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Prepare thyself, brave adventurer! In a time ripe with peril and filled with daring tales of glory, you are invited to embark on Lord of the Rings adventures filled with magical creatures, powerful artifacts, far away lands of Middle-earth and heroic feats. This is the epic journey of Lord of the Rings. The One Ring Starter Set‘ RPG from Free League Publishing – a game system full of rich stories and strategic battles that draw you into the realm of J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Whether your story be one of heroism or villainy in this land steeped in ancient lore, Free League Publishing has crafted an inviting experience for veteran players as well as those new to table top RPGs alike!

What players can expect

The One Ring Starter Set by Free League Publishing is a pen and paper system that allows players to experience the epic journey of Hobbits. It comes with a lot, and I mean A LOT of goodies, making it a must-have for fans of The One Ring.

From their website the box includes:

  • A 24-page volume of Rules.
  • A 52-page volume describing The Shire.
  • A 31-page volume containing The Adventures.
  • Eight double-sided pre-generated character sheets.
  • Two large maps showing the Shire and Eriador.
  • 30 Wargear Cards that can also be used with The One Ring core rules.
  • Six double-sided Journey Role and Combat Stance Cards that can also be used with The One Ring core rules.
  • Two D12 Feat Dice.
  • Six D6 Success Dice.

Free League Publishing

The only things you’ll need that aren’t included are a pencil and some paper (oh and pizza..oh donuts…okay, pencil, paper, pizza, donuts, and some tea. Hmm…are taquitos still banned in canada? I digress).

I have had a lot of RPG starter sets before, but this beginner box is complete. It’s like if the Red Box came with dice and the white crayons with pre-gens, a ton of art, and maps. That’s the level of excitement opening this box.

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Courtesy of Free League Publishing

Box fullness rating:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Differences between The One Ring RPG and other popular game systems

The One Ring Starter Set RPG is a tabletop role-playing game system based on the world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The One Ring roleplaying game system is designed to allow players to experience the story of Lord of the Rings firsthand, making choices and facing challenges that determine how the story progresses.

It is also, as I have found by experience, one of the most customizable games I’ve played in a very long time. Yes, it’s weird that a kid who grew up with Red Box and AD&D says that The One Ring set of pre-gen goodies from Free League Publishing is the most customizable in recent adventures. Let me explain 🙂

The Pre-Gens and rule systems can be adapted to your imagination.

I teach various humanities, English, ESL, sociology, business, and ‘kitchen sink’ at the college level. Roleplaying is a great way to engage students into scenarios or just to explore new worlds and engage in language production. This box has appeared in my classes in ESL, literature, business management, philosophy, and even gender studies. Heck, I’ve even used it in faculty in-service training. That’s how customizable and adaptable the attributes of this game can be.

Courtesy of Free League Publishing

The brilliance of The One Ring game is the lore, the art, and the ‘all in one’ aspect. Pre-generated characters mean we can explain and map attributes to what a person already knows in the world. Even the students not familiar with Lord of the Rings, still understood the concepts by quick mapping to their existing knowledge. Not only are the characters pre-gen but also weapons/armor item cards are included. My favorite thing to do here is to give a player a pick from the deck, cards down, and have a random piece of equipment. Then I make a secret roll and see if that card is cursed or blessed. Do I tell the student this? Of course not…not until they use it to often hysterical consequences.

The dice and maps are there. A little wipeable white board goes a long way here (get one cheap at Amazon or Staples or Walmart, etc).

The rest is your imagination. This really is a great ‘pick up game’ feel.

Of course, it works amazingly well as a stand-alone campaign system, too. I mean, it’s Free League Publishing. Name one of their games that aren’t fun, easy to get into, and instant hits like The One Ring. I’ll wait…

Adaptability rating:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The One Ring Playing Tips as we wait 🙂

Playing in a The One Ring campaign can be an unforgettable adventure. Here are some tips to make the most out of your game:

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To Pre-Gen or Not Pre-Gen, that is the question

This box, the One Ring Starter Set, is everything you need to start an awesome adventure. If this is your first time venturing into the land of The One Ring, you might want to try the pregenerated characters route. Once you get your feet wet, you can start creating your own hobbits — but — from experience, I can say that we all became attached to our pre-gen characters. They have a backstory that you can tweak and the art work is superb.

