Middle-earth Role Playing
MERP rulebook cover, 1st edition
|Publisher(s)||Iron Crown Enterprises|
|Publication date||1982 (1st edition)|
Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP) is a 1982 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 September 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 1 and 100 on a percentile die (d100) or two ten-sided dice (2d10). Skills can be modified to a rating above or below these limits (i.e. under 1 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).
In the February 1984 edition of White Dwarf (Issue 50), Jonathan Sutherland reviewed the various MERP supplements available at the time, and generally liked them, although he found their price a bit steep.
A few issues later, in the October 1984 edition of White Dwarf (Issue 58), Sutherland reviewed the main rules system of MERP and thought that it "mirrors the consistent high quality one has come to expect from ICE." Sutherland concluded that it "is a well conceived, reasonably well-written system. I can't say it's easy and ideal for beginners but I can honestly recommend that you try it. MERP gets my vote as best new RPG this year; in fact I've not been so impressed since I first read Call of Cthulhu."
In the March–April 1985 edition of Space Gamer (Issue No. 73), William A. Barton commented that "If you haven't yet taken a trip to Middle-earth via the Iron Crown, I recommend you remedy the situation as soon as possible."
In the January 1985 edition of Imagine (Issue 22), Andy Blakeman stated that "by its links with Tolkein, it cannot fail to attract many new gamers into this hobby; and I am reasonably confident that these newcomers will not be disappointed."
In the June 1985 edition of White Dwarf (Issue 66), Graham Staplehurst thought "Iron Crown have done superb development work on areas that Tolkien neglected or left unspecified." He found the rules system suitable "though not spectacularly original", and the combat system "can be rather bloody, which is no bad thing." However Staplehurst had issues with the magic system, pointing out that in Tolkien's books, magic is a rare, subtle force only used by a few powerful characters, whereas "The MERP system gives these sorts of powers to almost anyone after the acquisition of relatively few experience points; for me, it upsets the flavour of the game and its authenticity." He concluded, "MERP can be used to recreate the great adventures of which Tolkien wrote: going with Frodo or Bilbo or Beren into the lair of evil and trying to escape alive; and it can go some way to fulfilling the desires of people who want to know more about Tolkien's world."
In the January 1987 edition of White Dwarf (Issue 83), Graham Staplehurst reviewed the second edition of the rules, and applauded ICE for including more material for newcomers, such as an introductory booklet and a short introductory adventure. He also liked the rearrangement of rules, pointing out that "Much of the confusion of tables, lists and rules has been cleared by a sensible grouping of charts onto single pages and into a larger batch on the rear of the book." He concluded, "MERP remains (for me) one of the more inventive and enjoyable roleplaying game currently available."
In a 1996 readers poll taken by Arcane magazine to determine the 50 most popular roleplaying games of all time, Middle-earth Role Playing was ranked 11th. Editor Paul Pettengale commented: "The popularity of the books, we would suggest, explains why the game based on Tolkien's world is so popular. For the system is overly complicated (being based on the complex Rolemaster system - see number 15), and it suffers from the problem of timing. For example, in which time do you set your campaign? Set it before The Lord of the Rings and everyone knows what's going to happen, set it after The Lord of the Rings and you've got to make a whole load of stuff up. Still, the supplements are all good, if you get off on bucketfuls of detail and polished prose. Not for everyone, sure, but die-hard Tolkien fans should check it out."
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 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.
In the summer of 2005, a new annual convention began known as Merpcon (Middle-earth Role Playing Convention). It initially used the ICE MERP and ICE Rolemaster role playing game systems.
