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/
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.