Thieves of Tharbad (1985)

Thieves of Tharbad (1985) feels like a dry run for Minas Ithil. It, too, is a once-grand city in a kingdom (Cardolan) on the edge of calamity at the hands of the Witch-King. There are differences, though. Though things are dicey for a long time, Cardolan and Tharbad never fall. They are left diminished, though, the royal house exterminated and much of the region left depopulated (the deserted wilderness surrounding Weathertop is within Cardolan, for instance). Tharbad was never the gleaming jewel of Cardolan that Minas Ithil was for Gondor, though. It was always a crossroads, a melting pot of cultures and commerce. The closest MERP get’s to Lankhmar. In other words, a good place for adventure!

Unlike Minas Ithil, which is 160+ pages, Thieves of Tharbad is a floppy 30 or so, with about a third of the book given over to scenarios. That doesn’t leave the book any room for nonsense. It gets right to it, detailing as much of the city as possible, and filling those details with adventure hooks. This isn’t something MERP excels at generally — the line tends to meander and fill in details that are more interesting than play-facilitating. Not so here — the sourcebook is brisk and brimming with ideas. It feels less bound to Tolkieness in a lot of ways, which is a good thing for players but a bad thing for a Tolkien line, I guess (the more MERP and Shadow World I read, though, the less convinced I am that the MERP line was ever intended to be Middle Earthy in the way that modern audiences expect from a license). Still, an excellent resource for your homebrew seedy city of ill repute.

Nice Angus McBride cover. I feel like we don’t often get him at night and in urban environments. Stephan Peregrine is the interior artist. I quite like his stuff, but I think it might contribute to the Leibery feels. I am not sure if he was responsible for that isometric castle, but if he is, bravo, cuz I love it.

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