The One Ring™ Starter Set
The Shire and the Hobbits of Middle Earth are iconic and indelible as they take centerstage in One Ring’s™ Starter Set. Conceived and published as an integral part of The One Ring’s™ Kickstarter campaign, it has been explicitly designed as a jumping-off point and an accessible introduction for new players. Although the One Ring™ Starter Set is jam-packed, is it an easy onramp for new players? As someone with little Tolkien knowledge and a not-so-good short-lived play experience with the game’s first edition, I am genuinely a new player.
Note: reader RM Jordan provided Rolling Boxcars with a review copy for this article. Please visit our Product Review Request page if you have an item you’d like Rolling Boxcars to review.
Upon opening the box, you are greeted with a plethora of materials. These include maps lining the box bottom and charts and tables lining the box lid—yes, they used all available space.
- 24-page condensed rules
- 52-page compendium covering the Shire
- 32-page scenario book (5 scenarios)
- Eight double-sided pre-generated character sheets
- Large full-color double-sided map of the Shire and Eriador
- 30 Wargear Cards that can also be used with The One Ring core rules
- Six double-sided Journey Role and Combat Stance Cards that can also be used with The One Ring core rules
- Two Feat dice
- Six D6 Success dice
The condensed rule book does a beautiful job of describing the basics of the game. Readers should be aware there are deviations from what is printed in the book to the calculations on the pre-generated character sheets—more on this below.
Mechanically, the game uses relatively simple rules. Being a Starter Set, there are apparent deviations from the full core rules, but the game’s essence is here. Adventures are a series of scenes in which heroes respond to emerging situations. Rolling dice only become necessary when attempting something dangerous, an action aims to obtain information not immediately available, or when an action attempts to influence one or more uncooperative non-player characters.
The system uses a dice pool roll vs. a target number (TN). Rolls almost always involve one of the 18 skills on the character sheet. Skills are tied to one of three abilities (Strength, Heart, or Wits). When rolling, players roll “Success dice” (D6s) equal to the skill rating and one Feat die (D12). The values of these dice are added together in hopes of meeting or exceeding the TN. The TN is equal to 20 minus the associated ability rating. The Feat die has two special symbols, the Eye of Sauron, which counts as a zero, and the Gandalf Rune, which is an automatic success regardless of the TN. Success dice have an Elvish rune accompanying the 6s, meaning when rolled and if meeting or exceeding the TN, the degree of success is amplified. Other situational factors may modify the dice pool by adding or removing dice.
As mentioned above, the pre-gens have TNs already listed for quick reference; however, these are based on 18 minus the associated ability rating, not 20. There is a discussion on Free League’s forums about this. It was determined this deviation was intended to speed up play for new players and for convention and store demos.
Combat resolution in the Starter Set is simplified but worth looking at. Following opening volleys of ranged combat, there are three steps in each combat round. Rounds are played out one after the other until the end of combat.
- Stance: heroes choose their stance (one of four), three close combat and one ranged. Although not explicitly used in the Starter Set, Stance cards are provided, and some information is given on their use.
- Engagement: heroes are paired with one or more combatants.
- Attack roll resolution: the actions of all combatants are resolved; close combats first.
Close combat resolution is swift. The Heroes resolve first, followed by the Loremaster’s characters. Attack rolls are made using the Combat Proficiency of the weapon used; the difficulty is the Strength TN modified by the enemies Parry rating. The difficulty of all attacks made by the heroes’ adversaries is the targeted hero’s parry rating instead. Damage inflicted is taken as Endurance loss, with some attacks dealing “special damage” such as a heavy blow or pierce due to rolling 6s (Elvish runes).
The Shire sourcebook provides a very general history and overview of Hobbit life. Its main focus is the geography of the Shire itself, providing a much deeper look at the Northfarthing, the Eastfarthing, the Southfarthing, and the Westfarthing regions. While looking more deeply into each of these geographic regions of the Shire, readers will find a basic lay of the land that includes points of interest and Hobbits of note.
Each region is presented to allow newcomers like myself to fully appreciate Hobbit society and the Shire. Accompanying the rich narrative description of the people and places are several opportunities for adventure above and beyond those in the five scenarios contained within. There are more than a handful of random tables for the Loremaster. These tables offer journey events for a region and gossip one might overhear in a specific tavern or inn. There are copious amounts of beautiful maps inserted throughout the sourcebook.
