Bree-Land Region Guide: A Review
  • Bree-Land Region Guide: A Review


    In the Lord of the Rings the quaint little town of Bree marked the place where a dangerous journey grew into a true adventure. Now, with the Bree-Land Region Guide it can easily play the same role for the Adventures in Middle-Earth, framing the party’s first few steps from humdrum civilisation into dangerous wilds.


    While the setting book is probably most useful for low-level heroes, however, that doesn’t mean that things are easy. Bree may lack the mighty lords and sweeping battles found elsewhere in the setting, but it does an incredible job of blurring the mundane and fantastical in a style that is both thrilling and frustrating – though in a good way.

    The reason for this oddly charming irritation is woven through the first half of the Bree-Land Region Guide, which is dedicated to laying out the various places and people found in the area. It’s a quiet stretch of woods and fields, home to the Prancing Pony inn and a handful of small villages whose inhabitants usually come across as a kind of medieval homeowners’ association, more concerned with outsiders stealing chickens than distant orc legions.

    Indeed, parties will often find that the most challenging parts of their adventures revolve around convincing local leaders that the threats on their borders are actually real. If you were playing a game of regular D&D this kind of reaction would probably get annoying ten minutes into the first session, but when set against the low-magic background of Middle-Earth it fits wonderfully.

    Dealing with tricksy and suspicious locals is a prevailing theme throughout the second half of the book too. It lays out a trio of inter-linked adventures that can either be run alone or woven into a short campaign that should get the players from level one to level five.

    The first of these – bearing the gruesome title of Old Bones and Skin - is a delightfully Tolkien-esque mix of magical maps, ancient treasures and terrible monsters. It takes the bold move of having the players’ first likely foe come in the form of an ancient, cunning troll that could probably destroy the low-level party in an open combat. This forces them to think on their feet and look for options beyond brute force.

    Careful planning and the use of wits over weapons also play and important role in the second adventure, in which the party launch a murder investigation and get tangled up with a magical ring. Running free-form investigations in RPGs can always be a tricky prospect, however, and it’s very easy for this one to get messy.

    Information about the suspects covers a half-dozen pages, several vital clues are likely to come from them overhearing the DM talking to themselves and, as it’s written, the text assumes that the party is much more passive and cautious than most tables I’ve met. The ideas are solid, but the adventure is hard to recommend whole-heartedly.

    But does that apply to the book as a whole? Well, in all honesty the Bree-Land Region Guide can be a hard sell if you’re already deep in a campaign and looking to for places to send adventurers. At the same time, the patronising, parochial approach of the Bree-folk can also be a bit of an acquired taste, especially if you’re after a more traditional high-fantasy vibe.

    However, if you’ve yet to start off a campaign of Adventures in Middle-Earth and want somewhere to get players rolling, or if you simply want to add some depth to your world the it’s is a great purchase. More than that, it really does occupy a wonderful niche that typifies the peaceful slices of homely life that Tolkien loved to include in his creations. It reminds us that heroes aren’t just found in grand halls, and that quiet cottages and neat little hobbit-holes are worth protecting just as much as any castle.

    This article was contributed by Richard Jansen-Parkes (Winghorn) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
    Comments 33 Comments
    1. JPL's Avatar
      JPL -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      A bit OT but I would strongly recommend Prince Valiant. I know Greg Stafford thought of Pendragon as his masterpiece, but personally I think Prince Valiant has all the virtues of Pendragon (ie Arthurian themes, jousts, courtship, etc) but a better system.

      It could probably work for Middle Earth also, now I think about it.
      I have a copy. Haven't dug in too much, but that art is just glorious, that's for sure.

      Prince Valiant seems like a better RPG environment than Pendragon, in some respects. The strip itself is episodic and timeless --- Val will always keep having adventures in the prime years of Camelot, and Arthur will never be slain, and Camelot will never fall. The presumption in Pendragon seems that the clock is ticking, and the world is changing, and maybe the PCs can have some level of participation in those events.

      From one perspective, Val is a brilliant example of how you can adapt an existing property to focus on a canon-immigrant original character. He literally has a seat at the table with all the heroes of the canon, and is every bit their peer, but he goes off and does his own thing and has his own adventures.
    1. JPL's Avatar
      JPL -
      I wonder if "Rogue One" is worth studying for AIME purposes. Get some distinctive characters who are not too obviously analogues for the canon heroes. Give at least some of them their own agendas that tie them into the setting and the overall storyline. Figure out that one critical thing they have to do to keep the whole storyline from falling apart --- the LOTR equivalent of stealing the Death Star plans.
    1. mykesfree's Avatar
      mykesfree -
      Quote Originally Posted by oriaxx77 View Post
      Lotr is an apocalyptic, low magic setting where you play in a darkening world where a dark god will eventually enslave you.
      You fight to have moments in the light and you know that you cannot win. You cannot play it like any other kind of D&D (Ravenloft included) because you do not have that kind of high magic. You need to deal with people and make connections in the game.
      It is one of the darkest setting I ever played in. Almost every race suspicious to each other, you cannot trust strangers, demons of the past will take you soul etc... You cannot play it like Forgotten Realms where you have magic and orc waiters etc..
      And one more thing, the characters know very little about middle earth. This will give the DM a lot of freedom. E.g. you can play the Kingdom of Ghouls Lotr style etc...
      100% agree with this up above. This is a horror game that D&D can be. Plus it makes use of the inspiration system much better than D&D. Also when you play the game, you see how much of euqalizer a Fireball spell is. There are very few area of effect attacks, so Orcs stay threatening even at highlevels. In this way it is very much like the novels. One or two orcs are not bad, but 10 to 20 orcs will start to over run a party.
    1. Jer's Avatar
      Jer -
      Quote Originally Posted by oriaxx77 View Post
      Lotr is an apocalyptic, low magic setting where you play in a darkening world where a dark god will eventually enslave you.
      You fight to have moments in the light and you know that you cannot win. You cannot play it like any other kind of D&D (Ravenloft included) because you do not have that kind of high magic. You need to deal with people and make connections in the game.
      It is one of the darkest setting I ever played in. Almost every race suspicious to each other, you cannot trust strangers, demons of the past will take you soul etc... You cannot play it like Forgotten Realms where you have magic and orc waiters etc..
      And one more thing, the characters know very little about middle earth. This will give the DM a lot of freedom. E.g. you can play the Kingdom of Ghouls Lotr style etc...
      There end up being a number of problems with this, though:

      * If you want to play in the actual history of Middle Earth, your characters can never do anything about the dark god that wants to enslave you all. Because we all know how that story turns out. Also we all know that the dark god eventually gets defeated, by someone else. This can make playing in that world feel somewhat pointless to a lot of players.
      * Almost nobody views "The Hobbit" as a horror novel. It just isn't - it's an adventure story for children. Arguments can be made that the trilogy, which skews to an older audience, has horror elements to it, but the game is set in the period "in between" The Hobbit and the trilogy, and so the expectations kind of bounce back and forth between "fun adventure" and "dark portents". And the trilogy, while dark, have characters who are actively doing something to fight against the horror at its source and so it has a less oppressive feel than what you're describing above, so players will come to the game with one expectation (a feel like the books or the movie) and get something else. (Something which I agree is interesting, but not likely what my players who say "sure I want to play in Middle Earth" have in mind when we talk about a game set there).
      * And while the characters know very little about Middle Earth, it has the "problem" a lot of licensed properties have, which is that it attracts the kind of players who know a lot about Middle Earth. And that can lead to DM paralysis as the DM tries to figure out if their adventure that is set in 2948 conflicts with anything in the timeline, or worse, DMs and players who have conflicting ideas of what it means to game in Middle Earth and how faithful you have to be to the adaptation.

      I can see how this would be hard to juggle. Personally I don't like constraining myself as a DM that much - even when I run a published setting like FR I tell the players "we're using [insert FR rulebook of your choice] as a jumping off point, but ignore literally everything else about the setting because we're not tying ourselves to the canon like that". I don't think I could run a Middle Earth game, even though I love the idea and I like what C7 has done with the rules, because I would be so torn between trying to keep the world faithful to the vision from the novels and my more natural impulse acquired over years of running games to let the game just go where it takes us as we play, which very likely would be something completely unfaithful to the novels. That tension would drive me nuts.
    1. mykesfree's Avatar
      mykesfree -
      The cool thing about the Bree book is that it is so removed from Mordor, but still has the general Middle-earth feel. I think it would give you a lot of the freedom you are looking for. Also for as detailed as we think Middle Earth is, there is really not that much known. The world is apocalyptic and spread out with pockets of civilization. Just go for it and see how it goes.
    1. Paragon Lost's Avatar
      Paragon Lost -
      Quote Originally Posted by KentDT View Post
      I pre-ordered and just received the physical copy in Japan last week. I'd imagine that if you oder it direct from them, it's in stock now and can be sent right away. Their web-site tends to be a little out of date.
      Thanks, that's a good sign. I honestly just use Amazon because their website is pretty lacking.
    1. Tyler Do'Urden -
      I love the Middle Earth rules, but I don't think I'd ever run the setting. I have thought about scratching the serial numbers off of much of the material, though, and building my own setting with many of the rules and some of the flavor (as well as a low-powered spellcaster class and an artificer class).
    1. CubicsRube's Avatar
      CubicsRube -
      I don't think it's really been brought up here, but the game focuses on the 30 year gap between the hobbit and lord of the rings. That's plenty of time for all sorts of things to go on in a campaign without having to worry about "the big finale".

      The systen is otherwise perfectly serviceable outside of these times, you'll just have to adapt your own source material.

      It is a low fantasy variant, and to enjoy it you have to appreciate your characters might die on a dangerous journey, or maybe the local lord will refuse to see them.

      But with it's use of downtime activities and corruption, it has great campaign level actions baked into the system I love.
    1. 5atbu's Avatar
      5atbu -
      Tolkien believed and stated that stories are there to be adopted, adapted and retold.

      So, it's cool to say:

      "This is our Middle Earth, we are starting at X but in this parallel, nothing is predetermined. Oh, and cousin Frodo just got killed by a dark Rider on the Bree Road.."

      I bet JRR would have *loved* RPGs
    1. Paragon Lost's Avatar
      Paragon Lost -
      Quote Originally Posted by 5atbu View Post
      Tolkien believed and stated that stories are there to be adopted, adapted and retold.

      So, it's cool to say:

      "This is our Middle Earth, we are starting at X but in this parallel, nothing is predetermined. Oh, and cousin Frodo just got killed by a dark Rider on the Bree Road.."

      I bet JRR would have *loved* RPGs
      This, exactly this. I'd been debating with myself for a few days on posting something like this. Thank you for doing so.

      p.s: I also hit the wrong button and meant to give exp for the post. Ah well.
    1. S'mon -
      Quote Originally Posted by LuisCarlos17f View Post
      LotR is a jewel, a master work of the fantasy, but as RPG is a world too closed to can add new things, and I like to mix thing from different sources.
      Tolkien himself just threw in all kinds of random monsters, like the tentacle critter outside Moria or the rock-throwing giants in the mountains. I think a genuinely Tolkienesque game would do the same. Instead we all fixate on just reproducing slavishly what was in the books.
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
      Tolkien himself just threw in all kinds of random monsters, like the tentacle critter outside Moria or the rock-throwing giants in the mountains. I think a genuinely Tolkienesque game would do the same. Instead we all fixate on just reproducing slavishly what was in the books.
      Karaoke RPGing! There's a lot of it going around.
    1. Arilyn's Avatar
      Arilyn -
      Quote Originally Posted by S'mon View Post
      Tolkien himself just threw in all kinds of random monsters, like the tentacle critter outside Moria or the rock-throwing giants in the mountains. I think a genuinely Tolkienesque game would do the same. Instead we all fixate on just reproducing slavishly what was in the books.
      Yes, I agree. Tolkien was always tinkering with Middle Earth, which resulted in some inconsistencies, and it doesn't matter. As a game, we can add things, play around with events, and it can still feel like Middle Earth.

      There's room for more heroes, other than the ones from the books. Never tried AiME, but have a lot of enjoyment from The One Ring. Great game.
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