Product Review - Arnor

Arnor — Realms of Middle-earth #2005
Iron Crown Enterprises, 1994
Author: Wesley J. Frank, Charlottesville, Virginia

Reviewer: Chris Seeman

With the publication of Arnor, ICE has gotten its new and revised Realms” series off to a resoundingly solid start. This well-written and well-integrated module is a four hundred and sixteen page tour de force of all that we have come to expect of ICE’s MERP supplements and more, encompassing as it does all of the previously published material focusing on Eriador during the Third Age, with significant expansions of several areas. Accompanying the text are a set of colored regional maps (which finally match, thanks to Pete Fenlon’s deft cartography).

The scope of this module is an essential element in its overall coherence, as it treats the adjacent Dúnadan realms of Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhudaur in the aftermath of the Great Plague (T.A. 1643). Given the intertwined nature of Eriadoran politics and society during this period, it is necessary that the entire region be taken as a unity. This makes not only for more in-depth module-writing, but also eliminates a good deal of the tiresome repetition and rehearsal in the previous modules, particularly as regards history and the description of peoples.

Other improvements in design and presentation also recommend the Arnor module. In keeping with the tradition of the Northwestern Middle-earth Gazetteer (cf. review in OH 3: 28 – 29), all descriptions of important sites, fortifications, and settlements have been organized alphabetically in Gazetteer format, allowing for easy reference. Another welcome change in the presentation of material is the relegation of the bulk of flora and fauna information to a series of compact appendices in the rear of the module, rendering them less intrusive to the presentation of other matters more directly apropos to realm description.

But Arnor is more than a lumped-together reprint of existing MERP modules. The revision author, Wesley J. Frank, has re-written and expanded upon many key topics, as well as adding on treatments of material absent from the earlier modules. Extensive new background information on the Rangers, the wandering Elven companies, and the Seers of Arthedain is provided, as are sections on magical defenses for fortifications and the Banes of Angmar” (the latter referring to the natural and supernatural methods employed by the Witch-king to decimate the Dúnedain of the North).

Frank has also devised a very helpful chart for characterizing how the various peoples of Eriador react towards one another in non-combat situations. In addition to these expansions we are given the first real description of the Shire (newly-founded in T.A. 1601) and a synchronic exposé of the power-holders of the three Dúnadan realms and their relations among their peers (with plenty of spice for political intrigue and conspiracy scenarios). Frank has left few stones unturned.

Where they do exist, the weaknesses of this module are fairly trivial and do not mar its substance. Iron Crown’s predilection for capitalizing non-proper names sometimes borders on bad English grammar, in addition to departing from Tolkien’s own stylistics. Some of the internal artwork notably the illustrations for the royalty and nobility of Arthedain, Rhudaur and Cardolan is dissonant with the rest of the artwork and does not always seem appropriate to the feel of Tolkien’s world (e.g., Dúnedain with comic book physiques, some with hands as large as their heads!). Finally, the maps of Bree, Archet and Combe (which originally appeared in the 1984 module, Bree and the Barrow-downs) are missing. Why they could not have been included in so comprehensive a module is a mystery, given their importance as one of the most ancient settlements in Eriador.

Arnor is a module whose size and depth of coverage enables Middle-earth to live and breathe in a way that its constituent predecessors could not. Portraying as it does a region familiar to the pages of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in a time of war and dissolution, it communicates something approximating the feel of Tolkien’s most popular works, and so is an apt exemplar of what a Middle-earth gaming supplement may aspire to.


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