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

Monday, 21 March 2022

The One Ring II Starter

It was with no little disappointment that Cubicle Seven Entertainment announced in November, 2019 that it would no longer be publishing The One Ring: Adventures Over The Edge Of The Wild, the hobby’s fourth and most critically acclaimed attempt to create a roleplaying game based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Originally published in 2011, fans had been looking forward to the second edition of the game, which was being worked on at the time of the announcement. When in 2020, Swedish publisher, Free League Publishing—best known for Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was, Alien: The Roleplaying Game, and Symbaroum—announced that it had acquired the licence, there was some concern that its forthcoming edition would be based on its Year Zero mechanics. However, Free League Publishing made clear from the start that this was not the case, and so the 
good news is that following a successful Kickstarter campaign, The One Ring, Second Edition not only retains its original design and writing team, but also the same mechanics—with some updates, and it receives its very own starter set.

The One Ring Starter Set provides both an introduction to the roleplaying game and everything necessary to begin a short campaign. Inside the sturdy box can be found three booklets—the twenty-four-page Rules booklet, the fifty-two page The Shire booklet, and the thirty-one page The Adventures booklet, a set of double-sided character sheets for eight pre-generated Player Characters, two large maps showing the Shire and Eriador, and two sets of play aids which can be used The One Ring, Second Edition core rules. These consist of a deck of thirty Wargear Cards and six double-sided Journey Role and Combat Stance Cards. Lastly, there is a set of eight dice, which include two Feat dice.

What is noticeable about The One Ring Starter Set is that it is very much focused on the Shire, the home of the Hobbits. This includes most of the eight pre-generated Player Characters, the maps, the adventures in The Adventures booklet, and of course, The Shire booklet. This emphasises several aspects of The One Ring, Second Edition. First is its shift from Rhovanion, the region to the East of the Misty Mountains which was the main focus for The One Ring, First Edition, to Eriador, the region to the West of the Misty Mountains. With supplements such as Rivendell, Bree, and Ruins of the North, parts of Eriador had been explored, but no further. Second, is The Shire as a starting point for adventure, with the Player Characters first coming to see that there are dangers and thrills to be had within the borders of their own homeland, and then consequently, becoming curious enough to look beyond… Thus, exactly as Bilbo when he went away with Gandalf and the Dwarves, and came back probably mad, but definitely more than a little well off. Third is the shifting of the date. Where The One Ring, First Edition opened in the year 2946 of the Third Age, exactly five years after the Battle of the Five Armies, many years have passed since—in some cases the full adventuring career for some wayward folk— The One Ring, Second Edition and thus The One Ring Starter Set opens in the year 2960 of the Third Age, nearly twenty years after the Battle of the Five Armies. This is reflected in the choice of the pre-generated Player Characters. The primary ones consist of Drogo Baggins, Esmeralda Took, Lobelia Bracegirdle, Paladin Took II, Primula Brandybuck, and Rorimac Brandybuck (the other two are Balin, Son of Fundin and Bilbo Baggins, but are not initially available to play), and represent the generation between that of Bilbo, and that of Frodo Baggins, Peregrin Took, and Meriadoc Brandybuck—and in some cases they are the parents of Frodo, Pippin, and Merry. This is of course, years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, and whilst still moving forward with the timeline, both The One Ring Starter Set and The One Ring, Second Edition are still looking back to The Hobbit.

The Rules booklet introduces The One Ring Starter Set, the base setting and the rules. It includes an example of play, explanations of who the Player-heroes are and what they do, how the game is played, what the skills are, and how adventuring works. Mechanically, The One Ring uses dice pools formed of six-sided dice and the twelve-sided Feat die. The six-sided Success dice are marked with an Elven Rune for ‘1’ on the six face, whilst the Feat dice is marked one through ten, and one face with the ‘Eye of Sauron’ Icon and one face with the ‘Gandalf’ Rune. When rolled, these can all together give various results. A simple numerical total that beats a Target Number is a standard success, but if the roll beats a Target Number and one or more Elven Runes are rolled, they indicate a Great or even an Extraordinary success. If the ‘Eye of Sauron’ Icon is rolled, this is the worst result and does not contribute anything towards the roll. Conversely, if the ‘Gandalf’ Rune is rolled, this is the best result and the action automatically succeeds, even if the total does not beat the target number.

