The Long Winter - a Middle Earth rpg?

Rob Harding

Active Member
Hello all.

I would love some thoughts and feedback on this one.

So I've just begun rereading Lord of the Rings after many years and, unsurprisingly, have got immediately stuck back into Mythgard and Corey Olsen and all things Middle Earth. I am also a tabletop rpg player but have only played a Star Wars game and DnD. Neither of which properly scratch my storytelling itch. They are fun but not worlds I truly want to explore.

If I ever do run a game of my own, I would set it in Middle Earth with players who get the feel of Tolkien's world and want to approach characterisation and world building with those sensibilities.

Anyway, enough preamble. What I am saying is this. I did some research. And I found year within the history of Middle Earth which I feel has some huge dramatic story-telling set pieces while at the same time all setting up lots of familiar elements of the books that even a passing film fan would recognise and could thus engage with.

I am not necessarily in any position to run this game soon. In fact, the reason I am not committing this as a long fan-fic project is just a lack of time.

However, I've come up with a set-up pitch that would drop players into the world and the narrative starting point.

I would love to know all your thoughts on a few things, largely about whether it matches up to what we know of Tolkien's world.
a.) Is the timeline correct?
b.) Does anything characteristically feel off?
c.) Is it interesting? Much like SilmFilm, I also want to prioritise good storytelling, without being bogged down by whether these events have literally been mentioned, rather COULD they happen. Do they make sense within the world we know.
d.) Is there anything happening in Middle Earth at this time which I’ve not included but you feel I should?

Without further ado, here is the set up for what I would call The Long Winter.


It is the year of the Third Age of Middle Earth, 2759.

Two hundred years before, the kingdom of Rohan was established and an oath sworn between it and the kingdom of Gondor that they should ever come to the aid of the other, if need arise.

Eleven years ago, goblin invaders entered the Shire but were defeated and driven back by the mighty Bullroarer Took. This is the only known battle to have ever taken place in the Shire.

Five years ago, Freca, king of Dunland, rode to Rohan with his men to intimidate Rohan’s king Helm Hammerhand into forcing a marriage between Freca’s own son, Wulf, and Helm’s daughter. In response, Helm mocked Freca before killing him with a single blow of his fist, forcing Wulf and the rest of the Dunlendings to flee back to their lands.

Last year, Wulf returned to Rohan in force. His forces drove the Rohirrim to take refuge in the mountain fortress of the Hornburg, placing himself upon the throne at Edoras as the new king of Rohan. His forces continue to beseige the Hornburg and the vanquished king within.

At that time, the slavers of Umbar have united with their kinsmen in Harad and Wulf of Dunland in a combind assault upon the Southern Kingdoms. Corsair ships hailing from Umbar have assaulted Gondor along its coasts, their attacks making it as far North as the mouth of the River Isen. They intend to travel upstream and attack Gondor from the North, via the fortified position of Isengard. King Beren of Gondor has commissioned his son, the valiant captain Beregond, with driving off the invaders.

With both kingdoms under attack, neither can turn to the other for help. However, in Gondor’s capital of Minas Tirith, the wizard Saruman has been deep in study of history and lore; his purposes known only to himself. Now however, Gondor may truly have call for his aid. Only then, with their own enemies vanquished, have they any hope of answering the horns of Rohan.

In the Wilderland, there are rumours of an old man, stooped and hooded in white, wandering abroad. Whispers of his passing are spoken of in Bree and many ask what dark purposes he holds and what it is he seeks.

They also tell tall tales of the creeping shadow of Mirkwood to the East, though few of them have ever been so far. There is darkness that way, and none dare cross over the Misty Mountains for fear of the rumoured priest-king Azog and other terrors that dwell within.

Across the lands, the Long Winter has fallen. From the far North all the way down to Rohan itself, all has been covered in ice and snow. In the Easterfathering of the Shire, the Brandywine shows signs of freezing over. Should that happen, who knows what may cross their borders out of the wilds beyond.

As the blight continues, resources run low. It won’t be long before the grain stores are bare, the pantries are barren and every barrel at the Green Dragon is drunk dry.

