It’s time for another RPG Lab Report! New to this and wondering what it’s all about? You can catch up by going clicking here.
This time around, Paul got behind the GM screen to share his love of The One Ring RPG with four players who were coming to the game completely fresh. With a Revised Edition of the core book due in the beginning of September, and a robust release schedule in the following months, it seemed an ideal time to introduce The One Ring all over again. Designed by Francesco Nepitello (WAR OF THE RING) The One Ring has received piles of awards since its release in 2011 and is widely hailed as the most “true to Tolkien” Lord of the Rings RPG ever made. It has become Paul’s favorite RPG of all time, thanks to a set of rules-light, narrative-inspiring mechanics that somehow manage to feel very granular. Dangerous combat that is almost gritty (Orcs are scary!) is counter balanced by an almost miraculous ability to reinforce the proper Middle Earth tone again and again. And the travelling rules are downright revolutionary.
So let’s see what our crew of Lab technicians had to say about it shall we? (Each section below presented in italics are actual quotes from RPG Lab participants, provided to us on their written Lab Reports.)
The One Ring, is in some ways, more of The Hobbit RPG than the Lord of the Rings RPG, but both stories are very relevant. It is five years after the defeat of Smaug and the Battle of Five Armies. The default setting of the game is The Wilderland, the area East of the Misty Mountains comprising Mirkwood, the vale around the Northern part of the Anduin River, as well as the cities of Lake-Town and Dale, and the newly restored Dwarf hold of Erebor (the Lonely Mountain). There is perhaps a new sense of hope in the air, with the Free Peoples having fought together for the first time in an Age and the majority of the orcs of the area killed or routed. (But as players, we all know that the events of The Lord of the Rings begin in sixty years time.)
“My first RPG experience was the notoriously clunky Tolkien-based system (MERP), so I have always had a soft spot for Roleplay in that world. However, unlike MERP, this game feels like Middle Earth. The fellowship system, hope, the gradual corrupting effect of shadow, and the way magic (what magic), lore, travel, and combat (deadly) are treated by the game—all of it feels like the Middle Earth I know and love. I have zero complaints, and I don’t think this could have been done much better. “
“The feel of the setting was exactly what I’d expect from a Tolkien game. The use of the two maps added an extra level of immersion and helped illustrate and enforce the travel phase. In a lot of other games, the Map is something that kinda sits in the background and (is used) only in the Point A and Point B matter. Having to map out your path and consulting the map with all of the locations from the books added a level of immersion and familiarity that helped keep things “Tolkien.” The Loremaster also did a fantastic job roleplaying characters and describing the setting in a way that was consistent with the tone and spirit of the setting.”
“Of course, having read almost all of the various Tolkien works, I was biased from the beginning and was happy to have not been let down. It felt to me that the game captured the Tolkien world excellently.”
We used the “revised” core rules, some material from the Heart of the Wild setting book, and the Loremaster used the optional ruleset from the Hobbit Tales card game that allows them to be used to generate Journey Hazards in the RPG. Additionally, it should be noted that maps of Wilderland are an essential part of the One Ring experience.
Character generation is One Ring feels a bit different than your typical Fantasy RPG. The most important decision is your character’s culture, choosing from Mirkwood Elf, Dwarf of the Lonely Mountain, Hobbit of the Shire, or three human cultures (Bardings, Beornings, or Woodmen of Mirkwood.) From there, one selects (or creates) a background and a Calling. A Calling is the closest thing the game has to “class” but even that’s not really a great comparison. A character’s calling is simply a broad definition of how it is you came to be an adventurer and what motivates you to that end. Weapon and “Common” skills are largely determined by Culture, but things get really interesting when deciding whether you’ll be more focused on Wisdom or Valor as a starting character, and it is this decision that could bestow flavorful Cultural Virtues or perhaps a powerful Cultural Reward.
“Very cool, was quick, narrative-based, felt setting-appropriate and had amazing amounts of flavor.”
“Coming from a background of the more number-crunchy character creation systems found in the ‘bigger’, more well-known games, I was looking forward to trying something different, and was pleasantly surprised at how well this worked in this game. You start with a blank slate and literally create the character using story driven themes instead of the hard min/max builds you tend to find in other games. It looks very intensive and complex, but all 4 of us were done within a hour and a half of starting, and I’m pretty sure most of us had never played the game before. I also enjoyed the fact that our characters had a richer back story and a reason for doing whatever they were doing than in some games. Very enjoyable (and almost bloodless).”
“The character creation process was one of finer points of the game. Confusing at first, but after reading the rules and having the Loremaster walk us through it, I already had a theme going… “
From a pool of Hope points that can be used to save your skin at crucial moments (and refreshed only through the Fellowship of your companions), to an Encumbrance/Fatigue system that actually WORKS and doesn’t just feel like so much book keeping. From Shadow points that may result in a Bout of Madness (a la Boromir trying to take the ring from Frodo), to a Travel mechanic that makes journeys exciting and dangerous, The One Ring mechanics brings a lot to the table to love.
