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Thread: Time Periods for LotR Game

  1. #31
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    Chris,

    Some very interesting ideas. Especially ironic that you mention Star Wars, which miraculously happens to currently still be in the running for our 2003 gaming (passing out Call of Cthulhu, Spycraft, and Castle Falkenstein, which had all been strong contenders) - after early on being out of consideration. The strange thing is discussion of LotR has brought it back into consideration, getting me to think about being bolder tying our game into the overall saga. I've always had visions of a band of rebels running around the 2nd Death Star, deactivating a fail-safe which would have disconnected themain generator and switched to a series of auxuliary ones when the shield went down.

    For the LotR game, I like the way you think - I've been thinking along somewhat similar lines, but you've definitely given me additional fuel. Learning about Angmar's preparations is definitely a large thrust of the game, as it doing things to slow them down - hit and run raids into Angmar, cutting off supply chains, putting various warlords against one another, etc. Perhaps the characters can stop the first attack on Fornost, buying the heirs of Isildur valuable time.

    I also foresee putting the characters in a situation that makes it possible to keep Gondor in the picture - little did we know that there was a plan to keep Gondor from helping Arthedain at all - imagine if Gondor was too occupied to send a "revenge squad" to wipe out Angmar. A healthy Angmar continuing beyond 1975 would radically change the face of Middle Earth. I see having the characters defeating this plot around 1973, at the same time they learn of the plans for Arthedain's doom. And Angmar will be forced to decide - do they still wipe out Arthedain, knowing that Gondor will not be as occupied as they had hoped? Of course, the answer will be yes.


    Now, for my own personal concerns. Perhaps those with more experience in LotR gaming can help me with this. I am not certain if it is a good thing or not, but the bulk of my players have never read the novels. They are all familiar with the New Line movies and at least one player has read the novels.

    On one hand this has me nervous - and so I think stick with something we know intimately, like Star Wars. I worry that it will be too diffiicult introducing all the needed details - the history of Isildur, Arnor, Gondor, Angmar, etc.

    The other part of me sees it as an opportunity - so little is detailed about that period that I have tremendous freedom. Also, introduce details of the world one at a time - start off with an action adventure on the borders of Angmar - all that need be explained there is "you are of the Kingdom of Arthedain - you are protecting it from the arch-enemy Angmar". Then have a 2nd adventure, possibly venturing to what remains of Cardolan or Rhudaur, giving the opportunity to explain that Arthedain was once part of a larger nation. Possibly have the third adventure introduce Gondor and explain the birth of the Kingdoms of the Dunedain.

    Anyone have experience in this? Is LotR such a setting that you need to be a Tolkien scholar to be a player?
    AKA Breschau of Livonia (mainly rpg forums)
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  2. #32
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    I don't know about being a player but as a narrator I am intimidated beyond all comprehension, add to that one of my players is a Tolkien expert.

    It makes the old homebrew D&D campaign look a lot better.

  3. #33
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    Originally posted by AslanC
    I don't know about being a player but as a narrator I am intimidated beyond all comprehension, add to that one of my players is a Tolkien expert.

    It makes the old homebrew D&D campaign look a lot better.
    Why be intimidated? It's your game and your world...Sure you're 'renting' it from the good prof. but it is still your idea. Do what I will be doing, tell your players that "Yes this is Middle-Earth, but I am going to take things my way." I don't intend to change a whole lot, but I won't be strapped to canon either.

    Also, the book is a useful tool for keeping rules lawyers and background (world experts) in line. One thump over the head and they usually shut up.

  4. #34
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    Post Re: Historical vs. "New"

    Originally posted by Ineti
    I feel like a Fourth Age chronicle would be "safer" at least until I'm sufficiently conversant with ME to be able to thread a chronicle through the established ME history.

