Combating Isolation with virtual old-school RPGs

Combat Screen for Middle Earth Roleplaying

Rich Mckee has been our weekly GM for our Empire of the Petal Throne game for a while now, at least several months. Like the rest of us he’s dealing with isolation, working from home, and social distancing. Like the rest of us, he enjoys old school games from the 1980s and 1990s. One such was Middle Earth Roleplaying, a system that dates back to the mid 1980s, published by Iron Crown Enterprises, who had the license to publish RPG products until 1999. Rich had the idea to throw a MERP session due to his desire to play some of the older systems that are just riding his shelves these days. I have similar problems. I have played MERP maybe one time, back when the game was closely associated with its generic predecessor system from ICE, Arms Law. I don’t recall a lot about the game I played, other than it was GM’d by Steve Dolan and I played a “Losel”, or wild man from the woods. I rolled a lot of percentage dice. I was keen to give it a go. I thought ICE put a lot of work into the license when they owned it, and expanded the lore of the world, in an non-canonical way. If you were curious about the names of the Nazgul, MERP had them. If you wanted to know what happened to the other two Blue Istari, MERP provided an answer. I’m sure the Tolkien Estate could have cared less, but the material in the MERP modules were interesting additions to Tolkien lore, if not exactly sanctioned. So when Rich suggested a one off MERP session, I was very interested. It was so popular, we have had two sessions using for the mapping and die rolls. The first session used Roll20 entirely for the Audio as well as the screen sharing, but that was slow torture. We resolved the technical difficulties and went to the same system we use for Empire of the Petal throne, where the audio is handled through a Discord server and the PC handles Roll20. Tonight, it worked like a charm!

Tulip Mugwort (my character, I like Hobbits), Galdhil, Sindawe the Easterling, Bahrim the Dwarf, all gather around the corpse of a Troll they have slain.
As you can see, MERP might be a little more daunting than old school D&D.

In the game we were playing, the Steward of Gondor has called us in to seek for a book lost in the Dome of Stars library in the ruins of Osgilliath. This is Fourth Age Middle Earth, by the way, and a couple years after the events of the Lord of the Rings. Argaorn is on the throne, but greatly concerned with the Northern Kingdom, so he is offstage for this one. We played a group of loosely assembled adventurers who were willing to go into the Dome of Stars to go to the library vault. The ruins of Osgilliath are being held by Gondor on one side and the remnants of Sauron’s army on the other side (mostly Orcs and Trolls).

We had a fairly eventful infiltration by rowboat (which was beset by some form of sea monster on the way over), after meeting the local commander on the spot and helping him with his looting mercenary problems. We rowed out to the tower and climbed in from the outside. This was easy for me, being a sneaky hobbit burglar, but the wizard with us fell and broke his leg. Oh, bother!

Inside we met a couple of orcs and dispatched them, plus a sleeping troll who we swarmed and kept in a “Shocked” reaction state until we killed him deader than fried chicken. Today’s session, we actually managed to descend into the vaults where I picked a lock to the vault even though we had the key. We “rescued” some other loot from the chest up stairs and discovered that the weapons in the library were enchanted with protection from looting. I tried to pick up a likely looking short sword and got blown across the room. Steve’s character tried the same thing with a legendary flail item that kicked his butt.

We got out of the tower with what we came there for, a little disappointed that all that fine loot was going to be left behind. Encountering the local commander on the way out, our camp was beset by two undead warriors. This is what comes from looting tombs!

It’s been a fun ride. I remember MERP as being pretty hard to pick up, but I had no problems with it, really. Arms Law was very, very dense.. at least that’s how my 20 something mind reacted to it at the time, but I was used to Dungeons and Dragons. With Roll20 handling the character sheet stuff and the complex exploding dice rolls, it actually is running smoothly, now that we figured out the audio. I’m looking forward to playing again.


  1. Nice to see an old classic being tried again… I confess I sold my MERP ruleset for a hefty sum last year…

    did you ever play ‘Metamorphosis alpha’? It features in the latest Ben Aaronovitch ‘rivers of London’ novel…

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