Part 2 in the Review Series of The One Ring RPG by Cubicle 7 - Character Creation Process Part 1
Review of The One Ring – Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild by Cubicle 7 – Part 2 – Detailed Character Creation Process
First Review Teaser: http://merp.com/news/review-of-the-one-ring-adventures-in-wilderland-teaser
Here are many more photos of the TOR RPG Core Set: http://merp.com/news/tor-rpg-slipcover-books-maps-photos
Part 3, unfinished, and have since changed opinion from experience: http://merp.com/news/tor-rpg-review-3
Modification to keep the dice from falling out of the TOR RPG Core Set: http://merp.com/news/the-one-ring-rpg-tor-rpg-modification-to-keep-dice-tray-from-slipping-out-and-losing-dice
Homemade promotional material to demo TOR RPG at local gaming store: http://merp.com/news/promotional-material-to-demo-tor-rpg-at-local-gaming-hobby-shop
Here is information on the official Loremaster Screen: http://merp.com/news/new-tor-rpg-lm-screen-arrived
Here is a video review of their first adventure Supplement: http://merp.com/news/video-review-the-one-ring-rpg-adventures-in-wilderland-supplement
Hints of upcoming review: http://merp.com/news/the-one-ring-rpg-review-august-4th-pdf-if-all-goes-according-to-plan..
TOR RPG Developers change course and release schedule for supplements: http://merp.com/news/the-one-ring-releases-update-march-27-2012
This is part 2 in a series of reviews on the new Cubicle 7 & Sophisticated Games Tolkien Role Playing Game “The One Ring – Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild”. Part 1 provided a general overview history of Tolkien Role Playing games, and the initial experience with the product, and details the first chapter of the Adventurer's Book, and briefly touched on the character creation process. This second article will actually walk through the entire character creation process in detail. An actual character will be created and finished through this process. This character will then be used (along with other characters made by other players) for examples with later articles regarding the system mechanics, character development over time, and other features. These articles are written based on real world use using the experiences of more than a dozen role playing gamers learning the system, and I am acting as the game master of these players in two different groups.
One group is a youth group ranging in ages 11 through 18, all male. Each gamer has from 3 to seven years experience playing with other Role Playing Games and also in Tolkien RPG settings. The 18 year old ironically is the least experienced in number of years, but has invested a lot of time and effort, and runs his own groups (especially Pendragon) in addition to participating as a player in my games. All but the youngest have some experience as Game Masters both in the casual setting of weekly game sessions at home, and at the annual Tolkien Moot convention. http://www.tolkienmoot.org
The second group is the older adult group, ranging in ages from 18 through upper 40's, and includes one female player. The female gamer has the least experience with role playing games, about 2-3 years, but has played in Tolkien-based settings in addition to D&D, Call of Cthulhu, Babylon 5, Twilight 2000, and others. With the exception of the 18 year old, the other players are all veteran gamers, having experience back to the late 1970's and early 1980's, all having played in Tolkien-based settings and countless other settings and systems.
As mentioned in the previous article, I recommend the players only reading just the first few pages of Part 1 from the Adventurer's Book, and then skipping ahead to Part 2 – Characters. Most of the material presented in Part 1 is premature and jumps around too much for players. GM's will need to read through both the Adventurer's Book, and the Loremaster's Book to help the players create characters as quickly and effectively as possible. It is always recommended for a GM to read the material ahead of time of course, but this game makes it much more difficult to just read as you go, and learn on the fly than many other games due to it's odd structure in presenting content. That being said, once you do read the rules, it is fairly simple for an experienced GM. I am afraid that this may not be the best game for someone wishing to GM for the first time, it is too disorganized and abstract in many areas, so does not provide the more rigid structural “hand holding” needed for someone GMing the first time. This does not mean it is impossible for a first time GM to learn it, this only means it will be much more challenging than other systems that a GM could begin with.
Part 2 begins on page 30 with “Hero Creation” in a broad narrative overview. Again referring to Tolkien's “Free Peoples” instead as “Free Folks of the North”, an odd phrasing of Tolkien's writings. On page 31 there is a brief caption listing the “Hero Creation Summary” as follows:
Select a Heroic Culture
Record a character's Cultural Blessing and skill list
Select two Specialties
Roll (or choose) Background (this is the only dice roll for the entire character generation process)
Record Basic Attributes and Favoured Skill
Select two Distinctive Features
Customise your hero
- Choose a Calling and Favoured Skills (for that calling)
- Choose your hero's Favoured Attributes
Spend Previous Experience to buy skill levels
Generate the scores for Endurance and Hope
Prioritise the scores for Valour and Wisdom (choosing accordingly your starting Reward or Virtue)
Record Starting Gear and Fatigue
The rest of this article will walk through the creation process, creating a character from scratch, listing the many options to choose from along the way, and commenting on some of the issues and interesting approaches to this system throughout the process.
