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Subject: The Shadow Returns: A Review of The Darkening of Mirkwood rss

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Paul Baldowski
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Executive Summary
A fantastic resource for any Loremaster seeking a ready-to-play framework for their One Ring game. Thirty years of in-game background and plots, certain to take a year or more of weekly sessions to exhaust (unless you make your Fatigue check).

Main Review
When you start playing a game for the first time, you'll often start with a couple of straightforward adventures. If you have the time, you might consider linking those adventures together into a general arc or campaign. If you have some time and creativity on your hands, you might consider an actual campaign - which probably equates to a big meta-adventure that runs alongside the lesser adventures. However, that last option can be a big mess of work - so, wouldn't it be nice to have someone else do all that legwork for you?

Well, having started running The One Ring, I saw The Darkening of Mirkwood. The blurb promised a campaign, so my curiosity led me to look further and have a read.

Did I find something that would take the strain for me and setup a campaign framework on my behalf?

Well...

What is it?
The Darkening of Mirkwood is a 144-page supplement for The One Ring, written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and published by Cubicle 7. Released as a PDF in January 2014, the volume will also be released as a physical book later in the same year.

The supplement features sumptuous illustrations throughout, as well as a two-page map of the Wilderland overlaid with locations and information relevant to the adventures.

The Breakdown
I wasn't exactly certain what I was buying into when I got a hold of The Darkening of Mirkwood. A complete campaign? In a slim 144-pages? Is that possible, and more importantly, is it worthwhile getting?

After consuming the supplement in a little over a day, I can respond with a resounding and unequivacal 'Yes'.

I already plan to use the campaign framework as the basis of kicking off One Ring adventures with my weekly gaming group.

In the Loremaster's Book of the core game, you can find the Tale of Years and also brief details of The Darkening of Mirkwood. Like the timelines in the back of The Lord of the Rings, these offer key occurrences, clashes, and personal events. This supplement takes the rough outlines and expands it considerably.

The Darkening of Mirkwood takes place between 2947 - 2977, placing it a few years after the death of Smaug and the Battle of Five Armies, but ending with at least another 40 years before the War of the Ring. For reference, King Theoden of the Rohan is born in 2948.

The supplement breaks the Years into five groups dealing with key events, like the Return of the Shadow to Dol Guldur or the outbreak of a great plague. Within these groups, you have a chapter for each Year itself.

Before I explain the content of each Year, let me highlight something I just said - the return of the Enemy to Dol Guldur. If you check the Appendix to Lord of the Rings, you'll know that Sauron despatches three of the Ringwraiths to Mirkwood to restore disorder and rebuild the fortress once inhabited by the Necromancer. The upshot - the Appendix to The Darkening of Mirkwood not only includes stats for Forest Goblins and new Spiders, it also has information on three of the Nazgul.

Each Year starts with an overview of Events, some local, some more distant. The introduction to the supplement highlights the fact that communications and news in Middle-Earth can only travel as fast as the people who make journeys between regions, like traders. You might find armies and the messengers of royalty making similar journeys between regions, but they're unlikely to divulge their knowledge to all and sundry. So, when news does finally reach distant climes, you're likely to find it a few years out of date. So, the Loremaster might occasionally filter rumour of the death of a king into conversation, despite the fact he passed away 5 years ago.

After Events, you have the Adventuring Phase. Essentially, you receive more than 30 adventures in this book, some quite short, others longer affairs. Nothing full blown or sufficiently complete to account for a full year of game time activity, but enough to season your ongoing campaign with social engagements, key events, and political shifts. Essentially, the Woodmen of Mirkwood have an impending issue to deal with - the return of the Shadow to Mirkwood. The servants of the Dark Lord return to Dol Guldur and with that return comes the steady spread of corruption.

In many years, the Company will have the opportunity to witness or influence key events and decisions. Meetings between the Woodmen clans to elect leaders or add new clans to their territory. Activity by the Elves or Radagast to scout out the presence of corruption or determine the safety of Mirkwood. Efforts by Dwarves to reclaim territory or drive out the Enemy. The Company can get involved and, over time, respect and Standing will make them key to changes that will affect events that follow.

The events, people and locations have many ties into existing product, without demanding that the Loremaster own any of them. So, you might benefit from possession of the Lake-Town Guide or The Heart of the Wild, but you don't need them. The text makes references to specific page number, personalities or locations - so you can expand on the flavour and the richness of the setting. However, in the Appendix at the end of the volume you have stats and briefs on important people and creatures covered elsewhere, but needed for playing the campaign.

Equally, you don't need Tales from Wilderland; but, it includes seven adventures, all of which you might choose to layer into the Darkening campaign to fill out the years. As I say, some years the events presented in the Adventure Phase don't fill months of time. Sometimes they're key meetings and decisions that might takes a week or two to unfold, but you'll want to run something else that year before hitting a Year End Fellowship Phase. In these instances, look to Tales, one of many fan-written adventures, or just let your players guide the course of play.

Each Year then rounds out with the Fellowship Phase Year End with suggestions or modifiers. Some years might just indicate a slow in the spread of Shadow, making it easier to maintain personal assets. Other times, events might give a Companion the opportunity to assist the Dwarves in reclaiming territory, provide the chance to Consult with Saruman, or aspire to title in the clans of the Woodmen.

The introduction offers new rules on Holdings, that allow Companions to establish their own places in the region - like farms, small commercial ventures, or similar. Such Holdings require attention and maintenance, but they help involve the character and support their drive for greater Standing and improved Wealth. They make for personal assets that invest the Company in the protection and prosperity of the region.

My Thoughts in Summary
Overall, The Darkening of Mirkwood sets out to provide a viable campaign framework. In fact, what it also provided for me was an entertaining read and a plethora of ideas. It got me excited about the prospect of running The One Ring for the first time. I immediately set to making notes and finding ways to interlink other adventures and hooks into the body of the campaign.

If you like The One Ring, you'll like this book. Even if you don't use the campaign framework, it offers more than 30 adventure seeds and ideas on how to handle some of the politics in the region. It includes stats on several key personalities and adversaries.

A great start to 2014 for The One Ring.
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Douglas Bailey
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I haven't had time to sit down and read through the PDF yet: I'm glad to hear that it appealed to you.

(The designers listed The Great Pendragon Campaign as one of their inspirations in a post on the Cubicle 7 forums: I'd be very happy if their work met the standards of that inspiration.)
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Paul Baldowski
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It was a pleasure to read, and I'm really looking forward to running through it.
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Jim Patching
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This long-term campaign really sounds like the way TOR should be played.

In the main rulebook I found the rules around the Fellowship phase a bit loose. Do you think this book would help me get a better grasp on what can and can't be done in that phase of the game?
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Kai S.
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Excellent review, thanks Paul. You just made me want to buy that book, even though I'm still wary of C7.
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Graet review Paul, thanks, I'll add this to my wishlist. I'm about to get involved in a One Ring campaign here on the Geek and I couldn't be more excited. i've somehow managed to avoid ever doing Tolkien roleplay and the One Ring system is hitting all the right notes for me.
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Paul Baldowski
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panzer-attack wrote:
In the main rulebook I found the rules around the Fellowship phase a bit loose. Do you think this book would help me get a better grasp on what can and can't be done in that phase of the game?
No. While the book described additional Undertakings that a Companion can perform in the Fellowship phase, it doesn't engage in any greater level of detail on running them.
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