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Paul Baldowski
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A personal photo of my TOR slipcase
I have decided to sort of break from the standard format of my reviews for The One Ring (TOR), because - strictly speaking - this isn't a straightforward review. You can find more standard, detailed, reviews scattered all over the place. I wanted to come at this from a more personal point of view, as someone who picked up this game because of an appreciation of Tolkien's world and an awareness of a generally positive reception.

Yeah, it's essentially a review, but a very subjective one.

Executive Summary
A gorgeous, sumptuously illustrated game that seems to capture many aspects that feel more Tolkienesque than any previous game set in Middle Earth. Yet, the dual book format and approach in writing left me floundering, uncertain, and dispirited, wishing for a straightforward, single-volume, well-indexed hardback.

What is it?
The One Ring is a role playing game set in post-The Hobbit Middle Earth, written by Francesco Nepitello, and published by Cubicle 7 in 2011.

When you buy The One Ring, you get a slipcase with two books, two maps and a set of special dice. Starting with the dice, when I say special, we're not talking Fantasy Flight special here - like Warhammer 3e or Edge of the Empire. We have d6s and a d12. The d6 have a rune in superscript next to the 6, while the d12 comes numbered from 1 to 10, with the eye of Sauron and Gandalf's rune replacing the final two numerals. You could very definitely use your own dice without worrying about changing anything, calling 11 for one, and 12 for the other special.

The maps and books split into Adventurer and Loremaster (LM) versions.

The Breakdown

The Maps
The maps both show the Wilderland region, surrounding and including Mirkwood - essentially the area relevant to the events of The Hobbit. The map looks good, in sepia tone with elaborate borders and lettering in crimson and bright red - indicating inhabitants and key areas, for the former colour, and safe havens, in the latter colour.

The Loremaster map shows the same region, with the same markings, but adds in additional layers of information. You have coloured regions that denote the difficulty of the terrain, and rune markers that show the nature of the terrain, in respect of the allegiance of the land and the presence of taint from the Shadow. This reminded me heavily of the old Iron Crown card game Middle Earth trading card game that I collected in the 90s. You had the same division of the landscape with differing levels of hazard.

In terms of usefulness, these maps hit the spot. The Adventurer's Map looks great, and the Loremaster's version makes it very clear where the potential problems lie. TOR makes a big deal about Journeys - where the players consider and map out their route for travel - so, they can pick out the course on their map and then the LM can have a look and determine the varying difficulties faced as they progress along that path. Admittedly, the size of the map makes it less ideal for easy reference - rather like orienteering inexpertly with a great flapping Ordnance Survey map. I'm inclined to believe the PDF version of this might work out much better on a tablet, as you can quickly traverse the map and zoom into the most relevant section without needing to fiddle and flap with the physical thing.

The One Ring, plus Journey errata and Master Index
The Books
There are two books, like I mentioned. One for the Adventurers and one for the Loremaster. First and foremost, they look great. Well, the whole game looks great. The art of John Howe features, as well as Jon Hodgson - now Art Director at Cubicle 7 - and Tomasz Jedruszek. The pages all have elaborate borders at the top and bottom. Each chapter starts with a two-page art spread, and then a ghost of this art appears in the background of the spreads throughout the chapter. A wealth of coloured and sketch art fills both books - all very atmospheric and thematically enticing. A great way to fuel the imagination and invoke the feel of Tolkien's world.

Despite two books meaning that, theoretically, the players can check their stuff in one and the Loremaster has his secret stuff in the other, it doesn't work that way. The core system stuff starts in the Adventurer's Book and the LM will need access to it. The Loremaster's Book tends to expand on the principles in the other Book, rather than repeat it.

The other thing is that while two books might seem like a great idea, two indices aren't. Each book has an index and that index relates a shallow view of the content of just that book. If you want to know about something, you need to check both. What's worse, they don't use a common system - for example, the Adventurer's Book has Tasks under T, noted as (Resolving) Tasks, but the Loremaster's Book has Tests (similar to Tasks but forced by the LM) under R, noted as Resolving Tests. Seriously?

Cubicle 7 managed to get user assistance in compiling a Master Index that you can download as a separate PDF, but that really should have come with the game. Better yet, they should have offered the option of an all-in-one hardback edition - because oddly, I don't think the separate books make much sense and potentially lead to more complexity.

The Adventurer's Book
The 'first' book contents the guts of Character Creation, core mechanics, and the part of each adventure that belongs to the player, the Fellowship Phase.

Character Creation allows for Hobbit, Dwarf, Wood Elf, Woodmen, Barding and Beorning characters - the core character types appropriate to the setting. TOR uses Callings, instead of a strict Class system. Callings suggest the sort of motivations and drive you have, but allow room within them for variations in professional interest. You could, for example, have a Treasure Hunter, one of the Callings, with a martial or more cerebral leaning.

