Product Review - River Running

Joe Martin — River Running (Middle-earth Adventure #8114) Iron Crown Enterprises, 1992

One of our hopes for Other Hands is that it will offer reasoned evaluations of the latest (or earlier) Middle-earth gaming publications, as well as reviews of anything which might be of value to Middle-earth role-players (e.g. other books, articles, accessories, etc. related or relevant to Tolkien’s writings). We look fonvard to Iron Crown’s expanded re-issues of previously-published modules, as well as the revised MERP rule system, and hope that Other Hands will be able to provide constructive feedback from ICE’s primary audience. So start sending in your reviews — the more the merrier!

River Running is the most recent MERP supplement published to date. The approximately ninety pages of text, charts, and illustrations that make up this module comprise six scenarios set in the land of Dorwinion (presumably around the seventeenth century of die Third Age). The scenarios are independent of one another, but may be run with equal case as a series of consecutive adventures. In addition to the scenarios, a brief introduction and epilogue provide background on the inhabitants of this region and information about the wine trade for which it is famous.

The adventures contained in the module share certain common themes and plot elements. Each scenario is set or begins in one of the many small villages along the Celduin (S. River Running) which, up until now, has enjoyed a relatively serene and prosperous existence. An ill (or, in one case, an opportune) event transpires which in some way threatens the lives of the peace-loving villagers, and which can ultimately be rectified only if a party of wandering mercenaries is hired to set things right. In five out of the six scenarios, the minions or purposes of the Necromancer of Dol Guldur are directly or indirectly involved; in all but one of them, violent conflict is the necessary means of resolution.

The first scenario, The Corruption of Durannon Wood, draws on the Tolkienian theme of the malevolence of sentient forests. It tells the story of a vengeful exile from the sleepy little village of Kardavan who was cheated out of his inheritance, and who has returned from a stint at Dol Guldur to get even with his ostracizers by transforming the local forest into a miniature version of Mirkwood, spiders and all. A reward is offered for explaining why the forest has gone bad, rescuing any surviving victims of its malice, and presenting proof that its evil has been vanquished.

The second scenario, Hijacked Wine Barge, tells you all you ever wanted to know about trade on the Celduin, and what to do when you run into the problem of Uruk-hai river banditry. A renegade Orc band has just landed itself a valuable wine barge by ambush, and its surviving owner is attempting to raise up a posse in the nearby river depot of Caradsurga to exterminate the thieves and recover whatever cargo the Orcs have not already imbibed.

The third scenario, The Gargoyles of Haradruin, concerns an old, ruined fortress overlooking the small but important toll town of Karfas. Another wandering band of Orcs, down on its luck, has had the misfortune of taking up residence in the crumbling ruins of Haradruin, just prior to its having become the roost for a quintet of beasties recently escaped from the spawning pits of the Necromancer. Each of these sorcerously created creatures has its own personality and unique talents, making them a veritable commando team for terrorizing the locals. On top of all that, Haradruin is cursed with an apocalyptic prophecy that the end of the world will be nigh whenever suitably evil creatures take up residence in it, making their removal all the more pressing for the restoration of peace, harmony, and trade.

The fourth scenario, Carnage at Forodim, allows player-characters to assume the roles of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli by hunting yet another marauding Orc band across the plains of Rhovanion in order to rescue innocent captives before their captors reach the safety of Mirkwood. This sleepy little village is burnt to a cinder when its potential saviors arrive on the scene, its population recently abducted by the Necromancer’s cronies. A cruising trio of trigger-happy Elves far from Thranduil’s halls offer their assistance in tracking down the baddies, and a pair of overzealous village lads who managed to avoid capture beckon all wandering swords to oblige themselves of the time-honored tradition of giving aid to strangers in need. A race against time begins.

The fifth scenario, The Wounded Drake, begins when a wild-eyed Lossoth stumbles into the small village of Pardfan with the excited (and suitably exaggerated) eye-witness account of a dying dragon in a nearby cave ripe for slaughter and profitable dismemberment.” The gullible villagers, eager for salvage rights over the worm’s valuable parts (i.e. scales, horn, bones, etc.), gather a harvesting party and head off for the Iron Hills. Unfortunately, the drake is not in as bad a way as the villagers have been led to believe, and joyfully awaits its anticipated meal. Characters hoping to partake of the worm had better be quick enough to see that the current expedition is getting the drake right where it wants them.

