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The One Ring RPG - Game Review

The One Ring RPG - Game Review

Andy Smith (of Craziworld PBM fame for those with long memories) introduced me to MERP though at the time and for more than a decade after I was blissfully unaware of PBM and Andy's connection to it. He was running the adventures out of the back of the original red book down at the local games club (back in the day when they existed). It was shortly after that that I first picked up LoTR, then The Hobbit, Silmarillion and others in quick succession. I became a Tolkien Fanatic.

Still young, I was oblivious to the glaring disparity between Tolkien's portrayal of Middle-earth and that presented in the multitude of products by ICE. As principle Game Master I was content with flying characters, teleporting from dark holds after looting ancient tombs on the Cardolan downs.

It was only as I matured that the penny dropped and that maybe, just maybe the often quoted high-magic realm of Middle-earth was not quite so high-magic after all. Characters in Tolkien’s stories were not being resurrected or flying (except when riding flying beasts) and as for Long Door and various other forms of Teleportation well, they were clearly out.


I became distinctly aware that Middle-earth had been shoehorned into Rolemaster and the shoe most definitely didn't fit.
Some years later a new system was released; Decipher's LoTR. Initial enthusiasm for the system was however not sustained. The 2d6 system was simply put quite awful. A few lucky rolls during character creation by one of the players, supposedly a bard was vastly superior to the rest of the group and despite efforts to reign himself in, more often than not ended up being 'one man army'.

There were a myriad of other issues with the system which meant that even though they appeared to get the magic levels reasonably right we never really got into it and the system now gathers dust on the shelf. I suspect that others felt the same as the system was soon ditched.

After this we visited Middle-earth a few times using the GURPS and Pendragon systems and while both, with some tinkering were alright for a while, never truly captured the quintessence of the setting.

So it was with a great deal of scepticism that I purchased The One Ring (TOR) as I presumed that this would be yet another attempt to rake in cash on the back of the popularity of Tolkien's work.

Upon briefly looking through the book it struck me that the artwork had been largely done in the style of Allen Lee and John Howe (though I always like the style of Angus McBride). It had the feel of Tolkien's world and the general look of the book was pretty good. You got the feeling that the people might actually give a damn.

A more thorough reading revealed that the characters were surprisingly balanced. There were merits to all. This at first caused some head scratching; a thousand year old elf was no more skilled than an young man from Dale?

Then again I suppose that an elf will get into a routine such that they either forget skills they have not used in years just like any other person (I have to grab the recipe book that goes with the bread maker if I haven't touched the thing in a few months) and elves that spend their time knee deep in the blood of their enemies do not make it to the hoary age of a thousand in the first place.

Initial scepticism aside I bought into the character creation philosophy. These are characters that for one reason or another have decided to start adventuring, be it at the age of 18 or the age of 180, and up to this point they have not seriously pressed themselves to become heroes.

What is clear in the system is that it has taken a holistic approach to the design. Rather than simply creating a mash of skills, items and backgrounds then moving onto locations to loot, the system looks at the fundamental features of how heroes behave and how events unfold in the books. This has been captured through six mechanics:

Character Creation
From picking race the player then develops the character through choices that are tied to the culture of the character. This makes for stereotyped characters to some degree (though not hugely), but surely this is the point of playing a character in Middle-earth?

Journeys
The journey accounts for an important part of the adventure. While also providing potential encounters tailored to the region of wilderness being traversed, the toil of the journey can take its toll on the characters. Journeys into the heart of the wilds before even reaching the destination can have the characters weary due to steadily increasing fatigue. The prospect of a good night’s sleep in a homely house becomes very welcome. Places like the heart of Mirkwood are not just a bunch of trees and monsters; they will grind down characters before a monster is ever encountered.

Combat
The system is quite innovative, allowing the character to adopt tactics for the combat. There are a few curious issues such both enemy and character archers using the stance of the character to determine chance to hit. This gives a clear advantage to the enemy as firing at characters taking an aggressive stance is easier, while character archers have to take a rearward stance making their accuracy very low. The encounters are often against a tide of foes and few people tend to wear armour. Most of the hits whittle the characters endurance, causing weariness and actual wounds do not appear to be that common. This is probably just as well because characters can only be wounded once before being killed and healing a wound cannot be achieved in the wilderness. When a character is wounded there is definite panic by the players. Combat therefore appears to be a thing to survive rather than seek which is as it should be.

Influence of the Shadow
Corruption has been dealt with very nicely; at least it seems so having now ran a few sessions. The encounters along the way test them, potentially causing the loss of hope as hope is used to succeed where skill alone fails. Green adventurers are therefore almost continuously using their luck. Once all hope has been lost they are classed as miserable and there is a chance of going temporarily insane (having a pop at Frodo for the One Ring – you get the picture). There are a few paths towards total corruption allowing the GM to push characters into acting in certain ways at key points.

