This post was inspired by the recent announcement that there is a new Lord of The Rings TTRPG game using Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition rules. For more information on that, check out Free League’s press release.
Some Tolkien fans like to boast how many times they’ve read The Hobbit, the LOTR trilogy, The Silmarilion..etc. When it becomes a contest, you can just claim the “Too many times for remember” or “I lost count” to win or call it a stalemate. I’ve read the Silmarilion twice, but also started it twice only to put it down. At the time I was too young at the time to grasp the concept of many names for a single character. As for the Hobbit and LOTR, well, I guess I’ll just say “I lost count”.
No writer has had a greater impact on my imagination than J.R.R. Tolkien. As a young reader I delved into fantasy-fiction books by Michael Moorcock, C.S. Lewis, Terry Brooks, Stephen R. Donaldson and stacks of books whose author’s names escape me. Like me, many of them no doubt influenced by Tolkien and his creation, Middle-Earth.
The first time I laid eyes on a copy of The Hobbit was between the summers of 1975 and 1976. I know because it was in our house in Kansas and we lived there but one year. I was nine years old at the time. It was my brothers book and I clearly remember trying to make sense of the cover – I wouldn’t read it for many years. When I did read it, I was forever changed.
One would think that a fan of Tolkien and Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast would jump at the chance to explore Middle-Earth via D&D, or any ttrpg for that matter. Years ago I could have combined my imagination and the D&D ruleset to create my own shire, elven realm or wizards spire in Middle-Earth. And, Free League isn’t the first company to offer up Middle-Earth as a tabletop RPG destination. Since the 1980’s several companies preceded Free League in bringing Tolkien’s creation to the game table. The one that comes to mind is Middle-earth Role Playing by Iron Crown Enterprises using the Rolemaster RPG ruleset. (If you like roll tables you’ll love Rolemaster).
Story vs Setting
Odd perhaps, but visiting the Shire, Mirkwood or Mt. Doom has never appealed to me. As much as I love the story of Bilbo, Frodo, Luthien…etc. I never wanted to carve out a piece of it for myself. It just doesn’t feel right. I guess the best way I can sum it up is – it would be like trying to play a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that has already been played.
Just for a moment think back to that epic rpg campaign in your past. It’s the one you reminince about. When stories of past adventures are traded, this is the one you share the most. Now think about trying to recreate it. You can’t. No matter how hard you try, it won’t be the same. It might actually be better or it could be worse, and if it’s worse, will it taint the memory of the first adventure or somehow spoil the setting?
The argument could be made that Middle-Earth is a setting no different than the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk are settings. I would argue to the contrary, and I think this points to the reason why I will never set foot in Middle-Earth. The Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dark Sun… they are all settings created for adventure. They are worlds where stories are forged. Middle-Earth is the opposite. It was a story first.
Writing my own Story
I will always set Middle-Earth apart . Its characters and iconic llocations will be kept sacred in my memory. Those stories are journeys J.R.R Tolkien took me on, together with Bilbo, Gandalf, Sam and Frodo. To Mount Doom, Golem’s Cave and the White towers of Gondor. I have no desire to put my stamp on that history.
How do you feel about playing in settings that came to you first in the form of a book? Its possible you might feel the same way about the Sword Coast if your first exposure to it was through the works of Ed Greenwood, R.A. Salvatore…its a long list of authors . I loved to here your thoughts, opinions and experience. If you liked this, please give it a share.
⚔ For Gondor! For Rohan! For the Shire! ⚔