Interview with Coleman Charlton

ColemanColeman Charlton is one of the most famous American game designers of role-playing games. He was one of the founders of Iron Crown Enterprises and is regarded as the main designer for the Rolemaster and Middle-Earth role-playing game systems in 80’s and the Middle-earth Collectible Card Game years later in 90’s. At Iron Crown Enterprises he served as the Editing and Development Manager where he designed and developed a variety of games winning awards for the Lonely Mountain board game and the Middle-earth Collectible Card Game. In the late 90’s, Coleman Charlton and Pete Fenlon, his long-time colleague from ICE, joined the Mayfair Game’s Studio that is very famous for a long list of boardgames and an own war-game of the Civil War called Clash of Wills. Coleman has also done freelance writing and design for a wide variety of projects like an online mystery game as a promotion for Steven Spielberg’s Artificial Intelligence film and Catan Online for Castle Hill Studios and Microsoft. Coleman Charlton is a big expert about Middle Earth of Tolkien and one of the biggest in role-playing games.

Coleman Charlton

Born in: Richmond, VA, USA

Date of birth: 1953


Favorite role-playing club: Historical Simulation Society

Favorite book: Lord of the Rings (overall), Name of the Wind (currently)

Favorite role-playing game: Rolemaster/MERP, Champions (Super hero RPG)

Favorite boardgame: MECCG (CCG), Mythos (CCG), Asgard’s Chosen (deck building game), CATAN (Euro Game)

Favorite wargame: World in Flames (Historical Wargame), Twlight Struggle (card driven game), War of the Ring (Fantasy Wargame)

Juegos y Dados – Welcome Coleman, it is a dream that you are here with us. Thank you very much for your collaboration. I must tell you that I am a fan of your role-playing game MERP because it was one of the firsts RPG that I played when I was child.

Coleman – I am glad to hear that. It is always a pleasure to hear that someone like what you create.

Juegos y Dados – How did you begin in the world of role-playing games?

Coleman – During my 4th year of university (1974), I started going to the local game club and played Diplomacy and wargames. When D&D came out I immediately joined the 1st campaign at UVA. The GM was a US Army Colonel, Dick Bailey, who was at jag school here, had been in Khe Sanh, Vietnam, so was very—one of the last people you would ever expect to be a roleplayer, but he had found it and was intrigued by it. He ran the first six month game that we all played in. After about a year Pete Fenlon took over the game and this guy went to West Point to teach.

Juegos y Dados – What was the first roleplaying game that you played?

Coleman – D&D and the Greyhawk supplement. It was set in Gondor in Middle-earth.

Juegos y Dados – What was the first roleplaying game that you created?

Coleman – Arms Law, then Spell Law, and then Character Law (i.e., Rolemaster)


Juegos y Dados – How did you think in to found your own company?

Coleman – Pete Fenlon tried to sell an adventure module to TSR in the late 1970s, but that failed to catch fire. We had been adding game systems to our D&D campaign and thought it was publishable. So we printed up 5000 copies each of Arm Law, Iron Wind (a mini campaign) and Manassas (a wargame) and went to GENCON in 1980. We sold over 500 Arms Law and almost that many Iron Wind, but we had taken 8 people, and 1000 copies of each. So we were disappointed. We had planned to publish products and sell them at 100% of the retail price, when we found that we would get only 40-45% from distributors, it was a rude awakening.

Co-founders included Pete Fenlon, Myself, Rick Britton, Bruce Shelly, Bruce & Heike Niedlinger, Terry Amthor, Olivia Johnston (Pete’s wife), Millessa Johnston, Kurt Fischer. We loved gaming and thought we could make a living doing it. We were partially right, but only the first six listed stuck it out (Bruce Shelly took a different path) and we did not pay salaries until 1983.

Juegos y Dados – You are working with Pete Fenlon a lot of years ago. Could you explain any story?

Coleman – Back before we published Arms Law, we used the proto-RM system in Pete’s Middle-earth game. We played every other weekend for 10-12 hours. One session was a scenario where the group needed to defeat 3 Middle-earth dragons. The dragons were tough, but we ambushed them in their lair with a collection of powerful weapons and spells—we took losses, but our attacks on the dragons used the regular critical tables. So, eventually, they died.   …. Well, this was not right, they died too easily—after all Smaug defeated entire kingdoms of Dwarves, Humans, and Elves.

So, when we next gathered 2 weeks later, the session started with the group waking up having dreamed of the battle to come—the previous session had been a group dream of the upcoming encounter with the Drakes. We protested, but not too much, the earlier adventure had been too easy. So, we carefully infiltrated the lair, as before. We ambushed the dragons, as before. But the dragons did not die as before …. Our attacks on them still generated criticals, but this time the crits were resolved on the NEW super-large crtical tables. Some of us managed to escape with our lives, some did not. Needless to say, we now had a true respect for the greatest creatures in Middle-earth.


Juegos y Dados – You have the first big role-playing games of Middle Earth of Tolkien. What do you think about so people with a copy of MERP in their personal libraries?