    With that in mind, what's everyone's specific experiences with running Fourth Age adventures and campaigns? What are some of the pros, cons, lessons learned, cool bits, things to avoid, etc.? Maybe this needs to be a thread of its own? I don't know.
    My first piece of advice would be to avoid trying to "top" the evil of Sauron. His shadows has passed, so the truly evil force of Middle-earth is gone. That is not to say that you can't develop an evil of your own -- not to would be silly. As you mention above, something "vague" is, as strange as this sounds, probably the best thing to do. But your evil force should not be more powerful than Sauron. I know this probably sounds obvious, but the keys to a Fourth Age evil are that it has to be a "lesser" evil and it has to be something or someone of relative obscurity.

    The Fourth Age is the Age of Men. All but a couple of the important Elves have left, so there are few left alive in Middle-earth who actually remember the darker days of Ages past. The only people who will really know anything about the past are loremasters (most likely they would be Dunadain or any Elves you wish to bring in to the game of your own creation), and wise folks like Celeborn, Elladan, Elrohir, Aragorn, and Faramir, who have lived long and spent time learning the lore of Ages past.

    This is important to your chronicle, so use it. The "evil threat" of your chronicle will, by its very nature, be unknown except to perhaps some of those important folks mentioned above, and even they might not know a heck of a lot about it. If you use, say, one of the forgotten "Blue Wizards", who would know of such beings? Radagast the Brown would certainly know they existed at one point in time, Celeborn probably too. But by and large, these types of "evil" antagonists (that is, should you decide the Blue Wizards, or one of them anyway, have turned to evil) are a mystery.

    Creating a completely new evil is another route to take, and it's the one I've chosen. Taking a cue from the no-longer-extant Other Hands (a fan-driven Tolkien research and gaming project), I've decided to introduce a long-hidden enemy -- a child of Sauron. I can go into detail about this if anyone desires it, but for the purposes of this thread I won't elaborate here.

    By choosing to create a new evil enemy of your own, you have the freedom to do whatever it is you want, without being restricted to "what Tolkien wrote". Sure, you should strive to make this evil as "Tolkienesque" as possible, but for a Fourth Age chronicle introducing a new evil threat can be a very rewarding experience. You are the master of its creation, and, in a manner of speaking, you are fleshing out a time period of Middle-earth that is wide open to interpretation.

    OK, to get back to pros and cons and things to avoid:

    Pros

    Since Tolkien wrote very little about the Fourth Age, you can tailor the timeline however you want, and to your personal tastes. You can introduce compeletely new characters in every realm without pushing the major characters of The Lord of the Rings (or Middle-earth history) in to the sidelines. Conversely, you don't have to run the risk of your players feeling like they're being pushed to the sidelines because of the major characters in Middle-earth. In essence, your PCs can develop and become the true "heroes" of Middle-earth, not just play a bit part. As important as bit parts may be in other eras, they're still bit parts.

    Cons

    It's a hell of a lot of work devising your own characters, timeline, history, and state of affairs in Middle-earth. Do not take on the Fourth Age if you're imtimidated by doing a lot of work. Although this can be said for any era, it's particularly true for the Fourth Age.

    Things to Avoid

    "Topping" the evil of Sauron. Sure, make a bad evil nasty dude (or dudes and dudettes!), but if it's more powerful than Sauron, then why was Sauron so feared? Evil things, in their nature, should be on a smaller scale in the Fourth Age.

    Introducing too much too fast. Let your players work their way into Middle-earth, especially if they don't know much about it, or if you have a limited knowledge of Tolkien's world. Don't bite off more than you can intellectually chew. There's lots of info about Tolkien and Middle-earth, though, so you should eventually familiarize yourself with as much as you can. You don't need to be a "scholar" to have fun in Middle-earth, but it is an immensely detailed place, and you'd be robbing yourself and your players if you didn't take advantage of all there is out there to learn.

    Anyway, I've rambled on long enough, dontcha think?

    I hope some of these ramblings are useful. It's early, and I've only had one cup of tea, so if something I wrote doesn't make sense, ask for clarification, please!

    Steve
    Drunken DM and the Speak with Dead spell: "No, I'm not the limed-over skeleton of the abbot, and no this special key in my boney fingers does not open the door to the secret treasury! ... Oh crap."

