Middle-Earth Role Playing (1986)

This is the second edition box set of the Middle Earth Role Playing rules, by Iron Crown Enterprises, released in 1986. And, because it doesn’t have much great art, I also threw in the 1993 hardcover reprint that streamlined the rules and added tons of great illustrations by Liz Danforth.

MERP is a weird system. On the one hand, its rules are firmly of the early D&D simulationist mindset, with a fair amount of complexity. On the other hand, it is a massive reimagining of J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal fantasy setting, famed for its narrative richness. The two parts are kind of stapled and duct taped together in an unsatisfying way.

This was intentional. ICE produced MERP sourcebooks and adventures to be heavy on the background so they would appeal to players of all RPGs, with a modified version of their hardcore Rolemaster rules tacked on almost as an afterthought. I tried to run MERP on many occasions, but I enjoyed reading the books far more than playing them. I suspect that is true for many MERP enthusiasts. I’ll be getting into this in more detail later in the week.

Couple things worth noting here. First, the box set is super crunchy, with tons of paper character counters to use in play. I am such a sucker for that sort of thing and that was probably a huge part of the game’s appeal for me. Also, the richly devious critical/fumble chart, which I used for many years in my D&D games (a portion of which is reproduce in the photos – hope you can read it!).

The other thing is the abandoned castle sample dungeon (both the box and the book include it, but the book has superior reworked maps). I friggin’ love this dungeon and have used it in modified forms for multiple games. Things like this were weirdly missing from many other MERP books – if ICE had continued to produce these kinds of adventuring environments, they might still be around today. (Well, they are, sort of, but not really)

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