Axes against the Storm! (part IV)

“When you think of the great Battle of the Pelennor, do not forget the battles in Dale and the valour of Durin’s Folk. Think of what might have been. Dragon-fire and savage swords in Eriador! There might be no Queen in Gondor.”
–Gandalf

Running the Dwarf Campaign
King Dain of Erebor expects war and wants to know what coming his way. Therefore, the goal of the Dwarven player characters (i.e. the king’s emissaries) is to uncover what threats are brewing in Rhûn. The Dwarves distrust Men and Elves and they are prideful and stubborn. However, the dire times will force them to cooperate with people that they detest.

One recurring development in the campaign is that the player characters end up in uncomfortable places. Dwarves are at home in the mountains, but here they must travel on river boats, walk through dark forests and visit “decadent” Easterling towns. Role-playing these hardships is supposed to be a challenge to the players.

What Will the King’s Emissaries Do?
The campaign should start after the first visit of Sauron’s messenger to king Dain. The king is worried and wants to know what is going on in the east. Rewriting the general passage of events in the War of the Ring is not really possible, so the Dwarven player characters’ prime task is to ascertain what forces the Shadow is about to muster in Rhûn and find then ways of weakening those foes, e.g. by sowing dissension and doubt. (They can for instance try to make one or two Easterling warlords abstain from joining the invading army.) But the task is not easy: Dwarves are disliked in many places and Rhûnian nobles are often as insolent and brave as Durin’s folk, though more cynical and prone to break their words.

Radagast the Brown
Radagast the wizard makes only one appearance in The Lord of the Rings, i.e. when he delivers Saruman’s message to Gandalf on June 29, 3018. When Elrond’s scouts visit Radagast’s abode Rhosgobel near the Mirkwood in the late autumn that year, it is empty. The wizard’s whereabouts during the War of the Ring are never revealed and that void is used in this campaign outline.

It appears unlikely that one of the powerful mages among the Free Peoples would stand aside when the future of the world is at stake. Gandalf is active on the southern front of the war, so it seems plausible that Radagast would head for the northern front in order to assist Men, Elves and Dwarves. He is an earth mage, unlike Gandalf (fire), Elrond (water), and Galadriel (air), with a particular affinity for animals and birds. (And he should not resemble the hippie character in Peter Jackson’s movies. The Istari are majestic fellows.)

Radagast serves as a powerful NPC ally whose task is to advise, suggest and warn. However, he will not assume leadership. The rulers among Free Peoples are free to determine their own courses of action and do the hard work. Aspiring for political power is dangerous for a wizard – see what Saruman’s ambitions did to him.

Politics around the Inland Sea in 3018
Sauron wants to mobilize the Easterlings around the Inland Sea for a large-scale campaign against the Free Peoples in early 3019. But methods suitable for ruling Orcs will not work here. Instead Sauron has to use bait and stick to get the many chieftains and princes of Rhûn to join his cause and he needs to override the mistrust or dislike these men have for one another. The Easterlings have little sympathy for the ideals of the Dúnedain. Instead they are mainly motivated by self-interest, cynicism and opportunism.

Here are three of the issues that both Sauron’s and Dain’s emissaries must deal with:
The merchant aristocrats in Tvorchoz are mainly interested in keeping trade going and maintain favorable treaties they have forced on weaker chieftains around the Inland Sea.
Shuram, the Rodid prince who currently rules Dorwinion, earns a lot of silver by selling wine to the Forest Elves, Dale and Erebor. Therefore he and the vineyard owners in his realm are quite unhappy with the prospects of war.
Orish is a charismatic warlord who dominates several coastal towns. He looks forward to war, glory and plunder in faraway lands. (For instance, use the Viking chieftain Harald Hardrada as a template.) Sauron sees Orish as the right man to command the campaign against Erebor, but Dorwinion stands in the way in the lower Celduin valley. However, breaking Shuram by military means would be so costly that it could seriously weaken the host heading for Rhovanion.

Morlug: Sauron’s Hand in Northern Rhûn
During the Second Age, Celebrimbor wrought more rings than the Three, the Nine and the Seven. They are known as lesser Rings but they are still powerful. Many were seized by Sauron during the conquest of Eregion almost five millennia ago [sources: Gandalf’s history lecture to Frodo in the Shire; the description of the sack of Eregion in Unfinished Tales part two, ch. IV: Concerning Galadriel and Celeborn].

Sauron has dispatched the ring-wight Morlug to northern Rhûn to handle the political complications. He will use the Cult of the Red Star, Orish the warlord, gold, sorcery and drugs to ensure that the military campaign starts on schedule in early 3019.

Morlug was a Black Númenorean nobleman who joined Sauron during the Second Age and therefore received a lesser ring as a reward. He has retained his corporeal shape, even though he is undead. His heart does not beat and he breathes only when he needs to speak in a thin and sharp voice or when he wants to smell something. Thanks to his ring, his senses are far more acute than any man’s: his sight is not hindered by darkness or fog, and he has a dog’s sense of smell, a cat’s hearing and a bear’s strength. Daylight causes no problem to him. He is also able to radiate despair and fear at will, though not as strongly as a Nazgûl. However, he will shirk away from Elves and items imbued with Elvish virtue. And he will not be able to stand up against Radagast in a confrontation, if the Wizard chooses to manifest his full power.

