At Gen Con, I purchased The One Ring Roleplaying Game, the newest roleplaying game set in Middle Earth. It has some pretty fun mechanics that help distinguish it from traditional fantasy roleplaying games.
Some highlights below:
- Travel Mechanics: Most systems don’t handle travel very well, mostly leaving it up to the GM to decide what happens when adventurers travel long distance, but this one has a fun system where you plan out your journey and then make travel rolls to see if you increase your fatigue or encounter hazards along the way. These rolls really matter since rolling poorly can leave you less prepared for battle when you arrive at your destination. It is also fun to have a mechanic for handling days or weeks of game time passing during adventures, creating a natural timeline throughout the campaign that requires more thought to replicate in D&D.
- A Surprisingly Fun Encumbrance System: In most systems, encumbrance is ignored or begrudgingly tracked. That’s because for the most part, it involves A LOT of micromanagement as you keep track of every piece of gear, and it just feels like you are trying to stay below a certain number. In The One Ring, you really only track your armor and weapons. Every other piece of reasonable equipment is just assumed to be part of your traveling gear, which has a total rating of 1. You add everything up to determine your fatigue score. If your endurance (the systems equivalent of hit points) ever drops below your fatigue score in combat or otherwise, you are considered to be weary, which means rolls of 1-3 on your d6s don’t count towards success. So you definitely get rewarded for traveling light, since it means you’ll be able to take more hits in combat before being weary, yet at the same time you’ll have fewer weapons to choose from in combat and you’ll be more likely to suffer wounds because of your light armor (see below).
- Wounds and Death: In The One Ring, whenever you or an enemy roll the equivalent of a critical hit, there is a chance of causing a wound. Your armor gives you bonus dice towards avoiding a wound and the difficulty varies depending on the weapon. Wounds don’t hurt your performance in combat, but they do make your more susceptible to dying in or falling unconscious. If you are already wounded and get wounded again, you go unconscious. If you are wounded and go to 0 endurance, you are dying. You are killed outright if you are wounded and then wounded again by the blow that knocks you to 0 endurance! Wounds also make it more difficult to heal after combat. So with this system and the encumbrance system there is a fun tension between wearing lighter armors and risking being wounded more often and wearing heavier armors and become weary earlier in combat.
- Corruption and Shadow: This system mirrors the insanity mechanic in Call of Cthulhu. Basically, when you are exposed to the darkness of shadow or when you do terrible things you must make corruption rolls and risk acquiring points of shadow. If your shadow score ever goes below your hope score (a pool of points you have to gain bonuses to rolls), you risk acquiring a shadow taint that gives you a negative trait. Get enough negative traits (hopefully somewhat rare), and you go insane and lose control of your character! So this is a fun system that mirrors some of the changes we see in characters from Lord of the Rings as they are exposed to the corrupting influence of the Ring of Power.
- Traits: Speaking of traits, these fun things add a nice indie mechanic to things, where you can automatically succeed on rolls if you invoke the appropriate trait. So you might say that OF COURSE you gather the necessary information about rumors around town with your SMOKING trait because, seriously, who wouldn’t sit down with an old hobbit enjoying his pipe and shoot the breeze? You can also invoke a trait to roll on something the DM would normally consider part of the story. For example, if your trait is “suspicious” and the DM ruled that an NPC ran off in the night with the map to the destination you are traveling to, you might argue that your trait allows you to make a perception check to see if they steal the map because OF COURSE you’ve been sleeping with it in your breast pocket ever since they arrived.
- Special Dice: The dice for this game are really cool. There is a d12 with a Gandalf symbol and a Sauron’s Eye symbol in place of the 11 and 12. The Gandalf is an auto success (fun) and the eye counts as a zero (reversed for enemies!). There are also d6s, which are rolled with the d12 as skill dice. The 1, 2, and 3s have different outlines to show that they don’t count if you are weary, and the 6s have a symbol to denote great and extraordinary success if they are rolled! So there are some fun and pretty mechanics rolled up in those dice.