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Rivendell - TOR Supplement

Review Rivendell TOR Supplement


The One Ring (TOR) is a roleplaying game set in Middle-earth. Unlike previous roleplaying incarnations of setting, this in my opinion strives to capture the look and feel of the setting to degree magnitudes greater than anything that has gone before. This is a game of low magic and well developed characters with significant individuality and no classes per se. While the system has its issues, largely around highly experienced characters and perceived imbalance in the combat system, both of these aspects do little to pull down the otherwise impressive product.

Our weekly gaming group has been systematically playing through the scenarios featured in the earlier supplement Tales from Wilderland though we are about to come to the end of them - just a dragon to face, oh, and the ancient spirit of the torturer of Dol Guldor whose agenda has just about been revealed. This supplement could not arrive at a better time, well, possibly a couple of scenarios ago would have been handy. The main reason for this is that as well as the expected maps of Rivendell and background information on its various residents this supplement contains quite a few goodies aimed at powerful adventuring groups.



The Book
The supplement will be hardback not that uncommon nowadays as I suspect most people buying these products are 30+ years old and therefore do not bat an eyelid at the extra cost. Lets face it, a nicely bound hardback looks pretty damn good on the shelf, where nowadays it tends to stay as you flick through to the relevant pages of the PDF on your ipad.

Will be hardback?
I am effectively reviewing the PDF with an aside glance to the hardbound Darkening of Mirkwood supplement which though ordered in February has just arrived at the start of August. As I am assured the same printers and binders will be used for Rivendell, I can honestly say that the quality is top-notch.

Why the wait of six months between order and delivery?
Cubicle 7 (the producers) are following the trend of selling the product before it has gone to print. As the product includes the PDF for instant download, it gives them around 4 months pre-sales, presumably used in the paying of agents, staff and print-run. This makes sense as I suspect that they are unlikely to pre-sell more than around a thousand units worldwide. Even accounting for no VAT on books, paying the author, artists and editors quickly amounts to very little if any profit. Even with a projected print-run of say 3,000, I suspect that budgets are very tight with an audible sigh of relief when the breakeven point has been reached. TOR is very much a niche genre in a niche market. Expecting print runs for supplements in the tens of thousands is simply not realistic which means that the labour costs per unit are high. Basically, even if they went for PDF sales only, they would still need to charge around £20 based on estimated unit sales just to break even. Spending a couple of quid on good binding allows them up the price by £15. As such it makes sense to ensure that they deliver a premium product as customers will be less disgruntled. Personally speaking I dont begrudge them this as a night in the pub nowadays costs significantly more (especially if the wife is out as well).

Anyway, that aside the PDF, which is what I am effectively reviewing here is very nice. Cubicle 7's reputation for quality in terms of layout, style and favoured artists is well deserved. The supplement, very unlike that of ICE (from years ago) is fitting with the themes evoked by Middle-earth. Their use of water colours, favouring muted earthy tones and preference for images of moors, mountains and rivers is reminiscent of the England's Lake District and Yorkshire Moors and even closer to home, the region around Bowland an area Tolkien himself was familiar with due to his association with Stonyhurst College.

Contents
While there is of course more than a dozen pages assigned to details about Rivendell and a reasonable synopsis of the region (Eriador), there is little point in reviewing them here suffice to say that the former is sufficiently detailed to keep the readers interest and the latter, though largely garnered from freely available material such as the appendices from The Return of the King have been refined and made into a flowing narrative. I suspect that most Loremasters are sufficiently familiar with the history to chuck in some vague references about the region, though this is still an excellent source of quick-reference material.

Geography and Places
From a Loremaster perspective this is much more useful as it gives quite a few made-up locations that can be focus points for an ongoing campaign. The flavour of the settings is sufficiently subtle that they do not grate against the larger setting, in fact integrating seamlessly. I suspect that some of these will also feature in the upcoming supplement Ruins of the North, though it never hurts to drop references to them in the meantime or even use them if appropriate.

Important People
There are details about Elrond, his sons and a few other famous people and even some stats. Personally I prefer the fluffy mechanics for NPC's used by TOR. I can't see any reason for listing his skill at skiing (which is apparently 95 for those that used the Rolemaster system). There are no tailored abilities, list of magic items or even combat stats. This is not somebody that will be involved in combat. To add the information would in my mind be extraneous. That said, they haven't even given Glorfindel endurance points, which may have been a bit more useful if he was coming to the rescue, though I suppose his arrival pretty much means that the battle is over, so in retrospect they are also unnecessary. The detail on the characters is aimed at using them as go-to people, with each sufficiently fleshed out to make them individuals. This plays to the strength of the system which has a detailed interaction system for dealing with NPC's unlike other systems I have used over that past three decades.

