I’ll never forget the day I learned that Tolkien Enterprises revoked ICE’s license to produce gaming modules of Middle-Earth. This material was nothing less than scholarly, as fun to read as to play, and completely dominated my role-playing years. I would check in at the local comic store religiously to buy every accessory I could get my hands on, and I’m glad I did: thanks to the Tolkien-Enterprise fascists, these things are now collector’s items. It’s a shame, because they’re probably the most academic modules ever written for any RPG. It’s as if Tolkien himself had taken up D&D and poured his linguistic and cultural scholarship into the hobby. The irony, of course, being that the high fantasy setting of Middle-Earth is on the face of it so at odds with D&D’s pulp fantasy roots, but I never saw a contradiction.
In upcoming weeks I’ll be doing a series of retrospectives on these ICE classics from the ’80s and ’90s, primarily the earlier ones. Most are campaign modules, detailing histories and cultures of particular regions, and providing maps and layouts for various sites of interest; they were typically priced at $12 back in the day. There are also adventure modules, going for $7, and have the same basic format as the campaign but cover more specific sites over less ground. The fortress modules at $6 never went far as a series but were grand, laying out incredible detail of castles and strongholds. And only two city modules were ever published, at nearly $20 each, for which extraordinary detail was worked out, more than for the cities typically presented in the campaign modules. Of course, any of these can go for well over $100 today if you’re lucky enough to find one on eBay.
I’ve divided my picks into eight geographical sections, working roughly from northwest to south: Eriador (7), Angmar & the North (4), The Elven Refuges & the Central Misty Mountains (4), Rhovanion (4), Rohan & the Southern Misty Mountains (5), Northern Gondor & Mordor (6), Southern Gondor (3), and the Far South (4). That adds up to 37 modules for review, and it should be fun looking back on this stuff. Unlike my top 20 list of D&D modules, this isn’t a favorites series, but a comprehensive overview of “essentials” adding up to a grand atlas of Middle-Earth. Some are better than others, of course, but all mine Tolkien’s world without raping it, and deserve the honor of acclaim rather than the shame of extinction.
First up: Rangers of the North.