Review: The One Ring

Publisher:   Cubicle 7
Audience:  GM/Players
Price:  Print+PDF – $59.99
Pages:  Slip Cased Set
Tankard Rating:  4.5/5

The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild

The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild is a new roleplaying game published by Cubicle 7 Entertainment and Sophisticated Games and written by Francesco Nepitello. I have made several other posts about The One Ring here at the Iron Tavern. I have written an Initial Look at The One Ring, a handy list of resources for The One Ring and The One Ring Unboxing. With this post I will be providing a comprehensive review of this new game that is based in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

The One Ring (TOR) comes in a slip covered case and contains the following items:

  • 192 page Adventurer’s Book
  • 144 page Loremaster’s Book
  • Loremaster’s Map
  • Adventurer’s Map
  • Six 6-sided dice and One 12 sided die

The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild is the first of three planned core releases for the game with other supplements to become available over time. This portion starts in the year 2946 of the Third Age in Middle-earth. This places it about five years after the Battle of the Five Armies which was at the end of The Hobbit. In addition the areas described all focus on the Wilderlands region which includes Misty Mountains, Mirkwood, the Lonely Mountain and the town of Esgaroth on Long Lake. The future releases will expand the geographical area and cultures available to be played.

Adventurer’s Book

The Adventurer’s Book is geared for the player of The One Ring RPG and provides an intro that does not assume future roleplaying experience, including a short example of play. Next up is the section on character generation where one can choose from one of six cultures – Barding, Beornings, Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, Elves of Mirkwood, Hobbits of the Shire, or Woodmen of Wilderlands. This section provides information on all the customizations a player can make for their character.

Artist: Jon Hodgson

The following section goes into the mechanics with a more detailed look at the attributes, skills, traits and introduces the endurance and hope mechanics of the system. This section also contains more information on the gear you can select and how encumbrance functions in TOR.

Continuing on in the Adventurer’s Book we reach the Character Development section. Here we learn about valor and wisdom, virtues, rewards and finishes with life and death in the game, states of health and how one gets better if they are injured.

The fifth section provides additional information on action resolution, how tasks are resolved, the dice mechanics and the importance of the journey. Traveling through various areas require a number of checks which can lead to a hazard as you travel. Combat is also addressed in this section of the Adventurer’s Book as well.

The final section of the book talks of the Fellowship Phase which is the opportunity the characters have to recover from their journeys and adventures through the Wilderlands. It covers how the heroes can develop their character further during these phases.

The Adventurer’s Book includes a pre-generated character for each culture and also a blank character sheet for creating your own characters. The book does include an Index.

Loremaster’s Book

Within the Loremaster’s Book we find a section that explains what the Loremaster’s role is in playing the game before moving into the next section on the Game Mechanics.

Artist: Jon Hodgson

The Game Mechanics section takes a much closer look at the structure of running a game including the Adventuring Phase and Fellowship Phase. Dice rolling mechanics are covered, resolving actions, how to run Loremaster characters within the game. How characters advance and how to award them is included as well as more details on the Journey aspect of the adventure and how to plot the character’s journey to determine how many hazard checks they will need to make. Combat finishes off this section with a more detailed look at it from the Loremaster’s perspective.

The third section is most akin to the bestiary section. The ever present Shadow of Middle-earth is covered and the influence of the Shadow leading to corruption. Then the primary threats in the Wilderland region of the Middle-earth are covered which include orcs, trolls, spiders and a few more creatures.

The following section gives the reader more information on creating a campaign within the world of Middle-earth. It tells about the region, the timeline and some of the world events in that region to help provide the Loremaster with enough background information to start their own campaign.

The final section of this book is an adventure called The Marsh Bell to help a Loremaster have something to work with for their first adventure using this rule-set.


There are two fold-out maps that come in the slipcover, one for the Loremaster which has hexes on it and keyed to indicate difficulty of passage and whether the land is affected by the Shadow or not. This is to allow for the calculation of journeys the fellowship may embark on.  The Adventurer’s map shows the same geographical area, but without the hexes and difficulty of terrain keyed on it.

The game also comes with its own dice which have some notations specific to TOR mechanics. There are six 6 sided dice with the numbers 1-3 marked in outline and a tengwar rune on the number 6. The d12 has the number 12 replaced with the Gandalf Rune and the 11 replaced with the Sauron eye.