The Easterlings’ Invasion in 3019
The Easterlings will attack Dale and Erebor by boat. Five thousand men in 500 boats sail and row up the Celduin to Long Lake, where they pillage Laketown and land near Dale. King Brand and king Dain mobilize 2000 men and 200 Dwarves in response. That army is defeated on March 15-17 while trying to hold Dale. Half of the army is lost, together with the two kings. Meanwhile, the local civilians have sought refuge inside the Lonely Mountain, where they are defended by the remnants of the allied host.

Ten days of siege ensue before the news of Sauron’s demise reach Rhovanion. On March 27, the Easterlings lose their will to fight and retreat down the Celduin. Morlug disappears quietly at the same time and nobody seems to know what happened to him. His ring has lost its power, but he may still be able to “survive” on his own, though considerably weaker in might and magic.

The War’s Aftermath
“Don’t adventures ever have an end? I suppose not. Someone else always has to carry on the story.”
–Bilbo Baggins

By the end of March, the war in the north is over. However, Rhûn will suffer from political turmoil for years as the balance of power shifts between the local strongmen. Gondor is not strong enough to impose its will in that area, so Rhovanion’s Dwarves and Free Men face plenty of new problems. Hence, the campaign may go on and deal with economic reconstruction and political realignment. Dale and Laketown need to be rebuilt once more and river trade must resume before the onset of winter to avoid famine in the pillaged areas.

And who knows what a vengeful Morlug might be up, hidden in a stronghold somewhere along the coast of the Inland Sea?

Axes against the Storm! (part II)

Dwarves are not heroes, but a calculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not but are decent enough people like Thorin and Company, if you don’t expect too much.

– JRR Tolkien

The Dwarves – the People of Stone and Steel
The main source of information about the Dwarves is the Appendices in The Lord of the Rings, which describe their history, culture, and language. Unfinished Tales provides a few facts on their everyday life in the late Third Age. In addition, Silmarillion explains the First Age origins of the hostility between the Dwarves and the Elves.

In the third millennium of the Third Age, there are three major Dwarven realms in northwestern Middle-earth: the Blue Mountains, Erebor and the Iron Hills. Tolkien writes little about the Blue Mountains, but it appears to be the most significant one. For instance, Thorin Oakenshield settles there after the destruction of Erebor.

The Dwarves are also a travelling people. Tolkien mentions several times how they go along the roads of Eriador and through the passes of the Misty Mountains. That is, for instance, how Gandalf and Thorin meet for the first time in Bree, an encounter that sows the seed for the fateful expedition to Erebor; that particular event is described by Gandalf in Unfinished Tales.

Role-playing a Dwarf
Dwarves ought to be played as artisans and warriors. They are smiths, miners, masons, canal builders, etc. Their skills in such crafts surpass by far those of Men. All also appear to been competent fighters, i.e. the Children of Durin are a people in arms.

But their number is tiny compared to all other Free Peoples and that affects how they look on the world. They know that a determined enemy – like Sauron – might be able to exterminate them. The fall of Moria in the 1980s, Smaug’s devastation of Erebor and the war against the Orcs in the 2790s depleted their numbers badly and because of low birth rates, they have not yet recovered at the end of Third Age.

The Dwarves have both external enemies (e.g. Easterlings, Orcs, and the servants of the Shadow) and internal (e.g. excessive pride, greed and ambition). To speak in character creation terminology, all that ought to give them some psychological disadvantages, e.g. Won’t Back Down, Speaks the Truth, Speciecism (“racism”), Quick to Anger, and Greedy. Their compensating advantages may, among others, be Endurance, Robust Physique, Master Craftsman, and Combat Prowess. The Lord of the Rings shows that Dwarves are elite warriors, whereas the common Orcs (snaga, goblins) are cannon fodder. At Helm’s Deep, Gimli slays 42 Orcs while receiving only a light wound. Men and uruk-hai are harder to defeat, while cave trolls and olog-hai are serious adversaries.

In this campaign the Dwarven player characters will therefore be well equipped and battle-hardy, but they are few and their enemies numerous. And Dwarves in boats will always be at a disadvantage.

Part III will be published on February 20.

Axes against the Storm! (part I)

But Sauron gathered into his hands all the remaining Rings of Power; and he dealt them out to the other peoples of Middle-earth, hoping thus to bring under his sway all those that desired secret power beyond the measure of their kind. [...] The Dwarves indeed proved tough and hard to tame; they ill endure the domination of others, and the thoughts of their hearts are hard to fathom, nor can they be turned to shadows. They used their rings only for the getting of wealth; but wrath and an over-mastering greed of gold were kindled in their hearts, of which evil enough after came to the profit of Sauron.

–JRR Tolkien

An outline of a Dwarf Campaign in the War of the Ring
This campaign description comprises four blog post. No I outlines the proposal, no II presents suggestions on how to role-play one of Durin’s kin, no III briefly describes the lands of the Easterlings, and no IV discusses how to run a sequence of adventures.

Northern Rhovanion is a geographical region that comprises, among other places, the Dwarf Kingdom of the Lonely Mountain (Erebor in Sindarin), the Elven Kingdom in the northern Mirkwood and the the mannish settlements at the Long Lake. During the War of the Ring, Sauron dispatches an army to conquer those lands. His strategic goal is to secure a route for a later invasion of northern Eriador and Lindon. However, Tolkien’s texts describe the theater of war only in general terms.

