After the defeat of Smaug the Terrible and the Battle of Five Armies, there were quite a few years before the events of The Lord of the Rings took place. Cubicle 7 constructed a team to help creative folk fill in the gap between the iconic works with The One Ring roleplaying game. It sports its own unique rules system to help you and your fellowship traverse the vast expanses of Middle Earth in search of fame and fortune. As a gigantic fan of Tolkien's work, the idea of such a thing gripped my heart like a vice. A previous article had outlined the Fellowship Phase of the game, easily one of the most interesting mechanics I've seen, but that only just scratches the surface. Although I've only played this game in a play-by-post setting, reading through the core rules has instilled excitement and wonder into the core of my very being. Here are some interesting mechanics aside from the aforementioned Fellowship Phase.
1) Shadow Weakness/Points
"...the days have gone down in the West, behind the hills, into Shadow."
-Theodin, King of Rohan
A very large theme in Tolkien's work is the juxtaposition of light and shadow. This was expertly injected into The One Ring through a mechanic; every character has what's called a Shadow Weakness. During character creation, your Calling (traditionally called a class in other RPG systems) determines what weakness your character may succumb to throughout the course of your adventures. From Dragon Sickness to a Curse of Vengeance, things can get interesting when you aren't careful whilst traversing the perils of the land. This mechanic goes hand-in-hand with the Hope mechanic. Each character has a set of Hope Points that can be spent to invoke Attribute Bonuses or Cultural Virtues, stats that are unique to each character, to give them an edge over the current situation. When your Hope value meets, or is below, your Shadow Point pool, your character experiences a bout of madness that is unique to your specific Shadow Weakness.
These fits have lasting effects on the character’s behavior to reflect the taint of The Shadow on their personality. With each fit comes a new trait that the Lore Master (the GM) can make rear its ugly head at a dramatic moment. Typically, adventurers are given Shadow Points when they perform a misdeed (knowingly lying, making threats, etc), witness a distressing event, experience something disturbing, enter what's called a Blighted Area, or come in contact with Tainted Treasure. Some of these require what's called a Corruption Test, a type of skill check, to fend off The Shadow. A failure results in the accumulation of a certain amount of Shadow Points as the LM sees fit. This adds a mechanical aspect to roleplaying and mirrors perfectly the dangers of Middle Earth and the dark lord Sauron, whose evil touches all.
Beyond that, it gives players a bit of resource management in conjunction with a small amount of help roleplaying. On the flip side, it presents LMs with an interesting conflict to present to PCs other than combat, which most D20 systems get so easily wrapped up in.
2) The Eye Of Sauron, Gandalf Rune, And Tengwar Rune
"You know of what I speak, Gandalf - A great Eye... lidless... wreathed in flame."
-Saruman the Wise
For those that don't know, TOR is a d12 based system. For every task, a 12 sided die (the so-called Feat Die) is rolled with a number of d6s (Success Dice), depending on skill, are added to it. Depending on what a hero character is trying to do, they may even get no Success Dice. For the Feat Die, the 11th side has an Eye of Sauron symbol, where the 12th has a Gandalf Rune. These symbolize your critical success and failures, though they're given different names. On the sixth side of the Success Die, there is a Tengwar Rune, which signifies a critical success as well. When paired together, these dice can represent an interesting outcome. Where an Eye of Sauron counts as rolling a zero, the Gandalf Rune counts as a success, regardless of the target number (TN) of the task.
The game differs from most others in that degree of success is sometimes very crucial to the outcome of a task. Degree of success is interpreted from the result of the Success Dice. A result on that die other than the six (Tengwar Rune) is added to what the result of the Feat Die, aiding the hero character's attempt to meet the TN of the task. When the Tengwar Rune is rolled, however, it changes the nature of the success if there is one. Three degrees of success can be obtained: Narrow Success, Great Success, and Extraordinary Success. Despite its name, a Narrow Success simply means that the character has succeeded in their task but there is an absence of the Tengwar Rune in the results of the Success Dice, should there be any rolled. Great Success is when one rune is rolled and Extraordinary Success occurs when two or more are rolled. These results add the opportunity for the player or LM to add interesting details to reflect how the degree of success affects the situation for the better. Extraordinary Successes are the things that bards and poets sing about for generations to come and allow for the greatest amount of flourish and flexibility.