The sixth and final scenario, The Man-Wolf of Galgorin, is a classic tale of unintended lycanthropy and the struggle to cure (or destroy) the unknowing victim before he devours all of his neighbors and becomes a pawn for the Necromancer’s machinations. The peace and serenity of the isolated village of Galgorin has been shattered by an unnatural plague of wolves and wargs that now infest the farmstead of the swiftly-transforming local who was bitten by a werewolf while on sojourn. Because the man is not yet wholly infected with lycanthropy, would-be heroes have the option of trying to rehabilitate, rather than kill, their opponent with the help of the village lycanthropy experts.

All six of these adventures are detailed and internally consistent, providing fairly conventional, episodic” plots which can be played out in a single session of gaming; they may therefore serve as useful fillers” for a lengthier campaign. There is also nothing particularly original about them — or, rather, there is little in these scenarios that gives the player a taste of what makes Dorwinion a distinctive and interesting game setting. Small villages with their idiosyncratic problems can be found practically anywhere in Middle-earth, Dorwinion included; but one might have hoped to find at least one adventure in this collection which would involve characters in what the inhabitants of Dorwinion (according to their resume) do best— namely, mercantile adventure to far-off, exotic places.

In actual fact, the epilogue of the module addresses the issue of how characters might utilize their newfound fame (or infamy) from their recent exploits to win themselves a position in the wine trade, either as agents for the Dorwinion Realm-master,” or as holders of the coveted license to export the legendary Dorwinion vintage. River Running would have been a more balanced module if these adventure possibilities had been exploited as more than an afterthought, particularly since the author himself states that arrangements for profit are more honorable than combat or adventuring for treasure” (87), which is what the greater part of these scenarios boil down to. Accordingly, we look forward to a second Dorwinion adventure module which brandishes the cry: See the Middle-earth! Trade in wine from the Land of Maidens!” (90).

While the content of this module is in general solid and well-conceived, there are a few minor aspects of it which bear nit-picking by the Tolkien purist. The background material on Dorwinion is necessarily incomplete, and may be fleshed-out in fuller detail with the Ready-to-Run module Perils on the Sea of Rhûn (#8110); nevertheless, this reviewer at least would have liked to have heard something more about how the inhabitants of this land characterize themselves. We are never told, for example, what these people call themselves (certainly not Dorwinrim,” since Sindarin is presumably not their primary language). Why, moreover, is Dorwinion referred to as the Land of Maidens?” This is never explained.

Other peoples or races are sometimes referred to in this module with unwieldy diction: Sagaths (Sagath?), Logaths (Logath?), Logathian (Logathig?), Lossadan (Lossoth?). On a two occasions, one Éothraim character is anachronistically called a Rohir (74, 80). More significant a deviation, in my view, are the references to the Necromancer as the Nameless One” (6, 9, 32, 48), which seem to imply recognition of the Necromancer’s true identity (which is not supposed to be revealed — much less perceived by anyone — until much later in the Third Age. Similarly, my understanding is that Uruk-hai do not appear at all until after the year 2000 in Mordor— not Dol Guldur at this earlier period (33). On one occasion, there is a Dorwinion military officer who is conversant in Black Speech (37), a secret (and dead) language in the Third Age known only to Sauron’s most intimate servants.

The organization and presentation of the module is reasonably clear, though it is often necessary to read a scenario in its entirety in order to understand its basic plot. A summary paragraph at the beginning of each adventure for the benefit of the game-master (such as we have provided in this review) would have been much appreciated. Moreover, because the epilogue provides the overall rationale for adventuring in Dorwinion, it might have been better placed at the opening of the module. Some of the illustrations and maps might have been more tightly integrated with their accompanying texts. The one serious organizational flaw of River Running is its lack of any map which locates the individual adventure sites in the big picture” (as one who apprehends things visually, I found the elaborate written descriptions of the locations of some of these village settings difficult going). It is unfortunate that such a map was not included, since I think many will agree that Pete Fenlon’s cartography is one of the high points of the Middle-earth Role Playing series.

Reviewer: Chris Seeman

The Usurper’s Reign: Gondor during the Kin-strife

People of Osgiliath!’ Orodreth of Morthond addressed the multitude assembled before the Dome of Stars. Your defense of this city has been a valiant one, and yet in surrendering peacefuly you have lost no honour but rather have shown wisdom in a hard time. Eldacar who once was king is now fled, and so has abandoned that claim. The captains will choose a rightful successor to rule over you in his stead. We are not your enemies! See. Ornendil whom you love I have defeated in fair combat; he shall receive mercy and live without shame. Pledge to us your loyalty and you shall fare likewise.’

