Game Mechanics Of Magic in the 3rd Age in Middle Earth

Copyright John MacDonald © 2018

Edited by Terence Wynne for The Guild Companion

"References speak of the power of the Tengwar, Cirith, Angerthas, and other runic scripts common to all cultures and evoking power according their skill."

Another essay on Magic?

I partially share the sentiments of readers is another essay on Magic in Middle Earth really necessary? However, I will try to endeavour to put together a different sort of presentation. Other learned Tolkien scholars have prepared essays and analysis around the abundance, type, and extent of magic within Middle Earth. Michael Martinez, Chris Seeman, and Thomas Morwinsky (for example) are more qualified and have prepared logical arguments drawn on the works of the professor articulating how magic works in Middle Earth. Further how those principals of magic could be applied to a Fantasy Role Playing Game. One well known essay for example indicates Gandalf was no more than a 5th level wizard.

A different approach:

My approach is to minimize the changes to the current popular systems that still exert very great influence in fantasy gaming in Middle Earth. Chiefly: MERP (expanded with Rolemaster) and D20 (or D&D 3.X rules). These games continue to have strong support for a gaming session centered in Middle Earth.

My approach is to preserve the integrity of the balance of these gaming systems without substantial re-work. I will categorize these changes as (minor?) modifications and additions leaving the Game Master and players in a comfort zone the standard rules. These modifications may have the effect of dampening the usage of magic within a campaign; yet the dampening is not caused by wholesale reductions in character limits, spells, and effects.

Rather the limitations are placed by the consequences of undisciplined used of magic or by conscious choices of the players and Game Master understanding the cause effect relationship. These thematic changes try to make existing rule sets feel more like Middle Earth as opposed to scaled changes designed to tailor the impact of Magic in accordance with the evidence of Professor Tolkien.

There is nothing wrong with this approach assuming it fulfills both the needs and desire of the group of players and the Game Master. Ultimately Fantasy Role Playing in Middle Earth is about choices and compromises; usually on the part of the Game Master and occasionally on the part of the players. Given all that is known of the history of Middle Earth in 3rd age among others, the Game Master and players select a gaming system within the parameters of their own enjoyment. At the end of the day the power inherent in a gaming system is the choice of the Game master and players so long as it satisfies their experience in role playing in Middle Earth.

Channeling /Divine Magic:

He (Aragorn) sat down on the ground, and taking the dagger-hilt laid it on his knees, and sang over it a slow song in a strange tongue. Then setting it aside, he turned to Frodo and in a soft tone spoke words the others could not catch.

LOTR 1—Flight to the Ford.

(Arod) would not suffer to follow them into the paths of the dead) … Then Legolas laid his hands on his eyes and sang some words that went soft in the gloom, until he suffered himself to be led, and Legolas passed in.

LOTR3—The Passing of the Grey Company

Perhaps the most serious thematic flaw in Channeling or Divine is the concept of drawing magic from the directly from the Valar; whether at a low level from prayers or at a high level by what might be termed ‘divine intervention’.

The Silmarilion and the Lord of the Rings confirm to us that the Valar were prohibited from direct interference in the affairs of Middle Earth. Additionally, Morogoth was cast into the void. Sauron spent the 3rd age gathering power. Clearly none of these really have the ‘divine’ will or surplus of power to interfere through the granting of magically capability through prayers.

What then could replace the magic of Channeling / Devine spells assuming the existence of agents of light and darkness casting such spells either as Non Player Character (obstacles) or even as player characters themselves should a Game Master provide for evil parties?

The only potential replacement is the Ainulindale—the all-encompassing song of creation. The Valar sang the Ainulindale as part of the will of Eru. Melkor sang and corrupted portions of the song for his own benefit. It is in the song pervades all things of Arda (life, the plants, Kevlar and Ovlar, and growth, growth, change, healing, and even death) not just the elements and is therefore available to channel ‘divine’ power. Further because parts of the song were corrupted by Morogoth, we have an adequate substitute for Channeling ‘dark divine’ magic.

The Game Effects:

If we convert Channeling/Divine casters to draw upon the song; by inference we see that singing (or soft chanting) parts of the song become the source of magic. Animists, Priests, Clerics, and Healers are singers of the song; especially those parts that heal or bestow favour. Dark Priests or hex masters sing the corrupted parts of the song in order to dominate or inflect change attuned to Morogoth’s version.

Typically in spell casting the Channeling / Divine caster would keep a small “song book” or hymn catechism pocket book that can be found among the medieval devout (for the purposes of an analogy). Spell preparation time is defined as the time it takes to harmonize one’s voices.

Essence/Arcane Magic:

The Tengwar of Feanor , were largely a new invention….they were brought to Middle Earth by the exiled Noldor and so became known to the Edain and Numenoreans.

…the Cirith in their older and simpler form spread eastwards in the second age, and became known to many peoples, to Men and Dwarves, and even to Orcs all of whom altered them to suit their purpose and according to their skill or lack of it. One simple form was still used by the Men of Dale, and a simpler one by the Rohirrim.

…and passed to the North. Hence in later times it was often called the Angerthas Moria or the Long Rune-rows of Moria.

There were also a number of tehtar (signs) of varied use. These do not appear in the table.

