I've mentioned before my love of Tolkien's The Hobbit. I really, really like it. My fondness for it has only been growing over the years. On the other hand, I don't much care for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But that's another story. (Oddly enough, though, I really like The Lord of the Rings movies but not The Hobbit movies.)
Two of my favorite blog posts out there on the gaming blogs are "The Hobbit 1937" at The Hydra's Grotto and "1937 Hobbit as a Setting" at Rise Up Comus. Both of these riff on using The Hobbit as it was originally written as a campaign setting. The current version of The Hobbit was modified when The Lord of the Rings was publish in the 1950s to fit better the series' lore. So the posts ask, what would a campaign be like with just the information available in The Hobbit, as originally published, but with none of the later lore added by The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's other works?
These two blog posts really make me want to play/run a campaign in that world. It's essentially a points of light campaign, which I find fascinating. Though it can be a harsh and grim world it also has a touches of fairytale whimsy. And it shows how a small group of people can have an oversized effect on the world.
While I'm interested in playing in the setting itself or a close analog, I'm not really interested in using any of the of the licensed games. Except, perhaps, The Lord of the Rings Adventure Game (LOR), a simple game released in the early 90s by Ice Crown Enterprises as an introduction to their Middle Earth Role Playing game. But I'll talk about this game in another post.
I can think of several rulesets that I could use for this. TSR D&D and OSR rulesets jump to mind immediately because that is what I'm most familiar with.
The first for me, of course, is B/X. With the exception of the cleric it fits quite nicely. The demi-human race-as-class fits the archetypes well in my mind and the other classes are spot on. As for the cleric, many people online have suggested that the cleric's magic actually fits Tolkien elves better than magic-user spells. I will take their word for it because as much as I like The Hobbit I am not a Tolkien scholar in any way, shape or form. I could do away with the cleric altogether and have elves use clerical magic instead. I just purchased BX Options: Class Builder by Erin Smale (aka The Welsh Piper) so I could just build the class from the ground up so it would be customized to my liking and have different x.p. requirements suitable for their modified powers.
The second to come to mind is The Hero's Journey by James Spahn. Either the First or Second Edition would work fine. The First Edition adheres more closely to its White Box roots. It does add more classes, modifies how attributes are generated and actually adds two attributes, luck and appearance. It also uses only shields and dexterity to determine armor class and has armor reduce damage. The Second Edition makes many more changes to better match Mr. Spahn's vision. I wrote about it in more detail in this post. I like both editions but the First Edition draws me to it more at this point. So if I were to go with The Hero's Journey I would use First Edition suitably modified. I would throw out some classes and a race to make it fit my vision better. (Buh-bye Bard, buh-bye Jester, etc.) And the cleric would have to be dealt with again.
I could go with White Box with added classes and options from Mr. Spahn's White Box Omnibus and White Box Compendium. This would essentially be taking the building blocks that he used to make The Hero's Journey and brew up my own version to try to more exactly meet my vision. I would certainly add Greenleaf Elves, rangers and druids and perhaps the barbarian. I would also probably add the druid spell list from White Box Expanded Lore by Simon "Noobirus" Piecha. A little more time consuming but the process can be fun in and of itself.
Then there are several other noncommercial OSR games that are aimed at a LotRs feel. There is Drums in the Deep, which is a modification meant for Holmes Basic. There is also Balrogs & Bagginses. B&B states you will need a version of Basic or AD&D to use it. Whereas Drums in the Deep is 11 pages, B&B clocks in at 58. I haven't read these in quite a while so I'm not going to say much about them at this time.
I think I'll wrap this post up for now and talk about non-OSR options next time.