Combat and the art of running away

The One Ring Starter Set RPG by Free League Publishing offers an immersive journey into J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, complete with engaging gameplay, customizable scenarios, and rich lore. The game set includes extensive volumes of rules, adventures, and character sheets, maps, cards, and dice. It is adaptable to various settings and can be used as a teaching tool in diverse fields. The game’s high replay value, detailed artwork, and potential for endless adventures make it a must-have for both Lord of the Rings fans and newcomers to tabletop RPGs. Jim Phoenix

Get ready to chuck The One Ring dice! It’s a lot of d6 and some d12. This means if you are new to RPG, but you’ve played ‘some’ games before, you might have extra d6 but no d12 laying around. For the most part, the d6s are used so if you do have some lying around, feel free to grab them to make the passing of the dice a little less passy.

Word on The One Ring dice: Yes, they are graphically designed beauties and feel great in your hands.

Endless adventures

Love the Lord of the Rings books? Awesome, this game, The One Ring, is for you. The movies? Sure! The cartoon movie? Yup, welcome Gen X’er! The Amazon TV show? Got you covered!

Yes, you can recreate moments from the Lord of the Rings books and films (even the TV show!) in The One Ring, but there are many other possibilities for adventures in Middle-earth. That’s the beauty about Free League Publishing’s games. They are open world concepts. You can zig instead of zag. Players could travel to different parts of Middle-earth and explore its many regions, meeting new people and creatures along the way. They could also join one of the various factions in the war against Sauron, fighting in epic battles against the Dark Lord’s forces. Or they could undertake their own personal quests, seeking out lost treasures or ancient secrets. The possibilities are endless, and it’s up to the players to decide what kind of adventure they want to have.

Replay value:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Score for The One Ring Starter Set

If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, then The One Ring Starter Set from Free League Publishing is a no-brainer. Free League Publishing has never done me wrong and I don’t think they’re about to start. The One Ring Starter Set is gorgeous and comes with everything you’ll ever need to step forth in Hobbit Land. My score reflects being a fan of the land and lore. I’ve played this with people who didn’t know much about LotR and they seemed to have enjoyed it. This shows that the starter set has something for both fans and non-fans. All in all, a greatly detailed adventure in a box.

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So what are you waiting for? Unlock epic roleplaying adventures with the Free League Publishing One Ring Starter Set!

Overall Score:

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Gaming

Heretic’s Fork Review: Punish Sinners Like it’s Your Job (It Is)

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Welcome to your new corporate job. It’s Hell. No, really. In Heretic’s Fork, Punish sinners, chat with your co-workers, and don’t forget to check your email before you clock out!  

Heretic’s Fork is a 2023 video game by 9FingerGames and published with Ravenage Games. 9FingerGames is a one-man studio run by Stevie Andrea that is also responsible for titles such as Zapling Bygone. While only out since September, Heretic’s Fork has already garnered several accolades. These include selection for Fear Fest 2023 and The Mini Indie Showcase as well as making Rock Paper Shotgun’s Bestest Bests list.

Watch the Heretic’s Fork Release Trailer here!

Heretic’s Fork is a deck-building, tower defense, bullet-hell (ha) game where you take on hordes of souls trying to escape Hell. To begin, you choose an employee to help you in your task. Each employee has a special ability (and variants) that do everything from nothing to stat buffs to adding whole new mechanics. For example the starting character, Intern Ruby, gives no bonuses. But, Gilbo Gibbins introduces a luck-based wheel that encourages you to gamble your cards away for potentially big rewards (and risks).

Screenshot from the character select screen featuring some variants characters.

As the game progresses, you build and upgrade structures to bolster your defenses against the increasingly difficult hordes of sinners. You also have a deck, through which you upgrade your stats and gain special abilities. With rogue-like elements, you are able to unlock new cards and characters by completing goals, using coins, or finding secrets. This leaves a lot to uncover as you work your way through the circles of Hell. While your screen quickly becomes bullet hell, your structures are more or less automated and do all the sinner punishing for you. The real strategy comes in what cards (and structures) you play, upgrade, and get rid of as the game progresses. 

Screenshot of Heretic’s Fork game play from Endless mode.

I have a soft spot for rogue-like deck building games. Heretic’s Fork is no different. I love the diversity of game play through the many structure, character, and card options. The mechanics really complement the game play choices, making each run feel unique and rewarding.