- Angmar: Land of the Witch King (1982)
- A Campaign and Adventure Guidebook for Middle-earth (1982)
- Umbar: Haven of the Corsairs (1982)
- The Court of Ardor in Southern Middle Earth (1983)
- Isengard and Northern Gondor (1983)
- Northern Mirkwood: The Wood-Elves Realm (1983)
- Southern Mirkwood: Haunt of the Necromancer (1983)
- Bree and the Barrow-Downs (1984)
- Combat Screen and Reference Sheets (1984)
- Dagorlad and the Dead Marshes (1984)
- Hillmen of the Trollshaws (1984)
- Moria: The Dwarven City (1984)
- The Tower of Cirith Ungol and Shelob's Lair (1984)
- Erech and the Paths of the Dead (1985)
- Goblin-Gate and Eagle's Eyrie (1985)
- Haunted Ruins of the Dundlendings (1985)
- Moria, the Dwarven City (1985)
- Rangers of the North: The Kingdom of Arthedain (1985)
- Riders of Rohan (1985)
- Lords of Middle-earth, Volume I (1986)
- Lorien and the Halls of the Elven-Smiths (1986)
- Phantom of the Northern Marches (1986)
- Thieves of Tharbad (1986)
- Trolls of the Misty Mountains (1986)
- Assassins of Dol Amroth (1987)
- Brigands of Mirkwood (1987)
- Dunland and the Southern Misty Mountains (1987)
- Ents of Fangorn (1987)
- Gates of Mordor (1987)
- Havens of Gondor ... Land of Belfalas (1987)
- Lords of Middle-earth, Volume II (1987)
- Lost Realm of Cardolan (1987)
- Pirates of Pelargir (1987)
- Rivendell: The House of Elrond (1987)
- Sea-Lords of Gondor ... Pelargir and Lebennin (1987)
- Weathertop, Tower of the Wind (1987)
- Woses of the Black Wood (1987)
- Creatures of Middle-earth: A Bestiary of Animals and Monsters (1988)
- Far Harad, the Scorched Land (1988)
- Halls of the Elven-King (1988)
- Minas Tirith (1988)
- Mirkwood: The Wilds of Rhovanion (1988)
- Mouths of the Entwash (1988)
- Raiders of Cardolan (1988)
- Shadow in the South (1988)
- Teeth of Mordor (1988)
- Dark Mage of Rhudaur (1989)
- Empire of the Witch-King (1989)
- Forest of Tears (1989)
- Ghosts of the Southern Anduin (1989)
- Lords of Middle-earth, Volume III (1989)
- Middle-earth Adventure Guidebook II (1989)
- Mount Gundabad (1989)
- Perils on the Sea of Rhûn (1989)
- Warlords of the Desert (1989)
- Angus McBride's Characters of Middle-earth (1990)
- Calenhad, a Beacon of Gondor (1990)
- Ghost Warriors (1990)
- Gorgoroth (1990)
- Greater Harad (1990)
- Hazards of the Harad Wood (1990)
- Rogues of the Borderlands (1990)
- Southern Gondor: The Land is a 1996 role-playing game supplement published by Iron Crown Enterprises for Middle-earth Role Playing. Southern Gondor: The Land is a sourcebook which describes the coastal provinces of Gondor in detail, and was designed to complement Southern Gondor: The People. Andy Butcher reviewed Southern Gondor: The People for Arcane magazine, rating it a 6 out of 10 overall. Butcher comments that "Combined with Southern Gondor: The People, there's more than enough background here for the referee to become an expert on every aspect of the area. Just how useful a lot of this detail is in gaming terms is somewhat debatable, although there's no denying that if it's authenticity you're after, you'll find it here."
- Different Worlds #46
- White Wolf #49 (Nov., 1994)
- Casus Belli #24 (Feb 1985)
- Casus Belli #36 (Feb 1987)
- merp.com Archived 2007-09-14 at the Wayback Machine
- Sutherland, Jonathan (February 1984). "Open Box". White Dwarf (review). Games Workshop (50): 12–13.
- Sutherland, Jonathan (October 1984). "Open Box". White Dwarf (review). Games Workshop (58): 12–13.
- Barton, William A. (Mar–Apr 1985). "I.C.E.'s Middle-earth Modules". Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (73): 6.
- Blakeman, Andy (January 1985). "Notices". Imagine (review). TSR Hobbies (UK), Ltd. (22): 42.
- Staplehurst, Graham (June 1985). "The Road Goes on Forever: Inside Midde Earth Roleplaying". White Dwarf (review). Games Workshop (66): 12–13.
- Staplehurst, Graham (January 1987). "Open Box". White Dwarf (review). Games Workshop (83): 3.
- Pettengale, Paul (Christmas 1996). "Arcane Presents the Top 50 Roleplaying Games 1996". Arcane. Future Publishing (14): 25–35.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-04-16. Retrieved 2012-11-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) 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
- Butcher, Andy (August 1996). "Games Reviews". Arcane. Future Publishing (9): 74.