I used some of my ill-gotten gains from a few products on the DM’s Guild to purchase the PDF of the Adventures in Middle Earth Players Guide.
This is not a playtest review, just a review of content. I hope to play sometime, but wanted to talk about my impressions of the book.
I heard many good things about the project post GenCon, so in preparation to purchasing the book I reread The Hobbit and Fellowship of the Rings. I am not a huge Tolkien fan, but I have enjoyed the books ( a few different times) and the movies.
No waiting for a conclusion – I really liked this book (not quite done yet) and encourage you to go out and get the pdf. Reading this book feels like finding an old comfortable jacket in the back of the closet and then finding a $5 bill in one of the pockets. It’s familiar and comfortable, with a few hidden gems.
The setting for the book is the area from The Hobbit, and the beginning of The Fellowship. The timeframe is the time between the Hobbit and the Fellowship. Explaining the timeframe upfront is the most important thing for me. Messing with cannon is always tricky and one of the hardest things for any setting that has unique main characters and events – like Lord of the Rings. I love the sense of adventure that this timeframe and setting allows. it is a combination of optimism for the region after the demise of Smaug, and pessimism for the player knowing that Sauron is coming.
Art and Layout
The art is exceptional. It’s everywhere. So many full and half page pieces. For many of them they appear to be dream-like photographs. I thought that they might be front loaded, but the farther I get into the book, it doesn’t stop.
I am primarily reading on my iPad, and the version specifically for the iPad is nicely formatted (I’m using GoodReader) with little strain for the text or scrolling back and forth per page. The text stands out from the background well and the two column format fits on a page with ease in portrait mode.
The Contents are not hyperlinked (may be fixed in an update?), but does a good job of directing you through sections/chapters by providing a quick description of each chapter.
The general progression through the book is similar to the Player Handbook (not officially required for play, but very helpful).
Character Classes and Cultures
Having the cultures first is important because it adds to the flavor of the game. There are so many groups and divisions among the humans that are not fleshed out in the books, like the Beornings and Woodmen of Wilderland, that need more of an explanation. I also appreciate the lists of names and bonus equipment. Bits of background like this help me mesh with the style the game expects.
The Cultures of the Dwarves, Hobbits, and Elves remind me of the Races from the PHB. Makes sense based on the framework of the game. Some ideas are provided for having non-human adventurers, but it feels like a stretch to have non-humans leave their own communities.
Looking at the Classes the first thing you notice is a lack of magic. None of the arcane magic classes are represented. The Scholar has access to some healing, but even that feels very restricted.
Also missing are knights and paladins. The Culture for Minas Tirith provides some of that, and the Warrior class allows heavy armor, but it doesn’t really seem to fit into the stories of Tolkien for this timeframe. Perhaps this is just a personal expectation trying to fit into Middle Earth.
One last thing is the disparity between male and female characters. I know that I can create any character I want, but looking at the list of names for each culture, the ratio of examples is about 8 to 1 Male vs Female names. Yes, this is a “feature” of Tolkien and his times, but the latest version of Dungeons and Dragons put serious effort into removing any differences between the sexes and I think that could have been worked into this product a little more.
The list of Backgrounds reads like a list of characters. It feels like each character from the books has their own background, especially the characters from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’ll talk more about this in a future review, but I love that each background includes a darker side or specific weakness for the shadow. Besides this, most of the pieces of backgrounds are easily recognizable from the PHB.
In the next part of my review I’ll talk about some of the mechanics that differentiate Middle Earth from “standard” DnD.
Return to the Tyranny
Picked up the Rise of Tiamat game this week after a few months off. PCs had a lot of information from the last session, and decided to start by talking with the dead aide. They learned he was killed by the mysterious Bruce, that he was killed by the dragons, and that he was a student of the dead husband of the new Open Lord of Waterdeep Lady Silverhand. The last piece of information was a warning of an approaching green dragon. The party rushed to the top of the council building, a tower with a commanding view of the city, and started looking for the dragon.
A couple of interesting ideas about using a ballista and light spells to find the dragon were put forward, but before they could be carried out, one of the guards revealed himself as a Dragon Cultist and summoned some Yugoloths and the battle was on.
The PCs were victorious only after banishing the Nycaloth and re-negotiating with the Mezzoloths.
Next comes the Second council of Waterdeep and the continuing search for Bruce.