- March 1st, 2014
Paul Baldowski asked
Is there any guidance or room for a blog post or two from you on the matter of Fellowship Phases in TOR? It’s a common grey area. I’m not sure I (or many other players) grok the concept of just how much roleplaying is involved in the Fellowship phase
Unsurprisingly, the answer is ‘it depends’.
For those unfamiliar with the mechanic, the One Ring RPG has two ‘phases’ of play. During the Adventuring Phase, the player characters go adventuring – they journey across Middle-Earth, encounter strange people and explore strange places, fight off the corrupting touch of the Shadow, get lost in Mirkwood, fight Orcs/Spiders/Wolves/Trolls/More Orcs and do all the things that adventurers do. Then there’s a Fellowship Phase, where each player character gets to perform a Fellowship Action. On the face of it, these look like downtime activities – actions include stuff like Raise Standard of Living, Heal Corruption, Gain a New Distinctive Feature and so on. Other supplements have introduces new actions, like Gather Herbs or Visit the Market, as well as one-off or special Actions like Receive Title, Visit the Kingstone, Consult with Saruman and the like.
Fellowship Actions give the players a chance to drive the story. TOR adventures tend to be reactive – the Enemy does something, and the PCs respond by thwarting it. The Fellowship Phase, though, is almost entirely Active – the players almost always have a choice of actions, and should be made aware of their options by the Loremaster. As you can only carry out Fellowship Actions as a Sanctuary, the phase also lets the game explore the peaceful, settled parts of Middle-Earth; without them, the game would take place almost entirely in empty wilderness and orc-caves.
Each Fellowship Action has a mechanical effect, and it’s perfectly fine to have that be the entirety of the phase. “You arrive in Rivendell – erase your fatigue, roll to get rid of Corruption, and off we go on the next adventure”. Similarly, when Journeying, you don’t need to play through every single Hazard.
However, The One Ring benefits immensely from taking a slower pace than other games. Describing even comparatively uneventful journeys may seem like a recipe for dullness, but TOR is much more grounded in its setting than other games (compare a long journey in Dungeons and Dragons). There’s no need to describe every tree, but giving a brief bit of description and scope for roleplaying between Travel checks lets the game breathe; it lets miles be miles, so to speak, and lets the players show off traits and features of their characters.
The same applies to Fellowship Actions. There’s no need to role-play through them, and certainly they shouldn’t be turned into mini-adventures or challenges where, say, the PCs need to deal with some snooty Elves before they can Open Rivendell as a Sanctuary. Instead, let each player give as much or as little narration as they wish.
When considering how much time, detail and roleplaying to put into Fellowship Phases, ask yourself if you want your game to feel more like the Fellowship of the Ring (lengthy travel interspersed with short bursts of peril, and lengthy interludes at Sanctuaries) or The Two Towers (mostly hazardous travel and combat, with only brief breaks to rest and refresh that mostly have only mechanical consequences.) The right answer may depend on the appetite for your players for consequence-free colour roleplaying and Hobbitry.