This review was done using the writers personally owned copies of the product
Adventures in Middle Earth: Loremaster’s Guide
I knew when I was reading the Adventures in Middle Earth Player’s Guide I would need to give equal attention to its fellow rulebook the Loremaster’s Guide. The Player’s Guide was well written and seemed to cover quite a bit of information one would expect in a GM guide. This left me wondering what could be included within the Loremaster’s Guide that the player’s guide did not cover already. One thing that tends to bug consumers is when a book simply repeats information they already have. You will be happy to know this is not the case with the Loremaster’s Guide.
The Loremaster’s Guide is equal parts Gamemasters Guide, Monster Manual, and Almanac. It accomplishes this lofty task in less than 160 pages of text! An impressive feat for sure! Let’s go over the features of this tome.
Section 1: Setting and The Tale of Years
The Loremaster’s Guide starts off by giving an overview of the Wilderlands itself. I was caught off guard at first because it is unusual for a GM guide to cover setting specific information. Especially as the first topic of the book. When I have seen it done, it was usually at the end in an appendix. Cubicle 7 chose instead to focus in on the setting right from the start. Ordinarily, I would be skeptical of this, but I think when dealing with Tolkien’s lore this is the correct choice.
The book guides the reader through all the important areas of the Wilderlands. This does not of course cover all of Middle Earth, but it certainly provides a very large sandbox for gameplay. Each region is given an overview both in light historical, environmental and political detail. Finally, they wrap up this section with an overview in detail of Laketown. A color overhead map of Laketown is given on the inside cover of the book for Loremaster use. Laketown is given the full mini sandbox treatment, with lots of plot hooks to carry you forward if this is your base of operations.
Detailed Timelines list every major event leading up to the year 2951, which is the point where Sauron came out of hiding and entered Mordor. This helps to give a sense of history from which to draw and a bevy of choices for gameplay events.
Section 2: Before the Game
It goes without saying that Middle Earth is unique setting. Not to mention being an iconic one that most gamers and even nongamers know. Cubicle 7 wisely chose to give advice on how to flavor your game specific to Middle Earth. I found it a bit humorous they felt the need to foot stomp once again about what makes a Middle Earth game unique. This section espouses more on the overall feel of the game, establishing hard and fast precepts about what a Middle Earth game should feel like.
Section 3: The Adventuring Phase
This section attempts to give more gamemastering advice. It does not get into specific mechanics, but it does go over the basic precepts of establishing a scene, covering past play sessions etc etc. While I would hope anyone picking up this game would have already read the 5th edition DMG, you never know. The section overall does a nice job of explaining things for a neonate DM but can probably be skimmed up to the adventuring rules section. One point I will bring up is the emphasis on Tolkien Canon. I do not recall having ever read a GM guide where it specifically warned about deviation from canon material and in game issues from doing so. Cubicle 7 is very open about this, but they do warn that many Tolkien fans can be quite aggressive about breaking from canon.
The adventuring rules area glosses over concepts discussed in the Player’s Guide. They do not repeat mechanics over and over they simply cover the Loremasters expectation on their end. Specific rules for advantage/disadvantage and inspiration deviate slightly from standard 5e rules but not dramatically so. If anything Cubicle 7 finds unique ways to use these mechanics that could play well in a non middle earth campaign.
Section 4: Journeys Expanded
Journeys Expanded goes into more depth on how Journeys work within Middle Earth. Far from being plain old random wilderness encounters, Journeys are a major aspect of gameplay. In a Middle Earth game there are very few chances for players to sit and partake in long rests. Journeys happen in the wild places. Places that are not safe or conducive to comfortable rest. Players may have a leisurely stroll or they could be ambushed by rampaging Orcs or Goblins. Maybe they choose the wrong spot and become spider bait. Traveling hundreds of miles across wild terrain does take its toll, and players may well be in rough shape when they arrive at their chosen destination.
Sometimes Journeys take unexpected turns and players find themselves facing hard choices. What happens when a Journey ends adbruptly? Rules and advice are given for handling these matters expediently.
Section 5: Non-Player Characters and Audiences Expanded
If you recall the books, adventurers tend to travel long distances in order to talk to people of importance. Bilbo had an audience of sorts in Rivendell, in WoodHall, in Laketown and even in a way during the Battle of the Five Armies. The term patrons is used to desribe anytime the players find themselves talking with someone in a position of power. This chapter fully outlines how to determine not just what the patron can do, but also what they might expect in return. Audiences are a much bigger deal in Adventures in Middle Earth than in standard D&D games. Atleast in 5th edition anyway. Of course any GM worth their salt can create circumstances without an abundance of rules necessary. Still Cubicle 7 does a good job of making it easy for a GM to figure out motivations on the fly.
