Title: The One Ring Second Edition
Publisher: Free League Publishing
Authors: Francesco Nepitello, Marco Maggi, Michele Garbuggio, James Michael Spahn, and Jason Durall
Artists: Martin Grip, Alvaro Tapia, Jan Pospisil, Niklas Brandt, Henrik Rosenborg, Antonio De Luca, Federica Costantini, Luca Sotgiu, Daniele Sorrentino, Melissa Spandri, and Giuditta Betti
Pages: 244 pages
Genre: Middle-earth themed roleplaying game
MSRP: $53.00 for the hardcover or $24.99 in PDF from DriveThruRPG
In 2011, Cubicle 7 released The One Ring, a much-loved adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world. The One Ring drew players in with its engrossing design, easy-to-learn ruleset, and obvious love for its source material. When Free League announced a second edition of the game, it was clear there would be big shoes to fill.
Those with experience in the tabletop roleplaying world will no doubt be familiar with Free League’s reputation: beautiful art, smart layout, compelling text, and a knack for adaptation that preserves world-feel without bogging itself down in minutiae. This new edition of The One Ring delivers on all of that and more, delivering an experience that feels authentically Middle-earth and is designed for streamlined play.
One of the smartest decisions returning writer/designer Francesco Nepitello makes is the “reveal and direct” — a tendency to introduce a concept to players, provide an overview, and direct them where to find more in-depth information. This makes The One Ring’s core book accessible to new fans while allowing returning players to leverage their existing knowledge for a faster start. Keeping essential information –such as instructions for interpreting die results and modifiers– in a single, easily-referenced location helps to reduce frustration and helps players and Loremasters alike feel comfortable when first starting out.
While the game does allow for a proper level of crunch in combat mechanics, many of its other systems are wonderfully simple. Players earn Skill and Adventure points, used for character advancement, by attending sessions; experience in the story directly translates to experience in the metanarrative. Common items may be repaired or replaced without major cost and enhanced items receive plot armor at the cost of being unable to be transferred between characters, even in the event of a character death. These decisions help both Loremasters and players focus on the narrative without bogging themselves down in the mechanics of advancement and allow for a greater degree of ludonarrative cohesion.
Nepitello has also done a masterful job of weaving lore and worldbuilding elements into explanations of rules. A simple callout box explains the traditions of weapon naming among the Free Peoples, both providing guidance for players on what kinds of names might be appropriate as well as helping to add extra flavor and detail to the game world. These decisions help the game appeal to fans of fantasy at large, even those who might otherwise be less familiar with Tolkien’s work. The rules themselves are clearly explained and the text itself is wonderfully readable, never wandering down narrative tangents.
Sections for the Loremaster offer concrete guidance for establishing the story, running the game, and puppeteering NPCs. Guidance is sufficient to allow even a casual fan to run the game with confidence, but unobtrusive enough to be skipped over by Tolkien devotees without harming their understanding of the mechanics.
Clocking in at 240 pages with character sheet, the PDF version of the book benefits from a hotlinked table of contents and index. While hit boxes to access the links can be a bit fiddly, they work reliably and make navigating on screen a much more manageable task. Free League’s PDF version of the character sheet likewise facilitates easier online play.
One of the first edition’s visual strengths was the way layout and page design helped to give the text the feeling that it was of the storyworld, a neat effect that’s carried through here in the second edition as well. Page design elements add interest, help keep text flowing smoothly, and provide needed visual breaks while the aforementioned callout boxes help ensure that crucial information isn’t accidentally skipped over. Both the in-line and full-page art spreads help the world come to life without detracting from the reading experience.
The One Ring, Second Edition offers a rich fantasy roleplaying experience for existing fans of the setting, while opening the door to newcomers. The game’s second edition preserves what made its predecessor successful and offers gameplay changes that lead to a more enjoyable experience overall. While the game’s core demographic is undoubtedly those who are already fans of its source material, elegant design and ample storytelling opportunity invite a broader demographic of players.