Minions and Monsters
Despite or possibly because Eriador is described as the empty land, quite a lot of effort has spent on the look and feel of the foul denizens of the region. I especially like Ettins as trolls so old they are little more than ugly weathered rocks that may come to life. Suddenly using battered cairns as guide along a hazardous mountain trail no longer seems like a wise choice. Wights and various other solitary beasts are detailed though the crème de la crème has to be the Witchking himself. I am still not convinced the corruption test targets are particularly high and that possibly there needs to be more mechanics for worsening the situation if the GM wants to go harder on really powerful characters.

The Eye of Mordor
Whats this? Ah, seems like the grumble at the end of the last section has been answered. This mechanic explains why the most powerful wizard wondering the wilds restricts himself to setting fire to pine cones and chucking them at wolves rather than summoning a hurricane of fire to turn them all to toast. Essentially each time a character blunders or does something magical the hunt track of the Eye increases. When it hits the target, bad things can happen or more likely, bad things already happening get worse. This is not direct intervention of Sauron, the Witchking or any of his minions but rather pre-disposition of the pervasive ill-will in Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age thwarting the plans of those catching its attention.

Treasure
I remember years ago hearing Middle-earth being described as a place of high magic. I suppose compared to mundania it is, but when standing next to a typical D&D adventure with magic-users casting fire balls and fighters with a list of magical items the size of an Argos catalogue, it is really rather tame. This is something that has never been properly handled in previous incarnations of the setting. That they are only now, a few supplements in actually dealing with magical treasure is therefore quite reaffirming that they have an understanding of the setting. This is further enhanced by mechanics that require the Loremaster to actually create items tailored to the character and only allow them to find them. Further, that there is a finite list of magical weapons and armour that can potentially be found by each character. I am not sure how looting dead bodies is handled, though I suspect it is down to the Loremaster to ensure that personal treasure is either destroyed or becomes heirlooms and out of the game shortly after the characters demise. All in all a novel approach to dealing with proliferation of treasure.

New Backgrounds
Time to have your character die in some grand gesture of defiance against the Enemy before reaching for a fresh character sheet, yep, this is your opportunity to create either a Ranger of the North or a Noldor Elf character. Having read the backgrounds and even looked at the starting stats and points to spend, I am not convinced that these are significantly more powerful - though this may be because the current campaign characters are veterans of nearly two years of gaming. If any join the party, they are likely to be the baby of the group to be handheld across blighted places. Still, with Ruins of the North adventures soon to be released, by the end of it they should be just as impervious as our current coterie of Bardings.

The unique mechanics introduced for these backgrounds make for very interesting reading and like so much already commented on, sit nicely with the ethos of Middle-earth. If I wasn't Loremaster for the game, I would definitely go with playing a stern and serious ranger - at least till I had drunk a few pints, at which point I would revert to my normal haphazard gaming style fluctuating between over-thinking a situation and dashing straight in.

Negative Points
On the negative side (because even the best products have flaws) there are a few items I picked up on. To a large degree these are more personal feelings because I prefer my supplements to be free of what I consider extraneous material.

First of all, in the run-up to the launch one of the comments by the Cubicle 7 team was that there was a lot squeezed into the supplement but due to size constraints a few things had to be left out. This would indicate to me that every page was valuable and that we would not expect to find padding of any sort. Indeed this is fairly true. Even the treasure examples are possibly sufficiently useful to overlook accounting for 5% of the book, though of course I would be happier is this supplementary information was downloadable. I would also be even happier if the same was true of the four pages used for sample characters created from the new backgrounds for Noldor Elves and Rangers.

I am still in two minds over the inclusion of maps regarding Rivendell and the surrounding valley. On the one hand, unless you intend to run some sort of Easter egg hunt or have it overrun with baddies (in your wildly diverging version of the LotR), it is effectively a few pages of wasted material. Who really cares where the stairs up to Elronds personal quarters are or that Glorfindel has his own house down the lane? In a system that is based around many esoteric concepts this seems unusually well defined.

Conversely, I would also have been surprised if they had been missing. Maybe a less detailed map corresponding to the main picture would have sufficed, leaving more room for other stuff.



Maybe the maps are relevant to an upcoming scenario in which a character gets the opportunity to nick something from Elronds private boudoir?
The same (wasted space) could be said of the artwork in which quite a few images were duplicated. While I understand that this was generally done where the same creature was detailed in two locations (its narrative in the wilderness section and in the stats section), surely having its picture in one or the other location would have sufficed, again leaving space for other things.

All in all I suspect that the supplement could have been pruned by five or six pages, maybe even ten without significant loss of information allowing for things that didn't make the cut. I would have liked to have seen a lot more fellowship phase options for Rivendell and the surrounding region along with a few more curses and magical effects. Some more suggestions or options for the Eye of Mordor would have been nice, such as dealing with the party accompanied with a handful of NPC's. Stating that NPC's don't count towards being hunted by the Eye seems very odd indeed.

