Back from the Dead, pt. 2

Well, well, well–maybe the Lord of the Rings RPG isn’t dead after all. Decipher plans to release some new supporting material for the game over the course of this year.
Now, I have a sneaking suspicion that Decipher is going to release the books that were already near completion when they put the game line “on hold” last year, and then let the game line sit again. But I’m not complaining–any new material for what I think is an excellent Middle-Earth RPG is welcome.
Which brings to mind a few rambling thoughts on the related topic of gaming in Middle-Earth:
Whenever the subject of Middle-Earth roleplaying comes up in online discussion, somebody invariably comes along and insists that the only supporting materials you need to run a game in Middle-Earth (aside from the main game rulebook) are Tolkien’s novels.
I agree in principle; there’s nothing to keep you from running a satisfying and faithful-to-Tolkien game using only Tolkien’s books and notes as a reference. However, I have always felt that Middle-Earth gaming, despite the thoroughness of the novels upon which it is based, actually benefits greatly from having published support game material and books available.
The main reason for this opinion of mine is that a Middle-Earth RPG, to truly capture the “feel” of Middle-Earth, requires the cities, settings, and populations of game areas to be much more fleshed out than do more generic fantasy settings. One of the biggest things that strikes me while reading through The Lord of the Rings is the sense that Middle-Earth itself is real and alive–I always get the sense that the people and places of Middle-Earth continue to go about their business even after the protagonists of the book have come and gone. In other words, the places of Middle-Earth aren’t shallow backdrops against which the heroes (of the books or the RPG) play out their dramas; they’re deep, realistic communities driven by the loves, fears, hates, and hopes of deep, realistic people.
In terms of an RPG, a supplemental game book that compiles the vital information about a particular area–geography, economy, regional philosophies and lifestyles and conflicts–and puts them into readily-accessible game terms (“stats them out”) is a huge time-saver for the GM. It presents the GM with a deep and well-thought-out environment with which the heroes will interact. In a typical Forgotten Realms-style “save the village from the orcs” adventure, depth of background and locale isn’t necessary; but a game set in Middle-Earth that ignores such things is missing out on one of the great qualities of Middle-Earth. “Typical” fantasy RPG scenarios focus almost exclusively on the heroes and their actions; most adventure locations and characters exist as little more than “props” to tell an enjoyable story about the protagonists. In a Middle-Earth RPG, however, each area of the game world should exist realistically, consistently, and believably before the heroes even arrive. Once the heroes do arrive, if the environment is sufficiently detailed, the resulting stories and encounters will create themselves. Middle-Earth itself is a character in the game, with its own motivations and characteristics indepedent of the heroes’.
So I say: Bring on the Middle-Earth supplements. Explore areas of Middle-Earth that aren’t detailed thoroughly in the novels, and describe them exhaustively in such a way that they fit seamlessly into the themes and styles of the better-known parts of Arda.
And Decipher: next time around, consider timing the release of licensed RPG materials so as to capitalize on the overwhelming success of major, universally-loved movie trilogies.

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