This mighty tome is beautifully presented and provides just about all you need to start adventuring in Tolkien's Middle Earth. Of particular note is the way in which the authors are not afraid to tweak exisiting game rules and even invent entire new mechanics to drive a setting that's true to its original concept yet playable by anyone who can play Dungeons & Dragons 5e. As the Foreword states, the guiding light has been to present a game that you can make your own... and if you want to add in stuff from other sources, that's fine too.
The first section is all about setting the scene. We're based in Wilderland in 2946 of the Third Age. Smaug is dead and people are reclaiming the lands he once terrorised. So here are details of the lands involved and their denizens. Then it's straight on to how to make it all work, with an Overview containing details of the changes the authors have made to the core ruleset in two areas: character creation and general game rules. Middle Earth isn't quite like any other fantasy setting (even if it inspired a lot of them!) and these rules are desisned to enable you to run a game and create shared stories that are true to the setting. It starts off with a profound difference, you choose your culture rather than your race. 'Culture' is a more precise definition - you are not just a human but a Man of Bree or a Man of the Lake, and so on for all the other races. There's a whole chapter on them later on. There are also new classes and backgrounds, and a whole new type of trait called a virtue - and each of these also gets a chapter to itself to explain all that you need to know.
The other rules changes relate to how the game itself works. Middle Earth stories are jam-packed with journeys, and the sort of quest that involves going somewhere (and braving danger along the way) as well as doing something when you get there are a mainstay of Middle Earth adventuring. Unlike the character creation rules, these supplement rather than replace the core D&D ones. This setting does not use conventional alignments, instead it relies on a corruption system to model characters' moral journey through life. In Middle Earth, strangers are often regarding warily, so there are also rules for obtaining an audience with the great and good of the land, should the party wish to do so. Finally, there is the introduction of the Fellowship Phase, an exciting innovation from The One Ring game on which this setting is based. Each of these topics too has its own chapter to provide all the necessary detail to enable you to incorporate it into your game.
That's about it, all beautifully-presented and with Loremaster (i.e. DM) and Player versions of the map and a selection of appropriate equipment to help your character look and feel like he belongs in Middle Earth. Overall, it's an elegant adaptation of both The One Ring and of course the original setting from Tolkien's stories to the latest incarnation of Dungeons & Dragons and well worth a look if you think that there's more to adventure than killing monsters and taking their stuff... although those who do want to fill their days with fighting (and even acquire some loot) will not be disappointed.
Return to Adventures in Middle Earth Player's Guide page.
Reviewed: 25 November 2016