The One Ring: Starter Set Review | Free League Publishing

March 8, 2022 by brennon

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I am a massive fan of Middle-earth. So, when Free League Publishing announced that they would be working with Francesco Nepitello, Lorenzo Perassi, Marco Maggi and their team on bringing The One Ring roleplaying game to the tabletop once more, I was obviously very happy.

The One Ring RPG - Review Image Large

The Core Rules were successfully Kickstarted and alongside that beautiful tome, we also got a stunning new Starter Set that introduces you to the world of Middle-earth and roleplaying in The Shire. That is going to be the focus of this particular review, diving deep into what Free League and their team are offering to newcomers (and veterans) to Tolkien's world.

"All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter"

The first thing to mention about the new Starter Set for The One Ring is just how impressively packed with stuff it is. Included within the box are not one, not two but three booklets that are designed to get you started. A twenty-four-page Rules booklet outlines the basics of gameplay which is then supported by a thirty-one-page Adventure book and a fifty-two (yes, fifty-two) page book that focuses on delivering a well-rounded overview of The Shire and its culture.

the one ring ss cover

In addition to that, you get eight incredible character sheets featuring beautiful art and a two-sided map. The map itself, which is frankly frame-worthy, shows off The Shire and the larger expanse of Eriador on the other side.

This is rounded off with some helpful accessories and components for use during gameplay. There is a pack of dice with enough for the players at the tabletop alongside the Feat Dice (which we'll explore later). You also get a big pack of cards detailing the weapons and gear that your characters can use (very handy for quick reference) and Journey Role/Combat Stance cards which keep everyone aware of the state of play.

To say that The One Ring Starter Set is lavish is somewhat of an understatement. The books are of great quality, the accessories and components feel top-notch and the finish/design of the set as a whole is just stunning. There is a real feeling that this Starter Set was a little bit of a labour of love for all involved, especially when everything they've designed feels like in-world artefacts.

starter set contents

I've heard some people criticise the more stylised art in this new edition of The One Ring but I couldn't agree less with their assessment of it. I love the striking use of bold text, the simplistic look to some of the booklet design (on the exterior) and how the cover art and large spreads featuring the work by Martin Grip evoke the feel of Middle-earth. They do a great job of placing you in Middle-earth and then offering up the idea that YOU and your heroes could be within those scenes.

Of course, the interior artwork and pencil sketch pieces from their talented team fit perfectly into that often quaint feel to the world of Middle-earth. You get the sense that they could have been scribbled by Bilbo and other wandering adventurers as they explored the lands and found new sights, peoples and shadowy foes on the road.

So, what does all this offer you?

"It's A Dangerous Business, Frodo, Going Out Your Door..."

Inside The One Ring Starter Set's Adventure Booklet you'll find five adventures. The story is that of The Conspiracy Of The Red Book and the five adventures are there to guide players through their first interactions with the world of Middle-earth.

The Red Book

Initially, I found it somewhat odd that the starter set was situated in The Shire and not the wilds of Rhovanian like the last version of the rules. After reading through the adventures, I got why it works to be on this side of the mountains in Eriador. The Shire is immediately familiar to pretty much everyone, even if you have a passing knowledge of Middle-earth and The Lord Of The Rings. To that end, it makes the perfect place to start an adventure - much like with the tales of Bilbo and Frodo.

The structure of the Adventure Book within the starter set allows your Loremaster to start things off with mystery and intrigue and no small amount of chatter; a chance to get involved and meet the denizens of The Shire. As things progress you start to get involved in other adventurous shenanigans with plenty of sneaking about and combat too.

Elves Art

The nice thing about the way this has been set up though is that it all feels very natural. You start off as inquisitive Hobbits and then as things progress you start to see the shadows and threats that lie beyond the borders of The Shire and the sense of adventure ramps up. Three of the adventures have to be played in a specific order but the other two can be used whenever you see fit. This means that as a Loremaster you can have fun with your group whilst also not railroading them completely. You have options to play around with depending on the way your group likes to play.

Add to this the frankly overflowing guide to The Shire and you've got everything that you'd need to tell stories set in this corner of the world. As with any good Starter Set worth its salt, it offers up those first few tasters of gameplay whilst also opening up options for players beyond the final chapter. There is a lot here that could be used to tell even more stories and avoid having to buy the Core Rules for a little while if you so desired!

“Courage Is Found In Unlikely Places"

Now to the business of the rules! The core of the gameplay loop in The One Ring is actually quite simple. When it comes to achieving something in The One Ring you take a number of dice equal to the ability you're using and roll them alongside what's called a Feat die (or just a Feat die if you don't have any points in a particular ability).

