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Role-playing in Middle-Earth in which the participants assume the roles of characters from Middle-Earth and experience adventures – stories set in the fictional background of J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium – can be traced back to the 1970ies, with earliest beginnings of early pen-and-paper role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons, when Game-Masters started to adapt D&D for a Tolkienesque Background or even earlier with miniature wargames such as Chainmail or Reaper during the 1960s.

In many of these role-playing games (RPGs) players choose from several available races, peoples or cultures of Middle-earth and one or more professions, orders or callings to create hero characters (or PCs, player characters) who are led through a storyline (adventure, campaign, or scenario) by a narrator/referee (the Game-Master, or GM) who describes these scenes and scenarios and enacts the non-player characters (NPCs).

Other forms of RPGs include Miniature Board Games, Strategy Board Games, Collectible Card Games, Play-by-mail and play-by-e-mail games, Forum- or discussion-board RPGS, MUDs or MUSHs and Computer or Video RPGs.

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Pen & Paper Games

The earliest RPG officially using a Middle-Earth background was "Middle Earth Roleplaying" (MERP), released by Iron Crown Enterprises 1984-1999, as a simplified version of ICE's house system, Rolemaster. The "Lord of the Rings Adventure Game" (LOTRAG) was a further simplified version of the MERP rules intended for beginners. "The Lord of the Rings Role-Playing Game" (LOTRRPG) was a quasi-official successor released by Decipher Inc. 2002-2006, based on Decipher's own house system CODA. Since 2011 the official license to release RPGs set in Middle-Earth is held by Cubicle 7 and Sophisticated Games which released "The One Ring - Roleplaying in Middle Earth" (TOR) in 2011. In 2016 Cubicle 7 and Sophisticated Games added a revised system to their Middle-Earth line-up, Adventures in Middle-earth (AIME), which is an adaptation of their "the One Ring" setting to Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. Cubicle 7 announced on 27 November 2019 that they would cease publishing The One Ring and Adventures in Middle-earth properties.

While MERP was both critically acclaimed and criticized, for it's elaborating and fleshing out of Tolkien's Legendarium, it was often judged as being too far removed from the original work and too complicated. Both LOTRRPG and TOR were appraised as better suited for gaming in regards to faithfulness to the original resources and playability, although LOTRRGP was often criticized for lack of more detailed background and sources. TOR so far has earned appreciation of both Tolkien enthusiasts and role-players, although MERP still retains a small but loyal fan-base.

In addition to these official game systems, several fan-made systems (Ambarquenta, Hither lands, Lay of the Dead, Xmaster, Average Heroes), or conversions of other Systems (Rolemaster, D20) have been developed; as well as several fanzines (Other Hands, Other Minds, Hall of Fire, The Guild Companion) dedicated to Role-Playing in Middle-Earth; and MERP Fan Modules projects, many of these devoted to exploring the so far undiscovered Wild Lands to the East or South.

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