The Target Number itself is determined by a Player-hero’s Attributes, either Strength, Heart, or Wits, depending upon if the player is rolling for a skill, combat proficiency, Wisdom, or Valour. In addition, if a skill is Favoured or Ill-favoured, a player rolls two Feat dice, counting the higher result if Favoured, the lower if Ill-favoured. Extra Success dice can be purchased and rolled through the expenditure of Hope.

Combat uses the same mechanics, but uses a Player-hero’s Combat Proficiencies—either Axes, Bows, Swords, or Spears, which are rolled against the Target Number derived from his Strength. This is modified by the enemy’s Parry rating. Damage inflicted is deducted from a Player-hero’s Endurance, which can result in him being Weary if his Endurance is knocked below his Load (essentially what he is carrying), and knocked out if it is reduced to zero. However, adversaries cannot become Weary, but are knocked out or eliminated when their Endurance is reduced to zero. If one or more Elven ‘1’ Runes are rolled on the Success dice, they can spent to inflict Heavy Blows and more Endurance damage, Fend Off the next attack against you, Pierce armour and potentially do a Piercing Blow, which is definitely inflicted if a ten or a ‘Gandalf’ Rune is rolled. If a Piercing Blow is struck, the defendant’s player rolls to see if his Player-hero’s armour protects him. Wounded Player-heroes recover Endurance slowly and are knocked out if a second Wound is suffered. Adversaries are typically killed by Wounds.

If there is an issue with this it is that it lacks an example of combat. Overall, though the rules explanation is well done in the Rules booklet, and is easy to grasp whether you are new to The One Ring, or making the adjustment from The One Ring, First Edition.

The Shire booklet is the longest of the three booklets in The One Ring Starter Set. This begins with the founding of the Shire and small folk came from along the Anduin to settle first in Bree and then petition the King of Men for a land of their own. In return they were ordered to maintain the great East-West Road. Later, the Oldbucks would cross the Brandywine River and found Buckland, Bandobras ‘Bullroarer’ Took of Long-Cleeve would lead the Hobbitry-in-arms to victory against Golfimbul and his Goblin horde (and also create the game of Golf by knocking the goblin chief’s head clean off and down a rabbit hole), before coming all the way up to date with the disappearance of Bilbo Baggins and his return… Not much, it appears, happens in the Shire. Most of the booklet is dedicated to the geography of the Shire across its Four Farthings and beyond into Buckland (and little further). Throughout the booklet sidebars explore different aspects of Hobbit culture, such as the Art of Smoking and smoke ring competitions, Hobbit attitudes towards Gandalf the Grey (mostly he means trouble, unless fireworks are involved), and descriptions of important NPCs, like Mayor Pott Whitfoot, or Gorbadoc ‘Old Broadbelt’ Brandybuck, the current Master of Buckland. There are also tables of random events and encounters and things they might learn at this in and that, and more, along with little extra details which the Loremaster can take away and form into small adventures that can be played beyond the five in the Adventures booklet. The booklet slips out of the Shire at the very end and into the Old Forest, perhaps the very first destination for any brave Hobbit looking to venture beyond the Shire borders. There they might meet the happiest and strangest being near the Shire, Tom Bombadil. One lovely touch to the book is a full page spread piece of artwork depicting Hobbits crossing the Brandywine via the Bucklebury Ferry. This separates the longer set of chapters of the Four Farthings of the Shire and Buckland, in effect taking the reader across the water and amongst those strange folk who like messing about on boats and swimming…

The Shire booklet is The One Ring Starter Set’s longevity. It will be the source material that the Loremaster will want to consult again and again when wanting to run adventures in this part of Eriador. It is lovingly detailed and there are lots of little elements and facts which the Loremaster can bring into play.

