The Nine Nazgûl
Aka: The Úlairi; the Ringwraiths; the Shadows; the Black Wings; Black Riders; the Fell Riders; the Nine Riders; the Nine Evil Servants; the Nine Servants of the Lord of the Rings; the Nine; and the Shriekers.
“…Nine for Mortal Men doomed to die…”
(Lord of the Ring)
The Men who accepted the nine Rings of Power around Second Age 2000 survived the time of their appointed doom and became immortal slaves of the Lord of the Rings. Kings during their mortal lives, they evolved into powerful yet hideous thralls. Each became an awful Ringwraith, a servant of the great Evil that prolonged his existence, a Shadow-creature forever dying but never dead.
An Overview of the Ringwraiths
The Nazgûl (BS. “Ringwraiths”) — or, as the Elves called them, the Úlairi (S. “Those of the Unlight”) — served as the Dark Lord’s most powerful tools of terror and conquest. As Secondborn Kings, they provided Sauron (aka Gorthaur or Thauron) with the insight and empathy necessary to effectively horrify and subdue others of their kind, an important quality after the rise of the Mannish races and the decline of Elvish influence in Endor. As Ringwraiths, they provided absolute loyalty and they enjoyed the longevity to achieve virtually any goal. As enchanted beings, they wielded the power to contest or defeat nearly any foe. Their peculiar skills enabled them to foster and perpetuate the Evil One’s goal to become the King of Men.
The Úlairi exercised tremendous power, even before their downfall, for Gorthaur the Terrible chose them because of their might. All ruthless Kings, they knew how to dominate their brethren and administer realms of Men. Their experience proved invaluable during the Dark Lord’s quest to conquer Middle-earth. Collectively, this repository of knowledge was vast indeed, for each Nazgûl came from a unique background and all of them — save the three fallen Númenóreans (Adûnaphel, Akhôrahil, and Mûrazôr) — grew out of a different setting and culture. Taken as a whole, the Nine understood most of the peoples of Endor and at one time or another ruled about half of the Middle Land. Sauron selected them carefully and reaped great rewards.
The enslavement of the Úlairi augmented their already considerable talents. Each received one of the Nine Rings of Power forged by Sauron (as “Annatar”) and the Elven-smiths at Ost-in-Edhil in Eregion in the years between S.A. 1500 and 1580. The Rings, secured by the Dark Lord in S.A. 1697 during the war with the Elves, retained the permanent strength imbued by Celebrimbor the High-smith and his awesomely talented peers; however, they also bore the imprint of irrevocable Evil instilled by Sauron. They embodied tremendous magic, but they remained forever tied to the One Ruling Ring that the Dark Lord secretly fashioned in the fires of Orodruin (Mount Doom) in S.A. 1580 – 1600.
As each of the Nine took a Ring from Gorthaur in the years around S.A. 2000, they sealed a heinous pact with the Lord of the Rings. In exchange for the spell-power bound within the enchanted jewels and the immortality conveyed by Sauron and his One Ring, the greedy became enslaved to the Dark Lord. Upon the time they began wearing the Rings, they gradually evolved into the Nazgûl, creatures who existed at the edge of this world and the realm of the shadows. Resisting death, yet unable to die, the Ringwraiths magically clung to life.
This immortality carried many burdens. Unfortunately for the Nine, they gave their spirits and free will to the Evil One, and their very existence became entwined with his destiny and the fate of his Ruling Ring. Their hunger for wealth and dominance led to slavery. Worse, it left the Ringwraiths in an undead state where they could never wholly be in Arda. Sauron became their sole focus of existence in this world, and their altered, ever-dying physical being robbed them of the pleasures of true life. In their corruption, the Nine sentenced themselves to an unending hell and unceasing pain.
The Campaigns of the Úlairi During the Second Age
The first recorded sighting of a Úlair occurred in S.A. 2251. After this point, the Ring wraiths actively pursued campaigns on behalf of their Master. The first era of these operations (S.A. 2251 – 3261) involved the subjugation of kingdoms in and around their home regions, providing Sauron with a dis-unified but far-flung empire. They hoped to conquer all of Middle-earth, but the aims of the Dark Lord came into conflict with those of the Dúnedain of Númenór. Ar-Pharazôn’s claim to the mantle of kingship over all Men proved to be too great a military challenge, and the submission of the Lord of the Rings in S.A. 3262 ended the Ringwraith’s initial advance of the Shadow. The Úlairi retreated and stayed in hiding while the Dark Lord stayed imprisoned on the isle of Númenór (Westernesse).
