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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 *****

*** 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

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Acropolis Now ***

The IMP and GTT have brought peace and stability to Acropolis.

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Goodbye Falconians ***

The galaxy bid farewell to the Falconian Republic as the Human Empire subsumed them into their expanding territories. This marks the second death of an alien civilisation at the hands of the IMP / GTT in recent years. Like the extinguishing of the nearby Ulians, no voices of opposition could be heard from other quarters. This marks a long-period of appeasement by the Detinus Republic and Dewiek Elder Nation.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * DOMination * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****



 
***** Inter Galactic News THE MUSICAL *****

*** Norozov, No More ***

Kantner: No more do I see the starlight caress your cyclops eye
No more feel the tender kisses we used to share
I close my fists and clearly my heart remembers
A thousand goodbyes could never put out the embers

Chulainn: Oh the power is mine now!

Kantner: Norozov, I love you so, and my heart forever
Will belong to the memory of the love that we knew before
Please, come back to my arms; we belong together
Come to me; let's be sweethearts again and then let us part no more

Chulainn: Oh all the Stellars mine now!

Sylvansight: I will have his eye!

Kantner: No more do I feel the touch of your hand on mine
No more see the love-light making your dark eyes shine
Oh, how I wish I never had caused you sorrow
But don't ever say for us there is no tomorrow

Chulainn: Oh all the ladies mine now!

Sylvansight: I will have his eye!

Chorus: The power is in the eye!

Kantner: Norozov, I love you so, and my heart forever
Will belong to the memory of the love that we knew before
Please, come back to my arms; we belong together
Come to me; let's be sweethearts again and then let us part no more

Sylvansight: I will have his eye!

Chulainn: Oh the power is mine now!

Chorus: The power is in the eye!

Kantner: Norozov, I love you so, and my heart forever
Will belong to the memory of the love that we knew before.

Lanner: So, old cyclops has finally met his comeuppance
Maybe its time for a comeback

Chorus: No, no one wants you back!

Lanner: I always did like that chair of his…

Chorus: The power is in the eye!
The power is in the eye!
The power is in the eye!

Continued in this special edition of the SSS...

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** ALIEN CRIMINALS BROUGHT TO JUSTICE ***

FILTHY AND DISHONOURABLE Dewiek mercenaries have dared to attack HONEST AND HARDWORKING GTT warships in the Coptuv system.

THEY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT TO JUSTICE. LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!

The Dewiek commander’s lengthy response was appreciated by xenophile and philanthropist HQ Manager Tom Krieger but this does not change the facts.

FURTHER JUSTICE IS EXPECTED AT THE EMPEROR’S PLEASURE. LONG LIVE THE EMPEROR!

Inside this issue of the SSS: * SEDITIOUS FET CHARGED * LIES OF THE FAILED REBELLION * TERRORIST PLOTS FOILED * ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE CRITICISED * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Voice of the Naplian Liberation Front ***

We are the Naplian Liberation Front. We have commandeered this station to bring you important and vital deprogramming. You are a slave of the Galactic Trouser and Tussles Imperium of Unspecified Services! We have witnessed the press ganged upon by Imperial thugs. Rounding up reporters by the thousands and throwing them in weasel dens. Mocking the Great Uncle of the Flagritz. Manufacturing consent out of a lust for imports of wheat cereals! We poor Naplians(*) are given no training and substandard equipment when preparing your nutritious breakfasts. We are sent forward by the Imperial snack commissioners with threats of triple-filing tax returns on unreasonable deadlines! Death would be preferable. We are allegedly paid a wage but have you ever tried to buy anything with just $1? Strangely none of those politicals earning $10,000 or more a week seem to care about our plight. Not to mention that the Imperials throw perfectly good meat into the grinder instead of slow cooking it in black bean sauce. They have no respect for a classic burrito! We are left grieving for young families who have never tasted quality ranch sauce. You don’t need to be a dead Naplian to know the value of a good guacamole.

* No actual Naplians included.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * GTT vs USN * GTT vs NLF * GTT vs IND * GTT vs KAS * GTT vs FET * GTT vs SSS * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Stellar Empire On Warpath ***

The newly re-united Stellar Empire continued to wage war against the Flagritz Empire to bring about galactic peace and freedom for all. The latest system to fall to the inevitable tide of history was Morroglyph in the Coreward Arm. Dewiek intransigence reached fever pitch as the FLZ facilities changed to DEN paws and subsequently became targets of Imperial truth and justice. Despite putting themselves between the past and the future, the DEN seemed to lack much will for an actual fight with Dewiek military commanders adopting “meh” as their watchword.

Inside this issue of the SSS: * GTT smacks NLF * DEN whack MRC * Slaves Liberated * FLZ Retreat * ARC in Orion Spur * &etc

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Stellar Empire Re-United ***

Celebrations were held across the vast territories of the Stellar Empire as the two-halves represented by the governments of the Imperials and Caliphate determined to unite. This followed almost inevitably from the assassination of the Caliph, a crime that has gone mysteriously unresolved. The old Caliphate ministers were ‘retired’ and at first it seemed the Imperials had managed what had alluded them for decades.

However, just as orders to claim systems for the IMP went in some places, conflicting orders to claim for the CIA came from Laton. In other systems, it seems overwhelming civilian support lies with the defunct CAL government and there are a number of CIV and CAL bases that seem to have not heeded the CIA nor IMP orders. With all the Caliphate's armaments now in the CIA’s hand and no political leadership in the old government, it seems inevitable that the civilians will be dragged kicking and screaming into the future.

A muted and cautious response from the rest of the galaxy was only to be expected given the formation of a new unrivalled superpower. The chilling effect on public discourse as the Imperial war machine taps into the substantial, if stunted, economies of the former Caliphate will surely be felt for years to come. Does this mark the 'end of history' as we know it?

More on this story inside this issue of the SSS along with: * KAS v IMP/GTT v FLZ * DEN v MRC * FOCed by IMP * BHD v DEN * &etc

 

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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