The Sub- Sub- Subcreation of Middle-Earth

0F65280F-BF8B-4E55-A4BC-39F8A0E7F639I am a writer. As a gamer, I am fascinated with the narratives that arise from an interaction with an industry rpg and the players at my table. In the case of Middle-Earth Role Playing, this interaction is wide and vast. Tolkien has described his literary work as subcreation. As a theist—as, specifically, a Roman Catholic—he interacted with the created world out of which to form a sub created world, a secondary world imbued with Tolkien’s own fantastic imagination. Under license from Tolkien Enterprises, Iron Crown Enterprises “collaborated” with both Creation and Tolkien’s subcreation to provide greater detail not only to Tolkien’s subcreated world but to regions of that world in some cases not even mentioned by Tolkien! Now I take both of these properties—those produced by Tolkien and further provided by his son Christopher Tolkien and others and those from I.C.E.—and create from these my own campaign, a campaign to be presented to my players, who, through the nature of the game, naturally will add their own collaborations.

To begin with a more detailed discussion of how I am engaging with these sub creations, look at this map! If I am understanding correctly Shannon Appelcline’s Designers & Dragons: The 80s, this map was produced by Pete Fenlon originally for a home game of his set in Middle-earth. Now, Tolkien purists will notice how “non-canonical” this map is. Tolkien’s Middle-earth “proper” takes up only the extreme northwest portion of this Pangea-like landmass. Other regions on this continent received little more than a reference in Tolkien’s canonical works, and others are entire new sub creations. Now, some Tolkienians might be offended or uneasy with this additional material, but I love it!

Why? Well, why not? I want to play MERP because I want to play in Middle-earth. But, as a writer, as a sub creator, I also want to explore other times, places and stories while using Tolkien’s unique vision as a frame of reference. For this reason I am building my own campaign in the Fourth Age. I moreover am beginning my PCs’ careers in Southern Gondor in hopes that they will begin to explore regions further south and perhaps east.

My inspiration for this campaign actually comes from Tolkien. In “The New Shadow,” Tolkien’s aborted sequel to The Lord of the Rings, the only extant writing of which might be found in The Peoples of Middle-Earth, Tolkien makes mention of a new danger growing in the South. He mentions a name—Herumor (“lord-black”)—which, with some cross-referencing, can likewise be found (alongside Fuinur) in The Silmarillion, particularly in “The Rings of Power and the Third Age” chapter (thank you Robert Foster’s Tolkien‘s World from A to Z for these easy references!), as a corrupted Numenorean lieutenant of Sauron who was a lord of the Haradrim in the South.

Without access, at the time, to the tantalizing mention in “The New Shadow,” Chris Stone and Pete Fenlon developed their own “Shadow in the South” in their MERP campaign supplement with this name. For imaginative grist for my larger campaign, I am interested in their mention of “The Cult of the Dark Overlord” which is led by four “arch-Lichs.” Hmmm. The default time of the “Shadow” campaign is within the Third Age. Mine is set in the Fourth. Herumor. Fuinur. Hmmm.

Here I have sketched briefly how I am beginning to interact both with Tolkien—and his son’s furtherance of Tolkien’s work—and Fenlon’s imaginative extension of Tolkien’s ideas. From both of these sources there are many more specifics that I also am adding to what Tolkien has referred to as the “bones” from which we boil our subcreative soup. But I will save more of this for later, just in case any of my players are reading this.

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