Game Review: The One Ring: Adventurer’s Book by Francesco Nepitello from Cubicle 7 – Part 2

In part 1 of this review, I spoke (at length it seems) about the first section of The One Ring: Adventurer’s Book from Cubicle 7, which introduced us a bit to the world of The One Ring nestled firmly in J.R.R. Tolkien‘s Middle Earth as well as a bit of introduction to the game mechanics and how dice are used.

Now we’re going to move into the next part of the book – “Part 2: Characters” – which focuses on the different kinds of heroes you can create and forming a company of adventurers.

The “hero creation” section has a great paragraph early on that I think succinctly defines character creation in most, if not all, roleplaying games I’ve ever played: “The character creation process takes a number of steps, and aims to create fictional individuals that are as close as possible to their player’s wishes, and that at the same time conform to the source material.”

Honestly this is another nice touch that simultaneously sets the player at ease so that he or she should be able to create a character they want to play in Middle Earth while at the same time providing a bit of governance to make sure that the player is creating a valid character within the scope of the setting and rules. I have no clue how many times I’ve had amazing character concepts that simply couldn’t be done within the context of the given world or simply were too cumbersome or unwieldy to really play using a particular set of game mechanics.

The section goes on to offer themed advice to keep in mind while crafting a character…

“The aim
of The One Ring is to let players feel what it means to go adventuring in a wild and perilous land, out of a forgotten past. It is a threatening world that has more in common with the world depicted in Nordic sagas or with the Dark Ages of Europe than with our contemporary world. Players are invited to leave the age of information and fast travel behind, and adopt the point of view of individuals whose horizons often didn’t extend further than a few miles from their birthplace. For every member of the Wise and the Great, for every Wizard or Noldor or Ranger of the North, there are countless more like Samwise Gamgee, simple people who never crossed the boundaries of their own village or town, or individuals like Gimli son of Glóin, who ignored the existence of Rohan until he visited it, or Men like noble Faramir who, while learned in many lores, never encountered an Elf or a Hobbit before the War of the Ring.

The landscape revealed by this perspective is a world with uncertain boundaries, and only vague hints of distant realms and the folks who inhabit them; a place that for these very reasons offers plenty of opportunities for exploration and adventure.” – The One Ring: Adventurer’s Book, page 30, “Focused Choices”

Again, the writing here accomplishes multiple goals – setting the stage, reminding the player of the kinds of adventurers, big and small, who live in the imaginary world of Middle Earth; and encouraging the player to leave the information age behind and enter the persona of a character with a much smaller world view and many more unknowns. There’s no Google in Middle Earth. No supersonic modes of travel. No instant information from or about distant lands and people. You are limited to the people you know locally and those brave souls who travel the roads and hear the gossip from faraway lands.

The process of creating a hero in this simpler world is broken into a few basic steps:

  • Select a Heroic Culture (Bardings, Beornings, Dwarves, Elves, Hobbits, and Woodmen)
  • Record the Cultural blessing and skill list
  • Select two specialties
  • Roll (or choose) a Background
  • Record Basic Attributse and a Favored Skill
  • Select two Distinctive features
  • And customize the character (Favored Attributes, Buy Skill Levels, Choose a Calling and Favored Skills, Generate Scores for Endurance and Hope, Prioritize the scores for Valour and Wisdom, and Record Starting Gear and Fatigue)

Picking a heroic culture will say a lot about the character. Each group views the world from a different perspective. Yet all the cultures available are at war with the darkness and as such share a common bond. Each culture is described in great detail, with some overview, a description of their standard of living (one of the questions I had in the first part), what motivations might encourage adventuring, how their leaders/royalty views other nations and peoples, special abilities, starting skill scores, traits and aptitudes, backgrounds, and some details about names.

If you know anything about Tolkien’s writing, it’s that language was one of his gifts. Each major group has a language, from the many varieties of Elvish (Eldarin, Sindarin, Avarin, and others) to the secret language of Dwarves (Khuzdul) and everything in-between. Thankfully The One Ring uses “Common Speech” as something everybody already knows or communication would be a problem in a mixed group of humans, elves, dwarves, and hobbits. But it doesn’t hurt to have languages that one PC can speak that the others can’t (like Sindarin for the Wood Elves of Mirkwood) – it might lead to some chances for some characters to shine in roleplaying opportunities and act as a translator for the other members of the party.

