Game Review: The One Ring: Adventurer’s Book by Francesco Nepitello from Cubicle 7 – Part 1

Ok, lately I’ve been a little shell shocked by book size. And it took me a while to figure out how I can still keep to my writing schedule for big/huge products without losing my mind. To solve the problem, I’m going to be writing short reviews and working through some larger books a chapter at a time. This means you may see a few short reviews for a while, but it breaks these books into bite-sized chunks with less stress on my part.

The first book to get this treatment is The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild, which is broken into the Adventurer’s Book and the Loremaster’s Book. Since I want to see more of what it’s like to play the game than run it, at least initially, we’ll dive into the Adventurer’s Book first.

“Part 1: Introduction” gets things started with a bit of an overview, some details about the world, and a bit about the system itself. If you already know all that, I suspect you could dive right into “Part 2: Characters,” but as a newbie to the game I definitely need to start at the beginning. And I have to say the artwork, sometimes subtle, other times bold, did an amazing job to help set the stage and get me into the right mindset for a game where you adventure in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s book The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings series. The runic fonts evoke a bit of that flowing script I will always associate with the world of Middle Earth.

Through the use of what I’ll call “parchment” images (such as the “letter from Balin, son of Fundin, to Bilbo Baggins, Esq.” on page 4) to the full-color works like the cover and the two-page spreads starting each major part of the book, to the map of the Wilderland and the character sheet itself, each piece flows to the next effortlessly. Part of that is the use of the faded page background images on the left and right pages which doesn’t distract and instead connects the pages visually. The two-page spreads starting each part of the book however are spectacular. I’d love to have any one of them in a frame upon my walls.

Though I, like many gamers, was captured by Peter Jackson’s vision of Tolkien’s world, it’s been a very long time since I’ve read The Hobbit or any of The Lord of the Rings books. I read them in junior high and high school, so it’s been between 25 and 30 years now since I dove into that realm on paper. And though Jackson’s films were astounding, they, by virtue of the medium, couldn’t possibly have included every detail in the original books. So I suspect that I’m a bit out of touch with the original material, but am excited to see where designer Francesco Nepitello and his co-conspirators will take me.

The section starts with a brief overview of gaming and the traditional “What is a Roleplaying Game?” text. However, it offers a great “Example of Play” that shows a game in progress. New players can get a bit of an idea about how a player assumes the role of the character, asking questions and performing actions. Though I’ve seen this approach used in other games, I think the context of this type of description is just as important as the writing itself. Skills are clearly highlighted, player speech vs. character speech are clearly delineated, and the roles of player and Loremaster (GM) are also cleanly divided. Like all games as we know them, they’re conversations between people – it’s a social encounter, some of which happening in our world where we discuss die rolls, decisions, and game rules, and some of which happens in the setting itself to our characters. So I was pleased to see this sort of text come front and center in the book.

Next we learn about the setting, which takes place between the end of The Hobbit and the end of The Lord of the Rings. Location-wise, characters will adventure in the “Wilderland,” which extends from the Misty Mountains as far as the Running River. The Wilderland is home to elves, men, dwarves, and hobbits, as well as less friendly creatures like orcs and wild wolves.

The men of the Dale are known as the Bardings, led by Bard the Bowman, King of Dale, who shot the dragon Smaug with the Black Arrow. Then there are the men led by Beorn, known as the Beornings, who watch over the high passes and river crossings for danger. The dwarves of the Lonely Mountain are led by Dain Ironfoot who rules the Kingdom under the Mountain fairly by all accountings. The wood elves of Mirkwood are led by Thranduil the Elvenking, known to all to be kind to their friends and cruel to their enemies. The hobbits of the Shire continue to lead their simple lives, sometimes craving adventure and yet longing for their comfortable homes. And the woodmen of Wilderland are a hardy folk who watch the western borders of the woods. As you might imagine, not everything is dancing hobbits and singing elves in the Wilderland… There are dark forces afoot – remnants of the dark presence in Mirkwood who can still be felt by those attuned to it.

Much of the rest of the section is devoted to describing the system itself at a high level. There are player-heroes who adventure in this world and a Loremaster who acts as the gamemaster/storyteller for the group. And there’s a whole other book devoted to the Loremaster’s rules and guidelines so we won’t focus on that here.

What I thought was interesting was that the writers found it important to divide the game itself into phases – an Adventuring phase and a Fellowship phase. This roughly corresponds to the time the party spends completing a particular adventure and then the time afterwards when they heal, learn new skills, pick up weapons and equipment, check in with friends and family, and so on. I like the idea of having a dedicated downtime phase at semi-regular intervals. And they may happen more frequently between some adventures than others. And using the events of The Hobbit to illustrate a series of connected adventures with fellowship phases was very useful to driving the idea home.

As for the introduction to the character sheet, I’m not convinced that doing that in this part as well as the next that’s more focused on character generation does anything to further the learning process. However, I like having a “Glossary of Terms” up front to pre-define a few terms
for people unfamiliar with the game or with roleplaying in general. I have to say that at this point I don’t necessarily get the “Standard of Living” idea, but look forward to learning more in the next part.

But I do want to talk about the section on “Dice.” This is a mixed bag for me. Most gamers will already have some dice on hand when they pick up The One Ring, so buying another set of custom dice just for one game is a bit foreign to me at this point. I like the idea that some dice, whether a “Feat die” or used for “Success dice,” have some instant cues to aid in determining success and failure. For instance, if you roll a Gandalf rune (a 12) on the Feat die, that’s the highest possible success. And if you roll a Sauron rune (an 11) you will typically fail the roll. That makes it easy to see if (in general) your action is going to succeed or not.

Where I get lost is with the built-in complexity for Success dice (d6). There are three potential states for a Success die. 1, 2, and 3 are “outline” numbers. 4, 5, and 6 are “solid black” numbers. And 6 gets an extra boost with a Tengwar rune. I’m a big fan of simplicity, so I get 1/2/3 are low and 4/5/6 are high – or odd means one thing, even means another. That’s more of a binary state. But when you add a third potential state like a rune, it becomes a qubit and I have no idea if Schrodinger’s Cat is alive, dead, or in some other state. Yes, I’m mixing metaphors, but I don’t quite get how the die mechanic works yet.

I’ll leave it at that for now. I’m intrigued by the setting and will learn more about the system in the next few parts of the book I suspect. Hopefully the die mechanic issues will become more clear as I continue through the book.

Thus ends my review of “Part 1: Introduction” of The One Ring: Adventurer’s Book. I’m going to continue to chug through the book a bit at a time and we’ll see where we go from here.

If you’re a fan of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, I’d definitely encourage you to pick up a copy of The One Ring. And if you think about it, leave me some comments and let me know what YOU think of the game so far. I’m especially interested in hearing how it plays if you’ve tried it at your gaming table. For more details about the game, be sure to stop by the Cubicle 7 site for The One Ring.

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