I remember playing ICE’s old game, Middle-Earth Roleplaying, or MERP, and trying to make it fit into the style and feel of the books. Rolemaster wasn’t a system that lent itself to “Tolkienian” adventure, really, but it did a slightly better job than D&D, and the book was well-researched. The supplements and modues were also well done for the time. It was a good example of when setting fits even though rules don’t.
I remember my deep disappointment with Decipher’s Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game. It also was an example of well-done setting material combined with a blatant D&D/D20 ripoff as far as the system was concerned. So, again, you have a mediocre/unsuited system dressed in Tolkienian drag.
For a while I was following Song of Arda, an attempt at a free Middle-Earth RPG that was available online for a few years. It has since disappeared before being completed, because it was an attempt at representing the feel of the books through system, rather than just setting description.
Burning Wheel is clearly based on Middle-Earth…in some ways. But it still leans toward the generalized medieval fantasy RPG – which is fine, because it isn’t liscenced or anything, and it does a hell of a better job than ICE or Decipher did system-wise. The problem with BW is that if you want a rules-lite system, this ain’t it. Also, you still have to adapt it for Middle-Earth, and making new lifepaths for your characters is a time-consuming process. (Much of the work has been done by others on their boards, but still…)
This is probably a problem I’ll just have to solve myself. Now that I’ve thought about it, its going to be in there, along with all of these other designs floating around. Hopefully it won’t distract me. If I do come up with anything, I’ll probably just distribute it for free online. We’ll see.
What would you want to see in a game system designed for Middle-Earth?