The One Ring

[Gaming 101] Games to Start With Part 1: Fantasy

In celebration of Gaming Library‘s announcement that they’re willing to special order RPG books, I figure it would be a great time to start delving into good books for starting RPG gamers in the Philippines. Today we’ll be focusing on some Fantasy RPGs that have amazing production values and excellent mechanics. Admittedly this isn’t a complete listing, and there’s certainly lots of room for this particular genre, but that’s what I’m hoping the comments are for. If you’re an old hand to RPGs, and feel that you know of a game that I haven’t included, feel free to put them in the comments, the post is meant to be a reference after all.

That said, let’s get started with a few excellent Fantasy games for consideration:

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition by Wizards of the Coast
In tribute to the people responsible for the hobby, D&D takes the top spot. Love it or hate it, Dungeons & Dragons has introduced a lot of us in the hobby and everyone has at least some some passing knowledge of the rules. The latest iteration has easy to learn rules and a whole bunch of neat support in the form of figures, adventures and a strong local community. The game comes in three core books, the Players Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual. There are a bunch more of these three (PHB 2, DMG 2, MM2, etc), but you only need the first three to play.

Pathfinder by Paizo Publishing
Born from the Ashes of the 3rd iteration of the D&D rules, Pathfinder takes up the ball where Wizards of the Coast left it and made it their own. With interesting setting, continuous support and fantastic artwork, there’s little wonder that Pathfinder is the powerhouse that it is today. The Core Rulebook is massive, and in gorgeous full color. The local community of Pathfinder players are pretty helpful, and there’s a strong internet community in case you want to ask about something. Everything a player needs is here, but the GM will need to look for a different book or online sources for monsters.

Fantasy Craft by Crafty Games
On the other side of the equation is Crafty-Games’ Fantasy Craft. Born from the same D&D 3rd edition rules that birthed Pathfinder, Fantasy Craft takes the rules to the direction of a fantasy gaming toolkit. Definitely great for people who want to make up their own worlds to play in rather than work with someone else’s setting. Wuxia? Steampunk? Conan-esque Swords & Sorcery? Fantasy Craft does it all with style. The book edges out Pathfinder and D&D in the fact that it also provides all the necessary information in one book. GMing advice and Monsters are already here.

Legend of the Five Rings 4th Edition by Alderac Entertainment
Fans of the CCG will need no introduction, but to those who are new to the setting Legend of the Five Rings is a fantasy adventure rpg set in the land of Rokugan, which is a pseudo-Japan setting mixed with other Asian elements. Fantastic artwork, an excellent back story and the best iteration of the rules to ever come out so far make this game a strong candidate for gamers who enjoy the idea of playing in a Japan-inspired fantasy Setting

The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild by Cubicle 7
Tolkien Fans need little motivation to check this game out. The One Ring is the first in a series of games that will be exploring Middle-Earth’s eras and locales. Set in the time just after the events of The Hobbit, this game puts the characters in a time of adventure and danger as you take on the roles of elves, men, dwarves and hobbits as they go on adventures and explore the world of Middle-Earth. The hardcover version of this game is especially tempting as it comes in a lovely slipcase cover and its own set of special dice and maps.  Again the book is in full color and sports some truly breathtaking illustrations.

Dragon Age Set 1 & 2 from Green Ronin
Green Ronin picked up the license to do a tabletop RPG for Bioware’s Dragon Age, and they came out with a very impressive ruleset that carries the mood of the videogame and is full of old-school nostalgia.  The harcover copies are especially good since they come with multiple books, a poster-sized map and all the dice, everything you need in one box!

That’s it for my initial batch, tomorrow we’ll look at another excellent series of RPG: The World of Darkness from White Wolf Studios

If you’re interested in picking up any of these in hardcover, you can order them directly from Gaming Library.

To place an order, please go to Gaming Library’s special order express page :

Take note that placing an order there doesn’t mean you’re committed, rather the Gaming Library team will be giving a quote and you can now choose whether to push through with the purchase or not.

