Friday, August 19, 2011

The One Ring - The Canon of My Home Game.

I've been speeding my way through The One Ring since picking it up at Gencon, and it has me more excited to GM than I've been in quite a long time. I got to play a full session demo of it (four hours) at the convention, and I think it was an invaluable experience in helping me grasp the rules on a first read-through. TOR is a system built from the ground up to address the unique traits of Tolkien's story that have been surprisingly difficult for medieval fantasy games such as D&D to handle. While it does some things similar to other systems and isn't entirely alien, it does a lot of brand new things that seem intuitive and obvious after you see them in action.

I'll be writing more about TOR in the future since it's a game I badly want to run, but today's post was inspired by something I read in the Lore Master's (GM's) book of the TOR base set. In the book, it's addressed that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit can be incredibly intimidating settings in which to run a game. One thing I discovered recently in playing the Lord of the Rings LCG from FFG with my group is that I probably am the biggest Tolkien nerd out of all of us. The Lore Master's book actually endorses the idea that the one who's the biggest nerd should probably run the game. More than that, I love their take on the official canon that gives some room for the LM to play around in Middle-Earth without forcing his players to play characters named Aragorn, Frodo, Legolas, or Thorin.

One of the things you'll find when reading about what makes Tolkien fans click into the material so well is that he wrote his stories from the perspective of characters new to the world outside their front door. Mainly, this means that we get to find out what happens with all the exciting characters from some seriously objective view points. To quote the Lore Master's Guide:

"When facing the dilemma of altering facts perceived as being part of canon, a Loremaster could consider the information that Tolkien related in his stories not as ascribed to an infallible, all-knowing narrator, but to witnesses of the times, individuals who are subject to errors and personal bias (for example, The Hobbit relates the content of Bilbo Baggins’ memoirs)." (Page 9) 

I like this idea because it does two things to make the concept of running TOR that much cooler. The first is that it obviously frees me up, as the LM, to play with the timeline as well as tweak some of the minor details about the stories we all know and love to actually be a little different from what we've read. After all, who knows what really happened in Mirkwood with the dwarves webbed up but Bilbo? The second thing it does is to elevate the story to a time where things weren't necessarily written down right away after they happened but rather were collected after several generations of being told with embellishments and omissions by the various bards and great poets of the time. In other words, it turns Middle-Earth into a land of oral tradition. There's something that seems just epic about that when I think of some of my favorite stories that followed this same development model - particularly the works of Homer.

So, even though I'm provided with a really neat time line in the Lore Master's Guide depicting what happens each year starting after the Hobbit and leading up to The Fellowship of the Ring, I'm also encouraged to take those details and make them my own. As a die-hard Tolkien nerd, there's really no better way I could imagine to game in Middle-Earth.


  1. It's certainly a stimulating approach. I also like that it makes for many possible takes even within the same group of players, maybe even a single campaign, and that because of it the world itself may ultimately be unknowable, more a space in flux, or a space of magic.

  2. I had all those same thoughts as I was reading through the passage. It's only about two pages, but it really did open my eyes toward the concept of unreliable narration and subjective versions of past events in all games whether the canon is based on an existing IP or not. It's a fascinating concept, and I love the idea of there being some type of mechanical aspect toward revisionist history or changing the past to suit your character's memory of it.


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