Five Things I Want To See In The Lord Of The Rings Middle Earth Setting Being Developed for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition
Let’s make this clear: I love Lord of the Rings (LOTR). Hearing that a game is in development that would allow my friends and I put ourselves into a world we’ve largely committed to memory, makes me giddy with joy. And so, as a fan of LOTR and D&D 5th edition, I want to posit 5 things I would like to see in the latest RPG rendition of Middle Earth.
1. No common language
It wouldn’t be Tolkien without well-developed languages helping to define the cultures and territories in Middle Earth. Do us gamers a favor, give homage to Tolkien, and remove the “common” default language that everyone speaks, and give us language barriers. I think we’re strong enough to tackle this challenge. It will be difficult for players and DM’s at first, but having everyone speaking their own tongue (and maybe a few others that they learn) makes for excellent role-playing development.
To help those who find language barriers difficult, the game could include a feat/class in the game to address this. I imagine something like “linguist”, which would enable them to decipher foreign tongues, would fit the bill. Language barriers would be important obstacles to overcome as adventurers travel to new lands- especially if they go to the East (see below).
2.. Corruption Mechanic
Nothing besides language brings Tolkien’s epic to life as much as having corruption affect the players. There could be charts, abilities and rules to govern this. I think it would be similar in effect to Ravenloft’s “dark powers” checks, which players have to make a roll every time a character does something “evil”. It would be wise to include in Middle Earth an external force affecting characters and their alignments and dedication to good or evil. These forces could be hidden in powerful artifacts or in cursed places such as Utummo, or other mysterious forces.
The acquisition of power can be intoxicating and the whispers of evil make enticing offers to all races. This mechanic would call for be a saving throw to be made in order to resist sinister inclinations. The more powerful your character becomes, the more forces of corruption seek to control them, and therefore saving throws become more difficult. Or what if you had to make a saving throw every time you leveled up? Scary? It should be!
3. Set it in post “War of the Ring” time
Don’t set this game up to be at the time of the “War of the Ring”. It’s been done many times, and I don’t want my adventure to just be a sideshow to the real thing. It is said that the age of magic ended with the War of the Ring. Therefore, if the game is set post-war, there would be no magic at all (at least how Gandalf and the council envisioned it).
Post war would be the most interesting, having the players rebuild a world that’s been ravaged by war. Having a power void left by the departing Maiar, with the possible exception of a undiscovered Balrog or two (I say undiscovered because there is no way that Gandalf would leave knowing that a Balrog was still out there), and determining which groups and creatures fill that void lends itself to excellent fantasy. You give acknowledgment to the seminal work already done, but still forge ahead on new and unique adventures, leaving that melted ring behind you.
4.Make it a Low Magic World
Those who wield magic in LOTR are demi-gods. There are none like Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, and two mysterious blue wizards who went to the East before the War of the Ring. Likewise, Balrogs would be awesome villains for adventurers to face- but it would be the pinnacle of their experience. Defeating a Balrog is like defeating “Evil Gandlaf, because Balrogs, like Gandalf, are one of the Maiar: the angelic/demonic creatures of Middle Earth.
That’s not to say there isn’t a place for having blue or green wizards in the game- they could be interesting plot points, or give quests in visions. But they would be far too powerful as NPC’s to be engaging in combat. Think about Gandalf- we rarely see him fighting- its usually manipulation of world events and influencing others (like Bilbo, Sam, or the Dwarves) to do things for good. Granted the movies take liberties with special effects, lazers and light shows, but really, the books tell us about most of Gandalf’s magic use anecdotally. Sorry magic fans, I think that to stay true to the books, magic needs to be extremely rare, and since we are (hopefully) playing after the War of the Ring, Gandalf himself said that the “time of magic has ended”. Let’s respect the council’s decision.
5.Travel East (Harad, Far Harad, Rhun, Khand, Fortress Utumno)
The East contains lands that we don’t really know much about, and therefore, they have the most potential for fresh ideas and world creation. Four of the Dwarven Kingdoms were there, as were the lost elves, Avari and Umanya. That just tickles the imagination, doesn’t it? These lands were also the first kingdoms of men to ally themselves with Mordor. Sauron had many agents in the kingdoms of the East: Harad, Far Harad, Khand and Rhun. There is also the Fortress Utummo, a stronghold of evil, which could hide ancient powers...
Since the defeat of Sauron, the agents of darkness have likely gone underground. However, they would likely have the same evil desires still burning in them. Perhaps they are forming counterculture movements, seeking to control the cities and people, or bring back the reign of evil.
Lets not forget here the tragedy of the missing Entwives. Somehow, the Ents don’t know where they are. Wouldn’t it be awesome to go on a mission to find the Entwives (perhaps in the East)? Quests such as this would be an outstanding way to bring the works of Tolkien to life. Perhaps the Entwives have been <shudder> killed in the East, or perhaps they too lament losing the Ents, and are searching. The players can have the potential to save an entire species from extinction!
The point is, if you want to make a great, fresh-feeling and exciting take on the Lord of the Rings, give the players a sense of power by having them involved in a changing world. Language, low magic, and a corruption mechanic will keep you true to the source material, while travelling to the East, and setting it in post War of the Ring time enables creative world building and a fresh fantasy world for LOTR fans to enjoy.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.