Go Down The Hobbit Hole Of The One Ring Starter Set

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Dungeons & Dragons has offered players a chance to get their medieval fantasy stories on for years but there’s always been a desire to play in Middle-Earth and let folks show off how much lore they’ve absorbed from Tolkien. There have been several official RPGs over the years with The One Ring performing well in the eyes of many fans of the films and the books. Free League Publishing acquired the license, held a blockbuster Kickstarter last year for a new edition, and sent me review copies of the material that’s due to be released early this year.

Starter sets are tricky because they need to be accessible enough to get people unwilling to buy a new RPG to try out the set but they also need to have some utility for folks beyond their initial adventures. The One Ring Starter Set aims to please both of these desires by focusing on a popular element of Middle-Earth: The Shire. Both Frodo and Bilbo Baggins start their adventures in the cozy confines of The Shire, so it makes sense for players to do so too. The tales being told with the boxed set aren’t the world shaking epics of Return of the King, but more about Hobbits stumbling into adventure, getting into trouble and out of it again. Writers James Spahn and Francesco Nepitello also make an argument that this boxed set is a good choice for use with kids wanting to get into RPGs. The fairy tale feel of The Shire still offers plenty of good stories without the darker elements of the world like ringwraiths or Sauron.

The production values of the boxed set are top notch as one would expect from a Free League game. The maps of The Shire and Eriador are suitable for framing. They include one of my favorite details from the excellent Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Starter Set where you can set up the box as a GM screen thanks to important rules printed on the back lit. They also make the curious choice to include a set of cards that cover rules not included in the starter set. Perhaps they wanted to future proof the box a bit more or maybe they figured selling these cards on their own wouldn’t work from a profitability standpoint. The three books included are also in an odd order, with the adventures first, the rules second and The Shire book rightfully last. It’s a nitpicky detail to be sure, but many other starter sets have a very deliberate packing order to help players walk through their experience.

The rules are fairly simple with a central d12 called the Feat die assisted by d6 skill dice looking to hit a target number. The basic target number comes from character attributes with difficulty adjusted by raising or lowering the d6 pool or by using an advantage/disadvantage mechanic with the feat die. This pool generates additional success when the dice top out which can be spent on various effects like bypassing armor or learning more information. As characters get tired from travelling and take damage from fights, their rolls become less effective until they rest. A character who loses too much endurance carrying a lot of equipment, for example, becomes weary and can’t add low numbers to their dice rolls. The One Ring focuses on the toll the journey takes on the heroes which does a lot to differentiate itself from other RPGs where combat is the main focus.

The adventure book contains five stories that help players learn the rules bit by bit. The game being set after The Hobbit but before The Fellowship of the Ring allows the pre-generated characters to connect to the heroes of the main stories in unusual ways. Players can even unlock “canon” characters to play in later adventures of the series. The stories feel like they could be played in an evening or two. They center around Bilbo Baggins needing help with information to include in The Red Book of Westmarch and enlisting friends to serve that purpose. The adventures are solid, though I would like to see more guidance for moving the story forward should the players fail the rolls they need to make while learning the system.

The Shire book makes the strongest argument for purchase by players who have already bought the core rules. The book includes a breakdown of different parts of the area while including various rumor tables and charts with inspirational encounter suggestions. This is useful for GMs who want to extend their adventures in The Shire while also proving useful to groups with the full book who may want to return there for a while. These tables are a source for tables who want some intrusions of darkness into The Shire with the results of rolling Sauron’s Eye on the Feat dice showing that a darkness is coming outside the Hobbit world’s borders.

The One Ring Starter Set seems poised for the best success with fans of the films or the books. It also seems like a good choice for people who have tried Dungeons & Dragons but want something that’s a little more narrative while still full of fantasy flavor. Setting the game in between the main stories reminds me of the classic WEG Star Wars RPG: there’s a lot of stuff that’s name checked for players to explore but the world hasn’t been uprooted by the main story yet. Tolkien told a lot of these side stories in his own writings and this box gives players a chance to fill in even more gaps of Middle-Earth’s history.
 
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Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

I got to the last paragraph of that review and when I saw WEG Starwars reference and I was immediately hit with feelings about how happy I would be if Free Leauge had the Starwars License.

This was followed by how disappointed I was when the sequel trilogy came out out and how much worse it was than the WEG starwars games we had played set post Jedi. (That's is not bragging about the quality of our story telling as 14 year old kids)
 

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Von Ether

Legend
I really dislike the trend of starter sets...or more to the point, starter sets which have NO CHARACTER GENERATION rules.