The basic idea of this campaign is that the player characters are Dwarves in the service of Dain Ironfoot, King under the Mountain. They serve as scouts and emissaries during the dramatic years at the end of the Third Age. They will travel to mannish towns at the Long Lake, to Easterling realms at the Sea of Rhûn, and into the depths of the Mirkwood. Action and conspiracies, axes and sorcery. The climax of the campaign will be the Battle of Dale, the Siege of Erebor and the Fall of Sauron. Norse laconic heroism in the face of vicious assaults: “You shall not pass!!”

This outline is not written for any particular game system, because most of those available are easily applied to Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Just keep in mind that flashy magic is rare here. Sorcerers are rare and most of them serve Sauron. On the other hand, heroes with extraordinary talents and skills are common.

One Gondorean league equals 3 miles or 5 kilometers.

The Easterlings of Rhûn

Based on what Tolkien’s texts say, it is obvious that “Easterling” is a label that the Dúnedain apply to many unrelated tribes that have only one thing in common, that they live to the north and north-east of Mordor. For example, the Wain-riders that invade Gondor in 1851 and 1944 are not related to the Balchoth that attack the realm in 2510.

This is an outlook that fit into a western European world view: between AD 200 and AD 1300, our continent was invaded time and time again by unrelated Asiatic tribes, such as the Huns, the Avars, the Bulgars, the Magyars, and the Mongols.

So keep in mind that this campaign outline deals with the final century of the Third Age, long after the destruction of the Balchoth in the 26th century. Earlier, other peoples lived in Rhûn.

Northern Rhovanion at the End of the Third Age
The Battle of Five Armies is fought at the Lonely Mountain in TA 2941 (i.e. 78 years before the War of the Ring). Smaug the Dragon is slain, the Orcs of Mount Gundabad are defeated, and two ancient realms are reestablished: the Dwarven Kingdom of Erebor and the Mannish principality of Dale at the foot of the Mountain. The Dwarven pretender Thorin Oakenshield falls in the battle and therefore Erebor is inherited by his cousin Dain Ironfoot of the Iron Hills. This event rewrites the political and economic map of northern Rhovanion.

At the Council of Elrond (October 24-25, 3018) Gimli speaks of the many positive developments in northern Rhovanion after Smaug’s death:

Erebor flourishes thanks to its mines and smithies. Surrounding Mannish settlements benefit from this growth, because the Dwarves buy food, cloth and other items that they do not make themselves in exchange for metal, tools and construction work (e.g. canals).

The Iron Hills 60 leagues east of Erebor contain another Dwarven realm, ruled by Dain’s relatives.

Dale possesses a good harbour at the northern tip of the Long Lake, so it has become a nexus for trade and agriculture. It is ruled by king Brand, grandson of Bard the Bowman. The Dwarves has assisted his people in digging canals and building irrigation networks.

Laketown, a merchant republic farther south on the Long Lake, is a competitor to Dale. It has been rebuilt after the destruction wrought by Smaug, but it is lagging behind Dale because of a less favorable geographic location. However, it dominates the trade with the Wood Elves because it is located at the mouth of the river coming from Thranduil’s domain.

The Orcs’ marauding decreased considerably after the Battle of Five Armies, but their numbers are growing once more and their raids have started anew. Their main settlements are in the Grey Mountains 20-40 leagues north and north-north-west of the Lonely Mountain.

The Beornings have used the peaceful decades after the Battle of Five Armies to establish a realm in the northern part of the Anduin valley. Their ruler is Grimbeorn the Old, son of Beorn, and they have expelled all Orcs and Wargs from their land. They earn a tidy profit from tolls at the fords across the Anduin and the passes through the Misty Mountains.

In the Elven kingdom of northern Mirkwood little has changed. Its people care little for the events in the lands of mortal people.

Timeline for the War of the Ring in Northern Rhovanion
This section explains step by step how Sauron prepares his wars and how Easterlings and Orcs invade northern Rhovanion 3018-19 in strategic coordination with Mordor’s major attack on Gondor.

1. Sauron has four assembly areas for his campaigns in the north: the Sea of Rhûn, the fortress of Dol Guldur in southern Mirkwood, the Orc dens in the Misty Mountains and the Orc dens in the Grey Mountains. His plans require extensive preparations, which must have been initiated a few years before the war began.

2. In the autumn of 3017, Sauron dispatches an emissary to king Dain with a threatening message. Dain gives a non-committing response. The emissary returns twice in the spring of 3018 and receives the same answer; he says he will be back for the last time before the end of the year. The same emissary also visits king Brand of Dale. [Source: Gimli at the Council of Elrond 25 October 3018.]

3. In June 3018 Orcs start to raid Thranduil’s kingdom. [Source: Unfinished Tales part three, ch. III:1 and IV:1.]

4. In January 3019, Orcs from the Misty Mountains attack the Beornings’ land and cause extensive destruction. At the same time, Orcs from the Grey Mountains and beasts from Dol Guldur invade Thanduil’s kingdom. Fire and swords among the trees. [Source: Frodo’s vision at Amon Hen 26 februari 3019.]

5. In mid March 3019 Easterlings invade the Long Lake area. The Battle of Dale is fought on March 15-17. King Bard and king Dain die fighting. The retreating Men and Dwarves take refuge inside the Mountain and endure a ten-day siege. [Sources: Lord of the Rings Appendix 1:III and 2; Unfinished Tales part three, ch. III:1 and IV:1.]

