Playing in My Childhood – Book Review of The One Ring RPG

When I was somewhere between six and seven years old, I spent a lot of time in my dad’s classroom. My dad taught High School English, and also directed the theatrical production for the school. One Saturday afternoon, I was with him, “helping” him work on the set for the play he was currently directing. My “help” must have been distracting, because he did the only thing he could think to do to get me out of his hair: he gave me a book. The book in question was The Hobbit. That book set me on the path of geekery I walk today. So when the opportunity came up for me to review The One Ring, I was excited, to say the least.

A Visual Feast

The One Ring comes in an amazing-looking boxed set. With that box, you get the Adventurer’s Book, the Loremaster’s Book, an awesome map of Wilderland, and a set of custom d6s for the game. The art direction on this boxed set is, in a word, fantastic. Rarely have I seen such a beautiful set of books. I had a chance at Origins 2011 to see the proofs for the book. I wasn’t disappointed then, and I am not now. The style of the books evokes the feel of Tolkein’s world, and much of the art reminds of the Hildrebrant Brothers art found in the Tolkein calendars of the early 80s. Not that the art styles are similar, but the feel is the same. I loved these calendars when I was a kid—my dad had quite a few of them that he cut up to use as bulletin boards— and the art in The One Ring gives me the same feeling I got looking at those calendars when I was a kid.

Fighting the Darkness

The game (which is the first of a trilogy of games set in Middle-Earth), takes place not long after the events of The Hobbit. Trade is opening up, and the peoples of Wilderland are making contact with one another for the first time in many, many years. However, it is not a tame, safe land that they traverse. Darkness remains in the forms of all of the enemies familiar to readers of The Hobbit: wolves, orcs, spider, an trolls. Also, vampires are in the book as well, which I found interesting. As well, darkness lurks in the hearts of the adventurers the players play. Heroic deeds cam be accomplished, but there is always a temptation to give in to hate, rage, fear, or other shadowy emotions. Doing so darkens a character, and there is a stat to keep tack of such things. Doing good deeds helps a character stay in the light, and continue to help improve the world around them.

The game is very hero-centric. This is no surprise to any readers of Tolkein’s works. If you’re coming to this RPG expecting to be able to play the bad guys, this isn’t the game for you. Characters have depth, and can succumb to the darkness within—much like Boromir did in Lord of the Rings. The interplay between light and darkness in a given character seems like it will make for interesting stories, and is definitely in keeping with the fiction that is the basis for the world. I would love to see how this plays out over the course of a campaign.

Crunchy Bits

The mechanics are centered around a dice pool of Success dice (d6s), plus a Feat die (d12). 1-3 on a success die is a failure, 4-6 is a success. Add the number of the successes together, plus the number on the Feat die, and see if you meet the target number to succeed on whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. The dice that come with the boxed set have special markings to help with the mechanics. 1-3 on the d6s are outlines, 4-6 are solid colored, and the 6 has a symbol that means you did really well. Every 6 rolled means that the action succeeded to a greater degree, if the target number has been met. The d12 has an Eye of Sauron in place of the 11, which counts as zero, usually, and is always bad to see. The 12 is replaced with the Rune of Gandalf, and means that the action will succeed, even if the target number has not been met. You can play the game with 6d6 and 1d12, but you’ll have to remember these special rules.

The mechanics seem straightforward enough, with the target numbers being easy for the Loremaster to get a feel for. Since there are so many sets of dice mechanics on the market, I always question the addition of another. However, the mechanics seem solid, and the custom dice add some nice flavor (not a bad thing, since the boxed set includes the dice).

The Stories

The stories play out using parties made up of Beornings, Dwarves, Hobbits, Elves of Mirkwood, Bardings, or Woodmen of Wilderland. Each culture has motivations that they pursue, and the interplay between the agendas of each culture makes for some neat opportunities in-game. As well, the game is situated during a  time period that is not covered by the books, so though you may encounter some big names in the game world, the characters have the room to tell their own stories without getting trampled by the metaplot that Tolkein presents in the books. The second and third boxed sets are going to be advancing the timeline, and the third book takes place during the War of the Ring, which scares me a little. We’ll see how things go.

The Final Verdict

A beautiful product and a solid set of rules make this product something definitely worth checking out. My childhood memories of Middle-Earth have always been unassailable, and I have never had an interesting in adventuring where Bilbo walked. Reading The One Ring has changed that. I now want to try this game and see if I can help keep the darkness at bay.

Verdict: Buy

Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. Unrelenting font of ideas, both good and bad. Co-owner of Exploding Rogue Studios, and on Twitter as TheOtherTracy.

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About TheOtherTracy

Unrelenting font of ideas, both good and bad. Co-owner of Exploding Rogue Studios, and on Twitter as TheOtherTracy.
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