I love RPG beginner boxes! Today I have the pleasure of checking out The One Ring Starter Set from Free League Publishing.
This is a brand new RPG intro boxed set that introduces a group of up to six players to the world of The One Ring Second Edition, which is, of course, set in Middle Earth and based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. This set includes everything you need to play including a five act adventure that has the players taking their first steps into adventure as Hobbits in The Shire.
Disclosure: Thanks to Free League Publishing for sending us a review copy of this RPG boxed set. Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What is The One Ring Starter Set?
The One Ring Starter Set was designed by Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello with additional development by Michele Garbuggio. It features adventures by James Spahn, maps from Francesco Mattioli, and fantastic artwork from Dan Algstrand, Giuditta Betti, Niklas Brandt, Federica Costantini, Antonio De Luca, Christian Granath, Martin Grip, Francesco Mattioli, Jan Pospíšil, Henrik Rosenborg, Melissa Spandri, and Alvaro Tapia.
This new starter set for the second edition of The One Ring Roleplaying game was published by Free League Publishing in late 2021 after a very successful Kickstarter. It is designed for two to six players including the Loremaster, the GM role in this Lord of the Rings based game. The included adventures and Shire sourcebook should provide many hours of gameplay, with each session expected to last about two hours.
This very full RPG boxed set has a price of $43.40 when buying direct from Free League though prices on various online stores vary greatly.
The One Ring Starter Set is a roleplaying game beginner box designed to introduce players to The One Ring Second Edition, a fantasy RPG set in Middle Earth, the world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. It provides everything you need to play including streamlined rules and ready to go characters, along with an adventure that lets you take on the role of Hobbits experiencing their first taste of adventure.
To take a look at all of the components you get in this RPG beginner box, check out our The One Ring Starter Set Unboxing on YouTube.
Since the next section of this review will be me talking about each of the components in detail, all I’m going to say at this point is that the overall component quality is excellent. The books are well bound softcovers, the map is on thicker, almost cardstock-like, paper, the artwork throughout is amazing, the writing is consistently great, etc. Heck, they even used the inside of the box to squeeze in more content.
A breakdown of everything you get in The One Ring Starter Set:
The Box for The One Ring Starter Set
I don’t usually take the time to call out the box itself when reviewing an RPG boxed set but in the case of The One Ring Starter Set, I feel I must.
First off the box is nice and thick and sturdy. I’m so glad we are past the days of thin card boxes that don’t last a week sitting on your shelf even if you don’t even play the game. This is a nice thick box with great evocative artwork and a box back that makes you want to play.
That’s not the main thing I want to call out though, what I really want to highlight is the inside of the box, and no I don’t mean the contents. What Free League has done here is something I haven’t personally seen before. They used the inside of the box, the back of the box top and the back of the box cover to provide players with a simple Loremaster screen.
The box bottom has a map of the Shire with its four Farthings while the box top contains a rule summary and various tables that you may need to reference during play.
I thought this was brilliant.
The One Ring Starter Set Dice
Next, I wanted to bring up the one problem I found while checking out this starter set and that’s with The One Ring Starter Set dice.
This Lord of the Rings boxed set gives you a set of custom dice consisting of two twelve-sided dice and six six-sided dice.
The D6s have the usual numbers of one to six with a couple of special features. The first is that the six also has the elvish numeral one on it. These elven 1s are used to determine the degree of success. The second unique feature of these dice is that the numbers one to three are hollow while the numbers four through six are solid. This comes up when your character is weary, at which point a roll of one, two, or three doesn’t count.
The D12 dice should contain the numbers one to ten as well as Gandalf’s rune and an Eye of Sauron. I say should because the physical dice actually have the numbers two through eleven printed on them. This is a printing error and something Free League is working on getting fixed. If you do pick up this boxed set and have misprinted dice Free League will replace them if you wish.
Personally, while I am disappointed by this error I’m not sure it’s worth forcing the company to accrue this cost. You can easily just read the eleven as a one when playing or just let the eleven count as an eleven, as what Hobbit isn’t excited about Elevenses? Plus, at least for this starter set, this is a game about hope and exploration and I really don’t think adding a slightly better chance of success is a bad thing.
