The Middle-earth Roleplaying game covered the Dark Lord's domain well. I have already discussed Gorgoroth, the poisonous and deadly plains where Sauron draws his strength. So, too, have I examined both Cirith Ungol and the lost city of Minas Ithil. Now, at the last, we come to Dagorlad and the Dead Marshes, and the Morannon Gate itself. And that is where the examination of Mordor will end, because Iron Crown Enterprises never delved into the very epicenter of evil in Middle-earth, Sauron's enormous tower-fortress, Barad-dur. That's too bad for the truly adventurous and fearless, or insane, heroes who might have wanted to take the fight to Sauron's house. Still, what has been detailed is likely enough for a lifetime of exploration and derring-do.
First, we will pore through the adventure, Gates of Mordor.
|This is a fantastically dramatic cover by the late, great Angus McBride.|
|The wine estate the adventurers are sent to check out, and its environs.|
The first adventure has the player characters trying to discover why wine shipments have been delayed or have simply disappeared. An isolated Gondorian villa in the wilds of Ithilien is the source of the wine, and though it's a fortified estate, the mysterious lapse in wine shipments does not bode well. Though near the border of Mordor, Ithilien is a fair land and evil does not often come there. Still, the shadow of the Ephel Duath hides many secrets.
The second adventure sees the characters following up the mystery of the winery from the previous adventure. Their investigation leads to the foot of the Ephel Duath itself, where an old Gondorian tower helped anchor the defenses of the Men of the West.
The third adventure takes the characters up into the Mountains of Shadow themselves. A Gondorian citadel has been known to harbor minions of the Dark Lord, but surely this rabble poses no real threat. At the most, it may be the staging area for some petty Orc chieftain sending raiding parties into Ithilien to bedevil the good folk there. The adventurers go to scout out the place and run off these vermin. Recovering ill-gotten gains and captives will result in good rewards for comparatively little work.
|Is it that simple?|
Next, let's look at a much different piece of terrain: Dagorlad and the Dead Marshes.
|It does have another awesome Peter Fenlon map, hand-annotated by me in the mists of the past.|
|An elaborate tomb for a fallen servant of Sauron, deep within the Dead Marshes.|
I'd like to note something here. This isn't a criticism of this particular book. In fact, Dagorlad and the Dead Marshes is a solid little addition to the Middle-earth Roleplaying line. The trouble is, there is a feeling of sameness to many of the MERP adventure books. Bandits seem to be a common go-to threat. That's not bad, in and of itself, and is logical enough. Many of the books detail villages or small settlements, and they begin to blur together after a while. It becomes a matter of all of it starting to seem very familiar - bandit and Orc activity instigates investigations, which ultimately lead to a hidden servant of Sauron in a fortified manor or keep. It's unfair to single out the MERP line for this, really; a lot of similar books for a variety of fantasy games from this era - the late '80s - use the same tropes. I've been getting a concentrated dose of this as I've immersed myself in MERP books, so it has become glaring to me. A good bit of this book, as with so many others, is actually interesting and varied. The common elements, though, begin to draw attention at this point. I don't know what the solution is. Perhaps adventure writers could come up with a "standard village" as a standalone product, inexpensive as a print product, maybe even free as a download, and in subsequent adventures provide a few notes as to how to modify it to suit a given locale. It could save some space that could then be devoted to unique content. Just an idea.
Now, we move even closer to Sauron's base of power.
Fortresses of Middle-earth: Teeth of Mordor goes into detail in describing the entrance into Mordor itself.
Sauron had the Morannon and towers rebuilt and fortified more than once. Depending on the era, the Teeth and the Morannon are heavily guarded by the Men of Gondor or Sauron's forces, or abandoned and empty. Either way, they're prime candidates for adventure. Frodo and Sam's stealth mission to Orodruin shows that even the Dark Lord can't guard against every incursion. The Teeth and the Morannon are going to present a much trickier problem, though, because anyone moving in or beyond it during times of occupation are going to be immediately confronted by guards of some sort.
|Sauron is not known for the subtlety of his architecture.|
The bulk of this slender book details the nine levels of the two towers. Most fantasy roleplaying game towers are far more complex and varied than their real-world counterparts, and the Teeth of Mordor are no exception.
Taken as a whole, these three books, Gates of Mordor, Dagorlad and the Dead Marshes, and Fortresses of Middle-earth: Teeth of Mordor, combine to form a good overview of one of the most dangerous, intriguing areas of Middle-earth.