The One Ring 2nd Edition – A Review

Review in Summary

Opening The One Ring for the first time gave me the same feeling that I felt when I opened The Hobbit for the first time. The map of Erador is the first thing behind the cover, and immediately calls back to the maps in the opening pages of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The internal art feels classic, old-fashioned, but still fresh and novel. The illustrations depict adventurers traveling, warriors doing battle, orcs marching, hobbits relaxing and playing dice. The book and the rules feel like Lord of the Rings, and reading the book makes me want to go on an adventure. 

The rules system is solid, easy to understand, and consistent, using the same rules and resolution mechanics for everything. Target numbers for checks are written on your character sheet, so with some exceptions you know exactly how difficult anything will be with only minor involvement from the Lore Master, the title equivalent to a GM in the One Ring. 

Character creation is simple, but build choices still feel impactful, and give your character a clear sense of place within the world. Build complexity is “opt in” and the complexity floor is very low, so players are free to build characters that are a simple set of stats or a character with a collection of complex buttons to push depending on their preferences. If you don’t like mechanically complex characters, the system is very welcoming. If you do like complex characters, there’s enough here to sink your teeth into and feel very satisfied, though it’s not so complex, involved, or crunchy as something like Pathfinder. Advancement uses two pools of points which you accumulate every play session, so there’s no need to go looking for monsters to fight just to “level up”. 

Combat is simple but satisfying, and rather than straight hit point attrition like DnD or Pathfinder, there’s also the possibility of a “Piercing Blow” which can take a creature from full Endurance to dead or dying in one shot. The system of stances makes grid-based combat unnecessary, but still offers a cinematic description of where everyone is and how they’re moving. 

Travel is a huge part of the game, and “Journey Phases” use a sort of hex crawling system that offers plenty of opportunity for storytelling, but doesn’t bog down the game with minutiae. 

The One Ring includes several subsystems that I like quite a bit. The Hope/Shadow rules offer a way to spend some of your character’s resources for extra dice, but Shadow (the weight of bad choices, fear, doubt, and brushes with evil) eats into that pool, too. The game includes rules for “raising an heir”, which functionally lets you pass down some of your characters resources to a backup character in case yours dies or is retired for some reason. The “Counsel” rules feel similar to 4e’s skill challenges, but are also specifically tailored to The One Ring’s numerous social skills, allowing characters with a broad range of capabilities to contribute meaningfully in social situations rather than having a “Face” in the party do all of the talking. The “Fellowship Phase” makes downtime a huge part of the game, bringing players home frequently to advance characters, raise heirs, meet their patrons, etc. 

The Core Rulebook includes a brief, 6-page adventure that should give you a good idea of how the game is played, but the Starter Set is a bit larger, including a 30-page book of 6 short adventures, a set of The One Ring’s unique dice, a 36-page rules booklet which covers the basic mechanics of the game (though it omits things like Journey rules, Fellowship Phase rules, and rules for character advancement), a deck of War Gear cards, and tracker cards to indicate combat stance and journey role since those things are easy to lose track of. If you’re not abundantly familiar with Tolkien’s works and ready write your own stories in Middle Earth, I think the Starter Kit is a great place to start both to get familiar with the mechanics and to get an idea of how to run and write your own adventures.

Overall, I am very happy with The One Ring 2nd edition. This is a great game full of wonderful ideas, and I’m very excited to play it at length. If you enjoy The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring and want to experience stories in a similar vein, The One Ring is perfectly tailored to that style of storytelling.

If plan to pick up a copy of The One Ring (and I think you should), digital copies are available via DriveThruRPG, and physical copies are available now wherever you find TTRPG products. 

Deep Dive

In this section we’ll dig into the details of The One Ring 2nd edition, highlighting how things work and fit together. This is a brief summary of the game’s rules and systems, and isn’t a replacement for the actual rules text. 

Table of Contents

Genre, Theme, and Setting

Low magic fantasy setting. Set in the roughly 80 years between the events of The Hobbit and the events of The Lord of the Rings in Arnor, the region which includes The Shire, Bree, and other locations from The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring. Locations like Rohan, Isyngard, and Mordor are far off the map to the south. 