Of course, the Evil One turned on his captors and exploited their greed, just as he had with the Men that became the Nine. Númenór perished in the Downfall of 3319 and the Nazgûl resurfaced in Mordor in order to rebuild Sauron’s somewhat shattered domain. When Gorthaur recovered from the destruction of his fana that accompanied the envelopment of Westernesse, they returned to war. From S.A. 3429 – 3441, the Ringwraiths led Mordor’s armies in the struggle against the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. Sauron’s defeat in this war resulted in the capture of the One Ring and the end of the Second Age. The Evil One’s spirit, which was partially embodied in the Ruling Ring he created out of his own essence, passed out of Arda and into the Shadows. The Úlairi followed, for their focus in Endor was gone.
The Nine’s Campaigns During the Third Age
It took the Lord of the Rings a thousand years to collect his strength and reenter Middle-earth, and it was another fifty years before his Nine Servants could answer his summons. Nonetheless, by T.A. 1050, the Ringwraiths once again stirred. From this point onward, though, Sauron lived in Endor (initially at Dol Guldur in Rhovanion) apart from his One Ring, and he therefore retained possession of the Nine Rings. This enabled him to dominate his Nazgûl from afar and project his strength through their presence.
After their return, the Ringwraiths once again embarked on efforts to coerce and conquer Men, but their strength was curtailed by the absence of the Ruling Ring. Like Sauron, they worked slowly, each journeying to a different area in hopes of resurrecting the Kingdom of Darkness. The Witch-king’s founding of Angmar in T.A. 1300, and his subsequent wars against the North Kingdom of Amor and its successor states (Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhudaur) during the years T.A. 1300 – 1974, proved to be the most notable of these campaigns, but others took place elsewhere in Middle-earth.
Eight of the Nine slipped back into the Black Land in T.A. 1640 and began preparing the guarded realm for the return of the Dark Lord. The Witch-king joined them after the collapse of the last surviving Dúnadan kingdom (Arthedain) in the North and the defeat and abandonment of Angmar the following year (T.A. 1975). Twenty-five years later, the reunited Nazgûl surprised the South Kingdom of Gondor by assaulting Minas Ithil. They took the fortress city in T.A. 2002, and the Chieftain of the Nine adopted it as his citadel.
The nine centuries that followed the fall of Minas Ithil (which was thereafter called Minas Morgul) constituted another period during which the Ringwraiths waged conflicts all over the East and South of Endor. Gorthaur himself went east during the Watchful Peace of T.A. 2063 – 2460 and aided their endeavors, although’ he returned to Dol Guldur before the conquests ended. These saw the continual extension of Darkness, for the Úlairi bound many nations under the Shadow before the Evil One came out of hiding in Dol Guldur, reentered Mordor, and once again proclaimed himself the King of Men (T.A. 2941).
Sauron’s defiant reappearance in the Black Land signaled the beginning of the last years of the Third Age. War loomed as work began in Mordor to resurrect the Dark Tower (S. “Barad-dûr”). The same year (T.A. 2951), three Nazgûl flew north and reopened the hold at Dol Guldur, bearing plans to crush the Elven nations in Lórien and Mirkwood. Sixty-seven years later (T.A. 3018), fighting erupted in Ithilien and Rhovanion, and the War of the Ring began.
Initially, the Dark Lord used the Nine to test the strength of his opponents and take their minds off the prize he sought so dearly; however, in the summer of 3018 he sent the Nazgûl off on the search for the One Ring. Traveling on horseback as the Black Riders, the Úlairi combed the Anduin Valley, rode through Rohan, and entered Eriador. Three went to the Shire (Kd. “Sûza”) while the others journeyed to the great crossroads at Bree. The Hobbits eluded them by miraculously making their way eastward with the Ring, but at Weathertop the Witch-king and four other Ringwraiths nearly completed their quest. Again they failed, though, and the halflings began the final flight to the Elf-haven of Rivendell. The Nine once again flirted with success when they intercepted Frodo less than two weeks later, but Elrond’s magic trapped them in the enchanted floodwaters of the Bruinen, killing the black steeds and wounding the Nine.