[Let’s Study] The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild part 4 – Advancement

Apologies for the delay in posting this particular chapter.  Work has had me tied up recently and I haven’t been able to do any sort of reading on TOR to make a post in time.  That said, let’s go ahead and take a look at TOR’s Character Development.

The first thing that TOR tells you is that there are two experience tracks.  Experience points, and Advancement points.  Everyone knows how the first one works.  Advancement points, however, are used to bump up common skills.  Interestingly, you can only obtain Advancement points if the use of a skill turns out to make the game interesting and exciting, or if it ties in with a given Trait.

Valour and Wisdom

Another interesting gauge in TOR are the Valour and Wisdom stats.  These scores increase naturally as the Player Heroes encounter and overcome all sorts of trouble, and represent internal attributes of a character.

Valour is the Player-Hero’s courage and willingness to face danger, while Wisdom is the Player-Hero’s capacity for good judgement.  These scores are important as increasing them is often accompanied by a boon, with special abilities called Virtues for Wisdom, and Rewards for Valor.

Furthermore, Valor and Wisdom are also stats that are used to resist some of the more insidious methods of the Shadow.  Fear tests are resisted by Valor, and Corruption by Wisdom.

Virtues and Rewards

I guess the closest thing I could compare these to would be Feats from D20.  I know it’s a crass sort of comparison, but it serves.  Virtues and Rewards are little perks that manifest in a Player-Hero when they reach their second rank in Wisdom or Valour, and so starting characters often start with at least 1 Virtue or 1 Reward depending on how they distribute their starting points.

Virtues range from general advantages like “Fell-handed” which raises the character’s close combat Damage rating by one.  To specific Cultural ones like “Durin’s Way” for the Dwarves, who gain a +3 bonus to their Parry rating while fighting underground.

Rewards on the other hand take the form of improvements to existing equipment.  These can be anything from weapons to armor, to a helm or a shield.  The qualities that can be gained are again general, like Close-fitting (for armor) which improves the item’s Protection rating by +1, or Cultural such as the King’s Blade of the Hobbits, which automatically inflicts Piercing blows on a great or extraordinary success on an attack.

Life and Death

Let’s face it, TOR isn’t a “happy-happy anime-inspired, can’t die unless it’s dramatically appropriate” sort of game.

TOR characters are built to suffer.  That much is clear.  Given the sheer number of conditions detailed in this portion, from Weary, Exhausted, Miserable, Wounded and Poisoned, there’s plenty of fun to be had by all parties.

I’ll not get too involved in explaining each of the conditions but I do find that having them here is great for playing up the very real threat of being out in the wild without the comforts of modern life.

Adventurers are viewed as strange exactly because they go out and take the crazy risks that put them though all sorts of life-threatening and unenviable positions, but the rewards are great, and their heroism serves to help society as a whole (most of the time.)

I’ve never had a chance to run Fantasy games much, but this sort of thing really hit me only while reading TOR.  The Heroes in TOR are taking real risks, this isn’t just about playing whack-a-mole with goblins for XP and gold pieces.

[Let’s Study] The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild part 3 – Characteristics

Hi, and welcome back to the third installment of our Let’s Study of The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild.  Today we’ll be looking at the basic building blocks of a Player-Hero in TOR.  This won’t be a completely detailed account, as I wouldn’t want to spoil everything, of course.


There are only three basic characteristics in TOR:

  • Body, which governs physical aptitude
  • Heart, which governs the force of will or spirit that a Player-Hero possesses, and
  • Wits, which represents the mental ability of a character.

While it seems very simplistic to have only three attributes, it becomes important to note that the default resolution system of TOR doesn’t always use the Attribute, instead relying on skill level to determine the baseline ability of a character.

That is not to say that attributes are generally useless.  In fact, one falls back to the basic attributes whenever things get dicey, and player characters must resort to spending Hope points to add the apropriate Attribute’s entire rating to their roll’s result.


