Today I’m here with the first half of a look at The One Ring by Fria Ligan. This is the second edition of the Tolkien-inspired game originally published by Cubicle 7 who produced Adventures in Middle-earth alongside it and continue to support Warhammer games (fantasy and 40k), Dr. Who RPG, and Lone Wolf. Now the torch (and much of the writing staff) has passed to Fria Ligan who make Coriolis, Mutant Year Zero, and Tales From the Loop. This is definitely a continuation of the ruleset, but improved in some awesome ways. Let’s get into it!
Like the first edition of The One Ring, the second edition takes place at the end of the Third Age during the period between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The timeline has been moved up, however, from 2946 (five years after the Battle of Five Armies) in the first edition to 2965 in this one. This is still more than fifty years until the events of The Fellowship of the Ring which leaves you plenty of time to work with but it does move things up a little and puts it farther away from the shake-up in Wilderland. Notably, Aragorn is just kicking around aimlessly in 1946 but in 1965 he’s started a long career as an adventurer throughout Middle-earth and Saruman has started down his paranoid route to true evil.
The biggest change, however, is not really in time but in geographic focus. The original The One Ring game was subtitled “Adventures over the Edge of the Wild” and it was firmly fixed on the lands of Rhovanion, better known as Wilderland, for most of its materials. Eventually it branched out into Rivendell, Rohan, and Bree-land (casually mentioning the Shire) but in this second edition we have shifted far west. The initial material for the second edition of The One Ring is all about Eriador (the lands west of the Misty Mountains) and both the Shire and Bree get a lot of attention in this. The game’s starter set actually has a 50+ page booklet on the Shire (and a lot more information besides, it’s more of a ”getting started” kit than a quickstart).
I think this move is twofold. First, it allows people to play directly in the lands that they know from the most famous books (The Lord of the Rings) and where there is the most information from books rather than other sources floating around. Secondly, with the first edition providing so much detail on the eastern lands, putting in the western lands lets existing fans of the game (or of Adventures in Middle-earth) use their old books as lore resources and this edition doesn’t have to retread those paths as much. I’m onboard for either or both of these reasons, but let’s see how it plays out in the mechanics.
The basic mechanic for conflict-resolution in the second edition of The One Ring is the same as in the first. You have a specialty d12 with a Gandalf rune on one face and the Eye of Sauron on another (or you use a normal d12 and consider 12 and 11 to be those respectively) and d6s with a little Elvish rune on the 6 side (or you can just use a regular one). I’m still on the fence about specialty dice and I’m not sure these mechanics truly warrant specialty dice, but they’re a lot easier to replace with regular dice than Star Trek Adventures challenge dice or the Genesys dice (for example) so I’m calling it a wash.
To do something you roll a Feat Die (the specialty d12) and a number of Success Dice equal to the attribute you’re using (mostly Skill ratings but we’ll get to all that). You then add up the numbers and see if you beat a Target Number, though if you get the Gandalf rune (or a 12) you automatically succeed and if you get an Eye of Sauron (or an 11) then it’s zero and sometimes Really Bad Stuff™ happens. Typically Target Numbers are equal to 20 minus the Attribute of what you’re trying to do (Strength for physical, Heart for social, Wits for mental) but you can tweak them lower for one-shots and then like. If you succeed then you can just do the thing or gain a Degree of Success if you have one or more Elvish runes (i.e. 6s) on your Success Dice. These Degrees of Success can be used to do things like cancel another character’s failure, do something quietly or quickly, gain an insight into the situation, etc. There’s a small table.
You can get some modifiers on your roll with Favoured rolls on a skill you have a particular ability with. When you make a Favoured Skill roll you add two Feat Dice instead of one and keep the best (like advantage in D&D) which is much better than the first edition system which involved a second secret set of numbers. It also opens the option of Ill-Favoured rolls which confer disadvantage in the same way and can happen from the influence of Sauron, worsening mental states, or character Flaws. You can also spend points from a Hope pool to gain a bonus Success Die on the roll (again, much better than the first edition’s use) and if you’ve become Inspired by invoking one of your Distinctive Features or through a Cultural Virtue then you get two Success Dice for a Hope point instead of one. Penalties are the opposite of this and will reduce your Success Die count.
