Semper Fidelis: Some Ideas for a Second Age Campaign
Anders Blixt: Hägervägen 16, 122 39 Enskede, Sweden
In issue one of Other Hands, I wrote an article on how to set adventures in the First, Second, and Fourth Ages of Arda, which led to a further discussion between myself and Mats Blomqvist, one of the fellow gamemasters in my gaming group and a co-writer of the Kin-strife and Southern Gondor modules. Mats doubted whether it was possible to run a campaign in the Second Age, due to the scarcity of Tolkien’s sources.
This remark left me thinking for quite a while. Seemingly, Mats was right (the source material was limited to a few short pieces: Appendices A and B in The Return of the King, “Akallabêth” in The Silmarillion, and Part Two of Unfinished Tales). Mats, a scholar of literature, said that what we read in those texts is not how Númenor actually was, but rather how the Dúnedain of the late Third Age saw Númenor through the scanty documents preserved from before the Downfall. It is not possible, for instance, to glean an adequate knowledge of the great engineering skills evidently possessed by the Númenóreans, nor of their daily life.
Eventually I disagreed, believing it to be possible to successfully run a Númenor-related campaign, though such an endeavor requires quite a lot of preparations by the gamemaster. This article presents some of my ideas on the subject. I am fairly specific about many details, not because I possess any special knowledge of them, but rather to show the enterprising gamemaster what kind decisions must be made during campaign preparations. The patchy primary sources have been augmented by the gamemaster’s inventions before starting a campaign.
As I see, much of Númenor’s history is quite boring, it being a well-run nation blessed by the Valar and with few disputes with other peoples. Hence, it hardly provides enough punch for the average role-player, who wants a milieu with tensions and conflicts which may bring exciting adventures.
“The interesting times”1 begin when the Númenóreans go really bad, from the coronation of Ar-Gimilzôr in 3102 to the Downfall in 3319. During these two centuries, the ruling elite of Númenor openly break with the traditions of past and cut all ties with the Eldar and the Valar. Númenor is wracked by political intrigue in which egotistical noblemen vie for influence and the King’s ear. The King’s Men are chauvinistic and suffer from overbearing pride in their perceived superior qualities.
Meanwhile, the Faithful try to survive in places such as Rómenna and Lebennin. They founded Pelargir in 2350 as their urban center in Middle-earth, from which they have easy contact with the Eldar of Edhellond. The Faithful community of Lebennin likely resembles what the future Gondor will be; hence there is ample useful information when designing it, both in primary sources and extant ICE modules.2 It provides a good campaign environment in which the players have Faithful characters actively op posing Sauron’s conspiracies and the oppressive policies of the King’s Men.
The King’s Men have established extensive colonies in Middle-earth, while shunning its northwestern parts due to the proximity of the Elves in Lindon and Lothlórien. The closest one is Umbar (others are located further south). However, the royal authorities in Umbar are very suspicious what “those Elf-lovers” in the Anduin vale are up to.
Sauron, now openly the King of Mordor, dislikes his next-door Dúnadan and Quendi neighbors, and would gladly see them crushed or expelled from the region. However, he is not yet willing to challenge the power of Númenor by a military move. He still remembers the defeat he suffered when fighting the united armies of Lindon and Númenor in Eriador around SA 1700.
The Land of Lebennin
Silver flow the streams from Celos to Erui. In the Greenfieds of Lebennin!
Tall grows the grass there. In the wind from the sea
The white lilies sway,
And the golden bells are shaken of mallos and alfirin
In the wind from the sea!
Lebennin is a fertile land of plains. Its original population consisted of Daen tribes, cousins of the inhabitants of Enedwaith. However, the plains tribes have been subjected to a strong Faithful influence since the early parts of the third millennium of the Second Age; hence they are “Dúnadanized” to a great extent. The Faithful have migrated from Elenna to Lebennin since the days of Tar-Atanamir the Great, at which time they realized that Númenor’s ruling elite had begun to stray from the traditions of Elros.
On the other hand, before the arrival of the men of Westernesse, the area was under Sauron’s influence. Those Daen clans that preferred the Shadow moved away when the Faithful settlers gained influence, retreating into the valleys of Ered Nimrais and the Belfalas Peninsula. They still remain there, ready to serve the Lord of Mordor and hateful of the Faithful. The Dúnedain call them the Wild Men of the Mountains.
In the last centuries of the Second Age, Lebennin’s total Faithful population is about one million, of which fewer than 10% is of pure Númenórean descent.3 There is only one major city, Pelargir, but its countryside is dotted with numerous villages and small towns3. The well-fortified haven has about ten thousand inhabitants and is the administrative center of the region. Its lord belongs to the line of Imrazôr and is recognized as the local leader by all the Faithful. He is theoretically responsible to the King of Númenor, but in practice Lebennin has gradually acquired a semi-autonomous status with very little influence by the royal authorities.
In this period, Lebennin should probably be portrayed as a somewhat more rural version of late Third Age Gondor. There are many similarities in how the “state” and civil society works, with the Lord of Lebennin in a position similar to that of the ruling Stewards of Gondor. However, the notable Elven presence is a major difference from later ages. It is also clear for the Faithful settlers of late Second Age Lebennin that their land is but a small part of the mighty Númenórean empire and that they are an openly disliked minority.
The Lebennians know of Sauron of Mordor, too. At this time, he has not ex tended his dominion west of the Ephel Dúath, but those Faithful that live in Lossarnach can see the forbidding black mountain range at their eastern horizon. They realize that Sauron hates the descendants of the Edain for their participation in the war against Morgoth in the First Age and that he aspires for dominion over all of Middle-earth.
