24 July 2018
Life and death in the saddle
If you’ve read through or watched the Lord of the Rings, there are probably a few things you already associate with the Kingdom of Rohan; chiefly horses, excellent hair and huge piles of dead orcs. While there’s no shortage of any of those in Oaths of the Riddermark’s half-dozen adventures, you may be a little surprised at all the politics and courtly intrigue that need to be navigated in the lands of the horse-lords.
The slim book is designed to work with Cubicle 7’s The One Ring Roleplaying Game, though the company says that a version for its Adventures in Middle-Earth sibling game is in the works, and falls somewhere between a simple series of themed adventures and a full-blown campaign. This puts it in a good spot for players and GMs that want to get their hands on something with a bit more substance than random questing, but can’t quite commit to a game that could take several long months or even years to reach its climax.
Indeed, the individual adventures are distinct enough from one another that a gaming group could easily dip in and out as they please, playing through one or two before moving on entirely.
If you run right through all of them one after the other, however, you’ll find that the story smoothly builds up in scope and danger, starting with a hunt for a horse-eating monster and ending with a battle that could decide the fate of the kingdom. This is undoubtedly the best way to use the book, allowing the GM to weave recurring characters in and out as they please.
Much of these characters will be based around the major thread running through the adventure, which sees the party working for King Thengal (the father of Theoden from The Lord of the Rings) as he attempts to bully two rival lords of Rohan into ending a vicious feud before the forces of darkness rise. The adventure in which this arc is introduced, Red Days Rising, is based around arranging a marriage between two childhood friends now divided between the families, and acts as a great example of Oaths of the Riddermark’s major themes.
While the heroes will get to hack up a few bandits on their way to securing the wedding, if they charge into every situation with the aim of battering it into submission they’re going to run into hot water pretty quickly. Actually succeeding on all their goals needs more than a little diplomacy and discussion, all of which opens up easy paths for roleplaying.
All this talking and negotiating does mean that the GM needs to be on point and have a good grasp of the entire adventure before settling down for a session, but the writing is usually snappy enough that the information on hand isn’t too overwhelming. Keeping track of all the names can be a bit of a chore, but most hardcore Tolkien fans should already be pros when it comes to separating their Erkenbrands from their Éogars.
While the story is well-plotted and has the potential to give successful parties some truly fantastic moments – without wishing to spoil anything, the climax definitely rewards them earlier good deeds – the framing device for virtually every adventure requires at least a bit of railroading. Though it’s entirely possible for the GM to allow the adventurers to explore Rohan in-between each major plot point, eventually they’re going to have to end up meeting with the king once more.
The main plot is compelling enough that isn’t going to be a problem for most groups, but if the main appeal of the Lord of the Rings for your players were the bits where orcs got diced up by Viggo Mortensen, they’re probably going to struggle to enjoy Oaths of the Riddermark.
If, however, you’re playing with the kind of group that loves careful diplomacy, courtly intrigue and thinking their way out of a problem when stabbing it won’t work, it might be the book to keep your sessions going for a couple of thoroughly enjoyable months.
A series of well-crafted adventures with an emphasis on both brains and brawn.
Designer: Cubicle 7 team
This review originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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