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Lord of the Rings 

Roleplaying Adventure Game

Reviewed by Joe Mandala ©2002

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Adventure game is produced by Decipher, and is meant as an introductory game to their upcoming Lord of the Rings Roleplaying game.  You will find the word 'introductory' many times in this review.  MSRP: $30.00. 

CONTENTS

  • Obligatory "What is Roleplaying?"  Blurb sheet

  • The actual adventure book, "Through the Mines of Moria"

  • Two map sheets representing very limited areas of Moria

  • Nine character sheets representing the members of the Fellowship

  • A "Fast Play Rules" leaflet

  • Cardboard counters

  • A "Welcome to Middle-earth" book describing this land for the uninitiated

  • Four 6-sided dice

GRAPHIC DESIGN

This is a very pretty game.  The box is very well done.  There is Quenya script all over the elements of this game, making it immediately identifiable as a Middle-earth product.  There are quite a few stills from the movie interspersed throughout the game, and also some line drawings (based entirely off of images from the movies).  The content of the art is not terribly original, but it is very well executed. 

The layout of the books is also very nicely done.  Some might think it a bit busy, but I think a great balance has been struck between graphical element and text content.  The map sheets are the exception here they are not well done at all, and there are several graphical errors on them (missing indicators and legend markers).  There is one very beautiful map of northwest Middle-earth, though, based directly on Tolkien's map (some slight changes in color have been made). The pre-made character sheets are very easy to read, with a layout that places all the information you need (and more!) right in front of you as a player. 

MATERIAL CONSTRUCTION

The material used for the box is poor it is thin paperboard (not cardboard), which is common enough in the newer boxed games, but the copy I received was poorly put together.  This box will not have a long shelf life.  The books are bound very standard two staples in a fold-over page format.  The pages are a glossy paper, and the covers are thick paper (nearly as sturdy as the box!).  This makes for a very pretty book, but it won't have a shelf life much longer than most major magazines unless protected in a box.  The loose sheets seem to be made of the same material as the pages of the books.  The maps are fairly heavy, with a glossy finish they may last longer than the rest of the box's contents.  The "cardboard" counters are not cardboard at all they are again stiff paper with a glossy finish (like the book covers).  I despise these little things, and I wonder why people keep producing them.  They never go together well, and subsequently don't stand up well.  I suggest using metal miniatures instead (Mithril's Middle-earth range is perfect for this).  Overall, the construction looks good, but won't stand up to much wear. 

NARRATIVE CONTENT

Probably the first thing that struck me about the content as a whole was how it was obviously written with the non-gamer in mind.  Not only is this an introduction into roleplaying in general it seems to be an introduction into the whole culture of actually sitting around a table and playing games instead of using a computer.  The "What is Roleplaying?" leaflet is a perfect example.  It begins by asserting how fun roleplaying is, and gives several analogies to what roleplaying is including the standard "movie" comparison, a likening to "cops-and-robbers" which we all (apparently) played as children, and my personal favorite (and quite a shocker) that roleplaying games are computer games run on the software of people.  Being a dyed-in-the-wool pencil and paper gamer, this last one really struck me is computer "roleplaying" so imbued as the standard now that we have to use it to explain its precursors? 

The language is simple and patronizing (as an introductory game probably should be), but clear enough.  There are quite a few errors, though, and not just typographical ones (which we're all used to in RPGs by now).  There are a few problems in the "Welcome to Middle-earth" book, where Silvan Elves are described as "prankish" and Sauron bred the Uruk-hai.  Overall, the "Welcome" book is well done, being a very short glossary of people, places, and events in Middle-earth. 

MECHANICS

The game is a 2d6 based system, and reminds me very strongly of the old West End Games Star Wars RPG.  Characters have Attributes, which provide modifiers.  There are also Reactions, which provide a value in the game.  In addition, there are Edges and Flaws, Skills, and Racial Abilities.  The game does not explain very well how the skills derive from the Attributes (or if they do at all), and how Reactions are determined.  There is a serious typographical error on the Character Sheets two of the characters have Quickness listed as an attribute, while the rest list Nimbleness in its place.  Since this is an introductory game, many new gamers will become confused by inconsistencies like this.  There is also much more information on the character sheets than is used in the adventure and there is nothing to explain why (though most experienced gamers will probably not even notice this).  This can also cause confusion. 

