Cubicle 7 Publishing has amazed the table-top gaming world with their high quality products, original game design, and masterful handling of licensed properties within the hobby. They presently hold the rights to produce table-top role-playing games for several well known intellectual properties, including the popular Primeval television series as well as the iconic Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space role-playing game.
They are rocking the fantasy role-playing game world with their award-winning officially licensed Middle-earth role-playing game The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild, published in partnership with Sophisticated Games. Cubicle 7 Publishing and Sophisticated Games have given the Middle-earth the dedication and respect it deserves, presenting the setting as the iconic world fantasy fans have come to know and love. Research, respect and love have are evident in the product line, which focuses on the players taking on the roles of heroes in the area in and around Mirkwood in the aftermath of the events of The Hobbit.
Their most recent release is The Heart of the Wild, which offers an in-depth look beyond what is presented in the initial core book. Author of the newest supplement for The One Ring, Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan was kind enough to sit down with me to discuss in detail his newest creation.
Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan: Heart of the Wild actually started as part of another product – the Darkening of Mirkwood campaign. The Mirkwood chapters of Heart were originally part of the campaign guide. As Tales from Wilderland never strayed significantly into Mirkwood, integrating the two products wasn’t initially an issue.
Later, when it became clear that the Heart material could stand alone and be a useful supplement in its own right, we expanded it to cover the Vales of Anduin too, which meant returning to some of the same regions Tales visited. In most cases, though, Tales only described a handful of locations in each region, so there was still plenty of space to add new material.
In retrospect, I’m very glad things evolved in that manner. I think if we’d started with the idea of doing a comprehensive guide to Wilderland, the sheer scope of the project would have been overwhelming. Starting with a campaign guide, which had its own specific, limited needs, meant we had a road to follow.
James Spahn: The One Ring line of gaming products is clearly a labor of love. High production value is evident and its clear that extensive research has gone into the setting and how the details of Tolkien’s world can be applied to role-playing games in a consistent manner. I’d imagine that research was key when developing Heart of the Wild. At the same time, to keep table-top gaming fresh and interesting to the players an author often has to go beyond the source material. Can you give our readers some insight into the research that went into this book and what your decision process was like when you decided to go beyond Tolkien’s notes?
G: First, we looked at other parts of Tolkien’s legendarium that could plausibly have affected Wilderland. For example, one of the cultures mentioned in Heart of the Wild are the Erringmen – they’re the descendants of the Wainriders who invaded Gondor long ago. It seemed possible that some of them might have been driven north and ended up becoming a distinct culture of their own, a mix of Wainraider and Northern stock. Tolkien also mentions Hobbits living outside the Shire, so we could include the distant kin of Smeagol, still living in the Gladden Fields.
Next, we went to Tolkien’s own sources and inspirations, both fictional and historical. Large chunks of Woodman culture, for example, come from The Roots of the Mountain and The House of the Wolfings by William Morris. We dug into German and Scandinavian folklore, into English history (and zoology), and of course into philology.
Finally, if none of our other sources could provide what we felt the game needed, we invented – very carefully and cautiously. There’s a sort of custodial feel when working on The One Ring, like you’ve been entrusted with this very old, very expensive and very beautiful instrument. Actually, Gimli said it better, talking of how the dwarves would tend the Glittering Caves:
“With cautious skill, tap by tap – a small chip of rock and no more, perhaps, in a whole anxious day – so we could work, and as the years went by, we should open up new ways, and display far chambers that are still dark, glimpsed only as a void beyond fissures in the rock.”
J: Traditionally, regional and setting supplements are often called “fluff” books that focus primarily on detailing locations and history at the expense of new rules and options for gamers when they come to the table. Heart of the Wild offers over a dozen new Fellowship phase actions, several new cultural blessings, and has extensive additions to the bestiary of monsters that plague the Free People of Middle-earth. Given that you only had 128 pages to fill, can you give our readers about how you prioritized your choices between setting content and game content?
G: To a degree, that’s a false dichotomy. A well-designed rule can be both mechanically functional in the game, but also illuminate an aspect of the setting. Just take something simple like the Hatred rule. You can talk for ages about the Wars of the Dwarves and Orcs, about ancient grudges and deep-seated loathings, but just having a rule that says “Orcs get a bonus to their attacks when facing dwarves” expresses all that in a tangible way. Wherever possible, we tried to reinforce setting elements with mechanics. If a particular place is, say, sacred to the Beornings, then there should be a mechanical benefit to a Beorning going there. One nice thing about the TOR system is that there’s plenty of scope for giving benefits that aren’t just “+1 to attacks” – you can replenish Hope, give temporary traits, remove Shadow and so on.