I really liked the rules for The One Ring in the first edition and, as noted above, I think there are some great improvements to it here. The power levels here are very distinct but not overwhelming, which I think matches up with Tolkien’s stories. When wraiths attack the Fellowship on Weathertop you have Aragorn, a warrior with more than a century of fighting experience, and a bunch of stumbling hobbits stepping away from home for the first time. Clearly, Aragorn should do a lot better in this situation (and he has a bunch of Success Dice to show for it) but the hobbits should stand a chance of doing something still. Mechanically, they all are rolling in the same general range but Aragorn’s extra dice grant him a bonus of something like +3 to +18 depending on how he rolls so it’s a swingy sort of bonus. Add to that the chance that all the characters have a 1-in-12 chance of rolling the Eye of Sauron and failing regardless (better if they are Favoured for some reason). There are clear champions in these situations but no one is just useless.
Characters in The One Ring
The first and biggest decision to make with your character in The One Ring is your Culture. You can pick from Bardings (Men from by the Lonely Mountain), Dwarves of Durin’s Folk (those under the Lonely Mountain but also the Blue Mountains to the west), Elves of Lindon (the Grey Havens), Hobbits of the Shire, Men of Bree, and Rangers of the North. This shows the shifting of geographic focus as well since the first edition was missing Elves of Lindon, Men of Bree, and the Rangers but had Beornings, Elves of Mirkwood, and Woodmen, which I can see coming up in future second edition products.
Each Culture has a Cultural Blessing and it determines your base Skill Scores, Attributes, Standard of Living, and the derived stats of Endurance, Hope, and a new stat called Parry. This is broadly similar to the first edition but whereas you used to pick one of six Backgrounds from your Culture in the first edition this has been generalized to six different sets of Attributes that you can pick or roll. So as a Barding instead of choosing to be a Patient Hunter or to have Healing Hands in the last edition, now you just choose if you have a high Heart and low Wits, all three Attributes somewhat balanced, etc. The Skill list is also slightly different from before: Awe, Athletics, Awareness, Song, Explore, Craft, Battle, Travel, Courtesy, Insight, Healing, Persuade, Stealth, Hunting, Riddle, and Lore are all the same but Inspire has become Enhearten (as a non-Latin option, very Tolkien-esque) and Search has become Scan (more reflective of what it is). There are also Combat Proficiencies, which replaces the first edition’s Weapon Skills which were the same but convoluted.
Next up for your character is a Calling, your motivation for going adventuring and how you go about it. This is somewhat analogous to character class (and in the 5e-based Adventures in Middle-earth it’s just a renaming of that mechanic) but in practice it mostly gives you ways to contribute to the story. As in the first edition of the game you get two new Favoured Skills from a short list, an additional Distinctive Feature to call into play, and principally a Shadow Path that is your weak spot against the Adversary. In the first edition these are called Shadow Weaknesses but I think the renaming is more than surficial. These are the means by which you could become overcome by the Shadow, not just a sore tooth that Sauron pokes at when he’s feeling petulant. The six different Callings are Captain (a leader), Champion (enemy of the Enemy), Messenger (connecting communities), Scholar (a bearer of knowledge), Treasure Hunter (or “burglar”), and Warden (a sentry against the Shadow). After you have Culture and Calling you get some experience points to customize ratings which can raise Skill ratings and Combat Proficiency ratings.
As adventures continue the characters will gain Skill points (3 each game session and more at the end of each in-game year) which are just for Skills as well as Adventure Points (3 per gaming session) which can be spent on Combat Proficiencies or ranks in two characteristics called Valour and Wisdom. At the start of your adventures you have a rating of 1 in both Valour (your courage and determination) and Wisdom (your sensibility and ability to anticipated danger). These are rated like Skills (0-6) for some rolls like standing up to the Shadow but also when you raise them you get bonus fun stuff. Gaining a rank of Valour means you also gain a new Reward, a bonus to a piece of equipment like having your weapon become Grievous (extra damage) or having your armor become Close-Fitting and less restrictive. This could be gaining a new piece of equipment (like finding some swords in a troll-hoard) or having a piece of equipment they already have become enchanted or just better. Likewise, gaining a rank of Wisdom will grant you a Virtue which is a personality trait like Confidence (increase your Hope) or Prowess (lower Target Numbers) plus specific Virtues for each Culture.
This is a good summary of characters in The One Ring second edition, but there’s still more to tell! Next time I’ll be talking about how to fight orcs, what your Fellowship does and how it travels together, and how you can build Middle-earth and change it for the better (or worse!). Tune in next time for all that.