Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hillmen of the Trollshaws, or, the sourcebook for the lost kingdom of Rhudaur.

Middle-earth is a world in decline. The Elves - well, the Noldor and Sindar; Tolkien himself said the Silvan Elves remained in Middle-earth and are still here today - are steadily moving back to the lands across the sea. That's not Florida they're heading to; it's almost literally Heaven.To the south, Gondor teeters on the brink of disaster. Much of the northwestern part of the continent of Eriador is wilderness, the great kingdoms of Men that once held sway there are long dead by the time of Bilbo and Frodo. Of those, the kingdom of Rhudaur didn't even have the dignity of fighting a long losing battle against evil. In fact, Rhudaur fell with a whimper, becoming a mere vassal of the Shadow that threatened all of Middle-earth, and became a rallying point for the evil of the Witch-king of Angmar in his wars against the Men and Elves still resisting Sauron's lingering evil. So it's unsurprising that the kingdom of Rhudaur was even more forgotten in a land where forgotten kingdoms are the rule.

It also seems fitting that a lost kingdom that had never really been much account in the first place would end up mostly forgotten and little regarded even in books that recount the history of an area. Such is the fate of Rhudaur, the least of the three kingdoms that resulted from the fragmenting of Arnor, the sister kingdom of Gondor. Rhudaur's sibling kingdoms of Arthedain and Cardolan struggled on for centuries against the rising evil, with Rhudaur becoming not just a thorn in their sides, but a dagger to their ribs. The line of kings of Rhudaur, established by the third son of the last king of Arnor, faded from memory, was replaced by Hillmen, then done away with altogether. By the time the Bagginses, Bilbo and Frodo, set out on their separate journeys, the name Rhudaur was replaced in the minds of most mortal inhabitants of Middle-earth with a descriptive name: the Trollshaws.

 Hillmen of the Trollshaws is a sourcebook and adventure for Middle-earth Roleplaying. It's fairly brief compared to many of the regional sourcebooks for MERP that I've discussed so far, weighing in at 39 pages. The books for specific sites like Weathertop or Halls of the Elven-king have fewer pages, but they don't try to cover a whole country. There are a couple of pages of game information, as is usual with MERP books. Several pages deal with the history of the area, which I touched on above, but which is even more convoluted and interesting than I was able to get into. There are notes on the ecology of the area, with charts of animals, creatures, and plants common in Rhudaur. There are a variety of peoples in Rhudaur, from the titular Hillmen, to the Dunedain who ostensibly ruled the area for a time, as well as Dunlendings and Northmen. Interestingly, there is even a reference to Petty-dwarves, a long-vanished race of exiled Dwarves. They may not be as vanished as Tolkien let on, as far as this alternate, game version of Middle-earth is concerned. Oddly, there is minimal mention of Elves, even though Rivendell is located in Rhudaur. Elrond's house is mentioned, and a paragraph discusses the relation of the Last Homely House to its surroundings, but that's about it. Perhaps the writers simply decided to focus this book, since it was inevitable that Rivendell would show up in a book of its own eventually. I think it was a good call. This book covers an already obscure subject, and a place like Rivendell would have overshadowed it.

Much of the action in Hillmen of the Trollshaws centers around Cameth Brin, a twisted hill that became the haven for various evil factions throughout the long years after Rhudaur fell under the influence of evil. Fortresses were built and dungeons were delved in the hill, held at different times by Petty-dwarves, evil Men, Trolls, and Orcs. An overview of the area in different times is given, any of them potentially usable interchangeably in any given age. The entire book is very much like traditional roleplaying game adventures and sourcebooks, with dungeons to explore, plenty of cannon fodder like orcs to oppose the players, a sprinkling of undead to scare the pants off anyone who gets too cocky, and a lot of country to explore to find trouble.

This isn't a bad little book. It might even be a nice evening's read for a Tolkien fan, as long as that fan keeps in mind that some of the history and background is extrapolation built up around some often scant information from Tolkien. The maps, as usual, are outstanding - see above, and below.

The rest of the art is decent, a bit better than Rangers of the North. Some of the characters look a bit too blow-dried for folk who live their lives in the midst of a Medieval-level wilderness.

The cover is atmospheric, I'll give it that. There is even a nifty picture of a giant snapping turtle, which is never a bad thing.
Looks ready for a SyFy Original movie of his own.


  1. I love that cover (and those maps) an awful lot.

  2. I bought this book in my teens. I loved the world of middle earth. Merp was an incredible escape, yet easy to get to. So much more fulfilling than d&d.... Merp was battles sure, but also a rich tapestry of places and people. More detailed than most could imagine. It was so much more than a rpg system. A place ill never forget.