Thursday, November 15, 2012

Beyond the Fields We Know: the Southern Reaches of Middle-earth: Far Harad, Greater Harad, Nazgul's Citadel, and Shadow in the South



'I have crossed many mountains and many rivers, and trodden many plains, even into the far countries of Rhun and Harad where the stars are strange.' - The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter II, The Council of Elrond

Far to the South of Minas Tirith, beyond even Umbar, lie the lands where, as Aragorn said, the stars are strange. It is a land of deserts and jungles, where the Shadow has fallen heavily in a land where the Sun shines brightest. This land is Harad.

Harad is a word in the language of the High Elves which means, simply, "South." Also called Haradwaith, or "South-folk" for the people who live there, it must be a wide land, one with many people, as the Dark Lord drew much of his strength from there.

It seems unlikely all Haradrim, the collective word for the folk of Harad, have fallen under Sauron's sway. It seems likely that a struggle was fought there, too, a centuries-old battle between good and evil. The heroes and villains of that battle were never detailed by Tolkien. It's interesting to me to think about that conflict, raging for millennia, with few in the North and West of Middle-earth to mark it, but which directly affected all the Free People of Middle-earth. Great armies marched from Haradwaith, made up of deadly warriors and massive creatures called mumakil or oliphaunts, which were used as living siege engines. These armies helped Sauron almost conquer the world. Perhaps, though, these great hosts were but a portion of the strength of Harad as a whole. Just as Sauron could corrupt even the stoutest hearts, there were those who could resist his offers of power and threats of destruction. No doubt Harad had its share of such courageous folk, resisting the darkness spreading from Mordor. Perhaps, yes, again, perhaps, such folk helped prevent an even more overwhelming force to be drawn North by Sauron. Such an assumption is not baseless; Tolkien was careful to show that even in the midst of darkest evil, there could be found hope and strength. Such a premise is upon which Iron Crown Enterprises based their sourcebooks for Southern Middle-earth: Far Harad, Greater Harad, Nazgul's Citadel, and Shadow in the South.

I am dealing with these book in one post, as a multi-part unit. It was an ambitious undertaking, to derive such extensive amounts of material from as little as Tolkien wrote of the lands in the South of Middle-earth, and keep it true to the spirit of Tolkien's work. It's impossible to know just how close they came to what Tolkien might have done, but I suspect they didn't come close at all. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and the more important matter is whether they created something that at the least does not conflict with anything Tolkien wrote. In that regard, I'd have to say the project was a success. Regardless, the books go so far afield that I decided to group them into this single post. First up, Far Harad.

Far Harad is based around a relatively fertile, hilly land called Raj, to the South of the great Haradwaith desert. Much of the culture centers on two holy cities, Bozisha-Dar and Tresti.

There is a bit of an Arabian Nights feel to this region, with a tinge of Medieval India, and the architecture resembling that of Native Americans of the Southwest desert regions. It is a land of deserts with hard-packed floors, oases, baked hills, and, oddly enough, a great rain forest just to the north called Suza Sumar. The land is criss-crossed by ancient Numenorean roads, traveled by caravans plying their trade between the larger cities and the numerous smaller settlements and oases. As written, Far Harad seems less touched by the darkness of Mordor than many other regions of Middle-earth. Though it is not entirely free of danger and evil, it seems more a region ripe for desert swashbuckling and caravan guarding by adventurous characters.

