Brace yourself for MerpCon! That’s right, a convention devoted to roleplaying in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth (largely, but not exclusively, through Iron Crown’s vintage Middle Earth Role Playing game). This will be the second such convention, and this year it looks like Michael Martinez (a familiar name if you follow any Tolkien newsgroups or discussion forums) will be the guest of honor.
I won’t be going this year, but it’s nice to see that the convention is apparently enjoying some success. Things are pretty bleak these days as far as roleplaying in Middle-Earth goes–Decipher’s Lord of the Rings is on life support, Iron Crown has long since lost the Tolkien license, and most of the fan-created Tolkien games out there currently seem to be either outright abandoned or are lingering in perpetual half-finished limbo. Nevertheless there are some good fan-driven Tolkien gaming sites out there at which the faithful still gather.
Iron Crown’s MERP game holds a special place in my heart, for it was one of the first RPGs I played regularly; I got many years of enjoyable gaming out of that thin red rulebook. Critics today tend to scorn it for its complexity and the rather non-Tolkien-ish elements that crept into it from its roots in the Rolemaster game system, but I can say that no such critique ever even occured to me when I was playing and running regular games using it.
Well, I take that back. I probably did realize on some level that the humorous and extremely gruesome critical hit tables in MERP (and there were many, many such tables) did not exactly line up with Tolkien’s grand vision for Middle-Earth, but I was having too much fun to worry about it. So what if, in the novels, Aragorn never had to worry about getting his jawbone driven into his brain by a lucky orc flail to the face, or about the risk of permanent paralysis from a crushing blow to his spine? Let me tell you, it sure made for some mighty fine gaming…by