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Rivendell - TOR Supplement

Review Rivendell TOR Supplement


The One Ring (TOR) is a roleplaying game set in Middle-earth. Unlike previous roleplaying incarnations of setting, this in my opinion strives to capture the look and feel of the setting to degree magnitudes greater than anything that has gone before. This is a game of low magic and well developed characters with significant individuality and no classes per se. While the system has its issues, largely around highly experienced characters and perceived imbalance in the combat system, both of these aspects do little to pull down the otherwise impressive product.

Our weekly gaming group has been systematically playing through the scenarios featured in the earlier supplement Tales from Wilderland though we are about to come to the end of them - just a dragon to face, oh, and the ancient spirit of the torturer of Dol Guldor whose agenda has just about been revealed. This supplement could not arrive at a better time, well, possibly a couple of scenarios ago would have been handy. The main reason for this is that as well as the expected maps of Rivendell and background information on its various residents this supplement contains quite a few goodies aimed at powerful adventuring groups.



The Book
The supplement will be hardback not that uncommon nowadays as I suspect most people buying these products are 30+ years old and therefore do not bat an eyelid at the extra cost. Lets face it, a nicely bound hardback looks pretty damn good on the shelf, where nowadays it tends to stay as you flick through to the relevant pages of the PDF on your ipad.

Will be hardback?
I am effectively reviewing the PDF with an aside glance to the hardbound Darkening of Mirkwood supplement which though ordered in February has just arrived at the start of August. As I am assured the same printers and binders will be used for Rivendell, I can honestly say that the quality is top-notch.

Why the wait of six months between order and delivery?
Cubicle 7 (the producers) are following the trend of selling the product before it has gone to print. As the product includes the PDF for instant download, it gives them around 4 months pre-sales, presumably used in the paying of agents, staff and print-run. This makes sense as I suspect that they are unlikely to pre-sell more than around a thousand units worldwide. Even accounting for no VAT on books, paying the author, artists and editors quickly amounts to very little if any profit. Even with a projected print-run of say 3,000, I suspect that budgets are very tight with an audible sigh of relief when the breakeven point has been reached. TOR is very much a niche genre in a niche market. Expecting print runs for supplements in the tens of thousands is simply not realistic which means that the labour costs per unit are high. Basically, even if they went for PDF sales only, they would still need to charge around £20 based on estimated unit sales just to break even. Spending a couple of quid on good binding allows them up the price by £15. As such it makes sense to ensure that they deliver a premium product as customers will be less disgruntled. Personally speaking I dont begrudge them this as a night in the pub nowadays costs significantly more (especially if the wife is out as well).

Anyway, that aside the PDF, which is what I am effectively reviewing here is very nice. Cubicle 7's reputation for quality in terms of layout, style and favoured artists is well deserved. The supplement, very unlike that of ICE (from years ago) is fitting with the themes evoked by Middle-earth. Their use of water colours, favouring muted earthy tones and preference for images of moors, mountains and rivers is reminiscent of the England's Lake District and Yorkshire Moors and even closer to home, the region around Bowland an area Tolkien himself was familiar with due to his association with Stonyhurst College.

Contents
While there is of course more than a dozen pages assigned to details about Rivendell and a reasonable synopsis of the region (Eriador), there is little point in reviewing them here suffice to say that the former is sufficiently detailed to keep the readers interest and the latter, though largely garnered from freely available material such as the appendices from The Return of the King have been refined and made into a flowing narrative. I suspect that most Loremasters are sufficiently familiar with the history to chuck in some vague references about the region, though this is still an excellent source of quick-reference material.

Geography and Places
From a Loremaster perspective this is much more useful as it gives quite a few made-up locations that can be focus points for an ongoing campaign. The flavour of the settings is sufficiently subtle that they do not grate against the larger setting, in fact integrating seamlessly. I suspect that some of these will also feature in the upcoming supplement Ruins of the North, though it never hurts to drop references to them in the meantime or even use them if appropriate.

Important People
There are details about Elrond, his sons and a few other famous people and even some stats. Personally I prefer the fluffy mechanics for NPC's used by TOR. I can't see any reason for listing his skill at skiing (which is apparently 95 for those that used the Rolemaster system). There are no tailored abilities, list of magic items or even combat stats. This is not somebody that will be involved in combat. To add the information would in my mind be extraneous. That said, they haven't even given Glorfindel endurance points, which may have been a bit more useful if he was coming to the rescue, though I suppose his arrival pretty much means that the battle is over, so in retrospect they are also unnecessary. The detail on the characters is aimed at using them as go-to people, with each sufficiently fleshed out to make them individuals. This plays to the strength of the system which has a detailed interaction system for dealing with NPC's unlike other systems I have used over that past three decades.

Minions and Monsters
Despite or possibly because Eriador is described as the empty land, quite a lot of effort has spent on the look and feel of the foul denizens of the region. I especially like Ettins as trolls so old they are little more than ugly weathered rocks that may come to life. Suddenly using battered cairns as guide along a hazardous mountain trail no longer seems like a wise choice. Wights and various other solitary beasts are detailed though the crème de la crème has to be the Witchking himself. I am still not convinced the corruption test targets are particularly high and that possibly there needs to be more mechanics for worsening the situation if the GM wants to go harder on really powerful characters.

