After all, Tolkien's work has been the foundational muse for a huge swath of "high fantasy" works, everything from Stephen Donaldson to Robert Jordan to Terry Brooks to Weiss and Hickman's Dragonlance saga (substitute "Berem the Everman" for the One Ring and Takhisis for Sauron). While most of these are pretty terrible (sorry), there's little doubt they're popular, having sold millions and millions of copies over the years. Perhaps the theme and (common) story strikes a chord in people; perhaps folks just wish they could get MORE Tolkien and are willing to gobble up whatever is offered. In the end, the reason doesn't matter terribly...we know the formula works.
Even so, for a D&D campaign, few folk are interested in playing in the shadow of greatness: they want their adventures to be open, not tied to wars and battles and heroic deeds being done by NPCs. So, for those interested in exploring the beauty and wonder of Middle Earth without worrying about Aragorn and Frodo and the Dark Lord Sauron etc., the question arises: where to set the campaign? Or, more accurately, when?
For me, I'd go ahead and start such a campaign circa the year 1300 T.A. (Third Age). The hobbits have begun moving west, though the Shire won't be settled for another 300 years...their race is still restless and adventurous, though they still display their love for simple farming life (when they can find it). There are still kings in Gondor, Rhovanion, and Arnor, though that last has been broken into three lesser kingdoms. There are still dwarves in Moria (and will be for 600 years) and Erebor ("Lonely Mountain") has yet to be founded. Elves are found in the usual places but their power, like Gondor, is much in decline. The Istari (wizards) have entered Middle Earth, but have only been around for a couple centuries.
|Using the Third Age as a setting precludes|
any appearance by Morgoth. Be glad.
Not bad at all.
Of course, some adjustments need to be made to the B/X rules to really get a "Middle Earth" feel. There are no clerics in the style of D&D, though I.C.E.'s Middle-Earth Role Playing game includes an "animist" profession to fill this niche (it also includes a "scout" profession to fill the role normally occupied by D&D's thief class). There is, in fact, very little magical healing in the Middle Earth setting, certainly not much that is easily accessible (though food, drink, and soft beds seem to have much the same power as healing potions in the fiction).
Magic, in general, is different from that found in the D&D game, being actually more common (every race exhibits some form of "magic") while decidedly less powerful (only the Istari, Maiar, and Valar display great shows of power on par with a D&D "wizard"). Magical items tend to be usable by all classes of characters (wizards wield magic swords, warriors use crystal balls, etc.) but most such enchantments can have grave consequences when wielded by those who lack the proper training, control, and/or bloodline. The setting itself is full of the supernatural, though it is far more of the dark fairy tale story (talking animals, ancient curses) and less of the Strange Tales variety prevalent in your average D&D campaign (understandable in that the latter draws upon Howard and Lovecraft as much as Tolkien...if not more so).
An interesting challenge to try to write up a campaign guide for such a setting. Interesting, but not exactly what I'd call daunting.
I think I might give it a go. It's been a while since I've designed anything, really (well, other than this thing or two I was helping my boy with...). Plus, I really have all the books on hand that one could want for such a task: multiple "visual guidebooks," the collected works of Tolkien (including the Silmarillion), Chris Tolkien's books, a copy of MERP, plus the LotR fan wiki. Yeah, maybe something with hobbits and balrogs would be just the kind of thing to get my mental juices flowing...
Let me see what I can put together.