6. Sauron perishes on March 25. Two days later, the news reaches northern Rhovanion. The Easterlings’ will to fight falter and the new kings Bard II and Thorin III lead their hosts to victory. [Sources: Lord of the Rings Appendix 1:III and 2; Unfinished Tales part three, ch. III:1 and IV:1.]

Queen of Shadows (part IV)

[Bilbo] often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”
–JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Twenty Years later: the Author’s Epilogue
JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth is like a second home to me. I entered that world at the advice of a school buddy when I was in seventh or eighth grade, in the early 1970s. And a part of me will never leave it. Tolkien wrote much about creativity and expressed at least once a hope that his readers would be encouraged by his stories to make up their own. And he imbued his works with that Eldarin virtue which Sam Gamgee found in the gift he received in Lórien: “G stands for growth”. In my case personal growth: Tolkien’s books have influenced my life profoundly in so many fields. Like stepping outside and following Bilbo’s road. Along it I have found friendships, writings, journeys, dreams.

Middle-earth is one of the richest imaginary worlds ever constructed: mythology, geography, zoology, botany, history to fill any reader’s mind to the brim. Whenever I look at it, I find material for role-playing campaigns; during the past twenty-five years I have for instance designed campaigns for Beleriand, Lebennin in the last decades of the Second Age, the Kin-strife, the Second Wain-rider War, the prelude to the Battle of Dale in the War of the Ring, and Gondor’s re-occupation of Umbar in the first decade of the Fourth Age.

One major “Tolkienian” challenge for player characters in most Midde-earth campaigns is: How do you preserve your human decency when opposing a powerful malign foe? If you start to resemble your enemy, you have lost even if you technically would be victorious. As Aragorn said: “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear.”

Another recurrent theme in Tolkien’s works is that history repeats itself on a steadily smaller scale. Mathematically it can be expressed as:

    Utumno > Angband > Barad-dûr > Isengard

Ergo, the level of magic declines with the passage of time and the heroes become smaller in stature, too. Therefore, Aelindur is less powerful than Sauron and her ambition less grandiose. Morgoth wanted to seize and destroy the cosmos. Sauron desired to be Lord of all Middle-earth, whereas Aelindur “merely” strives to become an immortal ruler of Gondor. She is more like Saruman in that regard — therefore let her act accordingly, i.e. with “poisoned honey” instead of with brute force. And she knows why Saruman failed, so she will hardly repeat his mistakes.

If you let your players take the road that leads to confronting the Queen of Shadows, there is no way of knowing how their journey with end. There is no canonical text guiding your hands. The challenge may therefore become greater, but as Aragorn said: “There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.”

Finally, keep in mind one of Frodo’s observations after Sauron’s downfall: “It must often be so, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.” In Middle-earth all victories are tinged with sadness.

Queen of Shadows (part III)

“I will not give you counsel, saying do this, or do that. For not in doing or contriving, nor in choosing between this course and another, can I avail; but only in knowing what was and is, and in part also what shall be.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Running the Oueen of Shadows Campaign
Aelindur hopes that her plans will materialize approximately as follows below:
1. The Southrons in Umbar and Harondor revolt and massacre all Gondorians they find. The local Gondorian garrisons are in serious trouble.
2. King Eldarion orders the mobilizing of an army near Pelargir to deal with the Harad troubles. Rohan is asked to provide help.
3. As King Elfhelm assembles an éoherë at Edoras to send to Gondor, the horse plague strikes the camp and incapacitates most of Rohan’s war-horses for some weeks.
4. As Gondor’s noblemen mobilize their levies to send them to Pelargir, many of them rebel and instead make war upon the King. Some seize important fortifications by deceit. A new Kin-strife has begun. [The rebels may also suddenly possess a lot of newfangled weapons never seen before in Gondor.]
5. The whole royal family (preferably including Prince Eldacar in Fornost Erain) is murdered. There is no clear successor to the throne — the perfect cause for a long civil war.
6. The Dunlendings attack Rohan. (That does not require much incitement when they hear of the Forgoil’s horses falling ill.)
7. The Orcs of Mount Gundabad attack eastern Arnor to prevent an intervention in the conflict. (Alternately, a Dragon strikes Fornost Erain.)
8. Chaos ensues. Aelindur simply waits for an opportune moment to step forth and take command, using the armed might of ensnared noblemen to suppress discontent.

Putting the Player Characters On the Trail
The most challenging way to run this campaign would be to let the player-characters fight Aelindur’s schemes, though initially not having the faintest idea what they are up against. The PCs should perhaps not belong to the crust of Gondor’s political elite, but rather to its middle layer, some of them being noblemen. The following is an example how the campaign could be started.

There are strange rumors coming out of Harad. Prince Boromir sends a team of trusted underlings (the PCs) to Umbar to collect information from Governor Beren. When they reach the city Beren has just been murdered under mysterious circumstances, causing worries among the Dúnedain. The PCs start investigate the matters and finds clues of the Great Queen cult. When they return to Ithilien and tell their story to their patron, they suddenly find that a lot of other noblemen are becoming cold or even hostile towards them. The PCs have acquired a number of seemingly unconnected political adversaries.

