This product consist of two books and maps in a slip case (or a slew of PDFs if you purchase it that way). The books are The Adventurer's Book and The Loremaster's Book, and the maps come in Adventurer's and Loremaster's versions as well.
We'll begin with The Adventurer's Book, which opens with an Introduction that covers the usual explanation of what a role-playing game is before talking about the setting of Middle-Earth as depicted in The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings and assorted other material by J.R.R. Tolkien. Even the what is role-playing bit is interesting, as it takes the standpoint of common knowledge of video games and explaining that role-playing is a bit like that, but without the computer! We then find out that the game is set specifically in the time between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, a period of some seventy years, and starts off in the Wilderland - this being the lands extending from the Misty Mountains as far as the Running River. A lot of this area is covered by Mirkwood and there are plenty of monsters and other perils to contend with, ideal for adventuring. There's plenty of background here, worth reading however familiar you are with the novels as it extends on that material to bring the wider setting to life.
We then move on to a section called How to Play. In a way this extends the material that describes what role-playing is, as it covers the concept of player-characters as adventurers roaming the land. As you'll have guessed, in this game the Game Master (GM) is called a Loremaster, and his role is also explained. Now it gets interesting. To promote interaction, each adventure is made up of two parts: the Adventuring Phase (the main part) and the Fellowship Phase. The Adventuring Phase is like any adventure, the Loremaster sets the scene and the characters react, but in the Fellowship Phase the characters take the lead, describing what they do after the adventure. In many games, after an adventure you sort out experience points, level up and so on, this is just a means to make it an explicit part of the game rather than stopping play to 'book keep'. You may do this already, but it provides a measured structure for such activities.
This section ends with a note on dice. The One Ring is designed with custom dice in mind but if you don't have access to them you can play with ordinary dice - you'll need d6s and d12s - just remembering that on a d12, the 11 is the Eye of Sauron and the 12 is the Gandalf rune, likewise on the d6, the 6 counts as the tengwar rune. Where these symbols appear in the text, you just use the appropriate number on your dice. Die rolls are quite uncommon, characters are assumed to be reasonably competent, but when they are required you roll a Feat die (a d12) and perhaps Success Dice (d6s) depending on how skilled the character is. Special effects come into play if you roll one of the symbols: basically the Gandalf rune confers automatic success whilst the Eye of Sauron counts as zero and can lead to really bad things happening! To suceed at something, the player needs to roll in excess of a Target Number based on the difficulty of the task being undertaken.
Next, Part 2: Characters explains the process of character creation. Your characters are assumed to be ordinary folk who have, for whatever reason, stepped out of their regular lives to become adventurers. The process begins by deciding which Heroic Culture you come from (and there's a promise that succeeding books will provide more options based on the lands that they describe). Then you define why he's gone adventuring and work out what skills and knowledge he has. The idea is to create a rounded character, rooted in his origins and heritage yet ready to face the unknown. There's a wealth of background material to help you accomplish this here. Once individual characters are ready, the group as a whole should create a Company, a party of adventurers, working out how and why they came together in the first place, and why they have chosen to travel together.
Then Part 3: Fundamental Characteristics puts numbers to the concepts you've been tossing around during the previous chapter. It's a quite masterful effort to separate 'fluff' and 'crunch', empowering players to think about who their characters are as people without needing to worry about game mechanics yet able to slot them in seamlessly to describe the character you have developed in game terms. It also explains how the system works in detail, how to use your skills and other abilities, so it is advisable to study this well. It's all quite straightforward and keeps the number-crunching to a minimum. Here we also read about the weapons and armour that's available, along with their in-game effects.
This is followed by Part 4: Character Development. Here the various ways in which characters - and the group as a whole - grow and develop over time. It's not just mundane things like skills and abilities that increase with your exploits over time - wisdom, valour, virture, rewards and more also feature here, many mixed in with the culture from which that character comes or reflecting how he is regarded by those in whose lands he has travelled. It all tends to the development of rich and varied characters embedded in the lands that surround them - a lot more than totting up your XP and gaining a 'level'! This section also looks at life and death, getting wounded or catching a disease, healing and recovery.
Next comes Part 5: Adventuring Mechanics. This gets down to the bare bones of task resolution, drawing on the material already covered and bringing it all together. It takes you through the process from deciding what you want to do, then determining the appropriate skills etc. to bring to bear, assigning a difficulty and, once the dice have rolled, working out what actually happened. It all sounds a bit laborious, but if you think about it, this is how any game works... it's just been spelled out in detail here. It becomes instinctive with practice so don't be off-put by the clunky feel. Given the nature of the game, one of exploration and travel, the role of maps is important. Even more civilised areas are not well-mapped and most folk do not travel far from home, so adventurers may well find that the only maps they have are those that they make themselves as they travel. Not only travel is covered here, but combat - pretty deadly and not to be engaged in lightly.
Finally, Part 6: Fellowship Phase looks at what you can do once the adventure is done. A party is assumed to undertake one adventure a year, and then to rest for a season or so, often returning home to gather once more when they are ready to venture forth once more. There are opportunities for characters to develop themselves, make stuff and carry out all manner of non-adventuring activities. They can also catch up with the news and events within the known world whilst they've been off adventuring. It makes for a civilised and balanced approach, a more realistic way of viewing the life of an adventurer than occurs in many role-playing games. As an Appendix, some pre-generated characters are provided, as examples or if you are eager to get going.
The Loremaster's Book begins with Part 1: The Role of the Loremaster, which defines what the person taking that part has let themselves in for. It then, in Part 2: Game Mechanics, goes into considerable detail about how to make the game work at the rules level, including such matters as running Loremaster characters, awarding advancement points and so on.
Part 3: The Shadow looks at adversaries, from the nebulous 'corruption' to actual physical monsters that beset the land. Then Part 4: The Campaign helps you devise and structure one, using the sweep of years across the setting as your guide, embedding your game solidly into Middle Earth, and in particular Mirkwood and the surrounding area. There's a wealth of detail here.
Finally in Part 5 there's an introductory adventure, The Marsh Bell. Treat it as an example or use it to kickstart your own campaign. You should have plenty of ideas by now as to the sort of things that you can do.
Overall, this game has captured the flavour of Tolkien's tales well, with a gentle and measured approach that is quite distinctive yet very appropriate. Epic tales can be told, but it is the complexity and richness of the setting and game working hand in hand that really appeals.
[5 of 5 Stars!]