Yes, I know I've promised to review Tales from Wilderland, but I'm still reading and absorbing it so it will have to wait for a bit (spoiler: yes, it's very good). However I did get the Loremaster's Screen a bit back and it makes for a quick and easy review, even though it's a meatier product than you first might expect! If you are wondering what this is all about, I'm talking about The One Ring by Cubicle 7 - a Tolkien rpg done right! You can read my review of the core books here.
What you get is a four panel screen and a 34 page sourcebook that explores Lake-town and its surroundings. The screen itself is very sturdy and easily rivals most board games when it comes to thickness, this is no mere cardboard! The front features a motif of Lake-town, more specifically the towns merchant quarter (or the market-pool as it is known). The art is by Jon Hodgson and it fits beautifully with the Tolkien theme - no fireball shooting mages or axe-wielding berserkers need apply. In the distance beyond the town lies the Lonely Mountain and if you look to the right you can see the bones of the great dragon Smaug poking out of the water, a couple of neat details I thought.
On the inside of the screen we have the ever present charts and tables. They are ordered after theme and colour coded, starting with basic rules tables (seven), combat tables (nine), encounter tables (four) and finally tables concerning the Shadow (six). There are also some additional page references for often used rules like fellowship points and skills. It seems like most of the important stuff has been included, although some quick journey reminders would have been welcome as well. Although you might perhaps simply use the online tool by Shane Ivey for those calculations, it's great.
When it comes to GM screens I prefer the landscape variant as it creates less of a barrier between the GM and the players while still being able to keep some stuff hidden. However they've never seem to be all that popular as most of the screens you see today are of the vertical variety. Thankfully the Loremaster's screen isn't overly tall at 28cm so shouldn't pose too much of a barrier even if the GM decides to sit directly behind it (something I rarely do myself, choosing to have it beside me instead).
So that's the screen, what about the book? Well, written by Franceso Nepitello it's suprisingly well packed little book of goodies I have to say! GM screens seem to be that one thing that all roleplaying games have to have as soon as humanely possible after the core rulebook. Most of the time this leads to them being poorly thought through and the little booklet thrown in with the screen to justify the price more often than not contains some very niche information that rarely gets used during the game anyway. Not so this time!
After a brief introduction, in the form of a letter from Glóin to Bilbo, the first seven pages cover the city of Esgaroth, or Lake-town. Going after the map in the middle of the book we get to read about the different districts and their inhabitants. Peppered among the descriptions of the different locales are stats for the people who live there so they can quickly be used as NPCs. After this there are three pages about "Things to do while in Lake-town" that includes a couple of new Fellowship Phase Undertakings. For example, you can go to the market-pool to see if there is something there to aid you during coming adventures. In this section is also included a kind of translator table for those who want to use something less abstract than "Treausure" to record the wealth of their characters. This helps you translate this abstractness into... gold.
Following this are four pages dedicated to the Dragontide, a newly created festival that takes place in Lake-town on November first to third. It combines the end of harvest with the celebration of the killing of Smaug and is generally a big merry feast. On the first day there's an archery competition called the Day of the Black Arrow and through a series of different rounds and challenges a winner is found. This competition is described in some detail and with rules for how player companions might enter it, and I can see it making quite a highlight for any archers in the group!
In the middle of the book we have the aforementioned birds-eye map of Lake-town. While a traditional top down map might provide more specific detail I like how this more artistic view really pulls you in. You can almost hear the cry of the seagulls! (Sorry... I just really like Jon Hodgsons art).
The next five pages are titled Secrets of the Long Marshes and include rules for some different marsh plants you can come across and collect. They each provide some little benefit during the following adventure phase. We are also introduced to a few new monsters who dwell in the marshes: the Hobgoblins, the Marsh-hags and the Marsh-ogres. My favourite is the Marhs-hag naturally, as I've always been fascinated and horrified by Meg Mucklebones in Ridley Scott's Legend who obviously served as the rolemodel. There is also a clarification regarding Blighted Places and how they work. Basically it is up to the Loremaster whether the companions have to roll for Corruption tests, it's not an automatic even if journeying through Dark lands.
The final eight pages detail a new heroic culture: the Men of the Lake. This section follows the layout of the ones in the Adventurer's Book and has everything you need to create a companion hailing from Lake-town. It also includes Rewards and Virtues so you can keep developing her as you continue play. Generally Men of the Lake are open to new things and like to embrace new technology. They value crafting and trade which shows through their virtues and they can get some neat trinkets through their rewards.
The book ends with a ready made companion, Frida daughter of Finnulf, and then there's actually an index! I really like that Francesco/Cubicle 7 decided to include a thorough index even though the book is only 34 pages. Good job guys!
Overall I'm very impressed with the Loremasters Screen! Granted this is a smaller product in the greater scheme of things (really looking forward to The Darkening of Mirkwood and Heart of the Wild!) but they have managed to cram in a lot of information and very little of it can be considered filler. The archery competition rules are a bit over-long but that's about it, the rest is all stuff I can see genuine and frequent use for in my games. As I have yet to actually play The One Ring I can't really comment on if there are any tables missing on the screen, but I'll let you know once we get on with it.
As you can see I'm quite happy with my purchase, doubly so as GM screens tend to be a bit sub-par. But if Cubicle 7 keep up with quality releases like this and Tales from Wilderland my expectations of the next books that should be out in the first quarter of next year will go through the roof! This is a solid purchase for any The One Ring Loremaster, highly recommended!