LOTR -Appendix E -Writing

I (Gandalf) once knew every spell in all the tongues of Elves or Men or Orcs, that was ever used for such a purpose…

…The opening words were Elvish like the writing on the arch; that seems certain.

LOTR 1—A Journey in the Dark

The MERP rulebook states that Essence draws magic from the essence of the Ainulindale—the song of creation. Having purloined this source of magic for Channelling / Divine magic we are left with a gap in where essence is sourced.

Rune magic or “Tehtar” (or signs) as outlined in the Lord of the Rings best describes the source of power for Essence and the Arcane.

References speak of the power of the Tengwar, Cirith, Angerthas, and other runic scripts common to all cultures and evoking power according their skill. Speak “friend” and enter at the doors of Moria. Even Sauron’s very ring of power has sourced within the band spidery thin runes that speak of the spells purpose and intent. One ring to rule them all.

This fits nicely with the MERP skill set of “read rune” and the D20 feat “scribe scroll” which are centered as core abilities of the wizard, mage or Conjurer.

Finally it provides us a tool with stressing the importance of language development skills. If the essence / arcane caster is to expand their repertoire of spells /spells lists they must become fluent (rank 5) in various tongues to absorb spell ‘tehtar’ that they come across in adventuring; given these scrolls and books may be written in Tengwar, Cirith, the Cirith of Northmen/Orcs, or Angerthas. Further we know there exists a “Dark Cirith” of Orc kind and we also have a guttural but reasonable explanation for “Dark Arcane” spells lists or perhaps Necromantic spells from D20.

The Game Effects:

If runes/tehtar of power are the essence of the arcane; the essence caster must keep the rune scribed within a scroll, scroll staff, or scroll book. Again the medieval catechism may be an analogy, or possibly the ancient hardened root of a tree carved with runes of power become the focus for the mage.

Runes would come in a variety of languages and would be specific to the culture of the caster. As the caster learns to master other language—they may in fact expand their repertoire of runes of power. A Dunedain mage for example learns Quenya to a 5th rank and is now able to interpret the Tengwar of Rumil.

The rune or rune tehtar for Fire for example represents the power source for all “fire based spells”. The most basic verbal reiteration of the rune may light a camp fire. The most concentrated and harsh sounding of the rune and desired effects would therefore evoke a Firebolt or light a hill‘s worth of tree tops in Eregion. Reading, vocalizing, and casting hand gestures become a matter of degree. Simply describing the fullest nuances of a tehtar for fire would take full sentences.

Bardic Magic

While the Bardic class in both MERP and D20 are assumed to be the most musical of spell casters, the fact of changing channelling casters into song singers alters their reality; it requires us to think of their position as casters of magic.

Bards become a middle class of magic that cast Arcane spells according to both MERP source books and typical D20 rules yet at the same time they would appear to draw on the power of the song of creation for their magic.

The Game Effects:

The Game Master has a few choices in this regard. Bards can:

  1. Become channelling magic users . Bard spells are converted to the Channelling or Divine realm and the ‘open lists’ available to Bard are now limited to Channelling/Divine.
  2. Bards can straddle Channelling / Devine and Essence/Arcane by being allowed to cast further spells from the open list of both spell schools; or in the case of D20 from a limited selection of Clerical/Wizard spells. This option essentially eliminates the requirement for a MERP optional rule class named the Conjurer that had artificially limited the spell level cast in order to downplay magic. The Bard becomes this class.
  3. Bards continue to exist a hybrid caster. Being a Jack of all trades—they cast magic from tehtar runes (essence or the arcane) yet the power of their own Bardic song is sourced in the ‘divine’ Ainulindale—especially of the D20 / D&D Bardic song that increases heroism in general.

Any of the solutions are neat within the flavour of minor modification. The Bard caster class has an additional niche beyond a ‘ more combat ready’ mage or lore master. His language skills assist him interpret tengwar or cirith, yet his songs soothe or create heroic effects.

If choosing the straddling effect of limited or open divine and arcane spells the Bard class also becomes an excellent exemplifier of NPC magic. Whether called Skald, Druid, Shaman, or Witch doctor, a typical human able to cast lower level spells in both realms would be consistent with magic among those cultures with limited grace (see below for more on Grace).



‘Well, well! That’s over!’ said the wizard struggling to his feet. ‘I have done all that I could. But I have met my match , and have nearly been destroyed. But don’t stand here! Go on! You will have to do without light for a while; I a rather shaken.

…I am very weary. I must rest here a moment, even if all the orcs ever spawned are after us.

…’But I found myself suddenly faced by something I have not met before. I could think of nothing to do but to try and put a shutting spell on the door. I know many but to do so rightly requires time…

LOTR 1—The Bridge of Khazad-Dum

The concept of fatigue is simple. Despite power points, mana, spell slots, or the ‘grace’ to cast magic (more on that below); casting magic from the song or runes of power is exhausting. Even Gandalf’s (diminished) angelic capabilities are limited by his mannish form and he is forced to rest despite the urgency of his plight and the (eventual) power of his opponent.

Game masters should apply a penalty to consecutive casting representing fatigue. I recommend the fatigue be consummate with the level of power used in number of rounds rather than scope of penalty.

