Friday, May 3, 2013

In Retrospect: Middle-Earth Role Playing, by Iron Crown Enterprises

"Head becomes a charred stump. Sadly, dies instantly due to this unacceptable condition."
--from the Heat Critical Table, page 237.

"Strike through ear destroys brain. The unfortunate lummox dies instantly, and any ear wax is removed." 
--from the Physical Criticals for Large Creature Table, page 239

"You stumble, driving your weapon into the ground. Stunned 5 rounds. If mounted: you pole vault 30', take a 'C' crush crit upon landing."
--from the Hand Arms Fumble Table, page 240

And the criticals go on...

If there's one non-D&D RPG that I could go back and play once more, even if just for a short campaign or a one-shot, it'd be Middle-Earth Role Playing, by Iron Crown Enterprises. I played this a lot back in high school. Yes, the combat system was clunky. Yes, the resolution system for non-combat skills was clunky. Yes, there's lots of modifiers.

But so what? This was the first RPG game I played where combat could really hurt your character. Death was often preferrable than being wounded, because being critically wounded meant your character had to suffer. In many cases, you might as well just roll up a new character because the old one could be useless from the wounds he received.

I had a character, a monk, who once ran around with a broken arm for a month.

That character was the replacement for a mage who'd gotten his throat cut open by an Angmar warpriest.

This game was so much fun because it forced you to try and get as many advantages you could on an enemy. Ambush them. Pelt them with missile weapons before closing in. Anything but get into a pitched battle. And if you did get into melee combat, you wanted the biggest weapon you could find--like a two-handed sword, because it dealt both cutting and bludgeoning criticals.

The larger the weapon, however, the greater the chance you could fumble and hurt yourself!

Your character earned experience for just about anything: dealing criticals, suffering criticals, dealing the killing blow, casting spells, or just traveling through dangerous territory.

MERP is the closest to Rolemaster I'd ever played, and it was enjoyable. In fact, the game was touted as Rolemaster-lite. When your characters reached 10th level, you were supposed to upgrade to Rolemaster. In our little group, this never became an issue. The highest level anybody achieved was 5th--the game was just so brutal. Or at leasts that's how the GM ran it at the time.

MERP does a decent job of emulating the "feel" of Tolkien's world. I know some have criticized the magic system for being too flashy. Yet this was balanced with the chance of earning corruption points and attracting the attention of agents of Sauron. You only wanted to cast spells as a last resort.

I still have a box full of the books and supplements for this game. If there was a game of yesteryear I'd love to run again, at least as a short campaign or a one-shot, it'd be MERP.

The problem is, of course, finding players who'd want to try it out. Among those that have played this game before, I've discovered that people either love it or hate it. One guy I knew was still mad that his knight had pole vaulted off his horse...

My summary is for the core rulebook.

Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10 (lots of background info on Middle-Earth)
Utility: 4 out of 10 (sometimes those combat charts could be cumbersome, and you'd have some difficulty using the system for other genres)

Buy this if: You want a rule set that isn't quite as detailed as Rolemaster, but still makes combat lethal and deadly. Or if you want to venture into Tolkien's world. Nostalgia.

Don't buy this: If you don't like rules-heavy systems with charts, or if you think critical hits takes the fun out of the game.

Have you played MERP? What do you think of it?


  1. I owned this back back in the day. Never played it.
    My two gaming groups stuck with AD&D for one and The Fantasy Trip: In The Labyrinth for the other.

    But this did inspire me to take another look at High Adventure Role Playing (HARP) which is, I believe, the "we no longer have the Tolkien license" evolution of MERP. RPGNow had it on sale for $5 last year (couple of years ago??).

    I'm a little 'versions of D&D'd out right now.

  2. Never played MERP, but did pick up a pretty awesome Arnor campaign supplement for it that came with lots of maps.

  3. We played quite a bit of MERP 1e in high school. The highlights I can remember are a PC breaking their leg trying to kick a door down and everyone wanting to play a Ranger. But I do have some fuzzy feelings about the game.

  4. Played it a lot in college. Fun game.


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