Encounters
Monsters and NPC’s have been streamlined which makes them really easy to GM compared to the vast lists of abilities, spells, psionics and magic items that they are assigned in other systems. They generally have a few features that are easily implemented. Rather than a copious list of darkness spells and a vast array of toxins, multiple attacks and damages, the horrible giant spiders will follow a set pattern of tactics, changing them as the situation dictates.

Magic
Magic is covered by background abilities generated during character creation and development. This keeps the magic low-key and simple to implement. As the background abilities are tied to the various races it means no hobbit wizards!
As the game plays out you do get a much better feel for the world than has previously been captured by other systems. Does this mean that the system is perfect? No.

My main concern is with the progression of characters. As they become more skilled, they are forced to rely on hope much less often. As such when they do need to reach, they often have a healthy supply of hope to draw on. This is especially true when encountering NPC’s. There rarely seems to be a failure during the encounter and as such achieving 6 or more successes for maximum benefits from the encounter seems to be pretty standard.
My brother and I do not agree on the dice pool for resolving tests. His main grumble is that having a single skill point in skill makes so little difference to the chance of success there is absolutely no point in having it. I disagree on this as the extra die, while not significantly improving the chance of success is often sufficient to bring it in range such that the use of hope (which adds the appropriate stat to the total roll) becomes an option.
For example, the standard difficulty is 14 which need to be equalled or surpassed by the roll of the dice pool consisting of a d12 and a d6 per skill point. The d12 means an average of 6.5 resulting in a failure by 7.5 where the character is unskilled. As the typical stat is 5, even hope will not turn it into a success. A single skill point adds a die (d6) which means the average roll increases to 10 (6.5+3.5). While still a failure, as a typical stat is 5, this means that on average the use of hope will turn it into a success. Personally I consider this a good feature of the system while he is still firmly in the other camp. Then again, I have been GM’ing and he has been burning through his hope due to having plenty of skills at 1 point and therefore just falling short.

To be honest though, it is refreshing to encounter a system that has been purely designed to reflect the setting rather than attempting to be all encompassing but in doing so spread itself so thinly that it fails utterly.
Does it handle two weapon fighting? No.
Does it deal with wizard’s magic? No.
Does it have a system for creating magic items? No.
Does it need any of that stuff? No.

My big grumble however has to be on book layout. It is bad on two accounts, first the index* is far too short, missing entries for things you need to refer to occasionally and second it splits the information between two books ensuring that the GM has to refer to both, invariably the wrong one first.



Is it so bloody difficult to include all aspects of character improvement, skill development and experience, both awarding and spending in one place? And that’s just one example. It took ages just to find out when a monster is actually dead and as for determining if a fellowship phase can be conducted outside a haven, it’s probably written somewhere. I haven’t spotted it per se but found a bit on singing during a fellowship phase returning more hope if in a sanctuary, so presumed as much. I suppose it is a case of learning the layout of the book as much as it is learning the system though in all honesty some judicious use of bullet points would have sufficed.

My other grumble is ambiguity in how the rules are presented. This seems a combination of what was clear in the mind of the designer did not always translate onto a page and in some cases having not sufficiently play-tested it before committing it to the rules. This explains why Francesco Nepitello (principle game designer) has since been busy clarifying and modifying things on the forums. This said, I can’t fault him for that at least. This is clearly a guy passionate about both the system and Middle-earth and it is reflected in the quality of the game system. I have since bought the next three products (Tales of the Wilderness, Long Lake and Heart of the Wild) and can vouch that the quality presented in the core book has been continued throughout the line.

All in all, hats off to Cubicle 7, I heartily recommend this system to all Tolkien fans.

* By popular demand they have since created a new index available as part of this download.




 
News
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Breaking News: Caliph Samuel Assassinated ***

The nominal head of the Caliphate, Samuel has been murdered in broad daylight at the starbase CAL Sidon in the Fortress system. The allegedly mad zealot was on his way to meet representatives of various civilian factions when a shadowy figure *cough*CIA agent*cough* shot him dead.

The CIA issued the following statement to the SSS with a customary nudge and a wink: "In these difficult times, as we come to terms with the loss of Samuel, we are taking things one day at a time.

"Samuel was not only our Caliph, but our leader during the Second Civil War which laid the foundations for the Confederacy after he left the Human Empire and settled in the Darkfold. It is truly a sad day and one that will be marked in history as one of many great leaders who were cut down in their prime.

"We will strive now to look to the future, whilst remembering our past”

Speculation is rife that this is the first step towards a unification of the two-halves of the Stellar Empire. Others are more hopeful this is a return to the Confederacy or the mark of greater separation with the Imperial bloc. Time will tell what nebulous motives the shadowy puppet-master Laton turned out to have had and which alien faction will be blamed for the Caliph’s murder.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * HEX / FET Invade Sargasso * Magnus v Nevets Fight! * Dewiek Black Hole Disaster * FLZ Correction * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** STOP PRESS: Felini Victory ***

In an unexpected development, the FEL have scored a decisive victory against the FLZ. Destroying or maiming some 20 Flagritz Baseships in the Onwards system.