  5. #35
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    Wow, Steven, you're way more lucid this morning than I. Great post. Gotta reprint the thread now.

    Everyone's comments are immensely helpful, especially in helping to shape the direction my random thoughts are headed.

    I was pretty sure any new evil would be lesser compared to Sauron; I mean, how do you compare with that barring the return of Morgoth or somesuch?

    I was also leaning toward one or both of the Blue Wizards, but wonder if that's something everyone's done (not that it bothers me, my players have never experienced them).

    And the Mouth of Sauron, what happened to it? Neither the Tolkien Encyclopedia nor the JRR Tolkien Handbook mention him. IIRC, he mentioned in ROTK that he was Sauron's lieutenant, planning to replace Saruman. I seem to recall he got cowed by Our Heroes, but did he die, or just fade into the background?

    Thanks to everyone for their comments. I suspect we have tons of material to discuss once the LOTR boards are ready.

  6. #36
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    Originally posted by Dan Stack:

    Anyone have experience in this? Is LotR such a setting that you need to be a Tolkien scholar to be a player?

    See my post above.

    Nah, I don't think you need to be a scholar. If anything, when the players have less knowledge of Tolkien lore than the Narrator, it's a good thing! If one or more has a deeper knowledge, work it out with them in advance. Or make them play an Elf!

    Originally posted by Aslan:

    "I don't know about being a player but as a narrator I am intimidated beyond all comprehension, add to that one of my players is a Tolkien expert.

    It makes the old homebrew D&D campaign look a lot better."


    Aw, don't be intimidated! This game is so rewarding, you'll regret it if you never give it a shot. Besides, if your Tolkien expert starts piping in too much, remind him or her that this is your game and you will run it as you see fit. Obnoxious Tolkien purists are an easy lot to deal with really (though I'm not saying your player is one, Aslan). You just throw them a copy of the Silmarillion and say, "Go read this while we play, then!" See who has more fun!

    Originally posted by Ineti:

    And the Mouth of Sauron, what happened to it? Neither the Tolkien Encyclopedia nor the JRR Tolkien Handbook mention him. IIRC, he mentioned in ROTK that he was Sauron's lieutenant, planning to replace Saruman. I seem to recall he got cowed by Our Heroes, but did he die, or just fade into the background?

    I'm not 100% sure, but I would assume that the Mouth of Sauron died during the battle before the Black Gate. However, in my chronicle, he survived (as did Gothmog, the Witch-king's lieutenant), and they're both champing at the bit to get back at Gondor and Ellessar!

    Cheers,

    Steve
    Drunken DM and the Speak with Dead spell: "No, I'm not the limed-over skeleton of the abbot, and no this special key in my boney fingers does not open the door to the secret treasury! ... Oh crap."

  7. #37
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    I think Chris's remarks are spot-on - with a bit of thought, any character can have a key part in major (even pivotal) events at any point in Middle Earth's history. Just make it something in the background that makes the main event possible (or prevents something that would have changed the path of history for the worse) and you'll be amazed how well it works, and how much of a buzz the players will get from it. One of the best, and most epic, campaigns I ever ran was about a one-on-one game where the character was a young Dunadan from Gondor who (for reasons too tortuous and contrived to describe here) fell through a tear in the fabric of the tapestry of history weaved by Vaire, wife of Mandos (go read the Silmarillion for the references) and ended up in Beleriand in the First Age, around the time of the Dagor Bragollach, where he eventually ended up helping out Beren for a while when he was on the run (just before he first sees Luthien). He found the entrance to the tear again and was thrown forward to Numenor just before the departure of the Faithful, where he helped a young Isildur escape arrest by the agents of Ar-Pharazon, and ended up playing a small part in the Last Alliance. He finally got home again after several more adventures. The whole thing was just an excuse to wander in the History of Middle Earth and participate in some cool times and events, and it worked wonderfully well. As GM, I also had lots of fun waiting for the player (a fellow Tolkein buff) to realise where he was and who he was talking to .

