[Bilbo] often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”
–JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Twenty Years later: the Author’s Epilogue
JRR Tolkien’s Middle-earth is like a second home to me. I entered that world at the advice of a school buddy when I was in seventh or eighth grade, in the early 1970s. And a part of me will never leave it. Tolkien wrote much about creativity and expressed at least once a hope that his readers would be encouraged by his stories to make up their own. And he imbued his works with that Eldarin virtue which Sam Gamgee found in the gift he received in Lórien: “G stands for growth”. In my case personal growth: Tolkien’s books have influenced my life profoundly in so many fields. Like stepping outside and following Bilbo’s road. Along it I have found friendships, writings, journeys, dreams.
Middle-earth is one of the richest imaginary worlds ever constructed: mythology, geography, zoology, botany, history to fill any reader’s mind to the brim. Whenever I look at it, I find material for role-playing campaigns; during the past twenty-five years I have for instance designed campaigns for Beleriand, Lebennin in the last decades of the Second Age, the Kin-strife, the Second Wain-rider War, the prelude to the Battle of Dale in the War of the Ring, and Gondor’s re-occupation of Umbar in the first decade of the Fourth Age.
One major “Tolkienian” challenge for player characters in most Midde-earth campaigns is: How do you preserve your human decency when opposing a powerful malign foe? If you start to resemble your enemy, you have lost even if you technically would be victorious. As Aragorn said: “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear.”
Another recurrent theme in Tolkien’s works is that history repeats itself on a steadily smaller scale. Mathematically it can be expressed as:
Utumno > Angband > Barad-dûr > Isengard
Ergo, the level of magic declines with the passage of time and the heroes become smaller in stature, too. Therefore, Aelindur is less powerful than Sauron and her ambition less grandiose. Morgoth wanted to seize and destroy the cosmos. Sauron desired to be Lord of all Middle-earth, whereas Aelindur “merely” strives to become an immortal ruler of Gondor. She is more like Saruman in that regard — therefore let her act accordingly, i.e. with “poisoned honey” instead of with brute force. And she knows why Saruman failed, so she will hardly repeat his mistakes.
If you let your players take the road that leads to confronting the Queen of Shadows, there is no way of knowing how their journey with end. There is no canonical text guiding your hands. The challenge may therefore become greater, but as Aragorn said: “There are some things that it is better to begin than to refuse, even though the end may be dark.”
Finally, keep in mind one of Frodo’s observations after Sauron’s downfall: “It must often be so, when things are in danger: some one has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them.” In Middle-earth all victories are tinged with sadness.