Adventuring Page

You then compare this number not against a number that the Loremaster has chosen but instead your own Target Number. In this way if you're character is particularly good at something then they will generally be able to achieve their goal. Take Aragorn as an example. He is an expert tracker so when following leads in the wild it would make sense that he would be able to succeed.

In addition to the normal way of passing a test, things can also go really well or really badly. The Feat die has a massive role in this. If it ever shows the Gandalf Rune then your test succeeds regardless of the TN that you needed to beat. If the Eye Of Sauron comes up then it counts as zero in terms of your test, a big swing considering it contributes most to your test.

Additionally, each d6 rolled alongside the test that turns up an Elvish Numeral means that if you passed the test, you succeeded with some extra benefits! This can get even more successful if you manage to roll more of those Elvish Numerals on the dice in your pool.

The Shire Page

There are some additional modifiers that come into play. If you're Favoured then you roll two Feat dice and keep the best of the two. If you are Ill-Favoured then you roll two Feat dice and keep the worst result of the two. As mentioned, these are d10 and play a big role in you passing tests! So, you'll want to start thinking as your character how to get into the best position or state in which to approach taking on a foe or challenge.

Combat works in a similar way with your test set against your Target Number (Strength) but then modified by the Parry rating of a foe. Enemies hitting you have to test against your own calculated Parry rating. If you succeed in hitting a foe then you cause Endurance. If this goes below your Load then you become Weary (affecting your dice rolls in the future, cancelling results of 1-3) and if that ever hits zero then you're out for the count. Importantly, enemies never become weary but our outright eliminated when reaching zero Endurance.

A Conspiracy

Another twist to this comes in the addition of Special Damage. Certain weapons have abilities that trigger when rolling Elven Runes. You can then spend those Runes in order to do Heavy Blows, Fend off foes and more. Additionally, getting a ten or Gandalf Rune on your Feat die causes a Piercing Blow. In this case, a player or foe has to roll Protection. If they fail they become Wounded. A general foe is often slain outright by such a mortal blow but thankfully heroes can sustain being Wounded. You can take another strike like that but it would be best to seek medical attention!

I hope this shows that whilst a little different from the likes of Dungeons & Dragons, The One Ring does a good job of making rolls quick and easy. There's very little back and forth when comparing target numbers and difficulty values and things flow quite seamlessly once you get through the first few rolls.

I will say that the Starter Set booklet did have me flicking back and forth a few times to different pages so I could get my head around the rules. It also would be nice to see more examples of play contained within the relevant sections of the book for quick reference. But, as a seasoned roleplayer, it wasn't too tough.

"There Is Nothing Like Looking; If You Want To Find Something"

In the end, I can't recommend The One Ring Starter Set highly enough. If you're an absolute Tolkien nerd like me then you'll find something to get unashamedly lost in at the tabletop. As I've already mentioned, the true beauty of this boxed set is that it wants to let you get lost in the lore and characters of Middle-earth. Story-wise, the tales feel distinctly Hobbity but with an edge of danger to them, just like The Hobbit itself and the start of The Lord Of The Rings. Obviously, the designers have also been able to draw on the world so well described by Tolkien and it drips from every page of the various booklets.

Gandalf Art

Tie all that together with a set of mechanics that are easy to lean into and remove a lot of the bookkeeping and you've got a game that should be an absolute treat for a Tolkien fan who is just looking to get started in roleplaying games. Veterans will probably also quite like it as a possible breath of fresh air. It's even better now that it has been tweaked and updated with the new edition of the rules. Free League and the design team have then come in and put the cherry on the top of the cake with the look and feel of the Starter Set, and it has to be said, the wider The One Ring range.

Is it going to be for everyone? Probably not. If you're not a fan of Tolkien's world and the more classic struggle between light and dark then of course you'd want to look elsewhere. I also suspect that you'll (at least with the Starter Set) want to be happy with a lot of roleplaying and exploration if you dive into this. Again, this decidedly leans into Tolkien's storytelling style so it's fitting even if a little different than your traditional dungeon delver.

the river art

During a time when investing in hobbies is becoming increasingly expensive, you also want to make good decisions on purchases. There are some really good Starter Sets out there from companies now and others that can feel lacking in the scope they offer beyond their in-built experience. The One Ring Starter Set is a great example, at least in my opinion, of a solid option for someone starting out. It offers up those initial adventures and then presents an absolute wealth of choices for taking your stories beyond it, without having to spend another penny if you don't feel like it. For near enough £30 (or less from many different FLGS), you can't go too far wrong.

Have you been tempted to pick up The One Ring Starter Set?

"Inside The One Ring Starter Set's Adventure Booklet you'll find five adventures..."

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"If you're an absolute Tolkien nerd like me then you'll find something to get unashamedly lost in at the tabletop..."

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