The Game Effects:

In MERP the Game Master should apply a -5 penalty to all activities for a number of melee rounds equal to the level of spell (or power points) just cast or utilized. The penalty should be cumulative.

Casting a 6th level Firebolt spell causes our caster to suffer a—5 penalty for 6 subsequent rounds. When sorely pressed the player caster may even try to cast continuous spells round after round suffering not only the lack of spell preparation penalties, but also now the cumulative penalty of -5 per spell cast.

This leads to an increasing chance of spell failure (from the modified role not the unmodified role) which in turn can endanger the player and the party. The players can risk the consequences given the lethalness of their circumstances; however there is a consequence to the magic actions in all other activities including casting more magic.

In a D20 environment the Game Master can apply a -1 penalty to the DC check for save verses spells; alternately a -1 penalty to damage die if no save is allowed or -1 penalty to the number of rounds affected. This again would be cumulative so that by the 3rd spell cast the Wizard, Sorcerer, Cleric, Druid, Favoured Soul would face -3 on the DC of their spell effects.

Once the numbers of required rounds of fatigue are met the spell modifier is removed. Again rest is defined as normal activity no more than light walking, talking, or routine actions.

The penalties applied could also scale to the spell level; for example -5 (or -1) per level of spell I.e. -15 for a 3rd level spell or—25 for a 5th level. This would in fact strongly curtail usage of high level spells (especially consecutively with other spells) and may be desired by some Game Masters. It is my experience that the scaled penalties become too large for even high level characters to comfortably overcome; endangering the player and party unfairly after months of building a character to high levels. However as stated earlier the role-playing in Middle Earth is often an exercise in compromise and each Game Master must arrive at their correct formula.

Grace (cultural right of Magic)

Grace is the concept I most recently added to my repertoire. I am clearly influenced by the essays of Mr Seeman, Martinez, et al. and it is very intuitive for magic in middle earth. In addition the concept of grace allowed me to refine my own applications of corruption (MERP) as I was never fully satisfied with even 2nd edition rules (more on that below).

Grace for MERP or D20 is a derived statistic from Presence or Charisma bonus. It is important that the Game Master and Player maintain a good secondary record keeping of Grace as it will potentially vary more than the regular statistical bonus and may direct the player character choice of type of character.

Grace is initially the total Presence bonus—racial and statistical—and determines the maximum level of spell the PC or NPC can cast notwithstanding the number of power points or known spells dictated other statistics such as Intelligence, Intuition, or Wisdom.

Further all character players have a Grace statistic whether they cast magic or not.

This fits extraordinarily well with the racial bonus outlined in the MERP core rules and potential racial bonuses in a D20 game.

From Table BT3—MERP Rules:

Race Presence Stat Bonus
Noldor +15
Sindarian +10
Silvan +5
Half Elf +5
Dunedain +5
Man 0
Dwarf/Umli -5
Hobbit -5
Orc -10

Typical or Suggested D20 Racial Bonus for Middle Earth*

Race Presence Stat Bonus
Noldor +3
Sindarian +2
Silvan +2
Half Elf +1
Dunedain +1
Man 0
Dwarf/Umli -1
Hobbit -1
Orc -2

*typical in that I have read various house rules that customize Elven stat bonus based on Middle Earth as opposed to Faerun/Greyhawk or other D&D settings

Thus we see by virtue of the favour of the Valar, the Elves are most able or adept to cast high level magic regardless of actual statistic bonus. The have the ‘Grace’ but they may or may not have the intelligence, intuition or wisdom to utilize the grace depending upon the players choices for statistical allotment.

The Dunedain who are more favoured by the Valar than other men, also have the ‘Grace’ to cast at least 5th level spells in MERP or 1st level spells in the case of D20.

From Table MT1 MERP

Statistical Score for Presence Bonus
101 + +30
100 +25
98-99 +20
95-97 +15
90-94 +10
75-89 +5
<74 0

Typical D20 D&D Stat Bonus

Statistical Score for Charisma Bonus
22+ +6
20-21 +5
18-19 +4
16-17 +3
14-15 +2
12-13 +1
10-11 0

The initial Grace—or maximum spell casting ability is dictated by the total bonus including the statistical bonus.

The Game Effects:

In MERP terms a PC opting to create a Duendain Mage (Faromir the Fornostian) as an example would necessarily devote at least a score of 75+ to his presence in addition to a high score of 90 or more to his intelligence for the number of power points. This would give him access to 10th level spells being a cumulative bonus of his statistical and racial score. He may have to sacrifice a better ranking in another stat to do so.

A non Dunedain man (Dunlending, or Eriadorian) may only have access to lower level (5th level) spells unless they are extraordinarily lucky to have multiple high statistics, or the choice to allocate high statistical scores to both the ‘primary casting statistic’ as well as presence.

Players desiring to create Dwarven, Hobbit, or Orcish spell casters must really sacrifice their best roles to overcome their negative presence racial modifier just to have access to lower level spells let alone higher ones. Unless the roles are so skewed to be “power gaming” PCs most players will abandon the concept ; only those most skilful players often choose a flawed concept for pure role play reasons.

