Magic and mystery, struggle and triumph, camaraderie and courage... these are the themes that make the fantastical works of J.R.R. Tolkien so entrancing, captivating, and thrilling. And while The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have gone on to inspire whole libraries of fantasy content, from big-budget films to 12-part book series inspired by his works, it's been hard oddly difficult to bring his Legendarium into the world of Tabletop RPG's. Ironic, seeing as it directly inspired so much of the origins (and present day) Dungeons & Dragons. Now, RPG publisher Free League takes up the mantle to carry that load once more, with The One Ring (2nd Edition). Free League sent us a copy of the Starter Set to check out, and we're thrilled to share our preliminary thoughts here in our preview of The One Ring RPG Starter Set.
What Is The One Ring RPG Starter Set?
The One Ring RPG Starter Set is a new release from Free League to help get players into the exciting 2nd Edition of The One Ring RPG. The game system as a whole takes place roughly between the events of Bilbo's journey with the dwarfs in The Hobbit all the way through the events of The Lord of the Rings, and puts players into the role of adventurers journeying out in the land. The second edition of the game, the full rules of which we'll review in the future, features updated and revised rules, a completely overhauled look with new illustrations, and a special focus on the land of Eriador. With The One Ring RPG Starter Set, players are introduced slowly into the game, and can choose from several pre-generated Hobbit characters.
What's Included In The One Ring RPG Starter Set?
The One Ring RPG Starter Set is a well-crafted box set containing everything players and Loremasters (that's the equivalent of a Dungeon Master) need to jump right into the game. Included are three thin books, one of which contains The Rules, one with five unique Adventures, and one dedicated to explaining different areas, customs, and peoples of The Shire. The Starter Set also includes a large double-sided map, with one side showing The Shire in detail, and the other serving as an overarching map of Eriador. The Starter set also includes eight pre-generated character sheets, 30 Wargear Cards depicting different weapons and armor and their stats, and six double-sided Journey Role and Combat Stance Cards (these are used while traveling and fighting, and add a nice tactical flavor to the game). Also included are two custom d12 dice, and six custom d6 dice.
As evidenced by the fact that the starter set contains a book based solely on the region, the focus of the Starter set is all about The Shire and the hobbits who live within. When using the Adventures included in the box, players can start the game by choosing one of six Hobbits to set out on a journey. Decidedly non-lethal, the adventures included in the starter set are perfectly suited to a comfortable life in the Shire. You'll find no armies screaming and rattling swords, no foul beasts of myth belching fire and spreading wings (of shadow!), and no great artifacts of immense power (aside from that pretty little gold ring on a chain in Biblo's pocket).
How Does The One Ring RPG Starter Set Play?
The core mechanics of The One Ring RPG as presented in this starter set are definitely geared toward a skill-check based system. With a suite of 18 skills, each pre-generated character is good at different things. These skills range from Hunting and Insight to Song and Riddle, and have a wide range of practical applications throughout the game. Combat in this game is kept simple, without the need for measurements or grids. You are either far away, or close. First, players and enemies are allowed an opening volley of ranged attacks at a distance, and then usually the enemies will close the gap and enter into close combat. Whether you're trying to track a wild rabbit or got yourself into a fight with a local brigand, dice resolution remains similar.
Each character has a set of target numbers on their character sheet that they're always trying to hit, and they'll roll 1d12 and a number of d6 dice equal to their proficiency in a skill or with a weapon. If they match or beat their target number, they succeed at what they're trying to do. In this way, the Loremaster does not set the difficulty of tasks (though they can subtract d6's from the roll in special circumstances). Each d12 also has special symbols on it, along with the numbers 1-10, there's an eye of Sauron symbol which represents a result of 0, and a Gandalf rune symbol which represents an immediate success, regardless of whether the total target number is met. On the d6 dice, each result of 6 also has a small elven rune on it. If rolled (and the action was a success), each of these special runes amps up the degree of success achieved.
What Are The Adventures Like In The One Ring RPG Starter Set?
The One Ring RPG Starter Set contains, as mentioned above, a series of five adventures for players to run through. Each adventure takes place in a different part of The Shire, and sees our heroes going off on small journeys. Nothing too life-changing happens in these adventures for our Hobbit heroes, which perfectly fits the tone of the Starter Set. I don't want to give away too much about subsequent Adventures, because there are loads of fun surprises in them, but the first adventure in the box is an amazing intro to the game. In it, the players have found themselves invited to Bilbo Baggins' house, as he's got a special errand he'd like them to run for him. A map of the Shire, which he believes was drawn by his own grandfather, has been sealed away inside the Mathom-house, a museum in the Shire capital of Michel Delving. To retrieve this map, our hobbit heroes will have to travel there (on foot, of course), find lodging halfway through the journey, avoid detection on the streets of Michel Delving, and find a way to sneak into the house without alerting the guard dog, adorably named "Fireworks."
It's a wonderfully fun, small-scale adventure that eases players both into the rules systems and the game world itself, and the stories and escapades that spin out from this are truly a delight to play through. All in all, we're thrilled with what we've seen so far from The One Ring RPG, and can't wait to dig in further. This is clearly a work written by studious lovers of Tolkien's work, and the production quality and artwork in this box are absolutely incredible.
The One Ring RPG Starter Set, the full RPG book, and a Loremaster's screen are all currently available for preorder.
The copy of The One Ring RPG Starter Set used in this preview was provided by Free League Publishing.