The One Ring is a different animal compared to Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs. I could tell that the moment I discovered the game. Putting aside the details of the game itself, you can tell there was a solid philosophy behind the creation of TOR that drives every mechanic and design decision. The focus is obviously to produce an authentic, role playing experience within the Professor’s Middle Earth. During character creation it became clear that I was not developing an optimized character that could lay waste to scores of monsters. I was creating a cog in the machine of the party. A single character has strengths and some very important weaknesses. The bow wielding Elf of Mirkwood might seem a natural part of Tolkien’s world, but he would not last long without friends who had a wide set of skills that he didn’t possess. Maybe the best way to explain this game is that through TOR, Middle Earth is a campaign setting you survive, not just experience, and to survive you must work together with others who are not just skilled adventurers but are trusted and honoured friends.
What you get
The breakdown of what you get when you pick up this game is fairly simple. There’s a large box that stores all the components quite nicely: a set of dice, two books, and two maps. The dice consist of a d12 marked with the Eye of Sauron symbol, and the G rune for Gandalf, as well as six d6 dice where the number 6 is marked with what is known as the Tengwar rune. The two maps cover the same area of Middle Earth known as the Wilderland, one is a standard map that you could imagine finding within one of Tolkien’s novels, and the other is covered with a hexagonal grid and coloured regions. This second map is an LM (Loremaster for TOR) resource that helps you determine the difficulty of the journey a party must undertake. The books of course are the shining pinnacle of the product, but they are not without flaw. You get an Adventurer’s Book and a Loremaster’s Book. The art work and the amount of lore used to make this game come alive is outstanding. John Howe, one of the concept artists for the Peter Jackson films, contributed to this project and it is stunning. The print quality on these books is quite nice, I’d definitely put it higher than most 4th edition D&D books. Unfortunately, the books could stand for more than a few page references, especially when it comes to character creation. I found it difficult trying to find every page that contained important information for building characters. Hopefully, this will get revised in future printings.
The Game Itself
The One Ring is based around players having a variety of skills, a strong bond with the party known as fellowship, a mental condition known as hope, and some customization options determined through the valour or wisdom of your hero.
While the game requires players to roll dice against a target number, you don’t get higher skill modifiers to add to your dice rolls like D&D. When you put time in raising your skills in TOR you instead get to add more dice to your rolls when trying to accomplish something. With this system, you have an ability to score critical hits or a varying degree of critical successes that allow you to barely persuade the town mayor, all the way to convincing the mayor into giving you his shirt. Hope is a number generated through your character’s attributes, these points of hope allow you to spend them in a variety of ways to recover from bad accidents or even boost your resolve to make that one last strike upon a hated foe. If you run out of hope though, your character will lose all motivation to continue the struggle against the servants of the Shadow. Similarly, fellowship helps the team provide hope to other members when they are floundering. The management of these individual and party resources are integral to surviving the harsh region of Wilderland.
As you progress through your adventures you can take time to rest during a winter season, or other periods of time, to spend your hard earned experience points on raising your skills. You can also start raising the valour or wisdom of your character. While travelling you may meet a creature so fearsome that you must resist it’s horrid gaze through sheer valour, or you may come in contact with a servant of the Shadow so powerful that you have to protect yourself from its corruption. While these are important problems you have to resist and steer clear of, your rating in these paths allow you new customization options. If you were to choose the path of Wisdom, you will start gaining generic and culturally based options known as Virtues. A wise Dwarf may learn to fight better underground, or use magic runes to lock doors behind him. Whereas the Bardings of Dale may learn to fight more defensively with swords. A valourous hero, on the other hand, may do great deeds with the axe or blade in his hand, and with the use of valourous Rewards could mend and name his weapon into an item of renown.
I could go into much more detailed review of all the mechanics in the game, but it would simply be easier for someone to buy the game themselves and give it a read. What I want to reiterate here is the authenticity of the game system. I have yet to play or run a single adventure, but I have to say that everything I have read within it has me convinced of the dedication in reproducing the settings feel and style. The rewards you receive from being a valourous hero so closely resemble the emotional impact of magical weapons within Tolkien’s world. The virtues reinforce the complexity of cultural differences. Everything in this game is designed to create a story that the companions share from one year to the next. When your warrior slays a great orc, and you use your experience to make your sword a more powerful weapon, you can name that sword. You can earn a title as a slayer of orcs, who used a mighty blade to to defend helpless villages. Instead of describing your actions through very game-ist terms like spending a fireball daily spell, you are committing to actions with a very story based description. Swinging swords, hefting axes, drawing arrows, and shouting decrees of wrath upon foul orcs. These are legitimate actions in the game but they don’t sound like a mechanic, they sound like an author detailing your adventures in a beloved world of adventure and myth.
I’m gathering people soon for our first game of The One Ring. By then I may add a second part to this review, but for now I have to say that this product is great. There is so much in here that catches my attention as a gamer and games master. I’m considering using some of these ideas like the travel system for my own D&D campaign. I think The One Ring is well designed and that it could teach other RPG makers a thing or two.
I had tweeted about this blog post with a few hash tags and a mention of Cubicle 7 (the creators of The One Ring). They thanked me for the review and told me that the page reference criticisms I had in this review were actually solved through a free TOR index download. I have to say that 1: It’s amazing that they read and replied to my review and 2: that they were willing to give me extra information really made me feel great about supporting them and their products. I’m looking forward to the game I’m about to set up for our first delve into TOR, and am excited about the new products for the line.