Part II in my Second Age campaign outline.
Struggles of the Faithful — the Campaign Begins
Suddenly, Lord Itrahil (heriditary lord of Lebennin and head of the Faithful in the lower Anduin vale) receives seemingly unconnected leads that imply that the region is about to face a major political crisis that could lead to an Umbarian intervention and the end to the autonomy of the Faithful. There are strange rumors of the Shadow gaining a foot-hold in his land, too. He asks a team of trusted underlings (i.e. the player-characters) to investigate what evil is afoot. They must act with discretion and without any legal powers, since Itrahil does not wish to attract the attention of Lord Golmakhôr (governor of Umbar).
Meanwhile, the evil conspiracies get entangled in one another. Neither Sauron nor the scheming Umbarian nobles know that the other party is pursuing similar goals. Also, for security reasons each set of agents does not always know what their compatriot teams are up to. There is ample opportunity for chaos and combat in the dark alleys of Pelargir. The inquisitive players will get involved in many dangerous matters and they will acquire some very powerful foes who are able to seriously harass them in the future even if they uncover and interrupt any nefarious schemes.
Some Ideas for Campaign Developments
Tolkien’s texts on Second Age history do not speak much of what happens in Lebennin during the last two centuries of Númenor’s existence. The gamemaster is actually able to justify a temporary Umbarian intervention and occupation of Lebennin without contradicting what Tolkien has written. Hence a failure by the players to uncover what plots are going on could well have disastrous consequences for their province: years of oppression by the King’s Men. The campaign could then shift its focus and deal how to resist the tyranny and alleviate the plight of the Faithful commoners (cf. the legends of Robin Hood).
One way of dealing with the campaign would be to let the players participate in the planning and preparations for a popular uprising in Lebennin. When the opportune moment offers itself in the chaos following Númenor’s demise, the characters could lead the insurrection in some places and therefore be the first to welcome the survivors from Elenna when Elendil’s storm-driven ships reach Middle-earth’s shore.
Sauron in the Second Age
Sauron is thoroughly evil since more than two thousand years, but he still retains his fair physical Maia body. He is therefore less bitter and vengeful, instead more snake-ish and shrewd. That condition should be reflected on his physical realm, too. Therefore, put less dirt and fumes in Mordor; instead use more of depravity and illusory beauty. Deception is the current name of the game, not the overt brutality that Frodo will face three millennia later. Many centuries ago, Sauron managed to deceive the Elf-lord Celebrimbor of Hollin that he was Annatar, an emissary of the Valar; that would be an impossible feat for his grim Third-Age incarnation. He possesses the One Ring, which gives him a supernatural charisma, and has his band of Nazgûl at hand, but his Elven arch-opponent Gil-galad is powerful enough to stand firm against all those dark powers.
Mordor’s sole attempt so far to conquer north-western Middle-earth — some years after the forging of the One Ring — was crushed by an Elven-Númenorean alliance, so Sauron is well aware of the full strength of his enemies. His long-term strategy has switched to infect the culture of Númenor with foul ideas to make Dúnedain rot and and perish from within. The Faithful of Lebennin pose a significant obstacle to these ambitions, because they refuse to taste his spiritual poison.
Depicting a Second-Age Middle-earth
”Everybody” knows what Gondor in the late Third Age is like — Tolkien’s books make comments here and there on what daily life is like. So it is important that the game master shows the players that this is the same place in a vastly different era.
Never use words like Gondor and Arnor, Anorien or Ithilien. Make sure to show that the sites of the future cities of Minas Tirith/Anor and Osgiliath currently only house small strongholds (with other names) at Lebennin’s north-east frontier. North of that border adevnturers will find only savage tribes, probably various ”bronze-age” ancestors of the Dunlendings and the Northmen. The same condition applies to Belfalas; the city of Lond Ernil/Dol Amroth does not yet exist and the region will not get under Dúnedain rule until after the Akallabêth.
The Faithful of Lebennin is a disliked and suspect minority among the Númenoreans. They are dissidents (perhaps even ”heretics”) that have built a refuge at the mouth of the Anduin, but they know that if they incur the King’s displeasure, they will suffer. So they always tread carefully when dealing with royal emissaries or the royal navy.
