The One Ring is a tabletop role-playing game that was developed by Cubicle 7 and Sophisticated Games, and was released in October 2011. I don’t know this for sure, but I always assumed it was supposed to be released shortly before the premier of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but then that was delayed a year. In any case, the game is not a tie-in to the movie, and is based solely on the book, with original artwork and none of the bad decisions that annoy me about the movie. (I don’t have much to say about the movie right now, but later…?)
This is not a review of the game, or an advertisement for it, though it is great and you should buy it. No, this is about some of the reasons I love RPG’s, using one of my favorite games as an example.
The picture you see above is an introduction to what a tabletop RPG is, and why it is not like a board game or computer game. What you see in the picture is not the game. The game is in the story, and in the imaginations of the players. Those books are just guidelines. The game isn’t about a board with paths and pictures. It isn’t about moving tokens around or staring at flashy graphics rendered in millions of 3d polygons. It is about creation.
I have a deep, compelling need to create. It manifests in my interest in programming, in my love of cooking, in my radio homebrewing, in my attempts at writing fiction. A roleplaying game like this one is a theater performance, a fiction-writing session, and a puzzle-solving effort all rolled into one.
Of course, I didn’t always know this. I didn’t have any knowledge or interest in role-playing games until a few years ago. To me, these games were either morally corrupt (thanks, religious reactionism) or tedious and boring (thanks, Decipher’s LotR Trading-Card Game!) This changed during a period when I discovered some entertaining looks at RPG’s and RPG culture. Comics like DM of the Rings and Order of the Stick didn’t just introduce me to the games, they made them look fun! During this time, I also read Shamus Young’s write-up of a campaign he participated in. Hmm…this was something I should look into.
Well, I did. I had no interest in D & D, but I found out that there were a couple of games based on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This was something I could get into. After some time went by I talked two of my friends into trying the introductory adventure for Decipher’s LotR role-playing game. (This is separate from the card game I mentioned earlier.) It went…poorly. See, the game has it’s flaws, but that wasn’t the main problem. The main problem is that none of us had ever played a game like this before, and here I was, trying to teach them how to play while trying to teach myself how to be a Gamemaster (a Gamemaster or GM is the person who represents the setting and most characters to the players. Many games have other terms for this responsibility.)
As a new Gamemaster I have had many opportunities to learn not just how to play or officiate a game, but also how to convey a story and setting to my players. The creative process for a game doesn’t end when it is printed and shipped. As a player or GM, you can put your own ideas into the game, and make it fit the picture in your head. For someone like me, the possibility is fascinating.
So now I’ve spent a long time talking, and I’ve said very little about The One Ring. Why do I like it? For one thing, the rules are simple enough for my limited attention span to digest. It is flexible enough to fit a lot of stories I could write (and some of them might even be good.) More than any other game I’ve seen, it truly captures the spirit of Tolkien’s books.
Until now, I’ve been following some excellent pre-written campaigns, but the time has come to make my own way. I’ve begun preparing a series of short adventures for my gaming group. The world will be shaped by the players and the and the end is still a mystery even to me. Once my players sit down to play it for the first time it won’t be my story anymore, it will be theirs. This is as it should be.