By the time we get around to running a Mirkwood campaign, the 5e version of the Mirkwood campaign should be out. The cover is very cool!
If I am able, I would love to intermittently play Middle-earth campaigns for years to come, and sequence them in such a way that over time we traverse sequentially the most interesting time periods for RPG adventures. Here’s a roadmap:
- T.A. 1640 The Heroes of Arnor — Mercenaries for Lord Elasander, ally to Arthedain, last royal house of Arnor, attempt to boost border defenses in the wilds of Rhudaur, west of the Misty Mountains. (Already played this, concluded summer 2017).
- T.A. 2941 (Events of The Hobbit)
- T.A. 2947-2977 The Darkening of Mirkwood — The Necromancer may have been cast out of Dol Guldur, but a lingering darkness remains over Mirkwood, a shadow that will grow ever longer as the years draw on – unless a band of brave adventurers step forward and hold back the gloom. (Hope to play this next; a published campaign from Cubicle 7)
- T.A. 3018-3021 (Events of The Lord of the Rings)
- T.A. 3021 (End of the Third Age)
- F.A. 15 Palantír Quest — Adventurers must survive the wilds and ancient ruins to find a legendary palantíri needed by King Elessar. (Hope to play this someday; a published campaign from I.C.E. using MERP rules)
- F.A. 29 A Scourge of Wyrms — Dark forces lead to a arise of Wyrms (dragons) and a ring of shadowy spies who threaten the throne of King Elessar. (Hope to play this someday; a custom campaign)
- F.A. 121 The Wrath of Shadows — In the wake of Arwen’s death, a powerful figure arises with ties to Sauron, wielding a mysterious artifact known as the Vandilmaril. (Hope to play this someday; a custom campaign)
One of the campaigns I really want to run someday is ‘Palantír Quest’, a 1994 campaign module published by Iron Crown Enterprises for the old MERP rules for Middle-earth.
I’m fortunate to have a copy (this is pretty collectable; copies on eBay run $150-$200). Here’s the cover.
The interior has some amazing, black-and-white line art. Great maps you can scan and reproduce as handouts!
Here’s one summary of the adventure:
Strange portents in the great Seeing-stone of Minas Tirith give promise that one of the lost palantíri of the North has returned to the lands of Men. Can the adventurers find the legendary treasure and bring it to King Elessar? Rogues of the wilds, blizzards out of Forodwaith, and the greed in Men’s hearts all conspire against them. (source)
Here’a great, spoiler-free review of the ‘Palantír Quest’ adventure.
The adventure by default takes place just a few years into the Fourth Age. With some tweaks, you could set it some years later.
There are about 12 ‘adventures’, each of which I’d guess would take 1-2 game session apiece, for about 18-24 four-hour sessions of play. There are MERP stats for NPCs and creatures, but it would not be too hard to convert them to Adventures in Middle-earth or The One Ring.
The campaign takes place over most of a single year. I’d need to do some more reading to see if interjecting a few ‘Fellowship Phases’ with additional months of downtime (from the Adventures in Middle-earth) would disrupt the storyline.
Anyway, a fine campaign from the looks of it! I look forward to running it someday 🙂
I’ve now run three ‘Adventures in Middle-earth’ game sessions. I love it! It is a fantastic and very faithful adaptation of the Tolkien material.
There were a few things I got wrong the first time I ran it, and there are some different game-style assumptions that require a slightly modified approach to get the most out of this new, wonderful 5e setting. Here’s my advice to new gamemasters (called ‘Loremasters’) who are thinking of running a Middle-earth campaign using’Adventures in Middle-earth’ (or AiME).
Journeys and Mapping Are A Key Activity
Journeys are a big part of each game. Players are going to spend more time than you would think having fun strategizing over routes to take, who is going to take on the role as ‘Guide’, and other activities involved in planning and taking a Journey. The mechanics are new but after a couple of sessions things flow pretty quickly.
There’s so much fun looking over the map and seeing places everyone has some familiarity with. ‘Hey, those are the Barrow-downs!’ ‘Say, Amon Sul is the same as Weathertop — that’s where Frodo and company were attacked by the Nazgul!’. It was interesting to play in a world so familiar and rich with history. It felt like we were in a campaign that everyone had been playing together for 20 years.
Journeys Aren’t Like Traditional Hex Crawls
Journeys can be long. You can easily take a journey of 150 or 300 miles before you get to your main destination. As such, the rules don’t follow traditional hex crawl procedures. My traditional hex crawl method was (doing this for each and every hex): enter a hex ➞ roll for encounters ➞ rest for the night ➞ see if anything happens while you’re on watch ➞ travel to the next hex.