It was easy to spend hours at a time achievement hunting and exploring the hidden secrets buried in your file systems. In fact, I easily put 20 hours into Heretic’s Fork within two weeks of buying it! It also helped that it was an easy game to play on the Steam Deck, despite it not being created with the Steam Deck in mind. That being said, endless mode did stretch my Steam Deck to its limits (but my PC did just fine). It is also of note, that since September the game has been regularly updated with both paid and unpaid bonus content. It feels like every time I’m ready to move on, something new drops and I’m forced to dive back in!

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If you are a fan of tower defense, rogue-like, or deckbuilding games, Heretic’s Fork is definitely worth checking out! It’s only $10 on Steam, which is well worth the price for an interesting gaming experience.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Gaming

The Thing in Review, Movie 1, Movie 2 and the Board Game

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The Thing… Where to start? I guess we’ll start at the beginning, or the first movie as it were, in 1982…. (Note: for all that it is based upon the same book, I am not including the 1951 The Thing from Another World in this review as it is very different from the later iterations. Nor am I reviewing the book itself.)

1982 movie poster detail
1982 movie poster detail

Movie 1

John Carpenter’s The Thing is a cult classic film and a staple of the horror genre despite its original release to lackluster attendance. It focuses on a small group of Antarctic researchers desperately trying to piece together the mystery of what happened at a neighboring outpost before succumbing to the horror itself. Seems that some “thing” was unearthed from its burial in the long frozen ice and has been released to roam the desolate Antarctic wasteland in a ravenous bodyshaping doppleganger frenzy.

The Good

The psychological thriller aspect of this film is laid on thick, with distrust sown between the scant trapped crew remaining, trying to figure out who is and isn’t affected. The characters don’t act irrationally based on tired tropes, making somewhat reasonable choices based on what information they have and learn over the course of the incident, save for acting solo or in pairs despite known risks.

Paranoia reigns supreme and the implications of the circumstances the crew finds themselves in are not lost in the shuffle. This elusive us-versus-them setup is the film’s best quality. And as for another film great, I totally want MacReady’s helicopter flying hat. That is some grand fashion, if I do say so myself. But I digress…

MacReady's noteworthy hat
MacReady’s noteworthy hat

The Bad (or at least, The Ugly)

I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will mention that the alien being appears in numerous gruesome scenes. Personally, I feel that this is where the film falls short. I get that we had to see its evolving body horror nature to better understand the implications of what the alien can and cannot do as its abilities are revealed.

But it starts to fall into the campy uncanny valley bordering on comic relief when there is too much focus placed on showing the intruder. In my opinion, such vagaries are often more terrifying when left unseen, for the viewer’s imagination to run wild. That said, I will remind everyone that this was before CG, and it was a wholly different world of special effects then. So, for 1982 amidst the shiny happy wonderment surrounding E.T., The Thing was freakishly damn creepy.

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I give the original film 4.0 Cthulhus.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


Movie 2

On to the prequel, the 2011 version of The Thing exploring exactly what had happened at the Norwegian base camp, as seen in the setup in the John Carpenter release…

2011 movie poster detail
2011 movie poster detail

So, despite all of the mixed reviews out there, I rather liked the prequel. I thought it did pretty well conveying the same moods and story as the 1982 release.

The Good

As expected, the prequel did use a lot more fancy pants computer generated content to depict the sheer terror of the Thing itself. Although it relied heavily on this, I think it used the new capability rather well while still paying homage to the original. The scene developing the two-faced monster was wonderfully creepy in much the same spirit as the 1982 release. The psychological distress revved up very convincingly, with the characters’ paranoia escalating in ways that made sense internally. And the jump scares and grotesque features were good.

The Bad and the Ugly

The way that the events panned out and how the characters interacted within their circumstances was unfortunately less developed than in the original film. As a prequel, not all of the actions led into the 1982 film in ways that were believable, and thus beg the question of when all that research was conducted with the videos made and written records chronicled. The timeline just doesn’t feel at all consistent. Did this occur over a day, two days, a month, or even a few months’ time? This is not wholly clear. The movie plays out as if everything happened within 48 hours but that doesn’t naturally follow with all of the setup.

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And the 2011 release relied more on typical horror tropes like scientific secrecy and splitting up in ways that don’t entirely make sense. A lot of the characters behaved less rationally even despite being shown to process the information at hand quickly. It’s almost like they were trying to set themselves up to be jump scared and assimilated. Who knows, maybe they were?