Give me a set where I can create my OWN characters after the initial play through. THAT will do FAR more in getting me interested in a system, or knowing if I am interested in a system than simply making me play through with pre-generated characters in pre-generated adventures. That gives a taste, but not enough of a taste to know whether you like it or not.

It's like going to a coffee shop and them letting you have a sniff...not a REAL taste, just a sniff. How can you know if you REALLY actually like the coffee after that?

Not that this really has anything to do with this starter set, except that the review indicates that it continues this trend that started some years ago of offering a starter set that's really not much of an offer for how much they normally cost (give me the material offered for $2 or maybe free and I might consider it something worthwhile, but as it is...these starter sets aren't starter sets as they don't really start anything (unless you want EVERYONE to have the EXACT SAME CHARACTERS), and more like a small sampling of a small part of the game (IMO).

In otherwords, no intention of getting the starter set from what I read in the review, which means, though I like the creators and their stuff, no closer to being convinced to try out the One Ring either.

For me, that's a sign the game is medium crunch and character creation is not RPG total newbie friendly.

For example, I can get entire party of neophytes making characters with no further need to go back to the rulebook and playing in under half an hour when using Tiny d6 or Fate Accelerated. Or I can get one new player to the group up and going in under 5 minutes and minimal downtime.

To accomplish the same effect with D&D, you will need pre-gens that have every ability cut and pasted into the sheet.

My frustration with that is we go around and around at our local game store when they ask for someone to run a newbie game. I'd rather use a very newb friendly game vs D&D but others are like, "but what they are asking for is D&D." Of course those voice don't mention there are easier alternatives if a newb is overwhelmed. Some assume the newb may not be "smart" enough for RPGs. (ego tied to system mastery raises it's head again.)

I'm frustrated enough, and it's probably not fair, but when some say preg-gens are a solution, I'd want to call it a crutch.

And that's my only my opinion. I'm sure pre-gens are good enough, but I too would rather have them go through character creation as well.
 

Aldarc

Legend
Probably not.

I would have thought the target market would be people INTERESTED in trying out a new RPG who might actually buy the full game if they liked what they saw....

But apparently not?
This starter set is meant to introduce the basic rules of the game, which it does. I will try out the One Ring 2e first with the starter set before I go deeper into the Core Rulebook. I personally don't need or even want the character creation rules for what I want out of the Starter Set. Just because you feel entitled to the character creation rules for this stellar product doesn't mean that the product somehow fails at its intent as a starter set. Honestly, from what I can tell, this starter set almost stands alone as its own mini-game, which is quite nice.

If the market is to try to attract NEW players who have NEVER PLAYED an RPG before (arguably what these Starter Sets are supposed to be doing) I'd say it's a lost cause, because most new players will gravitate to something that they know about more and easier to find (Such as D&D, which as I mentioned before, has a starter set but also a direct link with it [or it did, I suppose the news ones still do] where one could get all the Basic rules as well). People not familiar to RPGs do not normally target your FLGS, they go to stores like Walmart or Target where they can find the D&D starter set (but none of these other starter sets made for them apparently).

When I see things like this, that try to copy the D&D starter set idea, without actually realizing the marketing behind it and how it works (direct them to actual rules where you can create the character and a full game if you want to guide them to the even fuller game of the Core 3, etc) it does not surprise me when they have sales that are NOWHERE close to D&D, or even to what they COULD be if the actually used these tools effectively.

So, in that light, perhaps I and many others who have played RPGs and don't need to be introduced to the concept, but would like a sample of whether a game is good or bad before we dive fully in are NOT the key audience they are catering too (though with the way they MARKET these starter sets, they would have a LOT more sales if they actually made the sets to cater to those who are RPG players looking for something beyond just D&D these days).

They are trying to attract those who never played an RPG before...but don't make their starter sets available to those who have never played an RPG before by putting these starters sets in Target, Walmart, etc. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Sure, they are at the FLGS (or some of them), but that's not catering to their target audience in that case, or at least with how these Starter Sets are designed.
This gish-galloping rant seems incredibly detached from any and everything about this Starter Set. It's mostly just whining that Free League didn't make the starter set for The One Ring to be just like Hasbro did with D&D and then faulting The One Ring for not having the market reach that D&D has as a result of Hasbro.

For me, that's a sign the game is medium crunch and character creation is not RPG total newbie friendly.
Character creation is not complicated. The Core Rulebook guides one through it pretty quickly. It involves picking cultures (e.g., Shire Hobbits, Bardings, Men of Bree, etc.) with a set of attributes in a list, choosing a skill or two, choosing your calling (which gives a skill and feature), and some points for further customization.

