IX. And so, after WotC took a pass, the Tolkien license went to Decipher, who in 2002 produced their own LORD OF THE RINGS ROLEPLAYING GAME. Then in June/July 2001 I was caught up in the latest round of layoffs and left Wizards of the Coast. Before the day was out, I had a verbal agreement with the folks at Decipher, where most of Christian's Last Unicorn team had gone after leaving WotC at the time of the previous layoff, to work on their Tolkien rpg. My contribution was to write descriptions of the game world; hence the first section of the main rulebook, "There and Back Again: The Realms of Middle-Earth" is mainly my work (material which was re-used in booklet form as the text in the MAPS OF MIDDLE-EARTH boxed set ).
Once again rather than create a rules system to match Tolkien's world, Decipher decided to use their pre-existing house system (the CODA System), created for their Star Trek game, for their new LotR game. Given that their license came directly through New Line, they were not only able to use the era and characters from The Lord of the Rings (i.e., the end of the Third Age), but their books were chock-full of movie art, most illustrations being stills from the films. Unfortunately, since they were dependent on the films and, like many media licensing deals, had an onorous approval process to go through, their releases sadly lagged behind the films themselves: for example, their MORIA boxed set, which shd ideally have come out around the end of 2001 or early 2002, didn't see release until 2003; their Rohan sourcebook, which I wrote roughly half of, never came out at all. It soon became clear that Decipher's main interest lay, not unreasonably, in the real money-maker, their LotR collectable card game, and the roleplaying game languished. Eventually (June 30th 2007, according to Wikipedia, the Source of All Knowledge) their license expired, with the result that currently there is NO Tolkien roleplaying game being published, a situation unprecedented since the early 1980s.
X. And so, here we are. The license is currently in abeyance, awaiting re-licensing for the forthcoming HOBBIT movie(s). There will no doubt be yet another Tolkien rpg in a few years' time, but if history is any guide it will probably appear from a second-tier publisher and make a relatively minor splash, being more collected and read than played. Most Tolkien fans will continue to get their gaming fix through homebrew campaigns or tweaks to their favorite game system --most recently d20/3.5/Open Gaming, now no doubt soon to shift towards 4th edition D&D/GSL, given its solution to the longstanding 'cleric-less adventuring' problem. Just as attention has shifted over time from Tolkien boardgames (SPI in the late '70s) to rpgs (ICE in the '80s and '90s, Decipher in the new century) to collectable card games (ibid), so now MMOs rule the roost, like Turbine's The Lord of the Rings Online [2007ff]), and it is here that the bulk of attention will focus next time around.Nt6 It also seems likely that such efforts will be tied more closely to the films than Tolkien's books; certainly THE SILMARILLION, UNFINISHED TALES, et al. will play no significant role.
But, just as Decipher released a roleplaying game as well as a ccg, we will almost certainly get not just new LotR computer games but also yet another new rpg (with yet another new rules system), a new ccg, a new collectable miniatures game, &c. In the meantime, we have fan-based efforts such as Other Hands, Other Minds, and, more recently, MERPCon's EÄ Project, whereby those who combine a love for JRR Tolkien's work with a love for gaming create their own rules in order to enjoy their own versions of Tolkien gaming.
--John D. Rateliff, July/August 2008.
Note 1. As collaborating evidence of this obvious fact, cf. the second sentence of the first paragraph of the 'Fantasy Supplement' to CHAINMAIL, the miniatures rules system that preceded Dungeons & Dragons and directly gave rise to it:
"Most of the fantastic battles related in novels more closely resemble medieval warfare than they do earlier or later forms of combat. Because of this we are including a brief set of rules [i.e., the 'Fantasy Supplement'] which will allow the medieval miniatures wargamer to add a new facet to his hobby, and either refight the epic struggles related by J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, and other fantasy writers; or you can devise your own 'world,' and conduct fantastic campaigns and conflicts based on it. (emphasis mine*)
*my citation comes from page 28 of the third edition of CHAINMAIL ; my thanks to Scott Riddick and all at www.acaeum.com for confirmation of the fact that this sentence reads the same in the earliest printings.
Note 2. Or, in the special case of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar tales, a double-hero who can trade off taking center stage and act as each other's sidekicks at need.
Note 3. This is a reference to the Nazgul being the original wraiths in CHAINMAIL; in the first and second editions of that work, the entry on Wraiths read "WRAITHS (Nazgul, etc.):". I am grateful to Scott Riddick at The Acaeum, the D&D game collector's site, for helping me confirm this information.
Note 4. Compare the unattributed illustration of a dragon pursued by a knight in the CHAINMAIL booklet with Pauline Baynes' illustration of Farmer Giles pursuing Chrysophylax Dives in Farmer Giles of Ham (page 44, third edition ). The CHAINMAIL illustration† is clearly redrawn, almost traced, from Baynes' work, the main difference being the farmer's replacement by an armored knight.
†This appears on page 37 of the third edition of CHAINMAIL, but I am told it appeared on the first page (page 33) of the Fantasy Supplement in CHAINMAIL 's first edition. My thanks to Allan Grohe, Scott Riddick, and all at the acaeum D&D collectors' forum for this information.
Note 5. They released a new entry-level game every year from 1991 to 1996, only the first of which could be considered a success.
Note 6. Kristen Thompson reports that the computer games based on the three Jackson films made about a billion dollars per film. (THE FRODO FRANCHISE, page 9).
My thanks to the many who helped me in my research of specific details for this piece, including Bruce Leonard, Allan Grohe, Scott Riddick and all at acaeum.com (cf. www.acaeum.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=7342), Wayne Hammond & Christina Scull, Shelly Baur, Angus Abranson, Jeremy Edmonds, David Pulver, Roderick Robertson, and Dave Watry of www.freeweb.com/tolkienboardgamecollecting. And my thanks to Hawke Robinson, the organizer of MERPcon, for inviting me to give this year's Guest of Honor speech.
fifty years ago next week
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