But my biggest beef with this film is the weirdness with the alien spaceship. I won’t spoil the plot by giving it away, but suffice it to say the alien’s capabilities seem more influenced by how quickly the humans learn what they can do rather than what they are actually able to accomplish, which creates a sort of unique dysfuntion all its own. I’d have shrugged this off if not for the spaceship but instead was left feeling like the movie just had to push for an Iron Man moment (like in The Martian). I guess sometimes we need a big red sign on the wall that says “Bang head here” in the form of a WTF movie moment.

So I give the 2011 prequel only 3.0 Cthulhus. If I had seen this first I don’t know that I’d have gone out of my way to see the 1982 release, and it really just wasn’t as good as the original despite the psychological tension and creepy factor. I know I started off this mini-review stating that I rather liked it, and I genuinely did. But then again I also rather liked parts of The Minions movie from the Despicable Me enterprise (it had me laughing any way; what can I say, I’m easy sometimes), so you do the math…

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)


The Board Game

And finally, The Thing the board game, based on the 1982 film. Note: there are previous games along themes of The Thing, but I have only played the recent 2022 release. All of the versions have had mixed reviews, mostly being compared to the Battlestar Galactica game of hidden identities, often held as the pinnacle of this “hidden role” game style.

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I really like this game. I love that you can sow paranoia as you try to figure out who is and isn’t human. And if you don’t have enough players to really delve into the psychological aspects of this, with every man out for himself, you can play cooperatively against the game itself as the harsh environment, sabotage and alien infiltration take their toll. And as many of you know, I adore cooperative games.

Game Structure

The board game is a hidden identity structure featuring characters from the 1982 movie. Player characters do not know whether the others are human or are alien-imitating-fake-human trying to assimilate them into the alien threat. Everyone is acting upon their own motives and suspicions as they try to get the hell outta Dodge back to the civilized world. I have not been able to approach this in the full version as my tabletop game group is small, but the cooperative version does still offer some sense of the terror and urgency felt.

The game mechanics are a bit chunky but they aren’t overly complicated and the game doesn’t generally outlast its run time of around an hour once you get the hang of the actions and how the phases play out. Again, we’ve played it cooperatively and this may or may not hold true depending on your game group. First off, you have to account for the weather, which always comes first in such an inhospitable environment as Antarctica. Next, player characters determine where they are going and theoretically what they are doing, though this doesn’t reveal itself immediately and doesn’t necessarily make it apparent who is and isn’t human. Then the alien threat is established and the leader takes a role in determining what happens where. Eventually, food is eaten, tests are administered, and the dogs get out and wreak havoc.

Some pics of The Thing game setup, hanging out in the rec room, and alien attack!
Some pics of The Thing game setup, hanging out in the rec room, and alien attack!

Rulemongering

The art is lovely and hearkens to the original film. And the game is fun. But the game mechanics and rules are not entirely well-explained in all circumstances, including the translation between standard and cooperative play, and the playbook raises more questions than answers. There is much heated debate over the interpretation of this, and my group was not exempt from the discussion around when exactly the dogs get out.

Returning to the film does not offer a better explanation, as the game deviates from the movie in enough ways to create possibilities around actions too far gone, such as blood testing or repairing the communications to call for help. And the original monstrous dog has a big role at the start of the film, pretty much going wherever it likes, so are the dogs supposed to be in or out? Unsure. So expect to get bogged down in this discourse for awhile, especially if you don’t all agree on how the game should be played.

The Fine Print

Because of this extra confusion, sowing dissent for reasons that have nothing to do with the movie or theme and everything to do with people having their own ideas of how the rules and setup should be interpreted, I give the game only 3.0 Cthulhus. Lack of definition in these circumstances is not a boon, and should not be left to the imagination (unlike the portrayal of monstrous creatures which can benefit from not revealing too much). And since everyone is paranoid and self-serving, it only muddles up discussion of how to interpret the rules more, depending on what side you’re on, human versus alien threat… That said, the game is fun and, if your gaming group isn’t full of a bunch of rules lawyers like mine is, hopefully you won’t get too bogged down in the fine print.

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3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

And for follow up, we decided to ignore the forums and make a house rule that one dog begins outside of the kennel sowing confusion and the location deck is interacted with from there to see if the other dogs are released. This seems to be more in keeping with the spirit of the original film, for whatever that’s worth. The other dogs weren’t even shown to be at risk until that dog is taken to the kennel, so maybe they shouldn’t come out to play until exposed. And here we go again…

More Game Reviews

If you enjoyed this review and want to explore another creepy cooperative game with lots of character motive, feel free to read about Dead of Winter. Or you can delve further into the survivalist genre with Ravine.

