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

Saturday 18 November 2023

You’re Going on an Adventure!

In the north-west of Middle-earth, in the region of Eriador is a bucolic idyll, a land of quiet ways, of a small people going about their business and knowing about everyone else’s business and genealogies, far away both geographically and mentally from the doings of wizards (especially wizards) and kings, orcs and goblins, and such nasty things as adventures. This is the Shire, home to the Hobbits, some of whom as it turns out, will very much find themselves caught up in the doings of wizards (especially wizards) and kings, orcs and goblins, and such nasty things as adventures. That though was in the past with the queer doings of Mr. Bilbo Baggins, who went away with a wizard and came back a very different Hobbit, the least of which was being surprisingly rich. It is also in the future for Mr. Frodo Baggins, the distant cousin of Mr. Bilbo Baggins, yet to be born. In this interregnum between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the Shire is a quiet, contemplative place, forgotten by most, and where little anything of any consequence happens. All that is set to change with Shire Adventures.

Shire Adventures is adaptation of the source material and adventure content from The Ring One Starter Set. Published by Free League Publishing, The Ring One Starter Set did three things. First, it introduced The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings core rules. Second, it described the Shire for The One Ring, serving as the sourcebook for that setting for the roleplaying game. Third, it provided a mini-campaign of adventures, initiated by an appropriate figure of note and played through by some surprising figures from Hobbit history. Shire Adventures does two of these. First as a supplement for The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying—the adaptation of new edition of The One Ring: Roleplaying in the World of Lord of the Rings for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition—it serves as the sourcebook for the Shire. Second, it provides a mini-campaign of adventures—the first adventures for The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying, just as The Ring One Starter Set provided the first adventures for The One Ring, Second Edition.

Shire Adventures is divided into two parts plus an appendix. The first, ‘Regarding the Shire’, details its history, geography, and features. A prologue though, highlights how adventuring, though very much not the norm in the Shire, is different to that of Dungeons & Dragons in one important aspect—weaponry! Hobbits are not a martial people and actual weapons, if found, are regarded as mathoms or trinkets. Bounders and Sheriffs, who walk the boundaries of the Shire and keep the peace, are simply armed with staves and bows. This will definitely influence the play of the second part of Shire Adventures, ‘The Conspiracy of the Redbook’. ‘Regarding the Shire’ begins with the history of The Shire from its founding and later founding of Buckland, the defeat of Golfimbul and his Goblin horde (and creation of the game of Golf by knocking the goblin chief’s head clean off and down a rabbit hole) by Bandobras ‘Bullroarer’ Took of Long-Cleeve and his Hobbitry-in-arms, all the way up to the disappearance of Bilbo Baggins and his return. The majority of the section is dedicated to the geography of the Shire across its Four Farthings and beyond into Buckland (and little further). Alongside all of this, there are engaging sidebars which 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. Tables of random events and encounters and rumours and tales all add extra details and hooks and elements which the Loremaster can take away and form into small adventures that can be played beyond the five in ‘The Conspiracy of the Redbook’. At the very end of ‘Regarding the Shire’, the authors take us outside of the Shire, there to encounter the much-feared Old Man Willow, though not for every long if they can find the happiest and strangest being near the Shire, Tom Bombadil.

One aspect of Shire Adventures—and also The One Ring, Starter Set—is that just like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings—it is a starting point for adventures. However, it is the starting point for adventures for some most unexpected figures in the Shire. The events of ‘The Conspiracy of the Redbook’ take place in the year 2960 of the Third Age, nearly twenty years after the Battle of the Five Armies as detailed in The Hobbit. Since Bilbo Baggins’ return, a whole new generation of Hobbits has come of age, and so the slightly odd Hobbit has decided that certain youngsters should experience some excitement and some intrigue—if only in a little way. Those Bilbo has chosen represent the generation between that of himself, and that of Frodo Baggins, Peregrin Took, and Meriadoc Brandybuck—and in some cases they are the parents of Frodo, Pippin, and Merry. They are initially, Drogo Baggins, Esmeralda Took, Lobelia Bracegirdle, Paladin Took II, Primula Brandybuck, and Rorimac Brandybuck. All are presented as ready-to-play, pre-generated Player-heroes, joined by Balin, though he is not available to play at the start. Their inclusion and the period setting for Shire Adventures means that at this point The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying is looking back still, to The Hobbit, rather than forward to The Lord of the Rings.

‘The Conspiracy of the Redbook’ consists of five adventures. 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. This includes travelling to Michel Delving to steal an artefact from the Mathom-house, tracking down the club of Bandobras ‘Bullroarer’ Took at the very edge of North Farthing, tracking down some of Gandalf’s lost fireworks, travel all the way across the Shire to deliver a letter to Farmer Maggot, and there to help him out with some missing chickens. The campaign is really rather fun and should provide several good sessions’ worth of play, almost at a genteel pace.

Rounding out Shire Adventures is set of eight Player-hero sheets, one each for all of the pre-generated Player-heroes ready to play through ‘The Conspiracy of the Redbook’. Each comes with a little background and a good illustration, and they are nice, clear, and easy to read. 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.

Physically, Shire Adventures is very cleanly presented in a clear, open style, and the content itself is engaging to read. In particular, the maps done inside the front and back covers 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.

Where Shire Adventures is problematic is in its setting between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and really between the events of The Hobbit and the starting year for The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying. There can be no doubt that the adventures are great and the chance to play the pre-generated Player-heroes is a wonder in itself, but what next? There are ideas and hooks throughout Shire Adventures for the Loremaster to develop, but it would be nice to see Player-heroes characters have other adventures too. Shire Adventures is also missing 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, the Bree-land Region Guide for Adventures in Middle-earth, the original adaptation of The One Ring to Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition by Cubicle Seven. It would require some adaptation to The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying, but this is not insurmountable. Of course, the obvious next step is The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying itself, and the Loremaster and her players creating their own Player-heroes and beginning a campaign of their own.

Shire Adventures is a lovely supplement, it wraps the Loremaster and her Hobbitish players in the warmth and comfort of the Shire, before sending them out to be exposed to adventure and mild peril. For the players and their Hobbits this is their first chance to experience excitement and danger, whilst for the Loremaster, there is source material that she can return to and develop adventures of her own.

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