Mechanics Summary

Characters have three main attributes – Body, Heart and Wits. They also have a collection of skills and traits. Instead of hit points the characters have endurance scores which have points removed when they are hit during combat. If you fall below a fatigue score then the character becomes weary which has an effect on the dice rolled during combat. A character also has hope points that come from a limited pool that are primarily spent to allow an attribute score to be added as a bonus to a skill or combat check. 

 A character also tracks their Shadow rating. One accumulates shadow points in several different ways, once the number of hope points falls to less than or equal to their shadow score they become miserable. If a character who is miserable has a Sauron eye show up on the d12 they suffer from madness and temporarily lose control of their character.

Skill resolution is handled by rolling a number of d6 dice, plus the d12 feat die. You roll a number of d6 dice equal to the number of ranks you have in the skill. For example, if you have two ranks in Athletics and need to make a skill check you would roll 2d6 + d12 to try to beat a target number (TN). An average TN is a fourteen. There are varying degrees of success indicated by rolling a 6 (with the Tengwar rune) on the 6 sided dice. One 6 is a great success and two 6’s is an extraordinary success. Rolling a Gandalf rune is an auto success and rolling a Sauron eye most often means the result on the d12 counts as a zero.

Combat resolution works very similar to skill resolution. A character has a number of ranks in their weapon of choice and that indicates the number of 6 sided dice they roll. The TN they roll against is determine by their stance in combat. Which can range from an aggressive stance to defensive to ranged combat. If the roll also exceeds the edge rating of the weapon then the opposing side needs to roll a protection check to avoid being wounded. The armor one wears helps determine how many d6’s are rolled for the protection check.

The Good and the Bad

The One Ring is a very solid offering. The artwork in the books is outstanding and goes far in putting the reader in a Middle-earth mindset. The art really sets the imagination running as you make your way through the books.

Artist: Jon Hodgson

The mechanics also do a very good job of emulating feel of Middle-earth adventuring as well. From the emphasis on the journey itself and not just the destination much like a fair amount of Tolkein’s work. The addition of the Hope and Shadow mechanics also serve to further reinforce that there is this constant Shadow in the world that seeks to drain your strength or corrupt your being. These feelings can be difficult to emulate through rules, but I think The One Ring has done a great job at getting this feeling from the game.

I have play tested the combat several times against varying party sizes and numbers and types of monsters. Once you get used to the combat round it flows very quickly. Since you fight by stance there is less reliance on precise tactical movement allowing you to narrate freely and also greatly reduces the need of a battle mat for play. Battles can range from trying to wear down someone’s endurance to rapid turns due to wounds being scored against your opponent. In one test battle against a troll the heroes barely pulled it off, running it again later and the troll went down quickly.

The largest complaint I have is in regards to the book layout. I find myself frequently hunting for some rule information and the information is often not near the section you would expect it to be. This sometimes gives it a disjointed feel – the rules are all there, they just aren’t always logically grouped together. This is a relatively small complaint and not a game breaker by any means.

The One Ring is a great release. If you have an affinity for Middle-earth gaming with a relatively rules-light rule set and enjoy excellent artwork it is well worth picking this product up. It is sure to provide enjoyment to long time Middle-earth fans or even those new to Middle-earth gaming. 

Tankard Rating

4.5 tankards out of 5 tankards.The One Ring at The Iron Tavern

D&D and Rules and Skills. Oh My!

How did we get here?

How the rules affect the game of D&D and the related Pathfinder, have been a popular topic across various gaming blogs and twitter. Throw a dash of the skill resolution system in with these discussions as well and we have quite the melting pot for discussion!

A good amount of this discussion has been sparked by the weekly Legends and Lore column at the Wizards of the Coast site, first by Mike Mearls and more recently by Monte Cook. These columns have been talking about various areas of the rules and their effect on the game. Skills frequently are used as an example in these discussions – from climb checks to perception checks. 


The most recent Legends and Lore column talked about how the rules can encourage or discourage good game play. Monte goes as far to say that the rules are actually a form of saying “no” to a DM due to the possible restriction they put on the DM. 