That said, though, far to the South and East is a great fortress held by a lieutenant of Sauron, no less than one of the Ringwraiths. During times when the Dark Lord and his minions wax in power, a great force, the Army of the Southern Dragon, is based there. But it seems more concerned with the lands to the East of it. Still, Far Harad may be something of a safe base for adventurers heading even further into the Sunlands. It may even serve as a landing spot and jumping-off point for the forces of Gondor and Rohan when King Elessar and King Eomer head South in the early Fourth Age to vanquish the last remnants of the Dark Lord's forces. Surely by that point those great kings will reward scouts and warriors who have knowledge and experience in the region.
Greater Harad is to the Southeast of Far Harad, across a vast desert land. Its northern and western reaches are blistering deserts, with more fertile lands butting against the mountains in the south, and especially surrounding the rivers that run through the land. The folk seem much like Medieval-era Arab cultures. A vast forest runs along the coastal regions, inhabited by Druadan folk, the same basic race as the Wood Woses who live in a small forest in Rohan to the north. Here, the writers of this sourcebook seem to give these people a culture and appearance much like Amazon rainforest people. Greater Harad is a varied land, one of the more interesting regions climatically and terrain-wise.
The best of an awful series of pictures. The general region can be made out, I hope.
Culturally and politically, the region is dominated by the seven cities of Sirayn, which are colorful, towered, elegant settlements, perhaps some of the most striking cities in Middle-earth.
The region's cities also seem more cosmopolitan than any other cities in Middle-earth, especially in comparison to Northwestern Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age. The Fourth Age, though, may be another matter...
A teeming city of Greater Harad.
It's a big, colorful land, with a sprawling civilization. Bustling trade routes, both on land and the sea, are maintained. Fortunes and fame are waiting to be earned, won, and stolen, for the enterprising adventurer.
A spectrum of cultures, most Mannish, but including Dwarves in the mountains that border the Southern edge of the land, interact and trade with each other. Culture approaches a high point for this entire hemisphere of Middle-earth.

Yet, it is also plagued by the forces of the Shadow, more than just about any other area of Southern Middle-earth. Dark cults worship the Silent One, an aspect of Morgoth, to whom Sauron himself is but a servant. Morgoth was cast into the Outer Dark at the cataclysmic end of the First Age, leaving Sauron to carry on his work of corruption. To see a remnant of his memory remaining in Middle-earth is unsettling. His priests have temples within the cities of Greater Harad, as well as mountain lairs. They hire out as assassins, skulking among the shadows. To the Southwest is a vast mountain fortress where Akhorahil, a one-time Haradan lord and now one of Sauron's Nazguls, gathers great armies of Men, Orcs, and other fell creatures.
A map from Nazgul's Citadel. Ny Chennacatt, the Citadel, is near the southwestern edge of the map. North of the mountains is Greater Harad.
Even in the times when Sauron and his greatest servants are dormant, this place of evil looms in the background of Greater Harad, always a threat. Sauron's reach is long, and his grasp is powerful, witnessed by the forces that marched to his call in the time of Frodo.
 Nazgul's Citadel details the fortress of Akhorahil that threatens Harad. 
It's an impressive book of an impressive place. The size of the place is staggering.
This is just part of one of several levels in the Nazgul's Citadel.
One of many types of towers that bolster the walls and defenses of the Nazgul's Citadel of Ny Chennacatt.
It is also pure folly for players to have their characters attempt to attack or infiltrate the place. But, that's exactly what the draw of the place is - the entire point of games like Middle-earth Roleplaying is daring, or, more to the point, foolhardy, adventures into the unknown, the facing of great dangers in hopes of rich rewards.
Any bad guy with a throne like this just has to have something worth looting laying around somewhere.

It's a complex place. It includes elevators...
"Err, no thanks, guys, I'll take the next one..."
...operated by hydraulic power derived from cisterns.
It's a pretty fancy place, ornately carved and decorated with...
...impressive gates...

...and complex water systems.
It doesn't seem all that menacing from these pictures, but I haven't gotten to the best part...
...a multi-level dragon head carved on the top of the mountain...

...where Akhorahil the Ringwraith can hang out in the dragon's mouth with his favorite Fell Beast.
The place is stocked with traps and troops, and even in fallow periods it would be pretty much a death sentence to tackle the place. It is a great underground city of evil, commanding passage into and out of much of Harad. It is also self-contained, always important in game terms, since the place can be dropped down into other places and worlds. Still, I like the idea of the Nazgul's Citadel being a rallying point for Sauron's servants left leaderless after the One Ring was destroyed. The armies of the Reunited Kingdom and Rohan will face a formidable obstacle to bringing peace to Harad with Ny Chennacatt occupied, even if its master has fallen into oblivion with his master. Even with Far Harad and Greater Harad pacified and freed from evil, King Elessar and King Eomer may still face the Nazgul's Citadel fully manned, because there are still lands to the Southwest that had been tainted by evil. 

