So this past Saturday, we finished up Marsh Bell, the intro-adventure included in the Loremaster's Book for The One Ring. As with last time, spoilers abound, so consider yourself fore-warned.
When we'd left off, the Company had defeated a swamp troll, but at the cost of one of their number, the Beorning Slayer Grimbald falling into shadow.
The survivors took the time to at least build a cairn out of what rocks and debris we could find for the fallen warrior before taking a brief rest for the night to recover the Endurance lost from fighting the troll, with Mirabella helping to treat the nasty injury that her cousin Rory had gotten during the troll fight from an errant swipe.
One thing I'd not really touched on before was how healing in The One Ring works. Unlike a lot of other recent RPGs, the Healing skill has fairly limited usage, and the primary means of recover is time and rest. If you don't have a Wound (pretty much a nasty hit that hampers your effectiveness, you can recover pretty quickly, while an untreated Wound means you heal at a snail's pace, and a treated Wound only heals slightly faster. One Wound means you're badly hurt, two Wounds means you're unconscious. Wounded and out of Endurance means you're at risk of dying (but at least you've got 12 hours for help so long as a baddie doesn't get a chance to finish you off). Getting a second wound and being reduced to Zero Endurance (what happened to Grimbald) means your hero has now joined the choir invisible. So getting banged up in this game can be a big deal, something our group discussed after the fact and plan to address via a house rule (to be discussed later in a post).
Come the morning, with one less hero, we proceed to follow the trail (such as it is) of Balin and his traveling companion. After an hour or so, we enter very dark and dismal (even for this portion of Mirkwood) copse of trees, only entering this portion of the forest as we'd found a wrecked Laketown boat not too dissimilar from the one we'd used, only the dwarves must have attempted to go further along than we had. As we continued the search, we found not only dwarf-tracks, but various bones of differing ages, past victims of the dark things that lurk within Mirkwood. It was Caranlas' sharp elf-eyes and memory of tales that enabled him to spot and recognize the threat of the sinister gallows-weed, a tree-hanging plant that coils itself around the necks of the unwary before pulling them up to strangle them. So warned, the Company managed to avoid the deadly vines, with Brander and Rory occasionally slashing at errant vines that got too close.
After some time, the dwarfs' trail lead to a wide pool of dark water, with prominent ruins suggesting a town of some sort once stood at this spot, though it had long been claimed by the swamp. The cawing of crows in the treetops helped to set an eerie mood, particular after Caranlas spotted one of the carrion eaters feasting upon an eye. Before we could really discuss how next to proceed, the slow and soft ringing of a bell can be heard. The menfolk are unaffected, but little Mira succumbs to some enchantment, and moves to enter the pool. Brander is easily able to prevent the Hobbit lass from entering the dark waters, and as Caranlas listens to the sound, can detect an ancient magic in the ringing of the bell, though why only Mirabella was affected he cannot say, though Rory suggests she always had a great fondness for music and song, and maybe that might be a factor. The elf does what he can to snap Mira out of her trance while Brander and Rory check for signs of where the dwarves had gone, but it is clear their tracks end at the pool.
With no other choice but to proceed, Brander carefully wades into the pool, with Rory close-by and Caranlas' bow at the ready. Searching the pool, the young Barding finds an underwater opening that only requires the briefest of dives to reach, though how long you'd have to hold your breath he can't quite tell. In a sing-song voice, Mira cites a lyric she heard as a child back in the Shire, about traveling over the muck and under the waters where sunken halls be found, and she finally comes out of the trance that the ringing of the bell put her under. It's clear that this was the path the dwarves took, though the Company is skeptical that they entered of their own free will, particularly given that Mira would have dove in regardless of danger had she not been stopped.
Taking point, Brander went first, followed by Rory, then Mira, and finally Caranlas. Only Brander had no trouble due to his upbringing in the wilds and on the shores of Long Lake, with the other three needing a few moments to catch their breaths. Entering into a flooded chamber, the Company set out to slowly and carefully explore, with dim lighting provided by the sun through cracks in the ancient stone roof. The first room we entered appeared to be a main cellar with a surprisingly high ceiling and a small alcove at the far end with a rope hanging from the ceiling. There are several options to further explore, and Rory's idea of splitting up to cover more ground is quickly shot down. Sword and shield at the ready, Brander checks the first two exits on the right, finding what appear to be disgusting sleeping quarters of some wretched thing; not even goblins would abide such rampant filth he concludes. However the third exit is a decorated archway with stairs that lead down a few feet and ending in a stout door defaced with claw marks. Brander tries to budge the door, but finds it is quite secure, gaining only a sore shoulder for his efforts. Shrugging, he turns to rejoin the others only to be stopped when a gruff yet worried voice asks who's there.
Surprised, Brander answers with his name, and that they were sent to find the dwarves Balin and friend, and the human's words bring Caranlas and Mira closer, leaving Rory to keep lookout for any of the inhabitants. The door opens, and a voice informs the Company that they are Balin and Bruni, son of Beli (new character for Grimbald's player). They have been trapped here for close to five days as far as they can reckon by the passing of the sun, and their meager provisions have long since run out. When asked why they simply haven't left, Bruni answers that they've tried, but the foul things that live here kept them from making their escape, to say nothing of the foul enchantment of the bell that drew them here in the first place.