J: You mentioned that Heart of the Wild started as part of another product, Darkening of Mirkwood. Based on the material presented in the core books of The One Ring, Darkening of Mirkwood has been something that has clearly been planned since the early days of the game’s development. Is this still a product we can look forward to in the future? Is it a kind of companion to Heart of the Wild? When deciding what material would go into Heart of the Wild, what was your guiding vision? If they’re companion products, how viable will each book be individually if the gamer is only able to get their hands on one product and not the other?
G: Darkening of Mirkwood is a campaign for The One Ring. It describes how, over the course of thirty years of game time, the Shadow falls upon Mirkwood once more. Each year has several adventures and events associated with it, and depending on how the player characters deal with the challenges they face, the Free Peoples might be able to resist the growing power of Dol Guldur or fall to it. The campaign’s written and developed, and is currently in the final stages of production. It’s the next release in the schedule.
Originally, it included a detailed guide to Mirkwood, but as we developed it, we realised that the guide could stand alone, so we decided to spin it off as a separate supplement and expand it to cover the Vales of Anduin too. Some Loremasters may prefer to run their own campaigns, so we decided it would be better to separate the background material from Darkening.
To use Heart of the Wild, you just need a copy of the core rules. To use Darkening to its fullest, you’ll need both the core rules and Heart of the Wild.
J: You tackle some pretty major figures in Middle-earth in Heart of the Wild. From the Nazgul and their relationship to Dol Guldur at the time that The One Ring is set to a detailed character study of iconic figures such as the elven-king of Mirkwood, Thranduil. You even presented game statistics for some of these legendary figures. Can you tell our readers what it was like trying to get inside the heads and hearts (or lack there of in some cases) of the beloved characters?
G: Always from the outside in – the first question was always “how do the player characters interact with these people?” I dipped into their feelings and motivations only when it could impact their interactions with adventurers. That’s partly because I wanted to keep the character descriptions as game-relevant as I could, and partly to avoid putting my own fingerprints all over Tolkien’s characters. (As I think I’ve said elsewhere, writing any Middle-Earth material is simultaneously a source of immense joy and overwhelming terror – by the time we get to Rivendell, I fear I shall be a gibbering wreck).
J: Finally, after Darkening of Mirkwood, what’s the next step for The One Ring? Your release schedule made brief mention of a Rivendell supplement and while that brings us literally to the edge of the Wild, can Middle-earth gamers look forward to an opportunity to soon move into the expanses of Eriador or the southern realms of Gondor in The One Ring’s future?
G: The original plan for three core sets – Wilderland, Eriador, and the South – still holds, although it has obviously evolved and changed as we developed the game. The Rivendell supplement is under development, as are some more Wilderland guides. We’ll move south when time permits. We’re also expanding the creative team, so hopefully we can get to Rohan and Gondor in good time, but it’s folly to give even vague dates at this point.
J: Before we part ways, I wanted to take a step away from Middle-earth to talk about some of your other work at Cubicle 7 Entertainment. Tolkien’s work isn’t the only liscensed property you’re working with. You’re Line Developer for Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space, which is based on the beloved BBC franchise, Primeval, the popular British sci-fantasy television series, and The Laundry, a role-playing game based on the popular modern occult novels. You seem to have a foot in a diverse collection of universes. When writing for world that have already been established and that have such a wide range of subject matter what are the biggest perils and challenges you face?
G: The trick is finding the balance between creating new material and keeping the right feel. Obviously, you can’t contradict the existing material – you can’t wipe out the Daleks, or save the world from CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN in the Laundry series – but any new material also has to feel like a natural extension of that existing material. Then again, it can’t be a straight copy. So, you do a mix. For every new thing you introduce, you use one of the established tropes.
That sounds very clinical, doesn’t it? Almost like transplant surgery – you’re trying to ensure the body of the patient doesn’t reject the new organ! In practice, it’s much more fun. “I want to do a murder mystery in Middle-Earth! I want to do an Doctor Who adventure where the players fight dragons! I want to do a political thriller in the Laundryverse!”
And you can do all these things. You can explore aspects of the world that have never been touched before. You just need to make sure it still feels right.
Heart of the Wild is available for purchase digitally at RPGNow.com. In addition, you can purchase your physical copy at the Cubicle 7 Webstore or check your local book and game store.
Everyone here at Legendarium Media would like to than Mr. Ryder-Hanrahan and the rest of the staff over at Cubicle 7 Publishing for taking the time to provide this interview. You can learn more about The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild and all its supplemental material at the Cubicle 7 Publishing Website.