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Fear & Hunger (2018), a Game Review

Fear & Hunger (2018) is an RPG survival horror game developed by Miro Haverinen, using RPG Maker for a dungeon-crawling horror.

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Fear & Hunger (2018) is an RPG survival horror game developed by Miro Haverinen. This RPG Maker game brings to life a dungeon-crawling horror set in a grimdark fantasy world. Published by Happy Paintings, this game remains available on Steam and Itch.io.

You are one of four adventurers tasked with uncovering the truth of a dungeon simply called Fear and Hunger. Fighting through the horrors, you must manage your hunger, health, and sanity. But with fate stacked against you, how can you hope to survive?

Five people stand side by side. One man in leather armor, another man with long hair and black robes, a man in bulky steel armor, a woman in slimer steel armor, and an outlander in wolf skin
The Mercenary, the Occultist, a prisoner, the Knight and the Outlander

What I like about Fear & Hunger

Despite the plethora of RPG Maker horrors, Fear & Hunger stands out in nearly every way. While it looks like an RPG Maker game, the aesthetic provides a uniquely decrepit and haunting visual uncommon even among the horrors.

Fear & Hunger wears its inspirations on its sleeves. Any casual search on the development, even the aesthetics, will reveal these influences. However, it weaves these inspirations to add something new.

This game is excruciatingly hard and unfair in the best of ways! I tried a few runs with specific tests in mind. One was on the default experience, or “easy mode.” This mode affects how much damage monsters can take before dying but doesn’t notably affect your “luck” rolls. It’s these luck rolls that truly make the experience. Every step can lead to danger, forcing you into rolls that may cost your life.

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Many factors lead to abrupt endings or benefits, making each playthrough unique. Each level has a few different potential layouts. While not procedural generation, this provides variety throughout playthroughs.

There are several options and ways to play that I enjoy indulging in, following the structural choices akin to Souls-like games. While there are no inherent right ways to play, there are easier options and tactical decisions. This truth applies to character selection. In fighting, the Knight gave me the easiest introduction. The Dark Priest requires more tactical gameplay but companionless potential if played to their unique strengths. The Barbarian can provide the easiest food resource and competent combat. Lastly, the Mercenary acts more like a rogue, so try and avoid initial confrontation.

White background, rubber stamp with disclaimer pressed against the white background.
Disclaimer Kimberley Web Design

Tired Tropes and Triggers

The most important trigger to mention is sexual assault. This game, unfortunately, includes several examples of sexual assault and abuse. While these often lead to blackout screens, the game leaves nothing to the imagination. The creator took the feedback to heart and made drastic changes to the sequel to minimize these moments. However, this doesn’t change the first Fear & Hunger.

If you get squeamish by pixelated nudity, then it’ll be hard to overlook the quantity found in Fear & Hunger. There’s more male nudity throughout the game. This point is especially the case when concerning enemies. Regardless, it remains ever-present. A game option might even turn you into a nude abomination.

As a sanity meter implies, characters can have mental breakdowns. Characters must indulge in various activities, including drug use, to survive.

A black screen with "Fear & Hunger" written in white text
Fear & Hunger Loading Title

What I Dislike about Fear & Hunger, or Food for Thought

Failure often leads to punishment. Where most games provide a game over, Fear & Hunger forces you to play. In these moments, the character is usually bleeding out and crawling, with little hope for salvation. I don’t exactly understand this gameplay decision. You lost to die again? There are likely ways to survive these scenarios, but some moments seem impossible and unrewarding.

I’ve heard mention that this game “hates you.” While I disagree with the wording, I will say that chance plays a heavy role in your survival. You can do everything right, but a few uncontrollable rolls can doom you to death. These dice rolls even affect when and if you get a saving book or can rest (to save), which likely means you lose progress.

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Despite the innovation in gameplay mechanics, this remains an RPG Maker game. Movement remains linear, requiring the keypad to adjust to specific angles.

Final Thoughts

Fear & Hunger remain terrifying. As one delves further into the dungeon, harder choices force the character into more desperate acts. Few games truly make these decisions necessary, like Fear & Hunger. While mechanics are a bit janky, and the material does shock for the sake of shocking the viewer, it captures a darkness few games dare to cross.
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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