This should be bait for a continued investigation, which, though dogged with numerous obstacles, would lead to discovery of the Moon Princess cult in Gondor.
However, they are running short on time for Aelindur’s plans are soon to materialize. Initially, the PCs do not know who their chief enemy is, nor does Aelindur know that the PCs are pursuing her. Whether they will find out about her before she learns of them depends entirely on how the adventures develop. Successful players might be able to nip Aelindur’s plans in the bud, while less fortunate ones would end up fighting in the civil war. The shrewd Aelindur might actually feed the PCs false information to divert them from the right track.

The Returning Helper Theme
In Other Hands Gerrit Nuckton discussed the recurrent “return from exile” theme in Tolkien’s works, briefly commenting on its application to this campaign. With reference to my treatment of Aelindur, he suggests that one of the heroes of Arda’s past Ages, such as Elrond, Galadriel, or Gandalf, might unexpectedly return to Middle-earth to assist the Free Peoples in their struggle against the Dark Queen.

This idea is good and can certainly be used the gamemaster; however, one should consider some limitations mentioned in the primary sources. Gandalf states that his mission has been completed by Sauron’s downfall and acts accordingly. Galadriel is pardoned by the Valar for whatever she did during the Flight of the Noldor in the First Age and is permitted to return to Valinor; hence, it seems unlikely that she once again would go to Middle-earth.

I therefore suggest either Elrond or Radagast as helpers, or that the gamemaster introduce an entirely new NPC of his own design. Radagast seems to have played a small role during the Third Age, and it may well be that he is some kind of surprise kept hidden by the Valar. Consider the following: Sauron was associated with the element of fire and so was Gandalf, the Wizard that eventually became his chief adversary. Both Radagast and Aelindur are associated with the forces of nature and the element of earth.

Elrond is another good choice since he is familiar to the players and it is easy for the gamemaster to role-play him. However, he is less powerful now when Nenya has lost its power. Elrond is associated with the element of water and the gamemaster can easily modify parts of the description of Aelindur to change her affiliation to that element, too.

The returning helper should act as Gandalf did during the Third Age: as an adviser with no intention to compel his allies. It is still the responsibility of the peoples of the early Fourth Age to deal with their foe.

“The rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?” said Gandalf.

And if Aelindur is defeated, she may well slip into to shadows and plan for a comeback a few centuries later. Her father did so at a few occasions and immortal beings have (almost) all the time in the world.

Link to the epilogue in part IV >>>

Queen of Shadows (part II)

“And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of the Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair!”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Aelindur the Queen of Shadows
In the Second Age, Sauron came to the Elves of Hollin as Annatar, Lord of the Gifts, claiming to be an emissary of the Valar. Many believed him, among them Celebrimbor’s sister Ariel, whom Sauron seduced. Soon after his final departure from Eregion, she bore a daughter, Aelindur. Ariel died and the child was brought up by her uncle.

Many years later, when Sauron’s armies seized Celebrimbor’s smithy, Aelindur was captured and brought to Mordor, where she was given a mansion to dwell in by the shore of Nurnen. In its garden she cultivated evil herbs and studied Nature’s lores.

She fled to the East at Sauron’s defeat at the end of the Second Age, and went into hiding. Over the centuries, Aelindur has become almost as evil as her father, if not as powerful. Since she is part Noldo, she is bound to her physical body.

When Sauron fell in the War of the Ring, Aelindur saw an opportunity coming. The most powerful foes — Galadriel, Elrond and Gandalf — departed from Middle-earth. The only current serious opponents are the three remaining Istari, but of these only Radagast resides in northwestern Middle-earth, and his interest is mainly directed to the nature. Pallando and Alatar long since departed for eastern lands. Hence Aelindur would have no significant competitors, or at least so she thought. She also possesses greater knowledge of and talent with of magic than any Elf (save perhaps Lúthien, another Maia-Noldo child). Therefore it is probably appropriate to consider her to resemble a “fallen Galadriel”.

Aelindur possesses the immortality and patience of the First-born, and resides in the ruins of the ancient Númenórean harbor of Lond Daer at the mouth of the Gwathló (a location chosen so that both Dunnish and Southron agents can reach it easily), pretending to be an eremetic Elf. She radiates so much power that she cannot pretend to be a mere mortal. She has hidden most of her abode very well and seemingly lives in a modest cottage. Unlike most of Sauron’s servants, she does not fear the ocean. (Perhaps Ulmo no longer interferes with the events of Middle-earth.) She knows how to sail and she has gone to many places by sea. Here Aelindur prepares her schemes and ponders on reports from her trusted underlings. Occasionally, she has to travel to some important place, since there are vital actions that her henchmen are unable to perform.

Link to the Ballad of Aelindur >>>

Aelindur’s Dark Dreams
Unlike her father, Aelindur possesses neither a state nor an army, but instead relies on her black arts and cunning to compel loyalty in mortals. [The gamemaster can use another literary source as inspiration when preparing this campaign: the Mule in Isaac Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy is to some extent comparable to Aelindur and certain of his methods and talents can easily be moved to Middle-earth.]

Aelindur intends to influence the thoughts and actions of individuals by fell means. She knows some very powerful mind-bending spells. Aelindur desires to throw Gondor into domestic chaos and then seize control over the remnants, using discontent Southron and Dúnadan noblemen as her primary tools.

