The heroes of the First Age are of a far greater stature than those found in later ages. But while player-characters may possess truly heroic qualities, they should not approach the level of Beren or Finrod, because then they might be able to alter Beleriand’s history (though the player-characters may well be far better than anyone found in a Third-Age campaign). They should also be well-equipped from the start of the campaign in order to be prepared for the struggle against Angband.
The world of Quenta Silmarillion is replete with grandiose deeds, heart-rending tragedy and stern drama, in addition to ignoble betrayal and a good dose of horror. A Beleriand campaign should therefore offer more than conventional “monster hunts”. This is a time and place where the long-term fates of mankind and elvenkind are at stake, an era of slow but inexorable defeat for the Children of the Stars.
Happy endings are rare under Angband’s shadow, and when someone succeeds with a heroic feat, a bitter price must often be paid. Moral flaws (most often pride) and ill-judgment typically result in disaster.
The Watchful Peace
A suitable campaign setting might be the period between the arrival of the Edain and the the dreadful battle known as Dagor Bragollach (that is, in the years 310—45), when there is a semblance of peace while the main protagonists prepare for a war that they know will come. Morgoth attempts to divide the Eldarin princes by sowing discord and suspicion. Fëanor’s sons conspire to achieve their private goals; Caranthir, Celegorm, and Curufin are even ready to confront Beren and Lúthien. In such a setting it is often difficult to determine who is your friend and who is feigning good will.
Player-characters might belong to the household of a Noldorin prince (e.g. Orodreth at Minas Tirith). Both Sauron and Fëanor’s sons conspire against that prince and try to infiltrate his fortress with their agents in order to gain intelligence and strengthen their positions. So there is plenty of scheming, deceit and espionage.
The Wanderings of the Haladin
During the 360s, Haleth leads her people on a strenuous west-ward trek from Thargelion by a route north of Doriath and Neldoreth through the frightful Nan Dungortheb to the beech forest of Brethil, searching for an area where the Haladin can lead their traditionally independent lives. The distance is perhaps 500 km as the crows fly, but considerably longer as men walk.
It is possible to run this “long march” as a campaign in which player-characters are Haladin leaders — perhaps advisers or commanders — under Haleth, with the responsibility to plan and execute various missions (such as reconnaissance, transportation, or military strikes that will facilitate the progress of the migration). There are paths to map, camp sites to prepare, streams to bridge, monsters to defeat, enemy positions to scout, and so one.
Haleth herself might actually be run as a player-character — a charismatic leader comparable to Napoleon, Giuseppe Garibaldi or Alexander the Great. When her people has settled in Brethil, they become known as the Folk of Haleth.
The Evil Years
After Dagor Bragollach in 455 YS, the Elves and Edain are gradually pushed southwards from Dorthonion. Their defenses collapse completely at the battle of Nirnaeth Arnoediad in 473 YS after which Angband’s armies pour into Beleriand. In 496 YS, Nargothrond is sacked by Glaurung. At about the same time, the Haladin are crushed and its few survivors scattered. Menegroth gets sacked in 505 and 510, and in 511 Gondolin is destroyed. Only the Elven settlements on the island of Balar survive unscathed thanks to Ulmo’s protection.
During these chaotic years, hardy bands of partisans — such as those led by Barahir, Beren, or Túrin — struggle desperately against the invaders. Morgoth’s commanders make great efforts to capture the freedom fighters, and in the most difficult cases Sauron himself participates, such as when Barahir’s band is destroyed.
A campaign with this resistance theme emphasises partisan warfare and wilderness survival; the antagonists are not only Orcs and Easterlings, but also a merciless climate. Characters must find food, water, and lodging to survive the harsh winters of northern Beleriand. Occasionally, they may get assistance from the Edain villages that have been enslaved by the Easterlings, but such actions are perilous; the servants of Angband will use any trick to capture or kill partisan warriors.