Saturday, 25 February 2012

The One Ring - play test review

We've started playing The One Ring by Cubicle 7 and I must say it's not bad. I've always felt the RPG industry lacked a decent Middle Earth game ever since the demise of MERP back in the early 1990s. MERP (Middle Earth Roleplaying) was such a ubiquitous system in the 1980s and while the clunky Rolemaster system is derided by people I've been gaming with more recently, the rich supplements ICE came up with for Tolkien's world - painting in some of the gaps with vivid and lustrous colours (remember Ardor?) - have never been matched.

Enter The One Ring last year. This is a game which feels very much like Pendragon goes to Middle Earth. Character generation was very easy as it turns out. We've now got four PCs: Brunenhilde, a woman of the Woodfolk, two Beorning cousins, Sigeric of the White Mountain and Bjorn son of Bjorn, and a Barding from Lake Town called Brand son of Brigmar. You choose your cultural background, your role in the world (e.g. my character Sigeric is a Warden), and what motivates you, along with some interesting traits. This will then determine your Attributes and Skills, which can also be tweaked a little later in chargen to make your PC truly unique.

Equipment is also easily managed: you simply choose a set of weapons based again on your background culture and then pick some armour. The latter is dictated less by what you can afford to buy, and more by what you can afford to wear. Heavy armour slows you down when travelling, contributing to Fatigue.

In our first adventure we went in search of a pair of missing dwarves who had been taking a message to the Lord of the Eagles. Believe it or not, we did not fight a battle in the entire first session. Apart from seeing some mysterious lights in a marsh while camped one night, we didn't encounter any serious opposition.

The simplicity of the system means you can focus more on role-playing. It defines your character more according to who he is in terms of his standing within his culture than his combat stats. This feels more like a fantasy role playing game than Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons. Consequently, our Barding, while a skilled archer, is not so good when he is out in the field. A wealthy city boy, he is out of his depth when blundering around in the woods, as he lacks the skills needed. Sigeric, my Beorning, is an intimidating warrior with a massive spear, but his awareness of his surroundings is poor and his interpersonal skills leave a lot to be desired. This all boils down to the possibility of playing sessions with no combat and still having a good time.

Travel seems to be quite dangerous however. This game is set in and around Mirkwood forest, where a shadow is growing and evil is on the march, despite the victory over the goblins at the Battle of Five Armies a few years earlier. Characters become quite depressed when journeying through areas afflicted by evil, and the atmosphere weighs them down. This accrues Shadow points, which can make your PC Miserable once Shadow exceeds Hope. This is an oft-used mechanic in the game, and Shadow also keeps PCs on the straight and narrow much of the time: any behaviour that is out of character with the ideals of Tolkien's heroes (e.g. Brand abused a boatman who was acting as our guide) can lead to picking up Shadow fairly quickly (a GM award in this case). I like this. None of us have reached the point where Shadow gets the better of Hope, but I'm sure it is only a matter of time, as Siguric currently has Shadow 8 to his Hope 11.

Hope can be used to help boost dice scores in the game, but it means your Hope score will drop while your Shadow rises. Your hero strives but it is possible he will eventually become afflicted by the futility of his task (think about Frodo and Sam's many dialogues on the rocky road to Mordor). Deciding when to spend Hope is a tough call during the game. As novice adventurers, our characters seem somewhat vulnerable to Shadow, and become quickly depressed when traversing areas of wilderness afflicted by Shadow. It is a hostile environment, and the Fellowship/party can't remain inside dangerous areas of Mirkwood for more than a few days at a time.

The party is convened as a Fellowship, with a distinct objective. This gives it more meaning than a simple ''meet in a tavern to do some plundering" game, although this too has its charm for me. We've finally alighted on the goal of making the Old Forest Road safe for travellers, which seems a little more achievable than simply clearing Mirkwood of all evil. Our Fellowship also has a base at Laketown, although we may move this once we find somewhere closer to the Old Forest Road. The Fellowship has some stats of its own, like Fellowship points, which are a source of additional Hope if you need it. This is a nod to the excellent Karma mechanic in Shadowrun, which I loved.

Combat is streamlined too. I think we may have forgotten to factor in armour in the only battle we have played to date, however. Battles are defined by what zone you are in - e.g. whether you are going toe to toe, attacking the foe, whether you are hanging back, or whether you are defending other characters. They are not overly complex, and don't seem to burn up vast amount of gaming time. There is no detail, for instance, on subduing with non-lethal damage, although that is what we were doing in our first combat, nor are there intricate rules covering items like nets (we were trying to entangle a foe and then beat him senseless rather than kill him). But a GM prepared to improvise can get around this and hey, who says you need a combat system with rules for every eventuality?

Finally, because the setting is Middle Earth, all the players are automatically familiar with it, and can drop rapidly into the mannerisms and mores of the setting. This is also a strength of games like Call of Cthulhu and Star Wars, which employ familiar settings. It would make this a great game to bring beginners into RPGs.

I will blog more on TOR once we've had more time to play it, but thus far I'm really enjoying it.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you're enjoying it Stuart; I've been having fun running it, and it is an easy game to run, even if I've forgotten a few details here and there.

    Regarding armour, it comes into play when a wound is suffered, but so far all damage has been non-lethal, so it hasn't yet come into play. We'll see what happens in next week's battle with the orc patrol!

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