Licensed games are a double edged sword for Game Masters. On the one hand, the world building is done and players have bought into a setting they love. On the other hand, it can be tough to create adventures that feel important to the setting. How can players feel like heroes if the big villain’s fate is already known. One of the ways to answer this question is by setting the game in a period between official sources. West End Games classic Star Wars RPG did this by initially setting their game in between the first two films. Free League did the same with The One Ring by placing it in between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Tales From The Lone-Lands offers six stories set in this fruitful void with a mix of one off stories and a short campaign for player-Heroes to set upon. Free League sent along a review copy for me to check out. Did the adventures make me want to sing an epic song about them? Let’s play to find out.
Gareth Hanrahan is credited as the lead designer of the book. It’s structured in a way that reminds me of how TV shows play out. There’s an overarching story but there are also unrelated one off episodes that take the tension off the main storyline for a bit. The main storyline has everything you would expect out of a Middle Earth story: a long lost lineage, a magic item to be found, an ancient evil to be vanquished, and so on. The standalone episodes offer tighter stories that connect with previously established elements from the books or from Ruins of the Lost Realm. These stories are much easier to slide into an ongoing campaign.
The book provides options to help Loremasters fit these stories into their games. Each adventure has alternate opening suggestions and there’s a section on how to choose the right character to be the Heir connected to the larger storyline. I appreciate options like this, but I would have liked to have seen more in the other direction. I wanted more ways for the Loremaster to weave foreshadowing and elements from the main story into the stand alone episodes. There are also a couple moments where the designer blocks an option which felt a little jarring after so many open ended suggestions.
Spoilers for the adventures follow. If you don’t want to know the details, here’s my takeaway from the book: I enjoyed Tales From The Lone-Lands as a good short campaign for The One Ring, but the desire to keep things open ended keeps it from being a great one.
The book kicks off with “A Troll-Hole If There Ever Was One” which finds the players hanging out at The Prancing Pony just long enough to be drawn into an adventure by a gregarious dwarf. Sure, you all meet at an inn is cliche, but this is the inn from which that cliche was born which is nice. It adds some flavor to the adventure which imports another gaming cliche from a different genre: Mr. Johnson is trying to kill you. The dwarf keeps hiring adventures to lead into a Troll ambush so the Trolls can eat them instead of him. Complications arise when the heroes discover there are some innocents in the Troll’s larder so they can’t just go into full battle mode. This was probably my least favorite adventure of the set as in leans into some tropes that I thought were long since dead.
“Messing About In Boats” kicks off the main storyline by sending the heroes to an island where one discovers they descend from an ancient hero who didn’t completely defeat the evil they are known for defeating. It adds some excellent flavor to the longer campaign even if I did wish that there was broader discussion about making the Heir from any one of the cultures in the game. There are also some journey rules for sea travel which expand one of the most interesting parts of the game.
“Kings of Little Kingdoms” is my favorite adventure in the collection and I don’t think its a coincidence that it’s also the funniest. An outlaw gets the bright idea to pretend he’s Gandalf so the old wizard gets blamed for his crimes. The story is full of cranky characters and awkward misunderstandings that make it feel distinct from the other stories in the volume. It also seems placed in the middle because the second half gets dark.
The longest of the standalone adventures, “Not To Strike Without Need” has almost a Western feel to it. It involves a Ranger, a criminal and the players caught between their need for the criminal to help a friend and the Ranger needing the criminal to protect a family member. This adventure deals with Tharbad which was detailed more extensively in Ruins of the Lost Realm. It will be much more useful for folks who own that book but even without those details it can play out as a taut little thriller.
The main plot shifts into gear with “Wonder of the Northern World” which puts the players on the trail of an orc army after they slaughter a Dwarf settlement. The leader of the orcs is painted a great villain with a grisly calling card of severing the hands of any who oppose him in battle. The orcs are empowered by the dark forces battled in the final scenario, so taking him out put the heroes on a path to that final conflict. There’s one change I would probably make, though. I would keep the leader alive and captured with the army to give the players a bit more urgency in pursuing them. Any information needed from his grisly execution scene in the original could just as easily be delivered as the last gasping breaths of another dwarf.
Everything comes to a head in “The Quest of Amon Guthros”. This adventure is a fairly traditional dungeon and benefits from Free League’s location based format the most. There are a whole lot of undead creatures to battle and outwit and even a dark pit where something or someone can be thrown to save the day. Here the multiple options work to the book’s advantage as the endgame offers many choices to defeat the big bad, including using the magic item, a heroic self sacrifice or even having the player’s patron ride in to save the day.
Tales of the Lone-Lands offers a solid mini campaign, though it’s much better for Loremasters who also have Ruins of the Lost Realm. Putting the books together provides plenty of adventures i Middle Earth, even if some are better than others.