The topic of playing in Big Settings has been on my mind. I decided to dig up some 10 year old notes from my favorite Burning Wheel game, which was set in Middle Earth.
When we decided to play in Middle Earth, I knew I had to narrow down what sources I was using. I decided not to use any roleplaying specific material, and went straight to the books. My primary texts were The Lord of the Rings and The Atlas of Middle Earth. I also read some old mythology (The Story of Kullervo, Beowulf and History of the Kings of Britain), and did research into the Iron Age Germanic people for a bit of “authenticity”.
The Burning of Framsburg
Do you know the tale of Fram? Well, it’s okay if you don't. The story of Fram is only one small paragraph from the appendices in The Return of the King. I’ll summarize, though you can read it in Part II of Appendix A about 5 paragraphs in. Tolkien is a far better writer than myself.
Fram was The Chieftain of the Eotheod, the ancestors of the Rohirrim. He slew a dragon, and feuded with dwarves over who had claim over the treasure. Fram wouldn’t give the dwarves anything, instead he sent the dwarven king a necklace made of the dragon’s teeth. He told the King “Jewels such as these you will not match in your treasures, for they are hard to come by.” This is followed by “It is said the dwarves slew Fram for the insult.” Then there is a gap of 500 years until the Eotheod fully migrate to Rohan.
This was the perfect place and time to explore Middle Earth. We had a location, up north to the east of Angmar and west of Mirkwood. Most importantly I had the seed of a situation from one sentence.
It is said the dwarves slew Fram for the insult
I thought, how would the Eotheod react to this? Their leader is dead. Did the dwarves slay Fram? If they did, is there more to it? Well we decided to find out.
The dwarves did slay Fram, but he laid the challenge himself.
- The Eotheod were nearly plunged into a civil war because Fram had no clear heir.
- The sword, Anguirel, was in the dragon’s horde. The blade corrupted the treasure and all who possess it.
- A disgraced family (who tried to start the civil war) decided to align themselves with the Witch King, and lay siege to Framsburg.
- The game ended with a dark elf stealing Anguirel, after the siege, and escaping to Mirkwood.
What I loved about playing in Middle Earth was the amount of unanswered questions and subjective points of view (The Lord of the Rings is framed as a translation of ancient texts). We had so much wiggle room to play with, while still being true to the themes and motifs of Tolkien without slavishly playing within the lines. Hell, I found out Tolkien himself didn’t even do that. He revised his stories (famously re-wrote a chapter of the Hobbit post-publication to tie into Lord of the Rings better), wrote contradictory accounts and had fun doing it. So, why shouldn’t we also do the same?
By the end, the Middle Earth we made was equal parts Tolkien, Medieval Legends, and Robert E Howard. It is our own personal Middle Earth! I had so much fun reading over my old notes, and going through the character sheets. I want to pick up the game where we left off, and find out what happens next!