Thoughts About The One Ring

I’m not sure how many folks on are into tabletop roleplaying games, but it’s one of my interests so I’m going to write about it here from time to time.

I’ve been reading up preparing for a Lord of the Rings themed trivia night tonight and it’s had me thinking again about a role playing game my group played not too long ago; The One Ring. This was one of the best games, and one of the best campaigns, I’ve ever played in. We played through the Darkening of Mirkwood campaign written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. Much like the Great Pendragon Campaign for King Arthur: Pendragon (another all-time favorite of mine) the campaign provides a framework for the adventures to take place in, letting the characters be part of the big events of the campaign, but having a certain momentum all it’s own. Though there are a lot of decision points that can change the directly of some things in various ways, ultimately some things are going to happen as the forces in the world work their plans, and the characters will just have to deal with them as they will.

Also like The Great Pendragon Campaign it’s ultimately a bit of a tragedy. It’s called the darkening of Mirkwood, and one way or another, by the end Mirkwood is going to be a darker place (though the actions of the players can help lessen that a bit and provide some hope for the future). I won’t spoil too much, but at the very end in the final climactic scene every one of our characters fell, but we fell gloriously in battle for a just cause. It was pretty epic and it was a lot of fun, and it very much felt like something about of a Tolkien story.

The system itself is pretty ingenious, it really does capture the mythic quality of Tolkien’s works, and really helps give the feel of fighting for hope and goodness against an increasing and encroaching evil. There’s a mechanic by which your characters use and gain hope, and a similar parallel mechanic where characters gain “shadow.” Shadow manifests differently depending on what kind of character you are playing. Some characters will become more melancholy as they gain more shadow, others more angry, and still others more greedy. Hope is an important resource for characters allowing them to do amazing things, or resist terrible effects, but it’s also a finite resource, and running out of it can have dire consequences for the character. Managing hope and shadow are an important part of the game and really help drive home a lot of the feel of playing in middle earth. It’s a game mechanic, but when playing it very much feels like a role-playing element too. The combat system is also pretty innovative and interesting and helps support the feel of the battles in the books. It provides some tactical depth but doesn’t take forever and doesn’t dominate the game.

The game and campaign are also FULL of bits of lore and references to the other works of Tolkien which was a lot of fun for us nerds. It’s carefully researched, but set in a time period that hasn’t been detailed too much (between the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings books, in the area around Mirkwood). This meant it was perfect for those of us who enjoy researching and reading up on Middle-Earth lore. Reading up on stuff helped enhance the experience for us (but wasn’t necessary by any means), but didn’t really cause any problems for the campaign. You aren’t going to find bits of lore that conflict, or spoil things. We all got pretty into it and I think most of us did a lot of reading about Middle-Earth lore. I re-read The Hobbit, and two of The Lord of the Rings books in my spare time while the campaign was going on (I’m finishing The Return of the King now) and spent a lot of time combing through various LOTR wiki’s and fan sites.

We’ve moved on to other games for now (we just played a bit of Urban Shadows which was a lot of fun, and last night we officially started Mutant: Year Zero ), but I would definitely like to play The One Ring again some day. We could play in another part of Middle Earth with a very different set of characters, and play in a different era of Middle Earth.

Anyway I give The One Ring a very enthusiastic thumbs up. If you like the work of Tolkien and you want to play a game in that world I don’t think you’ll find a better system for it.

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Stephen B @DrOct