Summary
This is a very good supplement, giving options to the Loremaster who may have become a little jaded by characters cutting swathes through the ranks of his minions and fed up with characters seemingly utterly impossible to injure while at the same time complaining how unfair it is that they can only kill one orc each per round. It is clear though that this supplement will also serve as the foundation for future products. Anyone running adventures in Middle-earth using the TOR system should invest in this supplement.




 
News
Is open for business...
 
******Empire Syndicated News Network (ESNN) ******

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Welcome to the latest version of ESNN, giving the news and views from the ESNN's reporter and news anchor, Ainsley Moore, making this the peripheries' most favourite unbiased publication in the known universe from our new home in the Heartland,

And so with the news from the last few weeks,
 
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*** Inter Galactic News ***
  • DEN assault FEL base and get wiped out
  • CIA Trade fleet caught and destroyed by the DEN
  • Krell denounce worship of the True One

  •  
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Huge fleet skirmish at the London/Crossley wormhole

    A large fleet of over 700 DEN warships responded to the EMP action in Crossley, where a 4000 hull DEN platform was destroyed. Reports show the DEN ships caught a group of CIA ships napping and inflicted significant losses on the humans. IMP and GTT fleets moved to assist the CIA, matching DEN fleet numbers, but the arrival of over 1200 Hexamon ships seems to have tipped the battle in favour of the DEN-HEX alliance.

    The combined DEN-HEX force pushed through the wormhole into the Heartland area of human space and retaliated, attacking several CIA platforms in response. The outnumbered Empire fleets abandoned the area and fled, they are currently waiting for the larger alien force to make their next move from their hiding places.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Admiral Lord Simms killed after a long and distinguished service to the Empire.

    The Imperial Services have intercepted and serious damaged several DEN ships on the way to the Empire’s home systems. Unfortunately during the action Admiral Lord Simms was injured and reports from the Viceroy indicate he has passed away, fighting the enemies of the Empire like any true Imperial Officer.

    The Viceroy has stated that the officers and crew of the DEN ships have been captured and are now awaiting trial at a secret IMP base.

    DEN continue to strike at the Empire

    Reports are coming in of multiple engagements between the Empire and the Dewiek Elder Nation over the last week. With several battles taking out Empire ships in the Heartland of the CIA.

    AFT turn to piracy

    The Association of Free Traders have, after a long history of neutrality, turned to piracy this week. AFT Drake boarded an IND ship in the Halo periphery, killing several of the crew in the process.
    Independent trader Jarlebanke Langhofdi immediately took to the public communication channel demanding an answer to why supposedly peaceful traders had killed his crew and taken his ship.

    The AFT remain silent over the attack.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Combat Special Edition

    Since the DEN started shooting at those lovable FEL fluffballs things have certainly been heating up. So we through it would be prudent to bring you, gentle beings of the peripheries, a special edition in order to keep you updated with all the latest action in regards to who the DEN are shooting and who is shooting them.

    Felini strike back at Dewiek

    Reports have come in of the FEL striking back at the DEN in the Kallisan system. A huge FEL force supported by the IMP and CIA assaulted DEN positions taking both the platform and base called Lucien. There was much rejoicing in the FEL camp as the Felini proved they were not such lovable fluffballs after all!

    GTT get sucked into the war

    A passing fleet of GTT warships got caught in the fighting and this saw the GTT enter the war. When asked about this CEO Fox pointed out they are not warships at all, they are trade defence ships. So how they came to be in the DEN system of Kallisan is a mystery to us. But the GTT CEO was clear that they only engaged using support and defend orders to protect allies. Needless to say, the CEO commented “We found ourselves on the Dewiek Nation’s enemy lists pretty soon after.”

    Dewiek Nation attacks GTT positions in Orion Spur, breaking DOM system rules

    A fleet of DEN warships has engaged and destroyed a significant number of GTT cargo ships and escorts in the DOM system Monument. The GTT immediately took to the public channels to ask why the DOM were not doing something. In reply the DOM issued a statement to stop, which the DEN ignored.

    The DEN newssheet "The HOWL" published a completely unbiased review of the attack shortly after.

    DOM make a choice

    After the above incident and then further raiding by the DEN, taking out a few GTT cargo ships in the DOM system of Coptuv, the DOM seemed to have been faced with a choice of stopping drinking their tea and doing something or just hoping it would go away. Instead they seem to have decided to abandon the whole idea of being an active affiliation and we have since folded. The lengths some people will go to not to have their elevenses disturbed is truly staggering. We asked the DOM for a statement on their new system rules to share with our readers but have received no replies.