The game emphasizes that most people are more “average” listing Samwise Gamgee as an example of “simple people”. That most are drawn into adventures without really having any kind of adventurer previous experience as a profession, rather having more typical jobs, then being sucked into adventure for some reason that takes them from the comfort of their nice “Hobbit hole” for example.
The first thing a player needs to decide is roughly what kind of character they wish to play, especially which culture they wish to be from. As mentioned in earlier articles, there are 6 cultures to choose from. 3 Mannish cultures:
Bardings (Men of Dale)
Woodmen of Wilderland
and 3 other races:
Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain
Elves of Mirkwood
Hobbits of the Shire
I have already given other examples with Mannish and Elven races in earlier articles and forum postings. The players already chose the following cultures:
1 Dwarf of Lonely Mountain
2 Elves of Mirkwood
For this article series we are going to select a Hobbit of the Shire, since none of the players opted to select this one.
In TOR RPG (The One Ring Role Playing Game) player characters are called “Player-heroes”. The Player-hero character sheet looks like the following (this is a lower resolution version of the character sheet so that this article does not take forever to load for lower bandwidth readers.
This game's character creation process is highly template and pick-list driven. There is only one step where rolling is even an options (Background), all the rest is done through selection and a little bit of point allocation.
Typically players will read the one of the summaries of each culture to help them decide which they wish to develop into a Player-hero. The cultures are summarized briefly on pages 12 through 14 in Part 1, and then again, with slightly different information, in Part 2 on pages 35 through 71. The descriptions in Part 1 only offer a brief overview of the culture and current historical situation. The descriptions in Part 2 build on that a little more, and then begin offering system-specific information and choices to make.
Choose a Culture
So, the first critical step, choosing a culture now made, we write that down in the “Culture” field of the character sheet (upper left area of the front page) “Hobbit of the Shire”
Once the character has selected a Culture, they should take a quick note of page 34 listing the “Main Language” and “Secondary Language” for that culture, and the relevant Notes section. It would make better sense to also have included this information in the section describing each culture. The table is a nice summary to have, but they should have also included the information with each Culture description while filling out the character sheet. Also note there is NOT a section on the character sheet to list the languages the character knows.
Filling in the Player-hero Culture Information
Now, the player should simply follow the information presented for that Culture, copying the pertinent information down on the character sheet while reading through the rest of the culture description. The Hobbit culture description begins on page 60.
Standard of Living
After the general overview of Hobbits, their likes and dislikes, etc, then a section called “Description”, and finally a section called “Standard of Living”. This Standard of Living determines the wealth and technological sophistication of the culture, impacting equipment and other factors. The Standard of Living can be one of 5 ratings: Poor, Frugal, Martial, Prosperous, and Rich. Hobbits are rated as Prosperous, so this needs to be written down to the right of the Culture field.
The refer to The Shire with some interesting emphasis: “The Shire, a pleasant corner in the Quiet of the World, has stood safe and peaceful for many years.” (emphasis added by review author). I don't recall that area (or any area) being referred to that way by Tolkien, though maybe someone can point out where that is actually in Tolkien's writings somewhere? It feels a bit like the “Free Folks” instead of “Free Peoples” oddness.
Suggested & Unusual Callings
Each Culture has different “Suggested Callings” and “Unusual Calling”. This varies from culture to culture. With Hobbits the suggested callings are Treasure-hunter or Wanderer. Their unusual calling is Slayer, explaining “Hobbits are a sensible, level-headed sort, and unlikely to be vengeful. Besides, little in the way of misfortune ever befalls their quiet home.” What this means is that although there are no actual restrictions or game mechanic penalties for choosing a calling out side of the Suggested, or choosing one of the unusual callings, there is likely to be added social stigma for the Hobbit who chooses such an outlandishly different calling from the norm. It's “bad enough” that a hobbit would even want to adventure and leave the comfort of The Shire, and some might understand the Treasure-hunter or Wanderer aspect (though still consider them “queer” or “mad” for doing so), but to choose Slayer would just be utterly incomprehensible to other hobbits for the most part.Callings are covered later, they are basically sort of a profession type, though more abstract than the typical class/profession seen in other role playing game systems.
What X says...
