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

Fox Effects Fantastic Turnaround

With his feet barely under the table, Xavier Fox has managed to dramatically turn things around at the GTT. With year-on-year sales figures up by 23%, manufacturing up 42% and ship production increased by 36%, the megacorporation is running at full steam with noticeable impact on local economies across the Stellar Empire. Political analysts also note that after a period of retrenchment following the disastrous leadership of Ike Krieger, investment in defence is at a five-year high. After such bullish growth, the trick will be for Mr. Fox to recruit C-level executives fast enough to match his ambitions. It is notable in temperament, the current crop of GTT politicals do not exhibit the monomaniacal xenophobia of their predecessors and have resisted repeated provocations by the DEN to enter a pointless spar before they have re-established superiority against the foolhardy aliens.


 
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Felini flounder in Winter against superior Dewiek forces

The FEL have managed to get their asses kicked by the DEN yet again after provoking the definitely “not cute or cuddly” Dewiek in the Crossley system. The furry punching bags had bought a civilian flagged outpost in the system, without permission or under certain conditions depending on who you ask, and then had the gall to reinforce this error by positioning warships in orbit. The famously patient warlord Halvor did not buy the story these heavy hull armed ships were merely transports and sent a pack to clear the orbit. The mouthy yet green Felini fleet commander Pr'prz fancied his chances against what looked like a light complement of DEN warships and ordered his own warships to engage in the neighbouring Winter system. The result was predictably a wipe out of the FEL forces consisting of forty-seven capital warships at no loss to the DEN. Once again, a series of calamitous decision making resulted in Felini lives being wasted by a leadership barely fit to clean a litter tray. The otherwise untested Halvor can now claim some victory ale although with his penchant for picking on creatures as weak as Gracians, it’s not exactly clear how much glory this new breed of Dewiek warrior can claim against the legends of old.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Dastardly Dewiek Disregard Yank Neutrality

The governor of a MRC outpost in the Yank system reports that a 400-hull DEN warship called Grey Hunter Axiom entered orbit of Spritzer and opened fire with weapons of mass destruction (WoMD) against a platform, outpost, ground party and ship. Reports indicate significant casualties to Kastorian personnel both in space and on the ground. The KAS Junta is gruffly warning, with a slightly indifferent air, that everybody better stay out of the sector of the outpost for their own health. It is unclear what measures the KAS have or will take against the DEN on this matter. Such a breach of Yank neutrality has in the past caused the Dewiek to froth at the bit against the Empire for their disregard of ‘civilised’ norms. Their current silence on this matter speaks volumes.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Yenni-bodies Pirates?

A PIR outpost was miraculously discovered by an IMP freighter, of all things, in the Yanni system with several Javelin class warships in orbit. After noticing the IMP freighter and seeing the public post by Jack Jones on subspace, the PIR decided to flee and leave a combined force of IMP and FET forces to capture the outpost. A brain damaged three-year old commentator who still believed in the goodness of people and Santa Claus was quick to commend the IMP on their good work, dismissing those who thought it no more than a convenient clearing up operation signifying* completion of operations in the nearby FET claimed systems of Graydown, Canth and Onissian by IMP puppet Edward Lowe. Meanwhile, the Wolf Lord Lyceum summed up the view of many when he screamed, “What is this amateur b*llshit?” into an uncaring universe.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Crowe Coups Self

The IMP Viceroy Tiberius Crowe has finally achieved something in his unremarkable tenure by relinquishing even the semblance of wearing big boy pants and instead, appointed Jack Jones as Patrol Commissioner, salty spokesperson and policy maker for the Empire. Crowe will now join CIA Director Laton in riding the special bus to work where the two of them will enjoy long pleasant afternoons sipping cups of tea. Actually, just tepid fruit-scented water as neither of them can be fully trusted with a hot kettle. Occasionally, they might be visited by equally dynamic war “veteran” Admiral Bridge to enjoy mimes presenting the latest comics from the Howl. Meanwhile, Jones is putting pressure on the FET and will soon no doubt find a pretext to deploy his vast mercenary forces against anyone else who is seen working too closely with his most hated of enemies, the HEX.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

Highlord Aadolf Loses Control As Dewiek Break Peace Treaty

Around one hundred DEN warships have launched an attack on a small GTT destroyer squadron of forty ships in the Daggern system. Two GTT ships were destroyed and another fifteen suffered noticeable damage. CEO Xavier Fox issued a restrained but angry statement demanding the DEN explain themselves. Highlord Aadolf’s buffoon-like response amounted to “Dewiek be Dewiek, let’s drink and forget about it.” Cold comfort for the dead crew onboard the GTT ships and their families. Especially, as seems likely at this time, the Empire will settle for some bloody money instead of retribution.


 
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***** Inter Galactic News *****

The Worm Turns

The FET have reduced relations with the IMP to neutral. Sneezy boss Cu Chulainn took the bold step of putting 1 and 1 together by linking recent mercenary attacks in their systems with the IMP scouts seen loitering for some time and refusing to move. Even bolder, hints that they believe “a certain Imperial citizen” is responsible for Edward Lowe’s entire underhand operation were voiced loudly enough that the handsome but hard of hearing Tiberius Crowe had to take note. He was seen grappling in trademark fashion with his skin tight jacket, pulling it down over his partially concealed middle-aged girth, as he sat to issue a terse public statement. Exactly who this citizen may be was left unnamed and no news channel subject to Imperial laws would dare unmask the villain. Luckily dear readers, we are not subject to phony Imperial laws. It’s Jack Jones everybody. Jack Jones, butcher of Naplians and fancier of silver long johns.


 
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”Necessity hath no law”

Lord Cromwell of the DOM slapped a fleet of privateers, on charges of "knavery", "bad manners" and "poor sportsmanship." Such offences carry the death sentence in the Dominion, a nebulous territory neither part of the Empire nor apart from it. At least thirteen Armadillo class ships, typically sold by the DOM, were destroyed at a location Cromwell was unwilling to disclose publicly. Bloodthirsty Dewiek as well as "prince of peace" Yahn Wodenzoon were quick to congratulate the DOM for their merciless carnage. It seems the consensus in the galaxy’s ruling class is that not presenting valid identification is a crime worthy of the murder of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of unfortunate crewmen. This is all just another indicator that the political elite are far removed from the lives of ordinary people who are seen as little more than meat inventory. It is telling so-called “man of the people and the downtrodden” Wodenzoon so readily aligns himself with this grisly concord. Meanwhile, the archaic elocutionist Cromwell further establishes the recent trend of mild exertions of power by the cold-blooded DOM.


 
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Return of the Fox

The galaxy is still digesting news of the return of Xavier Fox to the boardroom of the GTT. The ailing corporation's share price began a sharp rally after a six month downward spiral under Ike Krieger, credited with being the worst CEO in the megacorporation's history. The only surviving board member from Fox's initial tenure as CEO, and perhaps across the entire GTT board, is Antt Tilton the Research Director. The reclusive Tilton is the brains behind the ascension of GTT technology, particularly in the field of antimatter weapons and super-heavy dreadnought size ships, Tilton offers a small measure of continuity during this tumultuous time. Mr. Fox has therefore resorted to a broad appeal for new blood to join the ailing firm. So far, the result has been a number of two-dimensional "Yes" persons being promoted to the C-suite. Still, key stakeholders were upbeat with one commenting, "Fox is the man to turn this bloody disaster around. He knows how to put a great team together and where to bury the bodies of the non-performers."


 

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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