In D20 terms Sorcerers and Favoured Souls—Charisma based casters—will become the likely preferred class option to maximize the higher level spell ability. Again this reinforces the concept that these characters were ‘born with the Grace’ to cast magic, and that more than study and prayer is needed.

In our D20 sample of Faromir the Fornostian he gains 1st level spells for being Dunedain, and a cumulative bonus of 3—up to 4th level spells—for opting a Charisma score of 16+. Of course the D&D rule sets provision for statistical increases every 3-4 levels allowing the player increase their ‘Grace’ over time.

These classes tend to have less total number of spells but more spells per day available to them. By class description these classes have innate magic as opposed to learned magic which may (or may not) appeal to the Game Masters concept of magic in Middle Earth. I would argue that these choices do favour the feeling of Middle Earth.

In all cases the players wanting to play magic using roles of any sort must allocate a significant score to Presence or Charisma and cannot minimize these scores for the sake of power building their PC. Further the goal of any Magic using character should be to also influence events by way of persuasion where outright magic will not work. Such is the very mission of the angelic Istari. Again this neatly fit’s the flavour of those characters most emulated in creating Middle Earth Magic casters.

Grace and Corruption

The Hobbits recoiled. But Frodo said: “Do not believe him! He has lost all power, save his voice that can still daunt you and deceive you if you let it….”

“He was great once, of a noble kind that we should not dare to raise our hands against. He is fallen and his cure is beyond us; but I would still spare him, in the hope that he may find it.”

LOTR3—The Scouring of the Shire

The introduction of corruption into the 2nd edition rules of MERP was a welcome addition to the concept of magical restraint or consequences for players. However I think like most Game Masters—I felt the concept was under developed. It was too simple. It equated use of evil magic to be drawn to the dark side of the George Lucas ‘Force‘; eventually all corrupted casters would serve as Sith apprentices to Sauron’s dark Jedi.

In fact the evidence of corruption in the Lord of the Rings is that power was sought not to assist Sauron’s conquest; rather to usurp his march to growing power. Isenguard was set up as in defiance of Barad-Dur more than in homage or cooperation. If Saruman is the exemplifier of corruption we see that over many years his “Grace” was withdrawn from his near angelic status (perhaps a derived Grace statistic of 30+? ).

In the end the corruption was so complete as to leave him the weak ability to charm or confuse (spells) through his voice and no more.

Yet the withdrawal of Grace was not permanent as both Gandalf and Frodo recognized; it could be restored over time on the basis of good behaviour. Saruman never fell under the direct command of Sauron though one can argue he was deceived by him. Saruman hoped in the end to supplant Sauron; not be his apprentice. Corruption points that can be regained over time has a place within the game. Further they are not exclusively limited to spell casting players though the danger is more inherent in these classes. The fall of Boromir is an example.

Corruption is therefore re-defined as the “fall from Grace”; the loss of the ability to affect events in a magical or supernormal way.

The Game Effects:

Corruption points reduce the derived ‘Grace statistic’ reducing the maximum level of spells available to be cast if they player fails his savings throw verses essence, channelling corruption results. This is separate and different from the Presence or Charisma bonus which remains unaffected for interaction and influence.

The importance of measuring corruption (points) is to remove as much of the arbitrary nature of them as possible such that the players can role play the effects and understand the consequences. Corruption points are earned in one of 4 manners:

1) Through spell failure using table FT3 as indicated in the MERP rule book.

Spell failure can naturally occur through the occasional bad role (un-modified); however it also will occur when the spell casting character tries to use too much magic indiscriminately. When the PC casts consecutive spells incurring both the lack of preparation penalties and also the cumulative fatigue penalties described above, their modified roll can indicate a spell failure. The amount of corruption points earned vary with the severity of the failure and we know from the table that Firebolt and other powerful elemental spells cause more corruption than lesser ones.

Example: Faromir the Fornostian—the Dunedan Mage comes across a clan of hill giants in Rhudaur. Having successfully rolled die to hide himself behind and out cropping of rock he decides to cast 2 Firebolts in succession to destroy them as quickly as possible. His first roll is a success; however his second roll combined with the penalties for lack of preparation and fatigue is a spell fumble. He rolls his fumble and earns 3 corruption points. This is deducted from his Grace statistic of 10 ; Faromir is now temporarily limited to casting 7th level spells.

D20 lacks a Spell fumble table, however points can simply be accumulated on the basis of spell failure. The higher the level of spell failure the higher the amount of corruption points that could be assigned to a maximum amount of 3 given the lower ability scores.

2) Corruption can be caused by the illegitimate usage of magic items and/or casting Dark Spells.

While the MERP rule book suggests magic items corrupted or created by Sauronic forces this is too simple ; the expanded definition is any magic item for which the player character is not the rightful owner by inherited grace, or has not been bestowed the ‘grace’ of usage by culture and/or gift.

This is an important concept that all player character must have the Grace to use the magic item bestowed upon them whether they are magic users or even warriors. The Grace is gifted by cultural right, or by a leader of the culture in question who fabricated the item. In the books we see such examples as Elrond bestowing the grace upon Thorin and Gandlaf for the twin swords of Gondolin, Tom Bombadil bestowing the grace upon the hobbits to use Arnorian daggers, and Arwen bestowing the grace upon Frodo to use a small white healing gem. This is further described below in Magic Items.

