It's a bank holiday Monday and we're round Simon's for an evening of RPG playing goodness. A Conspiracy Most Cracked is the first introductory adventure in the The One Ring 2e (Or TOR 2e.) RPG Start Boxset.
Josh: Drogo Baggins Simon: Rorimac Brandybuck James: Paladin Took II Matt: Esmeralda Took
Off into the blue
Winter's bleak coldness had been driven away by a spring flourish which had settled in across the rolling hills and green downs of the Shire. Our hobbits had each individually received a peculiar invitation to Bag-End for this very day from mad Baggins himself. For years, since his return from some rum faraway adventure involving that dubious character of a wizard Gandalf, dwarves and a dragon, Bilbo Baggins had - with whispered voices - been the talk of Hobbiton and beyond. Tongues had waggled and clicked while disapproving stories flew.
Afternoon's heavy rain had given way to the onset of a chilly and cloudless night as the hobbits met up and came upon the round green door of Bag-End. Bilbo was expecting them, offering them a warm welcome and ushering them in.
Plying our heroes with food and drink, Bilbo spoke at length of Old Took's Map, drawn up by his grandfather decades ago and was said to contain his notes and findings. The map was kept at the Mathom-house in Michel Delving which was the principal museum and archive of the Shire's significant artefacts and historical curios. The collection was curated by one Malva Slowfoot, someone Bilbo described as a little obstinate. He had corresponded with her on several occasions and she had steadfastly refused to return the map every time, even after the promise of a generous donation for the museum. Exasperated, Bilbo had slogged to Michel Delving and taken it upon himself to retrieve the map. However, his efforts had been thwarted by the guard dog which had been set in the museum. Despite Bilbo's remarkable talent at passing unseen, the hound had sensed his approach and denied him on every attempt.
In hushed, excited tones, Bilbo admitted to our heroes he had an alternative plan to recover, to liberate Old Took's Map from The Mathom-house. He leant forward, declaring that after all, it was the property of his family and his heirloom and our heroes would retrieve it! Bilbo's plan involved our hobbits avoiding contact with any one on their foray to the Mathom-house. He instructed them to head north and past Overhill, then march cross-county westward until they encountered the ford across The Water. From there they would head to the East Road and to Waymeet, where they would spend the night. After this, on they next day they would head to Michel Delving and their prize in the Mathom-house. But that would for tomorrow, for tonight? More cheer, more cake, more jugs of ale and wine.
Our heroes rose with the morning light, Bilbo was already busily preparing breakfast and they ate heartily as beams of dawn sunlight shone through east facing apertures. There was no time to waste - not even for second breakfast; our heroes were soon on their way!
The coolness of morning evaporated along with any thin lingering night-mists as our hobbits quickly reached the smattering of above-ground buildings that constituted the farming settlement of Overhill. Avoiding the population, they turned west, leaving the path behind and striking out into the countryside. Following a couple of hours marching through the fields and pastures thy encountered The Water. The situation did not match Bilbo's description of The Water, there was no easily crossable shallow spot here. Burgeoning spring water had engorged the river, rising water and swelling banks had swallowed the ford. Without a boat or marching back to Hobbiton, there was no simple way across.
After some discussion, Paladin decided to swim across, he was probably the best swimmer they had decided. He dove in and made for the far shore, unfortunately, his attempt was short-lived and he returned, spluttering and soaked. There was further discussion and Rory posed a solution: After convincing his companions to disrobe he fashioned the garments into a suitable rope. Now armed with one end of this makeshift accoutrement, Paladin plunged into The Waters and made for the far shore once again. Success! With Paladin on the other bank, Rory and he held the line taunt while Drogo and Esme crossed without trouble. Finally, Rory was then pulled across by the three. After drying and dressing, the remainder of their journey to Waymeet was unremarkable. They crossed the Bywater Road and continued cross-country until they reached The East Road, marching along it for the final leg of the day's walk.
