I'll refrain from giving a traditional session summary because I have a lot of other things I'd like to discuss, and the lack of spoilers will be useful if I ever want to run this adventure with my other group. Because the adventure begins in Rhosgobel, this was the fellowship's starting Sanctuary. That's obviously a long way from home for 2 members of the company, but I'd prepared a mandatory "hook" for each of the cultures that explains what they're doing in Rhosgobel. Normally I'd probably announce ahead of time where the party is starting and have the players justify what they're doing there, but seeing as this was the first time the group was playing and their familiarity with the setting and cultures was either low or rusty, I figured this would get us all into the game the quickest. In any case, this predetermined business saw our company arriving in late fall, and at the request of the Woodmen everyone wintered there. Perfect set-up for the opening scene of the adventure.
- This fellowship was a well-oiled machine in combat. Whereas my last group of players tentatively experimented with stances based on their perceived level of danger, this group had a plan. Grimwine would stay in forward stance most of the time, with Lowthesis in defensive taking hits for him when necessary. Interestingly, Ranulf, not Grimwine, is Lowthesis' fellowship focus so he went through quite a bit of Hope this way. Ranulf would either stick to rearward and shoot with his Great Bow, or move up to open and use the Rally Comrades action to sing a battle chant and keep his allies focused. Though hope is lost on a failed song roll, because succeeding would directly benefit Grimwine (his fellowship focus) he was able to turn a lot of fails into successes by invoking his attribute, immediately regaining that lost Hope.
- This group burned through Hope a lot more than the other group. In the other group everyone made sure that they used Hope as sustainably as possible, ending at maximum and only invoking it in the direst of circumstances. Last night heroes were using Hope outside of combat quite regularly, including during the opening Hunt. Ranulf actually ended up spending Hope on 2 different rolls in a row in the encounter with the Elvenking (which Lowthesis soured early on), and though he didn't know it at the time it was the difference between bringing back a small Elven patrol and an entire war party.
- While the party was efficient in combat, that was mostly due to a fairly rough start. In the first battle Grimwine stay in forward stance and Lowthesis was reluctant to spend too much Hope too early. Grimwine managed to get himself wounded, but then proceeded to remain in forward stance until he dropped below 0 endurance. Ranulf failed his Healing roll, but I had Radagast give him a second look when they dragged the wounded back. I believe that by a strict reading of the rules, since another healing check couldn't be attempted until the next day and dying characters need to be successfully treated within 12 hours, Grimwine would have died if not for Radagast's intervention. Moral of the story - don't fight recklessly while wounded! The long journey afterwards ended up being pretty lucky for Grimwine, given the slow recovery time of a wounded character.
- First leg of the journey, and the fellowship already triggered a hazard. I rolled randomly to determine who it affected (Grimwine was Hunstman, Lowthesis Guide, and Ranulf Scout), and Grimwine "lucked out." He had stated previously that he was hunting every day to stretch the provisions out as long as possible, so a "hunter to prey" scenario seemed perfectly appropriate to me. Something found the gut pile from one of his recent kills, and followed the scent back to their camp. I rolled randomly for what that something was, and it ended up being a Hill Troll! Grimwine was still wounded (though well on the road to recovery) by this point. This was when Lowthesis really started to get generous with the Hope! I notified the (then cocky) party when the troll hit 0 Endurance, saying that "he was moving a little more slowly, but unless you can pierce that thick hide he would keep on fighting." Ranulf's great bow skill (2 ranks) wasn't reliable enough to get any piercing shots, and the party started looking really nervous. Then, as luck would have it, Grimwine rolled a Gandalf rune with his Greataxe and the troll was unable to overcome the weapon's injury rating. The axe sliced open the troll's midsection, spilling its stomach contents and revealing the rabbit guts.
- I'll still avoid spoilers, but the party's new efficiency was definitely apparent in the final battle scene. They rolled 2 Eyes in the first round (which triggered the arrival of more enemies), but they still handily dispatched their foes, and I ended up bringing in more (including a tougher one) later on just to preserve the sense that this was a big battle with foes flowing through the gates, since it was unlikely to overwhelm the party.
- After some heavy role-playing investment into increasing Grimwine's reputation, his player was disappointed that it had no mechanical effect on his Standing. While the rationale for standing as-is makes sense for most of the cultures, the Beornings are tougher to reconcile with the default, given that uniting to keep the lands safe is a large part of what defines the Beornings as a people. Aside from paying it off later on in the narrative I'm not sure how to handle that.