The crowd heard him gladly, thinking that their lives and the king’s son would be spared if they submitted to the victorious rebels. Orodreth, too, was relieved at their response for he desired to stay the rebels from exacting punishment on the citizens of Osgiliath who had supported the now-exiled king during the siege of the preceding months. He had personally led final attack on the Great Bridge, and had captured both Ornendil and his own cousin Mordulin, who was Ornendil’s betrothed. At first he had purposed to allow them to escape the city, for they had been close in friendship before the outbreak of the Kin-strife five years ago; but Angbor. Damrod and Gelmir, Orodreth’s trusted companions from Linhir, urged him to bring them before the captains for judgment. Castamir, they assured him, purposed to spare them in order to gain the confidence of the people. Only in this way, they said, could Orodreth hope to save the people of Osgiliath from the vengeful captains of Pelargir.

It was a lie.

As the people debated among themselves what their answer should be, a voice was raised among the captains. It was lord Calimon of Lebennin, the cousin of Castamir who held a grudge against Orodreth. He had bribed Orodreth’s companions to persuade their leader to bring Ornendil into their power, and now his rival from Morthond had fallen into Castamir’s trap.

Orodreth,” said he, the captains applaud your undying efforts to avert needless bloodshed in this unfortunate strife; but it seems that in sparing Ornendil’s life you have overstepped your bounds. For though Eldacar is fled as you say, he has not in truth relinquished his claim to the throne. You, Orodreth, have willfully spared the life of his son and heir who is a threat to our righteous cause; and some there are who tel us that you had even contemplated to set Omendil free, rather than slaying him at once as you should have. What proof have we that you also do not harbour ill-designs against us? What assurance do we possess that your betrayal is not a ploy of Belfalas against the captains or Pelargir? Indeed, what token of your allegiance could you give that would dissuade us from naming you traitor?” At these words Orodreth grew silent, knowing that he had been betrayed. His treacherous companions smiled at the success of Castamir’s design. Mordulin clutched Ornendil, fearing for the life of her beloved. The fate of Osgiliath hung by a thread.

But Calimon laughed, and mocked his defeated rival. Come now, Captain of Morthond! What better way to alay our suspicions than by finishing what you have started? Kill Ornendil, or be declared our foe!”

Then Orodreth’s heart was smitten as with a blow; and he drew his sword, knowing the evil that he was about to commit for the salvation of Belfalas. For he perceived that should he failed to comply, Castamir would use his disobedience as a pretext to invade his uncle’s fief Dor-en-Ernil that had remained neutral during the war against Eldacar. Mordulin was torn screaming from Ornendils side by Castamir’s men, cursing her cousin to death and darkness for the doom he had sown; but Ornendil stood his ground, seeing his death. Did I not warn you that the rebels would be your undoing,” he said to Orodreth, whose blade wavered; now we are both trapped by this usurper’s design.’ But Orodreth, blinded by despair, raised his sword and cried: Forgive me, Ornendil, and curse my fate!” And he slew the king’s son before the people. Then he cast aside his blade and, falling to his knees, raised his eyes to heaven and whispered: Neithan ni gerino.”

Upon seeing the murder of Ornendil, the people of Osgiliath were unable to restrain their wrath and began to attack the rebels in a mad frenzy, only to be slaughtered in heaps upon the steps of the Dome of Stars. Castamir gave orders at once to burn the city and to show no mercy to any who resisted. The Usurper’s reign had begun, and the memory of evil would not be forgotten…

A Forthcoming Middle-earth Campaign Module

by Anders Blixt — Mats Blomqvist — Gunnar Brolin — Sanna Fogelvik — Ake Rosenius — Chris Seeman — Dag Stalhandske

The Usurper’s Reign will be the largest MERP publication to date, containing in excess of two hundred pages of text concerning the fate of the South- kingdom during the civil war of the Kin-strife. Drawing upon previously published area description modules, and the creative work of its collaborating authors, The Usurper’s Reign depicts the political and military situation of Gondor’s chief cities — Pelargir, Umbar, Lond Ernil, Osgiliath, Minas Anor, and Minas Ithil — during the repressive rule of Castamir the Usurper (TA 1437 – 1447). Some twenty, full-length adventures set in the year 1441 enable player-characters to participate in the ongoing struggle for the destiny of the realm, whether as underground resistance groups loyal to the exiled king Eldacar, traditionalist confederates seeking to advance the hegemony of the Usurper, or as individuals out to secure their own existence (or survival) under the new regime. Fell deeds and deadly intrigues await those who would brave the tumultuous events of

The Usurper’s Reign!

Coming Soon…


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