When I.C.E. produced the MERP campaign supplement The Court of Ardor in Southern Middle Earth the company was still in its infancy. In fact, MERP as a game didn’t even exist, just the world map and two other campaign settings, Umbar: Haven of the Corsairs and Angmar: Land of the Witch King [to this point, a player would have used Rolemaster]. I find this incredibly interesting for a couple of reasons, but the primary of which is how Pete Fenlon looked at the Middle-Earth license he’d recently managed to wrangle from the Tolkien estate.
You see, what sane person gets the license to craft an RPG for Tolkien’s world and then releases three campaign settings that pretty much no one but hard core Tolkien diehards would even know exist? Well, Pete, I guess because that is exactly what he did.
I mean, these supplements are remote in the extreme, and he was pretty much just whistling out his ass when it came to the creation of The Court of Ardor. Still, why not try to talk about dark elves and lands no one ever really thought to explore or even had a hand in the various works of middle-earth that even Silmarillion readers would remember?
Very much like the history Fenlon is pulling from, this campaign setting is thin, raw, and half the time it looks and feels like I.C.E. has no freaking idea what it was doing in its creation. Yet for all that, The Court of Ardor is unequivocally cool, with cover art by the incredibly talented Gail McIntosh and interiors by Charles Peale [both of which shared a studio in Charlottesville VA where I.C.E. was created] and written and city-mapped by Terry Amthor who was probably as big a Tolkien geek as Fenlon at the time. In fact, I actually had a hand in the sale of this McIntosh cover to a collector in 2013 and there are still several Peale originals from Ardor right here on AotG for sale if you are interested.
The content is scattered, the layout odd and reads more like a stat sheet, and even Peale’s art looks like I.C.E. repurposed some card art and tried to pass it off as elven characterization when it clearly wasn’t.
All told, The Court of Ardor is a rather lovely mess, both in content and art, and for that it is still one of my all-time favorite adventures set in Tolkien’s world [our outside it in this case]
Artistic Rating: 3 [out of 5]