobbit that had left the Shire years before Bilbo to indulge his queer sense of wanderlust) that Gloin, one of the surviving members of Thorin's Company from the Battle of Five Armies, was seeking to hire a group of adventurers, and was offering a princely sum for success in the endeavor. Rory discussed the idea with Mirabella Bracegirdle about showing up and offering their services, though Mira felt they'd have better luck if they brought some stouter folk along with them, which lead to the wee folk getting word to the rest of us about the prospect of adventure and riches. Brander was doing a bit of restocking before heading out once more into the wilds on his self-appointed patrols, and had no qualms about assisting the Hobbits.

We got our first task of One Ring's Interaction system, used to handle social contests with plot-critical NPCs. We had to make a good impression on Gloin, which Mirabella did by nominating herself the party spokesperson as her Hobbit-sense suggested that Gloin was a busy and gruff man, and would have little time to waste on elaborate pleasantries, but she was very polite, even when Gloin seemed skeptical that a pair of Hobbits would be much help, though Rory did posit that "Uncle Bilbo" had been of much help to Thorin's company, and that the aid of Hobbits should not be so quickly overlooked, a remark that got the somber Dwarf to chuckle in admiration of the Hobbit's boldness.

Suitably impressed, Gloin explained that two of his fellow Dwarves, one of whom was his cousin Balin, had left on an errand for King Dain Ironfoot to deliver a formal invitation to the King of the Eagles for a celebration marking the 5th anniversary of the Battle of Five Armies, but Gloin had received troubling news that the two Dwarves had not arrived, though he did not say how he knew this. We agreed to the request, figuring that those interested in such matters could haggle over payment after the dwarves were brought safely back to Esgaroth. Gloin provided us with a rough map that marked the path Balin planed to take as well as arranging for us to make use of a pair of long boats to speed us on our way. As it was late in the day, we opted to get a night's rest and head out in the morning.

And so came another round of One Ring's Journey system. In addition to the assigning of roles (Guide, Scout, Look-out, and Hunter), each character is required to make a Lore check when planning the Company's route, with the best roll of the group used, but each failure adding a day. The GM gave us a bit of a break as our path was pretty much laid-out, but Caranlas (whose main specialty is Lore and rolled an extraordinary success) was able to plan a route that would be less wearisome for the less hardy members of the Company, even in spite of some less than helpful advice from Grimbald (who blew his Lore check).

So the next morning, off we set, traveling down the Running River with what should be a four day trek until we reached the Long Marshes on the edge of Mirkwood near the Old Forest Road. We did managed a brief stop-over at a small port village, where the Hobbits proved to be quite entertaining with a rendition of some Hobbit folk songs for the villagers, though Caranlas also proved some skill in that realm by reciting a tale dating from the Second Age regarding the valor of the Men against the fell powers of The Enemy. In exchange, we were introduced to the village's wise man, an ancient walnut of a Lake-man named Nerulf, who seemed a bit out of sorts but recited an old rhyme he'd learned as a child regarding the marshes, that "if south you dare to go, into the marshes then take heed, lightly should you tread, and fear the gallows-weed," though he couldn't really offer much of an explanation. The next three days were uneventful, and we reached the edge of the Long Marshes at the edge of Mirkwood, where even Caranlas, who called the woods home for most of his long life, admitted the unsettling nature of the woods, yet in spite of the oppressive nature of the place, we were able to move forward, though Grimbald seemed the most disturbed.

In game terms, the Long Marshes and Mirkwood are considered "Shadow Lands," meaning that we needed to make Corruption tests to resist the insidious nature of such blighted places. They're not anywhere near Mordor level of bad, but the portion of Mirkwood we were traveling through was not a happy place. Allegedly we should have been rolling once per day, but the GM only called for one roll upon entering the Marshes, which was probably just as well to prevent us from either racking up a lot of Shadow points or burning Hope, since we're still pretty much starting level heroes.