If late-Third-Age Gondor is an equivalent of a declining Bysantine empire, late-Second-Age Lebennin is rather comparable to Gaul in the time of the 4th-century Roman empire: a fertile border province with patrician villas, togas, and which faces stern barbarians beyond the frontier. The faraway ruler of the vast Númenorean empire is narcissistic and decadent, his supporters despotic, corrupt and greedy. Ethnic supremacy has become an acceptable norm, replacing the decency of the Way of the Valar as the underpinning ideology of the state. Ergo, the main enemy is within the Dúnedain society itself, not an outside force beyond a black mountain range.
The Númenoreans will soon cause their own downfall — with some nudging from Sauron. Keep in mind that in SA 3150 their decay is not recent; Númenor has been going down-hill for centuries and the arrogant ideals of the King’s Men are therefore well-established social norms. Most are (to use modern terms ) racist and chauvinist, believing that their realm — nowadays always referred to Yôzâyan in their own Adûnaic language — has the right to rule over, even to enslave, ”lesser” human peoples thanks to the ”superior qualities” of the Adûnâim (the Adunaic word for Dúnedain).
Third-Age Gondor is a subtropical culture, located in a climate zone resembling southern France judging from Ithilien’s vegetation. Second-Age Númenor is more of a tropical culture with almost all of its colonial empire located in the hot region of Umbar and Far Harad. Let this be reflected in the customs, dress code and diet of the King’s Men (perhaps touches of pre-colonial Sri Lanka, Indonesia and East Africa), who have lived for generations in these southern lands. Some suggestions: cultivation of rice and yam instead of wheat and potato; vast slave plantations; buffaloes as beasts of burden; few horses south of Umbar; sarongs instead of trousers; sandals instead of boots.
The first version of this article was written in the early 1990s for the now-defunct Tolkien gaming journal Other Hands. Initially I had written another article on how to set adventures in the First, Second, and Fourth Ages of Arda, which led to a discussion with fellow game-designer Mats Blomqvist. He thought that it would be impossible to run a campaign in the Second Age due to the scarcity of source material.
Seemingly, Mats was right because Tolkien’s texts dealing with that era are few and brief: Appendices A and B in The Return of the King, “Akallabêth” in The Silmarillion, and Part Two of Unfinished Tales (e.g. “The Tale of Aldarion and Erendis”). Mats, a scholar of literature, said that what we read in those texts is not how Númenor actually was, but rather how the Dúnedain three thousand years later viewed Númenor through the scanty documents preserved from before the Downfall (much like how we modern Europeans think of ancient Rome and Greece). It is not possible, for instance, to glean an adequate knowledge of the great engineering skills evidently possessed by the Númenóreans.
Eventually I disagreed, believing it to be possible to successfully run a Númenor-related campaign, though such an endeavor would require a lot of effort by the gamemaster. This text, revised and expanded in 2013, presents some ideas on the subject. I am fairly specific about a lot of details, not because I possess any special knowledge of them, but rather to show the enterprising gamemaster how the patchy primary sources have to be augmented by her inventions.
Selecting a Campaign Century
Much of Númenor’s history is boring, it being a well-run nation blessed by the Valar and with few disputes with other peoples. Hence it hardly provides enough punch for the average role-player, who wants tensions and conflicts which may bring exciting adventures. The interesting times¹ begin when the Númenóreans openly turn away from the ideals of the Valar, i.e. from the coronation of Ar-Gimilzôr in SA 3102 to the Downfall in SA 3319. During these two centuries, Númenor’s elite break completely with the traditions of past and cut all ties with the Eldar. The realm is plagued by political intrigues in which egotistical noblemen vie for the King’s ear. The “anti-Valar” faction, commonly called the King’s Men, suffers from overbearing pride in their perceived superior qualities.
Meanwhile, the Faithful (the traditionalist “pro-Valar” faction) struggle to survive in places such as Rómenna and Lebennin. They founded Pelargir in SA 2350 as their urban center in Middle-earth, where they have contacts with the Eldar of Edhellond. The Faithful community of Lebennin somewhat resembles what the future Gondor will be; hence there is useful information in primary sources² when designing it. It provides a good campaign environment in which the players have Faithful characters that actively oppose Sauron’s conspiracies and the oppressive ambitions of the King’s Men.