The next section of each culture is a nice touch, it is the “What Bilbo Says...” section. This is called “What the King Says...” for the Bardings, “What the Elvenking says...” for the Elves, “What Beorn says...”for the Beornings, etc. This section provide sample (imaginary, not directly from Tolkien's works) quotes of what the person would be likely to say about the different cultures, from that person's (culture's) perspective. I won't list them all, but a few of them as an example here.
What Bilbo says about Bardings: “King Bard is a generous young man, with many eager followers of like mind. Hobbits will always be welcome in his kingdom”
What Bilbo says about Elves of Mirkwood: “The Silvan Elves of Mirkwood are and remain Elves, despite their suspicions and secret ways, and so are Good People.”
The book goes on to list a quote for each of the six cultures, including hobbits themselves:
“We and the Big Folk are as different as peas and applets, not to mention Elves, or even Dwarves! That's why I say that we Hobbits must stick together.”
In contrast, if one was considering an Elf of Mirkwood, it would be
What the Elvenking Says... about Hobbits of the Shire: “They seem a merry and resourceful people. Let us hope that their spirit won't be darkened now that they have seen the world outside their borders.”
I think this is a great feature of the game, emphasizing cultural differences in a mostly positive way, while still making the distinction about different “folk” feeling and reacting differently to those who are “different” from their own, and emphasizes the ROLE-playing aspect over ROLL-playing in a clever and simple way in the beginning stages of character generation. I don't recall seeing a feature like this in other RPG's (I might be corrected about that by one of the gamers who plays Pendragon maybe).
Now we begin to get into some actual-game-mechanics-related information. Each culture has it's own distinctive special abilities or attitudes unique to their culture. On the upside this creates a commonality of characters in a specific culture. On the potential down side, this means that EVERY character from that culture has the exact same “blessing”, rather than a variety to choose from. Players are given more choices later in the process to make their character more distinct from the cultural norm, but it might have been a nice tweak to maybe include a few “blessings” to pick from the way they are in the later stages. Especially regarding Hobbits, the lack of different Hobbit farthing variants is a distinct feature of Hobbits and their very limited sense of the “outside world” beyond their own little towns. I think it would have been better to have slightly different cultural blessings depending on if the hobbit was from Hobbiton, or Southfarthing, or elsewhere. Each is described by the others has having “queer folk over there” from the perspective of each other, and this would have enhanced that Hobbitish sense of regionalism and very close views of the horizon.
From the book, each Hobbit has the Cultural Blessing of “Hobbit-sense.... they have a fund of wisdom and wise sayings that men have mostly never heard or have forgotten long ago.” This is then explained in game terms that each Hobbit in an adventuring party helps improve the company's “Fellowship rating” by one point. Also Hobbits get to roll the Feat (d12) die twice and pick from the best roll of the two when making a Wisdom check.
Starting Skill Scores
At this stage, the player is now getting into more nitty-gritty statistical information. This section lists Common Skills, Weapon Skills, and Specialties. The Common Skills are just a quick list of how many “skill ranks” the Player-hero begins with in various common skills. These are the same for all Hobbits. As are the common skills al the same for all the other cultures for their unique set of common skills.
The chart included in the book basically leaves all the skills blank initially except those with a number in the chart. So in the case of Hobbits, every character playing a Hobbit begins with the following ranks beyond 0:
Awareness: 2, Song: 2 (good to see included as a common skill in the game system), Travel: 1, Insight: 1, Courtesy 3 (I love that they include this as a common skill in the game system), Persuade: 2, Stealth: 3, Search: 2, and Riddle: 2. Note that Stealth is underlined, any underlined skills indicates a “favoured” skill.
A skill with a zero, means the player only rolls the Feat die to determine success or failure at an action. Any ranks filled in that skill means the player gets to roll an additional Success die (d6) per skill rank. I will explain more about how to use actual skills, Feat die, and Success dice in later articles.
Underlined “Favoured” Skill
As for the underlining of a “favoured” skill, I had to do some page flipping, looking through the index, I finally found under page 86 “Favoured Skills” (note this is NOT listed in the Index or the Table of Contents of the book, but it is the second page covering the Skills section). An underlined skill means that the character is allowed to add the higher “Favoured Attribute” rating to the die roll result.
Example of Completed Starting Common Skills on Character Sheet
After filling in the Common Skills ranks and underlining the favored common skill (Stealth) for the culture, the next section presents the Weapon Skills with two options to choose from. In the chase of hobbits the choice was as follows:
Short Sword 2, Bow 1, Dagger 1
Bow 2, Short Sword 1, Dagger 1
The presentation of those choices is important. The underlining of Short Sword 2 for option 1 and Bow 2 for option 2 means that those are specific preferred skills specifically with those weapons (Short Sword and Bow). With some of the other cultures the weapon choice might be in parentheses instead of normal or underlined.
