It should be no strangers to listeners of the podcast that I am a big fan of Cubicle 7’s The One Ring. Its simple dice engine, thematic mechanisms, and narrative focused structure lift this game to my number one spot for my favorite RPGs. Being my favorite, when I’ve had the opportunity to run a game at a convention The One Ring has hit the table. Every time, the game has gone over very well with the players, but ultimately some issues started to appear.
At The One Ring’s core is a game that was designed for longer, campaign style of format. In a convention setting, some of the rules which support the longer play style can become “issues”. These issues don’t necessarily ruin the experience but rather can possibly be abused by perceptive players and make the game too easy, or avoid the game part all together. After three years of running the game, I had notice this becoming a problem and decided to make some changes for future convention games.
Below is a list of items which I have found which detracted from the experience of the The One Ring and the successful changes I’ve made to try and combat them. Each item in this list is connected together mechanically and work fantastically out of the box for campaign games, but I will discuss the issues I’ve found in a convention settings. To quickly summarize, we will be mainly looking at three parts of The One Ring’s rules which are:
- Character Traits
- Advancement Points
Every character in The One Ring come with a set of Traits, which are further broken down into Specialties and Distinctive Features. Traits are short descriptions of either a personality feature or a skill of that character. For example, a character could have the Traits of Smithing, Keen Eyed, and/or True Hearted. Mechanically, one of the ways The One Ring uses Traits is to invoke them to automatically pass a skill roll. When the GM asks a player to make a skill roll, if the challenge they are trying to overcome is related to any of their Traits, they can pass without rolling any dice.
To balance this automatic success feature, there are a couple of trade offs though that a player must be willing to sacrifice. The one that applies to any game being run is that the automatic success removes the opportunity to earn a great or extraordinary success (basically a critical success). The other trade off is that characters lose the opportunity to earn Advancement Points, which are used to improve character skills over the course of a long running adventure similarly to XP in other games (though The One Ring has it’s own XP which is used for different character advancement options).
In a convention setting, players rarely care about future advancement as they will only be playing this character once. With advancement out of their minds, the balance of Traits swing wildly towards the players taking the automatic success almost every time one could apply to them. Player’s who are maybe looking to be the “winners” of the game will then tend to never roll dice for common skill challenges.
To help encourage these players to roll dice more often, I decided to give the players an incentive to try and earn Advancement Points by changing their basic function as described below.
As stated above, Advancement Points are used to improve a character’s common skills as they progress through a campaign. Players earn Advancement Points through rolling dice and passing tests during adventures. Successful dice rolls for a skill will earn you an Advancement Point in the Skill Group of the associated rolled skill, and each Skill Group can have a max of 3 Advancement Points earned. This mechanism works very well over the length of a many session campaign, but falls flat when players at a convention know they will never play that character again.
To incentivize convention game players to roll dice and gain Advancement Points, I changed what Advancement Points do. In a convention game, players who have earned all three Advancement Points in a Skill Group can gain a single reroll on any roll they make for ANY skill during the rest of the convention game. While this is a powerful use for Advancement Points, this is powerful thing a player can do is exactly what I needed to make players roll more dice.
One of the most thematic elements of The One Ring is its Hope and Shadow mechanism. Hope is a character resource which can be dipped into to help pass dice rolls made by allowing that player to add their character’s Body, Heart, or Wits score to the rolled dice results. Hope is a powerful tool that players can use, but is limited, as it recovers very slowly. Over the course of multiple sessions, a character should be spending more Hope than they are regaining at the end to help reinforce some of the themes of The Lord of the Rings.
Opposite of Hope is Shadow, which is corruption a character may gain over the course of their adventures. That balance of characters losing Hope and gaining Shadow is another one of those core themes that The Lord of the Rings stories tell. If this balance turns ugly, it can possibly cause a character to become Miserable which could lead to Bouts of Madness.
The problems I’ve found in a convention game is that pressure of when to spend or save your character’s Hope that is typically present in a long running game isn’t there. Players are more willing to drain a character’s pool of Hope knowing that they will never be playing that character again. This leads to fewer failures which, I believe, leads to less interesting results. But more importantly is that I don’t think that this conveys that pressure I mentioned earlier.
On top of this, characters will probably won’t earn enough Shadow to feel the pressure of becoming Miserable and the threats of Bouts of Madness are not even considered.
To solve this, every character in the convention game will start with roughly half of their full starting Hope pool and have two Shadow. I’ve found that this helps players feel that strain of resource management, and also the fear of having to make corruption tests. Players are now less willy-nilly to spend their Hope, saving it for when it really matters. I’ve also found that this helps put emphasis on the Fellowship Pool, a small pool of Hope every player can pull from, and that helps spur player conversation.
I’ve learned many lessons after each game of The One Ring that I’ve run at conventions which has helped me make the next even better. Some of these were easier to figure (Hope) than others (Traits and Advancement Points), but each one so far has seen my game improve at conventions. After introducing the Hope changes in 2017, players told me that they felt that the Hope and Shadow mechanisms felt incredibly thematic, something I wasn’t told the year prior. The introduction of my Advancement Point change in 2018 saw players only invoke Traits to automatically pass tests when they truly feared a failed roll and consistently asking if something earned them Advancement Points.
Overall, I think these changes help The One Ring shine a bit more brightly in the 3-4 hours new players get to interact with it. They are simple enough changes, but I would strongly advise against implementing them in games which you are going to run multiple sessions or a campaign.