The King’s Men have established extensive colonies in Middle-earth, while shunning its northwestern parts due to the proximity of the Elves in Lindon and Lothlórien. The closest one is Umbar, while others are located further south. The royal authorities in Umbar are suspicious of what “those Elf-lovers” in the Anduin vale are up to. Sauron, now openly the King of Mordor, dislikes his next-door Dúnadan and Quendi neighbors, and would gladly see them crushed or expelled from the region. However, he is not yet willing to challenge Númenor by a military move, because he remembers the defeat he suffered when fighting the united armies of Elves and Númenoreans in Eriador around SA 1700.
Lebennin — Home of the Faithful
Lebennin is a fertile land of plains. Its original population consisted of indigenous tribes, cousins of the inhabitants of Enedwaith. However, the plains tribes have been subjected to a strong Faithful influence since the early parts of the third millennium of the Second Age; hence ”by now” they have become “Dúnadanized” to a great extent. The Faithful have migrated from Elenna* to Lebennin since the reign of Tar-Atanamir the Great in the 21st century of the Second Age, at which time they realized that Númenor’s ruling elite had begun to stray from the traditions of Elros Tar-Minyatur, the first king. In the 32nd century, Lebennin’s Faithful population numbers about one million, of which less than 10% is of pure Númenórean descent. There is only one city, Pelargir, but the countryside is dotted with villages and towns³.
Before the arrival of the men of Westernesse, the Lebennin region was under Sauron’s influence. Those indigenous clans that preferred the Shadow moved away into the highland valleys of the Ered Nimrais and the Belfalas peninsula when the Faithful settlers gained influence. They still remain there, hating the Faithful and ready to serve the Lord of Mordor. The Dúnedain therefore call them the Wild Men of the Mountains.
In SA 3150, Pelargir is a well-fortified haven, with about ten thousand inhabitants, and it has been the administrative center of Lebennin for about 800 years. Itrahil, its current heriditary lord, belongs to the line of Imrazôr and is recognized as the local leader by all Faithful. He is de jure responsible to king Ar-Gimilzôr of Númenor, but Lebennin has de facto gradually acquired a semi-autonomous status, handling its own taxation and militia.
In this period, the region should probably be portrayed as a somewhat more rural version of late Third Age Gondor. There are many similarities in how the “state” and civil society works, with the Lord of Lebennin in a position resembling that of the ruling Stewards of Gondor. However, the notable Elven presence is a major difference from later ages. It is also clear for the Faithful settlers of late Second Age that Lebennin is but a small part of the mighty Númenórean empire and that they are an openly disliked minority.
The Lebennians know of Sauron of Mordor. At this time, his dominion does not stretch west of the Ephel Dúath, but people that live in Lossarnach see that forbidding black mountain range at the eastern horizon. They know that Sauron hates the descendants of the Edain† for their participation in the war against Morgoth in the First Age more than 3,000 years ago and that he aspires for dominion over all of Middle-earth.
Friends of the Faithful
However, the Faithful have powerful friends in the Elves, since the two kindreds are not yet sundered. There are frequent visits by Elves to Pelargir, much to the chagrin of the King’s Men in Umbar. The Elf-haven of Edhellond on the west side Belfalas peninsula is a notable urban settlement in Lebennin’s vicinity. It is smaller than Pelargir and purely Elvish. Its main task is to facilitate the emigration of Elves to Aman, just like the comparable havens in Lindon. It is mostly Elves from Greenwood the Great, Lothlórien and the East that go to Edhellond.
Another ally are the Drúedain tribes of the forests in Anórien and Ithilien. This people hate the Orcs of Mordor and desire to keep their ancestral lands free of outsiders, a wish respected by the Lord of Lebennin (though this policy is ridiculed by the King’s Men).
Foes of the Faithful
During the two centuries preceding the Akallabêth, Lebennin does not suffer from major foreign invasions. Instead, the Faithful have to deal with the schemes of three hostile neighbors which for various reasons wish to assume control over the region or destabilize it.