When using weapons, however, the Gandalf Rune and Eye of Sauron are most critical. Many weapons require a Gandalf Rune to reach what's called their Edge value. This delivers a piercing blow, one that bypasses any armor to inflict a Wound, should the target fail its Protection roll that it must make as consequence. Interestingly enough, this dice mechanic generally works backwards for the LM controlling adversaries.
3) Fellowship Focus
"I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."
-Bilbo Baggins of The Shire
Once your adventuring party is formed, every hero character has what's called a Fellowship Focus. This mechanic is used to represent the unique bonds between characters. Each player chooses a hero character with whom their character has that bond, but it doesn't have to be mutual. Using the pregenerated characters as an example; Beli of the Lonely Mountain's Fellowship Focus could be Trotter of The Shire, but Trotter's focus could be Lifstan son of Leiknir. Furthermore, hero characters can share a Fellowship Focus, if it fits the story. Usually, there's no specific reason that heroes can't share a focus, but as we know, every table is different.
It's no secret that I'm a fan of mechanics that aid in roleplaying, and this is no exception. It encourages players to make their hero characters work together and protect one another, as doing so provides a great mechanical benefit. As previously mentioned, Hope is a crucial resource of the game. When your hero character's Fellowship Focus is Wounded, you gain a Shadow Point at the end of the session. On the contrary, you gain a point of Hope at the end of the session if nothing expressly bad happens to them, story or otherwise. Worst case scenario, a hero's Fellowship Focus is killed, which leads to the accumulation of three Shadow Points. In the heat of the moment, this mechanic can show its face when a hero character spends a Hope point to aid their Fellowship Focus (by invoking an Attribute Bonus or the like) and the task is successful, they immediately regain that spent point.
I love this because it very much reflects the relationships that characters can have with one another in a tangible way. For players who enjoy the roleplay aspect of games, this sort of behavior comes naturally. For those who enjoy the more mechanical aspects of games, this helps the two different styles of pay mingle in harmony at the table. Simply fantastic.
In our hobby, people become stuck on certain game systems. With Cubicle 7's recent venture into 5e D&D with Adventures in Middle Earth, many people have started to revisit the wonderful world that Tolkien has created. Hopefully, this article will inspire to those who enjoy the lore of such to venture into the unique mechanics presented by The One Ring.
Sean is the Heavy Metal GM. He’s an aspiring freelance writer and blogger that loves the hobby more than life itself. Always up for a good discussion, his blog covers general gaming advice as well as specialized advice/homebrew rules for 13th Age RPG. You can find his website at www.heavymetalgm.com, join the conversation.
Suggested image reference: http://cubicle7.co.uk/our-games/the-one-ring/
Mention Tolkien to a fantasy fan and they’ll have several things spring to mind instantly, two of which will be The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. There’s no two ways about it, Professor Tolkien’s Middle Earth universe remains, to this day, one of the most influential, far-reaching, and sometimes end-all-be-all fantasy settings that has arguably been the catalyst of the genre’s expanse over the years, as well as that of the high-flying novels and shows we’re getting today.
But with those two aforementioned and instantly recognizable pillars of Tolkien’s work comes a sad aspect: the fact that there’s so much more to it! From the Silmarillion to Unfinished Tales and the myriad other materials seeping out of the Lord of the Rings and the times that came before it, there’s comparatively little of it known to the audience at large, and even less being explored in video and/or role-playing game fashion.
Thus, I’ve chosen The One Ring for this Role-Playing Gems Chapter, a Tolkien-esque game published by Cubicle 7 and designed by Francesco Nepitello, and one that’s been around for quite a few years but doesn’t seem to garner as much attention as other systems or settings out there today.
The reasons for me bringing this to the fore? Read on, find out what this is all about, keep it safe, but by no means secret!
1. A story between stories.
The most fancy-tickling, eye-catching thing about TOR is its contribution to the timeline. All of the adventures therein take place 5 years after the events of The Hobbit, in a time of uncertainty that fans of the saga will know little about. More to the point, it’s always easier to craft your own legend within a more permissive environment than have to weave in and out of major occurrences during the main or prequel timeline.
And if you throw the movies into that it just gets confusing…
Get ready to be thrust into a time of unrest, where Smaug has been vanquished and the echoes of the Battle of the Five Armies have died down, but the far-reaching consequences of those events still linger around Wilderland, the area bordered by the Misty Mountains, Erebor, and Rohan.
