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Sunday, 26 January 2020

Beyond the Misty Mountains

Image result for Ruins of the NorthRuins of the North is an anthology of scenarios for The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild Roleplaying Game, the recently cancelled roleplaying game published by Cubicle Seven Entertainment which remains the most highly regarded, certainly most nuanced of the four roleplaying games to explore Tolkien’s Middle Earth. It is a companion to Rivendell, the supplement which shifted the roleplaying game’s focus from its starting point to the east of the Misty Mountains, upon Mirkwood and its surrounds with Tales from Wilderland and The Heart of the Wild to the west of the Misty Mountains. In particular, to present the Last Homely House of Master Elrond and then onwards through Eriador as far west as the town of Bree. Just as The Heart of the Wild has its companion volume in Tales from Wilderland, the Rivendell supplement has its anthology of scenarios in the form of Ruins of the North.

Unlike Tales from Wilderland, and especially unlike Bree, this anthology is not designed for beginning characters. In fact, two of the Heroic Culture character options presented in Rivendell—the Rangers of the North and the High Elves of Rivendell—are not designed to be equal to starting characters in The One Ring. There is a possibility that both can be introduced during the play through of Ruins of the North, which as written is designed to take the characters who have been part of a campaign set to the east of the Misty Mountains through the mountains and into Eriador. Then  once they have established Last Homely House as a sanctuary, they are free to go forth and adventure to the west. Sometimes at the direction of Elrond, sometimes not. To get the very best of the six scenarios in Ruins of the North, the Loremaster will definitely need access to a copy of Rivendell.

The sextet of scenarios presented in Ruins of the North take place between 2954 and 2977—so after the events depicted in Tales from Wilderland. They chart the growing influence of the Shadow as the once vanquished Witch-King of Angmar who in ages past, worked to bring down the Númenórean kingdom of Arnor, returns west of the Misty Mountains. They make use of the expanded rules given in Rivendell for treasure and Precious Objects and Wondrous Artefacts, as well as for The Eye Of Mordor, which reveals the presence of the player characters or company to the Shadow’s influence. In the case of the former, this means that the player characters are likely to uncover caches of treasure far greater than that found in previous titles for The One Ring, whilst in the case of the latter, they are in greater danger of accruing more points of Shadow and suffering other deleterious effects than before. Thus whilst the rewards are potentially greater, so are the dangers…

The anthology opens with ‘Nightmares of Angmar’. This begins in the Black Hills in the Vales of Gundabad where an isolated tribe of Hill-men has been raided by goblins and its children were kidnapped. As they suffer nightmares of desolate fortress, the player characters have to persuade that rescuing them is the best course of action and then chase the kidnappers west, over the mountains, and into Eridor. Dark alliances long past are revealed and there is an opportunity to make a new ally—or lose one in the rescue attempt. Whatever the outcome, the player characters, now west of the Misty Mountains, are given the opportunity to find rest in the House of Elrond. ‘Nightmares of Angmar’ is a gruelling affair, with long stretches of travel across blasted lands—something which will occur again and again through the anthology. It also provides some good roleplaying opportunities and exposes the characters to the reach of the Shadow down the long years.

The theme of the Shadow’s long reach continues in ‘Hard Than Stone’ as an ally appears from strange places to help the player characters in return for their help. Tasked with escorting a road maintenance crew, the company discovers evidence of a bandit attack and after managing to rescue some survivors, learn that the bandit party consists of both Men and Trolls! Learning what could bring such forces together lies at the heart of the scenario and brings into the open long term plans. Elements of the scenario are left for the Loremaster to develop and whilst some interesting options are given, it does leave the scenario with an underwritten ending.

‘Concerning Archers’ begins on a lighter note and a pleasing encounter with the protagonist at the heart of The Hobbit—one Mister Bilbo Baggins. Encountering characters from the books has always been well handled in The One Ring and this is no exception as Bilbo asks the company to help him settle a scholarly debate by visiting an ancient city where a legendary company of archers had its last stand. The company are free to tackle this whenever it wants, so once the request has been made, ‘Concerning Archers’ can either be run as is or added to a campaign as a side quest. This is an opportunity to delve a little into Hobbit history, especially for a Scholar character, and the Loremaster may want to have access to the Bree supplement as well for this and later scenarios.

The fourth scenario, ‘The Company of the Wain’, is a distinct change of pace and tone. The company encounters a caravan of travelling traders stopped off at a village. Initially, the player characters have an opportunity to spend a little money and interact with the traders, but when one of their number spots a possible kidnapping, it suggests that there is more to the caravan. The nature of the threat here is all but mundane, although is not to say that it is not evil. There is no quite right way to deal with the threat, potentially leaving the scenario open for further developments, some of which may lead south into the lands of The Horse-lords of Rohan and potentially, Oaths of the Riddermark.

The company comes to the aid of a Ranger in the fifth scenario, ‘What Lies Beneath’. He wishes to reclaim his family’s ancient mansion and establish a secure outpost for the Rangers near Weathertop. Unfortunately, it has been occupied by some bandits and he wants some help driving them out. This is very much a character piece, with the Loremaster having several NPCs—including the Ranger—to roleplay on one dark, murderous evening. The shortest of the scenarios in the anthology, the plot to ‘What Lies Beneath’ is well-worn, but hopefully good roleplaying upon the part of the Loremaster will divert the player characters enough for its events to play out.

In the sixth and last scenario in Ruins of the North, the player characters are asked by Gandalf himself to undertake a small quest. In ‘Shadows Over Tyrn Gorthad’, he asks that the company retraces its steps and return to the ruins of Angmar in order to determine why Barrow-wights from the Barrow-downs have been seen abroad far from their resting places. This is a much longer scenario than the previous five, and could be played out over several sessions, perhaps even running one of the earlier scenarios in the anthology between its events. Certainly there is room for the Loremaster to insert one of her scenarios here if suitable. Gandalf is not the only character from Middle Earth canon to appear here and the scenario gives another chance for the Scholar chance to shine, as well as be exposed to some dread dangers. The Bree supplement may also be of use here, but is not required. ‘Shadows Over Tyrn Gorthad’ brings Ruins of the North to rousing climax, standing alongside Gandalf attempting to stop a long slumbering threat rising again.

Physically, Ruins of the North is, like the other books for The One Ring, 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 content is decently organised, making all six scenario easier to run.

Unfortunately, Ruins of the North is not quite as satisfying a set of scenarios as those given in the previous collection, Tales from Wilderland. They do not feel quite as cohesive, and certainly, they do not work as a campaign, since there are no strong threads running through the set, from ‘Nightmares of Angmar’ to ‘Shadows Over Tyrn Gorthad’. All together, they do delve into the region’s dark history and hint at the plans that Mordor has for the region, but this being a hint—admittedly a strong hint—Ruins of the North does very much feel as if it is laying the foundations for a bigger campaign, perhaps in the manner of The Darkening of Mirkwood. Of course, that is not be.

With six scenarios that are perhaps darker, nastier, and more challenging than previous anthologies, and definitely different in tone, Ruins of the North is a solid companion to Rivendell. Players and their characters will definitely want to find refuge in the Last Homely House after playing these six.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice review. Been looking at this book for a while and now that they are out of print I will certainly pick it up.

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