To call me a casual fan of the Lord of the Rings franchise might be too generous. I’ve seen the movies (live action and animated), and played games set in the world (both tabletop and video games) and…that’s about it, really. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve attempted to read the books, but something about the writing style just isn’t my thing. Attempting to read The Silmarillion very nearly put me in a coma. But I won’t lie, I do find the world of Middle Earth to be quite interesting, even if I can’t quite manage to work my way through the books that defined said world.
What I’ll be reviewing today is not the Adventures in Middle Earth base book, but instead a supplement: Erebor Adventures. It contains six ready-to-play adventures in the region of Erebor (EN: In the North of Wilderland, settled by Thráin I, son of Náin, after Durin’s Folk were driven from Khazad-dûm by Durin’s Bane in TA 1980) ,where Smaug lived, if you’re a filthy casual like myself, set after The Hobbit but before The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s the newest release for the Adventures series, which takes Cubicle 7′s The One Ring RPG and fits it into Dungeons & Dragons 5E. With that in mind, let’s dive right into the book, and see what’s in store for us!
Mechanics & Gameplay
So, I’m going to be grouping these two categories into each other for two specific reasons. Firstly, this is a supplement book, one that doesn’t really add any specific mechanics or new styles of gameplay to the setting. New characters and locations sure, but not anything new gameplay wise that makes it stand out from the original. The book doesn’t even really lay out the mechanics and gameplay in fact, though that can be forgiven because, well, supplement. And the second reason? Adventures in Middle Earth is…kind of just a re-skin for D&D, specifically Fifth Edition (5E). You know how in some games, there are costumes that make your character look drastically different, but don’t actually do anything to affect the gameplay? That’s what this game is, just an easy way for you to play in Middle Earth with your D&D buddies without having to learn all that many new rules and tricks. If you like 5E, you’ll be fine here. And if you have a D&D book, but not the Adventures in Middle Earth book…I wouldn’t recommend going about things that way, given the differences between races and such, but I suppose it’d work.
The point is, the mechanics and gameplay are…fine, but since they weren’t created for this supplement, there’s not a whole lot of point in diving too deeply into them.
The amount of world building and effort that was put into this supplement is impressive. First and foremost, while all six of the ready-to-play adventures are stand alone things that can be tackled separately, without worrying about chaining from one to the next or following any particular order, there is an underlying plot to this series, as Sauron, displeased by the death of Smaug, sends a more subtle servant to Erebor to destabilize the region, one of the Nine, the Ringwraiths, the Nazgûl, the Sorcerer of Forod. He is the force behind the majority of the obstacles you’ll face in these six adventures, as you work to protect the people of Dale and the Lonely Mountain, though he won’t reveal himself to the party until the final battle. There are other, more mundane, characters as well, some original to the supplement, others minor figures who survived the battle at the end of the Hobbit and stayed in the region.
And on top of that, in addition to laying out the geography and layout of the regions you visit on your adventures, each one comes with pre-made NPCs, and even small background chatter and hints, a very nice touch. While there is nothing incredibly groundbreaking to the world building of Erebor Adventures, there’s still a good amount of effort and work put into the game, enough to make it quite impressive. Given that this is a supplement to a setting and game with a built in fan base and a pretty dense lore already, the amount of effort that clearly went into this wasn’t required of them, but they still put in the work.
The presentation of Erebor Adventures is rather like the world building. There’s nothing groundbreaking or stunning here, but for what it is, there’s still a decent amount of work and effort put into making the book look nice. The illustrations that dot the pages and break up the text are well detailed, with a good amount of color pictures present as well as black-and-white, and the inserts are a color that stands out but that doesn’t hurt the eyes or overly distract. The book is never boring, ugly, or dull to look at, and the font of the text itself is good in size and style, making for an easy read. Nothing outstanding, but definitely still pleasant and good.
Erebor Adventures is a fairly accessible book, with good, clear pacing and advice in the ready-to-play adventures contained within, complete with advice on at what level the party should be when attempting each one, allowing for newcomers to have a grasp on the difficulty and challenge of what they’re attempting before setting out on a journey. This does, however, come with the caveat that the supplement assumes players have read the Adventures in Middle Earth Core Rulebook . But this book does make me reasonably confident that the game as a whole will be easily accessible.
As supplements go, this is a very good one. There is, admittedly, nothing especially, well, special about it, but a good amount of effort was clearly applied into making a region not much thought about outside of the hardcore fans into something interesting, alive, and worth exploring. The effort that went into connecting all six adventures, and into the illustrations, are especially noteworthy, and deserving of praise. If you’re interested in Lord of the Rings, but don’t feel like going to anywhere from the trilogy in your game, this is well worth a look and the time you’ll spend with it.
You can pick up Erebor Adventures in PDF form on DriveThruRPG , where it retails for $19.99. The hard copy edition will be available on Cubicle 7’s store near the end of this year, which pre-order at a cost of $39.99. It will include a complimentary PDF version as well. If you’d like to learn more about Cubicle 7, and get a sneak peek at some of their upcoming releases, you can check out Dan’s GenCon report on them.
Images via Cubicle 7 and Warner Bros.