Shadow in the South reveals lands far beyond even the lands of Harad, but which still felt the oppression of the Lord of the Rings.
This book details a land that is unlike the deserts of Harad. It's a well-watered land, with lushly-forested hills and lowlands, wetlands, and rich fishing areas along the coasts. Much more hospitable than the arid plains and mountains to the north of it, it's home to a wide spectrum of cultures and civilizations, including those of Dwarves and Elves.
Part of Middle-earth's Terra Incognita, according to the good folk at Iron Crown Enterprises.
The writers of the book posit a heavy colonization by Numenoreans of this land in the Second Age, with it becoming a haven for, among others, the evil "King's Men" who also controlled Umbar. They came as colonists and conquerors, and fought with and subjugated many folk in the region. Still, many of them are not wholly lost to evil, seeking to maintain a semblance of peace, and are descended from Numenoreans who colonized the continent before Numenor was corrupted by Sauron. Many of them still maintain a nominal resistance to Sauron, working against his machinations, though many remain true to their Black Numenorean origins as arrogant tyrants. Still, the cultures they encountered were vigorous in their own right, and absorbed and changed the Numenoreans more than they were changed.
A sampling of character art by Liz Danforth.
Danforth's art seems especially appropriate for this book.
This is a vibrant setting, with numerous factions weaving interlocking webs of intrigue. Evil cults, guilds of thieves, merchant "unions," sinister rangers, mercenaries, assassins, magical monks, and the Army of the Southern Dragon all vie for power here. It's potentially more complex than anything far to the North, where the attention of the Dark Lord has been turned for millennia, exhausting the lands there with centuries of war, devastating plagues, and unchecked cultural decline due to such close proximity to Mordor. Here in the South, the Shadow has been less active, though perhaps more subtle, and eventually as insidious if nothing is done to check the spread of evil.

Shadow in the South is, as far as I'm concerned, the most successful of the MERP books set in the South. It's filled with story hooks, adventure sites, a wide range of groups to interact with, but much less conflict with anything Tolkien wrote. In many ways, this is a standalone sourcebook. It only tangentially ties into the Middle-earth story we're familiar with, which might be a downside for anyone looking for more insight into Tolkien's works, but this also makes it an intriguing foray into unknown territory for Middle-earth Roleplaying gamers.

Taken as a whole, Far Harad, Greater Harad, Nazgul's Citadel, and Shadow in the South make up an interesting game setting. It's not Tolkien, and may turn off some purists, but it's an interesting place. A Fourth Age game, especially one that involves the forces of good coming South to help throw off what is left of Mordor's evil, would have a lot of possibilities. Still, anyone wanting to play in Middle-earth is likely to want to stay up in the realms they have known and loved from the books and movies. That's not a knock on these books, which are some of the better ones done for MERP.

5 comments:

  1. That dragon-head-mountain in Nazgul's Citadel is pretty cool. I quite like the maps/ layout of that one.

    Hail Morgoth.

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  2. Jeff---

    Do any of these southern areas link up with the Ardor module? That's one of my favorites modules ever, and certainly my favorite from MERP (with Angmar probably being my 2nd favorite MERP module).

    Allan.

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    Replies
    1. Hey Allan -

      I didn't run across any direct mention of the Court of Ardor. That happens to be one of the books I don't own, so if there is any indirect mention of it, I'm not catching it. The map I was able to scare up that shows where Ardor is indicates that the four books I have cover the southern reaches not covered by Ardor. None of the ones I have are too strongly linked; the Army of the Southern Dragon, the force of Akhorahil the Rinwraith, is one of the main things in mentioned on more than one books, being detailed in three of them: Nazgul's Citadel, Greater Harad, and Shadow in the South. If anything would also be mentioned in Ardor, that would be it.

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    2. Hi Jeff---

      Hmmm. OK, I'll do some digging, but I don't recall any Nazgul Citadel being mentioned in Ardor either. Ardor was published in 1984, so I'm assuming that it predates the ones you discussed above?

      Allan.

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    3. Allan -

      Yep, Ardor was the first of the MERP sourcebooks, as I recall, and the ones I discuss here range in publication date from 1988-1991. The MERP folk seemed to make a point of filling in the areas around Ardor on the map they made of the continent. Each book I have seems pretty discrete in relation to the others, besides Akhorahil and his army. Even then, it's more that the Nazgul's Citadel is centrally located and something of a distant threat to the whole region than anything else.

      Jeff

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