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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
Is open for business...
 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Wimbles Crisis Solved ***

The Wimble Crisis of 217 has come to an end with the human Baron making way to the wimble Grandfather Paden Mastaak. Celebrations were held in Wimbledon upon the news with crack teams of Wimble security staff guarding all the pies.

It’s unclear how long the Wimbles will enjoy this new era of peace and self-determination.

Vocal Wimble Dinasha, one of Paden’s early backers, has chosen this precarious moment to bait Dewiek, Flagritz and humans who were initially disposed to be friendly to the new administration. Whilst the Wimbles' history with the former-slave-loving Flagritz could be understood, their animosity towards the Dewiek and humans was more mysterious. One insider alluded to a rise in the number of cases of foot-and-mouth across the herd as being a likely cause.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Storm in a Teacup *** Yahn Bares All * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door ***

The stargates are closed! Reports from multiple sources indicate at least three of the stargates, all within Dewiek controlled systems, have been closed.

Two different sources have indicated that the TCA have been spotted recently in a number of systems and may be behind this turn of events. A scan sent to the SSS indicated eight TCA ships were recently spotted first in the Faery system and later near the Kasmer stargate.

Another source, suspiciously put the blame on the ARC, suggesting the ARC and DEN were working together because they “need to trap [the TCA] and try and finish them off after the DEN bodged their operation to protect the ARC while they incinerated the MEK homeworld, which ended up with several ARC ships being destroyed and the job only being half done."

However, with no public statement from the Dewiek themselves, its hard to know whether these rumours are reliable.

Lord Igor of the Dominion and Erasmus Andersen of the Garcia Family both offered public apologies at the delay in meeting their trade commitments because of the recent closures. The not-so-subtle subtext being that someone will pay with blood for this interference in their business. Or at least with a stealthy price rise.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Wimble Civil Strife * Who Sniffs the Sniffers? * Largin’ It * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Videtis quantum scelus contra rem publicam vobis nuntiatum sit? ***

The Flagritz Empire is no more! The Flagritz Republic is reborn! Quick on the heel of the collapse of the Empire, the Fessin caste declared a new era of foreign and economic policy with a rapid withdrawal behind the Black Gate.

The new ecologically-friendly Prime Minister Kayxaer, asked for patience as “economic” reforms were undertaken. It remains to be seen whether there will be any price to pay for the dramatic changes being made by the reclusive Flagritzi or whether it will all be sunshine and rainbows going forward.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Large at Large * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Bravo for Freedom ***

Naplian Forces have attacked three human pirate outposts in the Morroglyph system. A spokesperson for Naplia HQ told the press that the plucky duct-tape loving free people would continue their war against slavers and pirates in their home periphery.

One salty Naplian libertarian told the SSS, “The people of the Naplian Home Periphery are sick and tired of human criminals coming here just because their homeworld is an overcrowded hell. It’s time for them to go back home.”

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Igor of Fang and Horns * Admiral Loves Dick Turpin * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

.What is It?
..a wOrmhOle?.
…No.. worse..
….the KANG singularity!…
…..It pulls us IN…..
……lOOks sO familiar……
…….yet so strange…….
……..what is……..
………that?……..

*** Flagritz Liberalise Economy ***

In good news for all the galaxy the Flagritzi have vowed to liberate all slaves across their Empire. Furthermore, the hectapods have given up eating other sentient species; taking up a strict diet of veganism and soy chai lattes. Sales of turtle neck sweaters and Forbidden Fruit laptops have skyrocketed.

The news was cautiously welcomed by the benevolent Felini Tyranny who looked forward to reducing the War phase of their daily Nap-Lick-Nap-War-Nap-Eat-Sleep cycle to a perfunctory forty winks.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Baron Womble * A Short History of the DPP * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Empire Strikes: Solo ***

A massive fleet of some 1600 warships, including large numbers of super-heavy capital 300 and 400 hullers, attacked the DEN in the Solo system, catching them with their metaphorical pants down. The DEN gate platform and some two hundred DEN freighters were subject to antimatter missiles amongst other high tech ordinance.

Jack the lad, Viceroy of the Empire, claimed a victory for freedom and the Imperial (right of) way leaving the sullen Dewiek unusually unresponsive.

With DOM platforms firing on CIA ships, will the IMP now demand the DOM add them to the Do Not Fire lists as well? And what exactly is the nature of the DOM and DEN alliance in light of the sustained attack from the Empire? And will the DEN’s alien friends stand idly by as the Empire fleet camps in the vital gate system of Solo? How will the DEN retaliate for this action or are they ready to roll over and have their bellies rubbed?

All this remains unknown. All that is certain is the “feel good” factor across the DTR has increased, with citizens reassured that for some time yet, they may continue in their slumber with the easy assurance that their number is not coming up anytime soon.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * New BHD Guy * DOM Statement * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** To Ur Is Dewiek ***

Dewiek forces had a hefty smackdown against the mysterious living ships known as the T’Cath (TCA). Seven adult TCA 400 hull capital ships, each firing eight of their notorious plasma cannons, were killed by a DEN and DOM fleet of some 700 ships.

Of the minimal losses suffered by the DEN / DOM, one-eyed Magnus and Nevets Motnhap of the FEL were amongst the dead.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * Caribbean Congo Continues * Ur Witness Report * * Hive Briefing * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** The Long Quiet Season ***

Listen…
There’s no sound of anger or of annoyance,
There’re neither cruisers racing on the jump lanes
Nor there jump lanes for them to race on,
There’re neither monks chanting on the battlegrounds
Nor bells calling us to the True One.
There’s neither the lightning cracking of the sky
Nor the persistent Naplians pattering on my roof.
There’s no Dewiek arm in arm to admire the magnificent view
There’re no war drums to feed Human ears
Nor Hive sirens to steal the boredom away
There’s no unfamiliar wing creeping underneath the Falconian sun
Nor floods to enshroud the Aquaphid grounds
The land lies lonely out here
On this lazy summer’s day
There’s no pollution to poison the airs of Inversion
Nor forests to give them life
All I hear is the hushing sound of the wind
Assisting the sand to fall into beautiful undulations.

Whilst we’ve been away: * Operation Giantslayer * Naplian Liberation * Back in the DTTR * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Falconians Saved ***

The Imperials have cunningly saved the Falconian Republic from being consumed by the Dewiek Elder Nation and at no small cost to the DEN either. Whilst the new pro tem Consul crowed about the “victory”, all former FCN systems besides Acropolis have been taken over by the two warring Empires - Human and Flagritz.

Was it all worth it? For the IMP / GTT it clearly was, for the movement of a few hundred thousand troops is surely nothing to the cost they endured trying to and failing to knock the DEN out of Solo after the fact. The FCN now plucked off most of their navy and wider assets are a tiny nothing of their former self. The DEN may have resorted to some dirty namecalling but can the costs endured to save an enfeebled FCN have really been worth it? Time will tell.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * INDignation * FELicitous Caribbean * Nah Plan for Naplia * Mercs Trouble DEN * &etc

 

Free Ship when you sign-up
Complete missions for in game rewards
Control everything, up to an entire empire
Dedicated human moderators
Player and Moderator driven plotlines
Discover new worlds to explore, exploit & colonise
Over 20 years of content development
Persistent Browser-Based Game (PBBG)

I’ve played on and off for approximately 10 years, over a 20 year spell. After some interesting debate on the in-game forum, I did wonder what, exactly, has kept drawing me back to the game, when for so many others I’ve generally lost interest after a few months.

Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
-Zigic