Bree Sourcebook Review

Cubicle 7 came out with its most recent accessory for The One Ring RPG, a book simply called Bree which is all about the lands and creatures of Mordor and… I’m just kidding. It’s all about the town of Bree and places within a day’s walk from the town. Bree has an important place in the lore of The Lord of the Rings and is the scene of just about two chapters in the Fellowship of the Rings. Those might seem like contradictory assessments but the importance of Bree is not in its size, its influence, or in battles, and the merits of this book are the same.

The stories of J. R. R. Tolkien are grand and spreading, stories that command attention through their sheer size and strength. It’s easy to forget, then, that some of the most memorable parts of the books are in small, relatively unimportant parts of Middle-earth. Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy start off in such an out-of-the-way backwater that most in the wider world haven’t heard of it or the hobbits that live there. The main characters of those books constantly refer back to the intimate lands of their home and the juxtaposition between massive armies and tiny vegetable gardens gives depth and weight to both parts of Tolkien’s tales. The same thing can happen in your campaigns and, while we don’t have a Shire book yet, Bree can give you the perfect small-town setting to explore the quainter parts of Middle-earth.

A History of Bree-land

This first chapter sets the stage for the book, starting with confusion. No one really knows how old the town of Bree is or who first settled in the area, providing Loremasters with plenty of room to maneuver and also setting up Bree as a simple town without much use for “book learning.” During the time of Cardolan, there was a settlement here but it was abandoned when Angmar destroyed the Dunédain in a sweep of plagues that also woke “evil things in the oldest barrows west of Bree.” Things stood empty for about a century until hobbits arrived in 1300 (some sixteen hundred years before the Battle of Five Armies), possibly beating the “Big Folk” there or possibly joining already rebuilt settlements. The area has seen its share of fighting in small batches over the years but it’s been quiet for more than a century by the time Thorin’s band passed east toward the Misty Mountains.

The One Ring - The Pigs of Bree
Image © Cubicle 7 Entertainment

All of this is to say that there are legacies of the past around the town of Bree but if adventurers roll into town they are likely to be the biggest news around. It also means that you could run a campaign of Bree-residents living quiet lives until some vestige of the past or even some new danger rears its head and calls them from their simple lives (maybe with a dinner party or birthday fireworks?) to start adventuring. Is there really enough in the area to occupy players for long? Well the next chapter will let us know.

Bree-land & Around

In the old tongue, we’re told, “bree” means hill so the town of Bree which rests at the foot of Bree-hill is actually the town of Hill at the foot of Hill-hill. This is a super-English thing to me and I like it a lot. The top of Bree-hill has a watchtower and observers there can see Weathertop to the east, the Old Forest to the west, and the Chetwood to the north. The Greenway runs north-south through Bree and the East Road runs east-west (there’s even a Fellowship Undertaking to guard that one). So… there’s a lot to do around here.

Around the hill itself is the town of Bree (five pages of info, including four NPCs) on the west side, the town of Staddle (two pages of info, including the “Great Smial of Staddle” which is basically a Hobbit fort-mansion) on the east side, and the agrarian town of Combe (just one page but with a real jerk of an NPC to use). The tiny town of Archet is nearby in the eaves of the Chetwood, which also holds the Wood-castle (a natural rock outcrop that serves Archet as a fortress) and the Elf-dell (where Frodo and Sam spot some Wood Elves in the Fellowship).

Western Bree-land is the last area discussed and it’s more of an open, rolling land leading from Bree-land to the River Brandywine and the eastern reaches of the Shire. It’s mostly uninhabited which makes it a great place to set adventures. Even aside from the Old Forest mentioned above (full of grumpy, aggressive trees… though somewhat lacking in detail here), there’s an island in the Brandywine where the local Rangers need help building a refuge and an abandoned Hobbit-manse called the Hall of Orgulas (said to be haunted by something called the “Deepdelver”).

The Prancing Pony

The One Ring - Bree-house
Image © Cubicle 7 Entertainment

Easily the most iconic place in Bree is the Prancing Pony, overseen by one Barnabas Butterbur (father of the innkeeper who meets Frodo and company in the Fellowship of the Rings). This inn is described in exacting detail with four pages of text and a two-page map spread that is just gorgeous. Again, one might wonder why so much attention is being paid to a tiny location: this isn’t even a bustling city like Lake-town and the inhabitants are constantly shifting.

