Editorial: Happy Yestarë!
With this our fourth issue, Other Hands has successfully completed its first year of existence. We hope that the new year will see many new (and renewed) subscriptions, as well as continued international interest in our journal. Everyone who has ever subscribed or contributed to Other Hands over the last year should commend themselves for having participated in this virtually unique and unprecedented publication.
We have made history in producing the first journal to devote itself to a specific expression of Tolkien fandom which has heretofore been the exclusive prerogative of a licensed, commercial venture. We have worked to create a worldwide community of Middle-earth gamers where none had existed (a still largely unfinished project). And we have facilitated a three-way communication link between the licensers (Tolkien Enterprises), the licensees (Iron Crown Enterprises), and the consumers/audience of Tolkien-related role-playing games (you all). “Tis a Yestarë” to celebrate indeed!
But we have only begun to fight, as the saying goes. With this issue, we open die pages of Other Hands to your adventure scenarios. By virtue of our nonprofit status and our ecumenical commitment to welcoming the use of all game systems, we are empowered to deliver to you, the reader, not only talk about Middle-earth gaming but Middle-earth gaming itself. This is our ultimate raison d’être.
First honors for this new feature of Other Hands belong to Tom Schneider, who has offered us an exciting adventure (which I had the fortune to participate in as a player) set in Dunland during the War of the Ring, a prelude to the Battle of the Fords of Isen. Théodred sends a group of scouts to investigate rumors of an unholy alliance between the Wizard Saruman and the Dunlending clans beyond the Isen. Depending on the evidence these spies are able to uncover, Théodred may be able to convince his misinformed king of the true peril Isengard represents (thereby foiling the deceits of Worm-tongue). Depending on their ingenuity, those scouts may even manage to dissuade some of the clans from allying themselves with the treacherous Wizard. The player-characters may actually end up altering (or, at least, modifying) the course of the War of the Ring by their own actions.
In addition to this ready-to-run adventure, we also offer an entire campaign background of a most unique sort. Professor Norman Talbot of Newcastle, Australia has set his literary hand to render for us an account of a Middle-earth campaign set in the far South — set, as a matter of fact, in a mythical Third Age Antipodes. He narrates the founding of the Gondorian prison colony of “Girt-by-Sea”, and the course of its history up through the beginning of the Fourth Age. In good Tolkienian tradition, Professor Talbot presents this history as a “found manuscript,” overflowing with tantalizing allusions and lacunae at every turn. A delight to read.
Continuing this issue’s theme of finding out what kind of Middle-earth campaigns our readers actually play, veteran Other Hands contributor Anders Blixt and newcomers R. Benjamin Gribbon and W. Joe Balderson have given us reports of games past and present. Gerrit Nuckton has, in a similar vein, devoted a short piece to the particularly popular adventure motif of “the return” and how it might be put to use in a Middle-earth campaign.
Joe and Ben themselves make a quick return in the first of (hopefully) many more essays on Tolkien’s treatment of magic in Middle-earth, following close on the heels of Andrew McMurry’s article from last issue. Also making a return to us (with a vengeance) is James Owen of Middle-earth metallurgy fame, following up his cursory remarks on forging technology from last issue with a (most thorough) “how to” guide for developing realistic metallurgical principles in a gaming context. Finally, the debate over the population of Gondor and Arnor begun last issue continues with Gunnar Brolin’s response to Jason Beresford’s response to Gunnar’s initial article on this topic.
As announced last issue, we have written up an address list so that our subscribers will be able to find out whether they have any fellow readers of Other Hands nearby. This list is available only to our subscribers and will not be circulated for any other purpose. But while you are busy writing to your co-readers, don’t forget to write to Other Hands — our “Communications” section has gotten off to a good start this issue, and we hope that more letters will be coming in. By the way, your journal editor is now on America Online and the Internet, so don’t hesitate to drop me a line, or send submissions (submissions are via Internet only— “holonet” address), if you have access to either. My America Online e-mail address is: chrisl224, and my new Internet address is: email@example.com (or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Contributors: Norman Talbot, Anders Blixt, R. Benjamin Gribbon, W. Joseph Balderson, Gerrit Nuckton, James Owen, Gunnar Brolin, Tom Schneider.
