of the Rings
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.
"What is Roleplaying?" Blurb
actual adventure book, "Through the Mines of Moria"
map sheets representing very limited areas of Moria
character sheets representing the members of the Fellowship
"Fast Play Rules" leaflet
"Welcome to Middle-earth" book describing this land for the
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
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
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.
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.
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
I narrated a game for four people
of varying experience and age, and asked them for some comments:
– 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
– 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
– 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.
– 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.
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).
Editor's Note: The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying
Adventure Game is produced by Decipher which can be found at www.Decipher.com