    As for there being room in other times for heroic action, have a look at the story of Aragorn in the Appendices of ROTK - as "Thorongil" he rode with the Rohirrim and became a hero of Gondor about 50 years before the War of the Ring, sailing into Umbar and burning a Corsair fleet to the waterline before disappearing again (and sowing the seeds of Denethor's resentment of Gandalf - fascinating backstory stuff, all of it). None of these events are actually key to the War of the Ring, and get only the barest mention in the timeline. Why couldn't the players be involved in some equally epic and heroic act at any point?

    One setting period I've used before, and am using again now, is around 2758-2759, the Long Winter, and the time of the first siege of fortress at Aglarond (this is where the name Helm's Deep comes about). Rohan and Gondor are overrun by Dunlendings, Easterlings and Corsairs - Dunlendings even hold Isengard (though they cannot get into Orthanc, whose keys are held in Minas Tirith). As a setting with possibilities, it offers the best of both worlds; it's close enough to 3019 that all the nations and peoples are pretty much as they appear 250 years later (making it pretty easy for players who have only seen the films), it's a time of great peril and heroism (e.g. the story of Helm Hammerhand), and yet at the same time the whole period is covered in a few sentences in the timeline, leaving huge scope for the PCs to be real players in the events of the time, perhaps saving Gondor or Rohan with their actions.

    Hope this give some people food for thought Enjoy Middle Earth, don't be intimidated by it! It's the biggest, best fantasy playground a GM could wish for.
    “Maintain the mystery, and don't try to think unthinkabilities...”
    Iain M Banks, 2003, on the Art of writing good SF.

  8. #38
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    Arrow Grab bag of info

    Right, let me try pitching in a few more suggestions (mostly for Dan and Ineti) as they come to me. If I echo something someone else has already said, you can just take it as great minds thinking alike (or fools seldom differing, if you prefer ).

    The Fourth Age

    This is the wide open territory of Middle Earth, and you can do pretty much anything you want with it, which is both a blessing and a curse. All we really know is what happened to some of the major characters in the story, and the names of their successors, as detailed in the appendicies. There is the abortive "New Shadow" story that Tolkein started (which I think can be found in "Sauron Defeated", one of the History of Middle Earth volumes), but he never got beyond hinting at some ominous new threat to Gondor, decided it wasn't doing anything for him, and abandoned it with less than a chapter written.

    Presumably you'd keep a 4th Age campaign relatively close to the end of Lord of the Rings (by which I mean within the first century of that Age). This is the beginning of a new Golden Age in the West of Middle Earth, with the restoration of the Crown of Gondor and the repopulation of Arnor. The realms of Thrandul and Celeborn expand to fill all of Mirkwood which had been under the shadow of Dul Guldor, the realms of Erebor and Dale prosper, and at some point even Moria gets restored (though the last might not actually occur durring the first century). The great evil of Sauron is unmade, the power of the Ring destroyed, the Ringwraiths undone, the Balrog no more, and Smaug, last of the great dragons has been rotting for years. There is plenty of potential for great works to be accomplished.

    Still, one must keep in mind that the great theme running throughout Tolkien's work is one of fading and decay; The Golden Age may be beginning, but it's splendor does not reach that of the previous Golden Age. The magic is slowly draining out of the world; The great and terrible Enemies have been defeated, the Wizards have departed or fallen, all but a few of the great Elven lords have sailed for Valinor. Eventually the Elves, and the Dwarves, and the Hobbits, and the Orcs all disappear, and the ancient lore and dignity of Westernesse are forgotten, and we all fade, becoming Men of Twilight. The reign of Aragorn and his heirs is the "last image of the splendor of the Kings of Men, undimmed before the fading of the world," one last hurrah before myth becomes legend becomes history.

