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, these should not approach the level of one like Beren or Finrod, such that they might alter the basic fabric of Beleriand’s history (though they may well be far better than anything found in a Third-Age campaign). They should also be well-equipped from the start of the campaign in order to be properly prepared for the struggle against Angband.
The world of Quenta Silmarillion is replete with grandiose deeds, heart-rending tragedy and dramatic atmosphere (in addition to ignoble betrayal and a good dose of horror). A campaign set in Beleriand should therefore offer more than the conventional “monster hunt”. 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 in an heroic action, 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 Dagor Bragollach (that is, in the years 310—45), when there is a semblance of peace in Beleriand as the main protagonists make preparations for a war which they know will come soon enough. 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 only feigning.
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 their lord 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 going on.
The Wanderings of the Haladin
During the 360s, Haleth leads her people on a long and strenuous west-ward migration 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, Mao Zedong 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 Nirnaeth Arnoediad in 473 YS and Angband’s armies pour into Beleriand. In 496 YS, Nargothrond is sacked by Glaurung. At about the same time, the Haladin are crushed and a few survivors scattered. Menegroth is sacked in the years 505 and 510, and in 511 Gondolin itself is destroyed. Only the Elven settlements on the island of Balar survive unscathed, being under the protection of Ulmo.
During these chaotic and evil years, many hardy guerilla bands (such as those led by Barahir, Beren, or Túrin) carry on a desperate struggle against the servants of Angband. Morgoth’s commanders expend great efforts to capture these freedom fighters, and in the most difficult cases Sauron himself participates (as when Barahir’s band is destroyed).
A campaign with this theme would place heavy emphasis on guerilla warfare and wilderness survival (the antagonists being not only Orcs and Easterlings, but also the merciless climate). Characters must find food, water, and lodgings in order 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 may be perilous; the servants of Angband ruthlessly use any deceptions to capture or kill guerilla warriors.