Game Review: The One Ring: Adventurer’s Book by Francesco Nepitello from Cubicle 7 – Part 5

One of my New Years’ resolutions for 2012 is to finish up my ongoing review of The One Ring, so I’m going to push forward with my part-by-parcel review today and focus on “Part 5 – Adventuring Mechanics.” But before I get going, I want to share a quick couple of thoughts regarding this game from Cubicle 7 and Francesco Nepitello.

First – the deeper I get, the more my reading drives home that I really don’t have a gaming group that I could play with. Nor do I know enough people that are die-hard J.R.R. Tolkien fans to the point that we could create such a group. Though I love the concept of playing in Middle-Earth, the system seems to reinforce the need for a group that is not only dedicated to Tolkien’s stories and ideals, but is friendly enough together to truly support the concept of a “Fellowship.” And though I love Tolkien, I haven’t read any in more than two decades and think it would be difficult to GM a group without duplicating what Tolkien did initially or what Peter Jackson has done since with the films.

Second – I think other game companies really need to sit up and take notice about how this book is constructed. The Adventurer’s Book is meant for the players and as I continue to read the more I feel that anybody willing to dive into the text would be able to pick up how to play The One Ring very quickly with an experienced Loremaster at the helm. The fluidity with which system mechanics are explained continues to blow my mind. If I was going to write a new RPG these days, I think I’d mimic many of the explanatory techniques used by the writers of The One Ring to encourage new roleplayers to pick up my books.

So with those two bits in mind, let’s get back into the “Adventuring Mechanics” part of this book…

It starts out by explaining, in concise terms, a way to frame actions in the system. The very first page sets the stage by describing in a couple of paragraphs how roleplaying games work:

“The One Ring roleplaying game unfolds around a continuous interaction between the Loremaster and his players: the Loremaster sets the scene, the characters explore the world and he describes the consequences of their actions, the new situations they find themselves in and any obstacles to their progress. The players steer the story their own way by relating how their characters resolve their hurdles.

Of course, this interaction sometimes leads to situations that can’t be resolved
simply through roleplaying or common sense, as they challenge the talent and the abilities of their characters. When this happens, the Loremaster and his players turn to the rules of the game.”

The One Ring: Adventurer’s Book by Francesco Nepitello from Cubicle 7, page 148

Substitute “The One Ring” for any system name and “Loremaster” for “Dungeon Master” or “Gamemaster” and you just succinctly described the basic pattern of roleplaying games since the beginning of RPGs. If I had these two paragraphs, I could easily explain any RPG to a non-gamer very quickly and then dive into the rules themselves, which the book does next.

There are three kinds of tasks: Automatic actions, which don’t require rolling and are pretty common like opening unlocked doors; Tasks, which are called for by a player to get their character to do something; and Tests, when the Loremaster asks for such an action. Since this is the player’s guide, the book goes on to explain Tasks and leaves Tests to the Loremaster’s Book.

Again, the process is explained simply enough it could almost be applied to any RPG. Declare your intent, describing what your character is trying to accomplish, which ability you are relying on, and the specific objective if the task roll is successful. Once everything is declared, the Loremaster sets the difficulty, which may encourage the player to use a special ability to improve his or her chances. Then the player rolls, the roll result is declared a failure or a success, and consequences of such are dealt with.

One of the examples used describes an attempt to flatter a NPC at a party using his Courtesy skill. The base target number is a 14 for most actions, but the Loremaster bumps it slightly to a 16 because the NPC is wary of flattery. When the player rolls a 13, it’s a failure, but he invokes an Attribute bonus adding 3 to the result by spending a point of Hope. I really like the wiggle room this mechanic uses, since the player has freedom to spend a few points before or after the roll for important actions. I don’t think I’ve seen a post-roll mechanic like this before either. To reinforce the whole algorithm for determining task success or failure, there’s a detailed sequence of steps that includes plenty of details on what can and can’t be used at different places in the process.

The next section describes traveling in Middle-Earth using the “Journey” mechanic. Journeys require skill tests from all characters involved to determine how and when hardships will affect the Fellowship. And if particular hardships are failed catastrophically, there may be a “Hazard” episode before the party reaches its destination. This mechanic hits me a bit like the Dragon Age computer RPG, where traveling from one location on the map to another sometimes gets interrupted by combat.

The Journey itself is broken into different phases –

  1. Planning, using the Lore roll to determine what’s needed
  2. Figuring out which characters are filling out the roles of guide, scout, huntsman, and look-outs. Each role determines the skills necessary for the tests called upon by the Loremaster
  3. Journey resolution, which determines the state of the characters after their journey, comparing Endurance to Fatigue and so on
  4. And of course the Hazards (misfortunes) and Encounters (hopefully fortunate) along the way

Lastly there’s an extended section about combat. And as you might expect, there are a few unique twists to The One Ring‘s combat system.

A 3D model of the One Ring

Image via Wikipedia

First, there’s the idea of “Stance.” At the beginning of every round, each player declares a stance – forward, open, defensive, or rearward. There’s really no initiative exactly, but there is an order implied by these stances. Characters facing forward go first, followed by open, defensive, and rearward. As you might expect, Forward characters are ready to attack from the get-go and Rearward characters are attacking from behind (sometimes with bows). The ones in the middle are more reactive to opponent actions.

From that point on, there’s a discussion of the various attacks (close vs. ranged), endurance loss due to attacks, called shots, and so forth. The depth of available actions is impressive. Much of it surrounds actions from particular stances, which I’m sure offers some interesting strategic decisions.

So again I find that there are some intriguing aspects to rules for The One Ring. But I’m more impressed with the way the authors chose to present those rules, in a clear understandable fashion with plenty of examples for roleplayers new and old.

Next we’ll look at the last part of the book – “The Fellowship Phase” – and see what we can glean from that!

By the way, if you missed part 1 of this review series, you can find it here. Part 2 is here, part 3 is here, and part 4 is here. And for more about the game, check out Cubicle 7′s page here.

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