Riders of Rohan (1985)

If you’re looking for a really Middle Earthy MERP book, look no further. Riders of Rohan (1985) is about as Middle Earthy as they come. Angus McBride’s excellent cover featuring two riders running down some orcs sets the pace.

Unlike Thieves of Tharbad, which is sort of conceivable as a Middle Earth city while also feeling much inspired by Lankhmar and more suited to D&D, Riders of Rohan is a Middle Earth sourcebook in the way that is in line with what we expect a licensed RPG sourcebook to be in our current era. It thoroughly translates known literary material into game terms. There is some extrapolation (especially across the multi-millennia timeframe that MERP cover) but in general, this is recognizably and unsurprisingly Rohan. I kind of hate it.

It’s too rigid! Like, it is an enjoyable read of Tolkieniana, sure, but as an RPG book, there is no elbow room for me to find my own stories. The best material (and the focus of one of the brief scenarios) involves a school for jugglers/thieves guild, but it is also the stuff that feels least Tolkien. That’s why I prefer MERP stuff on the outskirts. While Tharbad might feel like Lankhmar, books like Hillmen of the Trollshaws and Dark Mage of Rhudaur have a chance (and largely succeed) at feeling plausibly Tolkieny while also being loose enough to actually play in without worrying about the canon (which, side effect, means they work pretty good as generic adventures).

Lots of nice art and maps though. Definitely worth a read, not so much a play.

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