Games played using The One Ring’s core rules will feel like The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring. The characters start out as nobodies, and typically end their careers as local heroes. While their accomplishments may be great in number and stature, these characters are not going off to slay Sauron. The power level is kept intentionally low, but players still have the opportunity to face terrifying foes like barrow wights and to find magic items from ages past. 

Conflict Resolution (Dice)

The One Ring 2nd edition uses a dice pool system, adding numeric values to meet or beat a target number. 

The game use two types of dice: “Feat dice” and “success dice”. 

Feat Dice are a custom d12, running from 0-10 with a Gandalf symbol for automatic success and a lidless eye for 0, which can also be an automatic failure under some circumstances. Rolls can be Favored/Ill-Favored based on character stats (Favored Skills) and external effects (similar to 5e’s Advantage/Disadvantage). If you’re using a standard d12, the 11 is a lidless eye and the 12 is the Gandalf rune. 

Success dice are a custom d6 running from 1-6 with an elven symbol that adds an additional degree of success when you roll a 6, provided that you succeed numerically based on your other dice. 

Characters add one success die per rank in a skill, plus/minus some from circumstances, and you can spend “Hope” for an extra die (two if you’re “inspired” under special circumstances). If you’re “Weary”, 1-3 don’t count on Success Dice, which is a huge problem, so you need to figure out how Endurance and Load work and how to manage them.

Circumstances can add/remove dice. You’re expected to cap at 6 Success Dice (the dice sets are sold as “as many dice as you could possibly need”), but you could get 6 from a skill, 2 from spending Hope on an Inspired roll, 2 from an ally using Support, 2 from the Blessing from a magic item, and potentially 2 more from circumstances for a max of 14.  

It’s incredibly unlikely, but in combat the Prepare Shot task can give you additional Success Dice on your next roll. If you somehow took the 14 Success Dice above, rolled them on your Scan check and got all elven runes on all of them and still succeeded on the check, you could roll 24 Success Dice on your next attack roll, fully quadrupling the amount of dice that the game expects you to need. Again: incredibly unlikely, but still fun to think about. 

Elven symbols can be spent similar to Boosts/Triumphs in FFG Star Wars or FFG’s Gensys system to add extra benefits to your successful roll. It’s possible to have multiple elven symbols and still fail your roll, but it’s statistically unlikely. Examples include reducing the time to heal a Wound, adding rider effects to an attack, plus some general options like completing a task silently. 

Target numbers are fixed numbers based on the character’s stats and generally don’t change unless the character does. The TN is 20 – the character’s Strength/Heart/Wits. Since Strength/Heart/Wits are single-digit values (Practical maximum of 8 at character creation and they never change), TN will typically be too high to achieve without Success Dice or rolling a Gandalf (think a natural 20 in DnD, but it’s only a natural 12 on a 12-sided die). 

Example: A character might have a TN of 14 for Strength-based checks for their whole career. With two skill ranks in their favorite type of weapon, a TN of 14 is achievable, but adding more dice makes it more consistent. The Strength TN is used for attacks in combat, and enemies may have a Parry bonus which adds to the TN. 

Characters can also get a “magical success” by spending one Hope if they have something that lets them do so, such as a magic item. Elves can do so as their Cultural Blessing, which feels like cheating until you figure out how hard it is to recover Hope and that elves recover from Shadow much more slowly than other cultures. 

Character Creation

Major decision points: Heroic Culture, Calling 

Heroic Culture (similar to DnD’s race) determines most of your starting stats, including your “cultural blessing”, Standard of Living (and therefore gear options), starting characteristics (think DnD’s ability scores), starting skill proficiencies, one Favored skill, derived stats (Your TNs, your Hope, and your endurance), and Distinctive Traits. Heroic Cultures are extremely specific to the small region that they come from, representing a single society of dwarves/elves/humans. Within the setting, there is one dwarf, one elf, one hobbit, and three humans. Rivendell elves are published in supplement. 

Heroic Cultures have a “Standard of Living” which determines how nice the player’s starting gear is and if they can afford a pony/horse. This is on a 6 point scale, with current published races ranging from 2 to 4 on the scale. Players can achieve higher Standard of Living by accumulating treasure. 

