Saturday, September 17, 2016

Review: Adventures in Middle-Earth Player's Guide from Cubicle 7 and Compatible with D&D 5th Edition

I recently received a review copy of the Adventures in Middle-earth Player's Guide PDF from Cubicle 7 that is compatible with Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition.  I'm a big fan of Middle-earth and ran a long campaign years ago with Decipher's Lord of the Rings RPG and a few one-shots of Cubicle 7's The One Ring RPG. So the setting is near and dear to my heart.

First, the book is gorgeous and the art and layout evoke the correct feel of J.R.R. Tolkien's opus. One thing I want to call out is the Contents section in the beginning of the book which gives a concise overview of what each section contains, which I think is brilliant  aid for player's coming into our hobby for the first time.

Chapter One gives you information about the significance of 2946 in the Third Age and overview of the Free Folk of the North, the Free Folk of Eriador, the Free Folk of the South and the activities of the Shadow.

Chapter Two explains how the rules of Adventures in Middle-earth Player's Guide (AiMe, hereafter) differs from standard DnD 5th Edition game. It contains rules for creating characters, the Cultures of Middle-earth, the classes this book introduces, Middle-earth Backgrounds, Virtues (Feats), the Game Rules, Journeys (more later), Corruption, Audiences (meeting with the movers and shakers of the Third Age), and the Fellowship Phase (more later).

Chapter Three are the Cultures of Middle-earth, which take the place of 5th Edition's Races. The cultures detailed are Bardings, Beornings, the Dunedin, Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain (further defined by Erebor and the Iron Hills), Elves of Mirkwood (mechanically their advantages are appropriate covered without making them unbalanced), Hobbits of the Shire (further defined by Harfoot and Stoor), Men of Bree, Men of the Lake, Men of Minas Tirith, the Riders of Rohan, and the Woodmen of the Wilderland. I feel that the choice of using Cultures, as opposed to Races, perfectly reflects the spirit of Middle-earth and allows the various humans of the setting to get a proper treatment.

Chapter Four introduces the Classes unique to AiMe. You should play a Scholar if you want to uncover ancient secrets and use their power, master the art of healing, be admitted into the councils of the Wise, or know much that is hidden. The two specialties of Scholars are Master Healer and Master Scholar. Neither specialty is a spellcaster in traditional DnD terms, but both channel the awe of characters presented in the fiction. Both rely upon ancient and deep lore about the world around.
   You should play a Slayer if you want to toss wolves and goblins from your path, take revenge upon the Enemy, fight alone, or in the front line of a company of warriors. It's specialties are the Rider and the Foe-Hammer. Slayer's hew closest to the Barbarian, but the Rider's reliance of mounted combat and the Foe-Hammer becoming a living weapon are interesting facets. I think both could be easily adapted as sub-classes for the Barbarian if a DM desired.
   You should play a Treasure Hunter if you want to sneak into caverns and other dark and dangerous places, spy on the movements and plans of the Enemy, or steal your foe's treasure. One interesting element to the class is that you gain night vision out to 60 feet at 1st level. The specialties are the Agent and the Burglar. The Agent is an ingenious and thoughtful sort, who outsmarts his or her opponents.
   You should play a Wanderer if you want to explore Middle-earth, 
to hunt down and destroy the servants of the Shadow, guide a company of adventurers through the wilderness. It's specialties are the Hunter of Beasts and the Hunter of Shadows. I'm going to add that I find the Wanderer encapsulates my expectations of earlier DnD Rangers and would have no qualm using them as an alternative or a replacement in a traditional 5th Edition game.
   You should play a Warden if you want to defend the Free Peoples against the Shadow, inspire your allies to yet greater deeds or bring hope when all seems lost. It's Expressions are Counselor (whose words hold power), Herald (whose abilities border into the realm of the Bard), and the Bounder (who focus on protecting others). I would seriously consider adding this class to fill a similar role to DnD 4th Edition's Warlord to a stander 5th Edition game.
   You should play a Warrior if you want to defend the Free Folk with force of arms, wear heavy armour and fight with discipline, 
command followers or master weapons to their fullest extent. It's Archetypes are Knight and Weaponmaster and both could be used for the 5th Edition Fighter.
   One final note about Classes, each presents a Shadow weakness.

Chapter Five covers Virtues which are AiMe's term for Feats. Virtues are specific to a Culture, they are well designed and constructed and could easily add new options for a standard 5th Edition game.

Chapter Six details the Backgrounds of AiME, and each includes a character's Hope and Despair to really dig deep into the lore of the setting. The Backgrounds are Loyal Servant, Doomed to Die, Driven from Home, Emissary of your People, Fallen Scion, The Harrowed, Hunted by the Shadow, Lure of the Road, The Magician (a performer), Oathsworn, Reluctant Adventurer, Seeker of the Lost, and World Weary.

Chapter Seven covers Equipment, detailing such things as Dalish Fireworks, Dwarven Toys, and Cultural Heirlooms. Cultural Heirlooms cannot be purchased, only rewarded, and they take the place of 5th Edition's magic items. Heirlooms for each Culture are provided.

Chapter Eight introduces the rules for Journeys, as travel is greatly emphasized in Middle-earth. Phase One is Embarkation and each Player is given a task as a Guide, Scout, Hunter, or Look-out. Simultaneously the Loremaster determines Peril Rating of the Journey and 10 random types of encounters are detailed.
   Phase Two is the Journey Events and Task Rolls. The length of the Journey determines the number of challenges the Players will face and the Loremaster is given methods to generate a DC for the Peril Rating. Additionally, 12 events are detailed.
   Phase Three is the Arrival Phase and rules for modifying the Arrival rule are laid out. 8 arrival results are detailed and an optional rule for Tracking Time are presented. Finally, a (sweet) hexmap of the Wilderlands is included.

Chapter Nine details the Shadow and the Corruption mechanic is fully presented. Each Classes' Shadow Weakness is detailed, as well. Consequences of Corruption, such as madness and degeneration are detailed.

Chapter Ten covers Audiences, a rules sub-system for meeting with and seeking aid from the movers and shakers of Middle-earth, those that we have all read about or watched on film. Audiences account for Cultural Attitudes, which set the DC's for the meetings and the reactions of those you are meeting with are based upon the outcome of your skill check.

Chapter Eleven covers the Fellowship Phase, which adds another rules sub-system for allowing character to recover between seasons and helps flesh out what they were up to when they have gone their separate ways, sometimes for years at a time. It includes options for Rest and Recovery, Undertakings (accomplishments important to individual heroes), Training, Gaining a New Trait (a fundamental change to the character), Heal Corruption, Meet a Patron, Open a Sanctuary, Receive a Title, and Research Lore. While the Fellowship Phase is integral to the stories of Middle-earth, I will add that I would have gladly used these rules while running a 5th Edition game that I concluded this past summer and will look at using them in future games set outside of Middle-earth.

The book concludes with Pre-Generated characters to get you up and playing in minutes.

Cubicle 7 has always impressed me with their games and Adventures in Middle-earth Player's Guide is no exception. They have taken the fabulous work they have done with the One Ring and adapted it to Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition, with a supplement that both perfectly encapsulates what I want out of Middle-earth while expanding my options for standard 5th Edition. I couldn't ask for any more.

You may purchase the PDF here and I urge you to do so as soon as possible.

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