The Eye of Mordor
Whats this? Ah, seems like the grumble at the end of the last section has been answered. This mechanic explains why the most powerful wizard wondering the wilds restricts himself to setting fire to pine cones and chucking them at wolves rather than summoning a hurricane of fire to turn them all to toast. Essentially each time a character blunders or does something magical the hunt track of the Eye increases. When it hits the target, bad things can happen or more likely, bad things already happening get worse. This is not direct intervention of Sauron, the Witchking or any of his minions but rather pre-disposition of the pervasive ill-will in Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age thwarting the plans of those catching its attention.

Treasure
I remember years ago hearing Middle-earth being described as a place of high magic. I suppose compared to mundania it is, but when standing next to a typical D&D adventure with magic-users casting fire balls and fighters with a list of magical items the size of an Argos catalogue, it is really rather tame. This is something that has never been properly handled in previous incarnations of the setting. That they are only now, a few supplements in actually dealing with magical treasure is therefore quite reaffirming that they have an understanding of the setting. This is further enhanced by mechanics that require the Loremaster to actually create items tailored to the character and only allow them to find them. Further, that there is a finite list of magical weapons and armour that can potentially be found by each character. I am not sure how looting dead bodies is handled, though I suspect it is down to the Loremaster to ensure that personal treasure is either destroyed or becomes heirlooms and out of the game shortly after the characters demise. All in all a novel approach to dealing with proliferation of treasure.

New Backgrounds
Time to have your character die in some grand gesture of defiance against the Enemy before reaching for a fresh character sheet, yep, this is your opportunity to create either a Ranger of the North or a Noldor Elf character. Having read the backgrounds and even looked at the starting stats and points to spend, I am not convinced that these are significantly more powerful - though this may be because the current campaign characters are veterans of nearly two years of gaming. If any join the party, they are likely to be the baby of the group to be handheld across blighted places. Still, with Ruins of the North adventures soon to be released, by the end of it they should be just as impervious as our current coterie of Bardings.

The unique mechanics introduced for these backgrounds make for very interesting reading and like so much already commented on, sit nicely with the ethos of Middle-earth. If I wasn't Loremaster for the game, I would definitely go with playing a stern and serious ranger - at least till I had drunk a few pints, at which point I would revert to my normal haphazard gaming style fluctuating between over-thinking a situation and dashing straight in.

Negative Points
On the negative side (because even the best products have flaws) there are a few items I picked up on. To a large degree these are more personal feelings because I prefer my supplements to be free of what I consider extraneous material.

First of all, in the run-up to the launch one of the comments by the Cubicle 7 team was that there was a lot squeezed into the supplement but due to size constraints a few things had to be left out. This would indicate to me that every page was valuable and that we would not expect to find padding of any sort. Indeed this is fairly true. Even the treasure examples are possibly sufficiently useful to overlook accounting for 5% of the book, though of course I would be happier is this supplementary information was downloadable. I would also be even happier if the same was true of the four pages used for sample characters created from the new backgrounds for Noldor Elves and Rangers.

I am still in two minds over the inclusion of maps regarding Rivendell and the surrounding valley. On the one hand, unless you intend to run some sort of Easter egg hunt or have it overrun with baddies (in your wildly diverging version of the LotR), it is effectively a few pages of wasted material. Who really cares where the stairs up to Elronds personal quarters are or that Glorfindel has his own house down the lane? In a system that is based around many esoteric concepts this seems unusually well defined.

Conversely, I would also have been surprised if they had been missing. Maybe a less detailed map corresponding to the main picture would have sufficed, leaving more room for other stuff.



Maybe the maps are relevant to an upcoming scenario in which a character gets the opportunity to nick something from Elronds private boudoir?
The same (wasted space) could be said of the artwork in which quite a few images were duplicated. While I understand that this was generally done where the same creature was detailed in two locations (its narrative in the wilderness section and in the stats section), surely having its picture in one or the other location would have sufficed, again leaving space for other things.

All in all I suspect that the supplement could have been pruned by five or six pages, maybe even ten without significant loss of information allowing for things that didn't make the cut. I would have liked to have seen a lot more fellowship phase options for Rivendell and the surrounding region along with a few more curses and magical effects. Some more suggestions or options for the Eye of Mordor would have been nice, such as dealing with the party accompanied with a handful of NPC's. Stating that NPC's don't count towards being hunted by the Eye seems very odd indeed.

Summary
This is a very good supplement, giving options to the Loremaster who may have become a little jaded by characters cutting swathes through the ranks of his minions and fed up with characters seemingly utterly impossible to injure while at the same time complaining how unfair it is that they can only kill one orc each per round. It is clear though that this supplement will also serve as the foundation for future products. Anyone running adventures in Middle-earth using the TOR system should invest in this supplement.




 
News
Is open for business...
 
***** 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

 
***** Inter Galactic News *****

*** Imperials Declare War Against Flagritz ***

A declaration of war came last week after an unsatisfactory reply to Imperial ultimatums that the FLZ accept resolution of the previous war. J. Jones issued the following proclamation, "We hope this reminder will prompt them to rethink the status they removed them selves from and come back to more peaceful co-existence.” Doublegood, Viceroy, doublegood!

More on this story inside this issue of the SSS along with: * Species Guide * FEL Barter With GIants * High Times &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