I got my regular TOR group to run a playtest of the Alpha rules with new characters besides our Mirkwood campaign. My players have been somewhat sceptical of the changes at first glance but agreed to give the new rules a fair shake down.
Character creation was very smooth, and everybody was able to create a character to his liking without any major hiccups. We ended up with the following player-heroes:
- Hobbit Treasure-Hunter (Scout, Stealth specialist, and jack-of-all-trades)
- Dwarven Scholar (Guide with favoured Travel, competent defensive fighter)
- Ranger Champion (Hunter, Tank extraordinaire)
- Elven Warden (Look-out, Ranged fighter with great bow)
The hobbit’s player did not like it that he had to pick axes as a close combat skill, as this clashed with his image of Hobbits. Even though clubs are available as an option, the regular axe is just so much better that it would simply feel wrong not to take it. We finally agreed that he could take a “great club” in the tradition of Bullroarer Took with the stats of an axe.
The player of the Ranger expressed that he wanted to powergame as much as possible as a stress test for the new rules. He assigned his free attribute point to Wits and took Heir of Arnor, which mitigated his hope problem quite well. Then, he proceeded to pick a magical tower shield of Numenorean make with Superior Reinforced, which brought his starting Parry to 23. This means that adversaries with attack 2 or lower will not be able to hit him without rolling an Eye.
The Hobbit’s player was delighted to hear that he would start with a half-starved pony and came up with a name and backstory for the beast on the spot. Finally, Useful Items were a big hit with all players and a lively exchange of ideas ensued.
Personal Notes: All in all, character creation is quite quick while offering good options for customization. Balance might be a problem in some cases. Useful Items/pack animals provide great story hooks.
I had decided to run Concerning Archers from Ruins of the North as test adventure, as it takes place in Eriador and seemed easy to adapt to 2e rules. The company started out in Rivendell, where Bilbo Baggins sends them to the ruins of Fornost to investigate the fate of a company of Hobbit archers that supposedly fought with the king against the hordes of Angmar. The adventure proposes an Encounter to impress Bilbo here, but I did not use the new rules for Councils as the player-heroes had no personal goals to achieve themselves. Instead, I had them make some free-form skill rolls depending on the situation. Everybody struggled with the high TNs as no one was truly competent in any social skills, but the Elf eventually won everybody over with a magical success.
The next day, the company set out on their journey which would take them from Rivendell to Bree and then to Fornost. Thanks to their great guide they only had to face two events on the road. The first one was a possible shortcut, which the scout botched, and for the second one I threw in a sudden attack by four wolves as a quick test of combat.
As expected, the player-heroes had no trouble dispatching the foes in just 3 rounds without taking any hits. The new system with trading 6s for special damage was an instant hit as expected, and everybody was immediately discussing tactics and ideas. Only the player of the Dwarven Scholar voiced dissatisfaction after the battle. He had fought in defensive stance and found himself too restricted to act in any meaningful way here, especially because the Protect Companion task is not a meaningful option in its current state. Granted, staying on the defence was not really necessary against these easy foes, but this is the default tactic for his character in our main campaign and so it was important to him to experience the changes here first-hand. Things might get more interesting once more powerful Adversaries show up, but I share his sentiment that defensive stance is not as attractive as it used to be.
We ended the session when the company finally arrived in Bree. There was some confusion about what the smartest way would be to share points from the Fellowship Pool, but it was eventually decided to postpone the question for now. Most characters had spent 1-2 points of hope, had incurred 0-1 points of travel fatigue and no one had lost any endurance.
Post-game, I’d say the general mood was carefully optimistic, in the vein of “not as bad as I had feared, and with some stuff I really liked”. We agreed to continue the playtest in two weeks.
Personal Notes: I’m still struggling to find ways to incorporate Councils into play, but the new Travelling rules seem really great at first glance. Combat feels great too, except for all things defensive. I feel like I can do more with Adversaries now, thanks to spending hate for bonus dice and 6s for special effects, which is a big plus. Less Hope refresh is also a plus in my book, as players will now have to put more thought into this. Finally, awarding a flat 3 xp/3 ap per session seems bland and generic, but I am still happy to see the old system gone and I can’t think of anything better myself at the moment.