The second and final part of my description of Umbar in the early Fourth Age.
Current Sources of Unrest
Umbar is a unruly place and the city’s rulers do not have effective control of the alleys and quays. Here is a list of a few internal troubles that the game master may use to build a noir campaign.
The conflicts between the Darazai and the Westron inhabitants have not declined in bitterness. The Westrons know that that if Gondor’s rule falters, they may become victims of new pogroms. Therefore they have become loyal supporters of King Elessar. The Traditionalists, too, have been forced to accept Elessar. The few remaining Black Númenoreans play along and once again pretend to be Traditionalists to avert undesirable attention.
Most Darazai think that the previous regime was a despicable fraud that pushed the city into Sauron’s sphere of influence and thereby caused a disaster. After all, more than half of the Corsairs that died at Pelargir in the War of the Ring belonged to this ethnicity. So all rumors – and they are far too common – about Black Númenorean activities may cause violent riots. But many Darazai also hate Elessar, because they see him as a foreigner who subjugated Umbar after a humiliating defeat. They wish to regain independence, when they will be able to reestablish the slave trading and piracy that earlier provided them with gold and cheap labor.
The Knife Dancers are a conspiracy of militant Darazai who strive to make the situation in Umbar so untenable that Gondor gives in and abandons the city. They work clandestinely to kill or maim those that they consider to be snitches and traitors. Westron people suffer particularly badly, but also newly arrived Gondorean administrators and merchants have been targets to ever more sophisticated attacks: stabbings, arson, collapsing buildings and other violent crimes, frequently with innocent victims, too. The City Watch’s harsh countermeasures fuel resentment among the Darzai who see their homes ransacked and their sons being dragged away to the citadel for interrogation.
Tiwwir, a Darazai prince who rules a country just to the east of Umbar, is an opportunist. When Sauron had fallen, his army intervened in Umbar. He wanted to establish order and find ways of profiting from the new order. When Elessar made clear that Gondor was about to annex Umbar, Tiwwir backed down and made a pact with the new King. But he keeps on looking for ways of earning money and gaining political influence. His agents move in all strata in the city and that is not appreciated by Umbar’s merchants, who disapprove of a man they see as an uncouth rustic.
A rumor has been spreading through Umbar during the last few months. A nameless prophetess moves in the alleys, somebody who neither the City Watch nor the Knife Dancers are able to find, but who is generously received by poor people. She preaches that a moon child is about to be born, a renewer who will establish more fair Umbar, who will make peace between the Darazai and the Westrons and who will put an end to violent strife in the city. Then the commoners will fear neither the servants of the fallen Eye nor the swords of Gondor. Instead, Umbar will once more be the master of her own fate.
Who is the prophetess and what is her true goal? These questions trouble the governor, the secret master of the Knife Dancers, and many crime lords. Is her message a threat or an opportunity? Is some other power behind her? Is she the emissary of a new Shadow? Only the game master knows the truth and will arrange developments to ensure an exciting campaign.
Campaign 1: The Watchmen
Umbar has a new City Watch. The old one was dissolved by Gondor’s governor, who instead gave Pelargirean officers orders to establish a new and more honest force. Finding recruits was easy, but they were only slightly less corrupt than the old constables. This campaign seed is based on the player characters getting assigned to the same unit the City Watch, charged with investigating serious crimes. See it as TV series The Wire in Middle-earth: low-tech law enforcement in shabby port districts or in sumptuous palaces. The unit’s members have a varied background, because it must contains all types of skills.
Umbar is a cynical place. Few people like the new regime and its ambitions concerning law and order, though many are relieved that the black clergy of the Storm Lord have vanished. The watchmen will have a hard time at work: acquiring contacts and snitches in the alleys is difficult but necessary for solving crimes.
And one day, a scary question comes from the Watch Commander: “And how should we handle the rumors that a new Shadow have arrived in Umbar?”
Campaign 2: The Umbrai
The player characters form an Umbrai gang that earn their living through petty crime while trying to set the big heist that will get them plenty of gold. The City Watch is the enemy and the Darazai compatriots are deceitful. The only ones you trust are your own – or maybe not even them?
The player characters have to stake out a territory in the port district, and to get money through theft, smuggling or protection. At the same time, they have to pay tribute to a boss, one of the city’s wealthy merchants. He gives lucrative jobs to loyal henchmen and punishes disloyal ones. Umbrai life is like dancing of a knife edge – get the wrong enemy and you’ll end up floating among the anchored ships.
And one day, the boss asks: “And how should we handle the rumors that a new Shadow have arrived in Umbar? How can we benefit from that?”
Campaign 3: The Shadow
Mordor has fallen. Sauron and his Nazgul have perished. But many servants of the Eye survived because they were not in Mordor on that particular day. Umbar, a festering lesion in King Elessar’s realm, now attracts some of these sorcerers, undead, and wraiths. Here are still fragments of the Shadow’s powers imbued in the soil, remnants from the long centuries during which Sauron’s servants used arcane arts to influence winds and weather and carried out gruesome sacrifices in temples that nowadays have been razed. The Dúnedain remain the enemy. Their Eldar allies have departed from Middle-earth, so now there will be a new opportunity to sow the seeds of the Shadow among weak men. The goal is to harm the Dúnedain in the long run – but do undead ever feel hurried?
This arrangement suits a small player group, perhaps to or three gamers. The player characters are powerful deathless, for instance sorcerers or undead that resemble men well enough to be able to walk the streets of Umbar without getting identified. The dark magic has grown weaker and now it mainly deals with ways of influencing minds, to deceive and create distrust. The goal is to let the Shadow be recreated in a new guise, one that is not associated with Sauron. A campaign may cover many decades of Gondor’s history, with years between the scenarios.