Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Ads of Dragon: Middle Earth Campaign and Adventure Guidebook

I've probably mentioned that, as a kid, I didn't actually have all that much love for Tolkien or Middle-earth. Sure, I watched the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit (and its awful "sequel," The Return of the King), along with Ralph Bakshi's flawed animated masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. I even owned -- and read -- his books, but I can't say that, aside from a few surface details, I thought much of the good professor's creative output. It would be many years before I'd changed my opinion on this matter. Better late than never, I suppose.

Consequently, you'd think that I wouldn't care much about this ad, which appeared in issue #67 of Dragon (November 1982), announcing several Middle-earth gaming products from Iron Crown Enterprises, most notably a Campaign and Adventure Guidebook.
And you'd be right. For the longest time, I didn't care about these products, having plenty of others to hold my attention. I don't think it was until the publication of The Court of Ardor that I actively made an effort to hunt them down and buy them (and I'm glad I did), but there's no denying that I found I.C.E.'s ads incredibly evocative. Even now, looking at this one from nearly three decades ago, I found myself intrigued by the prospect of a "Tolkien-ish" fantasy campaign as a palate cleanser after so many years of being immersed in swords-and-sorcery. If that's not a compliment to this ad, I don't know what is.


  1. I had that product! (I fear it's lost, somewhere.) I loved ICE's Middle Earth supplements. I think that, ignoring for a moment the too-prevalent/obvious magic, they did a good job of portraying a world people actually lived in, while still relating it to Tolkeinish themes.

  2. I'm no graphic designer, but I think that's a terrible ad, possibly the worst I ever saw in Dragon. (a) It was always on the back cover of the magazine, IIRC. (b) Coupled with the dark framing device, I feel like I'm exiting a gate or something, leaving it behind. (c) Also it seems like night is falling (a whole lot of "we're done" cues). (d) The fill-in subscription thing feels tax-formy and uninteresting. (e) It's about Middle Earth (I kid, although in the other direction, ICE ads like this really did give me an very stale impression of Middle Earth).

    In short, this image is hard-wired in my brain to represent "ass end of Dragon magazine". So boring.

  3. Big + for the Cooper font all over the ad.

  4. I pretty much never bought things from ads in Dragon. The only two things I ever bought were when TSR Warehouse (yeah, wrong name, something like that) dumped their really cheap dice on the market, but you had to buy like 30 or 50 packs; a friend of mine and I went together on it. I still have a couple of sets, but they wore out quickly.

    The other was something from ICE. The ME ads definitely enticed me, but what I eventually got was the Iron Wind. Thirty years later I still enjoy it, and I still don’t understand it.

  5. First "module" I ever got was The Court of Ardor, having decided that the MERP system was more affordable and understandable for me, aged 12.

    I still have it somewhere, and the scope and imagination of it still inspires me slightly, although it's not particularly Tolkien...

  6. Have to agree with Delta, that ad was terrible.

  7. The Moria supplement was awesome! I wrote briefly about on my blog, but the maps of the living areas, the mines, and the depiction of the endless stair are great.

    It's one of the things I think of as a megadungeon -- and a great rationale for going through it is not for treasure, but to get to someplace quicker and unnoticed.

    The Barrow downs supplement was a laundry list of different treasures with Barrow-wights guarding them -- not very engaging.

  8. ICE's Middle Earth RPG was actually the first RPG I bought myself. I thought they did a great job fleshing out Middle Earth, but the game system itself didn't really accurately reflect the world of the novels. The fluff, though, was top notch.

  9. A few of the early MERP releases and ads used art directly from the Bakshi film. This ad was one of them. Bree and the Barrow Downs was another. It wasn't until Angus McBride came on board that the artwork really took off on its own.

    The books themselves were unbelievably detailed and academic for the time. I picked up the MERP rulebook, the guidebook shown above, and Angmar in '84. I had been weened on TSR's tournament style modules, so I could barely make heads or tails of the campaign material.

