One of the most extensive game-writing endeavours I participated in during the 1990s was Iron Crown’s mapping of Gondor for Middle-earth Role-playing (MERP). I only wrote background material and never touched the rules.
I proposed a campaign book covering the Kin-strife, one of the most challenging events in Gondor’s 3000+ years of history. 1600 years before the events of Lord of the Rings, the realm was torn apart by a civil war dealing with whom was supposed to inherit the throne: prince Eldacar, the son of the previous king and a foreign princess, or Castamir, a close relative of the previous king and with only Dúnedain ancestors. The Kin-strife comprised ten years of fighting, oppression, espionage, scheming and other misery (but no Sauron). When I had got the go-ahead from Iron Crown, I — assuming the role of project manager — gathered a crew of Swedish and American Tolkien-loving friends, together possessing an amazing amount of scholarly knowledge of game design, Tolkien’s works, history, law, militaria, nautica, archaeology, anthropology and political science. Our ambition was to write a playable, colourful and credible description of the chaos-stricken realm.
I have written a lot of RPG products since 1979 and The Kin-strife sourcebook is one of my favourite accomplishments. It provides for so many different ways of playing, so many different campaign moods. The story of the civil war became deeper by adding economic-politic disputes: one faction looks to the sea, to the south; another faction to the continental inland, to the north-east. There is gritty criminality in Pelargir, the Usurper’s ruthless secret police, scheming nobles in Minas Anor, ruin-crawling in Osgiliath, resistance operations in the oppressed Minas Ithil, evil cults, plus a treasure-hunt that spans the realm. Plus many in-jokes: my wife and a lot of my friends make cameo appearances as Gondorean NPCs.
We put the sourcebook’s focus on urban adaventures in Gondor’s six major cities: Minas Anor (Minas Tirith), Osgiliath, Minas Ithil (Minas Morgul), Lond Ernil (Dol Amroth), Pelargir (stronghold of Castamir the usurper) och Umbar. There the players would face complex political schemes by which numerous internal an foreign factions tried to influence Gondor’s future by guile or force. We wrote campaigns that affected all six and run-alone adventures that dealt with one particular city or city district.
It was an exciting production just because all writers had some specialist knowledge to add to the synergy. This was during internet’s infancy and to simplify the trans-Atlantic flow of information, I acquired email, i.e. a 32k modem, an ASCII text editor and a BBS membership; all this is obsolete and forgotten technology 20 years later. It was a indeed revolution to be able to transmit a text from Stockholm to San Francisco in one minute instead of sending a 3½” diskette by airmail across the ocean, a process that used to take 5 days.