Middle-earth Role Playing

Middle-earth Role Playing
Middle-earth Role Playing
MERP rulebook cover, 1st edition
Designer(s) Coleman Charlton
Publisher(s) Iron Crown Enterprises
Publication date 1984 (1st edition)
Genre(s) Fantasy
System(s) Rolemaster System
MERP uses 2 ten-sided dice

Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP) is a 1984 role-playing game based on the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien (specifically The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) under license from Tolkien Enterprises. Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.) published the game until they lost the license on 22 Sep 1999.[1]



The setting for MERP is an expanded version of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. Published campaign sourcebooks are usually set either around the year 1600 of the Third Age, or just after the War of the Ring. Therefore, MERP represents an interpretation of Middle-earth that does not directly involve the players in the continuity of Tolkien's published works. Several of the campaign modules depict lands to the east and south of the lands described by Tolkien, and I.C.E. may be seen as having created an original setting, inspired by and including several elements of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion.[citation needed]


The rules system of the game is a streamlined version of I.C.E.'s generic fantasy RPG, Rolemaster.

Characters possess Attributes and Skills rated between 0 and 100. Skills can be modified to a rating above or below these limits (i.e. under 0 or over 100). An attack roll consists of a percentile roll, to which the attacker's skill rating and appropriate attribute rating are added and the defender's dodge rating is subtracted. The result is compared to the defender's armor type and looked up on a table to determine success or failure. A separate critical table is used if the initial chart result called for it.

Spell casters learn lists of ten spells as a unit. Each of the spells is based on a theme (e.g. Healing spells.)

Critical reaction

MERP was generally well received, although not recommended for beginners.[2] Some commentators disliked how the system handled magic. In Tolkien's books, magic is a rare, subtle force only used by a few powerful characters, whereas in MERP magic (from healing to throwing thunderbolts) was possible for nearly any Player Character. This lack of continuity with the source material was seen to upset the game's authenticity.[3] However, in many early reviews the game play was described as being true to the spirit of Tolkien's work and a pleasure to play.[4] Others enjoyed the detail of the maps and praised many of the early adventures.[citation needed] The game's early editions were later printed in many countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Spain and France.


I.C.E. published a First and a Second Edition of the MERP ruleset, along with many adventure and campaign modules, until Tolkien Enterprises revoked the license for games based on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in 1999. I.C.E. subsequently declared bankruptcy in 2000.

A related quarterly magazine, Other Hands Magazine supporting the MERP community, was also sent a cease and desist by Tolkien Enterprises, and ceased publication in 2001. A magazine named Other Minds Magazine (named in recognition of the previous Other Hands quarterly, both in reference to a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien's Letters[5]) began publication in 2007, it also supports the role-playing community using ICE's MERP, Decipher's LotR, and other Tolkien-centric role playing games.

In 1991-1993, I.C.E. also published the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game. It used a much simpler system than MERP and was intended to introduce new players to role-playing.

A UK edition was published by Games Workshop in 1985. It featured the First Edition rules, with new box and booklet art by Chris Achilleos, along with 25mm floorplans for the sample adventure.

In Sweden a translated version called Sagan om Ringen: Rollspelet was released in 1986 by Target Games, followed by several translated modules, but it never became popular, possibly because most fans of the setting already had bought the U.S. version and others preferred the popular Drakar och Demoner.[original research?]

A Finnish language edition (Keski-Maa Roolipeli or KERP) was published in 1990 and the game became one of the most popular fantasy role playing games in Finland.[citation needed]

A subsequent Middle-earth based RPG, the Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game (often abbreviated by the Tolkien role-playing community as Dec LotR or just LotR), was published by Decipher Inc. Except for the original source material, (and some of the same authors) the Decipher game shares no link to ICE's MERP and uses an entirely different rules system. Decipher chose not to renew the Tolkien license and let it expire in 2007.

In the Summer of 2005 a new annual convention began known as Merpcon (Middle-earth Role Playing Convention). It initially used exclusively the ICE MERP and ICE Rolemaster role playing game systems, but has since expanded to include other Tolkien-centric game systems.


  1. ^ merp.com
  2. ^ Sutherland, Jonathan (February 1984). "Open Box: Lord of the Rings" (review). White Dwarf (Games Workshop) (50): 12–13. 
  3. ^ Staplehurst, Graham The Road Goes Ever On: Inside Middle Earth Role-Playing, White Dwarf 66, June 1985 pp.12-13
  4. ^ Vasey, Charles (February 1984). "Counterpoint: Fellowship of the Ring" (review). White Dwarf (Games Workshop) (50): 33. 
  5. ^ John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, from a letter written to Milton Waldman, ca. 1951

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