Published on September 27th, 2016 | by Luke Turpeinen0
Top 3 Adventures To Run In Middle-Earth
In case you haven’t heard, for the first time ever, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is getting the”official” Dungeons & Dragons treatment. While the book is not being authored or published by Wizards of the Coast, who are the makers of the current edition of D&D, it is made by the people who have the official license to Lord of the Rings role-playing games.
Cubicle 7 is well known for their work on the tabletop RPG called The One Ring, which uses a unique system to run games in Middle-Earth. In the D&D supplement, called Adventures in Middle Earth, many of the ideas of the indie RPG title have been imported to a D&D 5th Edition framework.
Adventures in Middle Earth will come with 11 new “Cultures”, 6 new Classes, 13 new backgrounds, Middle-Earth specific equipment and rules to make things feel more Tolkien-esque. Notably, there are no magic using classes in the game and the new classes given are intended to fully replace the base Player’s Guide classes.
With the size and scope of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth being so vast, it can be hard to pin point which part of the legendarium to explore around in. Let me help narrow the choices down with some suggestions.
In Search Of The Ring
This story line takes place concurrent with the events of The Hobbit. The year is 2940 of the Third Age of Middle Earth, a time of dwindling and forgetting of past glorious days. Living in the shadow of the days of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men is mostly drudgery- peasant work and protecting your land from invading hill people. When you distinguished yourself as an up-and-coming guards-person, scout or scholar you were invited by an emissary to visit the tower of Orthanc.
This adventure string has the characters working in the service of Saruman, when he is still the leader of the Council of the Wise and the head of the Istari order. During this time, Saruman (as the master of ring-lore and in countering the arts of the Enemy) was scouring the land for any news, tales or legends that may lead to the location of the One Ring.
The Necromancer has set up shop at Dol Guldur and has corrupted the southern portion of the Greenwood into Mirkwood, and serves as the primary antagonist as he plots for the Ring as well. Both of them know that the last known person to have the Ring is Isildur, and they sort-of know the area where he died on the Anduin River.
Expect to go searching for Isildur’s remains on the banks or in the depths of the Anduin River. You can look forward to talking to forest dwellers about their knowledge of legends in the area that might lead to the Ring. Perhaps agents of the Necromancer are actively hindering your characters, or trailing them in order to snatch the prize out of their hands once it’s found? Then there are the natural dangers of the forest- spiders, wolves, wandering into elfish banquets…
This scenario puts the timeline exactly one year before the events of the Hobbit. Aragorn is nine years old and living under the alias “Estel” in Rivendell, under Elrond’s tutelage. He won’t find out that he’s the heir of Gondor until 2951, when he’s 20 years old. The events of the Lord of the Rings don’t really start until 3018, when Frodo (at the age of 50) leaves the Shire with the Ring.
This gives you a lot of room to move around in without running into any of the main plots from either The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. You could certainly have your characters assist in the sacking of Dol Guldur, and even have them present at the Battle of Five Armies (having been sent to keep an eye on Gandalf). Your characters could be the ones to follow up on the events of the Hobbit, quests like finding Gollum or retaking Moria on Balin’s expedition. Or you could avoid all of that and have a romp about in nearby areas on quests entirely for them.
This is the scenario to go for if you want to emulate the feeling and setting of the books without stepping on the official plot much, if at all.
The New Shadow
In his letters, Tolkien was once asked if he had ever thought of or planned out a sequel to the Lord of the Rings. It turns out, he had! There are apparently about 13 pages worth of notes and outlines, but that’s how far it got before the project was abandoned. Here is Tolkien’s letter back to his fan:
“I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall [of Sauron], but it proved both sinister and depressing. Since we are dealing with Men, it is inevitable that we should be concerned with the most regrettable feature of their nature: their quick satiety with good. So that the people of Gondor in times of peace, justice and prosperity, would become discontented and restless — while the dynasts descended from Aragorn would become just kings and governors — like Denethor or worse. I found that even so early there was an outcrop of revolutionary plots, about a centre of secret Satanistic religion; while Gondorian boys were playing at being Orcs and going around doing damage. I could have written a ‘thriller’ about the plot and its discovery and overthrow — but it would have been just that. Not worth doing.“―The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 256
While Tolkien wasn’t interested in writing novels as much as he was about building myth structures, role-playing often falls more into the action genre and this seems like prime material. We have Gondor at it’s prime- 100 years of peace! Aragorn has died, and his son Eldarion now rules the united kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor. There are cults of Morgoth or Sauron that become centers of revolutionary activity, and there are roving gangs of hooligans cosplaying as orcs, causing a ruckus.