Situated on the intersection of two roads. Waymeet's inn 'The Walking Party' was a welcome sight to travellers, our hobbits included! Making straight for it, they ordered food and drink! The inn sat at the centre of Waymeet and with the village's shops and stalls shut for the night was the centre of activity. The spread of tables and chairs at the front was unusually crammed with patrons raucously enjoying their fare. The innkeeper told our hobbits that a band of pipeweed sellers journeying to Longbottom had booked out all the rooms.
Rory approached the sellers and chatted with them about pipeweed. Explaining at some length how he preferred Longbottom pipeweed to Old Toby. The sellers were most impressed with Rory's knowledge. In fact, so impressed were they that when Drogo asked for a sample, they gave him an ounce bag!
Speaking again with the innkeeper, Rory was told that if our hobbits wanted lodging for the night, they should try farmer Bunce. In the past, when the inn had been full, Bunce had given travellers a space to sleep.
Farmer Bunce's homestead was only a few minutes from Waymeet. The cluster of small wooden buildings bordered a span of fields that melted away into the darkening day while dancing yellow-orange light shone from the farmhouse windows. Farmer Bunce was a friendly sort, he told our hobbits there was no room in his home but he was happy to let them stay in the in his barn. First though, he explained, he had a problem. Gertrude, who was Bunce's old plow mule was being bothered by a large owl who had taken up residence amongst the barn's rafters. Farmer Bunce needed someone to deal with the owl. Our hobbits agreed.
Abundant with straw and hay, the barn's interior seemed to undulate rhythmically in the wavering light of Bunce's lantern and shadows from the rafter swayed smoothly from side-to-side. A ladder led up to the barns open upper floor, peering up to the roof, our hobbits spotted a owl perched on a rafter, a huge specimen of its kind, it regarded them coolly with dark, deep eyes that glinted in the light.
Our hobbits discussed their next step until Rory looked around the barn, there were several farm implements here he rummaged through until he found a longish stick. Brandishing it, he approached the owl intently. Giving Rory a sardonic glance, the owl lazily swooped to a post on the lower level. It stared at our hobbits for a long second before turning to Gertrude and hooting, the mule brayed, seemingly in response? Then with a beat of wings, the owl was gone.
Farmer Bunce was happy, his wife prepared a late supper for our hobbits who then settled down to argue who got the best hay bales to sleep on. Morning came and Farmer Bunce gave our hobbits a breakfast before prompting them on their way.
Mathoms of Michel Delving
Our hobbits took to The East Road and for the better part of a day marched to reach Michel Delving. Residing in a hilly region, the town's tallest buildings peaked over the horizon and into view from a league away. Michel Delving was the Shire's largest settlement and most agreed it was also what passed for a capital. A mix of hobbitish smials and above ground brick and timber buildings that dotted the gentle slopes and hills constituted the town and counted among their numbers was the Town-hole; it being the centre of political power and office of Michel Delving's mayor. Among the taller buildings was the red-doored Mathom-house, a large wooden manor house located on one of many hills around Michel Delving.
The larcenous nature of our hobbits task meant they had to wait for sunset to proceed. As the hours of night encroached on Michel Delving so did The bounders; the Shire's answer to roaming watchmen. Armed with stout cudgels, bounders could be easily seen in the failing light by their bobbing lanterns, wandering through the town, ensuring its safety and keeping watchful eye for danger,
It was time for our hobbits to act. Their exceptional quietness made it easy to reach the Mathom-house through the darkness. All except Drogo that was; stopped in his tracks by an eager bounder who was quick to question him. "Who are you? Why are you here? Where are you going?" They came thick and fast. Drogo stumbled his words and stammered his answers while bounder looked on suspiciously. "I'm just going now," he managed finally, providing her a winsome smile. It was enough to give her a moment's pause and to give Drogo the opportunity to beat a hasty retreat to the edge of Michel Delving, all the while watched by the scowling bounder.
By now the others were close to the Mathom-house, they cased the outside, spying a skylight against the dimming sky and a curious door on the hillside not too far away. After some discussion, they opted for the door. It opened easily enough into dusty, roughly hewn short passageway that ended a narrow gloomy and windowless room brimming with cobweb-draped piled up old knickknacks and sundries; they could see numerous paintings propped up against walls, towered up stacks of assorted crockery, bundled up silvery cutlery, ornaments of every sort and more. Perhaps this was some neglected overspill room for the Mathom-house?
