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.