Characteristics (Strength, Heart, Wits) are chosen from an array of 6 options for each Heroic Culture. Generally total 14 total points, but minimums/maximums vary by culture. Ex: Rangers have high Strength, poor Wits. Elves have high Heart and Wits, but poor Strength. 

Characters also select a “Calling”, which is explicitly not like a class in class-based systems. Calling provides two Favored Skills, one Distinct Feature, your Shadow Path (what happens when you get corrupted by “Shadow”), and makes one Fellowship action “free”. Diverse callings in the party is best to offer the most flexibility during Fellowship phases. 

Finally, characters get ten points to spend improving skills to customize their character, a selection of starting items based on their weapon proficiencies and standard of living, one Virtue (see Wisdom), and one “Reward” (basically an upgrade to one piece of war gear. See Valor). Spending these points on combat proficiencies is likely the best choice because you get more Skill Points over time than Adventure Points, and Adventure Points are more impactful to your survival. 

Character Advancement

Two pools of XP: Skill Points and Adventure Points. Gained during play, spent during Fellowship Phase. 

Skills points are used for skills. You get 3 per play session, and a bonus every Yule (xp for christmas!) 

Adventure Points are used for weapon proficiencies, to “Raise an Heir”, and to advance Valor and Wisdom. You get 3 per play session. 

The 3 number assumes game sessions of roughly 3 hours, and the rules recommend adjusting the numbers for longer/shorter sessions. The math works out to one point per hour of gameplay. 

Skills

18 skills split evenly across the three Characteristics 

Skills are very clearly defined and distinct from one another. Awareness and Scan are the rough equivalent of 5e’s Perception and Investigation, and the function of each is better-defined than in 5e. 

6 skills which we might consider “Face” skills if you’re coming from DnD. Courtesy is a skill, and I think that’s nice. 

Every Culture gets a broad mix of starting skills, so a culturally diverse parties automatically has a broad range of skills covered without the players spending resources to get them. 

The TN for every skill check is written on your character sheet and almost never changes. Circumstantial changes affect your dice pool, removing the “what do I need to roll?” calculation in every roll of PF2/5e. Of course, the complexity is just shifted somewhere else (How many dice do I add/remove to my regular pool?), so it’s not really a massive improvement. Still, most rolls will take place without dice added/removed, so resolving rolls can be done quickly by one person. 

War Gear

Equipment (called “War Gear” since that’s what it’s for) is simple, but weapons feel meaningfully different.  

Axes score “piercing blows” (roughly similar in concept to “critical hits” in DnD/Pathfinder) rarely, but when they do armor provides little protection. Conversely, spears can score piercing blows frequently, but armor is more effective against them. Swords fall between the two. The bulk of your war gear is a significant limiting factor, potentially making you “Weary” if your gear is too heavy and you take damage. This system is so core to the combat rules that removing your helmet to reduce your Load is mentioned repeatedly throughout the rules. 

Axes deal a Piercing Blow less frequently, but it’s hard to resist when they do. Spears deal Piecing Blows often (as much as 5/12 of the time with an unmodified spear, and you can add Keen to raise it to 6/12), but are easier to resist with armor. Swords are in the middle. 

“Parry Rating” is effectively AC, and sets the TN for attacking the players. Shields add to Parry, as do some other effects like virtues. A character at start can have a Parry as high as 21 before a shield (possibly higher; I was looking quickly), which is borderline untouchable for most enemies, but you need armor to protect against Piecing Blows or you’re still vulnerable. 

Shields come in three varieties, increasingly linearly in bulk and in how much they add to your Parry rating. Shields can be smashed by certain enemies unless they’re a Reward item or a magic item, so if you have a shield I strongly recommend adding a Valor Reward to it. 

Armor’s sole purpose is to give you a chance to resist a Piercing Blow, which is basically impossible to do otherwise. The roll is a Feat Die + Protection value of your armor (1 to 6 depending on armor). Armor is simple, coming in 4 varieties that improve linearly, plus you can add a helmet. 

Your gear’s “Load” is massively important. Characters with lots of Endurance (effectively hp) can handle more bulk safely, but you’re not going to carry much extra gear due to Load concerns, and you might drop your helmet mid-combat to keep from becoming Weary. 

