A few weeks ago, my Saturday gaming group made characters and played a session of Cubicle 7's One Ring RPG.
I thought I might take a moment to go through the process of building a character, and the bits of wiggle-room you may not think to have the way it's set up.
To preface, there's no dice rolls involved with building a One Ring player-hero (the term the books use for Player Characters), but instead you go through the following checklist:
Step 1) Determine Race
There are six to choose from: Barding of Dale (aka stock human), Beornings, Dwarves of Erebor/Lonely Mountain, Elves of Mirkwood, Hobbits of the Shire, and Woodmen of the Wilderland. Your choice of race provides your racial perk (for example, Bardings get to roll their feat die twice and take the better result on Fear tests) as well as a couple of Traits that describe what sort of skills you've picked prior to becoming an adventurer. It also provides you a base list of skills that your character has, including one favored skill, which is the same for each player-hero of that race. So our two Hobbits, Rory and Mira, had identical skill lists at this stage in making their respective Hobbits.
Step 2) Select Background
Each race provides 6 different background options, which determines the base values of your three Attributes, provides you with second favored skill. This is where characters of the same race can really start to differentiate themselves. For example, Rory choose the Bucklander background while Mira opted for Restless Farmer, giving them quite different attribute scores. Background also provides the choice of a couple character traits, things that set you apart from most folks.
Step 3) Select Calling
This would be your class for those coming from a traditional RPG background, and in effect determines what sort of adventurer you are. My character opted for Warden (for reasons I'll go into detail about further on), while Rory chose Treasure-Hunter and Mira took Wanderer (both were inspired by Bilbo's stories, but each in different ways). Your Calling provides what might be called your "central class feature" in the form of a distinctive trait that's generally not available to anyone outside of that Calling, as well as the choice of two more favored skills from specific groups, allowing you to further tailor what your player-hero is good at doing.
Step 4) Customization
This actually encompasses a few different steps, but I'm rolling them together. Next part is selecting your favored attributes (which of the three you're really good, pretty good, or above-average, in that order), spend an allotment of 10 XP to tweak your starting skills (such as raising ones you already have or buy ones that your starting racial skill list didn't provide), then choosing your starting gear (typically three weapons, some armor, and traveling gear), before determining whether you place more value on bravery or wisdom, and then finally determining your character's staring Endurance and Hope scores, whose base values are determined by your race.
So all in all, which of the 6 races you play has a lot of impact what sort of character you're going to wind up with, and in fact your Calling/Class has very little impact, which can be a bit of a shock to some die-hard D&D gamers.
It also doesn't look like you have a lot of room to expand past that point, at least in terms of what's officially out there. So no Elves of Lothlorien or Rivendell, no Dwarves of the Iron Mountains, or even Riders of Rohan or Men of Gondor or Rangers of the North. Right? Not exactly ;)
I'll be honest in that I've long held a fascination with the Rangers of the North, as personified by Aragorn, and even more so after the movie given the way that Viggo Mortenson portrayed the character in the films. So I was initially sad that I didn't have the option to play a Ranger of the North. But then I thought the matter over. Who was to say that I couldn't have my Ranger player-hero right out the gate, but without introducing any drastic changes to the rules?
So, I sat down with the other players and our GM/Loremaster to make our characters. As the Rangers of the North were Dunedain (humans with vague traces of elvish ancestry), I opted to start with a Barding of Dale, mostly as the stout-hearted nature really fit with someone that was trained to fight nasty things in the course of protecting folks from orcs and such. But instead of my character having crossed over the Misty Mountains and into the Wilderlands (the default setting of One Ring for the moment), I instead asked the Loremaster if it was okay that one of my character's ancestors had made the trek, himself a Ranger of the North that had eventually come to settle in Esgaroth? Loremaster said it was cool; so far, so good. I also chose to focus on swordsmanship rather than archery, in large part because being a ranged combatant isn't a truly viable option a lot of the time, but also because we already had the Elf as an archer and Mira with her sling (a bit of house-ruling the Loremaster introduced as it fit Hobbits to be good with slings rather than just bows). No archery skills for me, but my player-hero would be good with a sword, and passable with a spear or dagger.
