Comparing The One Ring 1st and 2nd Edition

Image Credit: Free League Publishing

When The One Ring came out, originally from Cubicle 7, it was obviously the best tabletop RPG adaptation of Middle-Earth out there. MERP had some great supplements that I still use as resources, but the rules had little to do with Middle-Earth. Arda Marred was a cool fan project, but it’s no longer supported, and can now only be found on the Wayback Machine as far as I know. The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game by Decipher was…bad. It was d20 using 2d6 instead of d20 and that was about it. It tried, but it wasn’t a game I would play.

The One Ring nailed it, however. Better than any tabletop RPG to date. There was the right focus on conversations and meeting new people. You had to open sanctuaries between adventures. There were robust journey rules. Skills and traits were drawn directly from the text of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and used in creative ways. The art was beautiful. I ran a campaign and it was a blast.

When I saw that a 2nd Edition was coming out from Free League, I felt a mix of excitement and trepidation. What would they change? Would they just improve 1st Edition, or go in a new direction entirely? I bought the core rulebook and the Starter Set box. The Starter Set, as a starter set, is excellent. I read through the core rulebook, and my analysis as of now is that 2nd Edition is a lateral move – but I’ll say a bit more below by way of comparison between the two editions.

What’s the same:
Three attributes used in an unusual way, heroic paths that are essentially classes, cultural rewards and subtle magic items, loads of Middle-Earth flavor, abstracted wealth and standard of living, fatigue and encumbrance are connected with ideosyncratic helm rules, combat rules and stances are similar, damage and armor rules are similar

The One Ring 1st EditionThe One Ring 2nd Edition
I prefer the attributes in this version

Distinctive features and traits are more diverse and interesting. There are also more mechanics tied to them

The art is much better, at least according to my taste

I prefer Wilderland as a default setting compared to Eriador
A few mechanics are simplified compared to 1st Ed, though it isn’t a big difference

Less paging around the book to learn – a bit better organized

The Starter Set box is excellent

As you can see from the above, I have a slight preference for the 1st Edition of The One Ring. At best, the 2nd Edition is a lateral move. Nothing is purely improved, though a few things change, and as always your mileage may vary. If you already have 1E, keep it and play it in good health! If you don’t have The One Ring, I imagine the out of print 1E will be expensive now, so go ahead and grab 2E. It is still hands-down the best Middle-Earth RPG out there.

That being said, reading through 2nd Edition did motivate me to dust off my homebrew take on Middle-Earth…

Have you read The One Ring? Have you played either edition? What do you think?