What is more remarkable than the victory was there was no subsequent comment by Crazy Uncle Flagritz. We might need to have a lie down now.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * DEN and FEL * Valhalla Fighting Pits * RIP smacked * &etc


 
***** Christmas Special Edition *****

*** Ho Ho Ho ***

Welcome to the SSS Christmas Special Edition! We the Editors have put together a nostalgic pudding treat intended to delight and tickle even the scroogiest megacorp executive. So gather your cubs, squidlets and larvae for some silliness and song. Time to catch up with some classics from years gone by, raise your glasses and drink your gluttony and shame away!

Wishing you all a merry Christmas free from Krampus Jones's invading armies!

The Editors


 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Claws Out in Valhalla ***

In a bold rebuke of Crazy Uncle Flagritz’s attacks in the Avalon system, the cunning Felini Nevets ordered a hit on a FLZ outpost in the Valhalla system. Claiming miscommunication with his warships, the mischevious Avatar cocked a snook at the washed-out Dewiek warrior in charge of the system whilst claiming an important victory in the often one-sided conflict against the FLZ.

This isn’t the first time the foxy Feline has masked daring-do in the shroud of incompetence. It remains to be seen whether this turns out as disastrously as the time when the FEL had to pay the costs of a war started by Prince-turned-meklan LiQuan.

Meower-in-chief Chamiah apologised for the incident in a public address laced with snickering subtext and unconcealed laughter when she got to the bit about the unfortunate loss of “5 FLZ Warships in Onwards.”

A second incident in Valhalla was reported the next day with mardy Magnus complaining he wasn’t getting his claws in on the action. Could this be the pithy ploy that puts the cat on the mat?

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Merc-y Wimbles * Valhalla Fighting Pits Get Weird * Profile of Lyceum Amaguk * &etc


 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Nun on the Run ***

Alleged cosplayer Carmilla D’Morenta got the vicars in the Brotherhood all hot and bothered when she made a run for it. Possibly tired of being tied up by the reverends and denied the love that dare not howl its name. With a sizeable, almost unbelievable, bounty on her head, the barking sister took refuge with the Dewiek Elder Nation.

In possibly the shortest chase in history, the BHD managed to strike a blow for oppressed collars everywhere when they squared off with the naughty doggy-wannabe at the Valhalla stargate. The cheeky chaplains blew their hyperdrive at close range and both the BHD and DEN flagged ships were reported to be lost in space.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * DEN Ban BHD * Ulian * FLZ in Avalon * Valhalla Fighting Pits * Interview with Carmilla * And more


 
***** Inter Galactic News *****


*** Message From The New Editors ***

Dear Reader,

It has been a long time since we had the exquisite joy of Sub Space Static beaming mind-altering information into our retinas. Like you, we craved word from the offices of the IGN when the next edition would hit our Nexus terminals. We waited and waited. Then we got curious.

We fundraised a simple surveyor and sent it to the last sighting of the IGN. It was not where we expected it to be, in the Yank system. We asked the Junta but they were their usual helpful selves. Weeks, turned into months and still no sign.

Then we found it. The singularity. With a sign. The scrawl of a demented child that read "Kang woz 'ere." What could we do but enter. Our ship went in. Where, we cannot say. The air around us popped. Our faces folded and our bodies fused together. Our minds interconnected. Vast knowledge at our disposal. Yet, we became as stupid as the least of us. As greedy as the worst of us. As forgetful as the dumbest of us. As horribly biased as a partisan hack in a post-truth universe.

We became, in short, your Editors.

Welcome to the new SSS. It won't be as funny as before. It won't be clever by half. It won't be any better in any way. But it will be regular. As a mohache on refined laxatives. It will be informative. Oh it will be full of facts! Even if we have to make them up.

Send us your delicious exploration reports. Tell us about your pointless battles. Spread your vile anonymous rumours. Tell us how your mother didn't love you and that's why <insert Affiliation here> must be destroyed! Feed us, your Editors. Nurture us. Our Singularity opens to receive your offering.

Now here is the news.

 
****** Caliphate Syndicated News Network (CSNN) ******

user image

Welcome to another edition of news and views from the CSNN's favourite reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe, after an extended tour of the Inner Empire and all the delights within,

And so with the news, and there has been a lot of it!


Old News - FLZ/ GTT Break Ceasefire Agreement
 
****** Caliphate Syndicated News Network (CSNN) ******

user image

Welcome to another edition of news and views from the CSNN's favourite reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe,

And so with the news,

Alien Wars - Ulian Peace Agreements
 
****** Caliphate Syndicated News Network (CSNN) ******

user image

Welcome to another edition of news and views from the CSNN's favourite reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe, after a period of "secured safety training" for the CSNN team who was taken in by Caliphate security forces,

And so with the news,

Alien Wars - Empire Takes Ulian System, Empire Fleet Deployed
 
****** Caliphate Syndicated News Network (CSNN) ******

user image

Welcome to another edition of news and views from the CSNN's favourite reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe, continuing with a shortened "No News makes Good news?" special!

And so with the news,
 

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