Is Tolkien's work inaccessible?


I always find myself dreaming of a game which can enable to transport players inside the Silmarillion tales. After the glorious days of Merp (which, as far as I am concerned are not expired), Decipher rpg and finally The One Ring rpg I still wonder if the Silmarillion era would be playable using these systems.

I am doubtful that a fantasy rpg specifically tailored for playing the Silmarillion will ever be published; but to entertain myself I thought about what I would want from such a game, hence this post.

Firstly, regardless of who is undertaking this job, I will just offer some generic observations, which have nothing to do with play mechanics. I could call them “corollary observations”.

While i'm certainly not the highest authority on Tolkien on earth, - nonetheless – I know I have my credential to have the right to utter my position.

These are the kind of expectations I would have in ANY case, in fact they are the same I had had for “The One Ring” by Cubicle 7 when they announced they would publish their game.

These are the minimum requirements for me which are mandatory in order to write an rpg based on Tolkien's works.

The only thing I know for certain is that if someone commits himself to such an endeavour, he should put a lot of passion in it and the task would be a long-term one.

I surmise he is a profound admirer of Lotr and The Silmarillion, otherwise he would never have thought to do such a thing. I cannot imagine otherwise.
Such a thing must be taken seriously.

This is due to the unique flavor which permeates Tolkien's work.
This consideration alone should be enough to quiet us and cause many to desist.

The decision of embarking in such a quest entails at least three things:

  • Study the original sources. Not only “Lord of the Rings” and “The Silmarillion”, but each volume of “The History of Middle-Earth” as well edited by Tolkien's son.

This should take months and maybe years (unless you are one of those few persons who can confidently affirm to be already conversant with them up to the point you deem not necessary reading).
Quote paragraphs, trying to infer possible mechanics of play from passages in the books and the like.

  • Take into account works previously accomplished by others who tried the same. I mean, we cannot ignore what others wrote about this and similar-related topics before us (Decipher Lotr rpg, for example).
Even if we disagree with those works or we despise them entirely. A real scholar worthy of this name always delves into the publications available on the subject he is working on, however out-of-date, old, and incomplete they might appear.

  • Most importantly, being aware of the peculiar atmosphere surrounding Tolkien's works, which is quite different from Dungeons & Dragons. It is more important to preserve a tolkienian feeling rather than trying at all costs to emulate it with alien rule-sets.
What is risky here is the possibility of turning a tolkienian role-playing game into something unnatural.

To sum it up, it's not that I maintain that it is impossible to create an rpg based on Tolkien's “The Silmarillion”, but one can say that, as of today no one ever succedeed thoroughly and a satisfying tolkienian rpg of this kind doesn't still exist.
Therefore, any skepticism is well grounded.

Currently I don't have the energy and patience which would be required to help someone developing such a product (i'm not even sure I could be able to do it, frankly – though I studied for a great amount of time aspects of that book such as Magic in the past), so I will wait.

Good luck to anyone who dares.

1 comment:

fractalbat said...

It's a tough one and I've thought about the same thing.

I've also thought about systems that would be good for a game in Beleriand and the system with the most potential is GURPS 3rd edition using the Castle Falkanstein magic system. I think that would best capture the style of magic we see in the Silmarillion and GURPS is easy to scale for power levels.

I've never had time and energy to bump it up on my gamer bucket list, but I would love to hear about other thoughts on the matter.

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