We did have a duece of a time navigating the Marshes, as we stuck to the river as long as possible, and it fell upon Brander to steer the boat through the many river-paths, though he performed admirably. Caranlas' keen elf-senses learned that we were being shadowed, though he couldn't be certain by whom. We were able to pick up a sign of Balin's trail, though before we could get very far, the Company was accosted by a scouting party of Wood Elves, who had been the ones trailing us since we'd entered the Long Marshes.

This lead to another Interaction test, this time with the Elf leader, who was quite unhelpful, particularly when Grimbald plainly stated why we were in the marshes in the first place, but Caranlas was at least able to convince the scouting band that we were no threat to the Elves, and so they agreed to leave us in peace. It was here that Brander's Ranger-training proved itself, as I was easily able to pick up Balin's exact trail, which in turn lead to a campsite that only recently seen use. Taking a look around, we were able to confirm that while the dwarves had indeed set up the camp, they had not slept there. Rory, being the inquisitive soul that he was, managed to find tucked within a rotten stump a small box, an ivory jewel cass with intricately carven images of regal-looking birds. Caranlas, upon checking the stump, found Dwarf-runes which suggested a protective enchantment, one perhaps to keep would-be thieves from finding the locked box, which he and Brander agreed was likely meant to be a gift to the Eagles, and though Rory wanted to see what was inside, Mira convinced him to leave it be, as stealing from the very dwarves they'd been asked to find wasn't the sort of thing a sensible Hobbit did, and with a fair bit of reluctance Rory gave the box over to Caranlas for safe-keeping.

Being very late in the day, the Company decided they'd camp here for the night, though the Elf was very wary, saying that the trees whispered of a threat nearby, though more the would not say. We soon learned what that threat was when Mira went to see about finding some potable water and passed too close to a lake of stagnant water. She was just barely able to avoid being snatched up by a large arm, and her scream brought the rest of us quickly to the scene to find a monstrous brute emerging from the lake, intent on turning the halfing lass into a late night snack.

I figure this was a planned combat encounter in the module, as nobody had seriously failed any of their Travel checks to avoid fatigue. And it though it was five against one, it was not an easy fight. Apparently this was a swamp troll, and it was able to withstand one heck of a beating, as Brander and Grimbald were mostly left to hack away at the monster, with Rory focusing on keeping his cousin Mira safe from the beast while Caranlas hung back and peppered the thing with arrows.

A note about combat in One Ring. Most opponents tend to drop when either their Endurance is reduced to zero or they suffer a Wound. Trolls apparently don't drop anywhere near that easily, as we had to Wound the thing twice, which was made a bit more difficult by the fact it had a high Armor rating (representing it's thick hide) and the GM was rolling well against each Piercing Blow the Elf made, as he chose to attack every other round to use the option to aim and get an automatic Piercing Blow with his bow. Grimbald kept to a Forward Stance, literally focused on just hitting this thing and doing as much damage as he could, which came back to bite him as the troll soon realized that he was doing the most damage with his long-handled axe (even if he never once managed a Piercing Blow, he still managed a great success on each attack, doing a lot of damage) and was also the easiest to hit. I went with an Open Stance, not hitting as often but also being a lot harder for the troll to hit in turn, even after it grabbed a stout tree branch to use as a club. Caranlas did managed to score a Wound in the fourth round, but then the troll responded by grabbing it's club and squashing Grimbald, who was already wounded from the opening round, got Wounded again and reduced to zero Endurance (the GM rolled a great success for loads of damage and triggered a Piercing Blow, which even with a Hope Point the Beorning was unable to save against). This was enough to incite Brander to hew into the monster, and I scored the second Wound needed to slay the beast, slashing it's throat open with my sword after it failed to flatten him with its club.

And that was pretty much where we ended the session, with the heroes taking the time to bury the brave Beorning's remains and Caranlas offering an ancient blessing to help shepherd our ally's spirit to the West. Brander had a few bruises as did Rory, so we definitely needed some time to rest and recover, but our journey was not that much more difficult with the lose of one of our Company.

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