Included in this sourcebook are the rules for “Hobbit Walks.” Hobbits not being ones to push themselves or be overly concerned with maintaining a strenuous pace; hobbits tend to stick to known roads and routes when traveling. The Hobbit Walks rule kicks in when pushing themselves or straying into unknown lands, even within its border. When rolling on the “Hobbit Walks” table, results range on a sliding scale from negative to positive, such as encountering trouble, random encounters, finding a shortcut, and more.
In the end, the book is a little dense, but it was quite enlightening, especially for someone who didn’t have a good Tolkien background.
This book contains five adventures designed for use with the enclosed pre-generated Heroes. While these adventures can be played separately, they can be linked together, allowing the Heroes to explore the width and breadth of the Shire and beyond. All adventures take place in or around the year 2960 of the Third Age (1360 Shire Reckoning), though the date is flexible. If running as a series of link adventures, three of the five should be used at specific points within the series, and the remaining two can be mixed in where ever. The adventures are, however, arranged in the recommended order of play. Six of the eight pre-generated Heroes are available to the players at the start. The other two will become unlocked as the Heroes encounter them through gameplay.
The adventures are designed and arranged in such a way as to incrementally teach both new players and Loremasters the rules. Whenever the Heroes are required to roll, there are lovely insets with all the pertinent information the Loremaster needs to smoothly facilitate the test.
One final note about these adventures; it begins with Bilbo Baggins summoning the Heroes together to form what is termed a “conspiracy.” If played as a series of linked adventures, one gets the sense the term chosen is really befitting of the overarching theme.
- “A Conspiracy Most Cracked” – The Heroes form a conspiracy and are tasked by none other than Bilbo Baggins himself to fetch a map for him in Michel Delving.
- “Expert Treasure Hunters” – Using the now-obtained map, the conspiracy heads to Kingsworthy via Oatbarton in search of the legendary Bullroarer’s Club. New skills are put to the test when they find someone beat them to their query.
- “Most Excellent Fireworks” – Bilbo asks the conspirators to discover what became of the last of Gandalf’s fireworks, left over from Old Took’s birthday parties. Traveling to Scary, they will need to put on their thinking caps to figure out if any fireworks remain and, if so, where they might be located.
- “Involuntary Postmen” – By order of the Shirriffs, the conspirators have been sentenced to cleaning the cold storage and wine cellars beneath Michel Delving for their mischievous behavior. Given a potential reprieve, the conspirators can deliver a letter to Bamfurlong on behalf of the understaffed Quick Post. Not all is as it seems…
- “To Soothe a Savage Beast” – Picking up where “Involuntary Postmen” left off, the conspirators must take up one final challenge. One that will see that traveling even further afield and facing some tough challenges.
The One Ring™ Starter has over-the-top production values consumers have come to expect from Free League Publishing. The box is filled with everything you need to play in the Shire, including six double-sided Journey Role and Combat Stance Cards, which are not used but provided for those who eventually migrate over to the full rules.
The enclosed maps are absolutely gorgeous! The box, although not expressly stated, is intended to be used as a Loremaster’s screen/dicebox with its tables and charts on the inside of the lid and the map reproduced on the inside of the box bottom. The Wargear Cards are a great quick reference aid, and while helpful, they are not necessary for the Starter Set.
However, The One Ring™ Starter is not without its issues. First, the Feat dice are misprinted; instead of having a 1, they have an 11. Maybe it is a twisted printer’s joke; who would not want “Elevenses” dice? That said, Free League is having new dice made and replacing them in the future. Second, the rule book has a few hard-to-parse sentences and a few incorrect page references. The Shire sourcebook and scenario book both have a few typos, all of which could have been corrected with a post-edit/layout proofread.
I find The One Ring™ Starter is a wonderful introduction to The One Ring. Having had a not-so-good experience with the 1st edition of the game, I was very apprehensive going into this review. Coming out on the other side, I can now say with confidence I find the rules easy to understand, at least as far as this Start Set is concerned.
If you’re even remotely interested in the game but not ready to take the plunge with The One Ring core rule book, The One Ring™ Starter is the way to go. The rules are easy to read and understand. You get five fantastic Hobbity adventures, and the Shire sourcebook is a good read. On the flip side, if you have any plans to dive into the core rules, starting with the Starter Set is a good place to start for two reasons. First, it is an excellent introduction to the mechanics and the system. Second, you get resources here, like the Journey Role and Combat Stance Cards, War Gear Cards, Dice, and the Shire sourcebook, that you would otherwise need to purchase separately or, in the case of the Shire sourcebook not available outside the starter set.
Although this product is Hobbit-centric and may not appeal to everyone, don’t let it dissuade you from checking it out. I highly recommend it for new players like myself.
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