As for the dice mechanics, I will get to those when talking about the rulebook.
A Map of The Shire and Eriador
The One Ring Starter Set comes with a beautiful, large, two sided eight panel map.
One side shows the Shire the main setting for the adventures in this starter set. The other shows the region of Eriador which includes the Shire and other well known Middle Earth Locations like Bree and Rivendell.
Now I’ve yet to pick up the original version of The One Ring RPG but I learned from Pookie UK’s Review of The One Ring Starter Set that this is a change in setting from the previous edition of this RPG. The original game was set in Rhovanion, the region east of the Misty Mountains.
While I think the Shire map is going to be amazing for use with the included adventure, the map of Eriador is going to prove useful for groups who move on to the full game after finishing up with this starter set.
The One Ring Starter Set Item and Stance Cards
This RPG boxed set comes with a deck of thirty item cards with fourteen different weapons and seven different pieces of armour.
Each card features artwork and the item name on one side. The other side has a description of the item and any pertinent rule information.
Personally, I love getting sets of cards like these as I find referencing cards much easier than having to dig through rulebooks during play. Cards also have the added advantage of letting players easily show what they have equipped and stowed and can also be used to randomly select gear.
The One Ring Starter Set also has a set of six double sided Stance and Exploration cards. These are mainly included in this boxed set as a tool for players who go on to use the full The One Ring Core Rulebook. The rulebook in this starter set provides some very simple rules for using the stance side of the cards but doesn’t even mention what the other, exploration, side is for.
I don’t mind these as a tease of something more and they seem like they will be nice to have if we do move on to playing with the full rules.
The Pre-Generated Characters from The One Ring Starter Set
This starter set includes six Hobbits for you to play; Rorimac Brandybuck, Primula Brandybuck, Paladin Took II, Lobelia Bracegirdle, Esmerelda Took and Drogo Baggins.
Middle Earth fans may recognize some of those names as the relations of some rather famous Hobbits.
Each character sheet has a beautiful image of the character and a detailed description that includes some roleplaying cues and ways to link the characters together. The other side of the sheet includes game information like stats, skills, etc.
Note there are no character creation rules in The One Ring Starter Set. The included adventures are designed around these pre-made characters.
In addition to the six Hobbits, there are two other character sheets. These characters are unlocked while playing the included adventure. This is something I’ve never seen in an RPG starter set before and I really dig it.
As for what these additional characters are, you are going to have to play the game to find out!
The Rules booklet from The One Ring Starter Set
The first book you will want to read from The One Ring Starter Set is the book simply called The Rules.
This twenty-four page book provides a simplified version of The One Ring rules. I have not read the core rulebook at this point so I don’t know what form these simplifications take.
The book starts off with a Prologue and example of play that does a good job of giving you an idea of the tone of the game and a glimpse at the mechanics. It introduces the setting which is Middle Earth in the year 2960, the Twilight of the Third Age, a period set between the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
For this boxed set, players will be playing Hobbits and exploring the Shire. The One Ring is a traditional RPG in that one player will take on the role of Loremaster while the other players will be playing Player-Heroes.
The action resolution section introduces the dice mechanics. This includes a few paragraphs about when to roll and when rolls aren’t needed, following the modern trend of only rolling when all potential outcomes are interesting.
The resolution system in The One Ring involves a dice pool that always contains at least one D12 Feat die plus a number of D6 Success dice based on what skill and characteristic the character is using. You total these dice and compare the result to a target number which is derived from the character’s attributes of Strength, Heart and Wits. This is quite different from other popular RPGs where the game master sets the target number.
With the Feat die, the Gandalf rune symbol represents an automatic success and the Eye of Sauron rune counts as a roll of 0. The elven rune on the D6 is used to determine the degree of success on a successful role with one rune meaning a great success and two or more meaning an extraordinary success.
As expected there are also systems for modifying the difficulty. These include adding and removing success dice as well as a system for rolling two feat dice and keeping either the highest or lowest for favourable and unfavourable situations. Fitting with the theme, there is also a hope and inspiration system that allows players to add additional dice to their pool.
