Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Adventures in the wilds of Middle-earth - Phantom of the Northern Marches, Trolls of the Misty Mountains, and Haunted Ruins of the Dunlendings

By this point, I've covered almost all the Middle-earth Roleplaying books I own that are set in Eriador. The only ones left that are set west of the Misty Mountains are adventures, which differ from the books that I've discussed up until now. Adventures are more focused, concentrating on relatively small areas, but which are more nebulous in exactly where they are set. They are more about small-scale problems that need solving than sweeping history and epic quests.These problems range from missing people to giants roaming the land to ghostly manifestations. Doughty warriors, mysterious mages, ruthless bandits, and decadent nobles help and hinder the characters belonging to the players. This is the kind of stuff the Rangers took care of, or which slowed Gandalf down when he wasn't hanging out in Hobbiton. It's not all thumping the Balrog or tossing Rings into volcanoes.

First up is Phantom of the Northern Marches.

Daniel Horne is one of my favorite fantasy artists, and he did - and still does, I think - quite a bit of roleplaying game work, including some great Dragon Magazine covers. One of them is one of my favorite D&D images, ever.
Nowadays he seems to be concentrating on classic monster paintings and sculptures. Regardless, I've never seen a bad painting by him. He didn't do a lot of work for MERP (Middle-earth Roleplaying), but what he did was striking.

Besides Horne's fantastic cover, there is a bit of decent interior art, including maps that are different from the gorgeous Middle-earth maps I usually rave about. The maps here are more tactical in nature, showing monster lairs and the like.

Ridorthu has simple tastes, apparently.
The titular Northern Marches are the northern edges of Arthedain and Rhudaur, a rather bleak, wild region of Middle-earth even at the best of times. The town of Novtha Rhaglaw, besides being afflicted with an awkward-to-say name, is an isolated, somewhat ramshackle place. Not far from the land of the Witch-king, Angmar, it nevertheless remains untouched, though doom hangs in the air.

Phantom of the Northern Marches has three main adventures:

The Phantom of the Woods: The folk of Novtha Raglaw are puzzled and unsettled by tales of missing shepherds and strange lights in the woods. Now, a hunter has turned up dead. Could this be the work of barrow-wights, or forces of the Witch-king? Or some other dastardly villain?

The Riddle of Ridorthu: Farms in the area of Novtha Rhaglaw have had livestock come up missing. Huge footprints have been found. Strange sounds in the night seem to come from an invisible source. Shepherding seems to be a hazardous job in Novtha Rhaglaw, as yet another poor sap of that profession is found knocked senseless. So what's going on? It's up to the players and their characters to find out.

Gerse's Bane: A dragon rampages throughout the area. A classic fantasy game scenario, this could spell the end of the player's characters if they aren't careful and don't manage to enlist some aid...could tales of an ancient warrior hold the clue to the dragon's defeat?
The book details the town of Novtha Rhaglaw and its inhabitants, giving characters for the players to interact with. It's a pretty standard affair for a roleplaying game, though the adventures here have more of a fairy tale air than those for games like Dungeons & Dragons. Still, these types of adventures are a tested formula for success, with success defined as the players having fun.

Next, let's look at Trolls of the Misty Mountains.

Yep, another Daniel Horne cover. What's aggravating is that Iron Crown Enteprises (ICE), publisher of MERP, chose to do some of these covers as semi-wrap-arounds, with about a third of the image continued on the back cover. While this makes for a nice, almost letterboxed look, it's tough to scan and even tougher to post the two parts side-by-side here on blogger.

Yeah, tiny, I know. That's the only way I could get them to sit side-by-side. Here's a bigger version of the front cover, because it deserves to be seen.