A lot of rpgs have a skill system, and TOR is no different.  However TOR does categorize its skill list into six skill groups:

  • Personality – These skills relate to interpersonal interaction.  Impressing someone, or cowing another into submission all fall under this particular Skill Group.
  • Movement – Skills in this group are used to handle the rigors of travel, overcoming various obstacles and generally getting to where the characters aren’t supposed to be in.
  • Perception – It might seem odd to have an entire skill group dedicated to perception, but the skills involved are ones used to passively notice something amiss, to ferret out if someone is lying, and the deliberate act of searching a location.
  • Survival – Survival skills are essential in this game, as TOR is ultimately a game about adventuring in the wild (as if the title didn’t give it away)  Player-Heroes really should consider making sure that they have at least some skill in this group.
  • Custom – I love this particular skill group.  Nothing says Tolkien more than having “Song” as a deliberate skill.  Songs are powerful things in the Tolkien mythos, as they are a certain means to draw out a desired emotion from those listening to the performer.
  • Vocation – These are the skills of various crafts and trade.  Knowledge comes in all forms, from tactics to lore and know-how to put together furniture from wood.

The skills don’t end there, as there are also Weapon Skills that determine a Player-Hero’s knowledge in the use of various weapons to fight.  All characters from TOR are assumed to be trained well enough to be able to use at least three different kinds of weapons, making them quite capable in a fight, even if their initial concept makes them out to be scholars or other non-combative types.


One of the most interesting aspects of TOR lie in its Trait system.  To put it simply, Traits are tags that apply to a character, defining them in some manner by expressing an aspect that is inherent to them.  These could be a quality, like Cautious, or a particular form of know-how, like Cooking.  These Traits are not just there for show, but rather, they are useful in all sorts of situations, as they can convey several benefits:

  • Automatic actions – There’s no need to roll for a mundane task if a character has a Trait to handle that sort of action.  A character with Cooking, for example, will consistently be able to cook a filling meal for the party without having to roll.
  • Unforseen actions – If there’s a situation wherein a character with a relevant Trait could intervene, then the player may request to be able to roll, even if it normally would not have been possible.  Again, a person with Cooking might be able to demand to roll to check for poisons or drugs in food served to them even if normally characters would not have an opportunity to find out.
  • Advancement points – To put it simply, a Player-Hero can gain an advancement point by succeeding in a task that strongly supports one of his Traits.  In essence, this is a neat little rule that allows for the system to promote role-playing that is faithful to the character concept.

Endurance and Hope

Of all the stats in TOR, Endurance and Hope are some of the ones that really stand out to me.  Endurance is basically a character’s hitpoints, which is all fine and dandy except that it also figures into when you count as Weary, a potentially lethal condition that makes you much less competent than you ought to be in a fight (or in anything else for that matter.)

But Hope, oh boy, Hope is a take on the familiar Fate Point / Action Point mechanic, wherein spending this particular resource imparts a hefty bonus to a given action.  In this case, a character may spend a point of Hope in order to add the relevant Attribute to the result of their roll.  Sounds great, right?  Well, it is, except for the fact that it is very difficult to recover Hope during an adventure.  To add to the complications, if your Hope rating dips below the number of Shadow points that your Player-Hero has, then they become Miserable, and susceptible to all sorts of moments of weaknesses, much like Boromir went pretty crazy and tried to take the Ring away from Frodo.

I’m very happy with these two stats as it keeps things nice and gritty.  Tolkien isn’t always about singing about mushrooms and dancing to music.  It’s also about being driven to the very limits of your willpower to achieve a goal that seems so hopeless.  TOR keeps those two aspects of the lore and uses them to full effect in this game.


Fellowship is a shared stat, a pool of points that anyone in the group can dip into for extra Hope points… assuming that the majority of the Fellowship agree to let the player do so.  It’s an interesting mechanic, and while most groups will just automatically okay drawing from the Fellowship pool, there may also be interesting conflicts that arise when some Players feel that the risk is acceptable, while others prefer to play a little safer.  Interesting stuff here.

