It's been a while, but thanks to a brief respite between out-of-state jobs I was able to run another session of my TOR campaign. Here's a recap of what happened last time. The Fellowship has just gotten through the worst part of their journey, the Mountains of Mirkwood. But the dangers of the forest are still very real, and the remainder of the journey was through lands heavily tainted by the Shadow.
Note that this post contains some minor SPOILERS from Tales from Wilderland. While the adventures are of my own creation, I've lifted some elements from that book.
The Forest Maze
After a day and a half of steadily decreasing elevation, the trees start to become very thick again. All 3 PCs are miserable after the Mountains, and I call for an Awareness test. Lowthesis fails with an Eye of Sauron, gaining his second flaw. Mirkwood is proving to be a very dangerous place for fairly inexperienced characters. Thinking he can hear the clanking of coins behind him, the dwarf turns around to see a chest of gold in a thicket of undergrowth. Ranulf, the only PC to pass his Awareness test, notices that the trees are starting to hem in Grimwine ahead of him, and Lowthesis (now dashing for the treasure) behind (bout of madness). Lowthesis lands with a thud as the illusory treasure wisps away, realizing that the vegetation is moving to hem him in, a shadow hanging among its branches. By now everyone knows what's going on, and rolls a Corruption test. Grimwine fails with an Eye. Yeah. The orc-slayer hears the sound of his hated foes marching ahead (away from his companions), and he hacks his way through the vegetation toward them. Ranulf, meanwhile, is the only one left to desperately try to keep the dwarves together (to no avail, with just a small dagger to slash through vegetation with). Lowthesis tries to Search for gaps in the writhing branches, roots, and vines, but always notices them too late, when they're already closing up. The clearing he's in is constantly moving, as if the trees are corralling him somewhere. The separated companions can soon hear a humming and whistling in amongst the leaves, which weaves itself into a melody. Lowthesis and Grimwine use Riddle to decipher the eerie song's meaning, Grimwine failing and Lowthesis realizing that the melody predicts the movement of the plants (allowing him to predict gaps and force his way out). Ranulf sings along with the song, trying to understand it, realizing that he can pick up on the emotions that the trees are communicating to each other.
Grimwine simply muscles his way forward toward the orcs, eventually breaking out into a narrow stone path that leads to a clearing with a well in the center. I used the well from Don't Leave the Path (Tales from Wilderland) for this scene, so SPOILERS will follow. He can hear what sounds like an orc lair in the well, and after suffering some taunts from them he jumps in after them. Meanwhile Lowthesis makes it out of the maze, using Explore to orient himself. While walking back roughly toward the path, his mind grows increasingly occupied by the thought of treasure which he's sure is nearby. He too comes upon a well, with a glint of gold shining from within. He jumps in.
Ranulf begins singing in opposition to the trees, a counter song which neutralizes their attempts to enclose him, and also gives him insight into the malevolent spirit in the center of the maze. He senses that it's claimed two of his companions, and rushes toward it. When Lowthesis and Grimwine enter the well, Ranulf is hit with a flash of the spirit's triumph and knows which direction to head. When he reaches the well he sees Grimwine and Lowthesis both approaching it, apparently completely unaware of each other, and then both of his companions jumps in. The sight is following by a sick squelching noise coming from within the well, as of mud being sucked through a vacuum. Ranulf rushes forward. Upon hitting the bottom of the well Grimwine and Lowthesis break free of their madness and realize what's going on. The well's tentacles attack all 3 companions, seizing Grimwine and later strangling him with a massive amount of force (if I remember correctly, I rolled an extraordinary success here). Ranulf aims at a tentacle with his bow, and then fails with an Eye of Sauron. Yes, the entire fellowship suffered a bout of madness already, and Ranulf's caused him to simply walk away from the battle with disinterest, finally succumbing to the creature's spell. Lowthesis landed a rare hit on the tentacle that was gripping Grimwine (extraordinary success for massive damage), severing the tentacle and freeing the Beorning. As the two fought bravely in the well, Ranulf heard footsteps running toward him out of the forest. Balin and Dwalin had found him, and hearing Grimwine's scream asked what was going on. Dwalin slapped Ranulf out of his stupor, and the Barding and Dwarves helped finish the monster off.