Cool stuff, huh? Horne definitely has his own take on what trolls look like, and I think his interpretation is pretty fun, yet a little scary, though in a children's-storybook way. Even some of the interior art, by Denis Loubet, is whimsical.
Trolls aren't the most observant creatures.
Trolls of the Misty Mountains is set in the region of Rhudaur that approaches the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. As you might have guessed, there is gonna be a good bit of troll action in this one. As with Phantom of the Northern Marches, Trolls of the Misty Mountains has three main adventures. The adventures are linked by a couple of isolated fortresses of Arthedain, which has tried to extend its grasp now that its brother-kingdoms of Cardolan and Rhudaur are gone, or nearly so. The players' characters are sent out to scout for the construction of a road between the fortresses. But, y'know, there are trolls, so it's not just a surveying job.

The Adventure of Duildin Hill involves farmers approaching the characters of the players to help them get rid of trolls raiding their farms. Guess where the trolls live? It's a fairly straightforward mission, but there are a few complications that may not be too much of a surprise. Still, it's an adventure in the classic mold.

Adventure at the Village of Garkash is another classic, and is also straightforward. An orc village has a bridge that lies right on the route for the road the player characters are scouting. It may seem uncomplicated, but the orcs have a few surprises to spring.

Adventure at Maes Fao is set in a forbidding gorge on the path of the proposed road. The player characters end up searching for an ancient artifact, an heirloom of the last king of Rhudaur. They aren't the only ones, though; the Dark Lord's reach is long, and his agents seem everywhere. There are trolls, yes, but they may only be tools of more calculating villains.

Trolls of the Misty Mountains is a pretty good mini-campaign for characters still learning to be heroes.

Haunted Ruins of the Dunlendings is, technically, not set in Eriador, but was more intended to be set somewhere near the Paths of the Dead in the White Mountains of Gondor. Still, as is stated in the book itself, it can be set just about anywhere Dunlendings live or once lived. This includes the Southern Misty Mountains.
This time, the wraparound cover is by Gail B. McIntosh, who did other MERP covers, including Hillmen of the Trollshaws. This cover is exceptional, also evoking a fairytale feel, reminding me a bit of Victorian-era illustrations by artists like Anne Anderson.
The Miller's Daughter by Anne Anderson
Anyway, this McIntosh cover deserves to be shown larger, so here 'tis.

 As with the other two books I've discussed in this post, this one has three adventures.

Adventure at Minas Anghen involves the tower of a Seer, or wise woman. The trade road that runs near the tower has become a dangerous place, with passing merchants often ambushed and robbed or slain. Rooting out the bandits and discovering the fate of the Seer and her tower draws the player characters to the area.

There are some nifty maps and schematics in this book, and Minas Anghen is the subject of some of the better ones.

Side view of Minas Anghen
Adventure at the Seven Stones (Setmaenen) is set at a site sacred to the Dunlendings, a stone dome with surrounding standing stones. A cursed artifact has made the place unclean, and the site has been closed off until the Dunlendings have made right the Oathbreaking, which is where they betrayed oaths they made to Gondor and the Elves. By the way - this curse was only lifted when Aragorn called on the Dead Men of Dunharrow to fulfill their Oaths, and help smash Umbar and rescue Minas Tirith. So, this adventure may be more or less interesting depending on the time period in which it is used. 

This adventure also has some nifty pics, the best of which is this one:

Adventure at Hogo Tarosvan deals with a site where the cursed dead were buried in cliffside caves, a forgotten village, and a fertile valley. This particular adventure is especially spooky, but is also more wide-ranging, both in territory and theme. The writers manage to evoke a feeling of evil that is not exactly that of Sauron, but is dreaded nonetheless. This one also has some interesting pictures.

 I also would be remiss if I didn't share this truly awesome picture by Jim Holloway, which deserves a spot of its own on this post:
These three books present an interesting glimpse of Middle-earth from a perspective not often delved into. Beyond the forests of the Elves and the Shire of the Hobbits, the wilds of Middle-earth are open and trackless, full of ancient and forgotten danger. I think my reassessment of these books is among the more radical of those I've made as I've done these Middle-earth roleplaying blogs. I didn't think much of them for the longest time, but looking at them in the context of what I've read and commented on up to this point, they really seem to have more substance and interest than I ever gave them credit for.

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