Furthermore, every character has a Fellowship Focus, a relationship between themselves and another character in the Fellowship.  It can be bonds of kinship, sworn oaths of protection or some other purpose, but every character has someone else that matters to them.  This is interesting as working towards the protection and safety of your Fellowship Focus is one of the ways to restore Hope points.  Of course, this cuts both ways.  Should your Fellowship Focus be injured, or worse, slain… then you start gaining Shadow points for your trouble.

TOR is really looking like a game that was built from the ground up to emulate the Tolkien experience.  Everything from how Endurance and Hope works, to the choice of skills used in the game (Song, for instance) are all things that have appeared in one way or another in the stories that Tolkien has left us with.  I’m very happy to see this sort of attention to detail and effort placed in making a ruleset that helps generate an authentic experience of the Tolkien world.

Tomorrow we take a peek at Character Advancement, and see what benefits Player-Heroes reap when they become veteran adventurers.

The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild is available at DriveThruRPG for for $29.99 or roughly Php 1230.00

[Let’s Study] The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild part 2 – Characters

Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s Let’s Study article for The One Ring discussing everyone’s favorite part of any RPG: Characters.

Characters, or Player-Heroes as they are called in TOR are all assumed to be ordinary folk who found a motivation to abandon the comforts of everyday life to seek out adventures. Whether it be for answers to great mysteries, or a wanderlust to see things beyond the ordinary, or even a sense of duty to protect those that they love, Player-Heroes come from all sorts of backgrounds.

Character creation in TOR is an involved but simple affair, as it is a hybrid point-buy and template method. Majority of the steps involve choosing from a host of templates, and the final steps have the player spending experience to further customize the Player-Hero.

The first step to creating a Player-Hero is to select a Heroic Culture. As of the first core set, TOR presents five cultures to choose from, each with a splendid writeup of the history, heroes, achievements, personalities and defining characteristics.

The benefits conferred by the Player-Hero’s Culture include a Cultural blessing, starting skills, Specialties, a pre-generated Background, Basic Attributes, Favoured Skill and Distinctive Features. It’s a lot to take in, and one could say that the selection of a Heroic Culture is the biggest decision in the entire character creation process.

Once the Cultural template has been selected (and various sub-choices made) the player then gets to further customize the character by several other selections, like picking out a Favoured Attribute, spending experience to buy up skills, choosing a Calling and additional Favoured skills and prioritising scores for Valour and Wisdom and finally picking out Starting Gear and Fatigue.

The Heroic Cultures are presented at this point, with a brief note about languages. Some can choose to ignore this bit, but I’m certain that fandoms more faithful to the source material will enjoy the fact that TOR pays attention to the various linguistic differences between the Cultures.

The way that TOR handles each of the cultures is rare among RPGs in the sense that it really gives heavy emphasis on players truly belonging to a people.  Player-Heroes are more than just wandering people looking for a job, each one bears indelible marks of belief, behavior and mannerisms that betray their heritage.  The only other game that communicates culture this well would have to be Legend of the Five Rings by Alderac Entertainment.

One thing that drew quite a bit of attention would be the fact that each of the Cultures has a selection of pre-generated Backgrounds.  These are character stories that the players can choose from, or roll to generate.  Each gives a compelling story of a person from the Culture and the circumstances that could possibly have inspired them to go adventuring.

Some players might be surprised at this, as usually creating a backstory fell squarely on their shoulders.  However I can see how this helps especially for people who aren’t quite used to the specific flavor of story that works from a Tolkien perspective.

Another nice part of the Cultures is the list of names for each culture.  Tolkien fantasy has some very interesting rules for names, and just picking from a list is just so much more convenient, while preserving the feel.  “Leiknir son of Lomund” sounds more Tolkien-ish than “K*llf*ck Soulsh*tter” after all.

The Customization phase of character creation starts off with picking out a Calling.  Callings are the “Whys” of adventurers their central motivation.  The ones listed in the book are again very consistent with that of the Tolkien books, ranging from Scholars who seek out old lore, to the Wardens who go out into the wild to fight the Shadow.