    So any Fourth Age campaign would have to be more "mundane" than anything which went before. It is the Age of Men, so the great Heroes and Villains should be Men. There is plenty of Sauron's legacy left over after his fall (many of the rulers to the East and South were under his sway, and there are no doubt plenty of marauding bands of Orcs setting up for themselves in the shattered remnants of their Master's realm) that will force King Elessar to do a lot of work, but all of them are weaker, lesser successors to Sauron, just as Sauron was a weaker, lesser successor to Morgoth.

    On Tolkien Scholarship

    Don't be intimidated by the wealth of invented history that Lord of the Rings is based upon. If you really look as what is mentioned in the narrative itself, that history only breaks the surface in a few points, hinting at all that has come before. Unless you are planning on running a game durring the Siege of Angband in the First Age (in which case a familiarity with the Sillmarillion is going to be essential) you can get by with just the material in the appendicies and a good feel for the ambiance of Middle Earth. If your players are inexperienced with the world, introduce it to them gradually, in bits and pieces, and don't try to heap lots of ancient lore upon them. If you are inexperienced and your players are serious Tolkeinphiles, use that to your advantage; you only have to sketch out the broad details, and let them fill in the rest of the world from their knowledge. There is plenty of precident in Lord of the Rings for telling ancient lays and tales around the fire, and even Sam, (not the most versed of Loremasters by a long shot ) dredges up part of "The Fall of Gil-Galad" at one point. Really, nearly all you need of Middle Earth history leaving aside the First Age (and nearly all that has been written on the subject for that matter) is in your hands if you've got the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and the rulebook.

    It's only intimidating if you love it and are worried about doing justice to it. And if that's what you're feeling, then you will approach it with the care and respect necessary for you to succeed.

    -Chris Landmark
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  9. #39
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    On Tolkien Scholarship... Or Falling in Love with Middle Earth

    It's only intimidating if you love it and are worried about doing justice to it. And if that's what you're feeling, then you will approach it with the care and respect necessary for you to succeed.
    I first tried reading LotR in Middle School. Obviously it was way too complex for me and I gave up early on. I then tried again my sophomore year of high school. I loved the Hobbit but the Council of Elrond put me to sleep. Finally my senior year of high school I tried once more, this time making it through. I thought it was a good tale but boring for all the detail - constant mentions of folks like Elendil and Gil-Galad.

    Move forward a decade, to around '98 or '99. Knowing there are movies coming, I figure I'll read LotR again. Suddenly all that richness of detail becomes fascinating, I love every page, the Council of Elrond becomes one of my favorite scenes. And the appendices, which I skipped first time through, begin to fascinate me.

    Christmas of '01 my wife gets me a hardcover printing of the Hobbit (the green slipcase). This year she gets me the red slipcase of LotR (which I have begun reading again). I used to snicker at the endless books Christopher Tolkien put out, now I find myself flipping through them at a bookstore. I recently picked up the Annotated Hobbit.

    It's kinda like being in love - it's something you appreciate the more you invest in it.

    So that's where I am with my campaign prep. I'm praying I can sell this to my group - not in getting them to play it, but getting them to invest mental energy into the game, to get into the feel of the setting. I know that is largely contingent upon me. But I feel a passion for my gaming that I've not felt in years - which makes me all the more nervous - I'd hate for it to be all for naught.

    It's funny - I love the setting of Mirkwood and the Wilderlands and my initial instinct was to set a chronicle after the events of the Hobbit, set in that area. I still might if I find inspiration, but I have dreams of the last desperate struggles of the North Kingdom, against an inevitable doom, but with the hope of keeping a spark alive, a spark which will one day lead to the reunited Kingdom.

    I just have to pray I can inject the right attitude, something my players can feed off on. That feeling you got when you saw boys and old men preparing to take on the orcs at Helm's Deep in the movie version of The Two Towers.

    The more I prepare for the game, the less nervous I become about the details. I might borrow some stuff from old ICE supplements, but I'm becoming less afraid to make up my own stuff. Instead, what I find myself thinking more about is how to bring the setting alive.
    AKA Breschau of Livonia (mainly rpg forums)
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  10. #40
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    Re: Re: Historical vs. "New"

    I especially agree with the statement below.