I have seen several people shocked by that, but I agree with Monte Cook. That is not to say that the rules are a bad thing, they are certainly needed to provide some form of base expectations when you gather around the table. The realization that rules also restrict by defining this framework is an important one though.  When you make a rule during game design you need to also consider the fact you are limiting what the DM can do in that particular situation by the very nature of defining it. I believe good game design needs to keep this in mind.

For me once the initial ground work rules have been established for a game – combat, skill resolution, abilities, character generation, saving throws or defenses, etc. the rest of the rules should work in more of a guideline fashion. By writing them in the style of a guideline they simply build upon a core mechanic and serve to aide the DM from there on how to set difficulties and such as opposed to defining specific difficulties. Guidelines are more about being an example instead of a definition.

This is best demonstrated by skill resolution systems.


The difference between rules and guidelines always seems most evident to me in how a game handles skill resolution. The example in the Legends and Lore article also fell back to using skills and the rules surrounding them in demonstrating the various ways rules can be written and the impact on the game they have. 

I am most familiar with the 3.x/Pathfinder skill systems, but I believe these thoughts can apply equally as well to the 4e system. With that said, I am one of those that actually like the skill resolution system brought forth with the 3.x version of D&D. I think that is in a large part though because I treat them as guidelines, not as set in stone DCs. 

I also have no issue adjusting DCs on the fly in relation to other factors. These factors could be environmental or rewards for creative ideas the players come up with to circumvent some obstacle – whether it be figuring out how to climb some north face of a mountain to talking their way past the castle guards.  If the party comes up with something particular creative I will reward it. And if a snow storm is hitting that north face when the party reaches it, that task just became much tougher!

I think my willingness to take the DCs and modifiers written in the rule books and use them as guidelines in this manner as opposed to written in stone is a large factor as to why I find the skill resolution systems in 3.x/Pathfinder/4e very flexible and adaptable to many different situations.

I believe people that do not hold this same fondness of the skill systems find themselves more restricted by following the DCs exactly as written in the rule books. Or feeling uncomfortable applying modifiers as appropriate for various skill checks. Using the guidelines in the rule books as black and white rules is more restricting than simply using them as the guidelines they should be to aid the DM. 

Bringing It All Back Together

Finding the line where the rules of a game establish the framework for the game without undo restriction on the DM is a difficult line to find. I believe it is an important line for game designers to keep in mind for each rule they write.

If one subscribes to the rules can be restrictive line of thought, then great care must be taken in the wording of rules to be sure they are seen as guidelines and not rigid, unmoving statements. Even with the rules as written today we see various interpretations – from my interpretation of the skill system as guidelines to another’s interpretation of the skill section being much more rigid. Conveying to players of the game that the rules are there as an aid, not a restriction is an important consideration for game designers.

Review: Kobold Quarterly #19

Publisher: Open Design Group
Audience: GM/Players
Price: Print+PDF – $8.99 / PDF – $5.99
Pages: 80
Overall: 5/5

Kobold Quarterly. If you have not started reading this magazine in print or PDF form you have been missing out. I am late to the Kobold Quarterly party myself only having started to read it about a year ago. For those of you a little behind the curve like I was, Kobold Quarterly is a magazine available through print or PDF form and has a quarterly release schedule. Kobold in Chief is Wolfgang Baur who has a long history with gaming from the TSR days including stints as editor of Dungeon and Dragon magazines plus much more.

If you have ever found yourself reminiscing about the Dragon magazine from the good old days, then you owe it to yourself to check out an issue of Kobold Quarterly. The feel of the magazine is very much like those old days and contains articles to inspire anyone’s game. The magazine contains articles that cover Pathfinder, 4th Edition D&D and the AGE System RPG. Even an article geared for an edition that is not your preferred there are generally plenty of gems you can borrow from it for your own system of choice with ease.

Here I was on release day of the new Fall Issue that I found myself home on a sick day nursing a nasty cough and cold. With the new issue downloaded and ready on the iPad I set in on reading the issue. Kobold Quarterly #19 clocks in at 80 pages and the cover graced by the artwork of Malcom McClinton depicting an eastern style dragon in front of a mountain backdrop. This issue introduced The White Necromancer, new archetypes and discoveries for alchemists, sample magic shops for your campaign, a preview Tian Xia by James Jacobs, archetypes of death, the Relics of Power contest winner – the Gordian Knot, ways to spice up trap encounters, Balance-Free Bonuses, a solo adventure, an interview with Jason Morningstar of Fiasco fame, and more.