Section 6: Adversaries and Battle
Simply put Adversaries and Battle is about 80% Monster Codex and 20% additional rules for enemy customization and motives. How to use environment as more than just a backdrop, actions of various creature types, and Creature stat blocks are given in a clean format. A lot of time is spent going over specific behaviors and attacks. The bestiary itself is rather small, but the creatures behaviors and adventure seeds are given for each. It is worth noting the environment section lists off in game modifiers various set pieces can impose. Boulders have use as cover but can also act as great hiding spots. Game mechanics are given for handling each type of obstruction or terrain as it will effect the battle.
Section 7: Wonderous, Legendary and Healing Items
Magic items have always been my favorite part of a Dungeon Master’s Guide. I love seeing possible loot as it inspires me to find ways to interject it into my own game. Loot in Middle Earth is a little bit more of an odd affair. This section establishes how wealth works in Middle Earth. While this is not magic vendor on every corner kind of game, there are many items of mundane nature that are quite powerful.
Artefacts(their spelling) are different than standard magic items. Artefacts have blessings upon them that confer a bonus that is dependent on the ability of the wielder in question. For example, a player may find a ring that grants them advantage on riddle checks. It does not increase their intelligence, it simply enhances one roll type to their benefit. Artefact bonuses are always equal to the players proficiency bonus. If the artefact has a greater blessing the player always has advantage on any roll using the items skill influence. Heros using wonderous artefacts can also choose to spend inspiration to change a success roll into a magical result. In gameplay terms this means a success that far exceeds what anyone in their wildest dreams could have thought possible.
Items can be made of superior quality. These items are usually made by a specific culture and over time or through purposeful intent may take on magic like qualities. They can confer attribute bonuses, bane effects to certain races (Foehammer for example), and usually have one or more names given to them. There are various ways players can get items that enhance their fighting abilities, but legendary weapons present the only “hey I found a magic sword +1” from typical dungeons and dragons activities.
As there are no clerics in Adventures in Middle Earth, healing is mostly done through resting and through the use of herbs and abilities. Magical potions can be made and do exist, however, they are not to be found easily. As exhaustion is actually a trackable circumstance this too plays a part in the healing realm. In most cases players will be worn and tired just travling to the area they intend to quest or adventure in. Usually a long rest in a sanctuary is the only way to remove this. There are however a few items that can reduce woes and this section outlines their use.
Section 8: Magic in Middle Earth
The biggest issue some players have when looking at the Middle Earth setting is the lack of spellcasters. Sure we can point at Gandalf and say “Hey he was flinging spells!”. The reality is that Gandalf and all the Istari were more clerics than Wizards. We never saw Gandalf tossing magic missiles or calling down meteors. We saw him make light, sanctify an area and ward himself against weapons. A good majority of his interaction was more in the realm of Sage than Spellcaster.
Still Cubicle 7 saw this area of complaint some would have and wisely chose to include this section. The section is small but it gives a decent amount of information on how to incorporate magic and spellcasting into your Adventures in Middle Earth campaign. It does not provide any spells, it simply says which spells in 5e are appropriate within Middle Earth. Cubicle 7 also suggests how a Loremaster can incorporate them without breaking the balance of the setting.
Section 9: The Fellowship Phase
One thing Adventures in Middle Earth does very well (depending on your persectives on gameplay) is empower the players. The Fellowship Phase is one such instance where the players completely control the narrative of the game. The Loremaster is given tips on interjecting during this phase without disrupting the player’s dialogue. Fellowships also give certain aspects of play their chance to occur. Undertakings for instance can allow for characters to gain open virtues (virtues not tied to a specific culture), gain cultural virtues or use the time to further influence a potential patron.
Sanctuaries are given more detail here as well, extrapolating beyond what is given in the Audience section. Conditions can be removed (think Frodo healing in Rivendell), Long Rests can be taken and business about town can be taken care of. Sanctuaries are important to players are they represent one of the few times they are not in immediate danger.
My thoughts on the product
I will not lie. As much as I would love to get a consistent campaign set in Middle Earth, my current game tables do not have players who support the same idea. The limitations present in running a campaign in Middle Earth can make many players feel to restricted. I feel like Cubicle 7 does a lot to remove reservations that may come up, but ultimately in order to be a Loremaster for Middle Earth you had better be a fan.
The product is well put together with no errors or typos I could find. The layout is clean and the index is easy to follow and use. Cubicle 7 does not do a lot of repetition. They only talk about mechanics that they alter to be more fitting to Middle Earth. They are not attempting to reinvent 5th edition, but they do find ways to use in place mechanics more efficiently. The part I truly appreciate is not restating what has been said already in the Player’s Guide.
The artwork is stunning and the paper quality and binding are top notch. Easily as good as a WotC product for example. Currently Cubicle 7 is fleshing out the Wilderlands play area. I was truly in shock to see so much campaign setting information in a gamemaster’s guide. It does make sense since if you are playing Middle Earth you are truly playing it for the setting not the rules. I did have the chance to look over the One Ring since my Player’s Guide review and Cubicle 7 definitely made two dramatically different products in the same setting. That alone is a major feat.
You can purchase this product directly from Cubicle 7 here!
Until Next Time,
Keep Rolling Them Bones