The One Ring 2e

Posted 28 Nov 2021 to Fantasy

A loving adaptation of Lord of the Rings.


XP Card

Sessions GM'd: 0
Sessions as Player: 7

I Used

The One Ring 2e PDF which I obtained as a Kickstarter backer. The physical book has not been released yet, but it will be a good addition to my bookshelf.

We played a short campaign involving travel across the Eriador region in search of an archeological team that ran into several calamities. My character was a Hobbit Warden, who I visualised as a patroller member of the Bounders (a group dedicated to keeping hobbit lands safe). Our story started in Bree, we traveled to Rivendell, then to Weathertop, next to Fornost and finally to the Ettenmoors.


In the formative years of my RPG career, as a teen, I played a terrific amount of MERP with my friends. I have spent untold hours poring over Middle Earth material, as it was presented in the 1980s. I never played The One Ring 1e, nor have I played the 5e adaptation Adventures in Middle Earth. This campaign was my first return to playing a LotR-themed game since my teens, and it was unavoidable that this game would need to live up to the nostalgia of the campaigns of my youth.

The game is pretty solid and does a good job of emulating the fiction of The Lord of the Rings novels. At the end of it, I'm not sure that such a game is my preferred type of story.


The Good

  • Beautiful art. A simple sepia pencil drawing style has been used, and they are quite delightful. The art is simple and honest and sweet. It helps to remind me of the LotR novels, with their hand drawn maps and sketches.
  • An iconic simple setting. Middle Earth is a simple setting. It is low magic and uncluttered. This gives it a purity of vision. There is black-and-white morality; for example orcs are undeniably evil. The cultures of dwarf and elf are so familiar to us that they have become fantasy tropes, well entrenched in the fantasy genre. Don't fight against this, rather embrace it. This is the most vanilla of fantasy worlds. Every player at your table will already know some basic things about the setting, and this really helps get buy-in and enthusiasm.
  • Gorgeous maps. The maps of Eriador and the Shire are exquisite. Love and care has been lavished on them and they work great on Roll20. I feel like I need to expand on this point to drive it home - they are magnificent.
  • Boardgamey combat system. Battle scenes are quite unlike most other trad RPGs. You do not move little tokens around a battle map. The game system requires an abstract view of the battlefield where players declare if they are upfront or in the rear by picking a stance. The rules limit how many PCs can be rearward, so in practical terms you will never have more than one active archer in your party. I appreciated this as a speedy alternative to slogging out a battle scene with a mini-wargame that takes an hour. 5e claims to have 3 pillars to it's game, but they are unequal pillars. In The One Ring 2e, combat is an equal pillar to Social and Journeys, which means it's complexity is dialled back compared with some other trad roleplaying games.
  • Hope metacurrency. The PCs are all good guys. There are no shades of grey in morality. This is baked into the system. Your character will retire from the game if their Shadow score increases too much as a consequence of doing crimes or suffering some monster attacks. Hope is a metacurrency you spend to help succeed at dice rolls, and it replenishes very slowly. I quite liked this gradual leaking of optimism and the slow slide into despondency, and it was fun to try roleplay that. It is a theme from the novels that the game system reinforces well.
  • Journey system abstracts well. I love the idea of a good travel system. I've done hex exploration games that started off well but soon became too heavy and complex. For other campaigns, I have created pages of encounter tables and weather charts and everything. I learned that level of detail is a trap. It becomes a burden to run, with too many rolls. Mostly players are just interested in reaching the destination, with perhaps one or two short scenes en route. That is precisely what the Journey system in this game creates. It is a pretty light system, quick to resolve. You roll on a short table to determine the theme of an encounter scene, and whether it results in Fatigue or other mechanical results, and the GM invents one on the spot. This places quite a burden on the GM. I would recommend including the whole group in coming up with the scene, because some GMs might find it difficult to wing it like that. It would help if the game provided some tools to help generate ideas. I would pull out the Ironsworn Theme oracle tables next time.