1. The Wild Men in Ered Nimrais and Belfalas jealously have for centuries watched how the Faithful have turned Lebennin into a bountiful land, and they wish to conquer and plunder it since they consider it to be theirs. However, the mountain tribes are disorganized barbarians and do not pose a military threat to the well-organized Lebennin society. On the other hand, should an opportunity appear, hotspurs among the Wild Men will certainly use it to attack their hated neighbors. The appearance of a charismatic warlord (someone comparable to e.g. Shaka Zulu) that unites the tribes would also pose a significant danger to the Faithful.
2. Certain haughty nobles among the King’s Men of Umbar want to crush the Faithful, their ideological opponents, and subjugate them to the King’s rule. However, as long as Lebennin’s settlers are not openly hostile to the King, they cannot be chastised by armed might. Also, Lebennin serves as a useful military buffer against Mordor. It would be strategically unwise for Sauron to make a move against Umbar without neutralizing Pelargir first, otherwise the fortified city would threaten his southbound lines of communication across the Poros river. To be able to justify an Umbarian occupation of Lebennin, these noblemen must create a credible impression that the settlers of Lebennin are enemies of king Ar-Gimilzôr, for instance by provoking them to actions that could be interpreted as treasonous.
3. Sauron desires to eradicate the ideals of the Faithful from Middle-earth as that would make it far easier to further corrupt the remaining Númenóreans. However, he can not make a military move against a Númenórean possession without engaging in a full-scale war with that realm, a conflict he doubts he would win. Instead, he has to destroy Lebennin from within, either by spreading spiritual corruption or by causing the authorities in Umbar to strike at the Faithful community. The latter could for instance be achieved by covertly deceiving the Governor of Umbar Lord Golmakhôr (an ardent King’s Man) to believe that the Lebennians intend to secede.
Sauron and the schemers in Umbar have, unbeknownst to each other, inserted several covert agent teams into Lebennin with the intention to destabilize the region. Sauron uses only corrupt Lebennians for his operation, because outsiders would attract too much attention. Some Sauronic teams will incite the mountain tribes to raid outlying settlements. Others will try to establish Evil cults in Pelargir with the long-term goal of corrupting Lebennin from within. One gang will engage in seemingly random terror attacks on known King’s Men that visit the area or on property belonging to the King, e.g. the small naval installations in Pelargir’s port.
The Umbarian agents have other goals. One team will spread false information that implies that an Umbarian military move against Lebennin is soon to take place. For instance they could possess forged documents detailing how an Umbarian garrison will take over the defense of Pelargir and try to get these into Lord Itrahil’s hands. Another will try to convince him that people he have trusted are plotting together with Umbarian nobles to seize power in Lebennin.
¹ At least as seen from the perspective of a famous Chinese proverb.
² After all, Lebennin is where Elendil and his sons established their South-kingdom. They must have adopted a lot of existing political and social practices when founding the new state of Gondor.
³ Keep in mind that Minas Anor, Minas Ithil, and Osgiliath are founded by Elendil after the demise of Númenor.
† The three Houses of the Edain were the First-Age ancestors of the Númenoreans.
* Elenna (star-wards) is the Elven name of the huge island which is the home of the Kingdom of Númenor/Westernesse. At the beginning of the Second Age, Valar granted it as a gift to the surviving Edain for their steadfast support to the Elves during the long struggles against Morgoth.
On the southern shore of Nurn you find
Aelindur’s misty flower field
with her magic roses, black and white.
In the hour of midnight
she is dancing right across the field
weaving signs of magic, runes of might.
And she sings: “Burzum ûk,”
chanting words of power, Sauron’s child.
And then the swaying magic roses
growing in the field obey,
sending streams of evil, pale as death.
For though each rose is graceful, it is
filled with Mordor’s baleful breath
used by Aelindur Elvenmaid.
And when the Moon is rising,
then an evil eye looks down on you,
sending forth her powers to your mind.
You wake up to the sound of chanting;
Aelindur comes to you
wearing words of magic, words to bind:
“Be my slave, be my slave!”
Then you must surrender, and you do.
Thus you are, thus you are
bound with words of chaining, thus you are.
