By Warner Holme: The One Ring is a game with a strong pedigree. Released in 2011 to positive reviews, this new edition by Free League includes a nice Starter Set. Keeping with their work in the past the production values are excellent.
Like any of Free League’s RPG volumes, there is at least as much quality in it as an artbook rather than as a game. With The One Ring this was taken in the dual directions of detailed painted works as well as detailed color pieces.
The Starter Set includes three booklets with adventure starts, an abbreviated version of the rules, a few play aids as well as dice. Here the production values already show quite exceptionally with quality of the functional play aids is an enormous foldout map, featuring The Shire on one side and the greater part of the Ador region of Middle-Earth on the other. It is an excellently designed artistic piece which works well and is suitable as a game aid as well. The dice, in addition to serving their fictions as six-or-twelve sided randomizers are well designed with little additional markings which will seem both novel and attractive to Tolkien aficionados. The various reference cards each look nice and are functional, although nowhere near as easy to celebrate as the map.
There are character sheets for pre-existing figures from the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, including Balin and Bilbo as well as a number of more minor figured who had little or no characterization in the original books themselves. The notable detail about these sheets comes instead on the back of the sheets as each has a statement by the character. For some this will be the first Middle Earth material they have read which did not originate from J.R.R. Tolkien or his son Christopher Tolkien (the latter by way of editing). They are entertaining, and certainly do not insult even if they don’t make one chomp at the bit for a novel by the same writer.
Of the included booklets the most substantial is the one titled The Shire at 52 pages. Within are very nicely written historical and cultural summaries for the region, as well as a few of the disturbing or threatening creatures encountered in the area throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
It features a pair or gorgeous two-page painted images, as well as frequent smaller illustrations throughout the book. While a large list of individuals were credited with the creation of said art, the pieces hold together for quite a unified aesthetic for the different types of illustration.
The smaller illustrations are present in the other volumes as well, which include the summarized rules and a variety of adventures. While The Adventures sports one of these two-page illustrations, sadly The Rules features none. On the other hand The Rules features a delightful prologue written as a letter by Bilbo, helping to draw the reader in quite well conceptually.
The Adventures features a few ideas for entertaining but comparatively low stakes stories. Someone or something is typically in danger, and while the results one way or another will not be world shattering they can at the very least feel consequential for those looking at the story of the game. Further they build, serving to introduce one of the major characters after another and in the process.
While not an insurmountable and complicated read, the material within these books will require thought to enjoy as a game. Still for lovers of Tolkien it is certainly easy to recommend, with or without the game elements.
(Free League, 2022)