31 May 2021

The Court of Ardor

One of my favourite campaign modules of all time is The Court of Ardor by Terry K. Amthor.


Ardor is set in southern Middle-earth. But the region – and especially the malevolent Court itself – does not fit well in that world. The background to the Court does refer to the roles of Morgoth and Ungoliant in poisoning the Two Trees of Valinor, Laurelin and Telperion, and the subsequent creation of the sun and moon by the Valar. These connections, though, fail to overcome the stark differences in tone between the module’s setting and Tolkien’s Middle-earth. The Court is a secret society of powerful magic-users (astrologers, sorcerers, mentalists, and the like); even the non-spell-casting members of the Court have access to powerful magic items. The magic system of Rolemaster simply does not work well for Middle-earth. Moreover, Amthor’s treatment of elves in this book is quite “un-Tolkien” in nature. (The themes of the setting, I think, anticipate Amthor’s later creation, Shadow World, with its secretive organizations of extremely powerful immortals.)


Its “non-Middle-earth” character aside, though, The Court of Ardor is a great fantasy setting. Indeed, it has been a wish of mine to use this module for a campaign for over three decades now. I would relocate it to a different world if I were to do so – specifically, I would embed it in a ‘homebrew’ fantasy setting inspired more by Michael Moorcock and Jack Vance than Tolkien. I probably also would change certain elements of the setting, in particular, the overarching aim of the Court, as well as aspects of some of the cultures and peoples.


The module focuses on the activities of the shadowy Court of Ardor, an organization of extremely powerful elves who are plotting something … both terrible and awesome. (I won’t say what here. What I’m about to write is mildly spoiler-ish, so skip down past the rest of this paragraph if you don’t want that.) The members of the Court all possess a magical deck of cards that portray their compatriots, and which enable them to communicate with each other. (Amthor confirmed in an interview decades later that this was inspired by the cards in Roger Zelazny’s “Amber” novels.) The deck of magical communication cards is quite cool – but, as I mentioned above, not exactly “Tolkien-esque” in nature.


Charles Peale’s illustrations of some of the members of the Court are – appropriately – in the style of cards:


There is only one illustration in the module that does not depict a member of the Court. It is of the bard “Klaen” – one of the few “good guys” in the region described in the module. It also is the only illustration not by Peale, but rather by Amthor:


Finally, like most of ICE’s Middle-earth modules, there is an amazing map by Peter Fenlon:


Hmmm… Perhaps I should use (a heavily modified version of) The Court of Ardor for a future Against the Darkmaster campaign…


(I had planned to write up this post weeks ago, shortly after my initial post on Peale’s artwork for ICE, but alas the end of the spring term overwhelmed me. Hopefully my blogging will pick up somewhat over the next few months.)


  1. One of my favorites as well!—I plan to use its plot as part of a drow-themed game in Greyhawk :)

    Blogger ate my long post about Ardor, and not gotten back to it yet, alas: https://grodog.blogspot.com/2018/10/module-challenge-epitaph.html


  2. A neat setting module with some excellent art, but yeah, not really at home in MERP. Actually used the "tarot" illustrations in a game of Amber Diceless years later, as one of the NPCs had set up their own "private" tarot network for their allies/unsuspecting dupes.

  3. Timely post for me! Just starting on using it in my ongoing Hyperborea campaign. Definitely filing off those Tolkien serial numbers. Still trying to figure out my other changes. I kind of love the overall goal of the court though I'm not sure my Gygaxian naturalist mindset can totally go there! Any thoughts on what you might change the goal of the court to?

    1. I like the idea of blocking the light of the sun somehow (since this would benefit the elves) but not destroying it. Perhaps the ritual would involve "locking" the moon magically so that the eclipse is permanent?

    2. Hmm interesting - I was thinking of cosmic cloud of dust (though it couldn't block the stars) or taking a page from Hyperborea moving the world so far away the sun is negligible. Or maybe the whole scheme is just madness? I guess don't I need an answer right away. Didn't comment on Peales art but it is perfect - that 80's haircut on Amthor's one piece does not help with immersion though. On the other hand I do love all of Amthor's lovingly created Beaux Art dungeons - there isn't anyone who draws a dungeon like him.

  4. Huh. I was never big into MERP so I haven't had much exposure to Peale's artwork (though I recognized a few of the illos in your prior post). This stuff, though, is great...extremely evocative, even if it doesn't really read "Middle Earth" to me. The Court of Ardor looks like a fascinating place!


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).