Beyond the Third Age: Role-playing in all ages of Arda
Anders Blixt: Hägervägen 16. 122 39 Enskede. Sweden (with assistance from Kathrin Vestergren)
Due to the strict restraints delineated by the Middle-earth gaming license, Iron Crown Enterprises has thus far published role-playing material set only in the Third Age of Arda. Moreover, their modules have almost exclusively emphasized the period of the 1640s, despite the great gaming opportunities to be found at other moments in Tolkien’s invented history.
This article attempts to remedy that situation: to show how an enterprising gamemaster might make use of the First, Second and Fourth Ages as settings for roleplaying. Each section begins with a general description of the situation in the “known world” during the given time period, followed by one or more adventure ideas (including suggestions for player-character backgrounds). This material may then be utilized as a starting point for developing a campaign beyond the usual fare.
I. In Angband’s Shadow: Beleriand in the First Age
“Oderint dum metuant“ — — Caligula
The most suitable setting for role-playing in the First Age is Beleriand as narrated in Quenta Silmarillion, during which time the Noldor return to Middle-earth to reclaim the Silmarils from Morgoth. This period begins with Morgoth’s attack on the realm of Thingol, just prior to the coming of the Sun and Moon, and ends with the War of Wrath some six hundred years later.
Beleriand suffers from a merciless struggle between Morgoth the Black Enemy and a fragile alliance of Men and Elves. The moral dispositions of the latter range from purest white (e.g. Tuor, Melian, Beren, and Lúthien) to gray-black (Fëanor’s seven sons). There is no room for negotiation or compromise with Morgoth; the conflict must continue until one side has perished. Those who collaborate with the forces of Angband will be betrayed (like Gorlim), or fail and perish from other causes (like Maeglin). The world is painted in strong colors and is peopled with heroic individuals who fight for no petty cause — the struggle is about power, glory and incredible treasures; hence it is suggested that money does not exist in the campaign (there are no indications of the presence of coins in Beleriand).
Morgoth et Consortes
Between the time of the first sunrise and the War of Wrath, Morgoth dwells in his subterranean fortress of Angband far to the north, and passes its gates only when challenged by Fingolfin. His servants who openly or clandestinely fight for his cause in Beleriand and in other parts of Middle-earth are many and diverse; some are described only as “fell beasts” (leaving the gamemaster free to invent his or her own terrible creatures). Tolkien mentions such minions as Balrogs (who wield magical power over fire), werewolves (who apparently do not shapeshift), vampires, wingless dragons, and phantoms with Mannish or Elven guises. Such creatures are usually evil spirits given shape by Morgoth’s fell arts, and have powers and senses that far excel those of Men and occasionally even of Elves. Orcs and Trolls form the common soldiery of Angband (Note that, while these seemingly do not differ from their later antecedents, Uruk-hai and Olog-hai do not yet exist, being bred by Sauron only in the late Third Age.)
Following the Dagor Bragollach in 455, Morgoth acquires many Elven and Mannish prisoners, some of whom have their wills crushed by his power and are transformed into obedient servants. Occasionally he sends such individuals back to their homelands to spy or spread lies. Only a hero like Húrin Thalion is able to resist such power (but even he is spiritually injured by his many years in captivity).
Sauron participates personally in the wars of Beleriand, possessing the fana of a fair Elf. He is often surrounded by werewolves, especially during his rule of Tol-in-Gaurhoth (457 – 467). Lúthien is the only one among the Free Peoples able to successfully confront him (even a hero like Finrod cannot overcome Sauron’s mighty magic).
The Noldor of Beleriand have all come from Aman against the explicit will of the Valar and are subject to the Doom of Mandos for the fell deeds committed during their journey. This curse manifests itself through deep distrust among their princes, and is frequently punctuated by conflict between the sons of Fëanor and other Noldorin leaders, climaxing with the sack of Menegroth and the killing of Dior and Nimloth.
The Seven Sons of Fëanor
Caranthir, Curufin, Celegorm, Maedhros, Maglor, Amrod, and Amras differ considerably in their dispositions; the first three are the most ruthless and brutal; Maedhros and Maglor are more sensible and try to mediate between their brothers and other leaders; Amrod and Amras are not particularly active in these internal struggles. Together with their father, all have sworn a terrible and irretractable oath: to slay any who seek to deprive them of a Silmaril. This oath is their eventual undoing, since it brings them into conflict not only with Morgoth, but also Thingol, Beren, Lúthien, Dior, and others who struggle against the shadow of Angband. The brothers participate in the Kin-slaying at Al-qualondë, conspire against both Finrod and Orodreth, and kidnap Lúthien (no wonder that the other Elven princes do not dare to trust them!). In the end, the oath causes the death of six of the brothers, only Maglor surviving to the end of the First Age.
The Princes of the Noldor
Fingolfin, Fingon, and Finrod Felagund lead many of the Noldor in Beleriand in the struggle against Morgoth, but are not bound by Fëanor’s oath. Most have high ideals and are little corrupted by the war. Finrod Felagund is even prepared to abandon his realm in order to assist Beren in his quest. The Noldor are foremost warriors and reside in fortresses at strategic locations along Beleriand’s northern border. Their principal occupations are hunting (there are no hints that the Noldor practiced agriculture), weapon-making, and preparation for war (in which they appear as the only warriors who fight from horseback).