Background and culture shape some of your attributes and skills, tweaked by your choice of Calling. Attributes provide raw ability, Common skills focus you, and Traits offers areas of special expertise that, when invoked, might allow an automatic success, a chance to interrupt and tweak the flow of the story, and support advancement.

At heart, Core Mechanics relates to checks using the d12 Feat Die. Say what you want to do, explain how you're going to do it, get a view to the difficulty and consequences, then roll the Feat die (d12) plus a Success die (d6) for each point in a relevant Common skill. Equal or exceed the agreed difficulty, which tends to be 14, to succeed. A Gandalf rune or invocation of a Trait mean automatic success. Get a Tengwar rune on your d6 and a success to get a Great or Exceptional success.

The books include all kinds of variations on this - including stuff to do with weariness, being miserable and so on - but, that's the essence. Alas, I found as I read through the Adventurer's Book and then on to the Loremaster's Book, the sections didn't necessarily flow or tell you the whole story. I wish that I could say The One Ring was an easy read, but I can't. I found myself constantly doubting myself, feeling that I'd missed or forgotten something, or hadn't grasped something firmly enough to stop myself going back and re-reading.

Take, for example, fatigue and encumbrance. I read back on this three or four times, but found whenever fatigue or encumbrance got a mention, I doubted myself a little more.

When a player-hero fails a Fatigue test, he increases his Fatigue score by a number equal to the Encumbrance value of his Travelling gear - which equates to 2 points in Fall/Winter and 1 point in Spring/Summer? Or, so I thought... And, yet on page 76 (AB) it says: 'A hero’s travelling gear includes all the typical belongings that he carries when travelling, in addition to his weapons and armour.' However, near the end, on page 155 (AB), it says: 'When a player-hero fails a Fatigue test, he increases his Fatigue score by a number equal to the Encumbrance value of his Travelling gear (see below).' And that bit refers to the seasonal gear and 2/1 ENC weight.

The bit on page 76 sort of sounds like gear includes weapons and armour, but the recounting of the rule on 155 doesn't read that way at all.

That disjointed explanation happens enough times to constantly leave doubt nagging in my mind, and having read the whole thing now I know I will have to read through it all again. The poor index serves as a bane to this learning process as it isn't detailed enough to help and not comprehensive enough to point to just the right page or section. The compiled Master Index is 16 pages long, compared to the 6 pages spread across the existing books...

Anyway... to round off on the Fellowship Phase - essentially, each game consists of the Adventuring Phase, where the LM sets out encounters and situations with which the player characters may interact, and once they find somewhere safe to hole up at the 'end' of an adventure, they have a Fellowship Phase, when they can advance, develop and do housekeeping-type activities.

An unexpected index...
The Loremaster's Book
In essence, the Loremaster's Book takes the existing mechanics and background explained in the other book, and layers around it the business of campaign play, the Shadow, and the business of Patrons and adversaries.

I have to say that the material in here is good. I still had a myriad nagging doubts going through the Game Mechanics chapter - where is provides details on handling the running of the game, managing Journeys and resolving tests. If you check out the errata and notes that Francesco Nepitello has posted on the Cubicle 7 web site, most of the stuff relates to material in the Loremaster Book - like a complete re-evaluation of the Fatigue stage of Journeys. Fatigue again!

The business of Journeys and the Fellowship Phase make the game a bit different to the norm, and I didn't feel after reading through either of them that I'd be comfortable running either without a lot of fumbling, page turning and crossed-fingers. I could have dispensed with a few of the gorgeous illustrations in favour of a few more worked examples of the way both work.

The Shadow deals with corruption and the steady descent into madness characterised by the likes of Denethor, Saruman and Gollum in both books and film. I like the principles here - and I can see this getting more coverage in future to further flesh out the concept and understanding.

Adversaries provides a scattering of opponents sufficient for a campaign in the area of the Wilderlands, with Orcs, Wargs, Spiders, Trolls and so forth. A diehard D&D gamer might find the bestiary slim, but it contains enough for the purpose of a game like this - and many of the adversaries faced will actually be other people, not snaggle-toothed monsters.

The Campaign outlines a timeline, followed by a short and relatively straightforward adventure. While the former suited me, the latter could have had more substance, guidance and a handling of the Fellowship phase. I just felt that if you introduce something that feels like it should be different, back it up. If the Fellowship phase is just the part of the game where the characters go back to town, rest up, re-equip and get in a few drinks... fine - but tell it that way. Those periods of downtime appear in plenty of other games without getting a special label slapped on them. TOR makes a big deal about the players pushing the flow of the Fellowship phase, but if I can't comfortably tell them what they're supposed to be doing with it, how will that work out?

