Lord of the Rings is often considered the foundation of modern fantasy. Every fantasy series gets compared to it, and most of them draw from it. As such, most RPGs owe a debt in the same way. There was a long period where every table had a Legolas, Gimli, or Aragorn knock off in the party, way before they were all Drizzt, or whoever it is nowadays. When making a Lord of the Rings RPG, there are big expectations, I think Free League met the mark. Not only is this a good game, but it’s a good Lord of the Rings game. It evokes a lot of the same tones and feelings that reading the Lord of the Rings does. Flipping through the pages, reading the lore, and looking at the art reminds me of being in middle school, rereading The Two Towers for the thousandth time (my favorite of the trilogy).
It’s Free League, and so the quality of the book and art direction are top notch, even down to the feel of the paper reminding me of flipping through an older, aged book, with that gritty yellowed texture and look. Reading the core rulebook, I guess because of its fantasy bend, I am constantly thinking “this is what a modern DND book should be” (but we all know WoTC will continue to half-ass it). The art throughout is nice, in that it is a break from the Jackson movies and does an excellent job to drive home the message that this is a game based off the books, not the movies. Nothing but love for the movies, but I think it is important to set your product apart. This is not an adaptation of the movies, and it does not look like one.
The game is divided into two phases, Adventuring and Fellowship. Adventuring is your classic D&D adventure, while Fellowship is what happens between adventures. Usually described as downtime. In LoTR, this downtime is what lets the story breathe and is often just as important as the actual Adventure. Afterall, Frodo spent 17 years in Fellowship from the time Gandalf warns him of the ring, and when he actually leaves. In the meantime, Frodo spends his Fellowship phase winding down his life and preparing for danger (for slow moving Hobbits, I’m sure 17 years was rushed), while Gandalf spends his time deep in libraries confirming his suspicions.
Unique to the One Ring, we also get some mechanics for Councils, and some really nice mechanics for overland journeys. Most of the books are people walking through the woods to go to a fancy meeting, and so while those rules may not be as required for D&D, they are core to the LoTR experience. The council rules are pretty straight forward, and not dissimilar to what I see a lot of groups do informally. I really enjoy the One Ring’s overland journey rules though. For whatever reason, it never occurred to me to have players plot a whole journey, A-Z, and then make checks as you progress along the path. It comes across very smooth and lets you have some encounters, without them being every day or once for the entire trip (what normally happens with most rulesets I see). Additionally, I love the hex map on the back cover.
The Fellowship follows a similar structure top the Journey phase, without actual travel. You outline what you want to do over the prolonged period between adventures, and then make checks to determine the outcome. What I like about this part of the game is it slows things down. Every so many fellowship phases, a year passes, and eventually your PCs may want to think about appointing an heir, to adventure as they reach retirement age. Thats some serious long-term planning for an RPG, bringing back memories of Birthright. The DM is also encouraged to spend these fellowship phases to update the players on what is happening in the world, and the structure gives a nice way to make the world feel alive.
Overall the game is phenomenal, and if you’re looking for a slow paced, meandering old school RPG, without the old school mentality, this is the game for you. Grab a copy on their storefront and spring for the physical edition.
The wife being a giant LoTR fan, means I also backed enough to get the starter box. It came with the games mandatory fancy dice*, a very nice giant map (double sided with Middle Earth on one side and The Shire on the other. I’ll probably have the shire side framed next to my other similar sized giant Middle Earth one), sample character sheets for a variety of hobbits that I can name, and a few I’d google (for use in the included adventures), a set of five linked adventures to serve as the basis for your first campaign (Each of which takes place in or around The Shire), an abridged version of the rules (really handy for players, even if you have the full rules), a stack of rules coasters, outlining the basic rules for who does what on each job during a Journey or a Combat, and a stack of item cards that might be handy to some players, but I’ve got to think would be easier on a character sheet. Overall, the starter pack is great, and I think the adventures do a good of setting up how to play mechanically and tonally. I love the maps, and the detailed shire write up is great. I’ll also add that I wish the core book fit in the box with the starter set. It is a small thing, but it is a practical thing that would really have set it apart.
*Mandatory Fancy Dice: You know our stance on these, and it's do not use them. If there is anything that discourages groups from picking up a new game, it's explaining that you need some special dice with special symbols on it. Your high interest players might buy a set, but all the half-interested folks, and uncommitted folks' bail. At least these are not super hard to convert normal dice to, only having 2 unique faces on the d12. A unique 1 and 12, and a special mark on the 6 for the d6.