Example: Faromir the Fornostian during his adventures in the Westfold chances upon an oaken quarterstaff that is banded and capped with bronze rings; upon the top cap is a petrified clove of stinkweed. It contains runes of the Druedain (which Faromir is successful in reading). The staff is finely balanced and adds +10 to his OB. Further the staff can cast the 4th level spell Confusion (open essence—spirit mastery) 3 times per day and has the same effect if a critical is scored in combat. The staff has 100 charges for the spell casting component, but the offensive ability in inherent. Faromir is Dunedin and he lacks the “Grace” to use a Wose magic. Every time he uses the staff he will incur 1 corruption point; a 1 point reduction in his derived statistic of Grace and therefore reducing the maximum level of spells he can cast.

Had the staff been of Dunedain origin he would have had the cultural right to use the staff without corruption. If he were to take the staff to the Woses’ wood near Gondor and successfully persuade Wose tribesmen of his good intent (successful interaction & influence static manoeuvre), they will likely gift him the staff as a true finding as long as he continues to kill Orcs and giants. On a partial success they may ask him to perform some other quest in their cause.

3) Corruption is caused by investing one’s Grace (statistic) into the creation of Magic items.

One of the persistent themes in the Lord of the Rings is that the creation of magic items requires a player or NPC to invest of themselves for effect. Sauron and his ring, Feanor and the Silmarils are examples of such. Gandalf chose not to, but Saruman created his own ring.

In short if players choose to fabricate magic items and this is allowed in the Game Master campaign; player will be forced to reduce their Grace statistic in proportion to the power of the item created. Further the recovery of the Grace through good deeds will take considerable time.

Example: Faromir the Fornostian decides to create a ring that acts as a +2 spell adder. He gathers the pure gold ring and such supplies as he needs and successfully crafts the item. As the adder is +2, Faromir incurs 2 corruption points and is now limited to casting 8th level spells until he is recovered of the corruption.

4) Corruption is caused by the domination of free peoples without legitimacy, through culture and authority (legal and moral).

This is perhaps the most arbitrary assignment of corruption and the Game Master will have to handle this carefully exploring the consequences with the player. This type of corruption will probably only occur at higher player levels.

In short as players grow in power if they choose to become illegitimate leaders, lords, petty kings, or chieftains they will incur corruption and a fall from grace. The players may have the ability and resources to establish a stronghold, collect taxes, impose levies, but they must do so through permissions of grace by lawful authorities. The number of corruption points is 1 for every 100 ‘free peoples dominated’.

Example: Faromir the Fornostian has reached a unimaginable level of power in the north. He is now 12th level. While adventuring and engaging in the politics of Cardolan, Faromir comes into possession of a keep/castle in the South Downs—Buhr Ruasul. He rebuilds the keep and he attracts settlers. He can exert his lordly power on the local population within a 25 mile radius—some 1000 people. Faromir styles himself Irnil of Ruasul and adopts the trappings and heraldry of a White owl based on a defunct title that existed there historically.

While Faromir is kind and generous, and protects travellers and merchants in the area he must seek the permissions to style himself Lord Ruasul in his power base or else incur 10 corruption points. Merely having the power or money to establish himself is not enough.

For our hero Faromir, he might swear featly to the crown of Arthedain in a journey back to his home of Fornost. The Crown of all Arnor recognizes his inherent goodness and the role he will play in stabilizing the South downs; official decrees and pronouncements are drawn up and the corruption points are restored. Alternately Faromir had attracted purely Eriadorian settlers he may have taken the ancient Eriadorian clan leader title in trial through combat or some other method dictated by the clan. While he is not in fealty the rightful Kings of Arnor, he is duly appointed by the cultural norms of the Eriadorian clan survivors and thus he has the grace to be their lord and leader.

(These conceptual examples are taken form the Myth of the Teregond; a MERP role playing supplement I authored)

Redemption of Corruption

With Saruman as our exemplifier of corruption we note there exists the possibility of redemption. Gandalf offers Saruman the chance twice. Once when the plots of Orthanc were laid bare, and once upon the road home—had Saruman sought the justice and mercy of the rightful king of Gondor and Arnor.

Players too must have the ability to reduce corruption as the effects in terms of spell power is more dramatic than outlined in the MERP rule book. The rule book offers limited suggestions on how to redeem oneself such as “resting in a sacred haven”.

I recommend two methods be outlined to the player to recover corruption points:

First, that any such quest actions that benefit the free peoples restore all or a portion of corruption points as agreed to by the Player and Game Master. These should be true “quest points” in that the player is inclined to seek redemption and the Game Master can assign such a quest with relative ease. At lower levels it may be as simple as scattering a company of Orcs menacing a village in Rhudaur. At higher levels the Game Master will have to take time to design a challenge consummate with the players ability. Escorting an injured and hunted Eldar lore master from Rivendale to Mithlond for example. Above all they must be true quest points and not merely “helping little old ladies across the Gwaltho” initiated at the Player’s option with a one sided expectation.