It took some time for the Nazgûl to recover, and after their defeat at the Bruinen Ford they deployed themselves on Fell Beasts and took to the skies. Searching intermittently and fruitlessly throughout late T.A. 3018 and early 3019, they returned to the tasks of war. The Witch-king led Sauron’s huge two-pronged southern force against Minas Tirith, while the Ringwraiths of Dol Guldur commanded the Dark Lord’s two northern Orc armies. None of their attacks succeeded as planned and the Witch-king died by the swords of Éowyn and Merry on the Pelennor Fields of Gondor.
The eight remaining Nazgûl flew to Barad-dûr after their setbacks and prepared for the climax of the war. When the army of the Free Peoples engaged Sauron’s main army in the epic struggle at Morannon before the gates of the Black Land, the Fell Riders mounted their flying creatures for the last time and dueled the Great Eagles in the sky above the parched battlefield. Although neither side prevailed in the aerial melee, the Dark Lord ordered the Nazgûl to turn and wing southward, since the fate of Mordor was tied to the One Ring that the Hobbits carried up the side of Mount Doom. Once again, though, the Ringwraiths never reached their goal, for in the destruction of the Ruling Ring the Úlairi, like their Lord, perished.
“In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel.”
(LotRI p. 263.)
The Nazgûl provided the Dark Lord with a physical means of spreading his abhorrent Shadow. Nonetheless, their own being remained quasi-corporeal. Nearly weightless and invisible to all but those residing in the world of the shadows (e.g., other Undead and Sauron) or wearing a Ring of Power, their contacts with Arda seemed fleeting. The Ringwraiths simultaneously manifested themselves in two worlds, but remained wholly in neither. They manipulated objects and cloaked themselves in visible trappings, but they remained apart from other Men.
The duality of the Nazgûls’ terrible existence is testimony to the horror fomented by the Lord of the Rings. While more powerful than they were as Kings, the Úlairi remained Sauron’s subservient vassals, spirits forever tied to his being. They received immortality, but lost Eru’s Gift of Death and perpetually suffered, as if always dying. Their shrieks instilled terror and spawned fear that caused the hardiest of foes to quiver, yet the shrillness of their cries suggested their own inner pain. Although possessed of enhanced senses and the ability to see in utter darkness, they remained virtually blind. Huge beasts and whole armies obeyed their word, but they trusted nothing and counted no friends. Despite the fact that sharp blades broke upon their flesh and that they showed no fear of mortal combat, they shunned soothing brooks and the comforting sun. No challenge of melee forced their flight, yet they shied from flickering firelight and the gentlest call to Elbereth. Nature’s seemingly innocuous intrusions often turned them away.
Most ironic of all, however, was the fact that though they cheated their natural fate and achieved undying life, their spirits lost the ability to outlive their death. By taking the Dark Lord’s offer, the Nazgûl unwittingly rejected Eru’s blessing to the Secondborn, the bequest of a special “life” after their end in Arda. They traded their immortal souls for immortal forms.
The General Powers and Features of the Nazgûl
With the uniform exception of the immortal Valar and Maïar, the Nazgûl are among the strongest living powers in Arda. Their strength reflects their ties to the Maia Sauron, their Rings of Power, and the One Ruling Ring.
While each Úlair is unique, of course, they all share certain common elements. They are all immortal and semi-corporeal beings with enchanted qualities, creatures with awesome collective power and formidable individual strength. As shown in the stories surrounding the Witch-king, they feared no single individual from the ranks of Middle-earth’s Free Peoples; instead, nature and circumstance usually dictated their vulnerability. No other Men rival them, although the Adan Lords from Númenór and the Kingdoms in Exile could contest them in certain situations. Still, they are sometimes upset or driven away by fire, water, or some manifestation of Varda (e.g., the name “Elbereth”), and magic weapons can slay them.
