Cubicle 7’s Adventures in Middle-Earth™ RPG line, supported by Dungeons and Dragons 5e, is, in my opinion, one of the most seamless combinations of a rules system supporting a fictional setting I’ve had the pleasure of reading and running. First, some background on myself and my love/hate relationship over the years with Middle-Earth based RPGs.
My first exposure to Middle-Earth was listening to an early audiobook version of The Hobbit on a 45 record (I think I still have that down the basement somewhere. Note to self – look for it later) and then seeing The Hobbit cartoon movie by Rankin/Bass around 1980 or so.
A couple years later I remember going over friends house to play The Hobbit computer game on his Commodore 64. At twelve years old, I hadn’t read the books yet. They weren’t above my reading capability but the length of the book more than likely intimidated me.
During that same time frame, I got exposed to Basic Dungeons & Dragons (BD&D)by a kid in my Lutheran Catechism class – irony at its finest. Fast forward a couple more years, we’re talking 1984, and while hanging out at the mall and perusing Waldenbooks I remember seeing, and buying the Middle-Earth Roleplaying Game (MERP) by Iron Crown Enterprises (ICE). For some reason, I didn’t get into Rolemaster (RM) but this scaled-down version of RM, had some really neat art, awesome maps, and seemed a little more streamlined than the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) I was graduating to from BD&D. Note 1 – I still hadn’t read The Hobbit or any of The Lord of the Rings (LotR) trilogy.
MERP’s character creation system took a long time, had a lot of options (even for a pared-back version of RM) but those options did make you think about the background of your character, make some plausible connections to “why am I adventuring” and you were ready to become a hero in Middle-Earth. Note 2 – I then started to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Full stop. In my mind, I couldn’t connect the MERP rules to The Hobbit or LotR fiction. I totally get that a game isn’t a piece of written fiction or vice versa. Two different mediums with a different outcome but they were so divergent. This isn’t a bad reflection on MERP. In and of itself it’s a great system but just not for The Hobbit or LotR. Even AD&D didn’t really emulate the feel of the fiction. Magic was just too prevalent in both MERP and AD&D and I wasn’t enough of a system tinkerer to take the magic out of either game and end up with something recognizable.
Fast forward seventeen (17) years to 2001 and The Lord of the Rings movies come out. I re-listen (at this point I’m an Audible subscriber) to all of the books and hear rumblings at GenCon of a LotR RPG coming out. Shortly after the first movie is released The Lord of the Rings RPG comes out by Decipher. It’s got a great system, CODA, that emulates the “feel” of Middle-Earth. It’s got great art, well, a lot of shots from the movies, and it’s well laid out, but I’ve got no one in my group that’ll play it. I collect all of the material as it comes out but it sits unused for years in my library.
Years pass. 2011 hits and The One Ring by Cubicle 7 is released, and the next year The Hobbit movie hits the big screen. Again, I’ve bought all of the material and it sits on my shelf because game time is really limited and trying out new games is not something that my group is really into, i.e. if we’re going to play, let’s play the campaign that we’ve been on for the last year or so.
2016 rolls around. We’ve been playing 5e now for a while and Pathfinder has fallen by the wayside…it got too complex for my tastes although we loved quite a few of the Adventure Paths. I’m not as much into RPG.net as I used to be but I see some rumblings on a One Ring 5e conversion by Crucible 7. Hmm, another version of a game I’ve bought multiple iterations of.
Continued in Part 2 – coming next week.