Monday, July 2, 2012

Rivendell: The House of Elrond...a review, of course.

It's logical to follow up on the previous review of Lorien & the Halls of the Elven Smiths with another elven stronghold. Rivendell is the most pivotal location in Middle-earth, and so rates a Middle-earth Roleplaying book of its own. For all its importance, though, it's not that big a location, so the book for it is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rather thin affair.

As with Lorien, it's tough to imagine a lot of the usual roleplaying game hijinks of door-kicking brouhahas going down in Rivendell. In game terms, it would likely be used much as it is in the book and movies - a haven and rest stop for the good guys as they wander around fighting evil. However, just as with Lorien also, the source material shows just how interesting it could be for players who want their characters to interact with the setting. Lots of palaver takes place, plans are made, and alliances are forged in Rivendell.

Trouble is, this book doesn't really deal much with anything like that. Instead, there is, as with all of ICE's Middle-earth game books, an overview of the area, with flora and fauna discussed, the cultures of men and elves are given a brief pass, and there is a cursory rundown of the history of the place. There are charts (well, of course there are!) of animals, characters, and, intriguingly, herbs. There's a lotta herb use in Middle-earth (well, of course there is!).

Rivendell has a high concentration of Middle-earth's remaining badasses. It's pretty remarkable when you think about it. Of course, there's Elrond himself, who's no slouch if you dig back in his history, though he seems to mostly do a lot of talking and cogitating when he's "onstage" in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. But really, he once had no qualms against wading into battle even when Sauron himself took the field. There's also Glorfindel, who got shafted in the movies. I mean, this is the guy from whom the Black Riders, as a group, mind you, ran when he showed up. And he chased them. But no role in the movies, unless you count some spurious "cameo" talk...and I don't. There are Elrond's sons, Elladan and Elrohir, who are barely mentioned, but the appendices to The Lord of the Rings reveals that they and Aragorn spent a lot of time roaming the wilderness killing orcs and playing Bear Grylls. Speaking of Aragorn, he was raised in Rivendell. Then, of course, there is Arwen, who basically did in the movies what Glorfindel did in the book. It's hard to criticize Jackson for that, as Tolkien's book had a paucity of strong female characters. Arwen herself spent her "onstage" appearance in the book literally on a pedestal. And yes, I'm using literally correctly here. There are implications that more badasses make Rivendell their home base, but we don't get to see them.

This book reflects how Rivendell was in the book pretty well, though as I mentioned elsewhere, ICE's Middle-earth books are pretty heavy on "crunch." That is, the game statistics take up a significant amount of the space in the book. There isn't much discussion of what to actually do here, unless you like playing out your character sitting around on the porch smoking pipeweed. I mean, there isn't a Council of Elrond everyday, and presumably most of the heavy hitters are out and about doing good deeds like beating up orcs most of the time. Elrond can be assumed to be home most of the time, I suppose, but I doubt players could have their characters pester him much before they got the boot. Characters could go to hang out with the more flighty Silvan Elves, sure, but how much singing and dancing would they be able to stomach?

Not again!

 Pretty soon, player characters would be avoiding the place...


Anyway, the book is nice, though not very inspiring. Rivendell isn't, in itself, going to be an exciting adventure location, except for really roleplay-intensive games.

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