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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
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  Star Date: 221.22.5

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RAGNAROK BECKONS

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Assault on End Game

The ancient Architects have declared war on the Dewiek Elder Nation. The first sign of the conflict was subspace transmissions in a remote system in the Pocket Periphery. This followed reports that the ancient Ragnarok shipyards on Beacon were malfunctioning. In response, the Wolf Mother sent urgent orders to several Dewiek scout ships to patrol the End Game system.

The Konungr Smidamadr was the first to encounter the gigantic, “Planet Killer” class ARC ships. Measuring in at thirty-two hundred heavy hulls and armed with a hundred ARC plasma weapons, the ship was more like a mobile armed platform. It is certainly the largest vessel ever recorded. The scout ship was vaporised instantly.

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ARC Planet Killer dwarves largest DEN warships

 
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  Star Date: 221.11.4

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Caste Apart

The Flagritz Republic is (very nearly) no more. In its place, a single Hexamon and Flagritz power has arisen. The new Collective has absorbed much of the Flagritz holdings with only a handful of Clique-caste Flagritz systems choosing instead to align with the other Elder species, the Dewiek.

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Flagritz and Hexamon Hybrids - A hope for the Future?

 
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  Star Date: 221.3.3

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Meklanmania

Meklan scout ships continue to be seen around the Orion Spur periphery. These cyborg creatures in service of hidden ancient masters appear to be terrorising the Wimble Nation in particular. Despite public lamentations against the hardship of defending themselves, the Wimble leadership have not yet responded to our request for comment.

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Artist's impression of a Meklanised Wimble

However, Xavier Fox, CEO of Galactic Transport and Trade, did give us the following statement:

“We have engaged several Meklan ships, although currently the source has not been identified. GTT Directors have been running patrols and have engaged and destroyed numerous ships that have attacked outlying outposts belonging to different affiliations. The pattern of ships encountered leads us to believe there is a central source, but until that is found we would suggest any affiliation with assets in the area provide adequate defences.”

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Doomsday On Pause

At the site of the Thete anomaly, the Dewiek Nation has sent media sensation Sharon Aleman to the scene. Aleman, whose cybernetic enhancements allow her to directly interface with her ship’s sensor array, led her hardened crew into a dive of the outermost “edge” of the anomaly. After spending several days collecting and analysing data (mere minutes to the rest of us outside the anomaly), Aleman reported her shocking discoveries.

 
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  Star Date: 220.50.5

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Veil Lifted on Flagritz Home Space

As the Hellcadium ISR field continues to fluctuate, one of the newly exposed systems is Junista inside the previously hidden and inaccessible home periphery of the Flagritz Republic.

Over the past few weeks Flagritz Republic patrols and platforms have dealt with a number of scout ships from the Human Empire as the IMP wasted no time in exploiting this opportunity to poke around in their old enemy’s backyard. It is understood that at least one of these unarmed scouts was destroyed with no one willing to estimate how many more might be buzzing around.

Coincidentally, suspected IMP lackey, SSL TOAD, has also been overheard showing an obsessive interest in the Flagritz periphery. However, we have received no reports of this being anything other than his usual drug-fueled, barely decipherable mutterings at this stage.

Either way, this sudden, uninvited interest in the Flagritz Periphery has left the FLZ leadership muttering darkly about appropriate measures being taken. Defensive fleets and supporting structures are being deployed in the Junista system and beyond in expectation of further uninvited guests.

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When You stare into the Flagritz Periphery...

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Thete's Timey-Wimey Tease

Investigation into the Thete anomaly continued in the Dewiek Pocket Periphery. The anomaly was scanned from all angles by a number of the Dewiek Nation’s best sensor ships and officers. The data, collected over several weeks, was sent to one of the DEN’s most advanced scientific laboratories for analysis.

What they found will shock you!

 
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  Star Date: 220.45.1

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Perfidion Reached

Long speculated by theoretical Stellar Cartographers, Perfidion Reach finally opened in the last few weeks. Immediately, the Detinus Republic boldly staked a claim on the first accessible system, Hellcadium. Only time will tell the true value of this strategic move but their much-taunted bureaucracy may have finally proved its worth.

Early reports from scans of the system reveal a wildly fluctuating ISR field. Rumours suggest that at least one ship was destroyed as it was forced into an asteroid belt chasing a stable jump field attempting to exit the system. Casual travellers are warned away from the system at this time for their own safety. Leave it to skilled explorers and navigation officers.

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Mathematical model of Hellcadium ISR Field.

We spoke to Captain Zakiyah Ummahi via subspace link. Zakiyah led the first DEN expedition into the Perfidion Reach. "Spirits remain high but this is largely down to the extended R&R we were all forced to take immediately prior to jumping into this hole. Initial scouting reports show at least one planet with plenty of forests and grasslands which might help if we're going to be stuck here for Folkvar knows how long waiting for this damned ISR field to stabilise."

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Valhalla Stargate Reopens

Dewiek engineers and scientists have finally managed to re-enable Stargate Valgrind this week and the protective Exclusion Zone is to be lifted. If DEN investigators discovered who caused the gate to malfunction, or why, they were not willing to share it with us. Military sources, however, have announced a project to provide a significant boost to the already formidable defence platform in the stargate’s orbit.

 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***

Empire - DEN action grinds to a halt

After months of tension relations between the Empire and the Dewiek Nation, which rose to several large scale fleet actions ending in the DEN losing over 60 Direwolf warships in Solo, things appear to have moved from antagonistic to unfriendly. With the Solo system being a particular issue an agreement has been reached between the Wolf Mother of the DEN and Xavier Fox of the GTT. Since this things have become very quiet, not just because the shooting has stopped, but also because my reporters have been on their summer holidays.
 
News For Discerning Naplians!
---- Special Galactic Edition ----



(The Host sits at his desk as the studio lights dim, and a single spotlight bathes him in light. He looks straight into the camera and begins to speak: )

Host: Naambta!
Good Greetings, and welcome to the show.

This is News for Discerning Naplians, and i’m sure you are all showing much impatience to see this week’s Panel Discussion. We will be discussing religion with the Lady Ghadir of the Temple of Ya Zoon, renowned neo-naplian spiritualist Chairman TonTon, and a very special guest from our imperial neighbours, Bishop Samantha Porteus of the Brotherhood. But before we get to that...

(Looks demonstratively at his digital wrist watch. )

... it is time for a word from our sponsor.
 
******Empire Syndicated News Network (ESNN) ******

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Welcome to the latest version of ESNN, giving the news and views from the ESNN's reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, making this the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe from our new home in the Heartland,

And so with the news from the last few weeks,
 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***
  • DEN assault FEL base and get wiped out
  • CIA Trade fleet caught and destroyed by the DEN
  • Krell denounce worship of the True One

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

    Huge fleet skirmish at the London/Crossley wormhole

    A large fleet of over 700 DEN warships responded to the EMP action in Crossley, where a 4000 hull DEN platform was destroyed. Reports show the DEN ships caught a group of CIA ships napping and inflicted significant losses on the humans. IMP and GTT fleets moved to assist the CIA, matching DEN fleet numbers, but the arrival of over 1200 Hexamon ships seems to have tipped the battle in favour of the DEN-HEX alliance.

    The combined DEN-HEX force pushed through the wormhole into the Heartland area of human space and retaliated, attacking several CIA platforms in response. The outnumbered Empire fleets abandoned the area and fled, they are currently waiting for the larger alien force to make their next move from their hiding places.
     

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    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).
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