In AiME, by default, although you plan a route through a dozen ten-mile hexes or more, you don’t track where you’re at on a specific day. Instead, you may have a Journey Event that takes place at an abstract time and place during the journey. For example, the Loremaster might say: “several days into the journey as you enter the bogs, you encounter a band of orcs”.
I got confused by this the first game I ran a Journey. Worked much better when I didn’t track exact days and distance the following session.
Players Dig Kingdoms, Titles, and Sanctuaries
From day one, you’re immersed into a ‘kingdoms’ focus that feels somewhat like the ‘strongholds’ end-game of the old White Box / BX / 1e D&D days. During the Fellowship Phase players can do things like receive Titles and create Sanctuaries. Sanctuaries end up being a big deal — if you have to routinely make a long journey with no Sanctuary in the middle to stop and recover, you’ll have more negative Journey Events, more enemy encounters and such. Build a Sanctuary mid-way and split that route into two Short journeys and you’ll have much easier travels.
The fact that months or even a full year can pass during a Fellowship phase infuses a grand, epic air into your activities. Very Tolkienesque, even when players are low-level characters!
Different Lands or Eras Requires Extra Effort
The books and maps work best if you run your campaign in the era between the time of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and place your campaign in or around Mirkwood. If you wan to try running adventures in a different land or time period, you’ll have some additional work. Personally, I like the year 1640 in the Third Age (centuries before The Hobbit) since I can pull out and use my many MERP modules (old Iron Crown ‘Middle-earth Roleplaying’ adventures that used the Rolemaster system).
The ‘Wanderer’ class has a ‘Known Lands’ feature that you’ll need to take into account if you use a different map than the one they provide in the Player’s Guide.
Player Abilities Drive Story
One thing I was surprised about was the intense sandbox gamestyle AiME fostered due to features built into the characters. For example, there is a background feature ‘Foreknowledge’ plus Fellowship phase activities ‘Research Lore’ and ‘Meet Patron’ which end up letting players ask questions and get answers at the beginning and end of games. Characters end up asking questions and generating patrons or quests which drives story lines that are entirely of the player’s origin. I love it! Using ‘Dungeon World’ style fronts is a great approach to driving adventures after a session or two of play.
Because of this, and because of the Journey and Fellowship phases, game session structures are quite different than in my traditional D&D game. After three games, here’s how a game that ends up with a Fellowship Phase might pan out for a four hour session:
- Resolve Fellowship Phase from last game: 25 minutes
- Roleplay Adventure Hook Scene: 35 minutes
- Plan and Take Journey to Adventure Locale: 45 minutes
- A couple of exploration/roleplay scenes and 1 big fight: 1:45 minutes
- Take Journey Home from Adventure Locale: 30 minutes
Note the items in bold — these are gameplay phases that I would often skip or run very quickly in a traditional D&D game. In Adventure in Middle-earth, they can be about half a game session!
Journeys include encounters that can be things like an Orc Band, a Troll, wandering group of singing Elves, or an opportunity to hunt down Herbs or Food (that give mechanical benefits; they’re sort of like magic items). Journeys and the sandbox adventuring that spring out of them are a big part of the game, and also take a chunk of game time. A good thing, but you should budget game session time for these things 🙂
Tracking Journey or Fellowship Phase Information
There are some Journey related modifiers, as well as Fellowship phase events, which can carry over from session to session. I’ve now started to use a publicly visible whiteboard to take note of Journey modifiers as they come up during the Embarkation and Journey Event phases. Helps me not lose track of something.
Ramping Up on Tolkien Canon
You can plunge in to running AiME without being a Tolkien scholar. That being said, it helps to re-read the books (or watch the movies) before or as you run a campaign. I’m found myself gaining interest in reading up on various Tolkien topics. Some resources I’ve found helpful:
- Cubicle 7 Forums (AiME section)
- Michael Martinez runs a great Middle-earth Blog which includes lots of articles on topics of interest to roleplayers
- Wikipedia’s Middle-earth Topics and the Lord of the Rings Wiki
Youtube has some great videos you can give to players. In twelve minutes, you can learn just about all you need to know! Have players watch these two videos (second one is if you’re running TA 1640 campaigns):
In March (the 25th Day of Gwaeron, T.A. 1641), the heroes receive word that the Lord Elesander’s wife Morwen has taken ill. The heroes are joined by their newest companion, a dwarf named Crom, fresh from Rivendell where also Aldin, Éothain, and Adrahil had sojourned this winter.