As characters take damage or overburden themselves they become Weary. When weary a result of one to three on the success dice doesn’t count. Characters can also become wounded.
The various Player Hero characteristics include the three attributes, Strength. Heart and Wits. Characters have distinctive features that can be called on for inspiration both in roleplaying and mechanically by making your character inspired. Skills in this game are very Middle Earth based and quite different from what you normally see in other fantasy RPGs. They include things like Courtesy, Enhearten, Explore, Riddle, Song and Travel, along with some more typical skills like Athletics, Scan and Stealth.
There are of course also combat skills such as Axes, Bows, Spears and Swords, and every player has a parry value that is used as a target number in combat.
The book finishes off with the combat rules. Combat in The One Ring, at least as presented in this starter set, is very abstract. Combat starts with one or more opening volleys where combatants with ranged weapons may fire. Once fighting in close combat is initiated this shifts to close quarters rounds.
In Close Quarters rounds, players decide if they will fight in close combat or ranged combat which is only an option if there are at least two characters fighting in close combat. Each close combatant picks one enemy to engage with, if there are more close combat characters than enemies they will pair up so that all enemies are engaged. If there are more enemies than characters the Loremaster decides what to do with the overflow having them either stay back in ranged combat or pair up against a character.
Attack rolls are then made using the same system outlined above with characters trying to beat their Strength Target Number and adversaries trying to beat the character’s Parry Target Number.
Success symbols rolled on the success dice let combatants trigger special effects like Heavy Blows, Piercing Attack and Fending off the Enemy
Damage causes Endurance loss which can make a character weary or knock them unconscious if enough endurance is lost. Enemies are defeated when reduced to zero Endurance. Piercing blows also have the possibility of causing a wound which can be prevented depending on any armour worn. Enemies are defeated after taking one wound whereas characters can survive their first wound fine (with some ongoing penalties) but risk severe consequences if they take a second wound, potentially causing the character to have to give up the adventuring life. Note in this starter set character death is not on the table.
The Adventures from The One Ring Starter Set
The Adventures book is the second largest book in this starter set, clocking in at thirty-one pages. It contains a full story arc called The Conspiracy of The Red Book which is designed specifically for the characters included in this boxed set.
This book is meant to be used alongside The Shire book, which also comes in this set, to tell a five adventure story that begins with the Player Heroes meeting up with the eccentric Bilbo Baggins. Interestingly the second and middle adventures can be played in any order and the Loremaster is encouraged to add in side plots, encounters, and interesting bits from The Shire book, along the way.
These adventures are detailed enough that while each one could potentially be played through in a single session, there is enough meat that a Loremaster could easily stretch them out and turn the entire thing into a much longer campaign.
It is also worth noting that the overall adventure is lighthearted and rather family friendly. You aren’t going to find any monster bashing dungeon crawls here but instead, some rather exciting adventures fitted to a Hobbit with a bit of Took in their blood.
The Shire Booklet in The One Ring Starter Set
The final thing you get in The One Ring Starter Set is the biggest book of the bunch, The Shire, which clocks in at a meaty fifty-two pages.
The Shire booklet lets you know pretty much everything you’ve ever wanted to know about The Shire, with a detailed look at each of the Four Farthings as well as some of the borderlands beyond like Buckland and The Old Forest.
In addition to providing history and geography, this book also includes a ton of potential story prompts and additional game rules. Here you will find the rules for Hobbit Walks, Inn Gossip Tables, various Encounter Tables, details on multiple landmarks in each Farthing and plenty more.
I was particularly impressed by the number of interesting tidbits and story seeds to be found in this book. There’s plenty going on in The Shire as presented in this book, enough to fuel many adventures both during and after your group is done with the included adventures.
Overall Impression of The One Ring Starter Set?
Wow, am I ever impressed by The One Ring Starter Set. This is one of the most impressive RPG starter sets I’ve ever had the pleasure of checking out, and I’ve checked out a lot of them over the years.
Physically this is a beautiful Middle Earth product. Everything is designed in an appealing and easy to use way. There is artwork aplenty and the layout and graphic design are top notch.