Editing: Chris Seeman
Artwork: Tom Loback
Layout and Design: Lisa Disterheft-Solberg, Nicolas Solberg
Other Hands is an international gaming journal devoted to fantasy role-playing set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s secondary world of Middle-earth. It is a quarterly, nonprofit publication welcoming submissions dealing with any aspect of gaming in the context of Tolkien’s world: scenario ideas, rule suggestions, gaming product reviews, gamemastering aids, bibliographic resources, essays on Middle-earth, and whatever else our readership would like to see in print. In a word, Other Hands aims to be the definitive Tolkien-related gaming journal for a worldwide role-playing community. Within the pages of Other Hands, the interested gamer may publish materials with reference to any game mechanics he or she chooses (including Rolemaster and Middle-earth Role Playing). Such gaming material may deal with any time period of Tolkien’s world, and need not be bound to what has already seen print in Iron Crown’s modules. Other Hands provides this freedom because it is a nonprofit publication. Subscription rates are as follows: inside the USA — 1 issue $3/4 issues $ 12; outside the USA — surface 1 issue $3.50/4 issues $14 — air 1 issue $4.50/4 issues $18. Payment should be made to Chris Sccman: PO Box 1213, Novato, CA 94948, USA. No Eurochecks, please!
Submissions arc welcome in any form (preferably legible), but are easiest to edit when received on a floppy disk. Word for Windows is the editing software currently in use, so if there is any question as to the readability of your disk, please save your document in ASCII or text-only format and include a hard copy. All submitted materials remain the copyright of the author unless we are otherwise informed. All submissions must be sent to Chris Seeman: PO Box 1213, Novato, CA 94948 (USA). Please write me or call if you encounter any difficulties, my phone number is (415) 892 — 9066. Please note also that I may be reached over Internet: email@example.com (for communications and inquiries), firstname.lastname@example.org (for direct submissions).
Dear Chris Seeman:
I enjoyed your article on Queen Berúthiel— just enough factual information to set the stage and enough mystery to whet the appetite. Very good. Incidentally, the quote “Ruth could also be a pun for rûth ‘ire’… (OH 3: 18)” is by Nancy Martsch, not by Tom Loback as cited.
On the population of Gondor and Arnor: this, and other problems like it, are a direct result of Tolkien’s extending the time scale of the Second and Third Ages. Events which in the real world would take place over centuries are stretched to cover millennia, and there is no increase in the number of events to fill the extended time. Númenóreans live 200+ years, and yet have fewer children than real world people have in eighty. Technological change is virtually nonexistent over a span of six millennia. Obviously, real world statistics won’t apply. About the best one can do is to use real world numbers and multiply the time factor by three or four. James Owen’s exasperation with ICE in the field of metallurgy echoes my own.
My area of interest is language, and it causes no end of annoyance to see sloppy and foolish mistakes (like the wholesale borrowing of Scandinavian words into Orkish without any attempt to modify them to conform to the Orkish phonetic system, or the mistakes in grammar in the Middle-earth Adventure Guidebook II). Not that ICE is the only game company to do this; many games (computer and board games included) do this, and some are a lot worse. But ICE at least tries to present a professional appearance — they employ good artists, they proofread their spelling — which makes such carelessness all the more maddening. Perhaps they could employ the team concept of adventure parties and send the stuff out to experts in various fields for review?
Other Hands is looking good.
Nancy Martsch — PO Box 55372 — Sherman Oaks, CA 91413 — USA
I play in a Middle-earth campaign setting, but do not use the MERP/Rolemaster rule system (though it started out that way). One set of rules binds this game: 1) we don’t play named figures out of the books, 2) we can’t change the known history (only the implied history), 3) we can be the children (but not the parents) of known figures (though we have relaxed this rule for human characters), and 4) character races must be chosen according to which peoples were in existence during a particular period (mostly humans now, but as time advances, the characters’ children get involved in adventures). This system works extremely well where both the players and GM are familiar with the books (As good role-playcrs, we know not to go searching through The Silmarillion for hints in any case, since events that affect the characters must be taken on their own terms.).
My GM and group began gaming in 1990, starting with the awakening of the Elves in the First Age and progressing from there to around the mid-Second Age. We played it flat through the discovery that there are dangers out there, to the creation of weapons and the beginnings of magic. Since then, some players have left and others have come in, making for a mixed group with very few whose characters we present at the awakening. My character isn’t one who awoke (I came a week late.), but I am of the first generation of Sindar (My father was Cirdan, my mother a Maia of the woods.)
Scotto the Unwise — email@example.com
As for integrating Middle-earth with GURPS (Generic Universal Role-playing System), things are still somewhat rough. What I’ve done is to take some ideas from the GURPS fantasy races book and modify them by adding some of my own ideas. Probably the most developed of these ever-changing race templates is the one for Hobbits (since they appear as the main characters in Tolkien’s books and are therefore the most clearly defined as far as racial characteristics go; and — though others don’t always share my enthusiasm — I enjoy playing them).