The Sindar (Grey-elves) are those who remained in Beleriand and chose not to cross Belegaer to the Undying Lands. They are not as powerful as the Noldor, but know their land and deeply love it. They prefer to dwell in forests (principally in Doriath within the Girdle of Melian). Their King, Elu Thingol, resides there with Melian his queen in the Caves of Menegroth. He is nominally the overlord of all of Beleriand. The Sindar fight mainly with spears and bows and, at first, encountered great difficulty when confronted with Morgoth’s Orcs. Later they seem to have obtained superior weapons from their Noldorin relatives. The Laiquendi (Green-elves), who are closely related to the Sindar, dwell in the forests of Ossiriand as hunters and gatherers.
Those Elves who remained in Cuivienen and refused to join the migration westwards are known as the Avari. They have never been subject the influence of the Valar and, so, differ considerably from the Elves of Beleriand. During the years between the kindling of the stars and the first sunrise, they spread over most of Middle-earth. The Sindar of Beleriand suspect that there are Avari east of the Ered Luin. (These, however, are never described in Tolkien’s works apart from the reference that the Sindar believed that the Avari might have become like the wild animals of the forests. If you wish to introduce Avari in your campaign, there is great freedom to define them as you wish. They have likely diversified into tribes sundered from one other since the time of the Awakening).
The three Houses of the Edain reach Beleriand around 310, befriending its Elven princes and joining the war against Melkor. The closely related Houses of Beor and Hador are tall and skillful warriors — the ancestors of the Númenóreans. The Haladin are shorter and prefer to dwell in isolated forest settlements. This tribe does not survive the First Age, since it is completely defeated by Morgoth’s forces in 496. The few survivors are absorbed by the two other tribes. These Edain appear to possess a level of technology comparable to that of the Vikings or the Iron Ages Germanic tribes, subsisting on agriculture and hunting, and living in small villages or farms. Many of the Edain are renowned warriors, some of whom are almost as skillful as their Elven contemporaries. They eventually paid a terrible price for their fidelity to the Noldor with the destruction or enslavement of their villages at the hands of Morgoth’s servants.
Various Easterling tribes arrive in Beleriand during the 5th century, some of which ally themselves with the Noldor, while others join the ranks of Angband. (Most likely these are not related to the Easterlings that harass the realm of Gondor during the Third Age.) A few Drughu inhabit the wilds of Beleriand, preferring a withdrawn life (though they are sworn enemies of Angband and will gladly slay Orcs).
Dwarves seem to be of little importance to the affairs of Beleriand. Their two major settlements, the mining cities of Nogrod and Belegost, are located in Ered Luin on the border of Eriador. Occasionally, Dwarven artisans and warriors enter Beleriand. These are Morgoth’s implacable foes, but not necessarily friends of the Elves. Possession of a Silmaril leads to Thingol’s death and the first sack of Doriath at their hands. The Dwarves are the best makers of weapons and armor in Middle-earth, and their own works can endure even the heat of dragon fire.
Some Ents and Entwives live in Ossiriand but, as always, prefer to stay out of the affairs of Men and Elves (with one or two exceptions). The majority of their numbers appear to have remained east of Beleriand among the vast forests between Ered Luin and the Misty Mountains. Eagles who serve Manwë live in the mountain peaks which surround the hidden vale of Gondolin, and keep watch on Beleriand for the Valar. Occasionally, they intervene to assist the Elves (e.g. the rescue of Maedhros). Skinchangers (like the Beornings of the Third Age) may also have existed among the Free Peoples of Beleriand. (The gamemaster is free to introduce beings suitable to the mood of The Silmarillion, keeping in mind that some animals are associated with the forces of good, such as eagles and bears, while others, like wolves and bats, typically serve Angband.)
The use of magic affects the senses and alters perceptions, affording powerful disguises or illusions (cf. “Of Beren and Lúthien” in Quenta Silmarillion). While common to Beleriand, it is only exercised by a few, very powerful individuals. Apart from the Valar and the Maiar, only some of Morgoth’s evil spirits (e.g. Thuringwethil and the Balrogs) and some Noldor (e.g. Finrod Felagund) seem to be spell-casters. Neither Men nor Dwarves have access to such power. (Magical artifacts (such as swords) are quite common, but there are no references to magical gadgets that are common in fantasy roleplaying games (e.g. rings of flying or cloaks of invisibility). The game-master must be careful so as not to destroy the mood by introducing unsuitable artifacts.)
The main language in Beleriand is Sindarin, the native tongue of the Sindar and the Laiquendi. The Noldor originally spoke Quenya, but its use has been prohibited by Thingol. Some Noldor surely know Telerin and Valinorean. Dwarves speak the secretive Khuzdul among themselves, but use Sindarin with outsiders. The Ents have their fantastic tongue which no other race can be taught. The Houses of Bëor and Hador speak similar dialects which form the roots of Adûnaic, the tongue of the later Dúnedain. The Haladin and Easterlings speak their own language. (What language the servants of Angband use is not clear; but it is certainly not the later Black Speech, since that was invented by Sauron during the Second Age. Morgoth may have devised a tongue for his servants.)
