Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Before the Misty Mountains

With Rivendell, Cubicle Seven Entertainment’s highly regarded The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild Roleplaying Game shifts from its initial geographical focus. Starting with Tales from Wilderland and the Loremaster’s Screen & Lake-town Sourcebook and culminating with The Heart of the Wild and 
The Darkening of Mirkwood, that focus has been on the region to the east of the Misty Mountains, upon Mirkwood and its surrounds. Together, the supplements, the anthology, and the campaign have provided plenty of gaming content, enough for several months’ worth of play which will take a company from 2946 of the Third Age to 2977 and a confrontation with one of the region’s darkest secrets. With Rivendell, the focus of the game shifts to west of the Misty Mountains, to the Last Homely House of Master Elrond, and to Eastern Eriador as far west as the town of Bree. The supplement presents a description of the region, along with the friends and foes to be found there, of the dangers that might encountered and worse, of the great treasures that might be unearthed, and two peoples who may be encountered and perhaps, may join a fellowship. Just as The Heart of the Wild has its companion volume in The Darkening of Mirkwood, the Rivendell supplement has its anthology of scenarios in the form of The Ruins of the North, but that is not necessary to play.

Just as Rivendell as a supplement shifts the focus of The One Ring west across the mountains, the supplement’s focus shifts west too across the region, starting at Imladris or the Last Homely House of Master Elrond and examining each of the nearby regions in broad detail as far as Bree. The Last Homely House is described in some detail and comes complete with maps and floorplans; descriptions of its notable inhabitants, not just Elrond Halfelven and his daughter, Arwen Undómiel, but also Glorfindel and Elrond’s seneschal, Lindir; and the various items of both great and minor magic to be found there. Unlike the region to the east of the Misty Mountains, there are few sanctuaries to be found in Eriador and so Rivendell is likely to be the primary sanctuary for any company. To support this, several new Fellowship phase activities are given, not just taking Elrond as a patron, but also consulting loremasters, writing songs, songs, and more. There is lots of rich detail given here, which the Loremaster can bring into her game and reveal as the players’ company returns to Rivendell again and again.

Beyond Rivendell lies Eriador. This is a region with a great and dark and terrible history, for once it was home to Arnor, the kingdom of Dúnedain, before sibling rival split it into three smaller realms that were easy prey for the evil realm of Angmar and its ruler, the Witch-king. Rivendell gives this history which explains the region’s blasted and bleak nature and the truth about the Rangers who patrol Eriador, watching for the rise of evil once again and keeping the roads safe for the few travellers abroad. Some seventeen regions are detailed, the format for each gives a general description plus information about its wildlife, inhabitants, and notable characters and locations. So immediately West of Rivendell lies the Trollshaws, the hunting ground of Trolls come south from the Coldfells, Ettenmoors, and beyond in search of the sweet meat of the traders that pass on the Great East Road. The area is home to wildlife too small for the Trolls to catch, but also to Stone-Trolls of note. One is Berk, who likes to delay travellers before he attacks them, another is Rine, who has found her own castle from where she can hunt. Also found here is a certain Troll-hole containing three statues and shelter at least for some of the Rangers.

Each of the individual regions is described in similar detail and it could be argued that there is not enough detail here. One of the reasons for this is that Eriador for the very most part is bleak, blasted, and long abandoned, there being relatively little left for any company to find. Another is that the locations of note are likely to be presented in more detail in Ruins of the North, the anthology of scenarios that is a companion to this supplement. That said, it would have been nice to have somewhere like Weathertop accorded more detail, since it is a site of significant interest in the region. Nevertheless, what is given in these descriptions is very useable, and accompanied by numerous potential story hooks, hazard suggestions, and new Fellowship undertakings.

The various monsters to be found in Eriador, both named and unnamed—Trolls, Ettins, Goblins, the Hill-Men of Rhudaur, Orcs, and so on. As well as adding a number of enhancements and powerful special abilities, the monster section pays particular attention to the undead and their abilities. Given the appearance of Barrow-Wights early in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the presentation of the Barrow Downs earlier in the book, it is no surprise that they appear here, but they are joined by Bog Soldiers, Fell Wraiths, and much, much worse... 

