Continuing our exploration of games based off Appendix N literature, we turn to The One Ring, which is also based off of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. I am going to examine the first two adventures in Tales From Wilderland, each in its own blog post. I have averred throughout this series that any adventure should be convertible, and that access to the game’s base rules should be unnecessary. In this case, I am truly putting my money where my mouth is. I do not own the base rules for The One Ring, have never played the game, and my understanding of it is gleaned by perusing the adventures in question. If you are an aficionado of The One Ring, you will perhaps be able to judge the effectiveness of my methodology by examining these two posts.
The first thing to note is that The One Ring is a far more narrativist game than Dungeon Crawl Classics. The basic terms for statistics, the order of play, and even the nature of play are different. The One Ring seems to focus a great deal on narrative travel, where PCs take various jobs – such as Lookout and Scout – making various rolls to avoid or resolve hazards and/or prevent Fatigue or loss of Hope. At various points, the PCs may have experiences which cause them to fall under the Shadow.
While thematically appropriate for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, this is going to increase the work needed to run these scenarios in Dungeon Crawl Classics. Despite being quieter adventures overall, both adventures contain encounters that would be fun to play out regardless of system.
The first thing to address is how to use the scenarios in the first place.
Do We Change the Game?
The overall answer is No.
At the end of the day, we are trying to make a playable DCC adventure out of the original. When converting material from a very different system, these is always going to be a temptation to port mechanics from the original system into whatever game you are converting it to. After all, any decent adventure takes advantage of its original system’s mechanics, and you are bound to lose something by not using those mechanics.
From my reading, loss of Hope or falling under the Shadow are events which should be generally under the players’ control. Fatigue plays a major part of these journeys, again from my reading, so we could model that with penalties if the characters are not sufficiently rested. The dice chain works admirably in this regard.
I get the sense from reading these adventures that, in The One Ring, the PCs are generally destined to succeed, and the only real question is how much success they have. It also seems to me that player choice is severely limited; the outcomes the GM wants to happen occur regardless of player choices seems to be the expectation. In the second adventure I will be looking at, there is even a sidebar discussing how some GMs might “prefer to let everything be ruled by the whims of the dice, and always give the players a chance to stop their foes from acting. The advantage of this approach is that the players never feel like their fate is out of their hands”. The downside is that if the players are quick and lucky, they might derail the GM’s expectations. That allowing player choices to greatly affect the outcome of an adventure is characterized by “the whims of the dice” is more than a little problematic to me. Of course, if you are playing Dungeon Crawl Classics, you are probably perfectly fine with allowing player choice and the dice to each affect the outcome of the game!
Meaningful Encounters and Color
In my three-part essay on Context, Choice, and Consequence (part 1, part 2, part 3), I argued that the primary job of the GM is to provide context for player choices, and then adjudicate the consequences of those choices, which becomes part of the new context for future choices. If you understand that general idea, then it should be easy to see how meaningful encounters derive from choices which have consequences. In this case, the consequences are the stakes of the encounter.
For example, in many combat encounters, the stakes are character survival. Survival need not be the only stakes, though, and having additional (or different) stakes adds spice to adventures. Harm to an allied NPC, for example, can create additional stakes requiring choices which take those stakes into account. “Win conditions” are the conditions that the PCs must meet to reach a favorable outcome. Meeting the win conditions means that the consequences fall in the PCs’ favor. They obtain or retain the stakes.
Conversely, color encounters are not meaningful. This doesn’t mean that they are useless or uninteresting. They act to help set tone, create verisimilitude, and set context. In fact, color helps to allow the players to understand the stakes when they have meaningful encounters. Color encounters, for example, can establish an NPC as an ally, making threats to that NPC meaningful, and hence the survival of the NPC reasonable stakes.
Color encounters also help to disguise meaningful encounters, so that the players cannot always be certain whether or not they are in a situation with potential dire or wondrous consequences. Maybe that room is really empty. Maybe it contains a secret door, a hidden treasure, an invisible monster, or some form of trap. If everything is meaningful, then no tension exists trying to discover which details are worth paying attention to and which are not.
In addition, encounters can blur the lines between meaning and color. Evidence that a basilisk is in the area might seem like color, but if it informs your choices going forward, including how you tackle the potential encounter with the monster itself, you could easily argue that the information obtained were the stakes, and your ability to understand it was the win conditions. There is no hard-and-fast divider between the two encounter types. Understanding them, though, will be useful when converting adventures from a system like The One Ring.