    DOM positions share out

    Just as we were going to press news has come in of various DOM assets being given to other affiliations or sold. Hopefully we will have more on this story in the next issue of your favorite factual newsheet. Yes, that's us at the SSS.

    *** Affiliations ***


    AFT Association of Free Traders (54) - Marion Tweedy
    CIA Combined Intelligence Agency (64) - Laton CIA
    DNA Displaced Natives Asylum (66) - DNA people
    DTR Detinus Republic (58) - Morley Decker
    DEN Dewiek Elder Nation (67) - Urd
    DOM Dominion (57) – we believe the DOM are now inactive
    FCN Falconian Republic (70) - Bacran
    FEL Felini Tyranny (49) - Juris
    FLZ Flagritz Republic (47) - Kayxaer
    FET Frontier Exploration & Trade (56) - Cu Chulainn
    GRC Gracians (13) - HG1
    GTT Galactic Trade & Transport (52) - Xavier Fox
    GCE Garcia Enterprises (4) - Neil
    HEX Hexamon (23) - Ando
    IMP Imperial Services (51) - Jack Jones
    KRL Krell (30) - Namica
    KRT Krell of the Reverence Temple (37) - Kal Torak
    KST Kastor Kastorians (12) - Kastor
    MZC Mizuchi Combine (86) - Mizuchi
    MOH Mohache (73) - Listens
    MIC Mohache Independent Commune (76) - Sleeps with Dragons
    NLF Naplian Liberation Front (38) - NLFHQ
    RIP Regularly Involved in Piracy - Githyanki
    RRH Roy Robert Holdings (39) - Roy Roberts
    SMS Stellar Mining and Smelting (53) - MikhailM
    USN Ulian Stellar Nation (34) - Oeipus Prime
    WMB Wimble Nations (25) - zz

    * Leader MAY be inactive, affiliation may be active
    ** Affiliation has no leader but this is the only known contact

    NPC / FoC: ARC, CIV, CGT, FRE, HBO, HEF, IND, ISP, JCN, MEK, MRC, PIR, PRV, TCA, TRN, KAS

    Inactive: ANT, BHD, COD, HVE, IDC, RIP, RCF, SKW, TAG

    Deceased: CAL

    *** Submission ***

    By private message to The Editor or via Mica if you prefer to remain anonymous.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    New pirate threat rocks Corward Arm.

    Several large pirate ships have been spotted in outer rings of Corward systems. Reports forwarded to us at the SSS allow us to exclusively tell readers that traders should keep their wits about them when moving through these areas.

    No existing pirate menace has yet claimed ownership.

    In a possibly unrelated event one of the FET cartel members claimed nothing was happening in the outer ring of Coptov shortly afterwards. But it could be that they are still trying to catch Empire backed pirates and have nothing to do with the new sightings.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****


    DEN continue to shoot innocents

    The Dewiek have made themselves busy shooting at the peaceful and innocent traders of the SSL. Leader of Solar Spices and Liquors Mr TOAD has been vocal pointing out that the Beast-DEN are being totally unfair. News of a go-fund-me appeal are yet to surface though.

    This office is sure that it must have provided the DEN light relief after picking on the equally defenceless Felini. Word is that the DEN faced such an uphill struggle in these recent actions they had to take up Felini inter-breeding to provide some entertainment as the battle reports were rather boring.
     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Return of the LiQuans

    A close associate of the Baron LiQuan has been haunting the Corewards periphery and like the old Baron it is said he has a meklan connection. It's unclear whether he obtained his meklan nanites via the CIA but there are rumours that the DEN may be helping the Liquan relative in a bid to sow discontent in the Stellar Empire. Exactly why they would start in Corewards is unclear although with DEN allies, the DOM, having strong positions both in the Sol system and the old Harcorp systems of Harlong and Coptuv they may be the linking factor.


     
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    ***** Inter Galactic News *****

    Meklan Unleashed on Mobile Bay

    Mad Dewiek scientist Dr Kala released a number of Meklan on the busy world of Mobile Bay in the Yank system. Thousands of civilians have been killed in what is treated by DEN warlords as an amusing practical joke. Rather than take any responsibility for their affiliation’s reckless behaviour, a DEN lord rumoured to be half-meklan himself quipped he would nuke the planet whilst another merely saw it as an opportunity to test some of his greener troops in combat. Surprisingly, the KAS planetary defence force was up to the job of repelling the insidious incursion. Questions remain whether further meklan are stored elsewhere on the planet and whether anybody will challenge the Dewiek’s lack of care for the lives of innocents. Probably not, given how even the mighty IMP are now cowering from a fight with the DEN (see inside this edition).


     

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    Ultimately, I think it is a combination of automation (that allows the game to handle thousands of positions to interact on a daily basis) coupled with Special Actions (that allow the story arc to develop in a way that could not be catered for by a set of predefined list of available orders).
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