Play multiple races of the times, like Men of the North, Dunlendings, Woodland Elves, Horse Lords, Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, with dozens of archetypes for each race offering a host of possibilities for even the most nitpicky of players to revel in.
Carve your own name into the “Tolkienverse” and discover a different facet of it, not entirely removed from the big names of the past and future, but one where those are little more than guides who point you in the direction of your next adventure…
2. Ease of use
Many systems out there pride themselves in coming up with zounds of dice rolls depending upon tables, charts, and FAQs in order to - as realistically as possible - determine the outcome of a social encounter, a battle, or simply a trek through the forest. TOR deals away with all the unnecessary stuffiness of it all, using a neat Xd6+1d12 pool to resolve all of its rolls, where the X is the level a character has in any given skill. And of course there’s the ever-present critical hit/miss mechanism in there, with a rather thematic twist I’ll let you find out on your own as you get deeper into the various published campaigns…
Social interactions are a breeze and combat flows by swiftly, yet without hit points, but rather a wounded/not wounded mechanism that not only makes sense, but deals away with the constant math behind taking 25 damage with 5 ongoing damage and a ¼ chance of taking 3 more each turn. There’s also a very conceptual battle tactic option affixed there, where heroes can take an attacking stance or a more reserved, ranged one, depending on the various circumstances that may arise. This, coupled with the endurance mechanism that comes into play in both battles as well as travels makes for more of the role-playing and less of the roll-playing-and-bumbling-through-the-rules-ness that can mar an explosive encounter by halting it right at its peak.
3. The Fellowship Phase
There’s always something new and exciting you’re looking for in a new system, and TOR did exactly what was needed with the above game phase. The core of the game action is divided into 2 main aspects: Adventuring and Fellowship. While the first one deals in the travels (which are also masterfully done), encounters, battles, and events that the heroes may come across en-route to their destination, it’s the Fellowship Phase where the system truly shines.
It’s here that the heroes can rest, recuperate, take on new challenges, share a mug of the Green Dragon’s finest ale, or simply lounge around the fire debating what their next course of action will be. This is a very on-point portrayal of the passage of both short as well as long periods of time, bringing to the fore the sometimes pivotal, campsite-like pauses in Tolkien’s narrative, where the heroes assess their situation, talk about future endeavours or past ones, light up their pipes, wake up some long-dormant foe or simply indulge in that oh-so-important second breakfast.
4. Content upon content
The folks at Cubicle 7 have outdone themselves by coming out with not only beautifully-illustrated books (with even John Howe penning some of his finest work yet), but ones that are chock-full of content intended to enrich the fairly decent offering that the Core Book comes with. Havens like Laketown, Erebor, Thranduil’s Halls, and Rivendell are counterbalanced by the creepy crawlies that the heroes might come across in Mirkwood, with an entire book devoted to the ancient forest alone.
Couple that with The Horse Lords of Rohan, Ruins of the North, and the new Riddermark book that’s just been announced, and you’re faced with a plethora of options, many of which haven’t made it mainstream-wise as prominently as they deserve (trust me, you’ll be convinced of that latter statement in no time flat), coupled with their respective location maps and adventure hooks galore, and even a stand-alone card game that doubles as event-catalyst for the game itself.
Let’s see the players reach the edge of the map and pose that oh-so-snarky “but what lies beyond?” question now!
All in all, this game hits all the right notes with me, firing on all of the role-playing pistons I’m looking for in an experience such as this, and I hope you can find some of that within it if you choose to pick it up thanks to this short overview.
Then again, if you’re already playing, we look forward to hearing your take on it, as well as sharing a tall tale around the fire as to your exploits within it - on either side of the gaming table.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be going on an adventure!
Writer, gamer, and - provided he's got the time for it - loving husband, Costin does not rule out sacrifices to the Great Old Ones in order to get into the gaming industry. He's been role-playing for the better part of 6 years, but has been a joker, gamer and storyteller for as long as he can remember.
His greatest pride is once improvising a 4-way argument between a grave digger, a dyslexic man, an adopted child and a sheep, all by himself. That moment is also the closest he's ever come to giving himself a role-playing aneurysm... thus far.
He's been dabbling in plenty of writing ventures lately, and you can find him hanging his words around the OhBe Wandering hangout page on Facebook.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.