Saturday, January 12, 2013

From the depths to the heights: Goblin-Gate and Eagle's Eyrie

The Misty Mountains rise up like a spine in Middle-earth, a barrier and dwelling-place for both good and evil. Mighty Eagles roost atop mountain peaks, lofting into the air to patrol the lands about for evil. Deep beneath the mountains, once the domain of the Dwarves, lurk servants and allies of the Shadow. And in one forgotten corner of a Goblin labyrinth, the greatest treasure and worst danger of Middle-earth lay hidden. This is the Goblin-Gate and Eagle's Eyrie.
Topographical map of the route Thorin & Co. took, which came to near-disaster.
What lies beneath the Misty Mountains cold.
The Misty Mountains were every bit as mysterious and dangerous as any other region of Middle-earth.  Wreathed in clouds and fog, they held many secrets. Home to Men, Orcs, Dwarves, Eagles, and Giants, the mountains themselves seemed to be imbued with an intelligence, a watching and capricious sentience. At times they seemed jealous of their passes and craggy roads, working against those who dared to pass through uninvited. Perhaps this was the work of malevolent spirits of the mountains, working according to their own whims or, perhaps, at the behest of the Dark Lord himself. Whatever the case may be, there was a looming menace to the mountains.
Another outstanding map by Peter Fenlon.
Iron Crown Enterprises' Middle-earth Roleplaying (MERP) game line seemed at its best when it covered some of the most familiar locations in Middle-earth. This book is no exception, and is one of their better efforts. Weighing in at a slim 42 pages, it is dense with information, a lot of it worthwhile reading. As with all MERP books, it explores the geography, environment, flora, and fauna of the covered region, in this case the central Misty Mountains. Travel through and around the mountains is discussed, with all the attendant obstacles and encounters, from the weather to the cultures of the various beings that live there. The research and extrapolation done is reflected in how believable the area described is, taking Tolkien's descriptions and fleshing them out even beyond his own meticulous attention to details. It lends a dimensionality not often found in game books.

There is a wealth of adventure sites and ideas here. From the inaccessible nests of Great Eagles to the deepest Goblin hole, Goblin-Gate and Eagle's Eyrie covers it all. Besides retracing the steps of the heroes of The Hobbit, which can certainly be done using this book, there are plenty of other places to go and things to do. A trading town provides for both urban intrigue and a base of operations for adventurers.
A Northmen town for the players to have their characters trash.
I think I was most amused by a map for the Eagle's Eyrie, given its nearly-impossible-to-reach positioning, and its simplicity.
Players will always find a way to get to places like this, so I suppose it's best to be prepared.
Of course, the meat of this book is the layout and description of the underworld city of the Goblins. For once, it doesn't seem that this is a place stolen from the Dwarves, evidenced by the comparatively less orderly nature of the "city" - these are natural caverns, expanded upon, perhaps, but in a chaotic, almost random fashion.
Dark labyrinths sprawling with little rhyme and reason seem fitting as the dwelling-places for Goblins.
A history of the entire region is given, though it's more brief than that found in many of the other MERP books. Not a lot changes here throughout the Ages, so the book can be used, with a minimal amount of tweaking, to cover just about any given period of time in Middle-earth.

The Goblin-town is quite a place to explore, a classic dungeoncrawl if there ever was one. Yeah, I make it one word; consider it part of my own personal style guide. The place is full of danger - if you've read The Hobbit, you know what it's like: impenetrably dark and full of Goblins. And yes, Gollum himself can be found, though the likelihood changes depending on when the player characters decide to go spelunking, and even then it'll take a bit of luck. More than a bit, actually. Even if Gollum isn't there, there's still a lot to deal with.
And if he is there, then players can make things more complicated as history is changed. Middle-earth history, but still.

The book provides a few interesting adventures. One even has the player characters hired by a pretender to the Goblin throne to take out the current Great Goblin. It's an intriguing idea, and clever players might be able to have their characters play out the situation in such a way that the Goblins in Goblin-town are rendered paralyzed as a threat as they fight amongst themselves. It's certainly not an original concept, but the familiarity of the location and creatures involved to those who've read the book or seen the movie(s) may lend it an air of excitement and importance that other RPG adventures like it don't have.
Some of the illustrations for MERP books suggest a more simian look to Orcs, Goblins, and Trolls than I've seen in other sources.

This is a good, solid entry in the MERP line. This is from a period when ICE had hit its stride with MERP. The art, the maps, and the content all gel together into a whole that can provide for a lot of fun.

One last thought. It's always struck me that the Goblin army that sallied forth from Goblin-Gate had a helluva march from the Misty Mountains to Erebor. Even if they marched through Mirkwood, which I doubt, they still had a long march through hostile territory, and had to have a vulnerable supply-line. I suppose they could have pillaged and foraged along the way, but given how they managed to surprise the armies of the Free Peoples, you'd think their coming would have been noted much earlier had they been tearing up the lands they passed through. Plus, coordinating their attack to coincide with that of the Orcs from the Grey Mountains and Mount Gundabad is quite a feat in itself. Bolg, the Orc king in Gundabad, must have been an uncommon leader and military genius, and his death may have been more of a blow to the forces of evil in Northern Middle-earth than even the annihilation of the Orc and Wolf armies under his command at the Lonely Mountain.

Even more of a genius is Gandalf, whose machinations seem to have orchestrated, in one fell swoop, a whole slew of victories for the good folk of Middle-earth: the Ring was located and in the hands of one who would not use it in a way that drew Sauron's attention until much later; a huge force of Orcs and their brilliant leader were laid low that might otherwise have been a decisive factor in the coming war against Sauron (as it is, they had recovered enough by the time of the War of the Ring to tie down much of the armies in the North); Smaug, the greatest of Dragons still remaining in Middle-earth, was killed and his threat removed; and the Free Peoples of the North had found common ground and thawed the relations between them all, and began a tradition of working together. So in many ways, Goblin-Gate and Eagle's Eyrie was a pivotal place in Middle-earth history.

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