Coleman – It is very satisfying to have created something that has brought pleasure to many people.

Juegos y Dados – Have you ever been MERP Master? I would like knowing funny moments in the role-playing stories.

Coleman – In our ME games, I was usually a player and rules expert. I was a participant in a session that became known as “The One Way Ticket to Vindicar.” We were a group of good characters adventuring and questing in eastern ME. Our sponsor and advisor was Kod Ultour, a golden dragon who usually appeared as an old monk/hermit—he was known by some as the “wisest man in Middle-earth”. Our usual approach to raiding an evil enclave was to sneak into a fortress using spells, grab an artefact or kill a target, and then use spells to teleport or gate out. Our target was an item in the treasure trove of Mul Bass (a balrog), and our exit plan was to use a wish from the Book of Twisted runes.

At the end of the previous session, we discussed the details of our plan with Kod (“wisest man in Middle-earth”) as run by the GM, Pete Fenlon. The multi-tasking GM playing Kod could see no flaws in the plan. At the beginning of the next session, we put our plan into action—Off we went. We entered the fortress undetected. We proceeded to the vault.  Jax the master thief (wounder of the Dark Lord) picked the locks. As we grabbed the item, the alarums went off, but we were not worried. We told the GM that we were using the wish to escape.

After a moment of hesitation, he started laughing. It seemed that he had run a private session with a group member who could not make the current session. That player had secretly used the only remaining full wish in the book to increase his character’s stats.

The GM managed to regain his composure long enough to say that Kod had forgotten that the Wish had been part of the plan, and that the only wish left in the book was a limited wish that might not get everyone out. We used what we had. He rolled and determined that 2 random characters had been the holders of the “One Way Tickets to Vindicar.” And, after that, to some Kod Ultour became known as the “Wisest Man in Middle-earth, but non necessarily the smartest.”

Juegos y Dados – You have all kind of games in Mayfair Game’s Studio, strategic, board, cards, role-playing… Do you like any kind specially?

Coleman – We don’t do RPGs at Mayfair. So I am currently into board and card games.

Juegos y Dados – How often do you play games? And what?

Coleman – I play prototypes 2 or 3 time a week—it’s part of my job. It’s a rough life, but someone has to do it. I also often play a couple of times a week in addition to that.  Lately I’ve played: Triumph & Tragedy, Churchill, Through the Ages, Terra Mystica, Twilight Struggle and Innovation.


Juegos y Dados – Do you think writing any new role-playing game in the future? Could give us any details?

Coleman – I will probably will not be any new RPGs in the future, but I have several card and boardgame designs that I am working on: For Queen or Cardinal (a card game  set in Dumas’ world of the 3 Musketeers), Lords of the Phoenix (a post-apocalyptic card game), and 2 or 3 other games.

I am also working on a RPG campaign I hope to run soon. It is set in Middle-earth, starting when the Ring is destroyed.

“The guards fall easily, but one gets in a lucky slash–a mere secrets. So, you face the Olag-hai on equal terms. The fight goes on for quite awhile until the troll slows and seemed to mutter: “The eye closes…” You notice a fading glow from his chest, but you do not wait for more as you separate his head from his body.

As the adrenilin slows, you slump to the ground next to your foe–the dagger had been poisoned. The pain is intense, but before your consciousness fades, you manage to take a ring on a chain from around the troll’s neck. It fits nicely in the niche in the glowing bracer on your left arm.”

Juegos y Dados – Thank you very much again for your time. We are happy for your collaboration with Juegos y Dados.

Coleman – Thank you. I have really enjoyed sharing some memories of the old days with you.


4 comentarios en “Interview with Coleman Charlton”

  1. ¡Genial la entrevista! Coleman Charlton para mi siempre ha sido uno de los grandes olvidados cuando se habla de las celebrities del rol… En tiempos me lo pasé muy bien con Rolemaster, y sigue siendo uno de esos juegos a los que tienes un cariño especial. Eso sí, después de elegir qué tablas usar y cuales no. Su complejidad y lentitud se han exagerado demasiado en la imaginación popular, creo.

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    1. Buenas Jordi, primero de todo gracias por tu visita. Y sí, Coleman Charlton es otra de las grandes estrellas en esto del rol. A ver, que recuerde el sistema es algo mas lentillo que D20, jeje. Un abrazo!

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      1. Quizá algo sí, pero por lo que yo recuerdo tampoco tanto más… ¡D20 a niveles altos no es precisamente un sistema ágil! Cuando le dábamos al RM, cada jugador tenía una fotocopia de sus tablas de armas, críticos y hechizos, y el resto de tablas tampoco las usabamos todas, así que la cosa era razonablemente rápida. Cuando lo tenías por la mano, se podía jugar perfectamente. El tema de la letalidad ya es otro cantar… jeje

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      2. Fotocopias… Que tiempos aquellos! MERP fue el juego que tanto a mi como a muchos otros nos introdujo y sumergió en el mundo de Tolkien. Aún recuerdo el pánico que sentíamos al oir la palabra Nazgul. Gran juego y gran Coleman Charlton!

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