|Merpcon / Tolkienmoot|
|Status||Now as Tolkienmoot|
|Venue||Ramada Suites Limited Newport Highway|
|Organized by||Inland Empire Tolkien Society|
MerpCon is an acronym for "Middle-Earth Role Playing Convention", a role playing game convention dedicated solely to role-playing gaming in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. The event is held annually on the last weekend of July and runs for 3 days from Friday, through to the end of Sunday (and sometimes a little into the following Monday morning). To date MerpCon has been held each year in Spokane, WA, USA. Beginning in 2009 MerpCon began to transition to being called Tolkienmoot as this convention's venue began to expand to include more Tolkien-related activities, events, and guests beyond just role playing in Middle-earth.
The event began with MerpCon I in 2005, followed by MerpCon II in 2006, MerpCon III in 2007, MerpCon IV in 2008, MerpCon V was held in 2009, MerpCon VI aka Tolkienmoot 2010, MerpCon VII aka Tolkienmoot 2011.
The event is focused on paper and dice based Role playing games, with the emphasis being role playing gaming set in J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, using any role playing game system adapted or created for play in Middle-earth or any aspect of Tolkien's universe (Middle-earth, Endor, Arda or Eä depending on your perspective of how broadly one wants to make it).
During the event, the MerpCon website also enables some remote participation, by providing the live webcams, streaming audio, and live real time chat rooms (using Internet Relay Chat).
The "MERP" portion of the name is not to be confused with, or thought of as exclusively Iron Crown Enterprises' MERP (Middle-earth Role Playing) game system, although that is one of the game systems used during the event.
A number of MerpCon / Tolkienmoot guest speakers have been at each event, including noted Tolkien scholars, doctors, professors, and published authors. More detailed information is provided on the "Guest Speakers Biographies" page.
Guest speakers to date include:
- John D. Rateliff, residing in Seattle, WA, USA. Author of The History of the Hobbit, noted Tolkien scholar and known many role-playing gaming contributions over the decades working for TSR, Wizards of the Coast, Hasbro, and many freelanced products. Spoke 2008.
- Professor Chris Seeman, currently residing in Iowa, USA, professor of theology. Worked for Iron Crown Enterprises on MERP role-playing game system, also worked for Decipher Inc. on The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game. Creator of Other Hands Magazine and founder of the Tolkien Music List. Spoke 2005 and 2007.
- Michael M. Martinez, currently residing in Seattle, WA, USA, computer scientist specializing in search engine optimization, published author of Visualizing Middle-earth, Understanding Middle-earth, and Parma Endorian, and a prolific Tolkien essayist. Co-host on Middle-earth Radio. Spoke 2006-2011.
- Doctor Thomas Morwinksy, editor of the Tolkien role-playing gaming periodical Other Minds Magazine, currently residing in Munich, Germany, doctor of entomology for the German government's military. Spoke 2007
- Joe Mandala, currently residing in Kansas, USA. Co-editor of The Guild Companion online zine. Spoke 2007.
- Cason Snow, residing in Illinois, USA, librarian. Spoke 2007.
- Hawke Robinson, currently residing in Washington, USA, retired computer scientist published by the SANS Institute, creator of RPG Research, founder of merp.com, MerpCon, Tolkienmoot, Other Minds Magazine, Eä d20 RPG, Eä RPG, co-host on Middle-earth Radio. Spoke 2005-2013.
- Brian Huseland, Eä Tolkien Society. Spoke 2011 & 2012.
Campaign settings overview
MerpCon I campaign was set in the final 2 weeks before the Fall of Númenor as detailed in the Akallabêth in The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien. The theme was "Escape from Númenor". Professor Chris Seeman provides a review of that campaign here: "Report on MerpCon 2005".
MerpCon II campaign was set in Umbar shortly after the Fall of Númenor, and before the establishment of the Kingdoms In Exile: Gondor and Arnor. The theme was "Under Umbar". Those kingdoms were formed approximately one year after "The Fall". Published author and Tolkien Scholar Michael Martinez provides some feedback on this campaign in his blog under the title "The IMPire Lives and I've Got A Wall of Fire".
MerpCon III was set earlier in the Second Age than the previous two conventions, on the shores of Northwestern Middle-earth. The theme was "First Contact". This was a time period when the Númenóreans first made contact with the "lesser" men, who were under the terror of the shadow of Sauron and his minions. The Númenóreans came as benefactors, teachers, and defenders. In later centuries they returned more as conquerors demanding tribute. Joe Mandala provides a review of MerpCon III in August 2007 issue of The Guild Companion.
MerpCon IV provided several different adventures from different campaign authors and Game/Dungeon Masters. The theme was "Dwarves". This was the first year a youth table was provided (players ranging from 8 to 17 years of age). Whereas previous MerpCon events were mostly centered around the Númenóreans and the descendants, MerpCon IV's theme was heavily focused on J.R.R. Tolkien's Dwarves both for adventuring and for the guest speaker topics. One campaign was provided by published author, John D. Rateliff, set in the Long Lake area. The Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 and Eä d20 3.5 rules were used. Another campaign was provided by Chris Wade, his infamous Tol Fuin campaign. The Rolemaster Fantasy Role Playing rules were used. The youth campaign was set in Forodwaith. The Eä d20 3.5 rules were used. John D. Rateliff, and Michael Martinez both spoke. First each had a separate session, then to wrap up the final day, both spoke together. Mr Rateliff's session was focused primarily on "A Brief History of Tolkien Role-playing Games". The audio and video is available on the MerpCon website. Additionally he went on to write a four-part series on his blog, "Sacnoth's Scriptorium", continuing the discussion on this topic.