Sadly, as this discussion is occurring, Rory's curiosity gets the better of him, and he decides to "take a quick peek" down an twisting and tight (or at least it would be for non-Hobbits) tunnel that soon ends in a wooden gate of dubious worth, with a thick and putrid stench filling his nose. Rory finds the locks on the gate quite simple to undo, and with barely a creak looks inside to see a huge pile of looted treasures, though its gleam is muted by a layer of muck. Rory debates trying to snag some, but figures he best not tarry and with a sigh heads back as quick as he can.
Balin and Bruni, informed that the Company was sent by Gloin, are quite eager to return to Laketown with the heroes, agreeing that attempting the Old Road was not the best path to take, with the older dwarf remarking that short cuts make for long delays. Bruni does inquire about a box that Balin had left for safe-keeping, and is openly relieved to learn that the heroes have both recovered it and left it unopened. Balin explains that box contains a gift meant for the King of the Eagles, and asks that it be returned, something Mira does gladly. It is then that Caranlas notices their look out has gone missing, but also hears scraping and shuffling sounds from several different directions. Though Bruni is weary with hunger and fatigue, he hefts his two-handed axe as best he is able while Balin informs the heroes that those are the sounds of the dwellers of the marsh. Deciding they need to leave and quickly, the Company makes for the flooded chamber and the passageway out, spotting Rory just as he exits the twisting tunnel. Mira prepares to scold him, but Brander and Caranlas both note that there is no time, as a dozen or so twisted mockeries of menfolk come shuffling out of the unexplored passages. Caranlas and Mira waste no time in letting fly with arrow and stone, the elf slaying one of the foul things outright while Mira dazes her target. Weapons in hand, Brander, Gimli, and Rory engage more of the foul things, with Brander's sword and Bruni's axe easily hewing their targets in twain while Rory finishes off the beast that his cousin injured just moments before. The monsters respond, raking with their claws at the three heroes in front, but can find no purchase on Brander's stout shield or Bruni's stiff armor, while Rory is simply to quick and nimble to be stuck. Hearing the sounds of more marsh dwellers, the Company know they can ill-afford to stay and fight it out. Caranlas spots one of the monsters heading for the rope hanging from the ceiling in the alcove across from them, and quickly shots the creature dead, informing the others of his suspicion the rope is tied to the bell that bewitched Mira and the dwarves. Noting this, the heroes hew into the monsters as Mira sings a brief song to embolden the heroes' spirits, a song that indeed seems to put fire back into the younger dwarf, as Bruni mows two of the marsh dwellers down with a broad sweep of his axe (he rolled a Gandalf rune and got an extraordinary success, which the GM permitted to let him take down two foes at once) even as Rory cut the innards loose of another while Brander sliced open the face of a fourth. The two of the remaining marsh dwellers attempt to claw and bite at Bruni, but the dwarf only suffers minor scrapes, while the third leaves itself wide open as it tries to lunge past Brander's shield.
With the aim for which his kind are known, Caranlas unleashes two arrows in rapid succession, cutting the rope at point well above what a slow moving beast such as these marsh dwellers could possibly leap and thus preventing them from being subjected once again to the bell's enchantment. Balin picks up a rock and hurls it, but has no success in that endeavor while Mira makes her way towards the flooded room, pausing only to hurl a stone from her sling at the marsh dweller that tried to attack Brander, catching the monster in the eye and downing it instantly. After a quick backward glance and a grin at his little friend, Brander engages one of the two marsh dwellers remaining and easily cuts it down before Bruni cuts down the last with a single blow from his axe. Knowing they've no time to linger, the Company quickly makes for the flooded room and the underwater tunnel. Knowing the difficulty she had before, Brander tucks little Mira under one arm and dives into the dark waters, swimming as fast as he is able for the other side of the tunnel and freedom. Once the Hobbit girl is safe, he then does his best to aid the others, prompting Bruni to cry "watch the beard!" as the young Dalelander attempts to heave the younger dwarf out of the waters, while Caranlas and Rory each help Balin through. Noting that the sun has begun its gradual descent into the horizon, Balin voices the very real concern that the marsh dwellers might give pursuit, causing the Company to agree to make as much haste as possible away from this place and back the way the came.
The rest of the journey is relatively peaceful, with the closest thing to excitement being a sudden rainstorm that left the heroes quite drenched, but they eventually return to Laketown with the two dwarves. Gloin is overjoyed to see his friend Balin returned home, as well as his cousins' nephew Bruni. As promised, he grants the heroes a princely sum, especially as the Eagle King's gift was also returned. Having had his first real taste of adventure, Bruni is intent to experience more, and after several days in the company of the others, asks if he might join them. There's a mild stink about the presence of a Wood Elf, but Bruni is willing to give the elf the benefit of the doubt, having not been a "guest of the Elfking." The heroes decide that they will each remain in and around Laketown, enjoying some well-earned comforts.
Treasure and wealth in The One Ring is handled in a very abstract manner, especially compared to fantasy games such as D&D and Warhammer Fantasy RP (1st and 2nd editions at least). Instead of counting out coins or magical items, characters track their relative wealth by something called Treasure Points, which represents coins and jewels and other valuable trinkets they've either collected or been rewarded with. There's not much you can really spend them on, other than raising your standard of living for a few months or your status with your culture (though that option is fairly expensive). Our reward for completing this adventure was 5 Treasure Points. A nice bankroll, but not much for us to officially spend it on, though the GM did offer a couple house-rule suggestions to bear in mind.
And that concluded the Marsh Bell for us, with each of us opting to take our Fellowship/Rest Phase in Esgaroth. The GM had tried out a few house rules, and for the most part we're keeping them. But this post has gone on long enough, so I'll save the house rule stuff for tomorrow.