My Thoughts in Summary
In the end, I find the game physically gorgeous and inviting, but something about the rules, the index and the break up between books makes it difficult to assimilate and thoroughly frustrating. I will read it again, and certainly want to run it - but considering the apparent simplicity of the system, I'm troubled that I find it so hard to comfortably grasp it all. TOR contains a layer of complexity applied as a veneer to cope with the Tolkienesque business of society, heroes, splendour, corruption, and fellowship - and somehow the riddlesome format and lack of flow make what seems at first simple instead unexpectedly demanding and lacking coherence.
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Dan Conley
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This is one I have on my radar, but I've read too many reviews like yours that give me pause. Sounds like the whole thing could use a reboot perhaps, as you mention, in ONE book.

Thanks for the review. As much as I am tempted by it, I think I'll wait awhile.
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Douglas Bailey
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I agree that the game has some weaknesses of organization, but I think it's worth making the effort; the system includes some really well-done elements (journeys, fatigue and endurance, etc.). There are some fan-created game aids that do a good job of boiling the rules down to a manageable form.
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Karl Larsson
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I sgree with Douglass. It seems so perfect at first, at that added to the surprise when I found parts that was less so. A great set of books , very clever.
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Paul Baldowski
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trystero11 wrote:
I think it's worth making the effort; the system includes some really well-done elements (journeys, fatigue and endurance, etc.)

I mentioned this in my summary. I appreciate that Journeys and handling Fatigue represents what might almost be termed the Unique Selling Points of the system, but they also happen to be the most confusing. I mention Fatigue specifically as having an disjointed explanation in the Adventurer's Book. Francesco himself has written an errata to the Journey system that replaces the whole final stage (you can see it in the top left of my second picture, just behind the Loremaster's Book).

trystero11 wrote:
There are some fan-created game aids that do a good job of boiling the rules down to a manageable form.

For many systems, I seek fan-created materials to add efficiencies to my game, allowing easier access to key information. However, for TOR I'm seeking fan materials as a crutch to help me hobble through my bewilderment. I sought out better a better index, a clearer explanation of fatigue, etc. I'm not looking for play aids, more sort of Band Aids.
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Jim Patching
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The One Ring is one of the best new(ish) RPGs I've played in ages but you're right, the organisation of the rules is pretty awful. Reading the set of pre-published adventures (I think it's called Tales of Wilderland or something?) helps make the Journey rules make a lot more sense.
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Paul Baldowski
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panzer-attack wrote:
Reading the set of pre-published adventures (I think it's called Tales of Wilderland or something?) helps make the Journey rules make a lot more sense.

Thanks for that, Jim. As I have a Christmas Amazon gift certificate to find a use for, I'll head off and pick up Tales as I trust Gareth Hanrahan to set me right.
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Well, so much for waiting awhile. whistle I just scored the core boxed set, Tales from Wilderland, and Loremaster's Screen and Lake-town Sourcebook on eBay. So you all can likely expect loads of questions to be on the way. I know it was mentioned that Wilderland helps make things more understandable, so that is in my favor...
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PaulBaldowski wrote:
Francesco himself has written an errata to the Journey system that replaces the whole final stage (you can see it in the top left of my second picture, just behind the Loremaster's Book).


Just a small note here - the "Journeys Rule Revision" are not errata to the game; these are "alternate rules for journeys" that you may use (or "a small tweak"), as described by Francesco. These are specially useful if:

- The journey is long and you want to avoid the "Dice Fest"
- The journey is of lesser importance and you want to play it quickly, but don't want to ignore it completely.
- You want to put more emphasis on the Journey Roles, which normally only come out when a roll triggers a Hazard.

So you may still use the Journey rules as presented in the books, this alternate rules, or even choose one of the two according to the situation.


Amado
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amajo wrote:

Just a small note here - the "Journeys Rule Revision" are not errata to the game; these are "alternate rules for journeys" that you may use (or "a small tweak"), as described by Francesco. These are specially useful if:

- The journey is long and you want to avoid the "Dice Fest"
- The journey is of lesser importance and you want to play it quickly, but don't want to ignore it completely.
- You want to put more emphasis on the Journey Roles, which normally only come out when a roll triggers a Hazard.

So you may still use the Journey rules as presented in the books, this alternate rules, or even choose one of the two according to the situation.


Amado


Thanks for letting us know, I'm going to video review this game in a few weeks, I need to have this stuff clear for an honest veredict.

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Stone Dwarf wrote:
amajo wrote:

Just a small note here - the "Journeys Rule Revision" are not errata to the game; these are "alternate rules for journeys" that you may use (or "a small tweak"), as described by Francesco. These are specially useful if:

- The journey is long and you want to avoid the "Dice Fest"
- The journey is of lesser importance and you want to play it quickly, but don't want to ignore it completely.
- You want to put more emphasis on the Journey Roles, which normally only come out when a roll triggers a Hazard.

So you may still use the Journey rules as presented in the books, this alternate rules, or even choose one of the two according to the situation.


Amado


Thanks for letting us know, I'm going to video review this game in a few weeks, I need to have this stuff clear for an honest veredict.



You're welcome! And let us know when you have the review!
Un saludo, paisano

Amado
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