Friday, November 27, 2009

What Tolkien meant for roleplaying.

At the height of RPG's popularity in the early 80's one element of Tolkien's Style stood out above all else.

The appendixes for the Return of the King.

From the Greyhawk Folio to latest Forgotten Realm Hardback. From Wizard to well just about any RPG company. The appendix of the Return of the King was the ur-document on how to present a setting. After Shannara this format dominated the alternative formats notably Judge's Guild Wilderlands and GDW's Traveller.

As a 13 year old gamer in the late 70's Tolkien was the only source I had for writing up a campaign world. With King Lists and Timelines galore. However Tolkien has some major weakness as a source for RPG campaigns. Only a dozen or so elements made for good additions to a D&D game.

It the same problem that drove me from Greyhawk to the Wilderlands. The howling emptiness of the map. While Tolkien had a wealth of details in the appendixes, only a few areas were detailed enough to run an RPG campaign in: Bree, the Shire, Rohan, etc.

Myself and I am sure others turned to other sources to plug in the gaps and after Shannara there plenty to be found for whatever taste of fantasy the group preferred. One thing I learned that the format of Bob Bledsaw's Wilderlands and Marc Miller's Traveller was way better for running a campaign then Tolkien style.


James Maliszewski said...

Another excellent point.

Havard: said...

Pretty interesting Rob, however these days I actually welcome blank spots. Is it not also true that too much information can get in the way of a DM's creativity? :)

Robert Conley said...

My argument would be that in simulating a world(your setting) how could the DM ever NOT be creative. It isn't possible to detail everything so there come a point where the DM has to make stuff up.

But I am being facetious. I agree it is possible a DM to paint themselves into a corner to the point where they (and the players) are unhappy with the setting.

If you are going to have detail you need the right kind of detail. As anybody who tried run Middle Earth from the appendixes found out; Tolkien has a lot of detail but little of it is useful for portraying Middle Earth in as a RPG
setting. It is too high level for day to day gaming.

In my opinion the right kind of detail is a wilderlands style listing of locales with no more than a paragraph or two for each. This format I feel saves the GM work during prep time without shackling their creativity as the campaign progresses.