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

jeremypowell

Adventurer
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.

You’re right. What’s more, apparently at some point along the way Tolkien Enterprises changed its name to Middle-earth Enterprises. Thanks for prompting me to reinvestigate the whole Saul Zaentz Company licensing situation.
 

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R_Chance

Adventurer
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.


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.


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.
I don't think anyone said they were entitled to character generation, just that they needed to see it before they decided their level of interest. And I think they are right :) The rest of the rules might be OK, but with Middle Earth the main draw is the setting. Pretty maps and lore will draw interest / purchases. Character generation is a large part of any RPG. If it turns out to be... "brown and smelly"... well, pretty maps and some rules... not an RPG you want to play. So, why would you not supply some pared down PC gen rules? It's like "test driving" a car by sitting in it on the lot. My 2 cp of course and ymmv.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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?

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.
Have you considered the possibility that your opinion isn’t necessarily shared by other experienced gamers?
 

Have you considered the possibility that your opinion isn’t necessarily shared by other experienced gamers?
This.

I don’t much care about chargen specifics when considering a new system, other than I guess a general sense of the range of possibilities. I care more about the mechanics and the setting. All of which I can get with just pre-gens.

I can see @GreyLord feels very strongly about this, but I don’t share their concern. Sounds to me like what they should be buying (in general) are PDFs of core rule books, which are usually cheaper than starter sets, and contain full chargen.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
This.

I don’t much care about chargen specifics when considering a new system, other than I guess a general sense of the range of possibilities. I care more about the mechanics and the setting. All of which I can get with just pre-gens.

I can see @GreyLord feels very strongly about this, but I don’t share their concern. Sounds to me like what they should be buying (in general) are PDFs of core rule books, which are usually cheaper than starter sets, and contain full chargen.
Agreed. And honestly to me, a starter set is very very useful for an experienced GM to introduce noobs to the game.


But in terms of the importance of chargen, I get it, but I don’t care how satisfying it is if the game mechanics suck otherwise. OTOH, boring chargen with really good gameplay is still a solid maybe, for me.

Unless the PC rules are complex. If you want to make chargen kinda boring with 3 classes and very little customization, and the mechanics used to run a character are also very simple, great! But don’t even show me a game with 4e level mechanical and tactical complexity, and those same 3 classes with little customization.
 

MockingBird

Explorer
I love starter sets but I'd have to agree, it is slightly annoying when they dont include (at the very least) some way to generate characters. If we love the new system and continue playing beyond the starter set my players feel trapped in the pregen. We had this issue with the first 5e starter set. I offered to let them create new characters once the rule book dropped but they didnt want break what we had going.
 

I have both generations of the C7 game and am a Kickstarter backer for the Free League version. They do some fantastic products so I'm looking forward to the final delivery.

The pdfs look great, and on initial scan there doesn't appear to be significant changes from C7's last edition so there should be good compatibility with older products. IIRC I saw a "conversion" document but there wasn't much required.

Personally I'm always excited to get some nice maps ... and hoping this allows a product on Moria to see the light of day, which C7 had in development when they lost the license.
 


Jiggawatts

Adventurer
What a beautiful Starter Set. I love Starter Sets. Will definitely be getting this one, and I still need to snag the new RuneQuest one too.
 

Harlath

Explorer
The pdfs look great, and on initial scan there doesn't appear to be significant changes from C7's last edition so there should be good compatibility with older products. IIRC I saw a "conversion" document but there wasn't much required.
From experience I'm delighted that it is very easy to convert 1e adventures and monsters. A culture takes a little bit more work as you have to think about translating things to 2e's style (e.g. making things "Inspired" or "Favoured"), but that's pretty straightforward and then are lots of fan conversions for cultures and monsters online already. :)
 


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