Part One: Where Rivers Run With Gold
The company rescue Baldor the merchant from three ruffians, and he asks them to serve as his caravan guards on the crossing of Mirkwood.
This part doesn’t require a lot of conversion. The three ruffians in question are former men-at-arms from Esgaroth, so the man-at-arms statblock from page 434 of the DCC core rulebook seems more appropriate to me than bandit stats. Because they are ruffians, shift their alignment to neutral (or even chaotic) and because they are cowardly, change their Will save modifier to -4.
Nothing else really has to be done, but the adventure would become far stronger if it was part of a larger narrative, where the PCs already wanted to cross Mirkwood on some Quest For It motive of their own. This changes the hook from merely being convenient to Baldor and his son to being convenient for the PCs as well.
Another possibility: The PCs require some aid from the Elfking, and are only planning on accompanying Baldor as far as the edges of Mirkwood. Seeing Baldor and his son safely through the forest might be the price of the Elfking’s aid, or even getting an audience. The point is that by linking the PCs’ motives to Baldor’s desire to cross Mirkwood, you have a far better chance that the PCs will not simply return to Laketown and try to loot Smaug’s corpse for its jewels. In fact, you better have a good reason that the PCs not do just that, or that will be exactly what the PCs do.
You shouldn’t need special rules for intimidating the ruffians. The simplest thing to do is make a Personality check modified by circumstance (such as group size, armaments, and reputation) vs. the thug’s Will save. Likewise, you shouldn’t need special rules for Riddle or Courtesy to role-play talking to Baldor and learning some of his history.
Payment offered is two points of treasure each, and we will have to decide what that means in DCC terms. I would recommend that a point of treasure be equivalent to approximately 10 gp, but that treasure is assigned specifics rather than left as an abstract. A silver arm ring might be a point of treasure, or 10 bags of wool. The difference is more than just color – one is far easier to transport than the other!
Part Two – The Edge of the Woodland Realm
Baldor has friends in Thranduil’s court, so the first part of the journey is on board the Elven rafts up the Forest River. The company are escorted to the edge of the forest kingdom and warned not to leave the path.
This part is largely color, until the party reaches the Wood Elves’ Court. At that point, there is a meaningful encounter (in The One Ring system), as follows:
Lindar suggests that as the Elves do not know the company, they should remain here to ‘guard the supplies’. In two days, the Elves will bring the company to the edge of Thranduil’s realm. In the meantime, they can remain here in the caves; Lindar promises to send down some bread and wine.
To win Lindar’s trust, the company need three successful tests of Persuade, Courtesy or Song. If they show they are worthy guests, then they are permitted to stay in better quarters in the upper caves, and may even hear the Elves singing. The combination of soft beds and good company relieves the company of any Fatigue they have accumulated so far.
I am not sure how fatiguing it is, even in The One Ring, to sit on a raft being poled by wood elves for several days, so I am not certain that the stakes in this encounter work in either system. They certainly don’t in Dungeon Crawl Classics, so making the stakes more meaningful is required to salvage the encounter when converting it. I have already suggested giving the PCs reason to want to speak with the Elf King. Another possibility is that better accommodations results in 1 point of Luck for those who can manage it.
The “three successful tests” reminds me of skill challenges, which we looked at here. In this case, I would have the players role-play their attempts to persuade Lindar, setting a base DC of 15 (because persuading him is not easy), and determining what die to roll based on occupation with a modifier ranging from -4 to +4 based on my adjudication of the appropriateness of their attempts. Each failure decreases the chance of success, which can be modeled by raising the DC by +2 (or even +4) per failure, with three successes still being required. Knowing something about the history of Thranduil, I would raise the base DC to 20 if the party contains one or more dwarves and give a +1d bonus to any checks made by elves.
While this encounter is hardly worth spending much time on, the consequences of sneaking out of the caves – both if caught and if not – are something the judge should at least think about. The MERP version of Mirkwood has maps and information about Thranduil’s Halls that the judge may find useful if they are up to more conversion work. Otherwise, a quick sketch map, and probably some details about the dungeon cells, will have to suffice. Remember that Thorin & Co. were not found sneaking about the palace itself in The Hobbit, and this should probably come with some dire consequences.