Our hobbits picked up some scratching noises and low scuffling noises. Peering though clutter, they caught sight of a rat's nest. Quickly they shooed them away with a flourish of arms, it caused some of the accumulated bric-a-brac to noisily tumble across the floor. Checking the rat's nest revealed nothing to our hobbits.
A quick search revealed nothing of importance here, although a trapdoor was spotted in the ceiling and with a little bit of heft, Rory was lifted up to it and gave it a heft, hoping to get an eye up to the crack It was heavy, the trapdoor did not feel stuck to Rory and he heard the slight scrape of earthenware move as he inched it up. Something was on the trapdoor. With painstaking slowness, he gently lifted it up, until whatever was on it had slid off. Finally, the trapdoor was open and our hobbits could clamber up.
They were indeed in the Mathom-house. The high ceilinged room was decorated by a wall of books detailing local history and genealogy, against another wall, shelves groaned with the weight of rows of esoteric artefacts, mathoms and object while faded coat-of-arms hung on the walls. There was even a set of waistcoat brass buttons attached to a board-backed square of velvet and a silvery white ring-mail coat residing on a post which gleamed curiously as it caught the slats of moonlight beginning to shrine through the higher windows...
Before our hobbits could begin their search, they heard a noise - rapidly padding footfalls, the guard of the Mathom-house had been roused... A small terrier, bright-eyed and brisk bounced into the room. With tail wagging and tongue lolling it regarded hobbits cheerfully, barking as it hopped up and down and skipped from side to side. Esme immediately approached the diminutive guardian and gave him a vigorous scratch behind the ears. Satisfied, the terrier quietened, returning to the dog bed that was his guard post and settled down.
It took some searching to find Old Took's map from Bilbo's description, it was half hidden beneath an unclassified, wayward stack of books. Pocketing it, our hobbits hastily descended back to the basement, out of the tunnel and away.
They regrouped with Drogo and decided it prudent to leave Michel Delving without delay, fearing discovery if their liberating actions were uncovered. They marched eastwards under starry skies until the lights of Michel Delving had faded to an indistinct reddish hue that glowed over the horizon behind them. After some searching, our hobbits spied a copse of thickly bunched trees nestled a pasture and made camp, safe from any watching eyes.
Morning came and so did more marching. having to begrudgingly do without breakfast, or indeed second breakfast, our hobbits set of in the chilly, rosy predawn light for Hobbiton and Bag-End. It took the better part of the day to reach that round green door once more, echoing their arrival two days past. A quick knock and Bilbo had them inside, he was ecstatic at the recovery of the map. Ever the considerate host, Bilbo provided our heroes with a fine meal and while they filled their bellies, he took the map into his study. Some hours later he returned with a spring in his step, glimmer in his eye and a wry smile, exuberantly explaining that the map had given up a surprising secret. "This remarkable find of yours makes me believe I’m quite ready for another adventure!” exclaimed Bilbo.
It's clear that this first adventure from the starter box is very much aimed at people who have little to no experience at playing RPGs or TOR in particular. It delivers a handful of straightforward challenges for players to overcome as a means to introduce the slightly opaque TOR rules gently. Later adventures will introduce more and more aspects of the rules. All of which makes sense, this is after a starter box.
With explaining the core mechanic, picking characters and getting underway, this adventure took 1-2 hours, which is reasonable, easily digestible length for a basic introduction. If the following 4 adventures are similar, you're looking at up to 10 hours of gaming from the boxset, perhaps more as the adventures increase in scope somewhat. One of the players said he wanted to play something 'hobbity' and I think the adventure delivered that pretty well. The players seemed to have fun. I'm not sure when we'll get round to playing the following adventures (If at all unfortunately.) but it would be interesting to see how the players progress.
I've previously GM'd TOR 1e so I've got a pretty solid grasp of the core rules, as a result it's difficult for me to judge how easy the starter box is for newbies. Of the four players, there was one player who I think had no previous experience at all with RPGs, he didn't seem to struggle with the introduction. So I see that as a positive.