Saturday, June 16, 2012

Gorgoroth - a review of a sourcebook for the darkest lands of Mordor

Blasted plains and dark mountains stretching for leagues. Poisonous fumes drift from vents gouged in the earth. Treacherous rifts scar the land. Teeming masses of evil folk march about the land, all in league with the Dark Lord. And looming over all, two deadly piles of stone glaring at each other across the grim distances: one, Barad-dur, built by evil hands; the other, Mount Doom, a sinister volcano that provided the heat necessary to forge the One Ring. This is a literal Hell on Middle-earth, the place that inspires nightmares, the realm trod upon by the Dark One himself. This is Gorgoroth.
What life there is in Gorgoroth is twisted and evil.
 Gorgoroth is a supplement for the Middle-earth Roleplaying game. It details the plain of Gorgoroth, the vast heart of Sauron's realm. A wealth of material is presented, from orc caverns to dark fortresses to an evil city that serves as one of the Dark Lord's bastions and organizational centers. Mount Doom itself is presented, but missing is Sauron's mighty fortress of Barad-dur, the very epicenter of Sauron's empire. Perhaps ICE, the publisher, intended a separate product detailing the dark tower. We'll never know.

This is a vast adventure site, ranging from the surrounding hills to the tortured plateau. Layouts for a variety of evil strongholds are present, as well as detailed rundowns of the creatures that inhabit the evil land, natural and supernatural hazards, and weather patterns. The inhabitants detailed range from normal animals to the the greatest of all of Sauron's minions, the Ringwraiths. Besides these well-known servants of evil, a number of lieutenants are detailed, from the Mouth of Sauron to a fallen Elf to mighty troll warriors to orc sorcerers. Shelob and even Gollum make appearances as possible encounters. Sauron himself is detailed, but really, I don't think anyone expects to confront him directly. The place is teeming with evil, as one might expect.
An eerie and horrific sight that Frodo and Sam witnessed as they journeyed through Mordor.
Depending on the time period the players choose to game in, Gorgoroth ranges from a dark, silent, empty land infused with an evil atmosphere, to a fully mobilized military encampment of titanic size and strength.
The highway to Mount Doom.
The default assumption is that the time period used will be 1640 of the Third Age, after a plague has devastated much of Middle-earth, leaving Gondor weakened and unable to fully concentrate on watching Sauron's old haunt. A campaign provided in the book is set during this era, and deals with a servant of Sauron working to conquer a Gondorian town and its attendant mines by way of guile and subterfuge. There is plenty of material to play a campaign in other eras, and I know I find it hard to resist the idea of an adventuring party, or fellowship, simply walking into Mordor to fly in the face of danger. There are a number of other adventure ideas set in different eras, and the material present could be used by a gamemaster to create his or her own adventures and campaigns easily enough.

Wandering monsters are right at home here.
The book is very well illustrated, with effective depictions of sites and characters, and there are numerous maps and schematics. Also included are some of the gorgeous full-color Middle-earth maps ICE did for the game, created by Peter Fenlon.

Barad-dur may be absent from this book, but Mount Doom is presented in detail. As might be guessed, it's a foreboding place. It's also incredibly dangerous the further one delves into the mountain. The Crack of Doom itself, where Frodo took the One Ring, is the easiest place to access. This makes some sense, given the context; there is nothing here to protect, because the Crack itself is one of the most dangerous things in Middle-earth. Sauron may have other secrets he wishes to keep hidden from enemies and minions, but the Crack of Doom is, itself, a quintessentially existential threat.
I like this area so much, that if I were to run a game set in the Fourth Age, I would contrive a way for it to have survived, even though it seems unlikely in the book. Still, it would make a great place for players to explore with their characters, rooting out remnants of Sauron's tools of power to prevent them from falling into other hands.

Besides Mount Doom, there are several other points of interest given in the book. All of them are easily placed just about anywhere.

Barad-wath is a fortress built by the Men of Gondor in an earlier time as watch-post over Gorgoroth after Sauron's defeat at the end of the Second Age. Now occupied by the forces of the Dark Lord, it sits as a threat in a threatening land.

Ostigurth is an interesting and unique place. Unlike other cities and citadels given over to evil, such as Isengard, Umbar, and Minas Morgul, Ostigurth was never built or used by the Men of the West. It was wholly built and lived in by Sauron's forces.
Just a portion of the Orc warrens in the mountains near Ostigurth.
An important hub for the gathering and movement of armies, Ostigurth may have been a rallying point for what was left of Sauron's forces after the Dark Lord's final fall. It would be a shame to let go to waste one of its most striking landmarks, the tower of Barad Sereg :
That's Metal, as the metal-heads say.
As with most Middle-earth Roleplaying books, there are charts. Military orders-of-battle reveal the Host of Mordor to be a hideously powerful army. Charts help generate Orc characters for the game, for those inclined. The most extensive random encounter tables I've seen in a MERP book cover the entire region in exhaustive detail, so that an unexpected critter, character, or threat can be generated with the roll of a die. There is a chart of herbs and poisons found in Mordor. There is also a chart of toxic fumes that might be emanating from any of the volcanic vents that dot the plain of Gorgoroth and the mountains. There is a wealth of material here for the chart-loving gamer.

All in all, this is a challenging, interesting setting for a game, rife with evil and awaiting the arrival of heroes to spend their lives trying to stave off the coming darkness directly. That sentence understates it; this is a character-killer of a location. Frodo and Sam (and Gollum, lest we forget) managed to work their way through this evil land, right to its black, liquid-fire heart, but not by a headlong charge. They slipped through using stealth, narrowly avoiding death at several turns. Their small, unobtrusive natures kept them from ultimate disaster. More powerful, lordly beings could not pass unnoticed, and though they might give a good account of themselves, they would be quickly overwhelmed. Only during the times when Sauron lies defeated is there any chance of foraying into Gorgoroth with any chance of success. Regardless of when characters strike out into this evil place, it is a fascinating, dangerous realm.

1 comment:

  1. What a shame no Barad-dur. But the rest of this sounds fantastic. I love the chart of toxic fumes - that's dedication. And very useful.

    I would love to play a campaign in this setting. Probably more room to maneuver in a time of Sauron's defeat, sure.

    I'm amused at the metal-ness of the tower of Barad Sereg. It seems a bit much, but Sauron's given to whims. An appendix of the architecture choices of Mordor written like a Vanity Fair article would be fun reading, I bet.