Phil Nicholls blogs at Tales of a GM, where he writes about narrative gaming, faster prep and more story. He is currently running a HeroQuest Glorantha campaign in a home-brew setting. Phil has written for Johnn Four’s Roleplaying Tips newsletter and has a selection of self-published pdfs.
This essay is taken from the archives at Tales of a GM. http://talesofagm.com/
This essay is a second look at the Fellowship rules found in The One Ring RPG. This is the latest RPG based around The Lord of the Rings, arguably the ur-text for fantasy roleplaying. First, a quick look at the rules.
The One Ring
This is the latest licensed RPG set in Tolkein’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 Fellowship Phase
In a similar vein to Pendragon, the basic assumption in The One Ring is that only one adventure occurs each year. This is a great way to facilitate long-term plots. These Adventuring phases occur during the summer months, while the fellowship then seek shelter from the perils of the Wilds during the winter.
The rules call this non-adventuring time the Fellowship phase, which is described in the rules as follows:
A Fellowship phase is a session of play driven by the players’ choices. While during the Adventuring phase, players usually react to the Loremaster’s storytelling, during a Fellowship phase they get to elaborate upon their characters’ stories and ambitions.
Essentially there are three main stages to the Fellowship phase. This is not a precise breakdown of The One Ring rules, but these are the stages most easily adopted by your game:
- Player Narration
- Hero Advancement
- Winter Undertakings
The first stage of the Fellowship phase is for the Players to narrate what their Heroes intend to do over the winter. Will the Fellowship stay together? Do any of the company make the long journey home before the snow falls? What is their winter accommodation like? As ever, the Loremaster is the final arbitrator for such narration.
Given my affection for the narrative-heavy HeroQuest 2, it is no surprise that I welcome an excursion into more improvised gaming. I favour the underlying principle of skipping over the “boring bits” of a game. Long-distance travel, over-wintering in a friendly sanctuary or extended training sessions all make for suitable montage sequences in a film. Likewise, they can be skipped over in an RPG for no loss of enjoyment.
Here is a great opportunity for Players to develop their narration skills, which will benefit all of their games. It is encouraging to find this exercise in a more rules-heavy game. Just as with the narration aspect of Fellowship Formation, this part of the Fellowship phase can lead to some Player-lead setting creation.
Another staple of RPGs is the gradual advancement of the Hero. The One Ring assigns this progression to the Fellowship Phase, which is an excellent choice. Such periods of extended study or training do not really belong in the adventuring phase of a game.
Instead, The One Ring moves them to the more “off-stage” setting of the Fellowship Phase. Here advancement can be dealt with swiftly, and the time invested in the progression by the character can easily be skipped over. Furthermore, as the Heroes often separate during the winter, then their individual needs are easily met.
No longer will the same small town suddenly have to produce a Thieves Guild, Wizard School and Battle Academy, just to explain how half the party suddenly levelled up over the weekend. The process of Hero advancement is explained and facilitated by the Fellowship phase, without forcing the setting to adjust for the needs of the game.
Finally, the Heroes have the opportunity to pursue a personal task over the winter. These undertakings are another opportunity for Players to exercise their narrative skills. However, these events can also have long-term effects on the Hero, or consequences in the next year of adventuring.
Some of the undertaking options in The One Ring reflect the personal development of the Hero. In a sense, the training involved with the advancement of the Hero is an example of this category of undertaking. Another example would be to increase the Hero’s standard of living, or change a distinctive feature such as clothing or heraldic symbol. Or the Hero could embark on some spiritual healing over the winter. All of these actions have a permanent effect on the Hero, but do not affect the broader story.
However, a Hero could devote some of their winter to pursuing adventure goals. Examples in the rules include meeting a new patron or cementing relations with the rulers of settlement. These types of undertaking will have a positive benefit for the whole Fellowship moving forward, and can open up new story lines for the next year of adventuring.
Fellowship Phase at your Table
The Fellowship Phase structure can easily be adopted for your game as a way to bundle together several character and game functions. This phase need not always be over the winter. You could simply use the Fellowship Phase to represent a period of downtime between adventures.
Here are some ideas for each section of the Fellowship Phase for your game:
- Player Narration
- Take this opportunity to give the Players practice narrating events. The Fellowship Phase is a low-pressure situation, where Players can stretch their improvisational skills without risking serious consequences. Even just a few sentences about what a Hero does when they are not adventuring can be enough to illustrate the character.
- Hero Advancement
- Most rules allow the Heroes to progress over time. Combine this progression with the Fellowship Phase to avoid straining the credibility of the setting. Now is a perfect time for those seeking training to travel off to wherever they need to go. By running advancement now, you can hand-wave most of the process and thus devote as much game time as possible to adventuring.
- Some Heroes will want to achieve more than just improving their skills. Simple tasks can be lumped into this phase, to allow maximum adventuring time at the table. These undertaking may also produce social benefits, or perhaps reveal clues and contacts for the next phase of adventuring.
The Fellowship Phase in The One Ring is a superb way to package the more gamist elements of an RPG within the overall narrative. It gives Players the chance to develop their Heroes without distracting from the excitement of the Adventuring Phase. The Fellowship Phase also provides a great opportunity for Player-led narrative, as well as some personal development for the Hero.
How do you facilitate the events of the Fellowship Phase in your game? What else would you add to the Fellowship Phase process? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.
For more essays from Phil, and updates about his latest campaign, visit Tales of a GM.