One aspect that Middle Earth is famed for, but The One Ring not as much, is its great treasures. Thus the company in The Hobbit benefit from the great hoard accumulated by the dragon, Smaug, and the Hobbits find swords of ancient providence in the barrows of the Barrow Down, but in The One Ring, finding such items is rare, as after all, the roleplaying game is not Dungeons & Dragons. Rivendell develops the idea of Hoards, making them treasure finds which can contain magical items, either Precious Objects or Wondrous Artefacts. Their presence is determined by a roll of the Feat die by each player character examining the Hoard and if no rune is rolled, then a Precious Object is found, which is simply worth Treasure. Now if either Rune is rolled on the Feat, then a magical item has been found, although if a Sauron Rune is rolled, then it indicates that the item is tainted and use or even ownership of that item can increase a player character’s Shadow. Either way, it is possible to upgrade and develop the item (though this will cost Experience Points), adding elements such as material, form, craftsmanship, and so on. Wondrous Artefacts possess Blessings which grant benefits to skill rolls, the ability to create a magical results, and more. 

Initially, a player character may only have a limited idea of what exactly a Wondrous Artefact does, but can learn more over the course of a campaign, including consulting an NPC Loremaster. In this way, it should grow with the player character and become part of his legend as much as it adds to the lore told about the item. It is suggested that the Loremaster create and tailor a Magical Treasure Index to his campaign, provisioning with items that particular characters might find, the reason being that it avoids a character finding something utterly amazing through superb dice rolls. It also allows the Loremaster to weave the item into the campaign ahead of time. Three such lists are provided as examples, including one for the company from The Hobbit.

Penultimately, Rivendell adds a new danger—The Eye Of Mordor. This is an ominous presence, one that of course, a company does not want to come to the attention of. Nevertheless, the company’s size, its composition, and its activities, including rolling Sauron Runes on the Feat die, gaining points of Shadow, and even using magic, can increase of the Eye’s Awareness of them and so force them to be Revealed to The Eye Of Mordor. This will lead to a Revelatory episode which will make the heroes’ lives that much more difficult, from simply increasing the difficulty of all tasks or the company’s arrival being seen as bad news to a player character being sore tested or an enemy becoming that much more dangerous.

Lastly, the supplement adds two new Heroic Cultures—the Rangers of the North and the High Elves of Rivendell. These are presented in the same format as in other supplements and both come with their own six backgrounds, plus Cultural Virtues and Cultural Rewards. One notable difference in comparison to other Cultures is that both are unique, neither is considered to be suitable for first time adventurers setting out into the world, and so it is suggested that they not be used as such and indeed, there be no more than one or two of them per company. This is also in keeping with Tolkien’s tales as is the fact that since they are used to working alone, Rangers cannot cannot use the Fellowship pool to recover Hope, and that High Elves cannot ever truly forget the taint of Shadow, so cannot use the Heal Corruption Fellowship Phase undertaking. Instead, High Elves may withdraw slowly from the world to endure its burden, though if they go abroad again, they may suffer further.

Physically, Rivendell is a pretty book, done in earthy tones throughout that give it a homely feel that befits the setting of Middle Earth. The illustrations are excellent, the cartography decent, and the writing, although needing a slight edit here and there, is clear and easy to understand.

The most obvious issue with Rivendell is that it only covers the eastern half of Eriador, and the description of some of the areas does feel a little sparse. Again, that befits the areas described and the region as whole, but there are still plenty of hooks and elements those descriptions that the Loremaster can bring into her game. Whilst they and the description of Rivendell itself add to the geography of The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild Roleplaying Game, the new rules add to the game as a whole, whether that is the wonder of finding treasure in a Hoard, quivering The Eye of Mordor, or being confronted with one of the undead. Certainly The Eye of Mordor and the Magical Treasure Index could be added to a campaign set almost anywhere in Middle-earth. Similarly, the players will likely enjoy the opportunity to play the new Heroic Cultures.

Rivendell makes sure that Eastern Eriador feels very different to Mirkwood and its surrounds, bleak and windswept, as opposed to rich and forested. It will be a very different environment to adventure in, especially with the addition of the new rules in this supplement. In just covering just Eastern Eriador, Rivendell may not quite be the regional sourcebook the Loremaster expects, essentially adding more rules than setting content. Yet the new rules are excellent, adding greatly to the setting content and to The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild Roleplaying Game as a whole.

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