The Adventures booklet contains five adventures which together make up ‘The Conspiracy of the Red Book’ campaign. Three need to be run in order—the first one and the last two, but the other two can be run second or third in the campaign. The Player-heroes, Hobbits all, are summoned by Bilbo Baggins for tea and a task or two, all to imbue in them a little of the same sense of adventure that he now has. The adventures will send the Player-heroes hither and thither across the Shire and have them doing very un-Hobbity things. The campaign is really rather fun and should provide several good sessions’ worth of play.

In addition to the three booklets, The One Ring Starter Set contains the eight Player-hero sheets and the double-sided map. The eight Player-hero sheets are nice and clear and easy to read, with the stats and skills on one side, and a fuller illustration and reason for their involvement on the back. They are of course, all linked by family connections, as any good Hobbits should be. They should be all fun to play (especially Lobelia Bracegirdle!) and all have decent Stealth and Riddle skills, but low combat skills. The map is done in full colour, on heavy paper stock, and depicts the Shire on one side, and Eriador on the other.

Physically, The One Ring Starter Set is very cleanly presented in a clear, open style, and the content itself is engaging to read. In particular, the maps are excellent, done in a style reminiscent of Tolkien and will satisfy any Tolkien fan. The artwork is also very good, a pen and ink style that captures the old-world rustic charm of the Shire. One lovely touch is that the inside of the starter set’s box lid and box bottom are not wasted. On the inside of the lid is a quick explanation of the rules for easy reference, whilst on the inside of the bottom box is a full colour map of the Shire. Both are nice touches that give The One Ring Starter Set an extra thoughtfulness. It is interesting to note that the 
‘One Ring’ motif on the cover of The One Ring Starter Set is a different colour—green instead of red. Does this indicate something, perhaps the degree of threat or peril presented within its pages, or is just a different colour?

If perhaps The One Ring Starter Set is missing anything, it is a ‘where next?’ section. What does the Loremaster run after the ‘The Conspiracy of the Red Book’ campaign? The obvious choice is Bree as it is close by and if the Loremaster has access to it, then the adventures in The One Ring, First Edition supplement could be adapted to be run using The One Ring Starter Set. If not yet available, then the Loremaster will have to wait at least until there is a supplement for Bree (or another nearby area) or switch to The One Ring, Second Edition core rulebook.

Perhaps the biggest potential issue with The One Ring Starter Set is that it is slightly difficult to determine who The One Ring Starter Set is quite aimed at. It possesses a family-friendly tone and is steeped in the lore of Middle-earth, but as an introduction to roleplaying it does not start from first principles and therefore, prospective players will need some understanding of how roleplaying works. If the Loremaster does have that understanding, then the decent explanation of the rules and the family-friendly tone of both the lore and the adventures, combined with the fact that the adventures begin from the same starting point as The Hobbit, mean that The One Ring Starter Set can be used to introduce both roleplaying and roleplaying in Middle-earth. Experienced role-players will have no difficulty though picking up and playing The One Ring from the contents of The One Ring Starter Set, but fans of The One Ring, First Edition, may find its beginning point too simple and lacking the sense of lurking darkness found in Middle-earth during this period, and not necessarily want to play all Hobbits. Of course a starter set is not designed to cover everything that the full rulebook will detail, but The One Ring Starter Set is rich in lore and the Shire was always meant to be a rustic idyll, which should appeal to Middle-earth fans.

The One Ring Starter Set is a lovely boxed set in itself with the Tolkienesque layout, delightfully rustic artwork, and quite beautiful depiction of Middle-earth through its maps. With its stripped back version of the full rules and emphasis of adventuring within the boundaries of the Shire, The One Ring Starter Set provides an engaging introduction to The One Ring, Second Edition and roleplaying in Middle-earth.

1 comment:

  1. It may be worth noting how the dice are misprinted in this boxed set. The D10 dice have the numbers 2 to 11 instead of 1 to 10 on them.