The other method is as indicated in the examples; the player must seek out a representative of cultural and hierocratic grace. Elrond is clearly able to grant a dwarf named Thorin the grace to wield Orcist—a sword of Gondolin. Likewise Sting can be graced from Bilbo to Frodo as Bildo had the right in the first instance notwithstanding that Bilbo was not of Gondolin, Noldor or even Elven. Tom Bombadil has the angelic grace to gift Arnorian short swords to the hobbits and the wisdom to scatter the remaining treasure. This can be applied to corruption methods 2, 3, and 4 however is more problematic in spell failure hence two methods are required.

Dark Grace

There was a long silence. At last Frodo spoke with hesitation. “I believed that you were a friend before the letter came,” he said “or at least wished to. You have frightened me several times tonight but never in the way the servants of the enemy would or so I imagine. I think one of his spies would—well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.”


(Elrond)…as long as it is in the world it will be a danger even to the wise. For nothing is evil in the beginning. Even Sauron was not so. I fear to take the ring to hide it. I will not take the ring to wield it.

LOTR1—The Council of Elrond

The potential for corruption points, the removal of Grace, and thus spell casting limits—also permit’s the fact that a spell casting player or magic wielding warrior could in fact have Low or even Zero Grace. Like Saruman they would be limited to the simplest of spells (like Charm person) having to rely on corruption causing magical items to fulfill their destiny. Eventually they would have no Grace to cast a single spell despite the power points/spell slots to do so.

Further through choice the player and Game Master could continue and allow the players to perform self-serving actions and in fact earn negative Grace. They could increase their Grace to Negative 10 or more over time.

Dark Grace if you allow.

In this the Player would seem fair (Presence or Charisma bonus) but feel foul (wielding unauthorized magic or domination). The implication of Dark Grace presume the character has fallen like Saruman or even Sauron according to Elrond; into self-serving interests. In fact they have fallen further becoming more immersed in Dark studies in rivalry of Sauron (or Angmar, or Dol Gurdur, etc) than his angelic nature had taken/allowed Saruman.

Therefore spell casting players with this Dark Grace should have enabled the power to cast Dark Magic not normally available to other players. These players are channelling the dark notes of the song of creation or casting evil spells.

The Game Effects:

The implications of Dark Grace are more radical on the mechanics of the game. This in effect has much more significant impact than my “thematic” changes suggest; but again the impact is not in the limitation of the power of spells but in the consequence of use.

MERP (even with Rolemaster) lacks a rigid alignment system. However Dark Grace changes the type of spells and powers allocated to them. Further in this analysis is a listing of Dark Spells (based on MERP standards) that would be opened to the players exclusively with Negative Grace. Additionally they could regain access to their class specific spells over time as their Dark Grace increased but NOT open lists. Dark Grace Mages would in effect have access to Fire Law and Dark Grace spells—but none of the Open Essence Lists—Calming Spirits for example.

Casting spells from Dark Grace Spell lists would automatically preclude the regaining of Grace to the positive and once the maximum spell level of Dark Grace is achieved, the player is fully developed with Dark Grace—I.e. Dark Grace stat of -10 (or more). Further they would in fact eventually become as powerful as they once could have been with Light Grace.

In D20 (at least Dungeons & Dragons) there is a rigid alignment system. Law and Chaos, Good and Evil.

The implications of Dark Grace is in effect to supplant the alignment system of the game. Notwithstanding that the player chooses a Lawful Good Character alignment on creation, the Game Master will have to align the score of the players Dark Grace with alignment changes (1 corruption point equals x shift) or abolish alignment altogether in favour of Dark Grace.

Dark Grace spells are not too hard to define. In the D20 sense the Game Master and player would become more attuned to spells of the necromantic class for both the Arcane and Devine. The PC would (could be) changing their specialization in the school of magic or clerical domain.

Example: Faromir the Fostnostian in fact continued to use the Druedan confusion staff for many months (unauthorized or not graced) and it corrupted him more and more till he lost some of his innate spell casting ability for a time ; he relied upon his staff for all magic and referred to it as his “precious staff.”

Sometime later Faromir discovered a scroll with Runes of Dark Tengwar outlining the spell list “Ways or Ungoliant”—spider movement. He found he was able to cast these spells easily and some of his previous spell knowledge returned to him over time. Faromir usurped a local Gondorian lord of the Westfold and his people feared and despised him; he seemed outwardly fair in treating with others but acted in his own interest only. For many years he sought manner to forestall the “gift of men”—death—but was ultimately unsuccessful.

Magic Items

…In Panoply of ancient kings, in chained rings he armoured him; his shining shield was scored with runes, to ward all wounds and harm from him;…

LOTR1 - Many Meetings

The Sword of Eledil was forged anew by Elvish smiths , and on its blade was traced a device of seven stars set between the crescent moon and the rayed sun, and about them was written many runes…

LOTR1 - The Ring goes South

And she (Arwen) took a white gem like a star that lay upon her breast hanging upon a silver chain, and she set the chain about Frodo’s neck. “When the memory of the fear and the darkness troubles you,” she said “this will bring you aid”.

LOTR3 - Many Partings

The core MERP rule book correctly states that magic items should be scarce and have an attached purpose and history. Further background options allow the character to create a magic item that they are specifically attuned to; a positive step.