This was another solid issue from Kobold Quarterly. While not every article grabs my fancy equally it is generally a matter of taste and certainly not quality of writing. I have not delved much into the Midgard Campaign Setting by the Open Design Group. There are a couple of articles that focus on the Midgard Campaign setting which are excellent reads for people that use that setting.

The article What’s In Store by Christina Stiles and Spike Jones covers some tips for turning the dreaded magic shop into a better tool for GMs. It discusses several ways a magic shop can fit into the game to help the players without giving the GM fits. It also details four sample magic shops ready for use in any campaign. This article is a great resource for GMs struggling with magic shops in their game.

10 Ways to Turn Dull Traps into High-Stakes Encounters by Britian Oates was a good read on making traps your parties might face more than just dice rolls to see if they found followed by another dice roll to see if they are disabled. There is nothing memorable in that and this articles covers a myriad of ways to makes trap encounters more memorable, without necessarily turning up the deadliness of the trap. The trap information within is useful information for any campaign under any system.

One of my favorite articles in this issue was Balance-Free Bonuses by Monte Cook. This article covered some “traits” for the lack of a better word and not to be confused with Pathfinder’s traits that can be given as a racial ability or class ability. These were simple things like elves being able to see twice as far as a human or rogues being able to easily determine the value of something. All of these were abilities that added flavor to either the race or class without having an actual mechanical bonus that might cause unbalance. I really liked this idea and could easily see using these or coming up with some of my own for my campaign.

For those looking forward to Paizo’s release of the Tian Xia campaign setting there is a great sneak preview written by James Jacobs. It covers several of the regions and includes a full page map of the region.

Kobold Quarterly #19 is another great Kobold Quarterly issue. I’ve only touched on some of the articles that stuck out to me, but I am sure there is something for everyone in this magazine. I give the issue five stars on my five star rating scale. You definitely owe it to yourself to check this magazine out if you aren’t already a Kobold Quarterly fan.

Game Scheduling

My group is on the brink of canceling this week’s game for what I think is the third week in a row. Next week definitely is not happening either as our normal host is out of town and his location is the most central for a rather geographically dispersed group.

This rash of cancellations comes in the wake of a hiatus from our Kingmaker campaign due to some issues that was going to cause me to miss several sessions. I felt it better to announce that to the group and get one of the other GMs to run a few things during that time so my absence did not affect the group so much. In short, it has been pretty sketchy gaming for our group since mid-July.

Up until this point though, we have been a pretty successful at having regular gaming sessions. We are a group of gamers that have been playing together for six, coming up on seven years now. We have a solid core and haven’t added a new player for a couple of years. Each of us has been playing RPGs in some form for the past 25+ years. As you can guess, this puts us all in the working bracket and several with families at home. These factors all contribute to making scheduling difficult.

We see this on various RPG forums all of the time. “I’m too busy to get together to play.” or “It is too hard to get games scheduled.” Save for our recent issues though we have had a few strategies that have contributed to our group’s success at scheduling, even with quite active schedules amongst our members.

We started out with committing to playing every other week when the group first formed. We had a set day of the week and everyone made sure to get this scheduled on their personal and family calendars. This worked quite well. Then we decided every other week was not enough and we went to a weekly schedule at this point. Again we started by choosing an agreed upon night of the week to play. Those of us with a family at home made sure game night made the family calendar.

The added component to this for between game communication is a set of message board forums we use for a variety of things – IC roleplay between sessions, OOC forums and an off-topic set of forums where scheduling can be discussed. This helps in the situations where some event does trump the normal game night. We can discuss it well in advance and if possible make other arrangements. Frequently this is accommodated by shifting the night we play for that particular week other times it does result in the cancellation of the game that week.

Ultimately the key to regular gaming in busy adult lives appears to be having a consistent set night to game on and a reliable means of communication between sessions for times something does come up for one of the players.

We do have one other rule of thumb that helps minimize cancellations. We are willing to play a character down if need be. Our group would rather play a person short than cancel a session. Over the years this has worked out well for us and certainly minimized the number of games we have had to cancel.

What strategies has your group enlisted to help with your gaming schedule in these busy times?

