Lacking Natural Simplicity

Random musings on books, code, and tabletop games.

The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game from Iron Crown Enterprises

Last edited: 2022-12-26 22:43:46 EST

I got an interesting game yesterday, and finished reading it today: the 1991 Lord of the Rings Adventure Game from Iron Crown Enterprises, which was the first holder of the Tolkien franchise for RPGs.

ICE got its start with Rolemaster, which started as a detailed add-on combat system for D&D and developed into a very detailed RPG of its own, based on open-ended d100 rolls: high is good and on very high or low rolls you roll again and add the new roll for high or subtracted for low, continuing infinitely in either direction.

ICE then got the Tolkien franchise and developed Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP) as a slightly simplified RPG for those who wanted to play in Middle Earth, but did not want all the complexities of the full Rolemaster system. The adventures were written in such a way that you could play them either with Rolemaster or MERP, and had some short guidelines to help the GM adapt them for other games. They had a lot of success and their Middle Earth products were extensive and highly regarded.

Lots of folk used them with other RPG systems. (I bought several for the ideas.)

Later in their run, ICE wanted to tap the larger Tolkien readership and so wrote the Lord of the Ring Adventure Game as a much simpler game that they hoped would draw interested readers and the viewers of the animated Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

(I have fond memories of the animated Hobbit, though I knew it only through reading the graphic novel adaptation that used art from the movie when I was at my uncle and aunt's place in New York one summer. I finally saw it, probably on TV some years later.)

Anyway, the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game (LOR hereafter, as seems to be customary) comes in a box with a 32 page rulebook, a 64 page adventure with 6 pre-generated characters, a 32 pamphlet of 4 pages of backstory for the 6 pregens and area maps for the adventure, several poster sized maps, including a nice color one of Middle Earth, and (missing in my copy, as the seller had noted in the description) 2 six-sided dice and a sheet of standup cardboard figures of people and creatures and the pregens.

Characters have 12 stats: 6 capabilities (Strength, Agility, Intelligence, Movement, and Endurance) and 6 skills (Defense, Melee Offensive Bonus, Ranged Offensive Bonus, General, Subterfuge, Perception, and Magical). The value of each of these is called a bonus, and can be less than zero.

You pick one of 9 character types (Hobbit Scout, Elf Scout, Human Warrior, Dwarf Warrior, Elf Warrior, Human Ranger, Half-elf Ranger, Human Bard, and Elf Bard), which sets your equipment and capability values and starting skill values, and then you have six +1 bonuses to add to your skills as you choose, no more than +3 to any one skill. If you have +1 or more in magic you get two spells per +1 bonus. Some of your equipment gives bonuses to your stats. I'll note that your character type doesn't restrict what you can do: if you want your Warrior to be able to use magic, put some of your starting skill bonuses into Magical! And they don't really have much to do with what your characters occupation is: someone who takes one of the Warrior character types can be a merchant, someone who takes one of the Scout character types can be a healer. It is all in how you assign your starting skill bonuses.

Your character type sets your Endurance (basically your hit points), with the dwarf warrior having the most at 60 points and the elf bard the least at 30 points.

There are 15 spells, all with a fairly reasonable balance between keeping with the magic seen in the novels, which is to say not tremendously powerful, and what one would expect from a fantasy RPG. The spells are Strength, Shield, Speed, Balance, Camouflage, Concentration, Item Analysis, Clairvoyance, Healing, Luck, Protection from Magic, Sustenance, Calm, Charm Animal, and Fire Bolt. Magic items typically add a plus to a stat, or let you do something you couldn’t before.

Maneuvers are how you use your stats. Some, like climbing a tree have a set difficulty. Others the GM sets the difficulty, from Routine (4) to Absurd (18).

You roll 2d6 plus a stat bonus versus a target number or an opponent’s roll. Meet or exceed an unopposed roll to succeed, while you can tie on opposed rolls. In combat you take the attacker’s Offensive Bonus minus the defenders Defensive Bonus and roll 2d6 and look the result up in a chart to see how much damage is done and whether the defender is knocked unconscious or killed outright.

Activities are things that are normally automatically successful if you have the equipment and time (tying up a captive, setting up camp, digging a ditch), but turn into GM moderated maneuvers if you don’t have the time or equipment (digging a ditch to hide in before the opponents you want to ambush show up).

There are 14 action sequences. These things like combat (one of the action sequences) where there is a general sequence you follow to do something, from sneaking through a town at night to tracking through a wilderness or ambushing an enemy. I like how these are written up as a standard sequence of things to do and consider, just like how combat is done in most system.

These action sequences can be adjusted by the GM for circumstances and they encourage you to make up your own. You might make one up for when someone is wanting to convince a crowd of something. They are multi-step procedures for doing something. I think they would be quite useful.

You get Experience Points (EP) for successful maneuvers depending on how hard the target number was, for every point of damage inflicted, with unconsciousness and killed results worth more, and for every point of damage the caster of a spell takes to cast the spell. (Every spell costs the caster Damage to cast!). You also get EP for good ideas and for the group accomplishing significant goals.

The included adventure is a mix of programmed sequences to help the new GM and players learn the system, where the choices the players make determines what section you turn to next, and the sections are broken up into action sequences and the results determine which section the players go to next, GM notes on how to run or adjust things, and descriptions of what happens.

I do notice that each of the pregens has a special ability: finding lost items or people, eidetic memory, knowing if any creature within a 20 foot radius is aligned with forces of darkness, healing wounds faster, being unusually skilled at bargaining and negotiation, and always knowing which way is north and can follow known routes perfectly. But there is no rule for assigning these to characters. I imagine that if the GM wanted to have special abilities for other characters the GM and the players should come up with them.

The rules encourage you to use figures or counters to represent characters in combat, and movement is given in inches, to be measured on the map, if you draw one, or on the table if you just set out the figures at the right distances. You could easily use a battle map with a grid, if you have one. Movement at a walk is 50 feet plus 10 feet multiplied by the characters Movement bonus.

Anyway, I like it. I hope to run it this year for Christmas, if all goes well.

There is, of course, a Wikipedia page about it, but it is even briefer than this post.

There is a compatible game, The Middle-Earth Adventure Game (MEAG), that was designed by Brian Gross and J.R. Gracen. I knew of it before I got the LotRAG, it seems to be a generalization and expansion, and thus a little more complicated, but it doesn't look too complicated. I'll read it and report what I think of it.

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