The remaining portion of the Customization phase is distribution of Attribute points, spending starting (“Previous”) experience and calculating Endurance and Hope.

The gear rules follow suit, and while they’re pretty standard stuff, one thing I did find interesting was how the Weary condition and Helms interacts.

In combat, when a Player-Hero takes damage, their Endurance stat is reduced.  Whenever their Endurance dips below the Fatigue rating of his collective gear, then the Player-Hero gains the Weary condition.  While weary, the Player-Hero is unable to perform at their best, dropping results of 1, 2 and 3 from the skill dice (d6’s) of their rolls.

This is a dangerous drop in their ability to fight, so the Player-Hero has the option to take their helmet off, dropping the Fatigue rating of their gear, and giving them a chance to shrug off the Weary condition for just a little longer.

The final portion of this chapter deals with Company Creation.  As with Tolkien’s work, the Player-Heroes are assumed to work together as a Fellowship.  This is a genrally rules-less portion of the book, but having it there is always a good reminder of the kind of game that TOR is trying to emulate.

I’m probably going to sound like I’m repeating myself a lot in this series, but just reading through the Character Creation chapter of TOR is an excellent example of rules working to promote a given “Feel” of the setting.   Everything from the Cultures to the stats, to the way that a Fellowship is put together is all specifically put there to promote the Tolkien fantasy.

TOR takes some interesting choices with regards to character creation, but all of them seem to fall in perfectly into a game with a strong connection to the setting.  I think that this is a great example for other game designers with regards to making rules that tie in with the essence of a setting.  Tomorrow we look at the Fundamental Characteristics in the game as we proceed to Chapter 3.

The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild is available at DriveThruRPG for for $29.99 or roughly Php 1230.00

[Let’s Study] The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild part 1 – Introduction

The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild (TOR) by Cubicle 7 is the latest role-playing game to be set in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.  I’ve had a chance to weigh in my thoughts on TOR in my review, but today I start a Let’s Study series where we pick the game apart and see what makes it tick.

TOR is designed to be a roleplaying game that new and inexperienced groups of players should be able to pick up and play after a few hours of careful reading.  As such, the game starts off with the usual essay on what an RPG is, and a simple example of play.  These are succinct and easy to follow, and while the example does dabble a bit into game specific terminology, there’s enough for someone to follow through context.

TOR expressly states that the game itself takes place in the Wilderland, a vast expanse of territory that extends from the Misty Mountains up to the Running River.  It isn’t exacly the most popular of places, but it does allow for a starting band of heroes to go out and make a name for themselves.

I don’t mean this in the “This has great level 1 goblins!” sort of way, as the game doesn’t have character levels for progression (more on that later when we get to characters.)  Instead, what we have is a setting that could benefit a lot from heroes, and there aren’t any NPCs around in that place to do it all for you.  It’s a great place for would-be heroes to go out and do some good.  There’s no shortage of dark things in the region, and plenty of adventure to go around.

For us who aren’t Tolkien scholars, the book then goes on to talk about the timeframe of the game, Year 2946 of the Third Age, five years after a massive confrontation known as the Battle of Five Armies.  I found this as an interesting choice, as this period is pretty much an age of peace and quiet.  The various peoples are settling down, and recovering from the Battle, slowly rebuilding and establishing what will be a new way of life after Smaug.

The Game goes on to give a short 2-3 paragraph description of the various cultures found in the setting, as well as a bit about current events.  Presented are the Bardings, the Beornings, Dwarves of Lonely Mountain, Elves of Mirkwood, Hobbits of the Shire and Woodmen of the Wilderland.

The Shadow gets its own treatment, an evil power that wants to claim all of Middle-Earth for it’s own.  This evil has multiple forms and wages an unending war with various heroes.  With the end of the Battle of the Five armies, the Shadow is weaker, but not yet gone.

This part of the introduction deals predominantly with the setting.  It’s a thorough and well thought out presentation of the places and people that the player characters will be encountering, and lays out the mood of the game quite well.  It’s relatively “Safe” after the war, but by no means is the setting boring.  Instead it builds a mood of anticipation, of longing to see what’s beyond that next hill.

