Terraforming and Number-crunching

Mars and Venus


An article on Slate (link >>>) presents some calculations on the amount of energy required to terraform Mars and Venus for human habitation.

It turns out that Mars is a conceivable case with existing human knowledge. The endeavor would certainly be difficult and take a millennium or more, but it would apparently require less than 1 exajoule (10^18 J) to give Mars a thicker, though oxygen-free, atmosphere and a surface temperature more acceptable to humans. (A 100MW power plant produces 1EJ in 317 years.)

Terraforming Venus, on the hand, would instead require stellar levels of energy output (roughly 10^34 joule), thereby putting it in the realm of the inconceivable at our current level of understanding the universe. Its dreadful atmosphere seems to be the biggest hurdle.

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 III)

Rhûn – the Lands of the Easterlings
Tolkien has written little about Rhûn, because that region is of minor importance for the plot in The Lord of the Rings. The following three items summarize his texts and therefore the arrangements presented later in this article are my inventions.

Rhûn’s extent: Rhûn (“east” in Sindarin) is a poorly delineated region east of Rhovanion. It stretches from the Inland Sea of Rhûn in the north to Mordor in the south. Several barbarian invasions of Gondor originate from here during the Third Age (e.g. in 490, 541, 1320, 1851, 1944, and 2510). The Shadow seems to have had great influence in Rhûn since the Second Age. South Rhûn is a prairie, whereas the north has a rougher topography with rivers and lakes as links between towns and settlements.

Rhûn’s rivers: River Running (the Celduin) flows from Long Lake 30 leagues as the bird flies (i.e 90 miles/150 km) south-south-east to the Sea of Rhûn. Its tributary the Carnen starts in the Iron Hills and flows 60 leagues south, before joining the Celduin. Both are used by riverboats all the way up to their sources.

Rhûn’s salty inland sea: This lake is about 40 by 60 leagues (21,600 sq mi or 60,000 sq km, thereby having a surface area comparable to Lake Victoria in Central Africa). Celduin’s serpentine lower stretch and the coasts of the Inland Sea are home to the most powerful political entities of northern Rhûn. However, only one of those is mentioned by Tolkien: Dorwinion, a land that exports wine to the wood Elves by river boats.

The Peoples of Northern Rhûn at the End of the Third Age
The “Easterlings” are in fact several unrelated peoples that are viewed as “alien” by the free peoples of Rhovanion and Gondor. But when it comes to technological and social development, they are at about the same level: iron-working, good ships, chain-mail and forts. However, the Easterlings possess an cultural stratum imprinted with “ideals” of the Shadow: ruthlessness, greed, despotism, intolerance – its source is of course Sauron’s long-lasting influence.

Since TA 2850, the Rodid people have become a major player in northern Rhûn, thanks to their good skills in warfare, sailing and trade. They have founded some new towns and subjugated several older belonging to other tribes and nations. Thus they have become an aristocracy ruling of a multi-ethnic confederacy. (Think of the Norse variags/rus of Gardarike in western Russia during the early Middle Ages, but add some orientalist features like pointed helmets, scimitars, turbans, and harems.) Their wooden towns are ruled by charismatic warlords and they consider their non-Rodid subjects as little better than thralls. The heart of a Rodid nation is a fortified coastal town. A powerful Rodid prince may be able to force other towns into subsidiary alliances, but such arrangements are frail and prone to break apart when that overlord dies.

The fortified stone city of Tvorchoz is located on the eastern shore of the Inland Sea. That is the terminus for the land-bound caravans from the far east. In this city, may trade routes intersect so a visitor will find plenty of exotic goods in its markets: spices, jewels, tools and weapons, slaves, etc. Tvorchoz is a merchant republic and it has resisted all Rodid subjugation attempts, sometimes by the force of arms and sometimes by the power of gold. Since the destruction of the Balchoth about five centuries ago, its ruling oligarchy belongs of the Sîris people and they see the Rodid as crude upstarts. The Rodid and the Sîris speak unrelated languages.

The coasts of the Inland Sea and the the valleys of the Celduin and the Carnen are home to numerous Mannish tribes, too many to be described here. Some are related to the Rodid, other to the Sîris and yet other to neither. But none is able to compete with these two peoples for power and influence and therefore hey usually end up as being vassals. And having the Rodid as overlords is commonly a heavy burden.

Shipping on the Inland Sea
The Celduin and the Carnen are slow and wide rivers that can be used by boats all the way up their sources and therefore they have become important trade routes. The salty Inland Sea is also a fairly calm body of water that provides plenty of fish. Many more rivers feed into it, but none have the dimensions of the Celduin.

The Rodid know how to build excellent river boats (similar to the knarr used by the variags when travelling on Russian river to Miklagård). They are propelled by sails or oars, depending on the local conditions.

There are no roads to speak of in northern Rhûn, so settlements are usually connected by waterways. The climate is favorable, too, so most winters the Inland Sea and the rivers stay free of ice. (The Easterlings execute a major military campaign in February and March 3019. That requires temperatures above freezing, since the available technology is insufficient for operations in harsh winter weather.)

The Cult of the Red Star
One Sauronic modus operandi is to create false cults that worship Darkness in different ways and use them as tools to ensnare men. He frequently tempts people with phony promises of immortality. Currently in northern Rhûn, the Cult of the Red Star serves that purpose. It is focused on the planet Carnil (i.e. Mars), which is proclaimed to be the “Eye of Darkness”, a manifestation of cosmic might.

The cult’s priesthood practice astrology to guide and mislead the princes and magnates who listen to their message. They are also skilled alchemists that brew medicines and drugs. They hint that those that pay close heed to the cult’s wishes may be rewarded by flasks with an immortality elixir. The medicines are frequently efficacious, but the promises of immortality are only lies.

On the other hand, the rich and powerful individuals around the Inland Sea are often cynical. It is so that some among them find it beneficial to acquire medicines by bowing to a temple altar and listen to some “friendly advice”, but afterwards they will often do as they please.

Part IV will be published on February 22.

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.]