The heroes of the First Age are of a far greater stature than those found in later ages. But while player-characters may possess truly heroic qualities, these should not approach the level of one like Beren or Finrod, such that they might alter the basic fabric of Beleriand’s history (though they may well be far better than anything found in a Third Age campaign). They should also be well-equipped from the start of the campaign in order to be properly prepared for the struggle against Angband.
The world of Quenta Silmarillion is replete with grandiose deeds, heartrending tragedy and dramatic atmosphere (in addition to ignoble betrayal and a good dose of horror). A campaign set in Beleriand should therefore offer more than the conventional “monster hunt.” Happy endings are rare under Angband’s shadow, and when someone succeeds in an heroic action, a bitter price must often be paid. Moral flaws (most often pride) and ill-judgment typically result in disaster.
The Watchful Peace
A suitable campaign setting might be the period between the arrival of the Edain and the Dagor Bragollach (310 – 45 S), during which time there is comparative peace in Beleriand as the protagonists prepare themselves for the war which they know will come soon enough. Morgoth attempts to divide the Eldarin princes by sowing discord and suspicion. Fëanor’s sons conspire to achieve their private goals; Caranthir, Celegorm, and Curufin are even ready to confront Beren and Lúthien. In such a setting it is often difficult to determine who is your friend and who is only feigning. Player-characters might belong to the household of a Noldorin prince (e.g. Orodreth at Minas Tirith). Both Sauron and Fëanor’s sons actively conspire against their lord and try to infiltrate his fortress with their agents in order to strengthen their positions.
The Wanderings of the Haladin
During the 360s, Haleth leads her people on a long and strenuous migration from Estolad to Talath Dírnen and Brethil, searching for an area where the Haladin can lead their traditionally independent lives. It is possible to run this “long march” as a campaign in which player-characters are Haladin leaders — perhaps advisers or commanders — under Haleth, whose role is to plan and execute various tasks (such as reconnaissance, transportation, or military strikes that will facilitate the progress of the migration). Haleth herself might actually be run as a player-character — a truly charismatic leader comparable to Napoleon, Mao Zedong or Alexander the Great.
The Evil Years
After Dagor Bragollach in 455, the Elves and Edain are gradually pushed southwards from Dorthonion. Their defenses collapse completely at Nirnaeth Arnoediad in 473 and Angband’s armies pour into Beleriand. In 496, Nargothrond is sacked by Glaurung. At about the same time, the Haladin are crushed and a few survivors scattered. Menegroth is sacked in 505 and 510, and in 511 Gondolin itself is destroyed. Only the Elven settlements on Balar survive unscathed, being under the protection of Ulmo. During these chaotic and evil years, many hardy guerilla bands (such as those led by Barahir, Beren, or Túrin) carry on a desperate struggle against the servants of Angband. Morgoth’s commanders expend great efforts to capture these freedom fighters, and in the most difficult cases Sauron himself participates (as when Barahir’s band is destroyed).
A campaign with this theme would place heavy emphasis on wilderness survival (the antagonist being not only Orcs and Easterlings, but also the merciless climate). Characters must find food, water, and lodgings in order to survive the harsh winters of northern Beleriand. Occasionally, they may get assistance from the Edain villages that have been enslaved by the Easterlings, but such actions may be perilous; the servants of Angband ruthlessly use any deceptions to capture or kill guerilla warriors.
A Brief Chronology of Beleriand during the First Age
This timeline covers the years between the arrival of the Noldor and the War of Wrath (compiled with help from Robert Foster The Complete Guide to Middle-earth (New York: Ballentine Books, 1978) and Paul Kocher A Reader’s Guide to Silmarillion (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980). Regrettably, there are few dates referred to in the tales; hence it is often impossible to locate events exactly.
Just prior to the first Year of the Sun and the coming of the Noldor, Morgoth’s armies engage the Sindar in the First Battle of Beleriand. The victory of Angband leads Melian to set the girdle of her protection upon Doriath. The Second Battle, Dagor-nuin-Giliath, is fought upon the arrival of Fëanor’s people. He falls, but Morgoth’s hosts are driven back to Angband.
- The Sun and Moon rise for the first time. Fingolfin reaches Middle-earth and is named High-king of the Noldor.
- 1 – 20
- Thingol grants the Noldor leave to settle and defend the unpopulated regions of northern Beleriand, but exercises little control over the Noldo princes.
- Finrod Felagund begins the building of Nargothrond.
- Turgon discovers Tumladen and begins the building of Gondolin.
- c. 60
- Dagor Aglareb, the Third Battle. An Orc attack on Dor-thonion is repulsed by the hosts of Fingolfin and Maedhros.
- c. 100
- Gondolin completed.
- An Orc attack on Hithlum is repulsed by Fingon’s host.
- Glaurung emerges for the first time, but is routed in a battle on Ard-galen. The Dragons do not appear again for a long time.