Ideological Strategies
Aelindur has clandestinely established a variant of Sauron’s old Melkorian cult among Gondor’s nobility. It preaches the coming of a Moon Princess, who will save the Dúnedain from their current decadent ways, reestablish their ancient Númenórean powers and might, with deathlessness for loyal followers. The message is fundamentally the ideology and dreams of the King’s Men of Númenor seven thousand years ago. Aelindur has not forgotten how her father used those ideas to topple the mightiest Mannish realm ever.

Another variant of the cult is successfully preached among the Haradrim, speaking of opposing the Dúnedain and returning to Southron traditions. Eventually, the Southrons would “break the shackles of the Northmen under the leadership of the freedom-giving Great Queen” and “retake what was lost one and a half century ago”.

When the Haradrim revolt under the leadership of her priests, many Gondorian nobles will turn against the King and civil war will ensue. The royal line will perish and many contenders will vie for the throne, causing much hardship for the realm. Aelindur intends to appear as Gondor’s “savior”, usurp the throne, and begin a long-lasting reign.

Military Strategies
Rohan’s éoherë is a serious problem for Aelindur, because it is the most powerful cavalry unit in northwestern Middle-earth and the Haradrim are unable to field a matching force. It must be neutralized, and Aelindur pursues several strategies to achieve this. One is to develop a incapacitating horse disease, a scheme which Aelindur would pursue from Lond Daer. She is well-versed in animal and plant lore, and knows some of the secrets behind the Great Plague that the 1630’s of the Third Age devastated much of Middle-earth, so she will probably not have to work for long before finding what she wants.

Another move is to entice the Dunlendings to once again strike at western Riddermark to regain their ancient possessions. She uses Saruman’s method: political machinations and propaganda to ignite the Dunlendings’ ancient hatred for “the Strawheads”.

Aelindur also tries to invent gun-powder weapons. [This idea may feel too modern to suit many gamemasters’ and players’ conception of Middle-earth. It is not important for the plot so feel free to remove it.] Saruman was working on it before he perished and Aelindur has learned of his ambitions when visits to the ruins of Isengard. She believes that muskets and guns will have good effects on battle formations and fortified positions, especially if they appear as a surprise. That research project is undertaken by some discontented Dwarves that have been recruited by the lure of wealth and power, who work in an abandoned settlement in southern Ered Luin.

Troubles in Arnor
Arnor lacks the strength to decisively intervene in a Gondorian civil war because of its small population and the hostility of the Dunlendings in southern Eriador. Aelindur nevertheless seeks to divert the attention of any potential northern allies (including the Beornings of the uppermost Anduin vale and Thranduil). To this end, she has attempted to strengthen the Orcs of Mount Gundabad, in order to make them appear as significant a threat to deter Arnor’s Viceroy from sending an army to the aid of Gondor.

Aelindur has also dispatched agents to look for Dragons in the far north beyond Mount Gundabad. If she could establish contact with such a beast, she might persuade it to strike Fornost Erain at an opportune moment and create a grand diversion for her.

Link to part III >>>

Queen of Shadows (part I)

“Then Elrond and Galadriel rode on; for the Third Age was over and the Days of the Rings were passed and an end was come of the story and song of those times.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Queen of Shadows: a Role-playing Campaign in the Fourth Age of Middle-earth
The character of Aelindur, daughter of Sauron and Lady of Shadows, was created without gaming intentions in 1989 by my friend Kathrin Barkö (née Vestergren). She limited her story to the Second Age, being somewhat uncertain about what Isildur and Elrond would do with Sauron’s daughter when she was discovered in the ruins of Mordor, perhaps sending her to Aman to stand trial before Manwë. I then suggested instead that Aelindur would go into hiding in the East without being identified by the Lords of the Free Peoples, only to return from exile in a later Age to avenge her father’s defeat. And that discussion soon grew into this RPG article.

This campaign outline, originally published in English in the Tolkien fanzine Other Hands #5 twenty years ago and in Swedish in the gaming magazine Rubicon at about the same time, describes Aelindur’s plots and schemes and the general situation in northwestern Middle-earth in the 151st year of the Fourth Age. It is intended to serve as a starting-point for a series of adventures in these turbulent years. It is presented in a system-free format.

The original text has been divided into three parts. Part I deals with the general situation in north-west Middle-earth in FA 151, part II with Aelindur and her schemes, and part III with running the campaign. The epilogue (i.e. part IV) contains the author’s reflections on the scenario twenty years afterwards.

The Queen of Shadows campaign should be open-ended, since the player-characters’ actions would have great bearing on whether Aelindur succeeds or not. Why not make them feel the weight of the world’s fate on their shoulders, just as Frodo did?

Northwestern Endor: FA 151
The reunited Kingdoms of Gondor & Arnor possess de facto hegemony over northwestern Endor. Formally, the sister realms comprise the lands between the Ered Luin, Forochel, the Misty Mountains, Ephel Dúath, and Umbar (apart from the independent but allied state of Rohan and the semi-autonomous Shire). In practice, however, the King’s authorities exercise little control over the Dunnish tribes of Enedwaith and Drúwaith Iaur and the natives of sparsely-populated Harondor.
Although united under the same monarch, Gondor and Arnor retain separate legislative, administrative, and military establishments.

King Eldarion resides in Minas Tirith and has appointed his son and heir Eldacar to the position of Viceroy of Arnor at the rebuilt capital of Fornost Erain. Traditionally, the King travels north every summer for a brief sojourn in his northern lands.

