The Orthanc Fellowship: Notes on a Fourth Age Campaign

R. Benjamin Gribbon and W. Joseph Balderson — University of South Florida — 4202 East Fowler Ave. ENB118 — Tampa, Florida 33620 – 5350 — USA

The birth of Other Hands has created a welcome forum for others, like us, who found themselves co-creators and guests in Middle-earth years ago by combining role-playing and the genius of J.R.R. Tolkien. It seems to us that it would be especially interesting to know how and where others have enjoyed exploring, co-creating and adventuring in Middle-earth. We would, therefore, like to share the same by presenting summaries of our own adventures in Tolkien’s world. So long as readers find them to be useful and interesting, we hope to describe more adventures in the future. 

Ten years ago, we had been playing AD&D for more than several years and had experimented with some other systems for role-playing. Outside of the game, we maintained a steady diet of fantasy literature and occasionally tried to weave new worlds into the main fabric of our never-ending story of adventure in the world of Greyhawk. Individually, we found ourselves turning again and again to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion and anything about Middle-earth we could find. Finally, one of us (Joe Balderson) volunteered to DM some Middle-earth adventures.

We decided to continue role-playing with the old AD&D system. For all its difficulties, we had found it was the only system everyone knew well and therefore easy to adapt to other systems and worlds. We began our setting several human generations into the Fourth Age, so that the War of the Ring should be in recent memory and the world not too different from the version we were most familiar with. This allowed us some flexibility to co-create and adventure without careening into stories whose courses and outcomes have already been well documented.

We developed characters that had some slight connection to those created by Professor Tolkien himself, which allowed us to feel like we had a place in Middle-earth, but not yet too important. This worked well, for as we gained experience and influence, these connections became more important than we had anticipated.

We have always role-played characters in one continuous game, not knowing precisely where one adventure or module began or ended, allowing the DM and player-characters equal input on their fate. We treated the Middle-earth party of adventurers the same way. We used a combination of spontaneous adventures suggested by the characters, adventures designed by the DM, and modules published by ICE. To the credit of our DM, the story appeared seamless. We played on every Sunday (following football, spaghetti, Logan’s Sausage, and beer) for almost a decade.

Fortunately, we kept a journal of our adventures as we went, so between the journal and the DM’s notes we are able to reconstruct a great deal of our own history and adventures. Unfortunately, we didn’t begin keeping this journal until the characters were mid-level, so much of our early adventures are lost.

The party of good characters eventually came to explore Orthanc, through ICE’s lsengard module adapted and set in the Fourth Age by the DM. They took up residence there and came to call themselves the Orthanc Fellowship. Thus the adventures and plots described here, from the combined perspective of DM and player, are those described in the journal: The Journeys of the Orthanc Fellowship.

We present the plots and adventures here in several spirits: that of tale-swapping, information-sharing, and as potential ideas for other referees and players. Some of them worked extremely well. We hope our adventures can be picked up and inserted into other Middle-earth campaigns. (As most Middle-earth role-players understand, good adventures must suit the story and the characters.) We hope, however, that these ideas may inspire others, and we too would like to know of the adventures of others in Middle-earth. So that the adventures we describe may be more easily understood, we’ll present the characters for whom they are written:

Very few details are remembered about the early adventures. The very first we remember is the party of characters meeting for the first time just outside Minas Tirith at some version of the Green Dragon Inn.” Traveling west through Rohan they later met Kephron Golendar and promptly investigated the burning of his wizard’s guild, testing their skills on Orc-arsonists. By the time we had explored Isengard, both players and DM had become especially attached to the campaign and we began writing our journal. Our first recorded adventure, which is briefly described below, is now called The Journey to find the Entwives”.

This adventure was brought up by Aldamir Eldarion’s player. On his sabbaticals in Fangorn Forest, his character had come to know Quick-beam the Ent. As the two became closer friends, Aldamir was told the sad tale of how the Entwives were estranged from the Ents. He learned that the Entwives crossed the Anduin and tended their favorite plants — small trees, grasses, fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables. The Entwives had been honored by Men of that region now known as the Brown Lands, to whom they taught many skills of agriculture. But, by the end of the Second Age, their gardens were destroyed and they had vanished.

As players, we were very enthusiastic to save the world. Aldamir’s player was so moved by this sad tale that he convinced his friends and fellow adventuring companions, the Orthanc Fellowship, to search for the Entwives. The fellowship agreed upon this mighty quest with great hope.

Aldamir returned to Quickbeam with his plans and enthusiasm. Quickbeam, in turn, was deeply moved by this gesture of kindness from his Elven friend; so much so, in fact, that the DM had Quickbeam entrust into Aldamir’s care a special pollen. Assuming that the Onodrim reproduce through pollination, this pollen could then be used in case the Fellowship found the Entwives but could not convince them to return to Fangorn.

This is primarily an outdoor adventure that can be used to discover new lands in eastern Middle-earth. The DM set the Entwives far into the East so that the characters had to cross the continent, allowing the creation of cultures Professor Tolkien had not described in great detail. The Fellowship learned about these through many encounters with both hostile and friendly — for a little spice, however, I always recommend throwing in some wonderfully evil creatures for the characters to encounter on the way there and back again.


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