- c. 306
- Maeglin is born.
- c. 310
- The three Houses of Edain reach Beleriand from the southeast. Beor’s House arrives first and is guided by Finrod to Estolad, where it settles. The next folk, the Haladin, remain in Thargelion. During the following year, the House of Hador arrives and migrates to Estolad. After some wandering, Bëor’s folk settle in Dorthonion and allies itself with Finrod of Nargothrond. Hador’s people settle in Hithlum and Ered Wethrin. After some years the Haladin are driven out of Thargelion by Orcs. They move to Estolad and, after some years, Haleth leads her people westwards through Nan Dungortheb to Brethil and Talath Dimen. Many other Men from the three Houses remain in Estolad until Nimaeth Arnoediad.
- c. 330
- Maeglin arrives in Gondolin. Eol and Aredhel die.
- c. 370
- The Haladin settle in Brethil.
- c. 425
- Hador’s House settles in Dor-lómin.
- c. 441
- Húrin is born.
- c. 444
- Huor is born.
- Dagor Bragollach, the Fourth Battle. Ard-galen is devastated by rivers of fire from Angband. During the winter, the March of Maedhros and Dorthonion are conquered by Morgoth’s hosts. Fingolfin is killed by Morgoth at the gates of Angband. Fingon becomes King of the Noldor.
- Sauron captures Tol Sirion and changes it to Tol-in-Gaurhoth (Isle of the Werewolves). Bëor’s tribe flee from Dorthonion to Hithlum; only Barahir’s outlaws remain. The Easterlings arrive in Beleriand and settle in its eastern parts.
- Barahir and his men die. Only Beren survives.
- An Orc attack on Hithlum is repulsed. Húrin becomes chieftain of the House of Hador in Dor-lómin.
- Túrin is born.
- 466 – 468
- The adventures of Beren and Lúthien, during which Finrod, Huan and Carcharoth die. Sauron is expelled from Tol-in-Gaurhoth by Lúthien and his tower is destroyed. A Silmaril is wrested from Morgoth and given to Thingol. Beren and Lúthien settle in Tol Galen.
- Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Fifth Battle. The hosts of the Eldar and the Edain are utterly crushed by Morgoth’s forces. Hithlum is settled by the Easterlings. Tuor is born.
- The Falas is ravaged by Orcs. Círdan’s people flee to Balar the mouth of the Sirion.
- 482 – 501
- Turin’s tragic adventures, well described in Narn î Hín Húrin. They are too extensive to be summarized here.
- The Haladin are defeated and withdraw into the forests. Nargothrond is conquered by Glaurung and Orcs.
- Húrin dies.
- Tuor and Idril marry.
- Dwarves from Nogrod slay Thingol in Menegroth and steal the Silmaril, but are themselves slain during their escape. The jewel is brought back to Menegroth. Melian departs Middle-earth. A Dwarven army sacks Menegroth and captures the Silmaril. During their return march Beren kills them and recovers the jewel, which is worn by Lúthien for some years.
- Beren and Lúthien die. Dior is King of Doriath and wears the Silmaril.
- Fëanor’s sons attack Menegroth to capture the Silmaril. Caranthir, Celegorm, Curufin, Dior, and Nimloth are slain, while Elwing escapes to Sirion with the Silmaril.
- The Sack of Gondolin. Turgon and Maeglin die. Tuor and Idril flee to the Mouths of Sirion. Ereinion Gil-galad is King of the Noldor.
- Fëanor’s four surviving sons attack the Elven settlement at the mouth of Sirion in search of the Silmaril, but fail to capture it. Amrod and Amras fall in the fight. Some decades later, Eärendil reaches Aman and appeals to the Valar. The Hosts of Valinor go to Middle-earth and the War of Wrath is fought. The First Age comes to an end.
II. Yôzayan Über Alles: the Second Age
“RuleYôzâyan, Yôzâyan rules the waves. Edain always are a master-race” — Adûnaic hymn, c. SA 3100
Less source material exists for the Second Age than for other periods in the history of Middle-earth. Appendix B (RotK), Akallabêth, and a section in Unfinished Tales make up the bulk of the available data. In this Age the Dúnedain realm of Númenór rises from its humble birth, reaches its peak of glory, and plummets into darkest evil, while Sauron builds his first empire in Middle-earth, deceives the Noldor of Eregion, fashions the One Ring, and finally brings about the destruction of Westernesse. Hence, the Second Age has great potential for gamemasters seeking freedom to design their own campaign.
The Undying Lands have not changed since the First Age, but play no active role in the Second. The Elves continue to sail there and, at times, Teleri from Tol Eressëa voyage to Elenna or Endor. In the 34th century Ar-Pharazôn’s armament causes Aman to be removed from the Circles of the World.
Elenna is a star-shaped isle with an area of about 171,000 square miles (Its geography is well described in Unfinished Tales.). It is exclusively populated by the Dúnedain, descendants of the three Houses of the Edain who were allied to the Elves during the First Age. It seems to have had a pleasant climate, perhaps comparable to that of northern California. The soil is good and there are no reports of bad harvests or famine among its population. A voyage from Elenna to Aman takes 5 – 6 weeks, and to Middle-earth 7— 8 weeks. The native tongue of Númenor is Adûnaic, a derivative of the languages spoken by the Houses of Bëor and Hador in Beleriand. Sindarin and Quenya are also used for solemn occasions.
