The One Ring 2nd edition is the Lord of the Rings RPG from Free League Publishing.
The lead writer and game designers, Francesco Nepitello and Marco Maggi are the same as the first edition. This edition, though, has a different publisher with Free League and new art.
I really enjoyed the first edition, and so far, the second edition is just as good, with the same provisos.
“So far” as we’re waiting on physical copies.
The provisos? Roleplaying in Middle-earth is not as straightforward as kicking down a dungeon door.
I’ve subtitled this review of The One Ring 2e as “An expert touch” because the game has had an expert touch. The evolutionary tweak from 1e to 2e is apparent. The game feels slicker, easier to get into, more streamlined where it matters, and meatier.
However, bringing The One Ring to life and making it feel like adventures in Middle-earth also needs an expert touch. The Loremaster, the game’s version of GM, needs to be good.
In particular, the corrupting presence of the Shadow feels slightly less prominent in the presentation of this edition, but given the advancing timeline from the first, that shouldn’t be the case. Even a middle-weight Loremaster can account for that, though. The Shadow is absolutely no less important in the game’s system.
The One Ring 2e’s system
Free League and the game’s designers would like you to use special dice to play The One Ring. I’m reviewing this from the PDF, which has been sent to Kickstarter backers, and I don’t have the special dice.
However, all you really need are d6s and d12s. On the d6, the 6s have an Elvish rune for additional success. On the d12, the 11 is swapped out for the Eye of Sauron and 12 for the Gandalf Rune.
The system has you roll some of those dice, add them together, and beat or equal the target number. The target number is generally determined by taking a character’s attribute score from 20.
In summary, successes are challenging, but the potential for notable success is there, and the game is more interesting as a result.
Generally, an Eye of Sauron counts as zero, which means that d12 is worthless, leaving you only d6s to hit that tough target numbers. Nicely, there are statuses such as when PCs are Miserable under the oppression of the Shadow, that the presence of the Eye of Sauron means the roll automatically fails.
Equally, if characters have the Weary condition, then d6 values of 1, 2 or 3 (shown differently on official dice) count as zero.
You can see straight away, I think, why managing the morale of the Fellowship is essential. Hope is helpful.
There’s even a Fellowship Rating, a numerical value that can be spent to regenerate points of Hope during rests.
At its heart, The One Ring is a fantasy adventure about battling despair and doom. That’s much harder to run than a dungeon crawl, and that’s why the game needs an expert touch.
“Shadow Path” is even a system that suggests the direction characters will head as they succumb to the Shadow’s unyielding persistence. Corruption, greed or hubris.
There is also Hope. There are two types; the official Hope score spent to activate Cultural Virtues while also being a countdown to despair. Then there’s the natural hope of the players, The One Ring second edition uses degrees of success, and the Elf rune on the d6 or Gandalf’s Rune on the d12 can push successes from “Yes, you manage that” into epic feats of greatness.
The One Ring 2e characters
There are six heroic cultures and three attributes in the game, but there’s also skills and callings.
TOR2e doesn’t use races and that seems wise because there are different types of “men” here and the foundation for different types of hobbits and dwarves too. The core rules offer;
- Bardlings – Northmen of nobile origin.
- Dwarves of Durin’s Folk – Proud and strong, once great.
- Elves of Lindon – Members of the Firstborn who rarely leave the Grey Havens.
- Hobbits of the Shire – Merry, traditional and who dislike change.
- Men of Bree – Descendants of an ancient people, now connected villagers.
- Rangers of the North – Few in number and secretive.
The callings, which shape the skills and roles of heroes, combine with cultures to create dozens of variants. Callings are;
- Captain – Guiding others, leading by example.
- Champion – Warriors and conquerors.
- Messenger – Dutyiful communicators.
- Scholar – Learned and curious.
- Treasure Hunter – Brave investigators.
- Warden – Protective outsiders.
There’s some terminology weirdness with the streamlined skill and attribute system. The three attributes are Strength, Heart and Wits. Strength governs physical stuff, which means skills like “Song” and “Awareness” are controlled by them. Making “Song” a Heart skill and “Awareness” a Wits one must have been tempting, but the designers resisted.
The character generation system and character development work for me. The game has enough structure to suggest a traditional roleplaying game; there’s absolutely the need for a character sheet, tactical thinking and problem-solving. You can see stats go up and down as the ebb and flow of adventure changes.
And yet, it doesn’t get county or wargamey in a way a storyteller like Tolkien might have disapproved of. Okay, Tolkien liked details so much it’s hard to know for sure, so let’s just say The One Ring 2e keeps the system slick so players and Loremaster alike can concentrate on how the story develops.
Look and feel
There’s a lot of black and white art in this RPG.
I put plenty of money into the Kickstarter. If I’d been asked at the start, “We’re thinking of erring in favour of pencil sketches for illustrations, is that okay?” I think my response would have been along the lines of “Don’t you bloody dare!”
But, dare they did.
And, do you know what; it’s won me over. It took a few readings, though, but it works. It feels Tolkien-esq. It feels Middle-earth. It works.
I’m yet to get my printed version of the game, and I hope the art style works as well there. Does the illustration and art style stand up to the Jon Hodgson directed efforts of the first edition? Just, but I think the original wins.
Broadly speaking, I’ve no complaints about the look and feel of the game. The art is good.
The way Free League, Francesco Nepitello and Marco Maggi present and emphasise certain bits of information helps create a Middle-earth vibe. Importantly, at no point do you think you’re playing D&D without the dungeons.
There’s a patron for every Fellowship, just as Gandalf acted in the books. The Shadow might be almost unstoppable corruption, a persistent force that seems unbeatable, but there’s always someone with a plan who can point the heroes at a spark of hope and send them on their way.
The One Ring second edition is less about “what shall we do?” and more about “how shall we do it?” and “can we manage that?”.
In fact, one of the themes in The One Ring 2e is that people don’t generally have a sandboxed view of their world. They see as far as the horizon and have few reasons to go any further. There might be plenty of Middle-earth, but characters don’t need to worry about it. Not unless a Patron encourages a Fellowship to form and sends them on a quest.
I admit; I opened up my PDF version of The One Ring 2e with some trepidation. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust Free League. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the design team was the same. It was because I really enjoyed my experiences with The One Ring 1e, and I knew it was a challenging game to write and run.
I’m glad the expert touch has come through. Now the beacon of responsibility has passed to the people who’re going to play. Players have to remember the setting and create Fellowship characters who contribute to the epic. The Loremaster has even more work.
The Lord of the Rings challenge of weaving a story that fells LotR but may not get too deep into the tale of the Ring remains because that story is told already.
It’s two thumbs up for me for the digital version. I hope I backed the huge Kickstarter at a special dice level, though.
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