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.