The fellowship spent a day searching for and locating Ori and Oin, and then the rest of the journey through Mirkwood proved uneventful. They met up with Gimli in the Long Marshes, and then headed north toward Esgaroth.
Each companion spent theirs in a different city: Grimwine in Esgaroth, Lowthesis in Erebor, and Ranulf in Dale. The PCs each independently pursued the Meet Patron undertaking. Lowthesis spent a lot of time in Erebor's Chamber of Mazarbul looking for leads on where to find treasure. He came to know the expert scholar in that field, a dwarf by the name of Regin, very well. Grimwine searched for a sparring partner in Esgaroth, and ended up meeting the Beorning mercenary Gerold (from Tales from Wilderland). The two trained together extensively during the ensuing months (justification for Grimwine buying another rank in Axes with his experience). Ranulf hung out around the Merchant's Quarter of Dale, just looking for excuses to travel afield to new lands. He spent a lot of time at the tavern with Keilbrun, a retired merchant who still worked the streets of Dale but was too old to travel far enough to acquire any valuable items.
The players were all upset with how expensive it was to gain new ranks with attribute points, but it's starting to make sense to me. Experience cost tends to be cheaper because everyone needs Valour, Wisdom, and Weapon skills. Moreover, Rewards and Virtues represent interesting choices for characters to make. These things are the primary measure of a character's power level. If Common Skills increased at this rate, it would be too easy for characters to just be good across the board at everything. Making advancement points work more slowly maintains the level of specialization within the fellowship. The side effect of this is that I'm less thrilled about so many of a character's skill ranks being determined by culture.
The Gathering of Five Armies
The month of November saw the city of Dale preparing for the upcoming festivities. With lodging being increasingly harder to come up, Grimwine took up residence at Ranulf's home. The fields around the city became a tent suburbia, and Gandalf showed up again, always in too big a hurry to provide any details of his adventures dealing with the Nazgul.
Gerold was training for the upcoming Contests, and filled Grimwine in on the details (minor SPOILERS from The Crossings of Celduin follow). The PCs were all eager to enter the Contests themselves, with Ranulf being eliminated in the second qualification round for both Archery and Horseback Riding, and Lowthesis losing in the first round of both Strength and Horseback Riding (the latter was entered just out of spite, and he ended up embarrassing himself spectacularly for the second time that day). Grimwine just entered the Strength contest, but made it all the way to the Final Round where he lost to Gerold. I ruled that it was good enough to get into the Grand Melee, and he lasted through the first 2 waves of enemies quite handily. Finally it was down to just a few warriors, with the group of dwarves being too distant to engage, and a choice between facing down Gerold or Elstan. Grimwine charged toward Gerold while Elstan, seeing this, lead his troupe toward the dwarves. Once again, Gerold whooped him good. His Terrible Strength ability gives him a pretty big advantage, though Grimwine did beat him earlier when we played out their initial sparring match during the Fellowship Phase. Elstan ended up victorious, and Ranulf lead the crowd with a spectacular Song roll celebrating his victory.
With Grimwine unconscious (and Lowthesis moping in his room back in the Lonely Mountain after the previous day's failures), Ranulf was the only PC to see Gandalf approach the crowd, frantically looking for someone. When Gandalf spotted Ranulf, he sent him to gather Lowthesis while he grabbed the fatigued Grimwine; he had a mission for them. Ranulf and Lowthesis soon met Gandalf, Grimwine, and Elstan in front of the fountain of Smaug's Fall outside the Royal Palace.
It was here that we ended this session. Unfortunately, we won't be able to resume the campaign until December, but I'm still glad that we got this one session in.