But with this starter set, they wanted to focus on introducing the system by having it be about hobbits in the Shire. Pre-made characters are just easier for picking this up and playing.
 

Setting the game in between the main stories...

Just wanting to point out that this was their only choice and not just an option they chose to do, as this is the same license that Cubicle 7 originally published the game under, and the license only allows them to use the time period from The Hobbit to LotR for the setting of the adventures. Basically the same as the Peter Jackson films. Yes, they can reference the time before The Hobbit, like the films do, but they can't set adventures in the past or do lore books set in the past.
 

Character creation is not complicated. The Core Rulebook guides one through it pretty quickly. It involves picking cultures (e.g., Shire Hobbits, Bardings, Men of Bree, etc.) with a set of attributes in a list, choosing a skill or two, choosing your calling (which gives a skill and feature), and some points for further customization.

But with this starter set, they wanted to focus on introducing the system by having it be about hobbits in the Shire. Pre-made characters are just easier for picking this up and playing.

A review of the full game is forthcoming (Free League sent me that too) but yeah, character creation isn't very heavy at all.
 



Yes, they can reference the time before The Hobbit, like the films do, but they can't set adventures in the past or do lore books set in the past.
While this is true, there's also a very great deal of pre-Hobbit lore they are not permitted even to mention: anything that is not mentioned between the covers of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, the licensing of which is controlled by Tolkien Enterprises (now called Middle-earth Enterprises, which licenses games rights to Sophisticated Games), from whom Free League acquired their sublicense to produce the RPG.

This means that, for example, the name Morgoth can appear in a TOR book, but his name in Quenya, Melkor, cannot, because the latter doesn't appear in either of the books that form the basis of their license. Khamûl cannot be the name of a Nazgûl in a TOR book. And, like Jackson's films, TOR can mention that there are a total of five Istari, because that is mentioned in LOTR, but they cannot give the two missing wizards' names as Pallando/Rómestamó and Alatar/Morinehtar. The Tolkien Estate is very protective of the boundary between the two IP clusters, because they don't own the Hobbit and LOTR licenses and need to preserve their rights to everything else (and their ability to profit from those rights). For Middle-earth Role-playing, back in the '80s and '90s, Iron Crown Enterprises had a (limited) agreement with the Estate in addition to their main license from Tolkien Enterprises, which is why Pallando and Alatar could be included in their games. (They also frequently overstepped this limited license, usually without repercussion because the Estate wasn't monitoring things quite as closely back then.)

One silver lining is that Free League's license does include the LOTR Appendices, where a lot of lore that doesn't make it into those two books' main narratives can be found. The other silver lining is that we're mostly only talking about lore rather than missing mechanics, and, well, if a TOR GM cares enough about Middle-earth lore then The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales are sitting on their shelf, and those basically just are the lorebooks that Free League isn't allowed to publish.

We will most likely soon enough see a second Middle-earth RPG, probably from a different publisher, based on The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, etc., licensed from the Estate rather than Tolkien Middle-earth Enterprises. Unless The Rings of Power bombs badly.
 
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Well, I backed the Kickstarter where the core rules book and the starter set were included at the same level, so I’m getting them both. Honestly, the Starter set seemed to have more maps and stuff that I am interested in, with the core rules just being the reference book. They work in quite a complimentary way, I feel.
 

While this is true, there's also a very great deal of pre-Hobbit lore they are not permitted even to mention: anything that is not mentioned between the covers of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, the licensing of which is controlled by Tolkien Enterprises, from whom Free League acquired their license to produce the RPG.

One silver lining is that Free League's license does include the LOTR Appendices, where a lot of lore that doesn't make it into those two books' main narratives can be found. The other silver lining is that we're mostly only talking about lore rather than missing mechanics, and, well, if a TOR GM cares enough about Middle-earth lore then The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales are sitting on their shelf, and those basically just are the lorebooks that Free League isn't allowed to publish.

It is even a bit more complicated. Sophisticated Games owns the license and they did a deal with C7 for a sub-license that allowed them to make ToR and AiME. Then when SG and C7 had their falling out/went their separate ways, as far as I know, that same sub-license went to Free League, rather than a brand-new license just for them. This is why they have all the same restrictions that C7 had. It is the exact same license, with the same limitations. If I remember right, though, as with the films, they do have access to use everything in the appendices in LotR, which is how they can bring in some elements from Middle-Earth's distant past.

 

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