I wrote this text about 20 years ago for the now-defunct Tolkien gaming journal Other Hands. It deals with issue of city planning in a fantasy context.
Minas Tirith is a city planner’s nightmare—a big city on a hill with seven concentric walls and a very small number of gates (The outer wall has only one gate through which all traffic in and out of the city must pass.), which creates a serious logistical problem. Due to the lack of primary source references, my reasoning in the following paragraphs is speculative, though it is based on sound historical and military facts.
If we assume that the city has approximately 50,000 inhabitants—a realistic figure, given the size of Gondor—and that each of these consume 2.5 kg (6 lbs) of food per day (excluding water, which is supplied by internal wells and rain cisterns), the city must daily receive about 150 tonnes of food supplies. There would obviously need to be a steady stream of wagons coming into the city from the Harlond docks and the Anórien and Lebennin roads.
Assuming that one wagon can load 450-500 kg (about 1,000 lbs) of supplies, 300 wagons a day must reach the city, which makes approximately one every five minutes if the wagon traffic runs 24 hours a day. However, it seems unlikely that wagons would be working during night due to the absence of proper artificial lighting. Instead, it is more realistic to assume that the tempo is one wagon every two minutes. The roads running to Minas Tirith would clearly need at least two (and preferably three or four) lanes in order to be able to deal with this amount of traffic. Four lanes would certainly be necessary for the Harlond road.
The layout of Minas Tirith prevents the use of large wagons in the city. Instead, the city porters must use smaller and more agile carts, perhaps something similar to a hand-drawn rickshaw, in order to navigate the numerous tunnels and tight street curves. In ancient Rome, transportation of goods was only allowed during the dark hours to prevent congestion of the streets during the day-time. Most likely there were similar regulations in Minas Tirith. Outside the Great Gate there would have to be a reloading and storage depot area where goods could be transferred from wagons to carts. The wagons would arrive by day to deposit goods there and, after sunset, the city porters would come with their carts to take the goods inside the walls. One consequence of this arrangement is that the city’s bakeries and butcher shops should be located on the lowest level, preferably as close to the Great Gate as possible.
Another consequence is that the people running teamster and carting businesses should be influential in city politics; after all, their hard work ensure that the city stays well-fed. Most likely, the official overseeing the depot area is a senior ”civil servant” who is appointed by the Steward and who reports directly to him.
It might be possible to have hoists on top of the walls to alleviate the congestion, but this would only be practical at the outermost city level, where flour sacks could be lifted straight from a wagon over the city wall to the backyard of a bakery. Such devices are not mentioned in The Return of the King, but it is likely that the Steward would have ordered their removal when the war approached in any case.
Every morning, a swarm of servants would have to descend from the upper city levels to buy fresh food. If there were a day-time city food market (very likely), it would probably be located in an open field just outside the Great Gate so that the peasants would not have to enter the city to sell their wares. There should also be a similar fish market right next to Harlond. In addition to foodstuffs, there would also be deliveries of raw materials to city artisans and the problem of transporting their products to other parts of Gondor, creating additional traffic through the Great Gate.
A big fortified city of medieval Europe had numerous gates in its outermost wall just to be able to deal with the transportation of goods. Medieval Visby in Sweden (a town much smaller than Minas Tirith) had three gates that opened onto the adjacent farmlands and a big port. Minas Tirith’s layout is clearly that of a fantasy world, making her an imposing beauty, though quite improbable.
Jag har nu levererat mina texter inom två av de tre rollspelsprojekt som jag deltar i under denna vår. Till Mutant År Noll har jag skrivit en kustbaserad äventyrsplats inuti den farofylla Zonen. Beställningen till Skuggornas Mästare omfattade ett antal stämningsskapande inslag — t.ex. en dagboksanteckning, en frontrapport, en intervju — som illustrerar viktiga företeelser i spelvärlden.