” Travel was interesting (and I was more blessed than my comrades). Combat was a down right brutal and unforgiving mistress, but was well in tone with game. Skill checks were interesting and fun. Hope was fun, interesting and strange.”
“Travel—Amazing. I love the journey mechanics in TOR, I love the Hobbit Tales game that also exists as a play aid, very cool.
Social—Very cool. I think social interaction is why we play RPGs, and the mechanics support both fun play and feel of Middle Earth.
Hope/Fellowship/Shadow—Key to the game. Encourages/Rewards play as a team, and is a regular reminder (as hope dwindles) what is eventually coming. The main reason this game feels like Middle Earth.
Combat—My least favorite part of the game, It felt overwhelming most of the time, we failed more often than not (it seemed), and had no successful combats after the first. I need to read up and experience it a little more. I’m not sure if that’s because the Loremaster was hammering us to draw out the mechanics for us to see (*absolutely the case – Paul) or if the game is usually a string of repeated failures. If it’s the latter, it might be a hard sell on inexperienced players. If what we experienced was a good example of regular play, I would certainly change tactics.”
“It took a while for me to get used to not having hard numbers to shoot for, but when I did I found the travel and narrative-driven story to be very enjoyable. I was told ahead of time that the combat was not a good thing to be in, and found it was very true. Combat was very difficult, but that may have been so that the LM could show us potential LM’s the nuts and bolts of the system rather than for a continuing game. The ability to pick different combat stances before each round did add a bit of strategy to what is usually a dice off. I am looking forward to using this when I begin to run this game for my playing group.”
“I enjoyed the travel mechanics, the randomized encounters, and the fact that you could sit down as a Loremaster with no actual plan and just let an adventure materialize (as Paul did in our first session) was incredible. At no point did it feel unprepared or unplanned, it just felt fun and intentional.
The advancement system was also very cool in that it encouraged you to be more diverse with your abilities and to not shy away from trying new things that you may not be fantastic at. A well rounded and creative character would seem to gain more advancement points than someone who overly specialized into one or two things. I felt like that kept most player engaged at all times and there was a lot less of the ‘I’m not talking to that guy, I suck at it. You’re the diplomatic guy, you talk to him!’ stuff where the optimized characters only came to the front when something they were really good at presented itself. I thought that was a cool design to make the fellowship more cohesive and keep people engaged.
The Endurance/Fatigue Hope/Shadow system was fantastic and fresh. I loved the way how levels would teeter back and forth with the flow of the game and it became a resource you had to manage as well as a storytelling mechanic. By far this was my favorite mechanical part of the system (even though I started most combat encounters as Weary from all the blisters on my travel weary feet) “
As Loremaster, I went into this knowing that I loved the setting and rules, and getting to share them with a new group of players was a blast. Even casual Tolkien fans will find LOTS to like here, and we didn’t even touch on the multi-generational play style that the game promotes.
“I had a great time, and thought the RPG Lab experience was a fantastic way to expose experienced RPG players to new systems and expand their horizons. For a long time I was rooted in a particular system and never found good introductions to new systems that didn’t leave me feeling like a total newb that was dragging down the game with tons of questions. RPG lab did a great job of fostering that inquisitive nature among other players that were equally inexperienced with the game system. “
“I loved playing this game. The books are gorgeous and the art reinforces the core of the system and setting. Any minor complaints I have about the book as a product are being addressed in the new hardcover version, the most glaring of which (in my opinion) is just the poor organization of the writing (probably more apparent to me since I work in publishing). I look forward to someday running this or playing in a campaign!”
“Dear god it was fun. It truly felt as it was something to build on for the next adventure in Middle Earth”
“This is actually an unfair question as we had one of the best Gamemasters I’ve ever played with and with his knowledge of the Tolkien world it made every session a pleasure and even our eventual (failure) was not as devastating as it should have felt because of the fun way it was narrated to us. A good bunch of people to play with was the icing on the cake. The one thing I would recommend, thought not a necessity, is a Loremaster who is knowledgeable in the Tolkien world, as this game is as story-driven as the books themselves. The game was a wonderful surprise and has been added to my collection. Very recommended.”
So what’s next for RPG LAB?
Conspiracy X is currently running at the store, and September’s Don’t Rest Your Head game is also full up.
Also, for the first time… here’s the announcement for Season Three!!
October: Trail of Cthulhu
November: Atomic Robo (Fate)
December: Whispering Vault
If you want in on any of these games, email RPGLab@gamesandstuffonline.com
Please don’t forget, you will be required to commit to a full month’s worth of Tuesdays. Please clearly state which game you are interested in playing in, as well as a second choice.
Full details can be found at the original RPG Lab announcement article here.
*Our usual disclaimer:This program is not for beginners. While obviously, no experience with the specific game is required, it is assumed that anyone participating in this program is familiar with more than a couple RPGs, understands intermediate RPG terminology, and is comfortable role-playing with an engaged group. Games & Stuff offers a number of opportunities for brand new and otherwise inexperienced players to get involved in the RPG hobby. RPG Lab is not that program.