The Lord of the Rings is arguably the ur-text for fantasy roleplaying, especially games in the high-fantasy mode. Therefore, it is no surprise that Middle Earth is a popular property for RPGs. I have fond memories of playing MERP, and still have a small collection of the incredibly detailed ICE setting books.
The One Ring
This is the latest licensed RPG set in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The One Ring is written by Francesco Nepitello, published by Cubicle 7 in 2014. The game describes itself as follows:
In The One Ring Roleplaying Game, you take the part of the heroes of Middle-earth. You will travel the land, uncover its secrets, take part in its unfolding history and encounter its inhabitants and legends. As the Shadow creeps back across the lands of the Free Peoples, you will uncover hints of what is happening, and have the chance to play a part in the struggle against the Enemy.
The One Ring is available from DriveThruRPG [affiliate link]
Origins of the Fellowship
One of the clear parallels between the work of Tolkien and RPGs is the adventuring party, an apparently disparate group of heroes who band together on a quest. This trope is at the core of D&D, and I am sure it traces its origins to the company of the ring which set out from Rivendell.
Therefore, it is only appropriate that The One Ring has rules for the process of forming a fellowship. Seeing this formalized here made me wonder why creating the fellowship, adventuring party or heroband receives little attention in other games.
The process of creating a fellowship is summarized in The One Ring as follows:
After the players have finished creating their characters, they should discuss with the Loremaster the circumstances that brought the group together and forged them into a company of adventurers.
The rules then outline the steps to add more detail to this brief narrative, and it is with these steps that the guidelines in The One Ring really shine. This process is split into three parts:
- The Story of the Fellowship
- A Web of Friendships
- The Fellowship and Mechanics
The Story of the Fellowship
First, the Players decide where they met, in collaboration with the GM, or Loremaster, to use the correct term for The One Ring. The location is likely to be a notable fortress, city or other secure dwelling. Here is a great opportunity to start feeding Players background details about the setting.
It can also serve as a starting point for a round of Player-lead setting creation.
A Web of Friendships
The second stage of Fellowship creation in The One Ring requires each Player to nominate one Hero as the focus for their character. This bond grants the Hero some minor bonuses during the game. My affection for this step lies not with the mechanics, which can easily be tweaked to fit any rules.
Rather, I like this for the party dynamics it creates. Every Hero in a game of The One Ring is questing with a close friend, mentor or inspirational figure. So long as the Players embrace this approach, it will create some fascinating roleplaying.
Nor do these relationships have to be symmetrical. While the Ranger may admire the Elf, the Elf is free to bestow her focus on the Wizard. Or perhaps everyone is focused on the Ranger, making him the central figure in the Fellowship. However these relationships map out, they should create some dynamic interpersonal relationships during the game.
This part of the creation process reminds me of how we use DramaSystem, by Robin D Laws.
During the course of the game, a Hero can draw upon this relationship to inspire them to greater action. However, should the focus be injured, especially if the Hero could have prevented the injury, then the Hero suffers emotionally. This both reinforces the relationship to the focus, and provides motivations for scenes within the story.
The Fellowship and Mechanics
The final aspect of the Fellowship outlined in the creation step is the mechanical benefits within The One Ring. While I do not want to discuss the details of these rules, I applaud the principle. The best way to make Players care about some aspect of the setting is to enshrine it in the rules. Thus, if the Players can extract a mechanical benefit from membership of the Fellowship, then they are more likely to care about the Fellowship.
The One Ring assigns a pool of tokens to the Fellowship, which any member of the Fellowship can draw upon so long as at least half of the membership approve. This is such an elegant rule, not least as it opens the way for conflict within the Fellowship, if the necessary approval cannot be found. Furthermore, if approval is withheld, then the petitioner can use the bonus anyway if they accept an equal amount of Shadow, an indication of how far that character is falling into darkness.
Fellowship at your Table
The Fellowship creation rules in The One Ring can easily be carried over to your game as a useful Rules Widget.
Consider the following options:
- Require the Players to narrate how their group formed, and use this as an opportunity to create a little more of the setting.
- Have each Player choose a Hero to be their character’s closest friend, mentor or inspiration. Where possible, include this relationship on the character’s sheet as an ability.
- Create a pool of bennies, or similar rewards, which the whole Fellowship can draw upon. Ideally, add a penalty clause for when these bennies are used without the agreement of the majority of the Fellowship.
The rules for Fellowship formation in The One Ring are light and elegant. I love how they bind together a group of Heroes, yet still allow for tensions within the group. Join me next week, where I explore the Fellowship Phase in part 2 of my look at The One Ring.
How do you create a Fellowship in your game? Do your Players even think about their relationships within the adventuring group? What else would you add to the Fellowship Formation process? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.
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Something for the Weekend last week: RPG Blog Carnival: Narrative Surprise
Something for the Weekend next week: The One Ring, Part 2: The Fellowship Phase