The following are guidelines which provide a breakdown of general powers or attributes common to all Nazgûl. We suggest that a GM use them when employing Ringwraith characters in an FRP game.
Unless otherwise noted, critical strikes against a Nazgûl are rolled on the Large Creature Critical Strike Tables. This applies to both physical attacks and spells. (Use MERP CT-10 and CT-11 or Arms Law 8.14 and Spell Law 10.85.)
When a Nazgûl is present, only part of his form is in Arda at any given moment. The rest of his corporeal being stays in the Shadows outside of the world. In a sense, then, the Nazgûl’s soul is frozen on the very brink of Darkness, where life passes into death. A Ringwraith is undead, and cannot die naturally as long as the One Ring exists. However, if Sauron is “killed” while the Ruling Ring remains in Eä, each Nazgûl’s form is also slain. His semi-corporeal body dissipates, departing from Arda and entering the Shadow-world. In order to reappear in Arda, they must (1) be summoned by the Dark Lord (meaning that Sauron must first return) and (2) have the strength to reassume their body. The latter might take some time, say 1 – 100 years; and once in Arda, they may take another 1 – 100 years to regain their full strength. As a rule, whenever such a rest is required, their power is proportional to their recovery period (e.g., if a Úlair takes 50 days to regain his vitality and it is his third day of rest in Arda, he has but 6% of his usual bonuses). (For more on Sauron and his Ruling Ring, see LOMEI 7.2.)
The Ringwraiths actual form is invisible to the normal eye. Only someone who is also wholly or partially in the Shadow-world (e.g., other Undead, Sauron, etc.), or someone wearing a Ring of Power (or using some other like item), can see their true form. They appear in one of two ways (thus the parenthetical Appearance stats): while wearing a Ring of Power they retain the youthful guise they possessed when they first took the Ring (i.e., they look like they did when they first became Ring wraiths); but without the Ring, they are cursed with a pale, almost translucent body and coarse, scraggy, grey hair (i.e., they look like they did at the point after their body reached the stage of its originally contemplated death). In the latter case, their withered and ostensibly tired frame glows when it contacts a glowing item. Whenever a Ring wraith draws his Morgul-knife, for instance, his hand takes on the knife’s enchanted aura. A Ringwraith also has the ability to summon an Open Mentalist Brilliance List Continuous Aura spell (RM, Spell Law, p. 92) at will, casting a bright glow around his body and enhancing his appearance (as well as subtracting 15 from all attacks).
Strength of form
The Ringwraiths, despite being saddled with a withered and pale body, can utilize their form to its uppermost limits. Their vigor and physical aptitude rivaled those of the stoutest and most youthful of Men. Úlairi do not suffer from penalties associated with age, nor do they weary easily. They require no rest at night. Even during the daylight hours, when they are weakest, they need little sleep per se (only about 4 hours). The enchanted nature of their form bums with Evil, explaining why normal (i.e., non-magic) weapons break upon contact with a Ringwraith’s foul flesh. This Evil lives off the spirit of the living, and a Nazgûl can drain 20 Con pts (per md) whenever he touches a victim who fails his RR (roll each md).
Vulnerability to Nature
As enchanted Undead, Ringwraiths are unnaturally immortal. They no longer exist according to Eru’s prescription, nor do they stay in Arda with the leave of the Valar. Sauron, in keeping with his origin as a Maia servant of Aulë, created them and maintains them outside the conception of the Secondborn and in spite of the conception of the Firstborn. The Nazgûl are therefore contrary to the scheme of things. Accordingly, they suffer in the face of seemingly commonplace aspects of nature. Full daylight halves their bonuses (and their lvls), while cloudy, sunlit conditions reduce their bonuses to but 75% of normal. When encountering running fresh water (e.g., a stream as opposed to a lake) that is 10 or more feet wide and 1 or more feet deep, a Úlair must make a RR (versus the lower of either his own level or a level = half the width in feet + twice the depth in feet) or he remains unable to cross the water for 1 – 10 rnds (after which he may try again). His RR is affected by –10 for each successive attempt to cross. When touched by natural fire (e.g., a torch flame), a Nazgûl must make a RR versus the wielder’s level (an unmanipulated flame having a level of 1), with failure resulting in his flight (for 1 – 100 rnds). Note that Khamûl the Easterling is affected more than his brethren, and therefore he suffers a RR penalty of –20 in addition to any other penalties he may incur.
