The One Ring (reviewed here) was published last year and is a fantastic roleplaying game based on the Lord of the Rings that uses a thematically appropriate system whilst conveying the sense of wonder that permeates the novels. Since then, The Lord of the Rings roleplaying game, based on the 5E system, as used in Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) has been developed and recently released.
Developing a roleplaying game using the 5E system is a double-edged sword. D&D remains the best-known roleplaying game, the mechanics of which have even entered mainstream parlance (we all know armour class, for example, as the phrase is widely used in media), but there are also certain gameplay expectations that come with it.
The Lord of the Rings (5E) transfers many of the core ideas of The One Ring into the mechanics of 5E system very well. Unfortunately, it is not a perfect fit, as the game’s themes are not elegantly integrated into the rules. However, the 5E system is widely understood, and from that perspective this initial knowledge helps in terms of the accessibility of the rules, especially for new players or those more familiar with D&D.
Character classes have been adapted for the setting of Middle Earth and have been renamed ‘callings’. Those hoping to play a wizard, sorcerer or warlock will be disappointed. Spells remain the purview of the Maiar (celestial beings, like the wizards Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, etc), with players only having access to mystical abilities through magical items, such as invisibility from a certain magic gold ring…
Much of the 5E system remains the same, but incorporates mechanics from The One Ring, such as those for patrons and the different phases (one for exploring and another for recovering and pursuing character-focused goals between adventures). However, the encroaching sense of darkness and despair that is so iconic to the Lord of the Rings, and which was thematically embedded within the rules of The One Ring, does not feel as present.
The greatest problem with The Lord of the Rings (5E) is 5E’s association with D&D, which carries certain expectations of what a D&D/5E game is. However, the epic-fantasy/high-magic shenanigans of a D&D/5E game do not always fit well within the atmosphere of The Lord of the Rings.
Even if the players do not wish to play a Lord of the Rings game using the 5E system, there are still some great game mechanics that can be extrapolated from this roleplaying game and transplanted into other roleplaying games that use the 5E system. For example, the shadow path is an excellent mechanic for measuring a character’s exposure to evil and the impact it has on their personality.
So far, a Lord of the Rings 5E core rulebook, a Shire Adventures supplement and the Lore Master’s Screen have been released. They all look amazing and more supplements are planned. The artwork throughout is wonderfully atmospheric and the sepia tone is reminiscent of ancient grimoires. Likewise, the wraparound artwork on the lore master screen evokes the mood to the players, whilst hiding the GM’s notes, and includes a series of quick reference tables on the inside to save looking through the books.
For those that want to try a different roleplaying game, but have no wish to learn a new system or are just happy with the D&D/5E rules, then The Lord of the Rings (5E) would be ideal. However, for those that are after something a little bit different, with a game that embeds the core themes within the system, then The One Ring roleplaying game would be a better choice.