The One Ring RPG: The Fate of the Master Campaign details a campaign in which the player characters are directly involved in the events surrounding the Master of Lake-town absconding with Esgaroth’s share of Smaug’s treasure hoard, gifted to them after the Battle of Five Armies.
This article provides several useful pieces of information to tie the player characters directly to the campaign’s setting and events, as well as listing important non-player characters, organizations, and several ways to conclude the campaign depending on your play style. This should help minimize the information that needs to be prepped before running this campaign, and keep the Loremaster focused on the fun!
Character Roles & Bonds
The RPG Dungeon World does a great job of coming up with Bonds for each player character to forge with the other PCs. Here are some ideas for Bonds that might be specific to The One Ring and this campaign, specifically:
- You and [INSERT PC HERE] joined Esgaroth’s town watch at the same time.
- You once guarded [INSERT PC HERE]’s father’s merchant caravan, putting you in the good graces of the the Guild of Merchants.
- You were the first of Lake-town’s inhabitants to greet [INSERT PC HERE], an emissary from nearby lands.
- You see [INSERT PC HERE] as a means to achieving a long-term goal of yours.
- You apprenticed with a local smith, along with [INSERT PC HERE].
- You and [INSERT PC HERE] are orphans of the Battle of Five Armies. The death of your families is your bond.
- [INSERT PC HERE] knows someone — or something — that you need to fulfill a debt with.
- [INSERT PC HERE] saved your life; you hope to do the same for them one day.
- You and [INSERT PC HERE] are sworn brothers/sisters, whether by blood or as brothers-in-arms.
- You wish to correct the sins of your family. Therefore, you are sworn to protect [INSERT PC HERE].
- Your family owed a great debt to the family of [INSERT PC HERE], and thus you were sent to grow up with them, eventually learning to love them as if they were your own kin.
One recommendation to develop the locations, NPCs, and so on that might be important to the campaign is to have the players make short lists, which the Loremaster then uses to build characters and relationship webs. Have each player…
- List 1-3 important relatives or close connections of your character. Simply list their name and their role, occupation or relationship to your character.
- List 1-2 locations that your character frequents. One should be related to your character’s career or family.
- List one emotional event from the character’s past, or a secret that is important to them (whether the secret is about your character or some NPC or event).
NPCs and Fronts
- The Master of Lake-town. His apparition, and thus his fate, are revealed in “The Watch on the Heath” (from Tales from Wilderland p. 147). He is never named in official books, but an audio play version of The Hobbit gave his name as Maxwell.
- The Master’s thugs: Jonar, Kelmund, and Finnar (Tales from Wilderland p. 9). They should be indicative of any minor or mid-level thugs, guards, or attendants of the Master.
- Lockmand the merchant (Tales from Wilderland p. 102 and 112).
- The Guild of Merchants. None are named, but a brief description of their function and the Merchant’s Guild-hall can be found in the Lake-town sourcebook (p. 6).
- The Town Councilors. As with the merchants, none are named, but general details of Town-hall, the Councilors, and various emissaries can be found in the Lake-town sourcebook (p. 9-10).
- Citizens of Esgaroth. The Lake-town sourcebook also provides several generic statblocks for typical watchmen, smiths, and other inhabitants of Esgaroth, making it a highly valuable resource for NPCs you might develop and highlight in your campaign. See the Character Roles & Bonds section for ideas on having the players develop some of the NPCs they would like to interact with, which you may then apply these stats to.
Dungeon World also gives us the concept of Fronts, a means of organizing at-a-glance information for the various factions that will come to oppose the Player Characters. The idea is that — in a fairly shorthand “statblock” style — you can list the goals, organization, roster, and functional actions of a Front and thereby know the answers to what, who, why, and how by referring to a single sheet of paper.
- What is the Front?
- Who makes up the Front?
- Why are they doing what they are doing?
- How will they go about it? What consequences will there be at each step, assuming the Player Characters (or other heroes) don’t get in the way?
With that in mind, here are the most obvious Fronts for The Fate of the Master.
Goal: To steal Esgaroth’s share of Smaug’s hoard and live a great, easy life.
Plots: Here’s how the Master hopes to achieve this.
- Siphon some of the treasure directly from the treasury, transporting it via loyal agents to a hiding place outside of Esgaroth.
- Create a fake break-in of the treasury, pointing fingers at an innocent — but guilty-looking — party.
- Overspend on projects to rebuild Lake-town, putting the excess money in the hands of loyal agents.
- If Lake-town becomes hostile to the Master, create a diversion by giving orcs and goblins the means to sneak into Esgaroth, while simultaneously using that diversion to flee with the treasure to Dale or somewhere south.
Roster: The following NPCs make up this Front.