Everything is presented in a logical, easy to use, and thus easy to learn, way. Regretfully there isn’t an index to be found anywhere, which could be a problem if you need to look something up during play. While I understand that The Rules really aren’t that thick I still would have liked at least a chapter list if not a full index.
The editing on the books appears to be great. I didn’t notice any issues during my read through and later re-reading of the books. I also didn’t spot any issues on the cards or other reference material. The only real problem with production I found was the printing error on the D12 dice which I already mentioned above.
The Lore of Middle earth is long and broad and that really shows in this product, especially in The Shire booklet. There is a ton of lore presented here for any RPG setting let alone for a starter set. While I am a fan of Tolkien’s work, I’m no uber fan and I do have to admit that reading through The Shire booklet is what took me the longest time. It can get quite dry at times and honestly reminded me of reading Tolkien’s books, complete with descriptions of various flower types. Big time Lord of the Rings fans will probably eat this up.
As for the system in The One Ring Starter Set, it sounds very solid. I like the fact that every roll uses one Fate die. This reminds me of the control die in the classic TSR Sci Fi RPG Alternity. I also like that they included a D&D 5e Inspiration like system for the Fate dice, I’ve enjoyed that mechanic in every RPG I’ve played or run that used it.
The endurance and wound systems seem very well suited for the setting as is the character resource of Hope which can be gained, lost, or spent to improve your dice roll odds.
The most interesting thing in the mechanics for me is the target number system. I’m so used to the player in the GM roll assigning difficulties that I think it’s going to take me a while to get used to The One Ring’s system of derived target numbers. I will say that this system should reduce latency at the table, which is a good thing for a game that is all about roleplaying and exploration over simulation.
One thing I was surprised by with this boxed set is the amount of useful material for players just planning on jumping right into the core rules. In addition to being a great gateway to The One Ring RPG this boxed set also works as a Shire expansion for the core rules, providing you with maps and a rather thick Shire Sourcebook. You also get a set of The One Ring Dice and some useful Combat/Exploration cards that will be handy even if you never plan on running the adventures in this box.
Overall The One Ring Starter Set is a fantastic RPG beginner box. As someone checking out The One Ring for the first time this set contains everything I would want plus a whole lot more.
If you and your group are at all curious about The One Ring Second Edition from Free League this is the obvious place to start. In this box, you get everything you need to play including simplified rules, pre-generated characters, a starting adventure that’s so detailed it could form the basis for an entire campaign, maps, reference cards and more.
If you are a fantasy RPG fan looking for a different type of fantasy RPG, one about discovery, whimsy, interaction and exploration, with less focus on simulation and combat, I think you will find a lot to like in this boxed set. This is not your typical dungeon crawling RPG, which I think is a good thing for a game based on Middle Earth.
For those out there who aren’t a fan of Tolkien’s work, you will probably want to avoid this one. The game is dripping with Tolkien Lore and is very much based on the themes and settings of his books. While I could see possibly creating your own setting for this game, the mechanics are rather tied to the setting and I’m not sure if it would be worth the work.
“Hack and slash, kill the monsters to get their stuff so you can kill bigger and badder monsters and get even bigger and better stuff” fans probably won’t find much to like here. While it’s possible the full The One Ring rules may support this style of play, that’s not what you will find in this boxed set.
I was surprised to discover that this would also be a very useful box to pick up if you already play The One Ring or if you are planning to start using the full ruleset. This starter set also works as a Shire expansion to the core game with a ton of Shire background and adventure hooks. If you plan on including The Shire in any of your The One Ring Games this set is going to be worth picking up even if you never use it as a beginner box.
As for me, the next step is going to be sitting down and actually playing through the adventures in The One Ring Starter Set with my friends and family, something I’m hoping to start in the next month or so.
Once I do get this starter set to the table, I’m sure I’ll be talking about how our game is going on our podcast and on social media streams. After we’ve played through all of it I may even write up an actual play report as well, so watch for that.
Until then remember, “Not all those who wander are lost.”
I love RPG boxed sets and The One Ring Starter Set is a fantastic one. Check out my Magical Kitties Save the Day review, my Tales from the Loop Starter Set review, or my ALIEN The Roleplaying Game Starter Set review to learn about some of the other RPG Boxed Sets I’ve checked out.
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