Jag håller nu på att fila på SciFi!, ett mer krävande uppdrag eftersom jag där har huvudansvaret för det textmässiga innehållet. Det handlar om att skapa en framtid som är öppnar upp för många slags spännande äventyr och som samtidigt besitter intern trovärdighet. Det handlar inte om att det är en sannolik framtid –det hoppas jag verkligen inte — utan att den hänger ihop och har ett visst mått av tidlöshet. (Traveller led av att dess tekniktankar var alltför präglade av 1970-talet.) Det trevliga är att jag har kunnat plocka upp en del idéer från mina opublicerade projekt. (Det är ju alltid trist när bra påhitt ligger och samlar damm.) Så det blir en nypa FutureShock , ett mått Mars, och några korn Wolframfästet instoppade bland allt det nya.
Regelmotorn är hämtad från Tomas Arferts Fantasy!, men ombyggd för att passa en futuristisk miljö. När det gäller rollpersonen handlar mycket om vilka utbildningar hon har fått innan hon kommer i spel. I starten utgår man ifrån att alla spelarroller är människor som arbetar för Förenade Mänsklighetens (FM) spejarkår. Detta är en civil uniformerad organisation som sysslar med utforskning, diplomati, spionage och ”konstiga jobb”. Mänskligheten håller att finna sin plats i ett kosmos som präglas av det stora (icke-mänskliga) rymdimpets undergång. Bland dess ruiner håller diverse ”små” intelligenta arter på att etablera sig. Vilka slags framtid är möjlig?
Summary in English: The Swedish RPG hobby has seen a recent resurgence thanks to the print-on-demand revolution and the old-school renaissance. During the past month, I have been invited to write for three publishers: Saga Games, Fria Ligan and Myling Spel. I haven’t had such a professional boost since the mid 1990s.
Den svenska rollspelsbranschen har fått en rejäl nytändning under de senaste åren tack vare print-on-demand-revolutionen och old-school-vågen. Nu kan en ny produkt sälja i mer än hundra ex och det känns som det var 15 år sedan något sådant var möjligt.
Detta har också inneburit en omstart för mig som spelkonstruktör. På ungefär en månad har jag fått tre skrivuppdrag — så efterfrågad var jag senast i mitten av 1990-talet. Och detta känns fantastisk kul att som den gråhårige rutinerade ensamulven få vara med och jaga med ungvargarna.
Det rör sig om följande titlar:
SciFi! – jag är huvudkonstruktör för detta old-school-SF-spel åt Saga Games, tänkt att vara i samma anda som företagets framgångsrika Fantasy! Läs mer här >>>
Mutant År Noll (M0) – Fria Ligan har tagit över Mutant-licensen och ska nu reboota spelet i en ”äldre tid”, närmare katastrofen och långt före Pyri-samfundets uppkomst. Min del består i att skriva en kampanjplats. Läs mer om spelet här >>>
Skuggornas mästare – Tina Engström och Myling tillverkar version 2.0 av ett spel som ursprungligen skrevs av Gunilla Jonsson och Michael Petersén. Ockult action i nutidsmiljö: ninjor och demoner så att säga. Mitt uppdrag är att skriva in-game infomaterial om märkliga platser runt om i vår värld. Läs mer om spelet här >>>
Både Skuggornas mästare och M0 finansieras genom crowdfunding, så du har möjlighet att stödja att de blir verklighet genom ett litet eller stort bidrag.
Alla tre rollspelen har sina rötter i vår hobbys guldålder på 1980-talet. Mutant Classic kom ut 1985 och M0 är väl den fjärde versionen av denna udda postapokalyptiska spelvärld. Skuggornas mästare v1.0 publicerades 1988. SciFi! tillhör samma SF-tradition som Traveller från 1977 och Future*World från tidigt 1980-tal — action och mysterier bland stjärnorna.
The last few years there have been a resurgence in Swedish role-playing game (RPG) publishing, probably due to the advent of cheap DTP software and cost-efficient print-on-demand suppliers. The hobby’s nadir might be over. Mylingspel, Saga Games, Fria Ligan and many garage-size producers are making sure that there is a steady influx of new products of high quality. (Here is a link to the Swedish blogpost that triggered this notion >>>)
However, this is a renaissance for enthusiasts, not for the mass market. Saga Games’s Fantasy! is a top seller in the specialty shops, but it won’t be in the shelves of the common toy stores or bookshops, unlike the situation in the 1980s and 1990s.
