Superb design and many quality of life improvements to the award-winning, original TOR 1e.
Adventures are given a significant overhaul: balancing more story-oriented fair with sandbox and non-linear plot threads. The system is very tightly designed owing to designer Francesco Nepitello's board game sensibilities (he not only designed The One Ring 1e but also the acclaimed War of the Ring tabletop game, noted for its depth, thematic harmony with the source material, and assymetrical conflict resolution). The system rewards ingenuity and collaborative storytelling through the player-hero abilities, themselves organized in a grid. Everything just fits and has a use.
The book is well organized and absolutely gorgeous. Unlike some other core rulebooks, this is a delight to read. Just enough flavor text to keep the game rooted in the source material but never so much to feel bloated or padded unecessarily. There's an expansive region guide in the core rulebook with quirks and tables related to areas as diverse as the Greenway, the Trollshaws, etc.
All skills use a d6 plus d12 system, where d6 represent your proficiencies and d12 for adding some variability. The d12 has a eye of Sauron and a Gandalf run which can lead to some exceptional effects. The rules have great advice discouraging die rolling unless it's dangerous, you're trying to learn something you don't know. This is good. There's a weariness and shadow mechanic that add psychological layers and have in-game actions inspired by the books to overcome the effects: cheering fellowship adventurers with song, struggling with your own shadow path and personal vices. Unlike contemporary 5e D&D, this game has four distinct gameplay phases: journeys, combat, councils, and fellowship phase / yule undertakings. This is by no means an easy game and you can see where Francesco Nepitello leans on the books and his board-game sensibilities to inject fresh challenges and means for mitigating them, all based on some passage of the books.
- Journeys: Players may stumble upon all sorts of challenges and journeys present a unique series of challenges that recall the Dungeon Turn of early D&D editions. It feels and plays differentlly from combat.
- Combat: Fast with cinematic zones conferring different advantages and disadvantages.
- Councils: These are in-depth social encounters that also play differently from combat and either make journeys or combat easier. It's a chance for exploring relationships, history, and diplomacy as you muster support for your quest. You're not rolling to talk to just anyone. These are higher stakes, multiday affairs -- think the Council of Elrond in Fellowship of the Ring or the Council at Edoras between Gandalf and corrupted Theoden or Pippin singing in Return of the King to Denethor's descent into despair.
- Fellowship / Yule: These are the yearnings for home or personal improvement between major adventuring phases. People may be recuperating in Rivendell or working on a book in the Shire. It's a chance to develop your character between major legs of a big adventure. In a way, it reminds me of Pendragon's famous cycles of heirs and family that support multigenerational play.
For new RPG players:
Try the lower stakes adventures from the Starter Set. There's a beautiful Shire region guide with adventures that capture the wonderment of The Hobbit: brave people venturing a little ways from home and finding challenges bigger than their feet dreamed of.
Looking forward to where my feet take me, Frodo. You never know where you might be swept off to when you set outside your door in this game!
[5 of 5 Stars!]