However, the Faithful have powerful friends in the Elves, since the two kindreds are not yet sundered. There are frequent visits by Elves to Pelargir, much to the chagrin of the King’s Men in Umbar. The Elf-haven of Edhellond on the west side Belfalas Peninsula is a notable urban settlement in Lebennin’s vicinity. It is smaller than Pelargir and purely Elvish. Its main task is to facilitate the emigration of Elves to Aman, just like the comparable havens in Lindon. It is mostly Elves from Greenwood the Great, Lothlórien and the East that go to Edhellond. Another ally are the Drúedain of the forests. This people hate the Orcs of Mordor and desire to keep their ancestral lands free of outsiders, a wish respected by the Lord of Lebennin.
The Enemy’s Machinations
During the two centuries preceding the Akallabêth, Lebennin does not suffer from major foreign invasions. Instead, the Faithful have to deal with the schemes of three hostile neighbors which for various reasons wish to assume control over the region or destabilize it.
The Wild Men jealously watch how the Faithful have turned the region into a bountiful land, and they wish to conquer it since they consider it to be theirs. However, the mountain tribes are disorganized barbarians and do not pose a military threat to the well-organized Lebennin society. On the other hand, should an opportunity appear, hotspurs among the Wild Men will certainly use it to attack their hated neighbors.
Certain haughty and proud nobles among the King’s Men of Umbar want to crush the Faithful, their ideological opponents, and subjugate them to the King’s rule. However, as long as Lebennin’s settlers are not openly hostile to the Crown, they cannot be chastised by armed might. Also, Lebennin serves as a useful military buffer against Mordor. It would be strategically unwise for Sauron to make a move against Umbar without neutralizing Pelargir first, otherwise the fortified city would threaten his southbound lines of communication across the Poros. To be able to justify an Umbarian occupation of Lebennin, these noblemen must create a credible impression that the settlers of Lebennin are enemies of the Crown, for instance by provoking them to actions that could be interpreted as treasonous.
Sauron desires to eradicate the ideals of the Faithful from Middle-earth as that would make it far easier to corrupt the remaining Númenóreans even more. However, he cannot make a military move against a Númenórean possession without engaging in a full-scale war with that nation, a conflict he doubts he would win. Instead, he has to destroy Lebennin from within, either by spreading spiritual corruption or by causing the authorities in Umbar to strike at the Faithful community. The latter could for instance be achieved by covertly deceiving the Governor of Umbar (an ardent King’s Man) to believe that the Lebennians intend to rebel against Númenor and secede from the realm.
Sauron and the plotters in Umbar have, unbeknownst to each other, inserted several covert agent teams into Lebennin with the intention to destabilize the region. Sauron is only using corrupt men originating from the region for his operation, since others would attract too much attention. Some Sauronic teams will incite the mountain tribes to raid outlying settlements. Others will try to establish Evil cults in Pelargir with the long-term goal of corrupting Lebennin from within. One will engage in seemingly random terror attacks on known King’s Men that visit the area or on property belonging to the King, e.g. the small naval installations in Pelargir’s port.
The Umbarian agents have other tasks. One team will spread false information that implies an Umbarian military move against Lebennin. For instance, they could possess forged documents detailing how an Umbarian garrison will take over the defense of Pelargir and try pass these into the Lord of Lebennin’s hands. Another will try to convince the Lord that people he have trusted are scheming together with certain Umbarian nobles to seize power in Lebennin.
Suddenly, the Lord receives seemingly unconnected leads that imply that Lebennin faces a major political crisis that could lead to an Umbarian intervention and the end to the autonomy of the Faithful4. There are strange rumors of the Shadow gaining a foot-hold in his land, too. He asks a team of trusted underlings (i.e., the player-characters) to investigate what evil is afoot. They must act with discretion and without any legal powers, since the Lord does not to attract the attention of Umbar’s Governor.
Meanwhile, the many evil conspiracies collide. Neither Sauron nor the Umbarian nobles know that the other party is pursuing similar goals. Also, for security reasons each set of agents does not always know what their compatriot teams are up to. There is ample opportunity for chaos and combat in the dark alleys of Pelargir. The inquisitive players will get involved in many dangerous matters and they will acquire some very powerful foes who are able to seriously harass them in the future even if they uncover and interrupt the nefarious schemes.
Tolkien’s texts on Second Age history do not speak much of what happens in Lebennin during the last centuries of Númenor’s existence. The gamemaster is actually able to justify a temporary Umbarian intervention and occupation of Lebennin without contradicting what Tolkien has written. Hence a failure by the players to uncover what plots are going on could well have disastrous consequences for their province, bring years of oppressive rule by the King’s Men.
The campaign could men shift its focus and deal how to resist the occupiers’ tyranny and alleviate the plight of the Faithful commoners (cf. the legends of Robin Hood)5. One way of dealing with the campaign would be to let the players participate in the planning and preparations for a popular uprising in Lebennin. When the opportune moment offers itself in the chaos following Númenor’s demise, the characters could lead the insurrection in some place and be the first towel come the survivors from Elenna when their storm-driven ships reach the shore.
At least as seen from the perspective of this famous Chinese proverb. ↩
The figure is based on Gunnar Brolin’s reasoning on demography in earlier issues of Other Hands. ↩
Keep in mind that Minas Anor, Minas Ithil, and Osgiliath are founded after the Akallabêth. ↩
In fact, many of the clues are unconnected since they originate from different foes. ↩
The coming Kin-strife module contains a long section on what that is like during Castamir’s reign. Much of the information can easily be transferred to this milieu. ↩
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