In the Westfarthing, the Thain is dead.

The head of the Took clan holds little true power in practice but in law forms part of the governance of the Shire.

When a Thain dies, Thainship passes to son. Isumbras II had two. The elder, and his inheritor, Ferumbras, was a quiet hobbit of little reknown, ever eclipsed by the shadow of his younger brother: the hero of the Battle of Gladden Fields, one Bandobras ‘Bullroarer’ Took.

There has never been a murder in the Shire. As such, there is no need for law enforcement. The Watch itself consists only of the Bounders, who keep a close eye on visiting Outsiders, and twelve Shirrifs to cover all three Farthings; a part time occupation that requires little more than a literal feather in one’s cap and spending time dealing with wayward beasts.

But there is something untoward about the way in which old Isumbras was found. Something that, to any Outsider perhaps, may appear to be signs of a struggle. Suspicious, some might say.

The Mayor of Michel Delving has ordered that the First Shirrif keep the matter quiet, but the three hobbit shirrifs of the Westfarthing have now been tasked with getting to the bottom of it.

All the while, the world beyond their borders rages, shadows creep ever nearer and the Long Winter draws on.



As I say, thoughts and general feedback are very welcome.
 
Last edited:

Rob Harding

Active Member
I’ve embellished very little and what I have, I think still fits in the framework of the stories. When Bilbo was a boy, there was the Fell Winter. That is when the Brandywine froze and white wolves invaded the Shire so the shirrifs and bounders fought them off. BUT it’s also said hobbits are very much of the present, not interested in the past and future. They don’t much enjoy learning things they don’t already know. They have short communal memories. Well, since Bilbo is probably the only Hobbit still alive during the Fell Winter by the time the Red Book is being written, it stands to reason that very few if any remember the Long Winter many years before, certainly not specifics. So whose to say that wasn’t also a year of frozen rivers and wolf invasions? Now if those wolves don’t invade until the very end of the Long Winter, you can have that on the horizon, unknown to players. In LotR, Frodo at one point flatly states that no murder has ever happened in the Shire. But again, Hobbits don’t have long memories. And don’t you know, 2759 was the year the Thain, who happened to be the father of Bullroarer Took and his brother, died. So I added in the element that maybe this was a murder. The fact that Frodo says no murder ever happened and thought, well...what if one did? Who would deal with it? Shirrifs I guess. But they literally scare off animals. So imagine these 'police' who literally never have to do any policing having to solve a murder when even the concept is foreign. To be fair to the honour of hobbits (and Frodo’s research skills) perhaps the murder will not be quite as it appears. All the rest is, I believe, straight from Tolkien.



Also this year? This is the year Gandalf first becomes tied to hobbits, helping them in their plight. But what would bring him to the Shire? Well here’s the other thing, this is the time when Sauraman has returned from the East and has his eye set on Orthanc believing a palantir may be there. Certainly he has no interest in the Shire until much later, but is it possibly that he came through lands around there, maybe an old cloaked man passing through Bree? Is it possible a certain amount of whispers, planted dark seeds? It’s curious that you have this death of a figure with the potential to hold a certain amount of power, taking place in an area we know Sauraman much later has little issue in gaining control of. To be generous to the character of Hobbits and Frodo’s research abilities, I could make it so this ‘murder’ perhaps isn’t as straightforward as it appears to be but instead is the inciting incident to get our characters on the road,



As for Saruman’s shadow over the story. Well, during this period he is studying in Minas Tirith and it is hinted he is looking for evidence of the location of a Palantir. I don’t believe we know exactly how Saruman first realised Sauron was on the rise, but if he came back from the East, is it possible he passed through Greenwood as it was becoming Mirkwood and came into contact with Dol Guldur? Oh, and what was Saruman doing in the East? We don't know but he went that way with the two blue wizards who were never seen again. So if you followed the trail Saruman has possibly left, then may you could end up passing through Mirkwood. And who knows what became of those two blue wizards. We do know that Saruman has never really liked Radaghast and has a major chip on his shoulder about the fact he volunteered to enter the world of Middle Earth but Gandalf and Radaghast were hand-picked. No to mention Gandald being gifted the Red Ring. So it’s not like he was wholesome and loved the other wizards from the get go. Could have been on a bad path early than the books hint.



