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 remains sparsely populated despite the King’s encouragement of Gondorean 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 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-Ernil in the Emyn Arnen.

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.

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 business 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.

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.

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.

Tillbaka till framtiden: Mutant återkommer

Åter till zonen.

Nu är det snart dags för en reboot av det klassiska svenska rollspelet Mutant, denna gång som version År Noll (M0) från Fria Ligan. Produktionsarbetet pågår och det är möjligt att förhandsbeställa spelet här >>>

Lanseringen sägs blir på Gothcon i Göteborg till påskhelgen.

Varför puffar jag det här spelet? Jo, jag har skrivit en bit av det — en äventyrsplats, en så kallad zonsektor. Fler konstruktörsrävar har varit med och byggt spelvärlden, bland annat Torsten Alm (som skrev I reptilmännens klor 1984) och Åsa Roos.

M0 får en gritty spelvärld, en som ligger närmare katastrofen. Fast allt grundläggande är som det ska vara: mutationer, monster, MadMaxig scrounge-tech och mystiska zoner.

Mars Colonization — some macroeconomic aspects

Big dreams are cheap to conceive and expensive to realize — a truism, for sure. Exactly how expensive is not always easy to determine in advance. And mustering the required resources is a daunting task. I have found a brief treatise on Mars colonization projects, a piece of macroeconomic and political science analysis by scholar John Hickman — link >>>

The colonization of Mars is an extremely long-term venture (perhaps 700 years) with immense up-front investments and uncertain returns. Hickman argues that this premise requires heavy government involvement in the early stages, because no other actors would be ready (or even able) to provide necessary resources. He points at historical parallels in the European colonization of the New World, such as the great importance of crown-sponsored trading monopolies in the early centuries, and the huge subsidies (both land grants and loans) to railroad-construction in the late 19th century by the Canadian and US federal governments.

Hickman considers the construction of the Panama Canal by the US government one hundred years ago to be an apt parallel to Mars colonization. It was an enormous public project with many spin-off advances in engineering and medicine and it brought plenty of benefits to world commerce.

One of the more tangible achievements of a permanent human presence on Mars would be improved chances for the survival of the human species in the future. If one world is lost to a cosmic disaster, another would remain.

Minimalist LEGO Star Wars

When I was a kid in the 1960s, I was a great LEGO fan, even though the selection of blocks and pieces was far more limited then than today. My crowning achievement was the construction of a 1½ foot model of the fictional Swedish navy corvette HMS Medelpad.

AT-ST combat walker in 20 LEGO pieces

My kids are unfortunately not into LEGO at all, despite the sets I have given them over the years.

Anyhow, I felt quite amused when I found this article (link >>>) dealing with minimalist design challenges, i.e. building tiny Star Wars craft with no more than twenty LEGO pieces each. I wish that would have been possible when I was young.