The One Ring Roleplaying Game (TOR) core rulebook by Cubicle 7 has been revised and repackaged as a gorgeous, single-volume hardcover, and remains a highly regarded, award winning series of gaming books that provides a richly detailed roleplaying world with suitably atmospheric mechanics that encourage just the right tone for a Middle-Earth campaign. The supplements that have been released over the past couple years have maintained an exceptionally high quality in terms of both artwork, elegant mechanics, and content, featuring stories that cover the entire range of The Hobbit’s fairytale whimsy to the dark, oppressive dread of The Lord of the Rings, and that’s no mean feat.
But for a new GM (Loremaster, in TOR’s parlance), wrapping your head around Tolkien lore and getting the game just right — and attempting not to “ruin” the lore (or purposely running a game to have your players change the outcomes of the established storylines) — are tall orders.
Here I provide a listing of what I think makes up the ultimate list of resources and references for a TOR campaign, and while it may seem like a disturbingly large amount of reading, I believe it actually lends itself incredibly well to “containment.” As The One Ring RPG centers all of its initial campaign material on only the areas explored in The Hobbit, so too can a GM simply focus on 1-3 settlements and a couple wilderenss areas in-between, utilizing the following resources to get a great, detailed look at only those areas they will concentrate on.
Unless you plan to simply use the rules to create your own world — not a bad idea at all, for it will be an evocative one with this rules system! — you’ll need to be passingly familiar with Tolkien’s “core materials.” Everything else — there’s hundreds of letters, dissertations, poems, and more — is unnecessary for running the game.
- The Annotated Hobbit remains my favorite resource, because it contains the text from multiple editions of The Hobbit all in the right places, so you can see very different takes on Gollum and other bits of lore.
- The Lord of the Rings is obvious, but I should note that I prefer the One Volume edition for ease of carrying and reference.
- I’d argue that The Silmarillion is not necessary, except as a sort of mythological reference for in-world explanations of stuff. It’s a dry read, but if you want to add flavor to the ruins that the players will invariably explore, this book will help bring them to life.
The Official Game & Sourcebooks
As of this writing, here’s what you can pick up for the game. TOR is complete more or less in its core rulebook, but you get a lot of evocative setting detail, some nice new character options, and a ton of great adventures by picking up other books in the line. And if you’re still rocking the old version of the core rules, you can download the free rule update here!
Beyond those, rather obvious books, I think the following two books will add all of the other details you’ll ever need and then some, plus I’d argue they are more immediately useful than The Silmarillion (I’m a heathen, I know).
The Atlas of Middle-Earth (Revised Edition) is an excellent resource of maps that help illustrate the epic, sweeping history of Middle-Earth, in addition to the specific wanderings of the various characters in the novels, providing visual cues and historical information that will help you bring various tombs, ruins, caves, and expanses of wilderness to life.
Tolkien’s World from A to Z: The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth is perhaps the best thing (other than a wiki) you could use at the table when one of your players knows more about Middle-Earth and Tolkien than you. Having it handy while reading any of the above books, and while prepping and running a game, is — in this GM’s opinion — the only way to do it. Don’t remember who did what to whom when? This book will answer that, quickly and succinctly without losing any important details.
While I don’t have any experience with the following books or lines, they come with their own recommendations from various sources, and more importantly than poring over things like Tolkien’s letters to his kids or random scholarly stuff like that, these should provide immediately useful illustrations, writings, maps, and so on that you can use at the table during your game session.
- The Complete Tolkien Companion
- Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopaedia
- Decipher’s Lord of the Rings roleplaying game line (complete list; out of print)
- Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE) Middle-Earth Roleplaying Game supplements (complete list; out of print)
This list grew a lot in the telling, but keep in mind what you already have read if you’re coming to the world of Middle-Earth by way of roleplaying games, and remember that Tolkien himself constantly revised the lore of his world.
With that frame of reference, any campaign should be about YOUR characters and THEIR DEEDS in the world of Middle-Earth, so it’s super easy to take all of these works and simply push aside the ones that aren’t local to them and don’t involve them. Pick up the stuff that works, and only use the bits that will make the game fun.
What do you use at your table?
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