    I ran an excellent 4th Age campaign using ICE MERP with the general theame of "cleaning up the mess"... taking care of all the "little" probels left over after the War of the Ring. Establishing control over Arnor and the North, assisting the Dwarves with the resettlement of Moria, elimination of the Barrow Wights and reconsecration of the Barrow Downs, reoccupation of Osgiliath and expansion of Gondor. Scouting and opening trade routes, diplomatic envoys to distant lands, repair, expansion and establishment of waystations on the king's highway. Cleansing of Isengard, to remove the taint polluting the Isen from the dungeons of Orthanc.

    Trolls and orcs still roam the frontiers and plague villages, evil men still exist who will attempt to gain at the expense of their fellows. With the threat of Saron extinguished, much of the incentive for the realms of men to work together as allies will be gone. Arnor was sundered not by the armies of the Witch-King but by the greed and lust for power of it's own aristocracy.

    These things will take 100-150 years to complete and for the world to become a "comfortable" place... if ever.



    Originally posted by Steven A Cook

    "Topping" the evil of Sauron. Sure, make a bad evil nasty dude (or dudes and dudettes!), but if it's more powerful than Sauron, then why was Sauron so feared? Evil things, in their nature, should be on a smaller scale in the Fourth Age.

    Steve
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  11. #41
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    I want to add to the chorus suggesting involving characters on the periphery of the set-in-stone history. What works for me is to pay attention to the original story and watch out for things that make me say, "Huh? How did that happen?" Even plot holes can be useful for game ideas.

    I ended a Star Wars campaign by sending the PCs to Yavin just before the Death Star arrived. We know that the Rebels had about 30 starfighters. According to WEG material, the Death Star carried about 5000 TIEs. How in the frelling hell did the Rebels beat those odds? Simple. The PCs led a Y-wing attack on the main TIE hangar bays, pulling off a Pearl Harbor style smiting on the Imps, who were only able to launch a few fighters from auxiliary bays. History is preserved, the canon heroes did everything we know they did, and the PCs made it all possible.

    It works. It's fun to run, and most players seem to love it.
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    @Dan Stack and the other guys who have posted here:

    Today I saw someone skimming through this thread while I was taking a look at "Who's online" I read all of the thread and was fascinated. But it stopped so abruptly. What kind of chronicle have you played, how did it fare?!

    I know it's been years, but please shed some light on this, if you will

  13. #43
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    I started a couple different Fourth Age chronicles, and got a fair way through both of them before losing players to the usual attrition our games tend to end up with. I have a big 20-session Fall of Arnor chronicle ready to run, but I'm waiting for the players to get into a LOTR mood.

    And yeah, there are a lot of great older threads here from back in the day when the films were out and more gamers were into the game.

  14. #44
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ineti
    I started a couple different Fourth Age chronicles, and got a fair way through both of them before losing players to the usual attrition our games tend to end up with. I have a big 20-session Fall of Arnor chronicle ready to run, but I'm waiting for the players to get into a LOTR mood.

    And yeah, there are a lot of great older threads here from back in the day when the films were out and more gamers were into the game.

    Reading here often wakes in me the urge to phone some friends and try again to set up a game, this time it's especially hard! (I have started a rerun of DS9 because I've gotten Season 7 on DVD for Xmas) but I come to the conclusion that my friends are not "rpg-material"

    So I'll just look through some other old threads... Are there any active LOTR RPG chronicles running that you're aware of? I mean now that new books have finaly been released (even though in PDF)?

  15. #45
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    LOTR RPG traffic hereabouts is pretty dead. There's more going on at the Decipher boards, when they work.

    There are a few folks there discussing their games or their plans for games, but I don't know of anyone actively posting commentary about games in progress. Odds are that someone is running LOTR, but just aren't vocal about it...

    http://forums.fanhq.com/viewforum.php?f=164

    EDIT: I think there are a few online games going. At least one is run off the Decipher boards and I think the play-by-post forums at RPG.net has one or two Coda LOTR games in progress.

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