The One Ring RPG review

It’s been a while since they acquired the publishing rights to the game, but Free League has now launched The One Ring RPG in its Second Edition form. Eagerly anticipated by RPG-playing fans of Tolkien’s work, we quickly dove into a few games so we could share our impressions.

Just like the original release of the game, this version of The One Ring was developed by Sophisticated Games. And while it became available in a digital form earlier, its full release includes a lovely starter set that includes a wealth of stuff to get you started and keep playing. There’s a somewhat daunting (250-page) new version of the Core Rules book as well, but you can get started without it as the starter kit features a heavily condensed 24 page version the rules as well. Avid RPG players will enjoy the lavish attention to detail and beautiful artwork in the full version though, which also expands your options to create custom games with your own characters and adventures.

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The starter set includes eight pre-generated characters, each with their own double-sides reference sheets, as well as game maps of the Shire and Eriador and Wargear, Journey Role and Combat Stance Cards – though the latter are underused in this starter kit and more applicable to later adventures. In addition to specially designed 6 and 12-sides dice, it also comes with three booklets. One is the aforementioned short version of the rules, while the other two provide details on the included handful of pre-made adventures and background information on the Shire, the focal point for the adventures in the starter set.

All of the included adventures are standalone in nature, but can also be played back-to-back if you prefer a campaign sort of experience. As you’d perhaps expect from a starter set, these adventures are meant for new players and perhaps even those not familiar with TTRPGs at all, just looking to get into these because they’re Tolkien fans. The Shire is a good indication of this – an area of Middle Earth that’s relatively safe, which is reflected in the fact that two adventures don’t even feature any combat and by the fact that The One Ring is set in between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, a period of relative tranquility. And if you were thinking of the Fellowship when we mentioned the eight included characters, you’d be wrong – seven of them are hobbits.

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Despite the newcomer-friendly approach to much of the starter set, the condensed ruleset will be overwhelming for those who haven’t played an RPG before, quickly diving into points and dice rolls when those mechanics might not make a lot of sense to complete novices. We’d recommend having at least one experienced player there to help others through their paces, preferably as the Loremaster.

Gameplay is streamlined from the likes of, for example, Dungeons & Dragons, but still involves character attributes, skills and dice pools that determine success rates in any given scenario, which combined with your specific character will have a target number you’re rolling towards. There are a few intricacies to the rules though, which will certainly create plenty of “what am I doing here?” moments during the first few adventures. Pairing skills to attributes and then working towards a target score is usually easy enough, but ‘modifiers’ will change how many (6-sided) success dice you can roll, and sometimes you’ll use two (12-sided) Feat dice where favored and ill-favored rolls determine which value you’ll use.

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It’s nothing that can’t be managed with a little patience and cooperation between players, but it’s also a good indicator that you don’t want to dive into the expanded ruleset as newcomers to these mechanics. Once you become comfortable with them, it’s time to move on to grander adventure, your own characters and practically infinite adventures – the keys to which are provided by the full ruleset. Lord of the Rings fans coming at this one from outside of the TTRPG realm might be fully satisfied with just the starter set adventures though, so that’s a great place to start – not least because it’s a gorgeous looking set with great artwork and attention to detail.

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