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.]

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