Review: Pathfinder Society Field Guide

Author(s): Erik Mona, Mark Moreland, Russ Taylor, Larry Wilhelm
Audience: GM/Players
Price: Print – $19.99 / PDF – $13.99
Pages: 64
Overall: 2.5/5

What is in this book

Pathfinder Society Field Guide is a 64 page book that is part of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting series of books from Paizo. The book provides insight to the Pathfinders of the Pathfinder Society. This includes a brief look at Absalom, home of the Pathfinder Society the Grand Lodge. The book also includes information on the ten factions within the Pathfinder Society, various archetypes available for the three main branches of the organization, various threats a Pathfinder is apt to face, additional rules for day jobs, professions and other areas and of course many new adventuring items, magic items and spells.

The first section is a short two page section that gives a little background on the Pathfinder Society and broad details on how it is organized. It also includes a short section on the organized play system Paizo supports of the same name – Pathfinder Society.

Tacked on to the end of this section is an explanation of Day Jobs, how an adventurer can earn gold when they aren’t actively on a Pathfinder Society mission. It also covers Prestige and Fame in the Pathfinder Society Organized Play campaign. Prestige and Fame are awarded from the faction you choose for your character in Pathfinder Society Organized play. Fame acts as an upper level purchase limit and Prestige are services you faction might be able to provide by spending Prestige points.

Next up is an eight page section on Absalom. Absalom houses the headquarters of the Pathfinder Society and is likely to see a Pathfinder spend time there at some point during their career. This section includes a map of Absalom and shows the city districts within the city proper. Within each city district three areas are highlighted in slightly more detail. Examples include playhouses, various schools and colleges, flooded tunnels, and more. A portion at the end is dedicated highlighting five siege castles that circle the city from sieges laid upon the city in the past.

The next section delves into the ten factions of the Pathfinder Society, though it gets started first with more information on Fame and Prestige. This information is applicable for either Pathfinder Society Organized Campaign Play or for borrowing in your own Golarion campaign.

Each one page faction section includes a one line “motivation” of the faction, who the current leader is, a little about what a pathfinder of that faction would be like, what type of actions would gain a Pathfinder fame with that faction and an example of prestige awards one might receive with that faction. The ten factions within the Pathfinder Society are Andoran, Cheliax, Grand Lodge, Lantern Lodge, Osirion, Qadira, Sczarni, Shadow Lodge, Silver Crusade, and Taldor. These factions provide a place for nearly any type of character concept you might have for Pathfinder Society Play.

The section on Pathfinder Society Archetypes starts with further defining the Pathfinder rank system touched on during the introduction to the book. The ranks include Field Operatives, Venture-Captains, and the Decemvirate. The section continues covering the three branches of the Pathfinder Society – the Scrolls, the Spells, and the Swords. A summary is given of each branch and who the current master is at the Grand Lodge in Absalom. Each branch also receives two new archetypes appropriate to that branch.

The Field Guide section of the book outlines some of the principal organizations in Golarion that might oppose the Pathfinder Society. The rest of the chapter identifies eighteen common hazards a Pathfinder is apt to encounter during their career along with suggestions in handling such encounters. Examples include bureaucrats, dangerous wildlife, traps of various sorts, restless dead, and more.

And finally we come to the Society Resources section of the book. First up is new equipment, including the introduction of adventuring kits and some clockwork items. The rope and sunrod receive some new equipment tricks, several new magic items are introduced, and thirteen new spells.

The final portion of the Society Resources chapter covers Vanities. Vanities are flavor for a character to use and are obtained by spending Prestige Points. Example vanities are businesses, followers, memberships, property, and wayfinder enhancements. There are a handful of examples given for each category.

Thoughts about the book

The artwork in the book is up to normal Paizo standards invoking a wonderful sense of another world through the various pieces in the book.

This book is part of the Pathfinder Campaign series and has a good amount of fluff in it with crunch mixed in for those that are always in search of new items, spells and add-on rules. The fluff was good, always providing more depth to Golarion while leaving plenty of hooks for a GM to fill his or her gaming night’s with fun.

The crunch portions of the book had some hits and misses. I really liked the adventuring kits for the simplicity it brings to equipment purchasing by providing an option to purchase in a bundle. The spells were okay and there were a couple of interesting magic items.

