This review originally appeared at: https://mephitjamesblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/02/loremasters-guide-review/
It’s here! The Loremaster’s Guide for Adventures in Middle-Earth has been released by Cubicle 7. Given my interest in the game line, I quickly snapped this one up pretty quickly. I haven’t even leafed through the pdf yet… care to join me?
I used to write this sort of review all the time, a first-in approach that I called a One-Hour Review, when I wrote for another site. I’m not going to do that here, though, because I want to take my time on this one and go through this book methodically.
Specifically, I’m looking for a few different things in this. First of all, does this book offer something more for creating the world of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth that I don’t already have from The One Ring sourcebooks? Secondly, does this book offer me new character options that are interesting but also in line with the Fifth Edition Player’s Handbook and, more pressingly, the Dungeon Master’s Guide? Lastly, does this book offer me a good spread of creatures to use in a Middle-Earth campaign, something I really missed from the first book?
Well, right off the bat the cover is absolutely gorgeous. I’d seen pictures but seeing a full-scale version is just… wow. Inside, the book starts right off with an overview of Wilderland and it seems to follow the same set-up as The One Ring, which is great since that’s an awesome way to frame the campaign. In fact, this material is all directly cribbed from The Loremaster’s Book for The One Ring. I don’t really blame them for reusing the material and it was pretty awesome the first time around!
Something different from The One Ring is that the discussion of each area (split up into the Lands About the Mountain, Lake-town, the Land of the Beornings, the Land of the Woodmen, Mirkwood, and Other Lands) include adventure seeds for each one. The section on Dale, for instance, has an idea for sending heroes out to find a farmstead for a veteran to give to his daughter and Erebor has an awesome idea of finding the jerk who’s been killing the Dwarves’ ravens. My favorite, though, involves masquerading as Radagast while he takes care of business elsewhere. Whatever your gaming style, plenty to start your characters on.
There’s stuff on Lake-town too which you won’t find in the Loremaster’s Book, but you will find in the Lake-town supplement that came with the GM Screen for The One Ring.
There’s also some new paragraphs on Eriador to the west and Gondor and Rohan to the south. Necessary when those cultures are in the game from the start… In all, though, there’s not much new material here that I didn’t already have. Also, the Tale of Years covers all the events up to 2951 just like in the Loremaster’s Book, which means you’re right up to when things get really bad and still nearly 70 years before the start of the War of the Ring.
To get things started, there is a great section of advice called Before the Game which is a lot like the Master of Worlds section from the Dungeon Master’s Guide. It contains advice on GMing in a world where absolute good and absolute evil are definite and real things, on playing out a campaign with the backdrop of a slow, inexorable darkening, and making your players feel every mile walked and every year survived.
The second section of the Adventuring Phase chapter deals with melding the core D&D 5e rules with Adventures in Middle-Earth. As the book says, there are two “guiding lights” to help the Loremaster: the core rules and the spirit of the books you are emulating. To that end, the Loremaster’s Guide offers a few changes to what you find in the Player’s Handbook.
The most immediately helpful is the advice on Inspiration. I’ve been wanting to use this more in my game but, given the vague rules of Inspiration and the different nature of Middle-earth, it hasn’t been easy. The Loremaster’s Guide presents Inspiration as the counterpoint to Shadow points, which makes sense. It suggests using Inspiration points when you see some of the amazing sights of Middle-earth, meet some of the more legendary figures of the land, and even at the start of an Adventuring Phase to represent the buoying power of Fellowship (something that characters in The One Ring get, so it makes sense).
There’s also a section on multiclassing that opens up a lot of options for players. That part is exceedingly short so I’ll make my mention of it the same.
The next chapter is on Journeys and has some interesting suggestions on how to adapt the rules. First of all, you’re not supposed to let your players use long rests during a journey, which I see the wisdom of. Exhaustion is a powerful consequence of failing rolls during a journey but my players regularly keep their exhaustion levels down during the journey since they are always sleeping (the lazy bastards). On the other hand, if they can’t remove levels of exhaustion during the journey things could get pretty hairy for the PCs, particularly if there’s a fight at the end of the journey.
There’s a section to address this, pointing out that dangerous journeys with deadly fights at the end are part of the books and so it’s no problem to have them in your game. Still, games that feel like a grind aren’t (always) fun so you can give the players a chance for a quick night’s sleep before they fight the Goblins (or whatever) and you can provide a chance to use skills to regain some Hit Points (maybe they find some athelas).
In fact, the book suggests some criteria your players have to meet before they can take a long rest: safety, comfort, or an air of tranquility. These things are very unlikely to be met during a journey, explaining the limitation, but you can always throw in a quiet Elven ruin or a feast put on by Tom Bombadil might allow some recovery before the actual event.
There are also suggestions for sights the PCs might see on the road and suggestions for when to tweak the journey rules, when (and where) to interrupt a journey, and guidelines for making new travel tables. This last part seems especially useful to me, particularly since my players have taken a half-dozen journeys at this point and there have been a few repeat results. You can improvise a new take on a journey event that your players have already seen but this is another option.
Towards the end of the book are three chapters that make me want to revamp everything in my game. The first is entitled “Wondrous, Legendary and Healing Items,” although I would call it “Including Magic Items While Still Feeling like Tolkien.” Artifacts (I refuse to write “artefacts,” Cubicle 7) are equivalent to what we used to call “wondrous items:” general-purpose magical items that help with skills or do something special. These items do the same (providing a bonus equal to your proficiency bonus) but the special uses are a little different.