Part Three – The Long Road
The company set off for the west, braving the perils of the dark wood.
We don’t have to worry about Hope or the Shadow, but it is certainly worthwhile to say that travel through Mirkwood is fatiguing. Instead of Fatigue tests, have the PCs make Fortitude saves while traversing the great forest. The “TN” listed in 16, and we can imagine that this is roughly equivalent to the DC. Failure indicates 1d3 Stamina damage, with total exhaustion and a need for rest occurring at Stamina 0. We don’t have to make this a quality of all travel; we can make this a quality of Mirkwood.
(As a result, we also need Stamina scores for Baldor and his son, Belgo.)
What we want to do here is establish some stakes for upcoming encounters. In DCC, characters can always recover 1 point of Stamina each day, but fatigue can compound, making it difficult for characters to face further challenges. Hunkering in place is also possible – and may even be necessary – but the caravan probably has limited supplies of food and water. Some of the encounters which might otherwise be merely color in DCC can also be described as potentially draining the party’s energy reserves.
The hazards in the game are triggered by a check, but for DCC I would just include a chance of a hazard occurring each day, with a random table to determine what hazard occurs. I would include a chance to roll twice, combining the hazards. Nine hazards are listed, so a 1d10 table would work, with the “10” indicating “roll twice”. Multiple “10”s compound.
DCC doesn’t have characters take set roles like Look-Out, Huntsman, Scout, or Guide, so who gets to roll to resolve an encounter is really up to the judge. Luck might be in play, or marching order. The chase mini-game in The Fence’s Fortuitous Folly has encounters based on where PCs are in the chase, and might offer some guidance to the judge.
Some example hazards, to give the judge ideas, follow.
Spider Webs (Guide - Dangerous Meeting)
The company enter a region of the forest where the trees are covered in spider-webs. None of these webs cross the path, but this is a very dangerous place to make camp.
The company’s Guide must make a Travel test to keep the company moving. If this test is failed, then the company fails to get clear of the spider-haunted region before night falls and they have to make camp. If they camp near the spider-webs, then the company are attacked by Attercops at night (assume two Attercops per companion).
The adventure doesn’t provide statistics for Attercops, but there are plenty of examples in DCC modules, and the DCC Annual Volume 1 provides base statistics and guidance. Because we are looking at random encounters, let’s not assume two per companion. Instead, since we are imagining these spiders are statted up so that two per PC is a reasonable challenge, let’s say 1d8+5. Or even 1d10+5. The party could be in for a difficult battle or an easy one, depending upon the dice.
Now, how do we make trying to escape the spider-infested area interesting? How about this: Everyone must make a DC 10 Fort save or take 1 Stamina damage from fatigue. A random PC then makes a Luck check; success indicates the party has left the infested area. The players may gamble as many attempts as they like, until they have either left the area or every PC has attempted a Luck check and failed. Discount PCs who have already failed when determining who gets to attempt a Luck check next.
Fat Pheasants (Huntsman - Wrong Choices)
The huntsman spots a flock of juicy fat black pheasants on a branch. He is permitted a single Hunting test to bring one down before the rest scatter. If this test succeeds, the company eat well that night. If the test fails, the pheasants vanish, and the company are tormented by the thought of what they might have had if they were luckier. This discontent increases the Target Number of their next Fatigue test by one level.
Choose a PC with a ranged weapon. A hunter, forester, or the like would be a good choice. That character spots the pheasants and gets a single attack roll against AC 12. Success means a joyful meal in which everyone can recover 1 point of Stamina damage. Failure means that the next Fort save to avoid Stamina damage is made with a -2 penalty.
Blanket of Butterflies (Look-Out - Fatigue)
A flock of huge purple butterflies flutter down from the treetops and nest on the sleeping company. These butterflies are like a velvet shroud; if left undisturbed, they smother their victims. The butterflies hum a lullaby as they land. The Look-out must make an Awareness roll to stay awake; if successful, he fends off the unnatural sleepiness and drives the butterflies away. If this roll fails, then the humming of the butterflies puts him to sleep too. The company are saved when one of the insects is inhaled by a sleeping companion, and his choking snorts wake the rest. In that time, though, all the company were partially suffocated and feel drained. Add Fatigue again, or twice if the Look-out failed the test with a roll of an Eye.
