Writing my last post on epic adventure paths in D&D got me thinking about some of the most famous adventure sagas in other roleplaying systems. Consider these famous game campaigns, all of which are considered to encapsulate the essence of the games for which they were published:
- D&D: the A-G-Q series of modules
- Pendragon: The Great Pendragon Campaign
- Call of Cthulhu: Masks of Nylarlathotep
- Vampire: The Transylvania Chronicles
- Warhammer FRP: The Enemy Within
- …and many more I’m no doubt overlooking.
I’m not familiar with every one of these, but I know that each of these campaigns lets players participate in a significant, world-changing storyline within the framework of the game. They involve lots of travel to interesting locations around the game world, a wide variety of opponents and challenges, and memorable scenes and characters of the sort that players will reminisce about years later.
One game that almost never got around to publishing a “Tolkien-esque” campaign saga was, ironically, Middle Earth Role Playing.
MERP has often been criticized for being “D&D in Middle-Earth”—for using the setting and trappings of Tolkien to do the same dungeon crawls and treasure-hunting that characterized D&D, rather than empowering players to live out grand stories in the vein of The Lord of the Rings.
This is true to a large extent. The modules published for MERP exhaustively detailed particular geographic points of interest in Middle-Earth (and their wonderful thoroughness makes them a joy to read even now the game itself is long defunct). But despite the obvious obsession with Tolkien that produced such thorough game modules, there was rarely any effort to lay out an epic quest or adventure that would tie all those locations together. It’s as if the game writers assumed that what people loved about Tolkien was the detail of the setting rather than the characters and storyline of Tolkien’s tales.
You could, of course, create your own epic, Lord of the Rings-scale quest, but it was odd that the published game rarely helped you do this; it seemed to assume your party would rather stick around the Barrow-Downs for months raiding tomb after tomb for petty magic items, instead of passing through them as part of a bigger, more epic heroic quest. Toward the end of the MERP timeline, Iron Crown did publish at least one product that took aim at an epic storyline: Palantir Quest, which set the PCs off on a quest for a lost palantir. It was good, but was the only product of its type (that I’m aware of).
Maybe it didn’t sell well; maybe most gamers didn’t want epic quest campaigns. It’s impossible to know for sure now—but if more like it had been published, maybe MERP would have its own “classic campaign” to add to the list of all-time favorite game sagas above. As it is, it’s unfortunate that the roleplaying game based on the greatest fantasy narrative of all time shied away from, well, great fantasy narratives.by