The Númenóreans are aware of their superiority over other Men and of their inferiority to the Elves. Initially accepting this situation gracefully, they respect the Elves, and seek to transmit their culture to the lesser Men of Middle-earth; but from 1800 onwards pride overcomes the Númenórean heart, and they gradually abandon their traditional ideals and turn to evil ways. Their friendship with the peoples of Middle-earth turns to conquest, colonization, and suppression, while their attitude towards the Eldar becomes envious. During the 23rd century Tar-Atanamir is warned about this development by emissaries of the Valar, but the king and his followers pay no heed. A small group of Dúnedain, who call themselves the Faithful, retain the old ideals. For this they are ostracized, and towards the end of the Age are subject to outright persecution. In order to survive many of them settle in Middle-earth, and at the end of the Age this group survives the Downfall and establishes the realms of Gondor and Arnor.
Northwestern Middle-earth suffered great destruction at the end of the First Age, but from the Second Age onward its geography seems to have remained stable. Hence, one can easily use the extensive, published map material for the Third Age by adjusting its settlements and political borders. The Second Age is considered a dark time for the peoples of Middle-earth. It seems likely that they live at the same level of technology and social organization as the Edain of the First Age, and are probably based on clans and tribes, centered around agricultural villages in the extensive forests. Some of the peoples of Eriador were distant relatives of the Númenóreans and spoke languages similar to Adûnaic (see footnote 3 from “Aldarion and Erendis” in Unfinished Tales). There is some migration into this region. For instance, during the reign of Tar-Aldarion, Easterlings serving Sauron entered Eriador.
The Elves live mostly in Lindon, ruled by Gil-galad, and in Lothlórien. The latter are mostly Silvan, as are the Elves of the Greenwood. Apart from the Noldor in Eregion, the Elves of Eriador are Sindar. Gil-galad seems to have gained significant influence in all of Eriador as the years passed, and his realm is essential to the resistance against Sauron. Eregion constitutes the third major Elven settlement in north-western Middle-earth, but is destroyed by Sauron’s armies in 1697. After this event, Imladris is established by Elrond as a refuge. Others include the Nandor settlement of Edhellond in Belfalas.
The cities of Belegost and Nogrod were destroyed in the War of Wrath, but the Dwarves soon built new mansions elsewhere in the Ered Luin. Khazad-dûm survived into the Second Age unscathed, and grew to become the greatest of Dwarven cities in Middle-earth. The Ents have withdrawn into Fangorn, whereas the Entwives live in the fertile lands on the other side of the Anduin. They disappear at the end of the Second Age when the area is ravaged by war.
It seems that Hobbits only reach northwestern Middle-earth during the Third Age. Where they lived during the Second Age is not mentioned in any source.
The Númenórean Presence
The Men of Númenor spend the early years of the Age building their home on Elenna. They return to Middle-earth in 600 when a ship voyages to Lindon. Soon thereafter, they encounter Edain living around Lake Evendim in Eriador. During the 9th century, they build the port of Lond Daer (Vinyalondë) at the mouth of the River Gwathló in order to facilitate the exploitation of Eriador’s vast forests. In the 1690s, Yôzâyan sends an army to oppose Sauron in Eriador. The Faithful establish Pelargir in 2350 as a foothold on the continent. Many settle in Belfalas, Lebennin, Anórien, Calenardhon, and around Evendim, regions under Elvish influence and hence shunned by the King’s Men.
During his sojourn in Eregion (1200 – 1590) Sauron wears a fair semblance (most likely the fana of an Elf) such that he is able to persuade many Noldor that he really is an emissary from the Valar (which must be quite a feat!). Around the year one thousand he establishes the realm of Mordor, and in 1600 fashions the One Ring in preparation for war against the Eldar. In the ensuing conflict (1693— 1701) his hosts raze Celebrimbor’s realm, but are unable to conquer either Lindon or Khazad-dûm. When Númenor sends its army to the aid of Gil-galad, Sauron’s armies are crushed and forced to retreat back to Mordor.
Sauron then bides his time in Barad-dur (being immortal, he is in no hurry). He expands his realm eastwards and subjugates many peoples but, at the last, surrenders to Númenor in 3261. Yet, in humbling himself, Sauron achieves his ultimate goal: the destruction of Númenor.
The Rest of Middle-earth
Very little is written about the rest of Endor during the Second Age. Hence, a gamemaster has great freedom of design. There are, however, certain facts in the primary sources which must be taken into account. According to The Silmarillion there are Avari, Men, and probably also Dwarves in other parts of Middle-earth.
