Middle-earth Role Playing
MERP rulebook cover, 1st edition
|Publisher(s)||Iron Crown Enterprises|
|Publication date||1984 (1st edition)|
Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP) is a 1984 role-playing game based on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien (specifically The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) under license from Tolkien Enterprises. Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.) published the game until they lost the license on 22 Sep 1999.
The rules system of the game is a streamlined version of I.C.E.'s generic fantasy RPG, Rolemaster.
Characters possess Attributes and Skills rated between 0 and 100. Skills can be modified to a rating above or below these limits (i.e. under 0 or over 100, with open-ended merp options to add or subtract additional d100). An attack roll consists of a percentile roll, to which the attacker's skill rating and appropriate attribute rating are added and the defender's dodge rating is subtracted. The result is compared to the defender's armor type and looked up on a table to determine success or failure. A separate critical table is used if the initial chart result called for it.
Spell casters learn lists of ten spells as a unit. Each of the spells is based on a theme (e.g. Healing spells.)
MERP was generally well received, although not recommended for beginners. Some commentators[who?] disliked how the system handled magic. In Tolkien's books, magic is a rare, subtle force only used by a few powerful characters, whereas in MERP magic (from healing to throwing thunderbolts) was possible for nearly any player character. This lack of continuity with the source material was seen to upset the game's authenticity. However, in many early reviews the game play was described as being true to the spirit of Tolkien's work and a pleasure to play.
The game's early editions were later printed in many countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Spain and France.
I.C.E. published a First and a Second Edition of the MERP ruleset, and was working on the third edition that was not published, along with many adventure and campaign modules, until Tolkien Enterprises revoked the license for games based on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in 1999. I.C.E. subsequently declared bankruptcy in 2000.
A related quarterly magazine, Other Hands Magazine created by Professor Chris Seeman, supporting the MERP community, was also sent a cease and desist by Tolkien Enterprises, and ceased publication in 2001. A magazine named Other Minds Magazine created by Hawke Robinson, (named in recognition of the previous Other Hands quarterly, both in reference to merp a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien's Letters) began publication in 2007, it also supports the role-playing community using ICE's MERP, Decipher's LotR, Cubicle 7's The One Ring (TOR) RPG, and other Tolkien-centric role playing game systems.
In 1991-1993, I.C.E. also published the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game. It used a much simpler system than MERP and was intended to introduce new players to role-playing.
A Finnish language edition (Keski-Maa Roolipeli or KERP) was published in 1990.
A subsequent Middle-earth based RPG, the Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game (often abbreviated by the Tolkien role-playing community as Dec LotR or just LotR), was published by Decipher Inc. Except for the original source material, (and some of the same authors) the Decipher game shares no link to ICE's MERP and uses an entirely different rules system. LotR was based heavily on Peter Jackson's interpretation of the Lord of the Rings, including most of the artwork being photos from the film series. Decipher chose not to renew the Tolkien license and let it expire in 2007.
In the Summer of 2005 a new annual convention began known as Merpcon (Middle-earth Role Playing Convention). It initially used exclusively the ICE MERP and ICE Rolemaster role playing game systems, but has since expanded to include other Tolkien-centric game systems. Merpcon changed the name to TolkienMoot in 2009, and widened the venue of games and activities, though still primarily focused on Tolkien scholarship and gaming.
- The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild (August 2011)
- Sutherland, Jonathan (February 1984). "Open Box: Lord of the Rings". White Dwarf (review) (Games Workshop) (50): 12–13.
- Staplehurst, Graham The Road Goes Ever On: Inside Middle Earth Role-Playing, White Dwarf 66, June 1985 pp.12-13
- Vasey, Charles (February 1984). "Counterpoint: Fellowship of the Ring". White Dwarf (review) (Games Workshop) (50): 33.
- http://tolkienmoot.org/archives/videos/2005/merpcon-1-2005-chris-seeman-speech-part-1.flv/view Chris Seeman, ICE MERP series editor Second Edition and Third Edition, MerpCon 2005 speech, and MerpCon 2007 speech, explaining versions.
- John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, from a letter written to Milton Waldman, ca. 1951
- The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild, a role-playing game set in Tolkien's Middle-earth using a brand-new rules system.