We do know that by the time Lord of the Rings comes around, Radaghast has been hearing from Saruman. The reason Gandalf travels to Orthanc and gets trapped on the top is that he bumps into Radaghast just outside of Bree who tells Gandalf Sauron is growing in power and Saruman has asked for him to go to Orthanc so they can work together. Radaghast doesn’t realise it’s a trap. But we learn from this encounter that Radaghast doesn’t like to travel outside of his region and it was very unusual for Gandalf to find him not in Roscobel and Radaghast rushed back as soon as he is done. So how has Saruman been communicating with him if Radaghast is unlikely to go to Orthanc? Well, maybe Saruman travels to him. How does he know where he is? Well, maybe when he passed through Mirkwood this first time, after having encounter Dol Guldur, he made contact with the old wizard and started planted seeds of trust which he could later corrupt and misuse.



I also like the idea that perhaps he is coming and going more than anybody thinks and has been doing a fair bit of wandering of his own as he researches. We know he has no interest in hobbits until later days, but if there is this death of a prominent figure in the Shire at this time, and we lay in the suggestion that it was murder, could there be chance that his influence, if not him directly, has passed through from other parties and crept into more innocent ears. Did his influence on the Shire happen much early that the last chapters of the Return of the King? That perhaps is a very wide leap, but something I could explore maybe.



We do know that after the Corsair Wars and the defeat of Wulf, that Saruman asks for, and is given, the keys of Orthanc. Both Gondor and Rohan are more than happy to have a wizard living nearby. Which makes me think, did he do more than just hide in the tower if they are happy to have him as a neighbour. Perhaps he is recognised as a useful ally in more than just reputation. Corsair ships did make it to the mouth of the Isen? Why? Well, perhaps they did indeed want to mount an assault from the stronghold of Isengard. And if Saruman’s eyes are turning toward there, well, two birds and a single stone (a seeing one at that).



And of course, the following year welcomes the birth of the progenitor of the Gamgee family line, which could easily be a lovely little Easter egg part of the narrative.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
I’m also thinking that, to set up Sarumam as the ultimate threat, perhaps players can find texts containing his activities or hear conversations about him in various places (including Rivendell and piece together an image that steadily grows ominous).

My thoroughly elaborated backstory is that Saurman, the only of the three who volunteered to leave Valinor, is determined to fulfill his duty to the best of his ability. As such he seeks out those who have gone before and seeks out the two blue who went there in the Second Age.

There however he does not find two wizards united in purpose. The first, that he knew as Pallando, has, in his quest to help all life in the East, spent much of his time with trees; the long inhabitants of that region who he has learnt much from. The other, once Alatar, in his quest to cause division amongst the servants of Sauron, has directly set himself in opposition as a mystic, followed by a growing cult of believers. He has used the palantir he brought for Valinor, intended for communication across the seas, to instead peer at days not yet come and thereby granting him powers worthy of diefication in the minds of those swayed away from Sauron and to his course.

From them both Sarumam learns much, however, as Alatar grows in might it becomes clear that he must be opposed. Saruman is aggrieved to see one of his order fall so greatly and tries to reason with his friend. When this bears no fruit, he decides to destroy the palantir that he is being taught to utilise. However, at the moment of casting it into a depth where it shall never be found, Saruman, as he has learnt, seeks to perceive how to destroy the other growing dark power that is Sauron to the West. He glimpses visions of great machines and forges mastered by himself, a lidless red eye blinking out and a people of small stature toiling under his supervision. After leaving the East he struggles with the choices he has made to defeat one of his own order but also the images he saw. It seems that to defeat Sauron he must turn to machinecraft. And perhaps the Little People, should he find them, may play a roll. But his mind ever turns to the memory of the power of the palantiri and how, with one, he alone may succeed in cleansing the land of darkness. This an obsession to find one of the remaining seeing stones in the West is kindled.

But that is almost ENTIRELY fan fiction
 
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