That’s sort of the point, actually. If you have a group staying in Bree for an extended period (perhaps even years) and they don’t have a home there they will likely be seeing a lot of the Prancing Pony’s common room. Even if they are locals with houses in town, the inn is a major social hub with people coming in and out. Aficionados of Dungeons & Dragons don’t need to be told the value of a good tavern in starting an adventure off but this also serves to anchor the story and show off the character of Bree.

In between trips to the Barrow-downs, and when the party stops on their way from the ruins of Fornost to Buckland, Bree is the transition zone where the story shifts. It can be a first glimpse of the strange wider world like it was for Frodo and company, or it can be a downshift from the heady wilds of Rhovanion into the staid farmlands of the Shire. To that end, this chapter includes a table to come up with random guests to encounter when staying at the inn. Roll a d12 Feat Die to determine the type of folk and then a d6 to see if they are just common travelers (1-5) or someone special (6). For example, you might run into Folk from Archet, Shire-Hobbits out hunting, or Dwarves heading west or east between mountain ranges. If you get a special guest, that can include a Forester from Archet recruiting help to hunt a troll, Bilbo Baggins traveling by disguise, or a Dwarf messenger for the King Under the Mountain. Every trip to the Prancing Pony should remind the group that this is the premier tavern in a busy crossroads city, even if it doesn’t lead to any more adventure.

An Empty Land

This very short (two page) chapter is dedicated to providing guidance to those running Bree-land adventures, giving descriptions and points of interest to keep things immersive. As it points out, this is a quiet land with few people living there so how do you make it stand out?

Well, for me the solution is not using this chapter. This is the only disappointing part of Bree for me as it amounts to a lot of “just stretch things out.” Here, I’ll sum it up for you so that you don’t have to read these pages yourself: things are flat so make it sound weary, describe lots of boggy areas to make characters more annoyed, throw in random relics of past ages (none are given, so make up your own), have the weather change sometimes, and describe the plants and animals in detail because they’re the only stuff around. This really seems like a recipe to make the land some more of a grind and if that’s the plan then I say just go for it. I’m sure this part will be interesting to somebody but it’s not me and I cannot for the life of me imagine this person.

The One Ring - The Prancing Pony
Image © Cubicle 7 Entertainment

Adventuring in Bree

“Bree is safe,” the chapter informs us. “Bree is homely. Bree is, to be honest, rather dull – and that is its charm… Let Bree be the quiet place the companions return to, or where they meet their allies, or where they hear strange stories by the fire in The Pony.” Still, there are plenty of ways for adventure to reach characters in Bree. A series of adventure hooks starts off this chapter (from traveling Dwarves to mysterious corpses) and there several new Fellowship Undertakings (including patrolling Bree-land, exploring the Chetwood, or becoming a Regular at The Pony). You can also write and send a letter, which is much more interesting than it sounds.

Men of Bree

This new heroic culture will be familiar to players of Adventures in Middle-earth but it’s brand new to The One Ring. They are a Prosperous, friendly people who can make stalwart additions to an adventuring company even if their origins aren’t terribly exciting. They are easier to scare with unnatural things but harder to corrupt and they can have connections to people from all over Middle-earth in their backgrounds. There are also Bree-hobbits given in a sidebar which are Hobbits of the Shier with some changes to mesh them with this new Bree culture.

The Adventures

There are three adventures included in this book, probably to jog the Loremaster’s imagination for how to utilize Bree. Between all three of these you should be able to have quite a fun little mini-campaign covering the better part of a decade even if you only follow up on leads the characters produce between these adventures and the hooks provided elsewhere.

Old Bones and Skin is a story about a young Bree-hobbit who spins a tale of some monster in the local graveyard, a tale which turns out to be true as a monster is digging up bodies. In the course of driving the beast off, the company finds a treasure map that leads to even greater excitement.

Strange Men, Strange Roads concerns the murder of a Ranger of the North and the investigation to determine what happened. The truth involves country justice, a scared innocent, and black sorcery.

Holed Up in Staddle is more straightforward as the company tracks down prisoners who escaped the Rangers. This is connected to the last adventure, actually, so the players are actually chasing down the same evil band they confronted before to finally put an end to the wickedness.

The One Ring - The Chetwood
Image © Cubicle 7 Entertainment
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