Since I would rather have this hobbit use a missile weapon rather than a thrown weapon as the primary, I selected option #2, writing them into the cramped, tiny space for Weapon Skills. The short line listed there for the weapon skill names is adequate for short weapon names, but the “Long-hafted axe” requires extremely small writing to fit, or else abbreviation.
Next the player needs to choose cultural “Traits” from a short list. This is an example again where I think it should be slightly different for Hobbits from different parts of the Shire. At least at this point the player can actually begin some customization of the Player-hero to be a little more distinct. This increases throughout the character creation process, and later character advancement.
Hobbits choose two Traits from the following list of options:
Gardener (note the change from verb for Cooking, to noun for Gardener)
Interesting to note that all but “Gardener” are more activities or knowledge based, whereas Gardener is more profession based. Not sure if this is intentional or an error that was meant to be “Gardening”instead? The player then writes down these two Traits on the character sheet near the top under Traits, on the Specialties line. I chose Herb-lore, and Smoking as the Player-hero's 2 specialties.
The next major step to the character creation process is selecting or (gasp!) rolling a Background. This is the only point at which dice are involved in the character generation process. The player-hero may roll 1d6 to select from one of the six backgrounds available specifically for that culture. Each culture has a different set of 6. The Player-hero, at the Loremaster's discretion may either roll to get a random Background, or may read through the six descriptions (they are brief, about a paragraph each followed by a few stats) and select the one they feel best fits what they have in mind for their Player-hero. These backgrounds provide the Basic Attributes scores (Body, Heart, Wits), another Favored Skill, and two Traits considered “Distinctive Features”.
The 6 different Backgrounds available for Hobbits are:
Restless Farmer - Body 3, Heart 6, Wits 5, Favored Skill: Craft, and a list of Distinctive Features (choose 2): Bold, Eager, Generous, Merciful, Merry, Patient, True-hearted, Trusty
Too Many Paths to Tread – Body 4, Heart 5, Wits 5, FS: Travel, DF: Adventurours, Clever, Curious, Eager, Keen-eyed, Nimble, Robust, True-hearted
A Good Listener – B 3, H 7, W 4, FS: Riddle, DF: Cautious, Curious, Energetic, Fair-spoken, Honourable, Quick of Hearing, True-hearted, Trusty.
Witty Gentleman – B 2, H 6, W 6, FS: Persuade, DF: Cautious, Clever, Elusive, Honourable, Keen-eyed, Patient, Proud, True-hearted.
Bucklander – B 4, H 6, W 4, FS: Awe, DF: Energetic, Fair-spoken, Merry, Nimble, Proud, Quick of Hearing, Reckless, True-hearted.
Tookish Blood – B 2, H 7, W 5, FS: Explore, DF: Adventurous, Bold, Elusive, Generous, Merciful, Reckless, Robust, True-hearted.
Note that only one was actually region-specific, Bucklander, while the others were potentially applicable to any Hobbit throughout The Shire.
At this point, it would be worthwhile to mention a handy PDF that a recent reader submitted to Merp.com and let me know about. This is a handy chart summarizing the many choices for each culture in a brief form, to make it much easier to narrow down the choices. Many thanks to Fastred of Greenholm in New Zealand (who apparently works part time as Project Director for Kelestia Productions on various Harnmaster materials. The link to his TOR RPG “Character Reference Tool”is
Below is a screen shot of just a small portion of this handy PDF, which is about 2.5 pages long.
Since I do not have a clearly defined character in my head for this article, I went ahead and just rolled a d6 for a random selection for the Background. I rolled a 5, and so this Hobbit's background is “Bucklander”.
“ Your parents belong to the folk of Buckland, and you were
brought up on the ‘wrong side of the Brandywine River’,
as they say. If half the tales be true, members of your
family have always displayed a certain queerness of
character, and an unusual fighting spirit, a strangeness
you seem to possess yourself.”
This Background information is to be written on the back side of the character sheet (second page) near the top:
Then the Basic Attributes: Body 4, Heart 6, Wits 4. are to be filled in on the front:
The Favoured Skill: Awe is to also be underlined in addition to the already underlined Stealth skill.
Distinctive Features (the list was already detailed earlier in this section of the review, so I am only listing the two that I selected): Energetic, Reckless.