However once again the scant details do not provide enough details to be effective; allowing for a lot of latitude and inference on the part of the Game Master.

My personal opinion is that many of the MERP items are overly powerful; especially those contained in the adventure modules. However despite a personal view the effects of corruption and grace described above will mitigate the unauthorized usage magic items without consequence.

It is also already noted above that the fabrication, recharging, or restoration of a magical item through magical alchemy requires the personal investiture of Grace points to create the magic I.e. causing corruption points. Therefore this too will create constraints upon players if they choose or are allowed to craft within the Middle Earth campaign. The often expressed penalty is experience points but the more robust withdrawal of spell/magic ability literally forces player to confront the potential cost of imperilling ones Grace or inherent persona.

Simply then there are broad categorical differences between magical items based on the division of powers between Channelling and the Divine or Essence and the Arcane.

The Game Effects:

In general Channelling or Divine items of magic are created by the song of creation. Therefore their appearance will not be overly crafted; they will be natural items having their own internal grace from the song. The example of Arwen’s white healing gem given to Frodo is the exemplifier of a healing gem. Other examples will be the Arkenstone of the hobbit, preserved flowers, carved rocks, specially preserved and treated animal leathers. They may have manish-made adornments (such as the necklace) attached but these will be minimal—yet still requiring the investiture of grace on the creator. All races and culture have access to find and compliment (with minor adornments, stitches, pedestals, etc).

Essence or Arcane items of magic tend to be more wholly crafted and contain the runes of power from the Tengwar or some cultural script that empower the items. Swords and armour, crafted bands of metal where the runes are etched around a fire hardened oaken staff, or metal wand. The crafters invest their grace to create the items.

Magical properties of various metals will enhance the properties of the underlying magic items. Mithril settings for divine gemstones, or Arborang metal for the blade of a sword will multiply the bonuses associated with the crafters attempt.

Elves, Dwarves and Dunedin (or Black Numenorean’s) will generally be the cultures limited to crafting the vast majority of Essence magical items; however there can be examples of other cultures.

Persons seeking to cast magic from these items must be ‘of the correct realm of magic’ to be of use of course. Again they must be of cultural alignment to be used; or the grace to use the item must come from a true gifting of the power of the magic. In our example this is from Arwen to Frodo. Channelling or Divine magical items will be more prevalent of type because they can be found in nature. The trick is identifying, and using with Grace.

Finally as to naming and history the relative power of the magic item must be considered by the Game Master. We never did learn the name of the swords used by Merry and Pippen (although Pippen later names his Troll-bane) ; we were only told they demasked with serpent forms in red and gold. Cleary +5 short swords that do an extra critical verses evil (in D20 +1 short swords with an increased critical range being keen and massive 5 bonus damage) need less thought than more powerful items. This can also be true of any magical items selected with background options although in this instance the Player has some responsibility to define its history and lineage.

These are generalities and the Game Master can alter or describe them in any way they see fit ; but again the minor variation fit’s the flavour without altering the potency.

Example: Our mage Faromir the Fornostian during his adventures near the Angmiram border, finds two magic weapons crafted of essence and one channelling.

The first is a Arnorian long sword with runes of power that name it Celebgil—silver star. It is very powerful but not an artefact of Numenor. He successfully reads runes and uses magic item to become aware of all its properties. The sword is an Eldenaryon heirloom. While he is not specifically of the Eldenyar family, he is of pure Dunedain culture and is adventuring to defeat the evil of Angmar (if even indirectly). Faromir can use the sword without fear of corruption as his Grace/right to use the sword is culturally attuned.

The second item he finds is a Dwarven axe that is finely balanced and obviously a thrown weapon. Faromir cannot speak Dwarven and despite a high skill in read runes and use magic items—because he has NO Language ranks in the Khazad tongue. Faromir chooses not to use the axe in any manner as he does not feel entitled to do so. He intends eventually to travel to Numeriador where he will consult Dwarven friends of the Arthedain about the axe.

Finally Faromir chances across a perfectly frozen Mallorn branch about a foot long. It has no runes of power upon it and Faromir cannot understand how or why it appears so far from Lorien. Nor does his use magic item skill assist him as he has nothing of his experience to fall upon. By detecting Channelling he knows the branch to be magic but he will have to seek an Elven lore master to help him identify the powers of this wand.

Gaining the Grace to use a magic item:

As indicated a player can seek the grace to use a magic item from some Non Player Character strong enough to be the cultural icon with the power to bestow the grace. Lore masters, shamans, druids, clan chiefs would all be examples of these key NPC’s. The player must make a successful interaction and influence manoeuvre (using Presence or Charisma bonuses separate from their Grace score) upon the NPC to rightly impress the point that the finding of the magic item was a ‘true finding’.

Any total success result directs the item is now the players and any corruption accrued is gone. Any partial success result directs the NPC to enlist the Player for some cause be it minor or great. The successful completion of this quest will grant the player both the magic item and the restoration of any grace.

Depending upon the degree of failure the reaction will vary from a demand to `turn it over` to outright arrest and threats of coercion.

Of being Named “Friend” publicly:

One important additional modifier a player can have on his side is, being named “friend of the race” in a rather public sort of way. This will greatly increase the chances of keeping and using a magical items that the player is not attuned to. The power of “named race friend” is very important in Middle Earth.

