18 December 2022

Kim Mohan, RIP

I wanted to note (somewhat belatedly) the passing of Kim Mohan.

Among many other things, Mohan was the editor of Dragon during its peak: issues 49 through 114. The “Mohan era” was the true “golden age” of Dragon in my view. (Mohan later became editor again for issues 199-217, but I’m not familiar at all with that period of the publication.)

I started buying Dragon regularly (almost every month) with issue 56. It had a great impact on my early involvement in the hobby. I looked forward to every issue. This was long before the internet age, so Dragon was the main window into the greater “RPG scene” and community. (I also read White Dwarf regularly during this time, which provided some insight into the UK scene. I can’t imagine those years of my life without both publications.)

I stopped reading Dragon around the time that Mohan departed. Not that I paid any attention to such things at the time; rather, by the mid-1980s my RPG focus had shifted to MERP, Call of the Cthulhu, and other non-D&D/AD&D games.

Mohan had an impressively long career in the RPG business: he’s listed as a contributor to the 5th edition D&D Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual.


12 December 2022

Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript

As a huge Middle-earth fan, I was delighted to have seen this excellent exhibit – “J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of the Manuscript” – today at Marquette University.

I thought that I had already seen it before in Oxford in 2018, but it turned out that this exhibit was somewhat different. The one at Oxford had a lot more of Tolkien’s artwork, as well as numerous biographical documents and photographs, whereas this one (unsurprisingly, given its title) focused more on Tolkien’s calligraphy, early drafts, and manuscripts. Nonetheless, there was some overlap in the two exhibits (the Bodleian Library had drawn on the Marquette collection and vice versa). And there were a few pieces of Tolkien’s beautiful art on display (including the troll hill above -- I quite like Tolkien's line work!).


The high point for me was the opportunity to see Tolkien’s original timeline “story board” for The Lord of the Rings – i.e., several pages which follow the days covered throughout the trilogy, broken down at points by character/group (e.g., “Gandalf”, “Sam and Frodo”, “Saruman”, etc.). It was cool to see the events and revisions written in the professor’s own hand. Also on display were Tolkien’s notes on the “stride” of hobbits, as he wanted to calculate how far they could travel in a given day in order to ensure that their journey times were plausible.


I also found it interesting to learn that Tolkien’s concern with carefully drawn maps – maps that clearly (if perhaps unrealistically) identify important landmarks – likely originated in his work as an army signals officer during the First World War. There was a copy of the manual he used during that time on display.


Now you might be wondering why this exhibit is at Marquette University of all places. It turns out that shortly after the publication of The Lord of the Rings the university’s new library director (William Ready) managed to purchase for the university the manuscripts of three of Tolkien’s published works of fiction: The Hobbit, Farmer Giles of Ham, and The Lord of the Rings. The manuscripts arrived in Milwaukee over the course of two years after the purchase, and were later supplemented with additional materials sent to Marquette from 1987-1997 by Christopher Tolkien.  They are now in the “J.R.R. Tolkien Collection” at the university.


[Tolkien created a number of images of the final page of The Book of Mazarbul.

However, the publisher declined them as they would be too difficult to print.]


08 November 2022

Against the Witch-King (Darkmaster) character options

As I mentioned yesterday, I plan to test out Against the Darkmaster (VsD) with some of my old MERP books. Specifically, I hope to run a few adventures set in Eriador in 1964 of the Third Age. In this post I cover the kinds of character options available in this setting, translating VsD options into Middle-earth terms.

The Characters


Players may select among the options below.


Dúnedain of Arthedain

-       Kin: High Man.

-       Cultures: City (Fornost Erain), Noble, or Weald (border marches).

-       Professions: Warrior, Rogue, Animist (“Seer”), Champion, Dabbler, or Sage.



Dwarves of either the Blue Mountains (Thrár’s people) or Khazad-dûm (Durin’s folk)

-       Kin: Dwarf.

-       Cultures: Deep or [rarely] Weald.

-       Professions: Warrior, Rogue, or Sage.

Elves of either Lindon or Imladris (Rivendell)

-       Kin: Dusk Elf (Silvan Elf), Silver Elf (Sinda Elf), Star Elf (Noldo Elf).

-       Cultures: Fey, Seafaring (Lindon), Noble (Sindar and Noldor only), Weald (Silvan only).

-       Professions: Warrior, Rogue, Animist (“Healer”), Champion, Dabbler, or Sage.

Eriadorans (descended primarily from Dunlendings and Hillmen) of either Bree (Bree-landers) or (what was once) Cardolan (including the still-functioning city of Tharbad), or the remnants of Rhudaur.

-       Kin: Man.

-       Cultures: City (Bree or Tharbad), Hill (Rhudaur), Pastoral (Breeland), Weald.

-       Professions: Warrior, Rogue, or Sage (Tharbad only).


Eriadorans (descended from Northmen) of Northa Rhaglaw (Oilad) or the Angle (En Egladil).

-       Kin: Man.

-       Cultures: Weald.

-       Professions: Warrior, Rogue, or Sage.


Hobbits of either the Shire or Bree.

-       Kin: Halfling.

-       Cultures: Pastoral (Shire or Breeland) or City (Bree).

-       Professions: Warrior, Rogue, or Sage.



Lossoth of the Forochel.