From the reign of Tar-Aldarion onwards the Men of Númenor explore the coasts of Endor, but nowhere do they encounter any culture as highly developed as their own, nor any sailors of equal skill. Around 2200 the Númenórean attitude changes and they begin to establish colonies along the coasts. The natives are subjugated and forced to serve Dúnedain masters who demand heavy tribute. Umbar is the focal point of the Númenórean dominion in Endor and becomes a vast fortress. The King’s Men mainly colonize the region south of this port. (Several of these colonies survive the Atalantë and their evil inhabitants become implacable enemies of Gondor during the first millennium of the Third Age.) During Ar-Pharazôn’s reign, the Númenóreans become rapacious conquerors who enslave whole populations and sacrifice enemies to the cult of Melkor.
But the Númenóreans are never so many that they can evict a native population from its homeland; instead, they become a ruling class that administers and exploits the natives. They build forts, roads, bridges, and establish garrisons in order to ensure their rule. A colony is partially ruled by Númenórean law, in which Dúnedain have many privileges. Their armies are partially recruited from the natives but have exclusively Númenórean officers. Preferably, soldiers are stationed in an area whose language they do not speak. (The colonial policies of the Roman empire may be the best comparable example from our own age).
Númenor plays an active role in Endor from 600, when the Entulessë sails into Mithlond’s harbor, to its downfall in 3319 (approximately twenty-seven centuries). A thousand years pass between the time of Tar-Atanamir’s reign, when the Númenóreans left the path of the Valar, and Atalantë. When one considers all that has happened in our own age over a comparable period of time, the vast temporal scope open to the gamemaster becomes apparent.
The fact that the Second Age saw no great heroes to match those of Beleriand should be kept in mind when scaling the relative power level of player-characters. Players should be able to choose the same races available in a Third Age campaign with the exception of Hobbits.
The Enterprising Sea-farers
Tar-Aldarion establishes the Guild of Venturers in 750 and its members embark on expeditions of discovery and trade around the continent of Endor. They visit unknown lands and learn about the conditions there, while simultaneously spreading the knowledge of Númenór. Player-characters could man on one such ship and encounter fantastic adventures in exotic lands.
As the conflict between the Eldar and Sauron escalates during the 17th century, the king of Númenor seeks intelligence concerning Sauron’s empire (anticipating Dúnedain involvement in the near future). For this he sends the player-characters as spies to Endor in order to ascertain the might of Sauron. There are maps in Númenor of the lands east of the Misty Mountains, but these only contain topographical details and have no information on settlements, fortifications or borders. Hence, characters will be journeying through partially unknown territory.
Players who are interested in wargaming might have characters participate in the extensive campaigns in Eriador in 1695 – 1701, perhaps commanding smaller units on independent, secondary missions.
During Tar-Atanamir’s reign, Númenor begins the subjugation of the native peoples along Endor’s southern coasts and establishes colonial domains there (perhaps in the same manner as the Europeans did in Africa at the end of the 19th century). Players wishing to have more or less ruthless characters may participate in such projects as leaders or officers. The Númenóreans have superior weapons and training and are generally able to defeat the native armies, but these can strike back with guerilla tactics since they know their country and can hide among their compatriots.
One option is to run an Elenna based campaign. When the Númenóreans leave the path of wisdom around 2200 they acquire the habit of plotting and scheming. Power struggles increase with time as the Númenóreans become more and more corrupt. Occasionally there are revolts and civil wars. A campaign based on these political developments might be designed in which player-characters belong to one or more noble families who scheme against their real or perceived political enemies. It is an evil and selfish time and it is hard to know whom to trust. (Númenor’s political structure during these days is not described, but it might be inspired by some comparable civilization of our own age. The European Middle Ages is not a good choice, since Númenor was far more advanced. Rather, 9th — 10th century Byzantium, Diocletian Rome, and perhaps classical China, would be better sources.)
When Númenor turns to evil ways there are some who resist these changes, both in Elenna and in the Endor colonies. This could be the foundation for a campaign inspired by the tales of Robin Hood or the feats of Lawrence of Arabia. Brave individuals who try to save the natives from the brutal suppression of foreign masters.
Player-characters need not be Númenóreans; instead, they could be natives of Middle-earth who perceive the Dúnedain as enemies and must defend themselves from the conquerors from over the sea.
The Resistance Fighters
Player-characters belong to a native people that has been conquered by the Númenóreans, just as Asian or African people were occupied by European armies during the Victorian age.
They initiate political struggle and lead guerilla resistance to liberate their compatriots from the Númenórean yoke. (Historical parallels include: the American war of Independence (1770s), China’s struggles against the Europeans during the 19th century, the Polish rebellion (1830s), and the Vietnam wars (1945 – 1975).) While the characters strive for these goals Sauron’s emissaries work in secret to infiltrate and establish their own position, which will be used to give them the real power in the end. The characters actually have to fight at two fronts simultaneously.
The Elven Diplomats
When the Shadow falls over Numenor, many Eldar in Middle-earth become worried and act to protect their interests and the Free Peoples from Yôzâyan’s rule. In such a campaign characters could be Elven diplomats with human assistants, sent to a distant land by Gil-galad to actively intervene in a succession conflict. A ruler is dying and his heirs vie for the throne. One is supported by Númenor, and Sauron has sent secret emissaries with the task of discrediting those involved and to cause a civil war.
