We’re gearing up for the release of a new edition of The One Ring Roleplaying Game, and until it goes on pre-order in a couple of weeks we’re publishing a series of articles that each take a look at a different aspect of the game (you can find them all here). Today’s article takes a look at the threat facing all of Middle-earth: the Shadow.
Smaug may be dead and the Necromancer driven from his fastness in Dol Guldur, but Sauron is not defeated and his taint still lies heavy upon Mirkwood and his many agents and spies still roam Wilderland. It is these dark forces that the heroes of The One Ring must face, whether in the guise of physical foes such as Orcs and Wargs, or against the more insidious threat of the corruption of spirit and the destruction of hope.
In The One Ring Roleplaying Game, this latter threat is represented by a set of mechanics called Shadow points. We asked games designer Francesco Nepitello to explain more about them.
“In my opinion, Shadow points are both a measure of the loss of reason and corruption. They represent fear and doubt, gnawing away at the capability of an individual to trust in a brighter future. So, they represent self-doubt, insecurity, resignation and the result of giving in to our darkest urges. But in a world were evil is incarnate, Shadow represents also an outside threat, a corrupting force that can taint the spirit and twist the mind of a hero.”
A hero will inevitably accumulate Shadow points as he adventures, gaining them for venturing into blighted lands (which sap his spirit) or experiencing harrowing events (such as being haunted by a Wight or seeing a Nazgûl). They’re also gained when a hero does something decidedly unheroic, such as stealing from a villager or bullying others.
A few Shadow points is nothing to worry about, so long as a hero has more Hope. But, as soon as a character has more Shadow than Hope, he becomes Miserable as his spirit is weakened by grief and sorrow. From this point on, the next time he rolls an Eye of Sauron he experiences a bout of madness as he gives in to his darker emotions (as set out during character creation by his Calling – see here), be that his rage, his cowardice or his lust for treasure. Once the bout of madness has passed, a character is himself again and his Shadow score is reset – but now he has a permanent point of Shadow that can never be removed, and a flaw representing his degeneration into madness. The more he succumbs to the Shadow, the greater his degeneration until he is lost to the company forever…
But it is not just insidious corruption that threatens the heroes of Middle-earth, for there is also the more visible threat of the servants of the Shadow: Orcs, Trolls, Spiders, Wargs and darker things besides. Francesco explains how he approached these monsters:
“The monsters of Middle-earth are among the things that set this world apart from other fantasy world. The creatures that Tolkien created appear as if they were taken out of an ancient song, so everything we introduce in The One Ring must have that quality of authenticity. My favourite monsters might well be the Marsh-dwellers, as I based them on the beautiful ‘Mewlips’ poem by JRRT himself. There is a certain Lovecraftian quality to them, a mood that is very well suited to the dead bogs and marshes of Middle-earth.”
It is these adversaries that the heroes must face in combat and, just as heroes have Hope, so too do their foes have a mechanic called Hate. Francesco again:
“Hate is very much the opposite of Hope, and well represents the driving force behind the actions of many servants of the Shadow. From the point of view of the mechanics, Hate is a resource for the Loremaster to manage to apply his strategy in a battle, and also something the players may try to reduce, to force their enemies to flee.”
Hate points can be spent by the Loremaster to power a monster’s special abilities, giving it horrible strength or allowing it to cast dreadful spells, for example. While even combat against lesser foes such as Goblins and Attercops can be deadly when faced with sufficient numbers or judicious use of special abilities, no hero in Middle-earth would do battle with a Troll and not be rightfully afraid – as any long-standing player of The One Ring will tell you!
We asked Francesco if he had any tips for fighting such terrifying creatures.
Already Own The One Ring?
While Loremasters of The One Ring will doubtlessly benefit from the clarifications made elsewhere in the rules, they’ll also find that we’ve made a few adjustments to the rules for Shadow too, including adding a new section on Tainted Treasure as a source of corruption.
We’ve also tinkered a little with the rules for adversaries, including Great Size, so that a monster with such a rule becomes Weary when reduced to 0 Endurance but keeps fighting, as well as spelling out exactly how a victim escapes a monster that has seized him.
Finally, we’ve brought the rules for how an adversary applies damage in line with heroes, so they now apply an attribute as a damage bonus on a great success, or twice on an extraordinary success. Be warned, heroes!