Effect of Varda
Varda, the Queen of the Heavens, represents the antithesis of all the themes represented by the Úlairi. Her presence affects the Ring wraiths more than any other being. When confronted by the manifestation of Elbereth (Varda), such as in the case of an opponent crying out her name (e.g., screaming “in the name of Elbereth Gilthoniel!”), a Nazgûl must make a RR versus the level of the manifestation (e.g., the level of speaker or, in Varda’s case, Varda herself), with failure resulting in his flight (for 1 – 100 hrs). (For more on Varda, see LOME, vol. I, at p. 25 – 26.)
The Nazgûl see perfectly in the Shadow-world, but they are virtually blind in Arda. The combination of their other, enhanced senses, however, enables them to “see” perfectly, even in utter darkness (although the effectiveness of their vision is affected by natural sunlight, as noted in #5 above). This enhancement (coupled with their immortality) also affects their learning pattern, enabling them to derive more knowledge per skill rank. Thus, they receive a +5 bonus per rank for ranks 1 – 20, a +2 bonus per rank for ranks 21 – 40, a +1 bonus per rank for ranks 41 – 50, and +.5 per rank thereafter.
Anyone coming within sight of a Nazgûl makes a RR versus a 6th level Fear spell. With a RR failure of 01 – 50, the victim flees in terror for 1 – 5 minutes. If the RR failure is 51 – 100, the victim flees in fear for 1 – 100 minutes. If the victim fails by 101+, he falls under the control of the Ringwraith for 1 – 10 rnds and then collapses in shock for 1 – 100 minutes. In addition, a Nazgûl can look upon an individual, his concentrated gaze delivering a True Charm spell (see the Essence, Spirit Mastery list).
The Ringwraiths may use their Black Breath up to nine times in a given day. It has a range of 300’ and affects targets within a target radius of 5’. Targets failing their RR by 01 – 50 fall into despair for 1 – 100 rds and then into an unwakable sleep for 1 – 100 hrs, while failure by 51 – 100 results in target being captured by despair for 1 – 100 hrs and then falling into an unbreakable slumber for 1 – 100 days. RR failure of 100+ results in target succumbing to a fatal, cursed sleep, where the deluge of awful black dreams destroys the victim’s mind in 1 – 100 hrs. (Only the herb Athelas or a powerful spell removing the curse can stir the victim, thereby preventing this horrible occurrence.)
The Nine Rings of Power
After the end of the Second Age, the Nazgûl no longer bear their Rings of Power. Instead, Sauron retains them until the recovery of the Ruling Ring. These rings are each made of enchanted and virtually weightless gold Ithilnaur and are inscribed in Quenya using the Tengwar. A unique jewel adorns each one, and each shine with its own particular aura, but all of the Rings are invisible to anyone except another Ring-wearer or the Lord of the Rings himself. Originally forged with good intent, they became corrupted by Sauron and hence inextricably tied to the One Ring. Each Ring has the following powers:
- Free use of any one spell list (to 50th lvl) which is known (to any level) by the wearer at the time the Ring is initially worn by the wearer.
- Continuous use of the Mystic Base list Hiding spells: Unpresence and Nondetect (RM).
- Continuous use of the Closed Essence list Spirit Mastery spell: Spirit Mastery (RM), or all the Open Essence list Spirit Mastery spells (MERP).
- If wearer is “stunned and unable to parry”, treat wearer as merely “stunned.”
- x9 PP enhancer (any realm of power).
- +15 to wearer’s DB, RRs, directed spell OBs, and Constitution bonus.
- Wearer’s form is immortal*.
* Note: as long as Sauron holds his Ring, the Nazgûl’s form remains immortal. Only with the destruction of the Rings or the gift of the Ring to another wearer, will the Ringwraith lose this magical benefit.
Documents de la section
Nazgûl Character Glossary ⇨
Here are all the detailed Nazgûl characters.
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