The court’s healers can do nothing for her, and the ancient scrolls and books in her chamber suggest some foul work of the Shadow has caused her malady. The heroes examine Morwen’s desk and see scroll fragments that suggest she read a cursed spell which put her into enchanted and fitful slumber. Other scroll fragments also suggest a cure.
Morwen’s first scroll fragment reads:
In a high mountain valley south of Ossarnen lies Setmaenen, the place for which the town was named, a large man-made mound of earth supported and strengthened by stones. Seven stone pillars, 30′ Standing-stones surround the mound, within an age-old ceremonial ring.
Everyone knows that Setmaenen was a holy place of the ancient Daen Coentis, one of their calendar-temples, but no one remembers what festivals were celebrated on its hallowed grounds. Few have gone in there, and those few reported nothing spectacular: old carvings, sacrificial basins of stone. Yet no one has dared desecrate the place, and those who go in report a feeling of being watched that is so strong that they dared do nothing but look about quietly and then leave.
Morwen’s second scroll fragment reads:
In the time after the Last Alliance of Men and Elves, just following the fall of Sauron of Mordor, a Dark-priest called Brues Cuerd broke tradition and entered the Stone Mound. Bearing the stolen holy jewel called the Star of Gobha (which is called in Dunlending, “Gobha Reui”) and believing himself protected by its power, he sought healing.
Piecing together lore and these scroll fragments, the heroes believe that Setmaenen’s waters may hold the mystical healing that alone can cure Morwen.
Guthorn’s knowledge of lore leads him to recall legend of Setmaenen’s Location. The stories say it is along the East-West road, 7 leagues (25 miles) east of Hoarwell’s Last Bridge where the Trollshaw’s forest grow dense, is a town called Ossarnen. From there, one travels south 6 leagues. There, between two sharp-angled hills rests the shrine of Setmaenen.
The heroes set off. As they journey, Crom recalls a recent premonition of a silvery mist filled room where a malevolent force awaited. Could this room be inside Setmaenen?
The party journeys through snowy lands (for in north-eastern Arnor, it is a cold time of year indeed) and days later, find Ossarnen. Their they encounter a bard who offers to lead them to Setmaenen, since he is familiar with it and with Haedric, a conjurer of cheap tricks who lives in the area. The bard tells them this of Setmaenen:
Setmaenen was once one of the holiest sites of the Daen Coentis, so much so that even in their sad latter days — the Time of the Oathbreaking and the downfall to Darkness — none of the Darkpriests dared to adapt it to their barbaric rituals. Called in the old tongue Setmaenen (which also means “Seven Stones”), it was dedicated to Fois (Este), Vala of healing of the body and spirit. At Years-end, in the darkness before the Yule dawn of the winter solstice, those who still suffered despite the soothing hands of healers, those touched with madness, and those crippled by sorrow, guilt, or other painful emotion would gather in this high valley and listen to the Priests and Priestesses of Fois sing sweet hymns of praise to their gentle Goddess.
They travel to Haedric’s, and after he lies to them about his interest in Setmaenen, the heroes work to eventually uncover the truth. Haedric is actively studying the shrine in hopes of unravelling the secrets of a spell book he has found chained to a dais inside. Haedric’s former friend died in a trap in the temple, so Haedric has dared travel no further into its depths.
The following day the heroes (absent the bard, but with Haedric in tow) arrive at Setmaenen. This is what they see.
Many of the party initially flee in terror after trying to enter the circle of the seven pillars. Apparently, ancient wards guard the temple site. Many minutes later, the last of the party finally gathers their courage and steel themselves to enter the massive dome, its door twenty feet wide.
Inside the party finds basins reflecting the worship of the former followers of Fois. Searching the dome, they enter parts which Haedric had never before dared visit. A trap in the floor springs and leaves Aldin injured and trapped in quicksand. His friends retrieve him before the trap door again slides shut.
Finally, the party enter the lowest and main chamber of Setmaenen: a large dome, adorned by an underground tree that is part alive and part artifice. The room is filled with silver mists.
The dwarf Crom recalls his dream, and shivers.
(To be continued)
[su_button icon=”icon: map” background=”#000000″ color=”#FFFFFF” link=”https://dicehaven.com/map-arnor/?location=ta-1641-march-25″] View Adventure Location [/su_button]
[su_spoiler title=”Advancement Notes” style=”fancy”]
- All characters level up to 3rd level.
- Earned +1 on the next Embarkation roll.
- Giles is now a troupe-style NPC controlled by the PCs; Giles will always be 1/2 the player’s level.