War Gear improves two ways: Standard of Living (improves as you accumulate treasure, giving you access to more expensive items like armor/shields) and Valor, and you might never choose to use more “expensive” items because they also tend to be very heavy. Valor improves your war gear (or gives you new items, but they’re functionally the same thing) with specific numerical buffs, and also makes them unbreakable/unlosable. 

Horses/ponies are a thing, too. They reduce travel fatigue and can carry 10 points of treasure regardless of quality. Your horse/pony has a Vigor value based on your Standard of Living, but Frugal and below don’t get horses/ponies at all. There are no rules for mounted combat, but maybe some day we’ll get a supplement so we can play humans of Rohan. 

Wisdom and Virtues

Basically, feats from DnD/PF. There are a few general Virtues which provide numerical buffs, then a whole bunch specific to each culture. Culture ones are generally much more interesting, and ensure that your culture matters well beyond character creation. 

This is where you get “opt in” complexity. Some Virtues are stuff like “+1 to your Parry score”, while others offer more complex effects. 

Valor and Valor Rewards

Basically item buffs. Great way to customize your War Gear to support your fighting style. It’s very min-maxy, so players who enjoy engaging with the mechanics will find valor rewards very satisfying. Valor rewards are almost exclusively beneficial in combat.  

Magic weapons offer options which are outright better version of Valor Reward effects, so if you find a weapon that’s better than what you have, you can rearrange valor rewards during the Fellowship phase. 

Combat

Combat uses side initiative, allowing players to act first unless they’re ambushed. Creatures use “stances” to determine how they’re behaving in combat, and your choice of stance affects your attack rolls and attacks against you, and allows you to use your skills to provide additional benefits in combat, such as ranged attackers using Scan to get bonus Success Dice on their next attack roll or melee attackers in Open stance to use Enhearten to buff their allies.  

Even if you’re not built as a combat monster, you can still contribute meaningfully using the “Combat Task” for your stance, but it’s still helpful to invest in skills like Enhearten and Battle to make those actions reliable. 

Travel

Travel is a huge part of the game, and the “journey phases” of the game do a good job representing travel through rough, often unmapped or poorly-mapped wilderness. In a lot of ways, “hex crawling” is a fundamental part of the game. 

The system of party roles while traveling and random events makes long-distance travel appropriately taxing and potentially dangerous if the party isn’t adequately prepared, but isn’t so punishing that players will feel the need to avoid traveling entirely.  

Decisions like using or avoiding roads have minor, but meaningful effects on the game, especially if you’re using the optional rules for The Eye of Mordor (basically, how much attention have you drawn from The Enemy, and what problems does that cause for you). 

Hope and Shadow

Hope is a pool that you can draw on when you need a little extra help to do something hard. But recovering it is slow, requiring you to spend a very small pool of Fellowship Points shared among the party, or to have a Fellowship phase. 

Shadow eats your Hope pool from the bottom, and you can get Shadow very easily. Seeing something scary, gory, or depressing can give you Shadow. Doing something cruel can give you shadow. Touching the wrong gold can give you Shadow. Having a bad day while traveling can give you Shadow. 

You can remove Shadow during Fellowship phases, but it’s hard, especially for elves. Sometimes you’ll need to clear your shadow in a hurry, taking a “Shadow Scar” which permanently raises your minimum Shadow. 

If your current Hope and your Shadow ever match, you’re Miserable. Miserable makes the eye symbol on the feat die an automatic failure. If your Shadow ever hits your maximum Hope, you have a bout of madness and do something horrible that you’ll regret. Acting it out is written into the rules. There’s also your Shadow Track which adds increasingly toxic behaviors to your character every time you have a bout of madness. Once your character goes to the end of their Shadow Track, they’re forcibly removed from play. 

Shadow will mess you up. Be very careful about accumulating it, and remove it whenever possible. 

Magic Items

There are three varieties of magic items: Marvelous Artifacts, Wondrous Items, and Famous Weapons/Armor. 

Marvelous Artifacts and Wondrous Items are basically the same thing, but while Marvelous Artifacts offer one blessing, Wondrous Items offer two. These blessings add 2 Success Dice to rolls with a single skill and allow you to spend Hope to get a Magical Success. 2 Success Dice is a huge buff, so these items are serious business. 