The introduction continues on to discuss the crunch side of the equation.  The first thing that caught me by surprise is the term Player-Heroes for player characters.  In some ways it’s a nice touch, a not-so-subtle reminder that the players are meant to be heroes, something that tends to be of paramount importance in a Tolkien fantasy setting.

The Loremaster’s Book is mentioned here for the first time, along with a note that it contains additional rules that the Loremaster would need to run the game and create stories that the players will enjoy.

Another interesting note in TOR is the fact that they expressly discuss the structure of the game, dividing it between two phases:  The Adventuring and the Fellowship phase.  To put it simply, the Adventuring Phase is the part where most of the action happens, where the adventure hook is presented and the Player-Heroes go off to save the day.  The Fellowship Phase, on the other hand, takes place after
the adventure is over.

It’s interesting to see the way the game expressly takes time to play up the importance of a proper denoument for a story… and if you consider the fact that the full title of “The Hobbit” was “The Hobbit: or There and Back Again.”  In this case TOR takes the time to make sure that everyone who reads the game (since both players and the loremaster should be familiar with the Adventurer’s book) should get the idea that the “Back Again” part of the equation is no less important.

The discussion on this matter is actually quite detailed, with the game going on to give an outline of the Hobbit to show what they mean.  Since this game is also geared towards those new to gaming, there’s also some requisite talk on narrative time, as well as a brief discussion on “Storytelling Initiative,” a concept that basically means who gets to have priority in dictating events, with the Loremaster getting the lion’s share, while players get to narrate what their Player-Heroes do during the Fellowship Phase.

Setting expectations is good and I’m really glad that TOR spend a lot of time in the introduction to make sure that not only is the setting adequately introduced to the reader, but the campaign structure is also given equal attention.  Having this sort of writeup can do much to get everyone to align their gameplay expectations of a campaign, and I think that many other games could benefit from having something like this

The last part of the introduction is a walkthrough of the basic resolution system for TOR.  I’ve detailed the specifics of this on my earlier review and as noted I do like the way that the dice were read in multiple ways, as well as how various conditions affect how the dice read.  Despite the fact that it is quite an elegant system, a part of me is a little concerned that the fiddliness of the dice would be tricky to remember if one was running via the PDF.  Given that I live here in the Philippines, I don’t have much else in terms of options.  Thankfully a d12 and d6’s aren’t that hard to find.

So far so good, TOR opens strong, with a solid handle for conveying the rules of a game, without detracting from the sense of wonder of the setting.  I’ll have to admit that the introduction chapter is one of the better ones I’ve read, cutting out all of the fat and conveying the information in a fashion that is easy to understand without being too intimidating.

Tomorrow we take a look at the next chapter: Characters, and we start looking at what’s involved in making Player-Heroes for TOR.

The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild is available at DriveThruRPG for for $29.99 or roughly Php 1230.00

[Let’s Study: Licensed Game Edition] And the winner is…

The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild by Cubicle 7 games!

The latest rpg to bear the license of one of the most influential and beloved fantasy settings, Cubicle 7’s The One Ring narrowly defeats A Song of Ice and Fire from Green Ronin by a mere two votes.  I’ll most likely come back and do a Let’s Study article for the other games as well (there’s a strong vocal call for Dragon Age, and Smallville apparently) but I’ll be focusing on TOR over the next week.

I know I’ve written about The One Ring already in my previous review of the game, but at least this time I’ll be able to really get elbow deep into the guts of this thing.  Before anything else however, I’d like to put lay it out in the open that my exposure to Tolkien has been mostly through the Lord of the Rings trilogy of novels, and of course the movies.  That said, I think it will be a positive thing that I’m coming in as a complete novice to this part of the setting.

And so Monday we begin the Let’s Study series in earnest, as we tackle the first part of the game and go over bits of the setting, playable character types and take a look at the unique dice rolling mechanics in place in The One Ring.

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