Wandering down a twisted footpath, feeling the age of the trees that surround you, you wonder if anyone else had been in here less than a century. Nothing except the carved visage of a forgotten king greeted you days ago when you set foot in this lost valley, and you were beginning to wonder if there wasn’t some force beyond your ken guarding it, hiding it from passing eyes. The sudden emergence of lvorwen, a ranger and close companion, from the underbrush breaks you from your musing.
“We aren’t alone here.” she whispers.
“I knew it” grumbles Veig the Dwarf, “This place stinks of the Enemy.”
You aren’t sure which enemy he means, he has many, but your hand strays to the hilt of your dagger while you bite down on your pipe. You wonder if perhaps this adventuring thing won’t be all old Bilbo has cracked it up to be…
Adventures in Middle-earth is an entertaining addition to the D&D 5e open licence system, appending a great deal of Tolkien flavour onto an already solid RPG. The major changes here are the transformation of several classes to make them more Tolkien friendly, a corruption system, a diplomacy system, and the amazing journey system.
Character classes are restricted to the good side of things and their powers are curtailed somewhat, with spells being replaced by innate abilities. This is a Tolkien adventure and there are only five wizards after all. But players, whether they be a Lake Town Scholar or a Dwarven Slayer, each must contend with the shadows in their hearts. This manifests in Wisdom checks whenever something overly evil or troubling occurs to a player. Accrue enough shadow points and a failed ability test could result in a bout of madness or despair. It’s a neat system that simulates the growing hopelessness that plagues adventurers facing the shadows of Mordor, and makes the triumphs ever grander.
The audience system tries to inject some structure into D&D 5e’s vague social interaction systems. This system tries to get players to emulate some of the tense meetings found throughout Lord of the Rings. NPCs react based on their culture’s perception of the culture of the speaker, modified by wealth, reputation, and, of course, a Traditions check. Getting players more involved in the talking part of RPGs is always good in my books, but some may be put off by the structured nature of initial encounters.
The journey system is also worth noting as it takes a part generally skipped over in D&D and again adds some substance. It breaks long journeys into three parts, a planning phase, an adventuring phase, and an arrival phase. Players must plan, assign tasks, and gather supplies before setting out and dealing with challenges and opposition. A hexagonal map is essential here but most supplements come with at least one.
Adventures in Middle Earth tries hard to evoke the contained, ancient fantasy of Tolkien and succeeds fairly well. With a good group feeling the call of adventure and willing to be a bit restrained, it can make for a wonderful gaming experience. Try to snag a copy where you can as unfortunately the game was discontinued at the end of 2019. Far too soon for its own journey into the west.