- The Master of Lake-town.
- Lockmand, a merchant.
- Jonar, Kelmund, and Finnar, enforcers for the Master.
- The treasurer of Lake-town.
- At least one loyal councilor. Consider using Alfrid Lickspittle, from the film versions of The Hobbit.
- Consider adding a small roster of loyal watchmen or militia, and possibly a few more merchants or other agents of the town.
The Guild of Merchants & Other Fronts
For the Guild, and other Fronts that you might think up, simply use the above template to determine their goals and how those might be at odds with The Master and other Fronts. Make sure to consider goals and steps toward achieving them, and most of all, how those two things can be used to create fun, memorable adventures for the players! This is much more of a cloak-and-dagger campaign, with political maneuvering, mystery, missing treasure, and divided loyalties, so play that up. Some ideas for other Fronts would be:
- The Guild of Merchants.
- The Town Councilors.
- A band of mercenaries that may work for the Master or the Guild…and might have their own goals and thoughts relating to the treasure hoard of Smaug.
- A nearby band of orcs and goblins, still hurting from the Battle of Five Armies, but that can be employed by the Master of Lake-town as a distraction…or as mercenaries.
- The Gibbet King and Lockmand could make up a whole Front by themselves, if you want to play up their importance. This may create problems with future adventures from Tales from Wilderland, however, so read on to make sure you don’t mess with canon if you need it.
How to Avoid Messing with Canon
If you are running the Fate of the Master campaign as part of a larger narrative, with the possibility of later using adventures from Tales from Wilderland and other sources, you need to:
- Keep the Master of Esgaroth alive until he takes the treasure hoard to the north.
- Leave the Master cold, alone, and starving in the wastes (the northern reaches of the Desolation of Smaug).
- Keep the Master’s thugs (Jonar, Kelmund, and Finnar), and Lockmand alive.
- Optionally, keep Lockmand’s ties to the Master loose, mysterious, or seemingly innocent, otherwise some of the mystery and discovery of later adventures from Tales from Wilderland may be lost or — at least — rendered as less of a surprise, and therefore not carry as much narrative weight when revealed.
That’s really it. Should you not do these, keep in mind that you’ll have to do a little hacking to update the adventures, but this shouldn’t be hard. For instance, the Master may not have died completely alone, just surrounded by few loyal agents. He also may not have starved, but been run through by orcs’ swords, but no one cared enough to tell the tale any different. Maybe Lockmand is a known agent seeking redemption (but ultimately finding loyalty to the Gibbet King), and maybe Jonar and the other thugs are just some among a long line of the Master’s stooges.
Concluding the Campaign
As a Lead-in to Tales from Wilderland
Use this campaign as a first-parter, foreshadowing the Gibbet King’s role (and existence). Lockmand would be an important player, developing a much more long-term role, and Jonar, Kelmund and Finnar as lackeys of the Master would be great as minor walk-on roles. Consider leading straight into the final 4 or final 2 adventures in Tales, if you wish to avoid any “side treks” and run a more compact, tightly focused campaign. That should also keep the characters from becoming too powerful through advancements during downtime.
As a Stand Alone
The treasure is lost. Or perhaps the treasure is recovered, and handed back to Esgaroth, Dale, or Erebor. A great prologue would have the players meet with Bard, Gandalf, or other interested parties and being personally thanked for handling the Master, whether or not the treasure is actually recovered.
Your own Gibbet King
Develop your own version of the Gibbet King, a dark, shadowy force behind an orc army that has stolen the treasure from the Master of Esgaroth and makes its home in a fortress of the Enemy in the North (Zirakinbar). Beware of making it too dungeon-crawly, otherwise you might lose the tone of what makes this a campaign set in the world of The One Ring.
To properly keep the tone, consider having multiple ways of defeating the Gibbet King directly related to the fortress of Zirakinbar, forcing the party to split up but also ensuring that their individual skills and specialties play into the defeat of this powerful creature. While this may sound a bit “D&Dish,” consider having there be some item that can be destroyed or consecrated in order to weaken the Gibbet King (much as a lich’s phylactery), and then allowing more combat-focused characters a chance to wield a magical weapon against him to deliver the final, fatal blow. These two things neatly mirror the tone of Lord of the Rings, what with tossing the ring in lava while Aragorn gets to wield his shiny, newly reforged sword.
Horror Movie Ending
The PCs are part of the betrayal against the Master (manipulated by Lockmand, or willing accomplices), but then they too might die at the hands of the Gibbet King or his orcs.
Or, they do everything right, chasing the Master out into the wastes, only to find him ambushed by the orcs. While the players survive in this version, they witness the Master getting what he deserves…but also a band of orcs gaining control of a massive hoard of treasure.
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