Skill resolution is very simple.  Each action is given a target number; you roll two d6, and add any appropriate attribute modifiers, reactions, and skills.  If you reach the target number, you succeed.  For combat, the target number is always your target's Defense rating.  If you happen to actually strike your foe in combat, damage is dealt on what seems to be a solely weapons-based rating (longbows do d6+1 damage, daggers do 1d6-1, etc).  Each character gets two actions per turn, and movement is restricted to 3 hexes per action (regardless of stature or attributes).  Each character has a list of combat options, and some of them are interesting.  Legolas, for instance, can perform a "trick shot," while Gandalf can "Burst Flame."  That's basically it a very basic and stripped down system which gives the heart of the system to be used for the forthcoming Roleplaying game.  If you like simple skill-based systems, you might like this one. 

THE ADVENTURE

This is, for me, by far the weakest part of the game but I'm not a new gamer, so it's difficult for me to judge this.  It is basically composed of three fights (The Watcher in the Water, The Chamber of Mazarbul, and the Bridge of Khazad-dum) punctuated by two "interludes."  The combats are very simplistic, and it seems nearly impossible for a character to die (unless a Hobbit tries to take on the Cave Troll).  The interludes are basically choose-your-own adventure paths determined by simple skill rolls at each decision point.  There is some chance (based on a die roll) that there will be random encounters during the interludes.  In-game narrative is provided in paragraphs for the "narrator" to read to the players.  There is not a lot of flexibility for the players to do much besides make tactical decisions in combat.  If anything should make it clear that this is an introductory game, the content of the adventure book will.  One positive thing about this structure, though, is that it can also introduce a player to actually running a game this may provide a good basic structure on which to teach someone how to be a game-master/narrator/referee. 

THE GAME

I narrated a game for four people of varying experience and age, and asked them for some comments: 

Noah A 13-year old whose favorite game is WEG Star Wars, and whose least favorite game is d20 Star Wars comments that the "battles should be harder" and that they "shouldn't bother calling it an RPG."

Damon A 37-year old gaming veteran whose favorite systems are all Chaosium (Runequest, Pendragon, etc), and who despised the FASA Star Trek game, had the following comments.  "Can I go home now?"  "It says I have blue eyes, but I wanted grey eyes!" He then got serious, saying that there are "too many stats and modifiers that have no explanation, which creates confusion and more questions than answers for newbies."  He also thought that there was "not enough decision-making" for the players, which is the "most fun part for new players."  Damon also disliked the fact that the game was played with pre-made characters there is "nowhere in the rulebooks that says that the RPG will allow you to play characters other than the ones in the book or movie." 

Jillian A 24-year old neophyte gamer whose favorite system (of the few she's played) is Rolemaster (and whose least favorite is now this system), thought that there should have been at least one female character to appeal to female players, "ditching the idea that you have to be the Fellowship."  She thought that combat was very unbalanced, and that there was "not enough control over events" for the players. 

Kris Another veteran, Kris is a 30-year old whose favorite system is Rolemaster, and who thought that Gamma World was a sore on the buttocks of gaming.  He liked the pre-made characters, but thought that the stats should have been explained better.  "They should have touched on character creation to make it clear that you could make your OWN characters in the REAL game."  Kris thought that this was basically a complicated board game rather than a simple RPG. 

CONCLUSION

In all, the game was not very enjoyable for any of us for various reasons.  I think it shows promise as a system, and will work well as an introduction for new young players to roleplaying in general.  I agreed with Kris that this is basically a fancy board game with some elements of roleplaying.  The one thing that impressed me the most about the way the game was composed was the inclusion of built-in training for prospective game-masters.  This is an area that is too often overlooked by introductory games, or is done poorly.  This game doesn't do the best job that could be done, but it outshines most of its competitors in this area.  I would recommend someone to buy this game if they are young (10-15), have little to no experience with roleplaying games, and have 4 or 5 friends (or more) who fit the same description.  It would also be a good family game for those who have young teenaged children who might be interested in getting involved in roleplaying (unless low-grade violence is taboo in your family). 

  • Graphic Design                  9/10

  • Material Construction -       5/10

  • Narrative Content            5/10

  • Mechanics                         6/10

  • The Adventure                  4/10

  • OVERALL RATING -         6/10

Editor's Note:  The Lord of the Rings  Roleplaying Adventure Game is produced by Decipher which can be found at www.Decipher.com

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