That sounds like a fun world to run around in! The elves have mostly left and the dwarves are becoming more insular, the Age of Man is dawning and already it’s leading to corruption. You are one of the last Gondorians to hold strong to your ideals and as such are needed by one of Eldarion’s “many sisters” who will be the enabler of your special task force. I feel like this plot line inevitably leads to heist, espionage and diplomatic challenges- which is unusual for Middle Earth, but really seems to work.
This is definitely the scenario for those that want to go much lower magic level than normal, or who dislike non-human fantasy peoples.
The War of the Jewels
If you’ve only ever seen the movies, it may surprise you to know that Tolkien had more writings about Middle-Earth than what is contained in his main books (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings). He wrote about Middle-Earth and its characters and languages right up until he couldn’t hold a pen any longer. After the Professor’s death, his son Christopher (who was, and is, incredibly devoted to his father and his father’s work and legacy) took up the arduous task of compiling all of his father’s hand-written notes and set about sorting them.
After compiling and editing the notes, Christopher Tolkien (with the help of Guy Gavriel Kay) wrote the psuedo-narrative of The Silmarillion. It reads more like Edith Hamilton’s Mythology than it does like Lord of the Rings, but there are some great parts in there as well. The best part is the Quenta Silmarillion.
Here’s a summary – There are two continents, one with only starlight, and one with two giant magic trees that give awesome magic light. The place with the cool trees is Valinor, the home of the Valar (the “gods”). Most elves live in Valinor but originally come from the starlight place, called Middle-Earth. One of the Valar named Melkor used to be bad and tormented the elves when they lived in Middle-Earth until the Valar jailed him and rescued the elves.
Fast forward a couple hundred years (because why not when you’re all either immortal or gods?) and Melkor has a parole meeting with the Valar, where he promises to be good and is let free. One of the elves is a lot cooler than everyone else and is the best at making things- his name is Feanor. The problem is that he’s also a huge jerk and looks down on everyone, also he’s a prince of the elf lords and other fancy titles. Feanor makes some jewels that capture light from the magic trees and glow beautifully- these are called the three Silmarils.
Melkor really hates this Feanor guy, mostly because he’s the “god” of kicking other people’s sand castles, so he decides to spread a bunch of rumors. People start distrusting each other, people make swords for the first time, and elves begin to distrust the Valar and their intentions for keeping the elves around. The Valar start to think that Feanor making all of this stuff is causing people to become materialistic, and ask him to give his Silmarils to them for safe keeping. This doesn’t go over well.
Right about then, Melkor shows up riding a cthonic giant spider and drives a huge lance into each of the trees. They start hemmoraging light-life-magic, which the giant spider then eats and turns into something called unlight, which is Not Good. Melkor then kills Feanor’s dad, takes the Silmarils himself, and runs back to Middle-Earth. Feanor says that it’s all the Valar’s fault, to which they tell him he’s an idiot. Feanor then takes his whole clan of elves, kills another whole clan of elves to take their ships and travels back to Middle-Earth to get his jewels back.
He’s promptly killed by Melkor (now named Morgoth, or The Dark Enemy) and Feanor’s half-brothers and sons are colonizing a land that was peaceful just a moment ago and now has a war going on in it. The local powers that be, namely elf king Thingol and his Maiar (demi-god) wife Melian don’t like that at all, and especially don’t like having Melkor around again. Then the Valar decide to make things better and make the Sun and the Moon, which causes the race of Men to “awaken” and do things.
TL;DR – At this point you get into the stories like the Hidden City of Gondolin, which was beseiged by an army of orcs and trolls that had Balrogs and Dragons as artillery and air-support. You had elf magics like force fields, magical barriers, cloaking devices. Morgoth’s lieutenant was a Maia named Sauron, who had previously studied under the smithy of the Valar and has known for spellcraft and artifice (he was an expert shape-changer, and has powers and a demeanor similar to Loki from Marvel’s Thor movies). High magic Tolkien at its best.