MERP had a default time setting in TA 1640, although it had other times available. The game also had a lot of areas where you could set the campaign. On the other hand, TOR set the game in Rhovanion five years after the events of the Hobbit.
It's a matter of personal taste, but what year and area would you use to begin a Middle-earth campaign and why? Either of the options listed above would work for me, although I tend to lean towards MERP. That's mainly because I have a lot of MERP modules, and I'm used to the setting. I did move the setting to 1670 for one campaign, since the characters were the children of the original group. I decided to set the game in Minas Ithil because I wanted to get some use out of the rulebook. Also, my main character from the old game married one of the important NPCs in the area, and their two sons are in the current group.
Right now, the two timeframes that I really want to game in are the Angmar War (ICE’s 1640 or thereabouts; I’m not picky and may fudge a little) and the Fourth Age (the aftermath of the War of the Ring, which is technically still Third Age for a good while). I’ve thought about running both so much that I have considered some sort of mechanism, either in-world or meta, to tie two campaigns together.
It's a matter of personal taste, but what year and area would you use to begin a Middle-earth campaign and why?
What are your preferences?
Time: Within a decade of the last page of The Hobbit
Place: All over the map of Wilderland in The Hobbit
Canon: The Hobbit (1937 version) and perhaps some or all of 1930's "The Quenta" (published in The Shaping of Middle-Earth)
Why? Because the above says "rollicking D&D adventures" to me. The other Tolkien sources are more like "forty-page meetings talking about high and noble people of long ago doing high and noble things, but failing". The former is a fun game, the latter is to be discussed in literature class.
The more I think of it, that would be in the Second Age, shortly after the Fall of Numenor. - First, the Second Age, with its mighty but also decadent Empire, savage lands, etc. has a more "Swords & Sorcery" vibe that the Third Age. - Middle Earth is going to have several Numenorean outposts that have been deserted in the aftermath of the Atalanté, and that's a good source for dungeons - The world is going to be a mess, with Numenorean refugees settling here and there, and that's a good sandbox for the whole Outdoor exploration/ domain building. - Most of Middle Earth Map is still a blank state, so you can roll in withour concern with "official" canon.
Second Age is good, because it's not as detailed as the First or Third Ages. I can understand why the MERP and TOR games were set in their particular areas. Not much is written about those years, so GMs and players have a bit of leeway. TOR also has the added advantage of the world map already being the same as the novels, so casual fans of Middle-earth won't have too much trouble familiarizing themselves with the map.
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I have always used the rough timeline of the ICE products- post defeat of Arnor and Angmar (which sets both up for fantastic adventuring locales), and well before the events of the Hobbit- I think it allows for some "small victories" and much leeway in the story/events without feeling like the novels will intrude.
The last ME game I ran* (using Fantasy Age), I set 20 years after the fall of Angmar. The characters were all Dunedain children/teens who survived the fall of Arthedain- now young adult Rangers (plus one Hobbit companion from Bree) *
*This was for my teenage Son and his friends- As they are not the most creative or fam with Tolkien (other than watching/liking the movies) I wrote up some exposition/backstory for them to get them in the mood/explain some history/get them somewhat familiar with the tone of the area. If anyone is interested I can post the document I wrote up for my Son.