Arnor
Arnor remains sparsely populated despite the King’s encouragement of Gondorian colonization through advantageous taxation policies. Its major settlements are at Lake Evendim, and in the Baranduin and Lhûn valleys. Its only major city is Fornost Erain, though there are serious plans to rebuild Tharbad, whose bridge has been repaired together with the Greenway (running between Fornost Erain and the Gap of Rohan). There is also a new fortress at Weathertop, built by the Dwarves of Moria some decades ago.

Gondor
Gondor has changed little since the War of the Ring. Minas Tirith’s fortifications were repaired and strengthened by the Dwarves of Aglarond in early Fourth Age, and the city is now the best protected location in the region.

Ithilien is gradually being repopulated under Prince Boromir, son of Éowyn and Faramir, who rules his fief from the newly-built capital Ost-in-En-Ernil in the Emyn Amen.

In Belfalas, Imrahil’s grand-daughter Wilwarin is Princess of Dol Amroth and fief-holder of Dor-en-Ernil. Her cousin Edrahil is Captain of the Knights of Belfalas.

The city of Umbar and its rural surroundings are ruled by a governor (currently Prince Boromir’s brother Beren) who is directly responsible to the King. The region has been slowly reintegrated into Gondor’s territory, but King Eldarion believes it will take more time before it can be turned into a regular province of the realm. He is worried about secessionist strivings among its locals, since the leading citizens of Umbar, even without the interference of Sauron, clearly have other political priorities that Minas Tirith: Gondor looks to the northeast while Umbar looks to the south.

Rohan
The Riddermark has grown stronger over the past century due the demise of its surrounding foes in the War of the Ring, though the lifestyle of the riders has not changed (apart from a growing pride which occasionally takes chauvinistic appearances). The realm is currently ruled by the third King of the Third Line, the aged Elfhelm, son of Elfwinë.

Outside the Hornburg, there is now a growing town which serves as a center for Westfold. The Dwarves of Aglarond have a thriving busi ness in tools and weaponry, which they exchange for food and other supplies from the locals.

The Dunlendings
The Dunnish clans are the dominating Mannish group in the area between the Gwathló, the Misty Mountains, the White Mountains, and the Sea. Technically, they are subjects of the Winged Crown, and their chieftains have occasionally expressed words of loyalty to the King in Minas Tirith. In practice, they follow their own leaders and traditions.

In secret, most harbor strong hatred towards the Dúnedain and the Rohirrim for denying them what they consider to be Dunnish rights. Gondor de facto only controls the Greenway, the rest of the region being the natives’ turf, where unwary foreign travelers sometimes disappear without a trace.

Mordor
After the War of the Ring, King Elessar gave the land of Nurnen to its slaves. They established the Kingdom of Lithlad, a densely populated agricultural country. It is closely allied to Gondor, and the population has a strong pro-Dúnadan attitude as a consequence of their recent liberation.

Gorgoroth, on the other hand, is an abandoned wasteland. As far as everyone knows, Sauron’s strongholds toppled when his power was broken, and Orodruin sleeps.

Rhovanion
The peoples of the upper Anduin vale, Eryn Lasgalen (formerly Mirkwood), the plains of Rhovanion, and Dorwinion have resumed many of their ancient contacts with Gondor. The disappearance of Dol Guldur’s Shadow has opened the region for trade and growth, and the Northmen maintain their old friendship with Gondor.

Rhûn and Harad
Little has changed in the realms of Rhûn and Harad. Their inhabitants view Gondor with mixed feelings and worry about the possibility of renewed Dúnadan domination, however benevolent it might be. Many of the realms have long traditions of fighting the Dúnedain and such cultural memories will linger for many centuries.

The Elven lands
The Elves of the Fourth Age show little concern for the affairs of Mortals because their power has waned with the departure of their mightiest Lords and the destruction of the One Ring.

Elves dominate four regions during the early Fourth Age: Lórien (which includes the southern Eryn Lasgalen, or “East Lórien”), the northern Eryn Lasgalen, Lindon, and Rivendell.

Elladan is Prince of Lórien. His Silvan-populated realm encompasses the ruins of Dol Guldur, which is kept under tight surveillance. Men are not welcome to visit that spot, since Elladan fears that there may be Sauronic secrets still hidden below the rubble.

King Thranduil continues to rule his northern woodland realm, which has suffered little change since the War of the Ring, save for a reduction in the number of giant spiders and other fell creatures in the area.

Lindon, whose people maintain the Havens from which the Elves depart for Aman, is ruled by Círdan.

Elrohir has assumed the position of Lord of Rivendell, still a refuge for the few Noldor and Sindar that remain east of the Blue Mountains.

The Dwarven realms
Moria has been re-populated and is once again the most important Dwarven settlement in northwestern Middle-earth, and the Dwarves of the Blue Mountain dwindle in number as many migrate there. Aglarond has grown into a small but prosperous enclave, while the Lonely Mountain and Iron Hills retain their former importance.

The Servants of the Shadow
Sauron’s downfall did not bring about the complete end of his servants. Orcs and Trolls survived in many places, especially in their mountain strongholds at Gundabad and elsewhere in the Hithaeglir. Since the War of the Ring, they have lacked a strong leader and have been reduced to squabbling among themselves, and therefore they do not pose a major threat to the Free Peoples. This, however, has not put an end to occasional Orkish raids into the upper Anduin vale.

