The impact of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works on Dungeons & Dragons is undeniable. The iconic fantasy series influenced the portrayal of elves, dwarves, rangers, and rogues, as well as the idea of a small group of heroes joining forces to save the world. Free League Publishing’s The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying seeks to build on these connections, while also introducing clever modifications to the rules of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition to deliver an adventure that truly captures the essence of the beloved fantasy series.
The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying takes the rules of The One Ring tabletop roleplaying game and smoothly converts them to 5E, a wise decision considering how challenging it can be to convince D&D players to learn a new system. While the book is rooted in the world of Middle-earth and is filled with Tolkien quotes, sketches of famous places and characters, the rules themselves are robust and innovative. Game masters interested in running a low-magic game with a greater emphasis on negotiation and exploration will find this book worth purchasing.
Set in the time period between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying focuses primarily on the adventures of scrappy heroes fighting against the encroaching power of the Shadow in the region of Eriador. This region includes iconic locations like the Shire, Rivendell, and Bree. While the cultures of elves, dwarves, and men will be familiar to D&D players, they are given a distinctive Middle-earth flavor. Additionally, the traditional D&D classes are replaced with heroic callings such as Messenger and Champion, offering a fresh take on character options.
The character progression is limited to 10 levels, ensuring that the power scale remains grounded. Furthermore, flashy magic is not readily available to all characters. In the world of Lord of the Rings, wizards are legendary figures, and only a Scholar has a limited form of healing and a stronger affinity for crafts. These crafts can range from talking to animals to reading runes, and can even include forging armor or singing songs to aid allies. Players can choose these crafts as they level up, instead of selecting a virtue or feat. The classes are well-balanced, avoiding the imbalance between spellcasters and martial characters often encountered in D&D.
Each calling in The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying has a shadow path, representing the potential for a character to succumb to darkness. Instead of using a simplistic alignment system like D&D, the game encourages players to embrace flawed heroes, similar to Boromir and Frodo, who try their best to do what is right but may be swayed by doubt or greed. Engaging in misdeeds or encountering dark creatures can result in shadow points, leading to mechanical penalties and roleplaying flaws. Sufficient accumulation of shadow points may even cause a character to lash out at their own allies or become unplayable due to the overwhelming burden of darkness.
Fortunately, the influence of the shadow can be cleansed through the fellowship phase, which serves as a break from the fast pace of adventuring. The fellowship phase allows players to engage in activities such as crafting, gathering rumors, writing songs, or training an heir. These activities have mechanical effects on the game, such as retraining abilities through writing a character biography or passing on XP and gear to an heir. Players can also gain information and other boons from their patron, who can be any powerful figure from Middle-earth, such as Elrond or Gandalf.
In The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying, epic battles are certainly important, but so are the long journeys across treacherous terrain and negotiations with potential allies. The game uses the combat rules from 5E but introduces new subsystems for councils and journeys to enhance these aspects of gameplay. Councils allow for formal social scenes where the party sets goals and can earn rewards based on their convincing arguments through skill checks. This feature provides an opportunity for players who enjoy interacting with NPCs and delivering motivational speeches to shine as the party’s spokesperson.
The journey subsystem in The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying follows a system similar to Level Up Advanced 5th Edition and Pathfinder. It emphasizes the challenges of navigating wild territories by dividing survival skills into hunting, exploration, and travel. Characters can utilize their abilities to fulfill different roles in an expedition, such as scout or hunter. The game master rolls on an encounter table, and the outcome is shaped by the danger of the territory and the abilities employed by the characters. Journeys may bring misfortune, like stumbling upon orcs’ brutal handiwork, or they may lead to the discovery of lost wonders and provide inspiration to players. Resting takes longer in this game, with short rests lasting eight hours and long rests only possible in safe locations. However, the game also offers more mechanics that provide advantage to players and prevent random deaths due to bad luck, aligning with the themes of destiny found in Tolkien’s work.
In addition to the core rulebook, Free League has released Shire Adventures, which serves as an introduction to the system, particularly suitable for new or younger D&D players. The Loremaster’s Screen includes a booklet on Rivendell, an ideal location for a fellowship phase, and introduces new character options for elves. With the release of the Ruins of Eriador setting book and Tales From Eriador collection of adventures, Free League has demonstrated its commitment to expanding The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying and making it more accessible to players.