Whoever is on watch at the time makes a DC 15 Will save to avoid the unnatural slumber. Failure means that the butterflies drain 1 Stamina from each party member, plus make a DC 10 Fort save or take an additional 1d3 Stamina.
“The company are saved when one of the insects is inhaled by a sleeping companion, and his choking snorts wake the rest”? Hmmm. Everyone make a Luck check. If anyone succeeds, that is indeed what happens. Otherwise rinse and repeat until someone makes their Luck check or everyone reaches 0 Stamina and dies.
Part Four – Castle of the Spiders
As the company make camp, Baldor falls afoul of the enchanted stream that runs through Mirkwood. Temporarily deprived of his memories, he flees into the woods and is trapped by Spiders in a ruined castle.
This should be a fun encounter, although you will again need to provide your own statistics. The encounter calls for a number of tests where the judge should simply supply information. Climbing the wall is a DC 10 Climb Sheer Surfaces or Strength check. Traversing spider webs without alerting the spiders should be tricky – let’s call that a DC 15 Move Silently or Stealth check. Armor check penalties, of course, apply.
Pulling Baldor up requires a DC 10 Strength check. Cutting him free shouldn’t require any kind of check or test unless under attack, and then we can say DC 15 modified by Luck. An edged weapon is required; a dagger offers a +1d bonus. It might take more than one round to cut him free; each round of work reduces the DC of future checks by a cumulative 2 points.
A lot of attention is paid to Belgo’s amulet, but it doesn’t really do much in the adventure itself. I would be tempted to let the amulet act like Bêlit’s ghost in Queen of the Black Coast. Why not let it channel his mother’s spirit, once, to save him from certain doom? At least then you can end the adventure with some sense of closure for Baldor and Belgo.
This encounter brings another thought to mind – how do we describe the waters of Mirkwood in game terms, should some player be so foolish as to have his character drink from them? A Fort save to prevent sleep and memory loss, followed by a Will save to avoid memory loss if the first save is failed?
Part Five – The Hermit of Mirkwood
The company find shelter with a crazed hermit. Can they convince him to aid them, or is he planning to murder them in their sleep?
Let’s give this hermit the statistics and abilities of a friar. Let’s then ignore all the various tests from the text, and allow the players to gain information from their character’s actions. Let’s role-play interaction with the hermit, and then allow a party member to make a single DC 10 check to see how the hermit reacts, with the group’s role-playing determining what size die they use – noting, of course, that the hermit can demand they leave any time the judge decides that the PCs have gone too far.
Let’s say that sleeping outside in the storm forces everyone to make a DC 15 Fort save or take 1d4 Stamina damage as well as gaining no benefits from rest. This represents their taking ill if they fail; no one gets benefits from rest regardless of the save result. Let’s say the storm hasn’t abated if the PCs are kicked out. Let’s say killing the hermit in his home costs everyone 1 Luck, as he was beloved of the Valar.
Now we have reasonable stakes.
The potential reward is the remains of an axe-head, the fabled Wolfbiter. Apart from the rewards granted if it is returned to Woodland Hall, we have no details of what the axe would be like if reforged and fitted with a proper handle. Let’s use sword magic and some judicious tinkering to find out:
Wolfbiter (+2 Lawful battleaxe): This weapon can communicate by simple urges, and has a 7 Intelligence. It has an additional +2 bonus to attack and damage wolves of all types, and its critical range against these foes is extended by +1 (so that a thief wielding the axe would score a critical hit against a wolf on a roll of 19-20). The axe is cursed so that any who takes it by force must succeed in a DC 15 Fort save whenever it strikes down a non-lupine foe, or be turned to stone permanently. This curse would certainly affect anyone involved in killing the hermit and uncovering his treasure.
Part Six – The Well in the Wood
The last danger of the woods comes from the trees themselves. Their contempt for everything that goes on two legs threatens to turn into a deadly trap.
As the party approaches the well, everyone must make a DC 16 Will save, with the party halting if more than half fail. The encounter otherwise works much as written, save that Belgo calls out “Mother! Mother!” not his mother’s name. Resisting sleeping requires a DC 15 Will save; resisting madness requires a DC 10 Will save. Only characters who failed the initial Will save need to roll to resist madness, but all characters need to roll to resist falling asleep if the PCs stop.