So I had my race, now onto Background. I knew I was going to tweak the fluff, so I was a bit more focused on mechanics at this point. I went with Dragon-Eyed, which made Awe a favored skill (useful) and said that my character had ashen/grey eyes which gave him an intimidating gaze that had been passed down from my hero's great-grandfather, allegedly from bearing witness to Smaug destroying the Kingdom of Dale a great many years prior. Here's where the tweaking of fluff began. Although the old folks might say the ash-grey eyes and gaze came from seeing Dale razed, the truth was that those traits are signs of my hero's own Dunedain heritage, passed down through the men of his line from his great-grandfather, who for reasons yet unknown chose to settle in Laketown. Background selected, I dutifully copied down my hero's attributes and chose two character traits (Adventurous and Eager).
Now onto Calling. Easy one for me given my concept. So, Warden it was. Wardens are described as being those folk that actively fight and defend against the various threats to the Wilderlands, namely the minions of The Enemy Sauron. Again, this fit with my notion of a Ranger of the North, or at least someone that had similar training, passed down from father to son over the years. I chose outdoorsy skills as my two favored skills, again keeping to a Ranger theme, though I noted one of them I didn't start with any ranks in, but I knew that I'd have those XP to spend in a bit to address that shortcoming.
Being a warrior-type, I made Body (physical) my main focus for my Favored Attribute, giving me a respectable value for when I really needed the boost (such as eventually for weapon skills), followed by Wits (mental) since my starting background had left me with a fairly low value, and lastly Heart (spirit/will), as my background gave me a very good score in that and I'm not likely to ever gain any of the skills related to Heart as a favored skill. XP was spent to bolster a couple skills and get some needed ranks in Rangerish skills (though not great at them, he'll get by). Equipment choices were a basic sword (was sorely tempted to take a long sword, but maybe later on, a spear, a dagger (filling out my three staring weapons). For armor, I chose a leather corslet (decent protection but not as encumbering as mail) and a medium shield, and finally traveling gear (which is a very simple package that assumes the basic supplies one would need for venturing out in the wild as opposed to going into detail about what's included). Again, being the sort that would facing various threats, I opted to focus on bravery over wisdom to start with. And finally, my player-hero's starting Endurance and Hope were calculated (my high Heart score really helped on both of these). Looking over the list of Middle Earth names the GM had kindly provided (great list, no idea where he got it from, but will see if he'll send me a copy for me to toss a link to up here), I went with Brander, a Dalish name that equates to "Fiery Sword." Cool.
Now, one bit I didn't mention earlier was that your choice of whether to focus on bravery or wisdom also provides your character with an extra perk, be it an item of greater-than-average quality or some special talent, both of which can be influenced by which race you chose to play (told you selection of your race was very important in this game). As I'd chosen bravery or Valour, that meant I got the choice of an item upgrade. None of the specific options for Bardings appealed to me, so I perused the generic section. The weapon options were nice (more damage, better chances to badly injury a foe), but I went with a reinforced shield, which not only boosted the defensive bonus provided by my shield, but I tied it into my altered background by saying this shield had once been used in service of Arnor before its destruction by Angmar and the Witch-King, and thus bore the six star sigil of that ancient kingdom, having been carried by my great-grandfather when he made is journey to the Wilderlands, and was now passed on to Brander for him to use.
And so, without the slightest bending of the mechanics involved in character creation, I now had my psuedo-Ranger of the North. At some point I really would like for him to met up with the true Rangers, though meeting Aragorn is unlikely given he's just starting his own heroic career at this point in time (not sure if the GM is using the default timeline for us or setting things later), but that's not bound to be for a while yet. And even then, Brander is more likely to stay near the Wilderlands to protect the land and people that he knows from childhood rather than a foreign region to which he has few ties. So far, he's definitely felt as a good fit for the Aragorn/Faramir type of character, but time will tell if he'll keep that mold, or diverge to a different course.
For a bit more concrete information on One Ring, be sure to check out Cubicle 7's website for the game: