“I will not give you counsel, saying do this, or do that. For not in doing or contriving, nor in choosing between this course and another, can I avail; but only in knowing what was and is, and in part also what shall be.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Running the Oueen of Shadows Campaign
Aelindur hopes that her plans will materialize approximately as follows below:
1. The Southrons in Umbar and Harondor revolt and massacre all Gondorians they find. The local Gondorian garrisons are in serious trouble.
2. King Eldarion orders the mobilizing of an army near Pelargir to deal with the Harad troubles. Rohan is asked to provide help.
3. As King Elfhelm assembles an éoherë at Edoras to send to Gondor, the horse plague strikes the camp and incapacitates most of Rohan’s war-horses for some weeks.
4. As Gondor’s noblemen mobilize their levies to send them to Pelargir, many of them rebel and instead make war upon the King. Some seize important fortifications by deceit. A new Kin-strife has begun. [The rebels may also suddenly possess a lot of newfangled weapons never seen before in Gondor.]
5. The whole royal family (preferably including Prince Eldacar in Fornost Erain) is murdered. There is no clear successor to the throne — the perfect cause for a long civil war.
6. The Dunlendings attack Rohan. (That does not require much incitement when they hear of the Forgoil’s horses falling ill.)
7. The Orcs of Mount Gundabad attack eastern Arnor to prevent an intervention in the conflict. (Alternately, a Dragon strikes Fornost Erain.)
8. Chaos ensues. Aelindur simply waits for an opportune moment to step forth and take command, using the armed might of ensnared noblemen to suppress discontent.
Putting the Player Characters On the Trail
The most challenging way to run this campaign would be to let the player-characters fight Aelindur’s schemes, though initially not having the faintest idea what they are up against. The PCs should perhaps not belong to the crust of Gondor’s political elite, but rather to its middle layer, some of them being noblemen. The following is an example how the campaign could be started.
There are strange rumors coming out of Harad. Prince Boromir sends a team of trusted underlings (the PCs) to Umbar to collect information from Governor Beren. When they reach the city Beren has just been murdered under mysterious circumstances, causing worries among the Dúnedain. The PCs start investigate the matters and finds clues of the Great Queen cult. When they return to Ithilien and tell their story to their patron, they suddenly find that a lot of other noblemen are becoming cold or even hostile towards them. The PCs have acquired a number of seemingly unconnected political adversaries.
This should be bait for a continued investigation, which, though dogged with numerous obstacles, would lead to discovery of the Moon Princess cult in Gondor.
However, they are running short on time for Aelindur’s plans are soon to materialize. Initially, the PCs do not know who their chief enemy is, nor does Aelindur know that the PCs are pursuing her. Whether they will find out about her before she learns of them depends entirely on how the adventures develop. Successful players might be able to nip Aelindur’s plans in the bud, while less fortunate ones would end up fighting in the civil war. The shrewd Aelindur might actually feed the PCs false information to divert them from the right track.
The Returning Helper Theme
In Other Hands Gerrit Nuckton discussed the recurrent “return from exile” theme in Tolkien’s works, briefly commenting on its application to this campaign. With reference to my treatment of Aelindur, he suggests that one of the heroes of Arda’s past Ages, such as Elrond, Galadriel, or Gandalf, might unexpectedly return to Middle-earth to assist the Free Peoples in their struggle against the Dark Queen.
This idea is good and can certainly be used the gamemaster; however, one should consider some limitations mentioned in the primary sources. Gandalf states that his mission has been completed by Sauron’s downfall and acts accordingly. Galadriel is pardoned by the Valar for whatever she did during the Flight of the Noldor in the First Age and is permitted to return to Valinor; hence, it seems unlikely that she once again would go to Middle-earth.
I therefore suggest either Elrond or Radagast as helpers, or that the gamemaster introduce an entirely new NPC of his own design. Radagast seems to have played a small role during the Third Age, and it may well be that he is some kind of surprise kept hidden by the Valar. Consider the following: Sauron was associated with the element of fire and so was Gandalf, the Wizard that eventually became his chief adversary. Both Radagast and Aelindur are associated with the forces of nature and the element of earth.
Elrond is another good choice since he is familiar to the players and it is easy for the gamemaster to role-play him. However, he is less powerful now when Nenya has lost its power. Elrond is associated with the element of water and the gamemaster can easily modify parts of the description of Aelindur to change her affiliation to that element, too.
The returning helper should act as Gandalf did during the Third Age: as an adviser with no intention to compel his allies. It is still the responsibility of the peoples of the early Fourth Age to deal with their foe.
“The rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?” said Gandalf.
And if Aelindur is defeated, she may well slip into to shadows and plan for a comeback a few centuries later. Her father did so at a few occasions and immortal beings have (almost) all the time in the world.