There is talk of Dragons and other hideous creatures in the northern wastes, but they have so far proven mere rumors.

But matters might not stay so calm in the long term.

Link to part II >>>

Midgårdsminnen: MERP på svenska


Det här är ett blogginlägg som jag har blivit ombedd att skriva. Trevligt att få sådana förfrågningar. Men när jag ska berätta om sådant som hände för 25 år sedan är minnena inte alltid glasklara; jag kan mycket väl få datum och detaljer om bakfoten eftersom jag inte har dagböcker att konsultera.

Hursomhelst, ämnet för dagen är den svenska översättningen av Iron Crowns Middle-earth Roleplaying (MERP), det vill säga Sagan om Ringen-rollspelet (SRR).

Under Äventyrsspels glansdagar hade vi som målsättning att ge ut ett nytt spel varje år. Syftet var att vidga sortimentet, att muta in fler nischer på den svenska spelmarknaden. Vi valde att göra en svensk version av MERP av flera skäl. Det viktigaste var att Tolkien var ett så etablerat namn bland svenska gamers. Nästa skäl var att vi hade goda kontakter med Iron Crown. Ett tredje skäl var att fantasyspel sålde bäst, så att erbjuda två “smaker” inom detta område kändes som ett framgångsrecept; och så blev det, även om SRR aldrig blev lika spritt bland gamers som Drakar och Demoner.

Man kan ha många åsikter om MERP – det är en anpassning av Rolemaster till Midgård och en del av dess innehåll känns otolkienskt, t.ex. det flitiga användandet av magi. Men vårt intresse riktades mer mot Midgårdsmodulerna än mot själva spelet. Och vi fick in en bra klausul i vårt avtal med Iron Crown: möjligheten att även ta med speldata för Expert Drakar och Demoner (EDD). Draget hade krasst ekonomiska skäl: vi behövde sälja ett visst antal av varje modul för att den skulle gå runt och om vi gav sådana spelfakta till de tiotusentals EDD-spelarna så skulle de också vilja köpa. Iron Crown fick en slant för varje sålt exemplar, så de hade inget att invända.

Iron Crown hade i mitten av 1980-talet producerat någon hyllmeter med MERP-moduler, så det var upp till oss att välja ut de vi ville översätta. Inledningsvis skötte jag detta och jag föredrog sådana med mycket bakgrundsfakta som underlättade kampanjbygge. Rena äventyr var inte lika intressanta, utan passade bättre i Sinkadus.

Därför valde jag ut modulerna om Rohan, Tharbad och Mörkmården. De hade rikt nog innehåll att de var och en för sig skulle ge spelledaren material för att driva långa kampanjer.
Rohirrim är hårda grabbar och tjejer som har många fiender att tampas med: dunlänningar, orcher, Saruman, osv, beroende på när under Marks fem sekler spelledaren förlägger sin kampanj.
Tharbad under tredje Ålderns 1400-tal är en sjabbig stad där många parter möts: skurkar, Häxmästarens agenter, Dúnedain från norra och söder, dvärgar, med flera. Spelledaren kan satsa på spionage och brottslighet under en epok när Angmar steg för steg undergräver de tre norra dúnedain-rikena Arthedain, Cardolan och Rhudaur.
Mörkmården är ett gigantiskt äventyrslandskap med mörkermakten i Dol Guldur, skogsalverna, barbarfolk, jättespindlar, orcher och mycket annat. Här kan mycket hända.

Eftersom jag inte var helt nöjd med hur Iron Crown hade hanterat diverse saker, använde jag Sinkadus för att presentera alternativa tillvägagångssätt. Dessa publicerades huvudsakligen under pseudonymen Ulf Zimmermann för att jag inte skulle bli alltför framträdande i tidningen. (Sagde Ulf hade varit min spelarroll i en Traveller-kampanj när jag fortfarande bodde i Göteborg.)

Dessutom skrev jag en del Sinkadus-texter om SRR under eget namn. En av dessa som väckte intresse var Par i svart, ett äventyr där spelarrollerna var två kraftfulla mörkertjänare från Dol Guldur, en magiker och en gast. Det var upplagt som en “hemlig agent”-intrig kopplad till Mörkmårdsmodulerna. Spelarrollerna opererade under falska identiteter och fick inte avslöja sina sanna naturer. Greppet var medvetet; jag ville gå ifrån de klassiska grottexpeditionerna och fajterna med orchbanditer. (Jag ville skriva mer om Mordor-kampanjer, men det kom tyvärr aldrig längre än till diverse hugskott. Det kanske kunde ha blivit en Midgårda motsvarighet till de sedermera så populära World of Darkness-spelen.)

Efter att jag lämnat Target Games 1989 fortsatte jag samarbetet med Iron Crown som frilansare, vilket på 1990-talet resulterade i digra moduler om Ättefejden och Gondor. De kom bara ut i USA, för då hade Target Games släppt SRR-produktlinjen. Jag minns hur jag satt på svärfars bakgård i Ghaziabad, Indien vintern 1992-93 och knackade MERP-text på min Macintosh 100 (den första generationens laptop).

Tolkiens värld är det alltid kul att skriva om. Den gode professorn har ju givit den både djup och bredd. Det var därför jag häromåret publicerade en Umbar-kampanj och en dvärg-kampanj i speltidningen Fenix, båda systemlösa. Och mer sådant kan det bli om det finns intresse hos läsarna.