As far as settings go, I have several of the ICE modules, but have never had a chance to use them. I think that they’re good for general stuff, but lack some of the detail needed for GURPS (especially for noncombat, non-magic areas). I feel that using GURPS gives much more scope for character personality development and interaction than does MERP.
GURPS basic magic (I don’t have their magic supplement.) sort of works (We tend not to run non-magic oriented adventures anyway, so it hasn’t really been a problem.). The GURPS magic system probably needs revamping if one wants to run an adventure that is true to a Middle-earth setting that does involve magic.
As far as MERP goes, I discovered it while poking around a gaming store (those very rare and hard-to-find places). Being already familiar with GURPS (but really wanting to role-play in Middle-earth), I bought it. After reading through it, I was rather disappointed with the rule system, but liked the background information; so I bought several of their campaign modules, hoping to use the settings with GURPS (as culling the same information from Tolkien’s books or developing it on my own could take a long time). As far as others who use MERP, I know of none (other than yourself, of course). [Ed. — Actually, since 1981, I have always used the RuneQuest rule system for my Middle-earth campaign, though in my module-writing for ICE I naturally present everything in MERP mechanics.]
What I like and dislike about MERP: 1) the critical tables for combat are diverse (which makes combat a bit more interesting), 2) al though I tend to strongly dislike the concept of classes, MERP does allow characters to buy skills from other areas (But it remains far too restrictive, pigeonholing characters rather than allowing them to be unique individuals.), 3) I also dislike character levels (although I agree that there must be some kind of mechanism for advancing attributes or skills), 4) MERP overemphasizes combat, skills, maneuvering, etc. to the detriment of character role-playing.
Jonathan Entner — 3520 Greenmount Avenue — Baltimore, Maryland 21218 — USA
It seems Other Hands is progressing well. I was most interested in reading the letter from Eduardo Martinez Santamaría on behalf of his Spanish Tolkien role-playing group (OH 3: 2). I too am keen to modify Middle-earth Role Playing and/or Rolemaster to make it closer to what Tolkien would have intended (I have been fiddling with this on and off for about fifteen years).
One idea would be to make character generation quicker but more rigid (i.e., no more Dúnadan Warrior Monks!), while still giving players a wide range of options. Another idea would be to make combat quicker while retaining the accuracy of the existing MERP/Rolemaster system. My aim (were I to involve myself in designing a playable system) would be to computerize as many of the repetitive tasks as possible (e.g., how many rolls it takes to discover that your character gave an opponent a bleeding leg!).
Concerning magic, I think that the MERP/ Rolemaster systems are quite good (far better, for instance, than AD&D), but some of the spells and spell lists are out of place in Middle-earth. I’m not sure that Andrew McMurry’s proposals for an alternative magic system (OH 3: 11 — 12) would accurately model magic in Middle-earth (or even be playable), but I look forward to the second part of his article.
I am interested in creating an on-line game-master “Assistant,” but will need some sort of financial incentive to motivate me to devote the necessary time to it. I’m also interested in: 1) refining the experience point system, 2) updating War Law, and 3) combining into a single document all of the information relevant to Middle-earth Role Playing contained within the Rolemaster companions. If people such as Eduardo would like to get in touch concerning any of these aspects of game design, feel free to write me.
Glenn Kuring — 29 Mansfield Drive — Beaconsfield — Queensland, 4740 — Australia
Reporter: Chris Seeman
What’s been happening in the world of Middle-earth gaming since October? Let’s begin with the big news. 2nd Edition Middle-earth Role Playing is finally available, clocking in at two hundred and sixty-eight hard bound pages (at the rather voluminous price of $30.00). I haven’t had the time to read through it in its entirety, but there are much expanded introductory sections on the world and on the nature of magic. The latter caught my attention in particular because it included a new set of corruption rules reminiscent of Chris Pheby’s article in OH 1. It seems that our authors and ICE’s authors are thinking on similar lines.
Although the Arnor realm module was originally billed for a December release date, Jessica Ney has informed me that it is still being page set and will not be ready until the end of January at the earliest. This module should be a real treat, as it will combine all of the previously published materials from the Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhudaur modules, and then some (four hundred pages worth, we are told). It sounds like the Middle-earth Realms series is getting off to a big bang.
Speaking of realm modules, all of the chapters are now in hand for Southern Gondor, though I haven’t yet done a word of editing on it. The reason for this is the yet unfinished The Kin-strife module, which (now that OH 4 is completed) I will be finishing editing work for by the end of January. Jim Morrison came to me in a dream and assured me that the final manuscript would be in Jessica’s hands by the second week in February (I hope). Talk to you in three months!
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