We’re gearing up for the release of a new edition of The One Ring Roleplaying Game, and prior to it going on pre-order next week we’re publishing a series of articles that each take a look at a different aspect of the game. Today’s article is about the passage of time in The One Ring campaign.
As we mentioned a few weeks back, games of The One Ring are split into two parts: the Adventuring phase and the Fellowship phase. While an Adventuring phase is packed with dangerous battles and perilous journeys, Fellowship phases provide heroes with the opportunity to rest and recuperate, to practise their skills or pursuing a noble undertaking.
Designer Francesco Nepitello explains how the Fellowship phase came about:
“One of my primary design focuses was to make the passage of time a central feature of playing The One Ring. I feel that it is the unfolding of history what really turns the deeds of a character into an epic worthy of song. So, making the passing of the years a mechanic of the game was a must. I’ve played a lot of King Arthur Pendragon in my time, an excellent game that successfully tackles the issue, and I have seen other games inspired by the same principle (Mouse Guard among the foremost of these). So, the division in two distinct gaming phases was a natural choice.”
Whereas in an Adventuring phase, where the players are largely reacting to the Loremaster’s plots and story, in the Fellowship phase it is the players who get to set the agenda. At the start of a Fellowship phase, the heroes all retire to a location of their choice, whether to their home or to a sanctuary, a special location they have established as their own. Each player then decides upon an undertaking, an endeavour concerning the bigger picture, such as meeting with a patron or healing themselves of corruption.
In so doing, we get to see what a hero gets up to when not out adventuring, making them well-rounded characters not merely defined by their heroics, as well as making them feel a part of Middle-earth itself.
We asked Francesco where his characters like to retire to in the Fellowship phase, and the undertakings they like to perform.
“Lake-town is my favourite haunt (at least until we reveal Rivendell… ). My favourite Undertaking may be the Receive Title undertaking, as it is very important for the life of a character and has very tangible consequences from the point of view of the mechanics, allowing a character’s heroic to be recognised by a culture other than their own.”
As well as undertaking larger-scale tasks, heroes can take advantage of the Fellowship phase to practise their skills and hone their abilities. In The One Ring, this character development takes the form of Advancement and Experience points, both of which are gained during the Adventuring phase, as Francesco explains:
“Character development is a major mechanical issue in any roleplaying game. Advancement must give a reward to a player, to satisfy his need for achievement, but balance must be preserved in the long run. To do this, I decided to split advancement into two separate fields, and have players accumulate Advancement points in one way, and Experience points in another. Advancement points replicate the learning process that comes from exercise and application, and Experience points simulate the exceptional potential for change derived from adventuring.”
A Fellowship phase takes place between Adventuring phases, signalling the end of a company’s adventure for a number of weeks or even months. It also helps mark the passage of time, especially at the end of year, as the Loremaster relates events from the wider world to the players, events that they will eventually help shape.
Francesco discusses the invaluable role of the wider chronology of Middle-earth:
“The tale of years is an invaluable resource for a Loremaster and his group of players. Not for the amount of material that can be exploited to create new adventures (and that’s useful too), but for its potential to make a campaign a saga that is completely focused on the players as the protagonists of the tale. While it is not really apparent from the beginning, as soon as the players have a number of adventures under their belt, the Loremaster will find it extremely easy to just look at his characters’ ‘curricula’ and pick the right ‘loose ends’ and weave them in new personalized adventure hooks.
“And the heroes definitely have the chance to change the timeline too! At first by simply putting a name and a face to otherwise-unnamed heroes responsible for some recorded deed (did someone spy upon the return of the Ringwraiths to Mirkwood and report to the Wise?), but later on by having their names sung in the major halls of Middle-earth, if their deeds deserve it (did a war-duke emerge to lead the Woodmen of Wilderland against the Shadow over Mirkwood?).”
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As a central part of The One Ring, the rules for the Fellowship phase have received a number of important changes and clarifications, most notably where Advancement and Experience points are explained. We’ve thoroughly revised and reworded these sections, giving Loremasters far more advice as to how many Advancement and Experience points to hand out. We’ve also reduced the cost for advancing a skill if it is Favoured.
We’ve added an option for Loremasters to allow two undertakings in a suitably long Fellowship phase (such as that at the year’s end). We’ve also tweaked a couple of Fellowship undertakings too, adding the aforementioned Receive Title undertaking, which builds on the option seen in a couple of the supplements, and expanding the Gain New Distinctive Feature undertaking to allow a player to change their Specialities too.