In Adventures in Middle-Earth, artifacts don’t do specific things. There’s no portable hole or ring of spider climb. Instead, the artifact has a certain character (reflected in what skill it helps) and players can spend points of Inspiration to push that a little. For example, if a cloak provides a bonus to Stealth (say, a gift from the Elves of Lorien) the player might decide that it let’s him completely slip right through the ranks of a group of Orcs or hide a companion too.
In addition to the Inspiration, the player spends Hit Dice depending on whether it’s a small, medium, or large effect and how many creatures it’s affecting. This is a really interesting approach to magic and is a great way to include players in the narrative. Also, don’t worry: there’s a random table to roll for skills. Plus there’s some advice for bringing in other 5e items from other sources (short answer: be careful).
The other category of magical items is legendary weapons and armor, your standard magic weapons. These are not like the magic weapons found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, though, they are much more like the legendary items from D&D 3e which grow in power and ability as their wielders do. The iconic version of this for me is the sword Narsil, shattered by Sauron during the Siege of Barad-dûr, reforged into Andúril in Rivendell, then carried by Aragorn against the final battle with Sauron at the end of the Third Age. Every step of the way the legend grows and, it would seem, the sword’s power does the same.
Weapons and armor of legend don’t start out with a slew of magical abilities, but rather gain them as you level. The magical abilities (sorry, “enchanted qualities”) of the items are more drama-filled: weapons that strike terror into the enemy, weapons that burn creatures of the Shadow with their touch, armors of mithril or scored with Dwarven runes.
Last is a small section on magical healing including rules for Lembas bread. These all tend to remove a level of exhaustion, though some restore small amounts of Hit Dice. I think this is a good compromise between healing potions and nothing, since it still requires people to rest in order to heal up.
The section on Magic in Middle Earth is short and sweet. There are discussions about why spellcasters aren’t really part of the PC make-up, what spells really are in Tolkien’s world, and guidelines for making spells work thematically, from fairy-tale enchantments to the Unseen World to powerful names or words. There is also some suggestions for how to include D&D spellcasters in Adventures in Middle-Earth… although that’s not really the direction I ever see taking this game. I mean… Just play in Eberron or Faerun, right?
The chapter on the Fellowship Phase adds some much-needed clarification for me. It discusses when players mess up your Fellowship Phase plans (“alright, so you guys are going shopping in Lake-town and you’re going to find Gandalf and you’re going… into Goblin-town?”) and it adds some specific uses for Sanctuaries. Personally, I’ve wanted my players to do something with Sanctuaries every Fellowship Phase of the campaign so far and they keep asking “why?” I had no answer… until now. Plus there are some moreideas for patrons (as in the Adventurer’s Companion) so there’s some extra clarity there too.
The first section of characters for the Loremaster to use is a collection of NPCs with a discussion of the various races of Free People and then some specific stat blocks. There are chieftains, messengers, farmers, Rangers, Elf-lords, and more. These are not just reskinned NPCs from the Monster Manual either (although I recommend that as a DMing tool as well) but new characters with different abilities. The farmer, for instance, can whistle for his dogs to come help in combat and the Dwarf NPCs can reroll their damage against Orcs.
There’s also a section on Motivation (a one line sentence for guidance) and Expectations (some mechanical benefits for different tactics) for each NPC listing. This previews the next section on Audiences with some guidelines for planning and running Audiences (as described in the Adventurer’s Guide). This section is a lot more detailed and I look forward to using it. The mechanics are all the same from the last book but they are laid out here i a much more intuitive way that is obviously geared towards the Loremaster designing Audiences rather than the players participating in them.
The next chapter is probably what I’ve been anticipating the most: stats for enemy creatures and monsters. It’s also the part of the book that is least like I expected.
There’s some solid advice for creating battles that emulate Tolkien’s big battles (defensive position, setting that appears to favor the enemy, etc), and some great new terrain for adding color to your battles (bogs, crags, rotten trees, freezing pools) separated by setting. There are even some weather effects which I have been yearning for in my own game.
After that is a Bestiary with many of the things you’d expect: Orcs, Mordor-Orcs, spiders of Mirkwood, Trolls, wolves, Werewolves, and Vampires. This is the same list (more or less) as in The One Ring‘s Loremaster’s Book which isn’t that surprising. I was kind of hoping for some big hitters, though. I mean, this chapter has a picture of Smaug breathing flames into Erebor… Maybe a mention of how to run dragons? And what about the Ringwraiths? Sure those things weren’t in the first collection of monsters for The One Ring, but Cubicle 7 has done them and knows how they’d handle them. Plus there are already so many 5e monsters available, why not use those as a stepping-stone and give us a little something?
I’m not disappointed in the collection of monsters (far from it), I just wish there were a few more. On the other hand, I’m very excited for the remainder of the chapter which is a list of creature abilities and actions for making new adversaries. There are general ones, bonus actions, creature reactions, troupe abilities (like a wolf pack), especially strong abilities, and ones intended for a specific type of creature (like trolls or spiders). This is something that not even the Monster Manual offers: guidelines for making interesting, unique creatures that are more than just CR-appropriate stats. Expect some fresh Middle-earth adversaries in future blog posts using these abilities.
This book had a lot of surprises and some areas where I was hoping for a bit more. Overall, though, it is brimming with help for the Adventures in Middle-Earth Loremaster. If you already play (or at least have access to) the line of The One Ring, don’t expect a lot more lore or setting information. You still have much more in the way of detail from mining those books and porting the information over to your AME game.
I have had a lot of questions about how to adequately implement a lot of what’s described in the Adventurer’s Guide, though, and this book does a really excellent job of answering them. A must-buy if you are running this game.