Famous Weapons and Armor are at least slightly better than Valor Reward items. When they’re generated, the GM picks a maximum of 3 “qualities” for the item, one of which must be an “Enchanted Reward”. The player gets the benefit of the first quality when they get the item, but must spend Valor Rewards to unlock the rest.  

Your DM is absolutely free to pick rewards that you don’t care about in the slightest. They might give you an item that has two Valor Rewards as the first two qualities, followed by an Enchanted Reward that you don’t want, and the cost to uncover that information is fairly steep, taking up one of your party’s limited Fellowship Actions.  

My recommendation: Either let the players pick the Valor Rewards, or just make all magic weapons/armor have a single Enchanted Reward and allow players to add Valor Rewards to the item. The difference between Big Pointy the Orc-Bane spear having the Fell quality and having the Grievous quality isn’t going to break your story.

Pain Points

My only complaints with the game are the way that some parts of the rules are presented. Some of the more complex rules would benefit from small examples (raising an heir and rolling for a Piercing Blow would be a good start).  

Elven Symbols

How do I pronounce that? The internet tells me that it’s the equivalent to the letter L, but pixelated jpg files from 10+ years ago aren’t exactly authoritative. 

Editorial and Organizational Challenges

Information is sometimes partially repeated, which makes it difficult to find and understand some specific rules information. I had to search around to figure out how to advance Valor and Wisdom, and surprisingly that information wasn’t in the chapters on Valor and Wisdom. 

The information for War Gear is the biggest example of this challenge. First explained in the character creation rules, the first section on War Gear accompanied by art and the table of stats, but omits the crucial Standard of Living information which restricts access to certain items, making items like the Great Shield look very enticing despite being unavailable to starting characters (I think? I’m not perfectly certain, which is part of the problem). The Standard of Living section includes the textual descriptions of War Gear and additional art, but no table of numerical stats, and doesn’t mention that some armor and shields have Standard of Living Requirements. 

The book’s index further compounds this confusion, directing readers to page 43 for War Gear (the section with no Standard of Living information) and page 73-75 for Armor and Weapons (the Standard of Living section with no stats, including no Standard of Living information). The actual Standard of Living information for War Gear is only listed in the tables on page 100 under the combat rules, where the surrounding text does not explain the table’s presence, and the index makes no mention of the presence of this table. 

Fortunately, all of those problems could be easily corrected in future printings of the book with no functional changes to the rules of the game, and the vast majority of the rules of explained and organized very well. Publishing an updated index online could help address the pain points, but once players have played a few sessions and know where to look in the book, I think the organization issues won’t be a problem. 

Limited Roster of Antagonists

The selection of published enemies is small, but includes the staple enemies that you need to run a game that will feel like The Hobbit or Fellowship of the Ring. The rules don’t include guidance on creating regular enemies, but do include rules for randomly generating “nameless things”, so you can build something like the Balrog and bring it out to remind your experienced adventurers that the world is still scary no matter how high their stats get. 

There aren’t guidelines on creating/customizing monsters except for “Nameless Things”, so I don’t know how to make custom enemies. I can work it out with some reverse engineering, but guardrails would be nice. 

And where are stats for spiders? (He said, not wanting an answer) 

Magic Items

The names “marvelous item” and “wondrous artefact” are so interchangeable that I can’t remember which is which. I’m willing to bet that many of the people reading this won’t realize that those names are incorrect, either. It’s a very minor paint point, but I keep getting it wrong while writing about the game.

Conclusion

The One Ring 2nd edition is a well-written RPG that accurately captures the feel of Tolkien’s works. The art is gorgeous, the mechanics are robust and engaging, and the rules will appeal to players with a broad range of “crunch” preferences, though it never gets as crunchy as something like Pathfinder (either edition). 

If you’ve read (or watched) The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Ring, The One Ring provides an excellent rule set for telling those stories. 

The One Ring is designed by Francesco Nepitello and Marco Maggi, and was published by Free League Publishing.

2 Comments

  1. ficedula March 24, 2022
    • RPGBOT March 26, 2022

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