Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Why Middle Earth has been working for me

Since the beginning of summer I been running a Middle Earth Campaign using Cubicle 7's Adventures in Middle Earth. My friend Tim's blog post reminded me that I haven't blogged on the campaign in a while.

One of the initial reason I was attracted to Dungeons and Dragon in the late 70s was due to my love of not only Lord of the Rings but the history that was revealed in the Return of the King appendices.

DnD offered me a way to take that love and actually turn into something more concrete than scribbles on a paper. Because Tolkien's history described realms rising and falling, naturally I was open for the players to do the same. Leading to me to be the referee that let players "trash" his campaigns.

The disappointment of Iron Crown MERP
As the hobby and industry expanded I looked for material to help me with this. I found it easier to use things that were grounded in the medieval side of fantasy. Then layered the level of magic I liked on top of it, Harn and Ars Magica I found particularly useful.

During this time Iron Crown published their Middle Earth Roleplaying System or MERPS. I really wanted to like this RPG and their supplements but they paled compared to the quality of Harn, Ars Magica, and Pendragon material I had. Everything except for Pete Fenlon's maps which were great.

The main problem with the game and supplement is that they didn't feel very Middle Earth to me. Yeah they had the names, characters, and locales but they lacked that spark that Tolkien infused the books with.


Over the years I collected two dozen MERPS books which remained unused until I gave them to a friend who really like the game and Middle Earth in the early 2000s.

During that time Decipher released the The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game. Then Cubicle 7 released The One Ring RPG. I looked at both and felt they were more interested in having the referee tell Middle Earth stories to his players rather than helping the referee bring Middle Earth to life as a place for the players to experience.

I know a subtle point but to me the distinction is important. When I referee I am not into telling my stories. My goal is to bring a setting to life so that the players felt they actually visited another place and did interesting things that were fun.

Adventures in Middle Earth
Then came along Adventures in Middle Earth also by Cubicle 7. I wrote a review of the first book in this post. Because it was rested on the foundation of DnD 5e, I knew that there was a limit to the amount narrative mechanics it could have. After reading it, I was intrigued because of how they reworked the classes, eliminated DnD style spell,  and turned feats into virtues More than just a Middle Earth RPG, it was a very much a low fantasy RPG using the mechanics of DnD. And completely avoids the issues I had with MERPS which to me always felt like DnDish fantasy, routed through Rolemaster, dressed in a thin Middle Earth outfit.

So I wanted to run it to see how it played, and so started a campaign. I started buying the supplements. It is in the supplements that Cubicle 7 kills it. It doesn't matter if it is the AiME version or the ToR version they make killer supplements for ANY Middle Earth campaign. And the stats are presented with light enough touch that they are easily adapted to your RPG of choice.

And their initial focus on setting the RPG in Wilderlands is brilliant. In the Return of the King appendices we know shit went down in the Wilderlands, both Dale and Erebor were attacked by the forces of Sauron. We get a paragraph of details and that it.

This means that a Middle Earth campaign can be set during the time period of the Lord of the Rings where the players are truly the heroes that matter. The members of Fellowship of the Ring may have ultimately ended Sauron and the war but dozens of other locales has their own struggles and victories. To be specific the various ToR and AiME products are all set between the Battle of Five Armies and the beginning of the Lord of the Rings novels.

The actual supplements are some the best adventures and campaign guides I seen outside of Harn, Pendragon, and Ars Magica. They range from regional supplements, books of adventures, to a pendragon style grand campaign spanning decades. And when they expanded to other reasons like Rivendell, Rohan, and Bree, the authors done a great job of opening enough of a crack that what the players do matter but still make the events of the novels plausible. For example Rohan regional supplements (Horse Lord of Rohan) and the associated adventure book (Oaths of the Riddermark) all focus on helping Thengel, the father of Theoden, the King of Rohan from the novels.

Next up is a Moria boxed set which I can't wait to see. It been a while since I bought into a RPG line wholesale and Cublicle 7 has earned my dollar.

The Campaign
I will blog more about what I am doing in my AiME campaign but I want to point out one thing. The biggest difference I am noticing is the pacing of in-game time. At first the alternating cycle of fellowship phase and adventure phase seemed seem too much like a straight jacket akin to the metagaming mechanics that other games use to in a vain attempt to create a "narrative" in the campaign.

But then I found it makes for a great way of abstracting the downtime between adventures. I am always a fan of what most hobbyists call down time activities. For example in my Majestic Wilderlands Thursday campaign  one player is always using the magic item creation rules, while another is busy lining up trade deals.

What make AiME fellowship rules nice that they are not all meat and potatoes activities (trade, crafting, training, etc). About half of them are what I call pure roleplaying focused on interacting with NPCs. Here is a partial list.

  • Gain a Cultural Virtue
  • Gain an Open Virtue
  • Gain New Trait
  • Heal Corruption
  • Influence Patron
  • Meet Patron
  • Receive Title
  • Open Sanctuary
  • Recovery
  • Research Lore
  • Secure a Supply of Herbs
  • Tend to Holding
  • Training

Added to this are version regional undertaking. For example a couple of sessions back the PCs made friends with a group of Woodsmen living next to the Old Ford across the Anduin. That settlement has a special undertaking called Guard the Old Ford. Which offer the possibility of earning a bit of rare coin from the tolls levied on travelers.

Wrapping it Up
Again I am having a great time and now that I have several months under my belt I will be posting on some of the interesting things I learning running a Middle Earth campaign.

11 comments:

William KIng said...

Very much agree with you about all this and AIME in particular. The supplements are superb and easy to adapt. I've spent a happy couple of weeks converting them to the Black Hack. I look forward to the write-ups. this

William KIng said...

Sorry about the added *this*. Random extra words are one of the dangers of commenting using your phone.

Alex Osias said...

Thanks for this! Will give it another try...

Brian Byars said...

You couldn't have posted at a better time. Our group is between campaigns and I was considering AIME. Glad for your review. I think this will be a great adventure for our group!

Gothridge Manor said...

I've enjoyed it so far.

The Shadowplay said...

Your reviews here have me sold. I want to try Adventures in Middle Earth now!

Timothy Brannan said...

REally looking forward to hearing more! Especially since I now want to do my own Middle-Earth game.

There were a lot of Middle Earth blog posts yesterday. I have collected them all here:
http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2018/01/this-could-be-hobbit-forming.html

Rob Conley said...

@Timothy appreciated you doing that. I wasn't aware of the other posts.

Chris C. said...

J'AiME AiME.

A little Franco-Middle Earth word play.

John said...

Interesting - this fellowship phase sounds a lot like what I'm aiming for with my ACKS downtime rules. Might have to check this out.

Little Odo said...

Dammit! You just cost me over £100! :-)

Seriously though, thank you for a great write up of the books. I would never have found them unless I had read your blog.

These new rulebooks combine two of my greatest gaming loves - Middle Earth and D&D.

Little Odo