MerpCon V also named Tolkienmoot was once again held in Spokane, WA, USA. There was no specific theme that year. Game systems included Iron Crown Enterprises MERP, a Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 variant known as Ea RPG d20, and Harnmaster adapted for use in Middle-earth. Game Campaign authors included:
- Hawke Robinson (MERP & Ea RPG d20)
- David Johnson (Harnmaster)
Campaign Game Masters included the above authors plus:
- Michael Martinez
- Skylar Downes
- Russ Patitz
- William Robinson
All Merpcon events after 2009 are now under the title Tolkienmoot, see that page for details of subsequent years.
The campaigns by Hawke Robinson over the years are being released incrementally with issues of Other Minds Magazine, or on the Ea RPG website, the website also has a section dedicated to the Númenor Project.
Both on site and online attendance increased over previous years.
Different approaches to the guest speaker segments were used. The first session was in a format called "Raw Hobbit" as an homage to William Shatner's Raw Nerve talk show. The second guest session was an interactive "Tolkien Youth Panel". The third session was overlapped with the 14th episode of Middle-earth Talk Radio as a live broadcast from the third day of the event with live audience participation both locally and online.
MerpCon V is listed as the last convention with only the MerpCon name. The convention finished transitioning to the title of Tolkienmoot in 2010. This is due to MERP being over 10 years out of print and to use a more descriptive name. The format for Tolkienmoot 2010 is still Tolkien-centric with Tolkien-based role playing gaming at the core, but with a broader venue to include other forms of Tolkien gaming from wargaming to computer gaming, as well as other literary and creative topics related to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Updates are posted at the Tolkienmoot website. All of the content on the MerpCon website  will be moved over to the Tolkienmoot site.
Role playing game systems
MerpCon has always been intended to support multiple game systems, but not until MerpCon III has this actually been able to happen. Previous events did not have enough additional Game Masters fluent in systems other than the legacy ICE MERP and Rolemaster, and more than half of the participants were already used to the system that has been out of print since 1999 when Tolkien Enterprises forced Iron Crown Enterprises into bankruptcy.
Decipher, Inc. owned the rights to produce products based on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings until the middle of Summer 2007 when the company decided not to renew. Cubicle7 is releasing a new licensed Tolkien-based RPG scheduled for August 2011. There are several other role playing gaming systems that have been under independent unofficial development and/or release for several years now, including:
There are many projects that have adapted existing game systems to better fit into Middle-earth ranging from the early years of Dungeons & Dragons, GURPS, and Runequest, to other systems that many claim are already meant indirectly for Middle-earth gaming, such as Harnmaster. Luke Crane's Burning Wheel system is reputedly also fitting for role playing in Middle Earth. The system includes rules for playing non-humanoid creatures that were nonetheless given an (often maligned) intellect within the professor's universe such as Wolves and Great Spiders.
Game systems now supported include:
- Iron Crown Enterprises MERP 2nd Edition
- Decipher, Inc.. The Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game
- Iron Crown Enterprises Rolemaster (adapted to Middle-earth)
- Iron Crown Enterprises HARP (adapted to Middle-earth)
- Wizards of the Coast Dungeons & Dragons d20 Version 3.5 (adaptation known as "Eä d20")
- Runequest the newly released revival of this system (adapted to Middle-earth)
- Basic Role Playing system
- Eä RPG Basic Rules (no in beta game testing, and used at the event)
- Eä RPG Standard Rules (now in alpha game testing, and soon to be used at the event)
So far Merpcon (aka Tolkienmoot) is the only regular convention dedicated primarily or exclusively to gaming in J.R.R. Tolkien's world. MerpCon began changing the name to Tolkienmoot in 2009. There are a few other gaming conventions past, present, and planned in the near future that sometimes host a role playing gaming session with a campaign set in Middle-earth in their events, but no other event is exclusively dedicated to Tolkien gaming. MerpCon has also continued to be offered free of charge, but requires RSVP for reserved seating to participate in the gaming sessions. The other conventions that have some Tolkien related gaming may sometimes include:
- DundraCon. Annual. San Ramon, CA, US
- Gaming in Middle-earth convention. August 15-17th, 2003, Judenburg, Austria
- Tolkienmoot (Exclusively Tolkien gaming, Merpcon is now Tolkienmoot.)
- MerpCon & Tolkienmoot Guest Speakers Biographies Page
- Michael Martinez Blog on MerpCon II, "The IMPire Lives and I've Got A Wall of Fire"
- Joe Mandala provides a review of MerpCon III
- John D' Rateliff's blog on topic begun at MerpCon IV "A Brief History of Tolkien RPG's"
- The Ea Role Playing Game System
- The Middle-earth Radio Talk Show Website
- The Tolkienmoot Convention Website
- The Middle-earth Role Playing Convention Website
- The United States Inland Northwest Tolkien Society Smial Website
- The MerpCon Official website
- The Merp.com website
- Decipher website
- Iron Crown Enterprises website
- The Eä Role-playing Game System website
- The Numenor Project website
- The Ambarquenta RPG website
- The Hither Lands RPG website
- Online archives for Other Hands magazine
- The Other Minds Magazine website
- The Guild Companion online zine
- The Tolkienmoot Convention website