    The rules, on the other hand, were a revelation to me. I immediately picked up the Rolemaster core books and have been a huge fan ever since. It wasn't until the late nineties that I began collecting MERP and appreciating its detail.

  10. I've still got ICE's Riddle of the Ring boardgame and MERP. I've always liked their ads! This one in particular is a mat painting from Ralph Bakshi's "Lord of the Rings".

  11. My D&D group has always had the mantra "We'll buy it when we can play it." For the many years we have been together for some reason we never became those gamers that just collected games with no immediate plan to play them. So although we were (and still are) huge Tolkien fans we never picked up any of the MERP stuff because we knew we would never get around to actually playing it.

    This is one aspect of the tabletop RPG crowd that never ceases to amaze me. I think it is one of the only consumer groups that actually buys (sometimes rather expensive) product knowing full well it will most likely never get used. Then, once said product is purchased, love to jabber on about whether it is a "good" game or not even though it was never or rarely actually played. Fascinating.

    This seemed to me to be the case with MERP especially. In my 30 years of gaming I never actually saw or talked to people who were actually playing it. I understand wanting to read the lore and whatnot but it is a game after all, someone should be playing it, right?

  12. Another vote for Moria. ICE's game rules were an exercise in excess, but several of their adventures were very well designed.

  13. I played the hell out of MERP; I bought the Rolemaster books once I got to level 10, just so we could keep going.

  14. "In my 30 years of gaming I never actually saw or talked to people who were actually playing it."

    Interesting how radically different our experiences were! Next to D&D/AD&D, MERP was the most widely played game in my two gaming 'communities' (1980s and early 1990s).

  15. I remember finding that ad incredibly evocative as an adolescent infatuated with The Lord of the Rings.

    I loved ICE's Middle-earth products during the 1980s and early 1990s. I still love them, although my fondness for the system has cooled off somewhat (and even more so for Rolemaster).

    Around 1985, MERP supplanted entirely AD&D as my high-school group's main game. I ran it (and occasionally played it) almost every week for three years. I remember being impressed at how much more information was included in a typical MERP campaign module than an equally expensive TSR AD&D module.

    I especially loved Peter Fenlon's gorgeous colour maps!

    Even today I still pick up the occasional ICE Middle-earth book if I can find one reasonably priced. (Much of my high-school collection was 'borrowed' and never returned by a 'friend' once I went to university. Since then I've gradually replaced most of the lost books, as well as gained some I never owned back then.)

    Just thinking about ICE's Middle-earth books makes me want to break some out and run a campaign! :)

  16. On the subject of the horrid Rankin/Bass Return of the King, this song is forever seared in my brain:

  17. cibet said: "This is one aspect of the tabletop RPG crowd that never ceases to amaze me. I think it is one of the only consumer groups that actually buys (sometimes rather expensive) product knowing full well it will most likely never get used..."

    Personal activity-wise, I'm totally with you. I've gotten a little static sometimes about the small selection of games that I own and play.

    However, to play devil's advocate:
    (1) Certainly there are lots of toy (etc.) collectors who purchase stuff intending to never open it or play with it.

    (2) You can go down a path to comparing it to acquiring and reading play or movie scripts. Is it the "real thing" if you read a play but don't perform it? Arguably more English-speaking people have read Shakespeare than have seen live performances (perhaps?) Maybe that's worthwhile, or maybe too much of a bastardization.

  18. I nearly died laughing when you mentioned Middle Earth as a reprise from swords and sorcery.

    considering 90% of the fantasy tropes originated in middle earth?

    Ok, granted the magic level is nonstandard.. but still...

  19. I nearly died laughing when you mentioned Middle Earth as a reprise from swords and sorcery.

    Middle-earth isn't remotely swords-and-sorcery, so I'm not sure where the humor lies.

  20. I've been trying to find out in what scene one can see this background or matte painting in the movie. I've watched it again, but I couldn't find it - perhaps I'm blind. Does anybody know?