The One Ring Starter Set reminds me of the Shire theme from The Lord of the Rings movies - for fans, it's like a warm, cozy hug. Filled with comfy nostalgia, mischief, and lighthearted shenanigans that hint at a wider world, it's nothing if not heartwarming.
Unlike the core rulebook, this adventure isn't about charging off into the blue to fight with goblins and dark lords; instead, The One Ring Starter Set lets you loose on one of the most beloved locations in fantasy fiction. Since hobbits are such a lynchpin for stories set in Middle-earth, beginning your journey here makes perfect sense. It's the ideal place to learn how all this works in relative safety (both literally and in terms of players who may be completely new to the best tabletop RPGs), all while edging closer to a darkness that will eventually sweep you away into a grand adventure of your own.
Although it's not perfect, and some may be disappointed by that slow start, the designers at Free League (which is responsible for Alien and other adaptations) prove why they're one to watch with this beginner-friendly kit.
The One Ring Starter Set - features
|Price||$44.99 / £39.99|
|Players||2 - 6|
|Lasts||2hrs per session|
|Play if you enjoy||The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, D&D, Index Card RPG, Wanderhome|
As the name would suggest, The One Ring Starter Set helps you get to grips with the system thanks to beginner-friendly rules, handouts, and a straightforward adventure that's easy to run. It's a one-stop shop for learning how to play this game at large, and is much friendlier than the massive core rulebook that goes into more detail about how this all works.
Basically, it contains everything you need to know: there's a streamlined rulebook, a prewritten series of missions, a full-color map of the area, plenty of info regarding the Shire and what might happen if adventurers visit its many locales, special dice, and pre-generated characters so that you can avoid the faff of creating your own. Much like the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set, these include bite-size backgrounds for each hero that describe who they are and why they're on this quest. Although you won't be controlling Lord of the Rings icons such as Samwise Gamgee (the story is set a couple of decades after The Hobbit but around 30 years before Frodo sets off on his quest to Mount Doom), you will see some famous faces along the way.
How does it work?
- Streamlined to three core stats
- Uses d12 and d6 dice instead of a d20
- Quick and easy to learn
Unlike Dungeons and Dragons books (which use d20 dice, numerous modifiers, and a Difficulty Class determined by whoever is running the game), The One Ring instead goes for something simpler. The abilities of each character are divided into three categories - Strength, Heart, and Wit - and these all feature a 'Target Number', or TN, that you've got to beat to succeed at an activity using those skills. As an example, tight-rope walking would use 'Athletics' from the Strength category, so you'd try to beat your Strength TN.
To do so, all you have to do is roll one of the game's special d12 dice along with a number of d6s. (The amount depends on how good your character is at the ability.) If the combined result matches or exceeds the TN, you've succeeded. It's elegant and instantly understandable. It also lightens the load on whoever's running the game, allowing players to take a bit more ownership of these skill checks.
There are plenty of other rules to navigate, of course, but The One Ring Starter Set keeps things simple and only adds new mechanics (like combat, which mostly follows the same pattern) when players are ready for them.
- Missions are easy-going, with a focus on roleplay over combat
- Slowly introduces you to new mechanics
- Includes lots of background to help with world-building
I was hesitant about The One Ring Starter Set at first. The gentle hills of the Shire aren't known for their sense of adventure, so wouldn't an entire campaign set there be a bit… pedestrian? You're more likely to find six square meals a day in the company of hobbits, not mountains to conquer or dungeons to explore. In addition, doesn't the fact that its pre-generated heroes have ties to Lord of the Rings characters (you can use Frodo's parents and Merry's mother, for instance) make it all a bit… cute?
However, it handles both issues surprisingly well. While these quests are lighthearted fun in-keeping with what we know about mischievous hobbits, they can quickly morph into something more serious if the occasion calls for it. Your party has to rescue a child who's lost in the wilderness and is in very real danger at one point, for example, followed by an encounter where characters hunt for the savage 'Burnt Beast.' What's more, the intro lays out a canon-friendly reason for everyone to be galavanting around the Shire anyway - and when it wouldn't make sense, more suitable heroes are swapped in. (To say any more would spoil the surprise.)
This boxset isn't the be-all and end-all when it comes to The One Ring; there's plenty more to explore when it comes to Free League's version of Middle-earth. Along with a hefty Core Rulebook that features further inspiration and rules for character creation (including elves and dwarves), Ruins of the Lost Realm takes players to Eriador for more dangerous quests.
Sure, there isn't much focus on combat. Players will have to fight at certain points, but these encounters are few and far between enough to stand out. This gives roleplay and exploration a lot more room to breathe, which is a nice change of pace from so many tabletop RPGs that revolve around battle. The surprisingly chunky document of Shire background (with random encounters for use during travel or gossip you can spread when the heroes stop at a local pub) gives you plenty to dig into, and the laid-back pace shines as a result. For Lord of the Rings nerds like me, it's a joy.
It's crammed with memorable individuals and characterful writing, too; whereas D&D feels as if you're careening through a sandbox full of toys, The One Ring Starter Set can give the sense that you're part of a lost story from Middle-earth creator J.R.R. Tolkien himself.
Naturally, it's not perfect. The first group I took through the Starter Set failed any and all checks to cross a river that was their first obstacle, for instance, and Free League gave no advice about what to do in this case.
Furthermore, it's not always clear why the group has to go about things a certain way. Your first task is to steal an artifact for Bilbo Baggins, for example, and he suggests that you travel off-road to avoid prying eyes and/or be tarnished with his bad reputation. But because Bilbo isn't coming with you, and nobody knows what you have planned, why would that be a problem in the first place? Everyone I played with asked this question, and it was difficult to find a good answer.
That's a niggle, though, and things only get better after the first mission (which I would say is the Starter Set's weakest, despite still being good overall). Plus, the Shire booklet is crammed with enough inspiration that you could go off the beaten track comfortably enough. Which is what roleplaying games are all about, right?
Should you buy The One Ring Starter Set?
If you've got a group that loves The Lord of the Rings and you set their expectations correctly, this is an excellent place to start. It really does ease you into the system and is a great jumping off point in general, particularly because it includes handy accessories (like stance and item cards) that you won't really use until you dive into the Core Rulebook anyway.
Yes, there are some issues… but I'd highly recommend The One Ring Starter Set nonetheless.
Buy it if...
You adore The Lord of the Rings
Fans of hobbits, the Shire, and Middle-earth in general will find a lot to love here - it's a wonderful way to explore that world.
You prefer roleplay to combat
Fighting isn't a big feature of this boxset, so anyone who would rather take things at a slower pace will be served well here.
Don't buy it if...
You want lots of action
If you're expecting a Fellowship-style quest full of danger and combat, you won't find it here.
You don't like hobbits, or the Shire
Find Frodo's escapades in his homeland to be a bore? You probably won't get on with this kit, because it's entirely based in the Shire.
How we tested The One Ring Starter Set
After reading through the kit's rule and adventure booklets from cover to cover, I ran missions from The One Ring Starter Set for two different groups to see how they'd get on with this jaunt through the Shire. For more information on our process, check out our guide on how we test.
This review copy was provided by Free League.
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