The suggested game impact is anywhere from +50 (+5 D20) to even higher depending upon the renown of the player.

Example: Faromir the Fornostian had hired a Dwarven henchman named Norin of Belost to accompany him in their adventures in the Angmirim borderlands. Faromir saved Norin’s life at least one time and nursed him back to health when they were forced to retreat to the safety of Fornost Erain. When Faromir journeyed to Numeriador to consult with Dwarven loremasters about the axe he recovered; he added +50 to his inflence role as Norin proclaimed Faromir a true “friend of the Khazad” ; Faromir had slain many orcs and saved Norins life. This reputation carried forward for many years and was eventually recognized in the Dwarrowdelf city (Moria) as Faromir`s fame grew.

Non Dunedain /Elder Rangers

The difficulty with the generic Ranger class in MERP and D20 is that the class and abilities are not differentiated from the Rangers of North; the Dunedain and Eldar of the late 3rd age that shouldered the burdens of the fight against evil. This is further confused by the appearance of the Rangers of Ithilien and the lack of clarity to differentiate them.

The MERP 2nd edition addressed this in their supplement Arnor. It introduced the Ranger of the North as a prestige class with its own adolescence training regimen and points. However despite a different youth and skill sets the magic cast remained unchanged and the differentiation is still muted. Clearly there is a place for an elite core of fighters; skilled in tracking and woodcraft, wielders of cultural magic that makes them the champions of their culture. Paladinic orders does not suffice as a substitute as the basis of Paladins is the tradition of a orthodox Christianity and worship which is wholly unfamiliar in Middle Earth.

The trick in differentiation then is to make their magic feel more representative of their culture. Thus the elite Dunnish Rangers are then truly differentiated from the Rangers of the North, among others.

The Game Effects:

In MERP terms some sample spell lists are presented exclusively for a character that is not a Ranger of the North. This can be used in addition to or in substitution of the prestige class noted in the supplement Arnor. I do not present Dark Grace lists as a “fallen” Ranger in my own mind lacks the grace to cast magic. They become in effect elite warriors with skills in tracking and woodcraft.

In D20 terms a changing of spells is less effective. The spell list of the Ranger class is finite and not over powered. The recommended thematic change that can be tailored is the role of “favoured enemy” of the Ranger class; those that the Ranger does extra damage against. The favoured enemy should be shifted to culture rather than generic term. Thus a Dunish Ranger may choose Gondorians, Rohirim, and Orcs as his favoured enemy in progression rather than generic man, outsiders, and giants.

Hedge wizards

This thematic change is entirely optional and to a large extent depends upon the choice treatment of the Bard Class as discussed above.

The second edition MERP rules offer a new character class named the Conjurer; a magic using player that uses the average of intelligence and intuition to determine power points. However the character class is restricted to 5th level spells of both domains. The cap is artificially imposed.

This class serves as a useful Non Player Character standard using the now implemented Grace component to spell casting. These character with a typical total Grace of +5 possessing a presence of 76 - 80 along with above average intelligence and intuition or wisdom would be the so called hedge wizards of various cultures. Limited magic capability in the arts of healing and evoking simple essence runes. Among the various cultures they might be referred to as Skalds, Bards, Shaman, Witch Doctors or alchemists. Wise old men and women that treat burns, and can be consulted in arranging ones love life.

The Game Effects:

The class is designed primarily as a Non Player Character archetype. However it could be available to Player if the Game Master so permits.

These characters would typically cast Open spell lists of both realms limited only by grace and not with artificial limits in place. In D20 they could be human multi-class characters but their total experience level is limited by the scope of their Grace influence (say 6th level in each class with access to 3rd level spells in both arcane and divine).

Dark Grace Spell lists

The following spell lists are drawn from a variety of gaming supplements, Spell law being the foremost. These spells in MERP are opened to the players achieving Dark Grace high enough (-5 to -10) to reactivate their own spell casting ability in closed lists but not the open lists. These spell lists would be discovered by the hardy adventurers in the course of questing and while levelling up. Additionally the character would have to reacquire spells from their closed lists in the Dark Language of the Orcish Cirith. Suddenly Fire law becomes more guttural. The again presumes that the Player and Game Master allow the player the opportunity to study “Black Speech” and allocate language development points to it. The path towards corruption in Middle earth is a long and arduous journey; the “fall from Grace” takes time and development much like our exemplifier Saruman. It does not happen between character levels.

The lists are presented are closed Essence Lists for Mages (Wizards, Sorcerers, Conjurers) and closed Channelling Lists for Animists ( Hex Lords, Dark Priests). No Dark Grace lists are presented for Bards as their Charm, Assessment, and Lore spells simply become “dark based” and written in the Cirith of Dark Speech or Orcish. Bards become Loremasters of Mordorian history, and jewel assessors with an eye to thievery. Fallen Rangers as indicated lack spells as their fall from grace cuts off their access to the Grace of the song of creation.

In D20 the dark grace spell list is recommended to be a switch or focus in necromancy based spells; perhaps a switch in clerical domains as well (from Healing to death for example or Strength to War domain).