For each of the major cultures, you get about 5 or so pages of content as described earlier.

  • The Bardings have been rebuilding the city of Dale in the shadow of the Lonely Mountain. They seem quite courageous and optimistic after living under the dragon Smaug’s whims for years. They’re “Stout-Hearted” (a blessing offering better odds during Fear tests), prosperous, with some interesting dwarven- and dragon-related traits to choose from.
  • The Beornings on the other hand are not the most trusting of men, but are staunch allies when that trust is earned. They’re not the most affluent of nations, mostly earning their keep through breeding cattle and horses and maintaining bee hives for honey. With their “Furious” blessing, they are dangerous in combat, staying strong despite being tired or miserable. Many of their traits revolve around protecting mountain passes, surviving the roads with news, and keeping tales or songs.
  • The Dwarves are Rich in their undermountain kingdom of gold, but are secretive and easily slighted by others which can cause trouble. But their stubbornness lets them carry much more than the other races (“Redoubtable” blessing). Their traits involve mines and labors, trades, and revenge.
  • The Elves of Mirkwood tend to hide these days in their woodland kingdom, unwilling to share their forest in a time of war with many. Their blessing comes from the forest, the earth, or the night granting them attribute bonuses. As you might imagine, the elves’ traits revolve around their longevity, love of music, and nobility.
  • Hobbits in the Shire apparently know that peace is prosperous and are good-natured as a result. And of course, Hobbits (like Spiderman) have Hobbit-sense, which can bring together a group quite nicely. As far as traits go, they revolve around farming and listening, wit and a bit of wanderlust.
  • Lastly are the Woodmen of the bunch. Like the Beornings, the Woodmen live on the edge of civilization, but they range more widely than their mountain pass brethren, living for the hunt on the edge of the wild. This makes them pretty frugal, living off the land as best they can, but they know the woods so well they know each tree and bush as their blessing, giving them some benefits when fighting in the forest. Most of their traits center on hunting, wilder pursuits like elves and wizards, and a love of adventure

The lists of names available for characters in these cultures is brilliant and seemingly lifted right from Tolkien’s works. Male and female names, nicknames, and more should offer plenty of options and inspiration when hunting for just the right name for your fledgling hero.

A 3D model of the One Ring

Now that you have the basics of your character, you can further customize them. I love the concepts behind the Callings for example – from scholars and slayers to wardens and wanderers. Just remember that “Not all who wander are lost” as Tolkien once said.

Past that it’s bits and pieces that can further define the character’s path. I like the idea of “Previous Experience” – having a few extra points to spend on raising skills based on their time before adventuring. Add in some adventuring gear like weapons and armor, musical instruments, and so on and you’re close to done.

Lastly is the section on “Company Creation” and this is another area where I think other games should sit up and take notice. As a new adventuring party, the players need to chat a bit to decide why and how they came together. This can involve a complex backstory of plot threads and circumstances or a simple pressing need by a community in trouble. But I’ve not seen a process like this documented to my knowledge.

The steps here are to pick a place where the group was formed, have each player choose another party member to be his character’s “Fellowship focus” (like Sam and Frodo), and then decide on some common goals for the group. This effort becomes in effect the party’s first “Fellowship” phase where things are documented and kicked off.

As with the Introduction, the Characters part of the book is gorgeous, which plenty of art to offer inspiration about the cultures and callings, traits and gear. And again I wish that I had just a few pieces of the artwork to hang on my wall. For example, I love the picture of a Woodmen village on page 68 – it is vibrant and green, evoking a strong feeling of living on the frontier.

And now that I’ve gone through the character creation parts of
the book, I’m wondering what I might create and left scratching my head. I think it would depend upon the group I was playing with and the context of where the Loremaster might put us initially. That said, I’m excited to learn more about these different character types in “Part 3: Fundamental Characteristics,” but I’ll save that for next time. Thus ends my review of “Part 2: Characters” 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!

By the way, if you missed part 1 of this review series, you can find it here.

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