Adventures in Middle Earth – First Impression.

It’s out!

I downloaded my electronic copy this evening. Just spent an hour scanning it. My first impression is this is a clever and well-executed adaptation of Middle Earth into the Wizards of the Coast d20 system. Highlights, etc.

D&D “Playable races” are translated into #MiddleEarth cultures. I can’t wait to roll up my first character, which will no doubt be a Rider of Rohan. Equipment lists are #Tolkien-appropriate, so lots of standard D&D items missing (though you could always bring some of it in if you wanted to.)

The add-on rules required to make a campaign world function the way Middle Earth does are well-thought out and seem intuitive. I’m talking about things like a point system to quantify the influence of the Shadow on mortal hearts & spirits.

At first blush, this is a setting for experienced players and Tolkien freaks. Novice players who are still learning the core rules might have trouble with some of the add-on rules unless they’re so new they can use only what they need from the D&D player’s handbook and focus on learning AME first.

D&D purists and magic junkies are not going to be happy in this setting for long, but any role-playing nerd with even a passing fondness for Tolkien should jump at the opportunity to try it out.

This supplement isn’t going to play or feel anything like your standard high magic, dungeon-crawl-of-the-week fantasy world because Middle Earth just isn’t like that. The campaign structure is entirely different than what most DMs I’ve seen do when they design their own adventures.

There are no spellslingers and no clerics with direct access to divine power unless the gamemaster allows core character classes to be brought in (and I’d discourage that because those are wrong for this setting). But warrior and rogue classes, and lots of abilities like Trackless Step and music-based magic, are incorporated seamlessly.

Worth a look if you can get into a game for free or know someone with the books. Not something to invest money in casually or out of curiosity without reading reviews, though. I bought it because I have friends interested in playing it, and so far I am pleased with the purchase.

Cubicle 7 Entertainment is going places.

I can’t wait for the print copies 🙂

The Lord of the Rings as History: Who is the Narrator?

I’m writing a long series on The Lord of the Rings for Part Time Monster. If you’d like to catch up on the series, I have an index page for it. I’m doing a close-reading analysis of the text, but rather than read it as a work of fiction and talk about things like narrative structure and characterization, I’m doing a little thought experiment with it. I’m reading it as a work of history.

Every part of Tolkien’s Middle Earth writings have specific authors in the continuity, and Tolkien himself wrote these stories as though he were translating a set of old books into English. This brings up an interesting, and important, question. Just who is the third person narrator of The Lord of the Rings? It’s complicated, and the short answer is: lots of people, many of whom weren’t even alive when the events of the story take place.

The thing you need to understand about it, first and foremost, is that it is written from the perspective of Hobbits. The Wiki description doesn’t quite one_ring_by_lucasmtcapture the nuances, but it gets the chain of authorship correct. The big Wiki’s description contains more details. We’d need to really dig into Tolkien’s drafts to be more specific than this, but here is how I understand the narrative history of LOTR.

  1. Bilbo writes original version of The Hobbit as a memoir.
  2. Bilbo later writes down a lot of material related to the War of the Ring, much of it while the war is going on.
  3. After the defeat of Sauron, Bilbo gives Frodo the book. Frodo organizes it and adds a lot of material of his own, but the poems and things that are obviously translated from the Elvish or taken from deep lore are redbookBilbo’s.
  4. When Frodo sails into the West, he entrusts the book to Samwise, who makes further alterations and eventually leaves it in the possession of his daughter Elanor. That is the the last we see of the original book, and it is not preserved.
  5. Copies are made before the original is lost, the first at the behest of King Elessar (Aragorn). It is annotated and corrected (this is where most of the info in the appendices come from). Faramir writes the tale of Aragorn and Arwen that tells their endings. At some point, the descendants of Merry and Pippin have it copied and archived.
  6. And this is important – from there it survives, in the original languages, to Tolkien’s day. He translates it somehow. So, Middle Earth is not some alternate universe. The story of LOTR is something that happened in our very own world in prehistoric times, which makes it even more surreal than it would be if it were set in another world entirely. Logically speaking, Proto-Indo-European must be descended from Tolkien’s constructed languages. That is a delicious claim for a fiction writer to make, especially when they pull it off.

This is all stuff to keep in mind, as we discuss Gollum, Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam. The Lord of the Rings was written by Hobbits, filtered by scholars of Gondor, re-copied by Hobbits as a cultural artifact, then finally translated thousands of years later by Tolkien.

(This is a revised version of a section of The Death of Isildur. Posted today because I need to be able to refer to this info without linking to that longer post in the future.)

Credits: Ring Image by lucasmt/DeviantArt Red Book image by Criatura del Bosque/flickr