Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lost Realm of Cardolan - a long-forgotten Middle-earth kingdom of the Dunedain.

Umm, yikes.
They heard of the Great Barrows, and the green mounds, and the stone-rings upon the hills and in the hollows among the hills. Sheep were bleating in flocks. Green walls and white walls rose. There were fortresses on the heights. Kings of little kingdoms fought together, and the young Sun shone like fire on the red metal of their new and greedy swords. There was victory and defeat; and the towers fell, fortresses were burned, and flames went up into the sky. Gold was piled on the biers of dead kings and queens; and mounds covered them, and the stone doors were shut; and the grass grew over all. Sheep walked for a while biting the grass, but soon the hills were empty again. A shadow came out of dark places far away, and the bones were stirred in the mounds. Barrow-wights walked in the hollow places with a clink of rings on cold fingers, and gold chains in the wind. Stone rings grinned out of the ground like broken teeth in the moonlight. - The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter VII: "In the House of Tom Bombadil"

'What in the name of wonder?' began Merry, feeling the golden circlet that had slipped over one eye. Then he stopped, and a shadow came over his face, and he closed his eyes. 'Of course, I remember!' he said. 'The men of Carn Dum came on us at night, and we were worsted. Ah! the spear in my heart!' He clutched at his breast. 'No! No!' he said, opening his eyes. 'What am I saying? I have been dreaming.' - The Fellowship of the Ring, Book One, Chapter VIII: "Fog on the Barrow Downs"

Arveleg son of Argeleb, with the help of Cardolan and Lindon, drove back his enemies from the Hills; and for many years Arthedain and Cardolan held in force a frontier along the Weather Hills, the Great Road, and the lower Hoarwell.[...]A remnant of the faithful among the Dunedain of Cardolan also held out in Tyrn Gorthad (the Barrowdowns), or took refuge in the forest behind.[...]In the days of Argeleb II the plague came into Eriador from the South-east, and most of the people of Cardolan persished[...]It was at this time that an end came of the Dunedain of Cardolan, and evil spirits out of Angmar and Rhudaur entered into the deserted mounds and dwelt there. - The Lord of the Rings, Appendix A: Annals of the Kings and Rulers, I: The Numenorean Kings, (iii)Eriador, Arnor, and the Heirs of Isildur

Embattled from the start, destined never to greatness, Cardolan was one of the "little kingdoms" that resulted from the splitting of the kingdom of Arnor into three parts. Overshadowed in the west by its brother kingdom Arthedain, and beset from the east by its lesser, corrupted brother kingdom of Rhudaur, Cardolan was doomed to nonexistence in the end, the greatness it managed to create lost to the ages, not even a memory to most in Middle-earth.

Ostensibly a sourcebook for a region of Middle-earth, Lost Realm of Cardolan can be plugged into another game setting, if one wishes, with a fairly low amount of work. This book details a region of Middle-earth that was empty and desolate by the time of The Lord of the Rings, and though the time period covered is roughly fourteen hundred years before the events in that book, even during that time the region was fragmenting and falling into ruin and chaos. Adding to this is that not much was detailed by Tolkien about the region. So the authors had to create much out of whole cloth, which could irk Tolkien purists, but it makes for a supplement that is more universally useful than most setting sourcebooks for a licensed setting.

The time setting for the book is when the kingdom of Cardolan, ravaged by centuries of war and plague, is fragmented and shaky. Various petty princes vie for the remnants of empire in Cardolan as the population steadily flees or is killed. Evil spirits invade barrows. The evil empire of Angmar works through its proxy Rhudaur to undermine and bleed dry Cardolan and Arthedain.

Hobbits are elusive and dwindling in numbers as more and more of them head for the new Shire established for them to the West. Mercenaries abound, including a unit of polearmsmen called Raggers. This is the only instance I know of in a book like this in which a unit of polearm-wielding troops is featured. 
The Raggers, polearm troops with a cool name.
Trolls and orcs carve out a slice of empire. Lost treasures lie waiting for discovery. Cities and towns are often declining, with Tharbad the most notable settlement, and the one-time capital of Metraith more of a ghastly joke than a seat of power. The future is uncertain. It's a dangerous time, with peace and recovery more wishful thinking than possibilities...perfect for adventurers wanting to make their marks.
The postage-stamp-sized maps above are of southwestern Cardolan. I'll post bigger versions below, but the above is how they are positioned in relation to each other.
Eryn Vorn is a substantial forest along Cardolan's coast; no doubt full of mystery, as are all of Tolkien's woods.
Besides a fair amount of woods, this part of Cardolan is served by a port city.

The region is isolated and desolate enough that it could be placed in a suitably bleak section of a once-great empire in another game setting, including a homebrew campaign; even the names wouldn't necessarily have to be changed, unless the players are very familiar with Tolkien's work to a great degree. That assumes you don't want to use it in the context in which it's presented, the mid-Third Age of Middle-earth. If you have the desire to use it for its intended purpose, it fills in a relatively blank spot on the map. Using it in the time period of The Lord of the Rings would take a good bit of rationalization, as the sourcebook posits a setting that is more densely populated and organized than is implied in Tolkien's books. It could be used in an early Fourth Age game campaign if the players were willing to accept that remnants of Sauron's forces fled into the region after the Dark Lord's defeat and set up ramshackle kingdoms, working against vassals of King Elessar sent to re-establish the northern kingdom. In fact, that's the most appealing possibility to me.

This book would be best used in conjunction with Thieves of Tharbad and Bree and the Barrow-Downs. Tharbad is still a major settlement in this region, and Lost Realm of Cardolan only gives it a cursory look, with a map (which you can see in the Thieves of Tharbad entry to this blog) and a column or so of description. In the time in which this book is set, the Barrow-Downs have yet to be invaded by the Wights and other spirits that would infest the area in later years, so not much is said about them here.

I think this book deserves to be praised very highly because I find it to be really useful beyond its intended setting. It also has an edgier feel, more swords & sorcery than Tolkienesque, which is a nice change of pace.

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