To understand the consequences of which Distinctive Feature Traits to choose, you will need to jump to pages 100 through 103, to read the brief 1 paragraph descriptions of each, listed alphabetically.
Energetic (page 101): “You are forceful, vital and enthusiastic, which often proves contagious”.
Reckless (page 102): “You often do not think about the consequences of your actions, daring to do things that others are afraid to even contemplate doing.”
Neither of these traits have immediate, direct, system mechanics effects on the character creation, but they do help in defining the personality of the character further. As pointed out by readers of this article, later when you are actually playing the character, having the character act in ways in accordance with this traits will provide a number of potential benefits (discussed in later articles on the game mechanics). This once again shows the emphasis more on ROLE-playing over ROLL-playing, which I personally feel is the way ROLE-playing games should lean more towards for players that do not otherwise do well “getting into character” and focus too much on mechanics. That being said, I know plenty of players that love very complex systems, but still role play very well and use the mechanics to help with the definition and game play, and not let the game system mechanics interfere with the role playing aspect of RPG's. And with that also being said, unfortunately most players fall more into the former category, needing more prompting to focus less on the mechanics and more on the character's role. So this is yet another areas with TOR RPG increases the role playing, though these particular traits are no necessarily Tolkien-campaign-specific.
The next section of each Culture provides guidance on creating “appropriate”names for the culture selected. This includes a list of Male Names, a list of Female Names, and a list of Family Names (where appropriate). This is a nice feature they included. It should be stressed that this is not by any means an exhaustive list, and the origins of the names might be a bit in dispute from some early comments I have heard from those pickier about Tolkien linguistics. But it is definitely a nice effort to include this feature to further enhance the more specific Tolkienesque qualities of Middle-earth, distinctily standing out from other writers' settings.
I selected, pretty much at random (close eyes and drop finger) the male name “Marcho” and Family Name “Brownlock”. This is finally written on the first line at the top of the first page of the character sheet.
The final section of the Backgrounds lists the typical ages that a Player-hero from this culture would likely be an adventuring type. It is not to say that it is impossible to be younger or older than the ages listed, but just that there would be increased social stigma, and maybe personal feelings, for those who wander outside of these bounds. The range for hobbits is listed as 25-60 years old. And summarizes “Hobbits do not easily abandon their comfortable lives, but when they do they usually wait at least for their coming of age at 33. But a particularly reckless Hobbit might feel the call to adventure when in his tweens, as Hobbits call their twenties.” It is nice that the player can select age, but I would also have liked the option to just roll, some simple formula along the lines of 23 + 1d12 + 1d6, or some other variant. I choose 34, the year after “coming of age” for Marcho Brownlock.
Since the campaign setting begins with the year Third Age 2946, I calculated my character's birth year to be T.A. 2913, and chose the day of this character's creation as it's birthday, August 6th. Then I converted the year from common to Shire Reckoning (S.R.) by deducting 1600 from the Third Age date to get S.R. 1313. Finally I looked up the Hobbit names for their months, and August is “Wedmath”. So my character's birthday was on the 6th of Wedmath, 1313 by Shire Reckoning.
There is no specific field listing the character's age. One player suggested writing it on the rear of the character sheet in the section titled “Tale of Years” on the first line. I suggested either writing it on the “Distinctive Features” line on the front page, or on the “Background” line on the back of the character sheet. I would encourage people to also work out their character's actual birthday in Middle-earth time (Shire Reckoning for Hobbits, different than the calendar of Men), again either in the Background or Distinctive Features section. There is also no section to denote the current Arda Age, year, month, or day anywhere on the character sheet. I just had my players write it at the top of their character sheets, but it would be nice to have some dedicated fields for all of this. Maybe there will be a “deluxe” character sheet available at some point (or I'll create one myself) that has many of the missing fields available for those wishing to have them. Especially for example the Equipment (more on that later).
This ends the section on Backgrounds, but before moving on to the next section “Customisation” , here is a screen shot of the character completed so far.
Since this article is so long, I am going to stop here, about the mid-point in the character creation process, and continue with another article next time, detailing the second half of the Player-hero creation process.
About the Author:
Hawke began role playing gaming in 1979. He is the founder of MerpCon & Tolkien Moot, the Inland Empire Tolkien Society, Other Minds Magazine, the Eä Role Playing Gaming System and d20 adaptation, the Númenor Project, Middle-earth Radio, Middle-earth Talk Radio Show, SuiteGM software, and the RPG Research Project.
For a lengthier bio, visit the Tolkien Moot convention website "Guest Speakers" section: