Capturing the "feel" of Tolkien.

Reynard

Legend
NOTE: This thread isn't specifically about Middle Earth/Lord of the Rings RPGs, licensed, fan created or otherwise. it is about emulating the feel of high fantasy as exemplified but Lord of the Rings and, to a lesser extent, The Hobbit.

The full Lord of the Ring trilogy was recently on sale at Audible (the narrated, unabridged versions, not the dramatized versions) and so I have started listening. Not only am I reminded how much I love Tolkien's prose and world building (yes, I know some people don't, but this really isn't the thread for that discussion) I am reminded how much I want to be able to emulate the feel of Tolkien's work in an RPG and have had, at best, fleeting success doing so. By "feel" I mean the tone of the work that balances the mundane, the wondrous, and the horrific all at once; the sense of a deep history reaching up to produce the drama of the Now; the archetypes and ideals that yet hold on to humanity and even grittiness to some extent; and, most of all, the tug-of-war between hope and despair.

I can get some of those sometimes, but never all of them in a single game. I am not sure it is even possible in a game because the GM is not the author as such, but I do strive for it. The closest I have ever gotten is during the sequel D&D 3.x campaign to a highly successful 2E campaign, where the PCs were the children of PCs from the previous campaign (largely the same player group) and all the history, both background and played, really mattered. It was really wonderful, and I don't expect i will ever feel that way about a game again.

If you look at Tolkien's work and see it as a thing you would want to emulate in play, have you ever managed it? Did it require a ME/LotR game or campaign? What elements were hard? Which seemed to come easily? What do you think makes game "feel" like Tolkien?
 
One of the things that makes Tolkien feel like Tolkien to me is the pretty seamless way the history and lore of Middle Earth wrap themselves around and through the narrative. Legends, songs and lore are important in LotR. You can practically taste the antiquity. Another important element is one that at least partially comes from the sagas Tolkien loved so much - the story is about deeds, not so much plot. The choices of the characters drive the important action in a very old-school heroic kind of way. If you asked me right now, I'd probably use either Burning Wheel or Dungeon World to run a LotR feeling campaign.
 

Jacob Lewis

The One with the Force
I highly recommend trying The One Ring for that Tolkeinesque feel, and to a lesser extent, Adventures in Middle-Earth for 5e. Both do an amicable job of capturing the emotion and conflict of that world. The latter does a fair job of porting over many of the thematic elements, but conventional trappings of a level-based, combat-centric game like D&D somehow cheapens the experience when compared to the original game system.

TOR, on the other hand, makes use of unique mechanics built from the ground up and thematically tied into the world itself. I mean, what can be more dreadful than seeing the eye of Sauron show up on the die face to show how things just got worse?

More importantly, and closer on point with this topic, is the element of fear and despair in the form of Shadow. In D&D, its all about hit points and super-heroics. But Shadow represents the emotional toll of the characters as they succumb to the growing threat and corruption that the forces of Sauron (Evil) represent (i.e. the greed of the dwarves, the desire for power of men, etc.). That, I believe, is what stands apart between RPGs and stories, like Tolkien's work.

The real trick is finding players who are willing to portray characters as flawed, vulnerable, or otherwise imperfect. In other words, like a real human being.
 

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
I feel the style of Tokien world has got some pieces of of nostalgia, sadness and tragedy, beatiful but bittersweet. In his work there is showed scars within the soul only war veterans can understand. Tolkien hero isn't Superman either a knight with a shinning armour, but a suvivor who miss the lost things but smiles when thanks his sacrifice a new generation of children can growing up happy. Where there is a new dawn with hope, but also you miss your brothers in arms fallen in the combat.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
One element of making a game feel more Tolkienesque is to use specific description and names to highlight certain details. Lothlorien isn't populated with just trees, they're mallorn trees. The yellow, star-like flowers weren't just flowers, they were elanor. He didn't have to name or describe everything, but he had particular examples of things that were highlighted.
And even the 1e Greyhawk setting had a section on trees common to the Flanaess - phost, usk, hornwood, etc.

Sprinkle in a bit of well-thought out examples in significant areas.
 

atanakar

Hero
LOTR works so well because it starts with a quatuor of unskilled and unlikely heroes - Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. They are wide-eyed and mostly clueless about the world outside the Shire. They are the main cast. Everyone else are NPCs that help them along the way.

So the emulate that, you can't play in the LOTR setting, unless you can find players who have never read the novels or watched the movies. You need virgin minds to replicate the wide-eyes and clueless aspects. Secondly, the players must accept to play unskilled and unlikely heroes that will mostly remain the same (no XPs) during the whole saga, except for a few magical items along the way. They will survive on their wits, by choosing the right NPCs, fleeing when necessary and a bit of luck or courage at important junctures.

That is how I would do it.
 

Reynard

Legend
LOTR works so well because it starts with a quatuor of unskilled and unlikely heroes - Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin. They are wide-eyed and mostly clueless about the world outside the Shire. They are the main cast. Everyone else are NPCs that help them along the way.

So the emulate that, you can't play in the LOTR setting, unless you can find players who have never read the novels or watched the movies. You need virgin minds to replicate the wide-eyes and clueless aspects. Secondly, the players must accept to play unskilled and unlikely heroes that will mostly remain the same (no XPs) during the whole saga, except for a few magical items along the way. They will survive on their wits, by choosing the right NPCs, fleeing when necessary and a bit of luck or courage at important junctures.

That is how I would do it.
I think all the hobbits level up, but they spend their advancements differently: Pip and Merry gain fighting skills, Sam just keeps upping his Endurance score, and Frodo keeps pumping everything into willpower to stave off the corruption of the ring.
 

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
Then to "start from zero" we have to forget the original setting to play in a spiritual succesor, or a mash-up, changing some things. I advice not to respect the canon to can allow some surprises for the players who have readen too much in the fandom wikis.

Have you readen anything about the cancelled/incomplete sequel "the new shadow"?
 

atanakar

Hero
I think all the hobbits level up, but they spend their advancements differently: Pip and Merry gain fighting skills, Sam just keeps upping his Endurance score, and Frodo keeps pumping everything into willpower to stave off the corruption of the ring.
Could be. But not much. Very low levels even at the end. I see Frodo has having 18 in Wisdom and Sam 18 in Constitution from the very beginning. It's a character trait Gandalf detected in them. He didn't anticipate Merry and Pippin going. They do learn to fight. Going from untrained to very basic fighting. Attacking and dealing damage to the Witch King was an awesome Crit Roll. :-D
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
We played ICE MERP back in the day, all the maps and everything were beautifully done, the lore good, system sort of meh, we converted it to our mix of basic and ad&d. MERP we even nicknamed "Magic items are Everywhere Role Playing". It felt very LotR for us, even had one friend who was hilarious as a Hobbit, I played a Ranger like Aragorn, and later a pirate from Umbar. I think we could do just about everything except change the overall outcome, so say if we killed Sauron, he would just reform somewhere else. MERP also had the Court of Ardor, which was cool, an unexplored part of the Middle Earth. Used to have this map on my wall:

 

DMMike

Game Masticator
The closest I have ever gotten is during the sequel D&D 3.x campaign to a highly successful 2E campaign, where the PCs were the children of PCs from the previous campaign (largely the same player group) and all the history, both background and played, really mattered. It was really wonderful, and I don't expect i will ever feel that way about a game again.
Aw! :(
By "feel" I mean the tone of the work that balances the mundane, the wondrous, and the horrific all at once; the sense of a deep history reaching up to produce the drama of the Now; the archetypes and ideals that yet hold on to humanity and even grittiness to some extent; and, most of all, the tug-of-war between hope and despair.

I can get some of those sometimes, but never all of them in a single game. I am not sure it is even possible in a game because the GM is not the author as such, but I do strive for it. . .

If you look at Tolkien's work and see it as a thing you would want to emulate in play, have you ever managed it? Did it require a ME/LotR game or campaign? What elements were hard? Which seemed to come easily? What do you think makes game "feel" like Tolkien?
Some of the "wondrous" comes from ignorance - not knowing what's out there, and being surprised at its discovery. Hard to do that when all of a game's monsters and spells and items are neatly listed in the book.

I tried an adventure in Orthanc, the tower of Isengard, once. Without walls of text blocks, it's hard to sound like you're Tolkien as you narrate a scene. But I used Modos 2 (in signature), which allowed the players to detach from the rules and pay more attention to the narrative, which helped a lot. It was also helpful to use as many Tolkien-words as possible, not just the proper nouns, but the older-English-sounding ones as well.
 

Bilharzia

Villager
If you're interested in this question I'm not sure why you haven't tried The One Ring already, it's almost 10 years old.
 

Aldarc

Hero
NOTE: This thread isn't specifically about Middle Earth/Lord of the Rings RPGs, licensed, fan created or otherwise. it is about emulating the feel of high fantasy as exemplified but Lord of the Rings and, to a lesser extent, The Hobbit.

If you look at Tolkien's work and see it as a thing you would want to emulate in play, have you ever managed it? Did it require a ME/LotR game or campaign? What elements were hard? Which seemed to come easily? What do you think makes game "feel" like Tolkien?
Tolkien takes time to revel and reflect in the mundane, pastoral, and everyday of the world instead of constantly bombarding you with the fantastical. Even some of the most fantastical elements - i.e., Tom Bombadil - exist as moments of reflection, calm, and/or whimsy. But in my The Sort of TTRPGs You Want to See More Of thread, I mention how a lot of fantasy novels and TTRPGs, particularly those coming out of the OSR scene, possess a cynical view of the world and its inhabitants, whereas Tolkien largely operated from a perspective of "hope" in the world and its people, even those that succumbed to evil, who were viewed with pity. So IMHO, an important part of emulating Tolkienesque play would be to frame the fiction in terms of how hope exists and people rising to that hope through their deeds.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
If you look at Tolkien's work and see it as a thing you would want to emulate in play, have you ever managed it? Did it require a ME/LotR game or campaign? What elements were hard? Which seemed to come easily? What do you think makes game "feel" like Tolkien?
For me, it pretty much does require a game built to create the feel. And players willing to work within the tone, and with to accept the narrative restrictions imposed by the setting.

Now, there are other low-power high-fantasy settings. And those work differently, and feel differently., and require some tinkering to be able to get close to Tolkien's feel.
 

Eilathen

Explorer
If you look at Tolkien's work and see it as a thing you would want to emulate in play, have you ever managed it? Did it require a ME/LotR game or campaign? What elements were hard? Which seemed to come easily? What do you think makes game "feel" like Tolkien?
I'd love to have a meaningful experience like that, yes! ME is still one of my all-time favorite secondary worlds (although I do prefer The Silmarillion to LotR or TH). So much depth, flair and mythic atmosphere!

Unfortunately, I think the way to get that feel is by having just the right people with you at the table. And so far, i wasn't able to find those people. I haven't found a rules-set that inherently creates that feel either.
It surely is not created by AiME or ToR. A DnD rulesset will never be able to catch it, ruleswise. And ToR is still one of the biggest disappointments in my game-ing "career".

That being said, if I were to try a ME RPG campaign, I'd probably go with something that has narrative dials. At this moment in time, I'd probably use either Fate or Cortex + (or Prime). If i wanted something crunchier, I could see trying to hack Genesys.
 

Reynard

Legend
If you're interested in this question I'm not sure why you haven't tried The One Ring already, it's almost 10 years old.
I have, but this isn't about "what's the best ME game" or specifically about Middle Earth at all. It's about the feel Tolkien's work creates and how to potentially create it at the table.
 

PencilBoy99

Explorer
Yes but it is curious - I ran a One Ring Darkening of Mirkwood campaign (took 2 years). By the end we felt emotionally wrecked and it felt exactly Tolkeny - less the poems which I couldn't improv. I'm not sure what mechanics did that though - they have a bunch of them that all work together to point at his themes / feelings.
 

Bilharzia

Villager
I have, but this isn't about "what's the best ME game" or specifically about Middle Earth at all. It's about the feel Tolkien's work creates and how to potentially create it at the table.
TOR provides an answer to the design question you asked, you just have to be attentive to its answers.
 

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