Here we have the chance to let Belgo’s amulet come to the fore, rescuing him from certain death and rekindling his father’s memory. Should father and son both survive, their bond is restored. Leaving this thread hanging just seems wrong to me.
Fighting the Creature: PCs in the well have a -1d penalty to both attack rolls and damage, while the Thing in the Well has a +1d bonus to both attack rolls and damage against them.
The Thing in the Well is an obvious choice for converting to DCC. Looking at the statistics provided, we can see that they are quite different from what Dungeon Crawl Classics uses, but that presents no great difficulty. In some ways, we might even consider it an opportunity as we have little fear of getting it wrong. In fact, if there is any lesson you take from this, please consider that you cannot “get it wrong”. A monster has the stats you give it, and they don’t have to play by the rules!
Init: How fast is the Thing? We don’t really know. But as it relies on illusions and sleep, it is probably not terribly fast. Let’s just say +0.
Atk: The Thing attacks with a lashing tentacle, or attacks with a strangle once it hits. We make strangulation a special ability, so that it attacks with a tentacle lash. The earlier thugs have 2 for their weapon skill, and this creature has 3, so let’s just give it a +3 bonus to hit. Damage is listed as 5, but in DCC terms 1d6 is probably appropriate.
AC: The monster has Parry 4 and 3d Armour. If we assume this indicates an AC of 14 and some form of damage reduction, we are probably not far off.
HD: Endurance 45 is probably the Thing’s hit points, so 6d12 seems appropriate to me.
MV: The creature has Movement 2, which is the same as the thugs in the beginning of the adventure. This would argue a speed of 30’, which I dislike. The creature hides in a well. It doesn’t come out to attack. Let’s give it MV 10’ or climb 10’.
Act: “Every round, the creature may attack up to three different opponents” is a compelling argument to choose 3d20.
SP: Lure, sleep, and illusions are all part of the set-up and may be considered part of the Thing’s powers. Strangulation causes 1d8 automatic damage per round (a successful Mighty Deed, Strength check, or 6+ damage in a single edged attack to escape). Three times per day the Thing may make a single tentacle lash attack that targets all foes within 30’, using all action dice to do so. Damage from non-magical weapons is reduced by 2 points per die.
SV: Fortitude should be good, Reflexes poor for a creature of its Hit Dice, and Will phenomenal. Fort +6, Ref +1, Will +9.
Crit: Following the table on page 385 of the core rulebook, we get a result of M/1d12.
Put altogether, our statblock looks like this:
The Thing in the Well: Init +0; Atk tentacle lash +3 melee (1d6 plus strangulation); AC 14; HD 6d12; hp 45; MV 10’ or climb 10’; Act 3d20; SP Lure (Will DC 16 negates), sleep (Will DC 15 negates), illusions and madness (Will DC 10 negates), strangulation (1d8 automatic damage per round, successful Mighty Deed, Strength check, or 6+ damage in a single edged attack to escape), hateful lash (3/day, uses all action dice to make a single tentacle lash attack that targets all foes within 30’), 2 point damage reduction per die from non-magical weapons; SV Fort +6, Ref +1, Will +9; AL C; Crit M/1d12.
This may not be a perfect rendition, but it gets the job done.
Epilogue - The Forest Gate
Where the company exits Mirkwood, and possibly reaps the benefits of their deeds.
This section falls a bit flat. Instead, Baldor and Belgo urge the party to continue on with them to Woodland Hall, but will pay the PCs if they must. Perhaps at this point the PCs must make another dangerous trek through Mirkwood to visit the court of the Elf King now that they have seen the merchants safely through the forest. Perhaps they have something else to do. Perhaps Baldor, Belgo, or both died. Perhaps they continue on to Woodland Hall.
Watching father and son drift apart through madness and shadow, and then be drawn back together, at least draws events to a conclusion which is a bit more satisfying than merely reaching the end of the forest.
In an earlier blog post, I described the three types of adventures as persistent locations, opportunities, and player-initiated quests. This adventure is an opportunity which may, or may not, intersect with one or more player-initiated quests. It contains persistent locations, but there is insufficient development to make them persistent in the campaign milieu without additional work by the judge. While adequate as a single session of travel between meatier adventures, the judge would get more out of this by making Baldor and Belgo recurrent characters, and by doing more with Wolfbiter.
Next: The One Ring: Tales From Wilderland (2): Of Leaves & Stewed Hobbit