The system was somewhat like Dungeons & Dragons with character classes and levels. Classes available included Animist (Cleric), Bard, Fighter, Mage, Ranger and Scout (Rogue). The system diverged in having a highly detailed combat and magic system.
In the MERP game system, attributes are rating between 0 and 100, and skills can surpass these limits (under 0 or over 100). An attack roll would consist of a percentile roll + skill rating + attribute rating - targets dodge rating. This result was looked up on a table against the victim's armor type (leather/plate). Most hits in combat would cause a 'critical', which would be rolled and looked up on separate tables. For some, these critical things are quite entertaining due to their variety and creativeness, but for others the task of adding and subtracting high numbers and then consulting a table is the height of "roll-playing, not role-playing" (such an attitude is derided by most gamers as being unnecessarily elitist).
Spell casters had the unique advantage in MERP that they learned lists of 10 spells (1 per level) as a unit. Once a character learned the Healing list, he would be able to cast increasingly better healing spells as his level increased.
The setting for this game predates the War of the Ring by around 1400 years and as such it represented a version of Middle-earth radically different to that seen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Hobbit. During this period, the Shire is just being settled by Hobbits and the dark forces of Mordor are much less active in Middle-Earth than they are during the War of the Ring.
The game has a loyal and strong following, though it has received criticism regarding its complex mechanics and for having more blatant magic and brutal combat results than what is seen through most of its source material.
In Sweden a translated version called "Sagan om Ringen: Rollspelet" was released in 1986, but it never became popular, possibly because the ones who liked the setting already had bought the U.S. version or people preferring Drakar och Demoner. There was also a translated version in Finland called "Keski-Maa Roolipeli", which was never popular, but can be still found in major Role-playing stores.
Notes and Facts
The Middle-earth Role Playing was the second best selling fantasy RPG after TSR's Dungeons & Dragons.