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?

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