When I first read the journey rules included in Adventures in Middle-earth, I thought about why they are there. And what came to my mind was this: The journey in AiME is precisely what it is in J.R.R. Tolkien’s books – interaction with the rich background of the Middle-earth setting. That’s why they make the 5e edition, and the original The One Ring RPG stand out. Not many systems have the going from one point to another fleshed out like this. And most of those that do are more about exploration or survival, like in OSR sandboxes. But that’s not the case with TOR and AiME. Here, I’ll give you some more thoughts and tips on why and how to make the travel feel like in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.”Bilbo, The Fellowship of the Ring
To Rohan! – Journey from the Brown Lands
It’s been a while since we last saw the four companions trying to find their way among the hills of Emyn Muil. The bandits and their mysterious, sorcerous leader menace in the easter fog. Those staying in touch through the newsletter know that some changes took place on the blog. Now we’ll return to Middle-earth only once a month. But let’s see how the company was doing after the night of autumn equinox.
Talking with the villagers and learning more about the region’s history made the characters understand that the situation was dire. The handful of the world’s hardy outsiders may carve their living out of the dreary hills and moors. But they were no match for the bandits. They needed some help. With backstories of Ingolf and Bruni tied in, the western realms of Rohan and Gondor appeared as a possible aid. For the first time in our Adventures in Middle-earth campaign (and in my whole GMing this game), we were embarking on a journey with all the rules to help us. I was thrilled to try it but at the same time wanted to really deliver on making the travel feel like in the books.
Preparing to Run the Journey Rules in Adventures in Middle-earth
Recently, I talked with Andreas Lundström, the GM of Sweden Rolls and a massive Tolkien nerd, about how he evokes the Middle-earth themes in his games. He said that, for him, the feeling of the setting comes from two things. It results from the interaction with NPCs and little snippets of lore found around the game world. Just like the Professor does in his books. I couldn’t agree more! That’s exactly what you should do with the journey rules when GMing Adventures in Middle-earth or The One Ring. Let the journey be a challenge to overcome in itself and an opportunity to experience the world you play in because most of us who play RPGs in Tolkien’s Legendarium do so out of love for this beautiful realm.
Going over the journey rules section in the Adventures in Middle-earth Player’s Guide, I saw a lot of examples of how to flesh out that theme. Compared to the original The One Ring RPG, that’s the strongest part of AiME. The division into Embarkation, Journey Events, and Arrival phases makes for a smoother play. And there is a ton of inspiring Lord of the Rings/Hobbit references upon which you can base your events.
How to Best Plan Your Journey?
Albeit the journey rules in AiME might seem like you could use them to create an engaging episode on the fly, it’s quite the opposite. At least if you’d like to use them for the purpose, they’re in the system. Like I said in the intro, you’re not simply after braving the dangers and managing to survive along the way in the Middle-earth game. Look at how the characters in the books travel. They do feel hungry, weary, or cold a lot. But what their journeys do the most is take them to places full of backstories. Some are ancient testimonies to the past like the Barrow Downs, the Weathertop, Moria, Lothlórien, or Minas Tirith. But even the bleak highlands of Hollin, Brown Lands seen from the Anduin, gloomy Dead Marshes, or dark pass of Cirith Ungol refer to history. The characters just need to scratch the surface.
So when your party is going to embark on a journey, you should take a step back and think about how to put that to good use. In what region will they travel? What’s the realm’s history, and what could hint at it? Also – what’s nature like there? Remember that the weather, the plants, or even rivers and stones in Tolkien’s books reflect many of the world’s stories. After all, the whole nature is an expression of the creation song in the Legendarium. And when you have those points ready, you should have set your mind for making a deep feeling of Middle-earth’s out of the journey rules.
“Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on on the story.”
As Bilbo stated to Frodo in Rivendell, the story continues. We, playing in Tolkien’s world, are the ones who further the tale and add to it. In my case, it was taking the company across the Anduin first to meet the Gondorian merchants. After Ingolf closed a partial deal with them, the characters decided that Rohan was a more likely ally and continued there. Passing through the grasslands and over foggy Entwash was the first step. Then, they neared the Edoras, seeing the golden roofs of Meduseld and the snow-white hills of Barrowfield. But that, my friend, is a story for another time.
Now it’s your turn to continue the Middle-earth adventures with the journey and these great rules you can find in the great systems of AiME or TOR. I’m curious what you think about making the travel a Tolkien-like experience for yourself and your players. I hope that I helped you a bit with that since my group told me that the journey to Rohan was the most books-like episode of our campaign. Do share your experiences! If you you found something valuable for your GMing in Middle-earth here, any comment, like or share helps immensely my blog in reaching other who may also profit from it. And if you’re looking for a great community of Game Masters, check out The One Ring Loremaster’s Guild on facebook.
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