There were equipment feats, I’m not really a big fan of those, but some might like them. Several of the optional add-on rules for Prestige, Fame, and Vanities were not really things I would incorporate to my home campaign. It certainly helps to have them explained and options listed for Pathfinder Society Organized Play though.

Overall, while I enjoyed reading this book, I think it was trying to hit too many target readers. It seemed a mix between more information for Pathfinder Society Organized play and an actual campaign book to give people more information about the Pathfinder Society in the world of Golarion. This mix gave it somewhat of a disjointed feel.

I think the book should have focused more on either Pathfinder Society Organized Play people or more on informing Golarion GMs about how the Pathfinder Society worked in Golarion. Rather it came across as trying to accomplish both which I felt made it a weaker book.

Final Rating

I would rate the book a 2.5 out of 5 for both the fluff and crunch portions of the book and give it an overall rating of 2.5 out of 5. Paizo sets the bar high for their products and what I have come to expect from them. This one just didn’t quite hit that bar they have set for themselves.

The One Ring Unboxing

My physical copy of The One Ring from Cubicle 7 arrived on Monday much to my excitement. While I still have a review in the works after a little more playtime with the system, I wanted to post an unboxing of The One Ring for those on the fence about picking up the system or curious about what it looked like.

It was delivered very well protected in an oversized cardboard sleeve with bubble wrap inside. That is a good thing as I knew it had been delivered on Monday by the sound of Ron, my mailman, throwing the package onto the porch from a good six feet away. Ron hates us.

Most folks know by now that The One Ring comes in a slip covered case. Now just what does this slip covered case contain?

  • 192 page Adventurer’s Book
  • 144 page Loremaster’s Book
  • Loremaster’s Map
  • Adventurer’s Map
  • Six 6-sided dice and One 12 sided dice

Initial impressions of The One Ring are great. The artwork in the books just has that Middle-earth feel to them. The books themselves seem of good quality and it is nice to finally have the dice that have the runes on them as they should for use with The One Ring.

My full-length review will be coming in the next few weeks as I mentioned after some more actual play with the system. So with that in mind, let’s move straight into the unboxing photos. I hope you enjoy!

TPKs Aren’t All Bad

Our Heroes RestThe other week our Star Wars campaign ended in a Total Party Kill (TPK). And you know something? It was awesome!

The game was a mini campaign while we took a brief hiatus from our Pathfinder Kingmaker game. We were all having a good time with it, but the dice fell as they did and with a few poor rolls the party died while trying to rescue a young Princess Leia. Things went south with a botched stealth roll and went rapidly downhill from there, ending with explosions going off everywhere and party members going down in a hail of blaster fire. Despite that, this will be one of the games that will be memorable for our group. This will be one we look back at and laugh at how quickly that situation went downhill.

Our group has others, there is the campaign I ran that got our group together many years ago, my return to DMing. That one is memorable for the wrong reasons, it was like running the PCs through a meat grinder. Not my best moments! It took a bit of time before I was allowed to DM again!

There was our higher level game that finally came to conclusion via TPK. Once again dice rolling was not going our way and we all fell in what was close to one of the final combats. We were disappointed when it happened, but even to this day it is still a campaign we remember fondly. Even a few years later we had a different set of characters in the same campaign world that sought out the heroes from that fateful TPK.

The threat of a TPK or character death is what helps make the successes in a game that much better. With no real threat of consequence it becomes routine to defeat the evil wizards and dragons of the world as there is no risk. The occasional TPK keeps that sense of risk around which sweetens the victories characters do accomplish.

There is certainly a fine line to walk. Too many TPKs as a GM and you get a reputation of being a “killer GM”. Never having a TPK or character death and you end up on the other side of the spectrum and you are the “soft GM” that never lets the dice fall the way they may. Finding the balance can be difficult, but in the end I think it leads to a more rewarding gaming experience with some risk being a constant presence. The risk is what helps make the game heroic!

So GMs out there, if the campaign you have been running results in a TPK, let it stand. Do not be tempted to roll back the clock and have a redo. Do not be tempted to rescue them via GM fiat. Let it stand. Chances are your players will talk about the campaign and the characters in it for many years to come! And it will add even more sense of accomplishment to future games you run when their characters are successful.