The Not-So-Good

  • Limited character options. Each ancestry ("race") is a short two page thing. It would have been simple for them to add iconic groups like Riders of Rohan, or elf of Mirkwood or Lothlorien, or Man of Gondor. Yet they didn't. They deliberately limited the options presented to only those from one region - Eriador. This feels stingy to me. They probably reserved them so they can trickle feed these options in upcoming new books. Unfortunately several of the Human ancestries that are offered (Man of Bree, Barding) just weren't inspiring for me.
  • Heroic Cultures ... aren't. The chapter that describes your race options is titled Heroic Cultures. Yet the art depicts a handful of the people of each culture sitting around looking frumpy and sedentary and pretty unheroic. When describing these peoples, the text is very vague and uninspiring. It's just not evocative and doesn't inspire me to want to play that culture. Here is the description of Dwarves of Durin, "The Dwarves are an ancient and proud folk, whose customs and traditions are mostly unknown to outsiders." I guess they will forever remain unknown to the reader also, because it doesn't give anything more that might help a player portray one. These waffle words say nothing. Despite having a wealth of Tolkien-lore to draw upon, only the sketchiest of descriptions are given for all cultures. A lost opportunity. Tell me the dwarves ride battle goats. That's heroic. Tell me they are skilled smiths. Depict this in the art!
  • An iconic setting. I have already listed this as a good point, and now I am listing it as a not-so-good point. What gives? The fact that Tolkien's work is so lovingly appreciated by generations of fans, and the fact that it is, for many people, a formative part of their childhood means that a GMs creativity is severely constrained. You don't have a lot of freedom to add to the world, without upsetting purists and breaking player buyin. You daren't include things of your own creation. You have to tread carefully - indeed reverently - and that's honestly quite a hassle for me.
  • Target numbers feel pretty high. And dice rolls are very swingy. The dice system involves picking up 1d12 and a number of d6's equal to your skill. You roll them and sum the result, aiming to beat a static TN determined by your stat. For me that was 15. I found that with 1 or 2 dice skills, my chance of succeeding felt hopeless. You need 3 dice or more. When we had combat, those PCs who spent their points on combat skills dominated, and those who didn't ... spent a lot of time whiffing.

    You can spend Hope to boost your dice roll, and perhaps it is intended for a player to do that with almost every roll. This resource is pretty precious, and is likely to run out near the end of any story. If that happens, your chance of succeeding plummets as you become Miserable.
  • You can build a character that is useless. I did this, and I'm no noob. I set about creating an amiable hobbit who was a shepherd patroller of the hills around Bree. I saw him as a jack of all trades, a kind of hobo hobbit, somewhat ostracised by hobbit society. Without being aware of the high target number issue (above), I gave him a lot of skills at 1 and 2 dots. I left his combat skills at hobbit default (1 dot in spears, 2 dots in bows). This was a mistake. My character felt completely useless. In my first session, I rolled 9 times and failed 8 of them. Your character needs laser focus on 2 or 3 skills, and you need to spend 6 out of your 10 skill points on getting a weapon skill to 3. Otherwise you will be in for frustration. I recommend you be aware of this and guide your new players to specialise their skills in a few areas.

    I can see that after 5 sessions of adventure, your character would have earned enough XP to be able to increase a few skills to competent levels. But my starting character felt weak. The designers are apparently aware of this because they have a sidebar house rule, recommended for short campaigns, where target numbers are globally reduced. I'd recommend using it.
  • Funny dice. Every roll includes a Fate dice (d12). But the 11 has an evil symbol (Eye of Sauron) and the 12 has a boon symbol (Gandalf). The 12 is an auto-success and allows you to describe the task finishing faster or more quietly than normal. The 11 counts as a zero. And the meaning of the symbols is reversed when the GM is rolling. I felt these extra dice symbols added needless complexity, for little gain. It's exciting to occasionally roll a Gandalf, yeah. It feels the same as rolling a 20 on a normal d20. These dice felt like a gimmick to me, and it was a mission to set these Fate dice up in Roll20.
  • Council social system is not for me. It's suitable for protracted negotiation scenes where you are trying to convince another party to do something important for your group. I bet it works really well with a group of players who feel uncomfortable speaking in character and actually talking through a negotiation. In this system, the player declares their approach to the negotiation, rolls a skill check, and then the rest of the party chips in with their own skill checks to try and accumulate enough successes. It emulates several scenes from the books. It's not quite the way my groups usually interact with NPCs though, being quite mechanical, and we were a bit awkward at adapting to this new method.



I don't see myself playing this game much. When the physical book arrives, it will be a collector's piece item on my shelf. I find the setting has a lot of limitations for my taste, and there are a multitude of other systems I could use to play in this iconic land. Yet the reverse is not true - I don't see myself adapting this system to play in other settings. If I want to play a low magic fantasy game with a travel system, I would pick Forbidden Lands.



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