There has been some recent discussion on the discord about 5E play and how it shakes out nearly ten years on. Like all D&D and its close relations, Adventures in Middle Earth has a lot of familiar parts, but I think AiME shows off what can be done with the system.
Even with all the baggage of Middle Earth, I enjoy playing in the world because there is a lot of territory to play with. In this case I am framing the overall experience under the idea of pursuing the Dwarf Rings. It can only end in tragedy, but I liked the idea enough to rough out some ideas and create some situations. I also like the fact that Middle Earth is divided between good and evil in such a marked way. It gives the players a much clearer vision of their characters than an ambiguous alignment system. And it makes it clear what happens when you fall to Shadow.
Choosing to use AiME was also easy; these are Pathfinder and D&D players and we had been talking about doing something a bit different with those rules. As the GM, I really wanted something that was more robust than the vanilla 5E. I personally hold up AiME as a good example of what can be done with the base 5E if one puts in the work. In this case, the designers did the work for me and I think it is a superior set of knobs than one finds in the base 5E D&D.
One example of this is the Journey. Adventures are broken down into parts in a formal way, outside of the normal adventure – encounter paradigm. The journey is everything leading up to the main adventure and has very little to do with the actual situation, except that the building blocks of the situation, space and time, are taken into account. A longer more demanding journey can leave the characters unfit for what awaits them in their actual adventure. This might mean they have to turn around and go home or find a sanctuary to rest up before attempting to do it again.
There are other changes as well. There are no wizards (sorry, you cannot play one of the Blue Wizards), much different backgrounds, and the classes are mixed around. No clerics either though scholar have healing lore. To be sure, some of the changes are superficial; basic 5E stuff with a new coat of paint, but there are enough new things to make it feel like a better game.
The company / fellowship has three characters. Ardent Tor, a dwarf warrior. Dwalin, a dwarf scholar. Gror a dwarf slayer (not to be confused with a slayer of dwarves, at least not yet). Ardent Tor’s character has a cousin named Bain, who I created to use as the catalyst for their journey and adventure.
In 2942, Bain and his company left for this unnamed abandoned mine (called Bain’s Mine now for ease of identification). Recently he sent a letter to Ardent describing an object they found that looked like it was part of a pendant or broach and was in the form of a snake. This is the adventure portion of the situation, where all the details will come into play if/as the characters interact with them. The mine itself is one of my design, which you can think of as a tiny Moria. Very tiny.
Our first session consisted of getting all the character details straight and feeling out the rules. Before a journey begin, there are four roles to be filled: Guide, Scout, Hunter, and Lookout. As we only had three characters, the scholar Dwalin took on the roles of Guide and Hunter. Gror is the lookout and Ardent Tor is the Scout. At various points each may have to make a roll to determines how the journey is going. The Guide rolled to see if the embarking was a good one; essentially did the trip get off to a good start. They rolled low and that means it did not. Eyes of the Enemy are on them, and everyone had a bad feeling. I used this in one of the encounters, where a snake that is the reptile equivalent of the spiders of Mirkwood spied the company rafting down the river. The party did not spot them and so dark whispers found their way to the ears of some Gundabad orc refugees from the Battle of the Five Armies. This lead to the second encounter where those goblin-men ambushed the company… and get their asses handed to them. The players rolled well and were very effective.
Because of the poor embarkation roll, they have an extra encounter, and this is where we left things at the entrance to Bain’s Mine, where some more orcs were discovered to be in ambush. I will need to make an arrival roll for the company before the main adventure begins to see what shape they are in, though the journey has not been that fraught.
Some of Adventures in Middle Earth is just re-arranging, while other parts are sensible additions to the 5E chassis. The text talks about the way journeys wear a character down. Indeed, they cannot take long rests unless its at a sanctuary. Finding and building sanctuaries are mentioned as long-term goals, so the characters can rest up when needed. The rules for exhaustion are emphasized as a means of wounding characters without damaging hit points for instance. Fighting the armies of the Shadow is supposed to be dangerous and soul destroying, and I think the text does a good job explaining that.
As mentioned, I know there has been some discussion about 5E and I am happy to let folks have a broader discussion of it here, though any thoughts on AiME (or Middle Earth rp in general) are welcome and encouraged too.