What do Dungeon Masters and Real Estate Agents have in common? They know the importance of location, location, location. The first book of Free League Publishing’s One Ring line, Ruins of the Lost Realm offers a mix of famous locations as well as new ones that are drawn from writings as well as ones made up for the book. The book also includes a few threats and really seems Loremaster focused to answer the question of how to build campaigns in the game. The review copy from Free League arrived just before a trip to the Tolkien collection in Milwaukee put me in the mood to revisit the game. Did it make me want to return to Middle Earth? Let’s play to find out.
Designers Gareth Hanrahan along with additional writers Francesco Nepitello, Michael Duxbury, David Esbri, Lorenzo Fanelli, Sara Gianotto and Diogo Nogueria break the book into three main sections. There’s a chapter on the city of Tharbad which is built up as a place that’s half home base for players and half a space for a mini campaign of urban adventures. The second chapter focuses on looming threats in the area and how they might cross paths with the players. The final chapter includes several small locations built using the structure mentioned in the core book. Ruins of the Lost Realm continues the excellent look of the core book and starter set featuring gorgeous two page spreads before every chapter and detailed line art within the chapters of the people and locations detailed in the text. My copy also included a fold out map of the first location detailed in the book; the ruined city of Tharbad.
The chapter on Tharbad opens with something of a confession that the authors are taking liberties with canon. The city is described as ruined in Lord of the Rings but the authors take that to mean that there are still people there, just not ones in a good way. The city is detailed as under the rule of a bandit lord named Master Gurnow who ekes out protection money from those living in the city and tolls from anyone who happens to wander by along with some nearby locations that might draw players to the city. There are some NPCs that could become allies of the players, such as Amelia Kern, a retired burglar who might have just enough of a heart of gold to lead a rebellion to Gurnow’s son Tharnow, who might not want to wait around for his dad to die naturally before taking over the family business. Tharbad presents itself both as an adventure location and as a place with enough detail to be a headquarters in between journeys that’s not quite as placid as Rivendell or The Shire. I like the idea of a more Mos Eisley base of operations for a campaign since Tharbad’s destiny isn’t already set by the books.
The next chapter deals with threats large and small to the area. The small threats include hooks for things like rumors of beasts and the current occupants of Moria. Larger threats include raiders and the agents of Saruman. Saruman is the most interesting write up as he’s presented as a complicated ally. He could even be a patron if the characters are interested in seeking out Ring lore or the ways of Sauron. At this point he’s described as interested in these ideas but not yet the fully obsessed evil we see in the books. Playing a campaign where the players watch his descent into one of the Big Bads from the inside could prove interesting and the idea would never have occurred to me without this book.
The final section includes several adventure locations. These will be familiar to fans of Free League’s other works such as Forbidden Lands or Mutant Year Zero. Each location contains a map, details of important bits and the NPCs who live there. They range from a dwarven mine full of ancient blades and a long forgotten beast to Weathertop, where Gandalf clashes with ringwraiths. Each section opens up with a rumor, followed by old lore that the players find upon seeking out the truth before starting a journey. I like this structure for adventure because it gives players a chance to choose what adventures to seek out even as the journeys are where the tale truly lies. While not structured as an obvious campaign book, using all the locations within would give a table a solid slate of adventures assuming they handled each location in a session or two and spend a few nights on the liberation of Tharbad.
Ruins of the Lost Realm shows Loremasters how to walk the line between using official sources and making Middle Earth unique to their campaign.