When Elenna perishes in 3319 a new era begins. Elendil and his followers reach the shores of Middle-earth, unite the Elf-friends there, and establish Gondor and Arnor. Many Númenórean colonies survive, and Umbar remains a stronghold for the evil Yôzâyan culture; but the King’s Men have lost their cohesion and spend much time fighting each other while the oppressed people rebel against them. Sauron returns to Mordor and continues his relentless war against the Dúnedain. The two final decades of the Second Age are a chaotic time of much war, espionage, and scheming in which the Last Alliance besieges Mordor itself. In this setting characters might serve Elendil in various capacities.
The Age ends with the death of Elendil, Gil-galad, and Sauron’s fall. Isildur seizes the One Ring, and a new era arrives with hopes of better future. But that, as they say, is a completely different story.
III. Return of the Shadow: the Fourth Age
“History has no happy endings — just crises that come and go” — Isaac Asimov
During the War of the Ring, Gandalf predicted that there would come new threats to the Free Peoples after Sauron, but he could not see anything further — he affirmed that one must confront the evils of one’s own generation, and leave the defense of the future to others. After the fall of Sauron the reunited Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor faces the future without help from the Istari or the Eldar. The Age of Men has arrived and supernatural forces gradually fade away. The Elves voyage to Aman or disappear into the deep forests and shun Men. Tolkien wrote very little of this era. In the Appendices it is said that Elessar and Éomer fought the remnants of Sauron’s minions wherever they appeared. Their armies went to war east and south of Gondor. The Orcs are not yet exterminated, and ravage the Misty Mountains and the Greenwood for another century or so.
One advantage of a Fourth Age campaign is that player-characters have much greater scope for influencing the course of history, which is more limited in previous ages. Characters have opportunities to make their own fortunes or, perhaps, even to rule their own realms. (I have been told that Tolkien once began writing a novel set in Gondor during the Fourth Age. Being dissatisfied with it, he never completed it. I was told that the basic idea was that evil again infiltrated Gondor and made some people serve a Dark religion. These hints inspired my friend Kathrin Vestergren and I to outline the following campaign for Gondor several decades after King Elessar’s death in 120, emphasizing politics and intrigue.)
The Lands of Men
The Fourth Age is the era in which the realms of Men assume control of northwestern Endor, Gondor and Arnor controlling the lands between the Misty Mountains, the Ered Luin, Forochel, Mordor, and Umbar. Rohan and The Shire preserve their ancient autonomy within this reunited kingdom while retaining close allegiance to the Dúnedain. Mordor has been taken over by the former slave population which inhabits the fertile area around the lake of Nurn, and is allied with Gondor. In Rhûn and Harad little has changed. The old realms remain, albeit liberated from the Shadow, and their inhabitants are probably not too keen on Gondorian hegemony in the region. Many of these have long traditions of resisting the Dúnedain, and such cultural memories will linger on for many centuries.
Elves and Dwarves
The Elves are gradually departing Middle-earth, though a significant Silvan population remains in Lórien and the Greenwood for many centuries into the Fourth Age. Some Sindar also stay for a long time in the Grey Havens, having the responsibility of providing ships to those that depart to Aman. Few bother with the affairs of Men in Middle-earth. Much of their power has waned since the destruction of the One Ring and the departure of their mightiest Lords. They all realize that their prime has passed and that the dominion of the continent has finally passed to mortals.
Dwarvenkind enjoys a brief renaissance once their principal enemies — orcs and dragons — have been decimated or exterminated. Khazad-dûm is once again retaken by the Naugrim and its ores are exploited for new wealth. The Dwarves, however, are destined for a slow decline and eventual extinction (due to demographic factors). Their outlying settlements in Ered Luin and elsewhere are gradually abandoned as the Age progress and the Dwarves withdraw to Khazad-dûm.
Ancient legends speak of how Sauron deceived Celebrimbor and the Elven-smiths in Hollin during the Second Age. He came to them as Annatar, Lord of the Gifts, claiming to been an emissary of the Valar — many believed him. One of these was Celebrimbor’s sister Ariel, who was seduced by Annatar. Soon after he had left Hollin for good she gave birth to a daughter, Aelindur. Ariel died from birth complications and the child was brought up by her uncle.
When Sauron’s armies crushed Hollin they captured Aelindur and brought her to Mordor. What then became of her is not clear. There are tales of a golden-haired maiden living in a mansion at the shore of Nurnen. There Aelindur had a garden in which she grew evil herbs. When Sauron perished at the end of the Second Age, she escaped in the ensuing chaos and sought refuge somewhere in the east.
Aelindur’s Fourth Age Plans
In time Aelindur has become almost as evil as her father, though not as powerful. She can be portrayed as a kind of fallen Galadriel (read the sequence when Frodo offers Galadriel the Ruling Ring in Lorien). Being part-Noldo, she is bound to her physical body. Aelindur has great knowledge of magic and possesses much more talent than any other Elf (save perhaps Lúthien, another Maia-Noldo child). Only an Istar can match her in magic. According to the essay on the Istari (Unfinished Tales), Radagast, Alatar and Pallando remain in Middle-earth during the early Fourth Age and may enter the plot as Aelindur’s foes for reasons ranging from helpfulness to the desire to remove a potentially troublesome competitor.
