Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Ads of Dragon: Middle Earth Role Playing

In my younger days, I was largely limited to buying RPGs that I saw on game store shelves. I knew I could use mail order to get games I never saw locally, but I never did so -- never did so, that is, until I saw this ad in issue #85 (May 1984):
Back then, I liked to think of myself as an admirer of Middle-earth, but, in truth, I had only the most superficial appreciation of Tolkien's works. So, when I saw this advertisement, showing a dwarf, a pair of hobbits, and two Men (unless the woman is actually an elf -- it's hard to say for sure) looting some forgotten tomb of its riches, I knew I wanted to buy this game. Middle Earth Role Playing was the first RPG I ever ordered through the mail and my friends and I had a lot of fun with it, even if the adventures we played out would likely have horrified Tolkien.

Every now and again, I find myself wishing I still had my copy of this game, but it disappeared long ago. On eBay, most of the copies on offer are later versions with the Angus McBride artwork, which I've never much liked -- heresy, I know!

17 comments:

  1. This is one of my "great regrets" in the RPG world: never had a copy and never got to play it. Only so much RPG money as a kid and it always got pushed to Runner-Up status (If Marvel Super Heroes cannot perform its duties, etc...) Maybe someday I'll scrounge up a copy and find a few people interested, just to fill that gap.

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  2. By the time this came out I had already discarded D&D for RQ and CoC. Arbitrary classes, levels, mismatched resolution systems and buckets of hitpoints seemed so primitive and inelegant in comparison. Since MERP was based on Rolemaster and RM was basically D&D on steroids I had no interest in it.

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  3. MERP was my first non-D&D RPG. I sold all my MERP stuff on eBay a year or two ago. I'm starting to regret that now, a little (but it did give me the cash to collect up some WFRP1e books).

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  4. Definite heresy; I had the McBride Galadriel photocopied & hung it on the cockboard on my wall!

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  5. It is surprising that I never bought MERP, but I did buy the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game, which was in a red box with an Angus McBride cover with Eowyn fighting the Witchking, and then Rolemaster. I just bought a copy of the 1st edition of Merp at a Half Price Books store the other day though. :)

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  6. Never cared much for the Rolemaster system (Or its "Lite" version in MERP), but I loved many of the MERP supplements and adventures.I regret not buying more back then than I did, especially when I see what outlandish prices they now command on eBay...

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  7. "Definite heresy; I had the McBride Galadriel photocopied & hung it on the cockboard on my wall!"

    @mordicai - That's quite the Freudian slip, there :).

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  8. @Samwise7. The ME Adventure Game is a great little system. There is a free, slightly updated version available as a PDF.

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  9. Bought this edition for a song in my local game shop just before the 2nd edition came out. It came with two twenty-sided d10, one of them glow-in-the-dark. Still got both somewhere.

    I loved Merp, although most of GMs treated it more or less like a Tolkien-flavored D&D. Still, with the proper GM, it could be really great.

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  10. I've some time contemplating the idea of get some classic D&D modules and porting them to Middle-earth. It'll be both challenging and funny to se how the old Gygaxian tropes can be translated to Tolkien.
    The Keep on de Borderlands is no problem (a Ranger fortress in Eriador, against the trolls and goblins from a hidden Angmari outpost, perhaps) but, how crazy will be a Tolkienized Giant/Drow series?

    (Damn, sometimes I'd like to be a native english-speaker)

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  11. @liza

    Middle-earth-based campaigns can probably benefit very much from that kind of alchemy. Of course you want your players to *recognize* and be inspired by the setting as described by Tolkien, but you have to reserve the right to surprise them as well. I've toyed around with your specific idea (transplanting D&D modules)as well, re-imagining Quasqueton (from B1 In Search of the Unknown) as an abandoned stronghold guarding the Angirith, a Misty Mountain pass connecting Angmar to the Ettenmoors (and probaby an ICE invention).

    This probably isn't the conventional view of the ICE canon of modules, but my feeling is that, at their worst, the authors were too preoccupied with filling the gaps in Tolkien's setting as unobtrusively as possible. For all its flaws, I probably prefer the Court of Ardor module as a bold stroke to the Mirkwood modules, which seem stale in comparison. I think that if Tolkien himself had bothered to tell any additional stories worth telling in Mirkwood, we would have gotten more than spiders, orcs and more spiders.

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  12. @Rudd, yeah we played through the LOTR starting adventure, and bought the two supplemental adventures (that are still upstairs in the old LOTR red box). :) After we ran out of adventures we moved on. I guess we weren't experienced enough to make our own adventures at that time.

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  13. We played this and had fun with it.We tried to be true to Tolkien as we understood his ideas, but like as not, we would have horrified him too...

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  14. MERP was my group's game of choice from 1985-89. Good times!

    Some of our adventures also no doubt would have horrified Tolkien.

    In fact, they now horrify me, when I reflect on them!

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  15. I have a copy of it (with this artwork, actually). I got the same amount of use out of it as every other ICE game me or a friend bought over the years. It's full of great material, but the ICE system is so crunchy I will never run the game. Every ICE game I played in (and I played in two campaigns that went a little over a year) crashed and burned at some point from rules fatigue. ICE put out some high quality stuff, but I've never been a fan of the crunchiness of MERP, Rolemaster and Spacemaster.

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  16. By the time MERP hit the store shelves I had probably read the Lord of the Rings at least five times - and the Silmarillion once or twice as well - so I was well and truly primed for it. I never actually played a game of MERP: in part my group was deterred by the idea of learning yet another new system, but I also think we hesitated to tread unwarily in the hallowed realm of Middle-Earth. I did, however, dutifully purchase every MERP product that appeared on my local store shelves, and poured over each one intensely, enjoying the sense that I was unlocking some of the hidden secrets of Middle-Earth.

    I believe I purchased just about every MERP adventure and supplement published between 1984 and 1989 or so. Until a few years ago I actually thought I owed most if not all of ICE’s Middle-Earth product line … until the internet showed me the error of my thinking. Most of the local stores that carried ICE products went under during the games slump of the mid-‘80s, and I guess the remaining stores eventually dropped the ICE product-line as they scaled back their RPG coverage. It turns out I missed out on about a decade’s worth of MERP supplements & adventures, including the entire mid-90’s Second Edition product line.

    On eBay I’ve noticed that a lot of the early adventures and supplements are reasonably priced, but the later books can fetch semi-astronomical prices; so I’m guessing the print runs on the 1990s products were much lower.

    Liza’s idea of porting classic D&D adventures to Middle-Earth seems very neat. I don’t know if I’ll ever try it but it certainly is one of those ideas that make you think.

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  17. I remember seeing this game at a bookstore in a mall during my first weekend pass in basic training. It was the only game they had, so it was the only game we played all through basic and MP school. As soon as I arrived at my first duty station I got a set of AD&D books and I never played it again. It wasn't a bad game, it was just a filler for me at the time I needed a game and bigger and better things came along.

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