EDIT: This is no longer the most recent version of the game! Continue reading for thoughts on Arnesonian gaming and LotR RPGs, but the rules here are no longer current.
Recently, I acquired a HumbleBundle of all of the Adventures in Middle-Earth material in PDF form. It’s D&D 5e for Tolkien’s world.
The only problem is that the system blows. Maybe they felt they didn’t need to playtest it thoroughly because D&D Next was a thing?
I wanted to port over the experience of role-playing in Middle-Earth to an easier system after reading some Tolkien and finishing that fantastic BBC radio drama. I’ve read Middle-Earth Role-Playing (MERP), Decipher’s The Lord of the Rings, The One Ring (TOR), and Tolkien Quest. I’ve even made my own untested Tolkien Quest. They’re all bad, even (and especially) mine. Look them up if you want, but they’re all incredibly bloated.
I’ve also been reading some about how the old, OLD players of RPGs played. Like Dave Arneson. Norbert G. Matausch from Darkworm Colt started this rabbit-hole for me with his Landshut rules. He did a five-part meditation on “Play Worlds, Not Rules” that really made it click for me. He also recently conducted an interview with a true grognard I found inspiring. Related, Alex Schroder’s Just Halberds and response to minimal gaming were very insightful.
All of this really made me think about what are the absolute essentials to playing an RPG. What is the minimum and what can be cut back? One measure was to just look at how we use dice, like so:
So while what I came up with is not THAT short, it’s only a page. And there’s some stuff for the Loremaster (referee) in there too. I used the classic six attributes to keep it close to 5e, but the purpose of each is very much changed (I thank Knave for that). There is “leveling” is the form of receiving Rewards and Virtues from other cultures. There are rules for combat and encumbrance all wedged in there. There are also rules for Corruption of the self and the presence of the Shadow in Mirkwood.
I’ll be using this to run the world of Middle-Earth, stealing every possible bit of setting and detail from the Rhovanion Region Guide and the Mirkwood Campaign.