Jump to content

Middle-earth Role Playing

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Middle-Earth Role Playing
  • a complete system for adventuring in
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's World
MERP rulebook cover, 1st edition
DesignersColeman Charlton
PublishersIron Crown Enterprises
Publication1984 (1st edition)
1986 (2nd edition)
1993 (collectors 2nd edition)
SystemsStreamlined Rolemaster

Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP) is a 1984 tabletop role-playing game based on J. R. R. Tolkien's 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.[1]


MERP uses two ten-sided dice

The rules system of the game is a streamlined version of I.C.E.'s generic fantasy RPG, Rolemaster.

Characters have 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 in the initial chart result called for it.

Spellcasters learn lists of ten spells as a unit. Each of the spells is based on a theme (e.g. healing spells).


I.C.E. published the first edition of MERP ruleset in 1984 and a second edition in 1986. A collector's edition was published in 1993, based upon the second edition with twice the number of pages. I.C.E. was working on the third edition[2] that was never 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. declared bankruptcy in 2000.

A related quarterly magazine, Other Hands Magazine created by Professor Chris Seeman, supporting the MERP community, was also sent a desist by Tolkien Enterprises and ceased publication in 2001.

A second magazine named Other Minds Magazine created by Hawke Robinson, (named in recognition of the previous Other Hands quarterly, both about a quote from J. R. R. Tolkien's Letters[3]) began publication in 2007. It also supports the role-playing community using ICE's MERP, Decipher's LotR, Cubicle 7's The One Ring Roleplaying Game, 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 simpler system than MERP and was intended to introduce new players to role-playing.[citation needed]

A UK edition was published by Games Workshop in 1985. It featured the First Edition rules, with a new box and booklet art by Chris Achilleos, along with 25mm floorplans for the sample adventure. Both the first and second edition ruleset and most of the adventure modules were translated for a German edition as Mittelerde-Rollenspiel (MERS) by Citadel Verlag, later Laurin Verlag, later Queen Games, starting in 1987. In Sweden a translated version called Sagan om Ringen: Rollspelet was released in 1986 by Target Games, followed by several translated modules. In Japan a translated version was released in 1987 by Hobby Japan. A Finnish language edition (Keski-Maa Roolipeli or KERP) was published in 1990. The first and second edition ruleset were translated for a French edition as Jeu de rôle des Terres du Milieu (JRTM) by Hexagonal, starting in 1986.[citation needed]

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.


1st edition MERP supplements[edit]

2nd edition MERP supplements[edit]

  • Northwestern Middle-earth Gazetteer 2nd Edition (1992)
  • Middle-earth Role Playing Campaign Guide 2nd Edition (1993)
  • Valar & Maiar (1993)
  • Arnor (1994)
  • Creatures of Middle-earth (1994)
  • Elves (1994)
  • Middle-earth Role Playing Poster Maps (1994)
  • Middle-earth Role Playing 2nd Edition Accessory Pack (1994)
  • Minas Tirith (1994)
  • Northwestern Middle-earth Map Set (1994)
  • Palantír Quest (1994)
  • Treasures of Middle-earth (1994)
  • Moria (1994)
  • Angmar (1995)
  • Dol Guldur (1995)
  • Lake-Town (1995)
  • Mirkwood (1995)
  • The Kin-Strife (1995)
  • The Shire (1995)
  • Arnor - The People (1996)
  • Southern Gondor: The Land (1996)
  • Southern Gondor: The People (1996)
  • Arnor - The Land (1997)
  • Hands of the Healer (1997)
  • The Northern Waste (1997)

Critical reception[edit]

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.[5]

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 consistently 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."[6]

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."[7]

In the January 1985 edition of Imagine (Issue 22), Andy Blakeman stated that "by its links with Tolkien, it cannot fail to attract many new gamers into this hobby; and I am reasonably confident that these newcomers will not be disappointed."[8]

In the June 1985 edition of White Dwarf (Issue 66), Graham Staplehurst thought "Iron Crown has 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 flavor 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."[9]

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."[10]

In his 1990 book The Complete Guide to Role-Playing Games, game critic Rick Swan didn't think that MERP successfully recreated Tolkien's Midde-earth setting. For that reason, Swan thought that the game was "more likely to find favor with casual Tolkien fans than Middle Earth fanatics, because even though it's a pretty good fantasy game, it doesn't measure up to the novels." Swan concluded by giving this game a rating of 2.5 out of 4. [11]

In a 1996 readers poll taken by the British games magazine Arcane to determine the 50 most popular role-playing 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. 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, at 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."[12]

In a retrospective review of Middle-earth Role Playing in Black Gate, Scott Taylor said "MERP, as it is more affectionately called, became the second leading RPG sold in the 1980s, and although miss-management and rather daunting licensing dealings with the Tolkien estate finally resulted in the games dissolution and the company's bankruptcy, the body of work put out by I.C.E. in a little over a decade remains the Middle-Earth canon for all role-players who truly take the genre seriously."[13] Taylor also commented on the maps of the game in 2014, "There is, and unfortunately never will be again, an astoundingly beautiful game like MERP that has kept gamers coming back for over thirty years. Frankly, if you ever intend to play in Middle-Earth I suggest these books being your basis".[14]


  1. ^ "Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP)". Archived from the original on 2007-09-14.
  2. ^ "MerpCon 1 2005 Chris Seeman Speech Part 1". Archived from the original on 2013-04-16. Retrieved 2012-11-28. Chris Seeman, ICE MERP series editor Second Edition and Third Edition, MerpCon 2005 speech, and MerpCon 2007 speech, explaining versions.
  3. ^ John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, from a letter written to Milton Waldman, ca. 1951
  4. ^ Barton, William A. (March 1983). "Capsule Reviews". The Space Gamer (61). Steve Jackson Games: 35.
  5. ^ Sutherland, Jonathan (February 1984). "Open Box". White Dwarf (review). No. 50. Games Workshop. pp. 12–13.
  6. ^ Sutherland, Jonathan (October 1984). "Open Box". White Dwarf. No. 58. Games Workshop. pp. 12–13.
  7. ^ Barton, William A. (Mar–Apr 1985). "I.C.E.'s Middle-earth Modules". Space Gamer. No. 73. Steve Jackson Games. p. 6.
  8. ^ Blakeman, Andy (January 1985). "Notices". Imagine (review). No. 22. TSR Hobbies (UK), Ltd. p. 42.
  9. ^ Staplehurst, Graham (June 1985). "The Road Goes on Forever: Inside Middle Earth Roleplaying". White Dwarf. No. 66. Games Workshop. pp. 12–13.
  10. ^ Staplehurst, Graham (January 1987). "Open Box". White Dwarf. No. 83. Games Workshop. p. 3.
  11. ^ Swan, Rick (1990). The Complete Guide to Role-Playing Games. New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 138–139.
  12. ^ Pettengale, Paul (Christmas 1996). "Arcane Presents the Top 50 Roleplaying Games 1996". Arcane. No. 14. Future Publishing. pp. 25–35.
  13. ^ "Art of the Genre: Tolkien in B/W – Black Gate". 6 April 2011.
  14. ^ "Art of the Genre: I.C.E.'s Middle-Earth Roleplaying Part Four: The Maps – Black Gate". 9 April 2014.

External links[edit]