When Sauron’s domain collapsed after the War of the Ring, Aelindur realized that this would be her big opportunity. Both the most powerful Elves (Galadriel and Elrond) and Gandalf departed from Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age. The only potential rivals remaining are the three Wizards, but of these only Radagast resides in northwestern Endor, and his interest does not lie in power over Men. Pallando and Alatar have long since departed for eastern lands.
Aelindur’s goals are simple: vengeance and power. She wants to throw the Dúnedain realms into chaos and assume control over the remnants, using discontented Haradaic and Gondorian noblemen as her primary tools. Unlike her father she does not rule a state, nor does she have any hosts at her direct command; instead, she relies on her black arts and cunning to achieve her ambitions. She will infuse evil and egotistical thoughts into the minds of powerful individuals, remolding them to suit her purposes. When the Men of Harad revolt against Gondor under her servants’ leadership, many Dúnedain nobles will rebel against their own King and a new Kin-strife will ensue. Then Aelindur intends to reveal herself as the “savior” of the realm, and with the help of her minions and her great powers usurp-the throne of Gondor, initiating a dark reign that may last for centuries.
Aelindur has great patience as she is not subject to mortality. She is also very careful, preferring to work her will through intermediaries without being seen. Whenever she comes out into the open, she is incognito, claiming to be an Elda who has not yet gone West. If her true identity should be revealed, her plans might fail.
The Ballad of Aelindur
On the southern shore of Nurn you find
Aelindur’s misty flower field
with her magic roses, black and white.
In the hour of midnight
she is dancing right across the field
weaving signs of magic, runes of might.
And she sings: “Burzum ûk,”
chanting words of power, Sauron’s child.
And then the swaying magic roses
growing in the field obey,
sending streams of evil, pale as death.
For though each rose is graceful, it is
filled with Mordor’s baleful breath
used by Aelindur Elvenmaid.
And when the Moon is rising,
then an evil eye looks down on you,
sending forth her powers to your mind.
You wake up to the sound of chanting;
Aelindur comes to you
wearing words of magic, words to bind:
“Be my slave, be my slave!”
Then you must surrender, and you do.
Thus you are, thus you are
bound with words of chaining, thus you are.
The Conspiracy Tools
Aelindur has many means to further her plots. She has established a variant of the old cult of Melkor in Gondor, whose clandestine priests preach the coming of a Dark Queen who will save the Dúnedain from their current decadent ways and re-establish their ancient power and might (The cult should be utilized in style reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft: dark rites in the moonlight and strange societies conspiring against the realm).
Another variant of the cult has been created for the Southron peoples. There her servants preach resistance to Dúnedain dominion and the recovery of traditional Southron virtues. The goal should be to “break the shackles of the Northmen under the leadership of the freedom-giving Great Queen” and regain what was lost in the War of the Ring. The cult is successful among discontented nobles and merchants.
Rohan is a serious obstacle to Aelindur’s plans since its éoherè is the most powerful military unit in northwestern Middle-earth, and the kings of Harad can never field a matching cavalry force. Aelindur pursues two strategies to achieve this. One is to develop a horse plague to kill off a large percentage of Rohan’s herds. The other strategy is political: enticing the Dunlendings to once again strike the western Riddermark to regain their ancient possessions. Arnor is still so sparsely populated that it lacks strength enough to successfully intervene in a Gondorian civil war. Also, a northern host must march through Dunlending territory before reaching Gondor, which should delay it significantly.
There are many ways for player characters to get involved in Aelindur’s conspiracies. They might come to realize that something is awry in Minas Tirith. People are denying the true Dúnedain ideals and breaking old customs and traditions for personal gain. There are persistent rumors of evil forces secretly gaining adherents in the city, and the characters may be the only ones who realize the extent of the threat. They are then forced to combat it alone, while their compatriots disregard their warnings — except for Aelindur’s allies who oppose them with all possible means Such a campaign might well be centered on Minas Tirith and be flavored by a tinge of horror. The all too common expeditions into dungeons and fights against Orcs should be completely absent. Instead, the campaign should emphasize investigative role-playing. Characters must ascertain the true nature of the evil machinations they have discovered, who is involved, and how to stop these individuals from realizing Aelindur’s plans. Preparing an armed rebellion is a difficult task and the conspirators would have to make many preparations: finding suitable allies, securing the loyalties of military units, establishing efficient clandestine communications, etc. Such activities can usually be discovered, providing one knows what to look for.
If a civil war breaks out in Gondor characters may try to change its course (perhaps involving table-top wargaming). Many battles will be fought for the control of the three strategic cities of the lower Anduin valley: Pelargir, Minas Tirith, and Ithilien’s new capital of Ost-in-Ernil (the successor of the ruined Minas Morgul, located in the hills of Emyn Arnen). It is even possible that player-characters might choose to ally themselves with Aelindur. If so, she will most like betray them in the end, as befits her nature.
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