Why Middle-Earth? Why GURPS?

I feel it is important to begin this endeavor with a brief explanation. All things must serve a purpose, a raison d'être if you will. A great many of my fellow TTRPG hobbyists will ask the two questions above before even opening the pages that follow. I feel that I have great reasons for both decisions but I will try to be concise and not provide too many details. I am not a person that usually gives any explanation for my actions, but I do feel there is much to be gained by perhaps expounding a bit on why these two fundamental choices were made for this project.


With so many worthy worlds by so many authors and creators, why choose Tolkien’s Middle-Earth for the setting?

Put simply; because it is there. It’s presence, especially since the release of the movies put it squarely in the popular culture. The as-of-now upcoming series should only bolster interest and knowledge in this world. It is a setting within which nearly all people, and certainly nearly all fans of fantasy, have at least passing familiarity. Most of modern fantasy is either based-on or a direct attempt to avoid the fundamental aspects of the world created by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is foundational and most other worlds simply lack the necessary complexity, consistency, and depth that this world provides as a stage for role-playing.

As a long-time fan since first reading the books as a very young teenager, I have always felt that its depth is little understood by most readers and certainly feel this for those poor souls who have only seen the movies. The difficulty of reading beyond the main books, the incompleteness of the world left behind my Professor Tolkien’s death, and strangeness of over a dozen invented languages, all conspire to create a wall of ignorance about the world itself. In a culture of 15 second sound bites, the idea of learning at least one new language to fully engage in a fantasy world seems ridiculous at best. Much like the company of dwarves while travelling through Mirkwood in The Hobbit, many feel it is best not to stray from the road as it were, lest you lose your way.

There is an entire well documented history of tens of thousands of years, dozens of races, hundreds of cultures, and myriad areas that never make an appearance in the ‘core books’ or movies. At best they warrant a mention of a line or two and are quickly forgotten never to appear again. A mere glimpse into some ancient, long dead kingdom or often simply a name with no explanation of who it belongs to. What nation built Weathertop where the Nazgul tried to kill Frodo with their Morgul Blades and who was it set to watch against? What was the culture like of the Dead Men of Dunharrow that followed Aragorn into the Battle of the Pellenor Fields?  Who place the dirt on the lich mounds that the hobbits fell into after visiting Tom Bombadil?

The history of Eä contains entire island continents, like our own Atlantis, swallowed in days past by the Encircling Sea, others continents only quickly sketched on the professor’s hand-drawn maps. Kingdoms that have been risen and fallen while others continue throughout the ages, little changed and seemingly impervious to the world around them that warranted no mention in the story of The Ring and remain to be explored the foolish or the brave. We can travel back to the time where the light of the sun and moon had yet to touch the world and the Ainur fought with Melkor in battles that changed the very geography of the world, or forward to a time when Magic exists only in fairy tales for children and the most forgotten corners of the world.

It is outside of these boundaries of time and place that I plan to focus my attentions. The ‘dark-skinned men of the South’ and the denizens of the far North that eke out a living in its frigid wastes, these people also have stories to tell. Perhaps their stories are not as world changing as those that happened in North-Western Eriador, but they are worthy stories all the same.

I feel, deeply, and with great passion, that we, as players of roles have barely begun to explore this rich and detailed world, its myriad of cultures and denizens, and the struggles and conflicts between them over the millennia. For no story can be truly exciting without conflict and here we have a world that exists in almost constant conflict since its very creation when one of its creators rebelled and in which a hero can rise or fall on their own merits. A world set for adventure.


There are already several systems that focus on roleplaying in the world of Middle-Earth, why should I learn a new one? The answer to this question is far more complex that the first. A large part of the answer is subjective and therefore subject to opinion and disagreement. I will list my personal reasons at first but will not put too much emphasis on them as anyone is able a likely to disagree. That is how opinions work.

I believe that GURPS, especially in its 4th Edition provides the broadest variety of options for both players and GM’s to fine tune their expectations and playstyle to fit the world. From Wildcard skills and the bare-bones simplicity of GURPS Lite, to the detailed interactions of Cities, Guilds, and Nations provided in supplements it allows nearly any scale, complexity, and level of realism for a campaign.

In the method of character creation, I have always been a strong proponent of player freedom. I find that systems that limit players to pre-determined roles also tend to limit role exploration options. The constant revision and extension of rules and ‘home-brew’ systems is a testament to the natural rejection of this system. The original roles were very quickly replaced by ad-hoc ‘hybrid classes’ to address this issue. I have never felt that ‘classes’ beneficial to most role-playing settings. I also feel that racial templates without cultural lenses tend to lead towards stereotyping and other detrimental role-playing habits.

There is a place for all the above and you can even play an entire campaign based on stereotypes and cliches, but I do not feel that this is apt for Middle-Earth in general. The movies themselves stretched this to the limit, and in my opinion did more harm than good to both the genre and Professor Tolkien’s world in its characterizations of the non-human races of Middle-Earth. It was almost painful to watch the representation of dwarves in both The Hobbit and LOTR as bumbling, greedy, foolish, clowns. Circus Midgets for comic relief instead of a proud and ancient culture with a tragic history. I believe that a broad and complex system of character creation such as that in GURPS will allow people to create the characters they want to play while keeping each race and culture unique using the depth of the systems templates, and optional lenses.

On the less subjective side of things, I was not sold on the system until I began to explore how Magic worked within Eä. I believe I, and most of role-players, that have adapted the world to gaming have committed a grave error in this important aspect of the world. There is not one type of magic, or even three as presented in MERP. I believe there are various kinds of Magic in Eä and, as Magic is a fundamental aspect of Fantasy Role-Playing, I began there.

The world of Eä itself was created by ‘Magic’. I could not accept that this was the same Magic  that used by Gandalf or Galadriel, a hedge-wizard or the Mouth Of Sauron to extend his days to near immortality. The runes on the dwarf hold of Moria that stymied the Fellowship also seemed to be different that the others. I began to explore the types and examples of Magic and realized there was a myriad of differing types that seemed to have little or nothing in common and this led me to the realization that I would need to use a system that allowed me the flexibility to create the Magic that allowed the Ainur to craft the world, Galadriel to imbue a flask with the light of Arda, the dwarves to craft the doors of Khazad-Dum, and town healers to use Athelas to heal the sick and wounded. I believe GURPS is almost uniquely suited to this task.

I personally have not found a better system that did not limit at least one of these considerations though I will make all attempts to leave as much of the information useful for anyone that decides to use another system.


One of the most amazing aspects of our hobby is that you are in essence only limited by your imagination and the effort you are willing to put into the endeavor.



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