A Review of the Role Playing Game Supplement Bree and the Barrow-Downs by Heike Kubasch

Bree and the Barrow-Downs by Heike Kubasch is a role playing game supplement published by Iron Crown Enterprises for use with the Middle-earth Role Playing game and is therefore also compatible with the Rolemaster system. Bree appeared in The Fellowship of the Ring and also made an appearance in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (which it didn’t in the book) but the Barrow-Downs, which played a significant role in The Lord of the Rings books never made it into the recent film.

Bree and the Barrow-downsThe supplement is only available in the original printed form, which is a stapled booklet with 32 numbered pages. No PDFs were produced, as ICE had lost the Middle-earth license by the time PDFs became commonplace. Inside both the front and rear covers there are coloured maps, and there are also another four, unnumbered, pages of the same. One page of the booklet is the Contents.

Guidelines for Using Middle-Earth Role Playing Modules has definitions and terms, a guide to the colour maps, and a brief overview on how to convert the game statistics to other systems – at the time of publication, basically to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, so it should still work today.

Bree and the Barrow-downs: Introduction and History gives an overview of the history of the region, which dates back to the events of The Silmarillion, coming up to the game’s present, T.A. 1700. There is an overview of the four main settlements of Bree-land, the economy and local prices.

Politics and Power in Bree-land has the main political and military institutions of the area, as well as fairs and festivals.

Prominent Families and Personalities of Bree-land covers various major non-player characters in Bree-land, some notable local institutions and some irregular passers-thorough and the local bandits.

The Barrow-downs and their Haunting covers the barrows and the infestation by wights.

Barrow Layouts has detailed layouts and descriptions of a number of different barrows, including treasures and their wight inhabitants.

Inside Bree and the Barrow-downs

A look inside Bree and the Barrow-downs from Iron Crown Enterprises

Some Suggested Adventures has some brief adventures set in and around Bree, Bree-land, the Barrow-downs and the wilds. The wights of the Barrow-downs are especially deadly.

Charts and Tables has healing herbs – MERP and Rolemaster tend more to healing herbs than magical potions – and stats for non-player characters mentioned and local wild beasts.

Selected Reading is just a listing of five books that are largely related to prehistoric barrows and graves in the British Isles.

The six pages of colour Maps consist of two maps of the surrounding area, which includes most of the Shire, maps of the towns of Bree, Archet, Coombe and Staddle, an exterior map of Bar-en-Dindol, an adventure site, and a larger map of central Bree.

Bree and the Barrow-Downs in Review

This is what was classed as a Middle Earth Adventure Module, which were smaller supplements focussing on a particular area giving a number of different adventure ideas and scenarios. These adventures are rather unlike those that Dungeons & Dragons players would be familiar with, being generally rather more free-form.

The Maps in Bree and the Barrow-downs

A view of the colour maps in Bree and the Barrow-downs from Iron Crown Enterprises

The covers and maps are in colour, but the interior illustrations, which include maps of various locations, especially the barrows, and images of people and places, are in black and white. The front cover is in a rather different style to most of the others in the range; it may be from the original animated film. The Contents lists every section and sub-section in detail, which is good, but unfortunately there are no actual page numbers given, just the numbers of the section, which rather limits its utility, as it means a reader has to go through the book to find the right page, rather than being able to turn to it.

The module is set in the year 1700 of the Third Era, which is the standard timeframe for MERP; other MERP supplements often had some details on using them in other eras and times, but this lacks such. However, the general description of Bree-land suggests that it does not change that much, so adapting it to other time periods might simply boil down to renaming some NPCs and possibly altering the Town Guard. The latter is, at the time the module is set, part of the forces of Arthedain; by the time of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Arthedain had fallen and Bree certainly gave the impression of being largely independent. Trade had likely fallen off, too, but this Bree is not that dependent on trade, being basically a farming community that just happens to be athwart two major roads. As such, adapting it will therefore not be too difficult. In fact, it might be possible to adapt this module to the setting of The One Ring. Bree and the Barrow-Downs is a nice, small module that gives details on a small area of Middle-earth, but getting hold of it today will be more tricky.

 

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