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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
GTT step forward to control protection and peace in the Stellar Empire.

With the retirement of Jack Johns and various lower-level IMP officers from public life, the Imperial Services were left on the verge of being unable to fill their role as protectors of the Stellar Empire. Due to the serious nature the Imperial Services found itself in, the Emperor recently travelled to GTT HQ to attend a board meeting with the directors of the GTT.

With Galactic Trade and Transport being one of the few remaining loyal Imperial Chartered affiliations, who also supply well over half of the war material to the Imperial Services, the Emperor sought the position of the GTT with regard to the Imperial Services becoming overburdened with bureaucracy and lacking effective leadership. Effectively the Imperial Services were at the point of collapse. A position highlighted when an opportunistic supposed ally subverted four Imperial Outposts in the Inner Empire, thinking their asset grabbing would go unnoticed.
 
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  Star Date: 221.30.5

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RAGNAROK COMES

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A Forlorn Hope

The seat of Dewiek Government has fallen. What began as a small group of Architect ships picking up retreating DEN forces, amalgamated into a much larger force. The bombardment fleet comprised dozens of Adult ARC ships plus several Planet Killers. The force made short work of the impressive fortifications of the planetary orbit of Newstart. Multiple heavily armoured and maximised deflector shield platforms crumbled. They did so only after releasing their volleys of antimatter and nova weapon batteries. Any DEN warships that remained from earlier encounters also stood the line. But within the week, the last defence was gone.

Bombardment of Wolf Lair starbase proceeded without further resistance from the Dewiek. ARC Plasmas ripped through starbase shields. They demolished tens of thousands of factories and research facilities. The ARC demolished the huge military recruitment and training facilities on the planet. Over half a million trained troops evacuated from deep bunkers, leaving a token ground defence.

The ARC were not satisfied to burn the facilities and murder the workers. They deployed repeated salvos of their Virus Bombs on the wider population. Reports began to arrive of civilians of the world regressing. Leaving settlements and returning to nature. Much as the Dewiek found themselves some decades ago when they started to recover from the First Great ARC-DEN War. This time there was no High Lord Magnus willing to obliterate the world to save a remnant of the people. Newstart was already lost.

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Newstart is lost

 
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  Star Date: 221.27.2

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RAGNAROK APPROACHES

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End Game Lost

A short-lived period of peace followed the Dewiek Elder Nation’s historic and Saga-worthy defence against the Architect Planet Killers. A handful of the more typically encountered ARC ships were spotted picking off DEN support ships in Forlorn Hope before more than forty of them appeared back in End Game.

While the ARC “Adult” class ships, as the DEN had previously classified them, were eight times smaller than the “Planet Killers”, they were still as big as the largest ships any other species has managed to produce. Including the otherwise technologically advanced Dewiek.

Forty-four of these Plasma armed organic vessels smashed through the DEN forces left circling the orbit of Beacon, End Game. The mass of ARC weapons bombarded the DEN Shipyards at Ragnorak with their superheated ionized gas, razing the entire outpost to the ground.

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ARC Plasma weapons devastate End Game

 
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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.
 

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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