And that’s the crux. When the national game wholesaler Top Games collapsed in the late 1990s, the RPG market died with it. The specialist intermediary between the manufacturer and the individual stores is essential. That was one of the major reasons for the success of Drakar och Demoner 30 years ago: Target Games found an competent ally in AB Jan Edman, a company that worked business-to-business to distribute all sorts of games and toys on a national scale. Its salesmen made sure that all relevant store owners got our RPG products in their hands. But nowadays there simply isn’t money enough in the Swedish RPG business to attract the attention of such companies.
In 1989, the now defunct American game publisher GDW produced an odd role-playing game called Space 1889. A mix of ideas from Jules Verne, HG Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett and Percival Lowell: Earth-built ethercraft exploring the solar system, whose planets are as they should be in classic adventure fiction, that is Mars with canals and decaying civilizations, Venus with jungles, etcetera.
During the 1990s my game group ran on and off a lengthy campaign taking the adventurers to odd corners of the solar system, including a Doyle-ish London, an Oscarian Stockholm and a Tolstoyan Odessa. It was the most amusing RPG experience the gang has ever had. But when my kids started to arrive around the turn of the millennium, my priorities changed, I ceased to be gamemaster and the campaign went into limbo.
This December it has been resurrected. It is currently 10 November 1896 and the Czar’s cousin Grand Duchess Alexandra Ivanovna arrives at the Red Planet. Duke Gorklimskii (Иван Карлович Горклимский), Russian resident-commissioner in the occupied city of Gorklimsk, hosts a splendid reception for his distant relative. Old enemies lurk in nearby cities and we fear that the rabble-rouser Madwaan will ignite another Martian revolt against the hated Earthmen. This promises to be an exciting winter.
When I do role-playing the action takes place inside my head and external props are generally unnecessary. Therefore, I have never been a fan of LARP (Live-Action Role-Playing). Also, bad props would disrupt my enjoyment, like plastic swords and cars passing by the ”medieval” LARP site. So I have only participated in two major LARP events since the 1990s, both meticulously staged in pseudo-modern gameworlds.
One of them — Carolus Rex in 1999 — was an outstanding dieselpunk experience. The adventure was played four times over a week. It was the same adventure, lasting 30 hours, but with new crews each time. The following photos have been contributed by Olle Sahlin, who served in crews 1 and 3. (He was a galley cook the second time. The cooks did not really play, but were charged with making sure that the ”regular” crewmen did not forget to eat.) I served in crew 4.
The organizers had rented an ex-Soviet Whiskey class submarine, serving as a tourist trap in the port of Norrköping. The sub was ”dead”: all machinery disabled and all important portholes welded in safe open positions. So the organizers put in their own wiring and props, creating the retro-futuristic starship HMS Carolus Rex. Her future was a dystopia: we participants were subjects to an authoritarian Sweden, created out of national-romantic notions from the late 19th century with an added layer of dieselpunk-era oppression.
The spaceship was equipped with a sound system, copper-wire communications, 1980s green-on-brown computer screens and lots of other small things that created a credible illusion of ”Das Boot” meets Star Trek.
Thirteen years have passed since those 30 hours I spent aboard HMS Carolus Rex as her science officer. (Unfortunately I have no photos of myself ”at work”.) What I clearly remember is how the painstaking preparations by the organizers created a great illusion. No failed props. We were cut of from the world and surrounded by the cold steel hull, blinking machinery and an excellent sound system that created humming engines, battle noise and so many other impressions. It was a fantastic stage with an extraordinary adventure for the crew in general and me personally.
The storyline dealt with Sweden’s war against Denmark among the stars, alien beings communicating through the AI, the rescue of enemy crewmen from a blasted starship and the intrusion of a mental monster. I loved entering a truly dieselpunk world, a place in which dreams and nightmares came true. The basic plot was quite trekkish, but also full of dystopian darkness. Defeat, death and failure — there was no happy ending, neither for the ship nor for the Kingdom of Sweden.
I have to commend the organizers for providing genuine Danish LARPers for the rescued enemies. Their triumphal rendition of the Kong Christian battle song at the news of Sweden’s surrender added salt to the mix.