-       Kin: Man.

-       Culture: Arctic.

-       Professions: Warrior, Rogue, Animist (“Shaman”).



I've decided to prohibit Wizards as a profession available for player characters as I don't think that profession's spells fit well with the way that "good" magic is portrayed in Tolkien's writings. (Not that the other professions are especially "Tolkien-esque" with respect to magic, but the differences with them are less dramatic.) Wizards will belong to the forces of Darkness and perhaps those strange visitors from across the Sea.

The above maps and pictures are all from long out-of-print ICE products. (If you want more information I can provide it in the comments.)

07 November 2022

Against the Witch-King (Darkmaster) setting notes

To test out Against theDarkmaster, and possibly run a sporadic mini-campaign (during the “gaps” in Loz's Mythras group's "Return to the Mountains of Madness" campaign), I’m going to use some of my old MERP stuff. (Yes, I am lazy.) 

Today's post provides some notes on the setting. Tomorrow I'll post the character options (adapting the Against the Darkmaster rules to Middle-earth). 

[All maps and pictures are from long out-of-print MERP products.]


Against the Witch-King

The Setting (Eriador, 1964 Third Age)


The adventure will start in the year 1964 of the Third Age. It will take place in north-central Eriador, specifically the contested lands between the Kingdom of Arthedain and the Witch-King’s Realm of Angmar. 1964 is the first year of the reign of King Arvedui. The Dúnadan Seer Malbeth foretold that Arvedui would be the last ruler of Arthedain. But does this mean that Arthedain ultimately will fall to the Witch-King’s hordes, or instead that Arvedui will defeat Angmar and resurrect the greater realm of Arnor?


The adventurers will start in either Bree or Fornost (you can choose, but all of you will start in either location). From there, the first session will involve travel to the town of Northva Rhaglaw. Northva Rhaglaw supposedly was once the heart of a small mannish kingdom in the Second Age. Now it is a modest settlement of the descendants of Northmen mercenaries from the Anduin Vale who travelled to Eriador centuries ago to fight in the wars (first among the successor states of Arnor – Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhudaur – and later, on the side of Arthedain and Cardolan against Angmar). Nearby, according to rumour, is a strange settlement of reclusive forest-dwelling hobbits who chose never to migrate to the Shire.


Middle-earth in 1964 resembles the world of 3019 (the time of The Lord of the Rings) in some respects: the Shire exists (most hobbits settled there after the lands were granted by King Argeleb II of Arthedain to Marcho and Blanco in 1601; others remain in Bree and elsewhere), the Kingdom of Gondor is the strongest bastion of the free peoples in the West, the Necromancer casts a dark shadow over the southern reaches of Mirkwood, and a few strange “wizards” are known to travel throughout the lands. But it also differs from the world of 3019 in other respects: the Kingdom of Rohan does not exist yet (the people who will become the Rohirrim, the Éothéod, currently dwell in the Anduin Vale), the dwarven kingdom of Khazad-dûm is at the peak of its wealth and power (and the Lonely Mountain near Long Lake in the east has yet to be touched by dwarven miners), and the realms of Arthedain and Angmar fight their seemingly endless war.


In Eriador 1964, the dominant realm is Arthedain. It is the last kingdom of the Dúnedain in the north, and cleaves to the ways of lost Númenór more strongly than its brother realm of Gondor to the southeast. The kingdom of Arnor, which was founded by Elendil in 3320 of the Second Age, was tragically divided into Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhudaur in 861. The Northern wars began shortly after the Witch-King established the realm of Angmar around 1300. Rhudaur quickly fell to the Witch-King. Its northern region is now a puppet regime under the control of Angmar. The last king of Cardolan was slain during the Battle of the Barrow-Downs of 1409. Its surviving Dúnedain subsequently emigrated to Arthedain and Gondor, and its remaining population came to be ruled by petty warlords. Cardolan subsequently was devastated by the great plague of 1640 and is now a wild, largely empty land. The exception is the city of Tharbad. While a shadow of its former self, the city is an important centre for trade. Order in the crumbling city is maintained by a force from Gondor.


Within Arthedain, the realms of Bree-land and the Shire enjoy considerable autonomy, as do the noble fiefdoms around Lake Evendim (Nenuil). The royal lands around Fornost are well-protected. While the former capital of Annúminas was overrun and largely ruined in 1409, its great library remains occupied by sages and is protected by a royal guard.

Arthedain’s primary allies in Eriador are the Elvish realms of Lindon and Imladris. While both provide support for the Dúnedain, their numbers now are too few to contribute significantly to the wars. Friendly trading relations are maintained with the dwarves of Khazad-dûm and the Blue Mountains, but Durin’s and Thrár’s people generally do not participate in the wars. The descendants of Northmen mercenaries have established small holdings in parts of Eriador, especially in the Angle, and are loosely allied with Arthedain against the Witch-king. The Lossoth of the far north sometimes interact with Arthedain traders but generally keep to themselves. They loathe the Witch-King but are not in any way a military force. Away from Eriador, Gondor affirms its friendship with and support for its northern counterpart but is preoccupied with its own struggles with hostile peoples to the east and southeast.


Some Important Dates in the History of Eriador


Second Age



The War between the Elves and Sauron. After the fall of Eregion, Elrond leads refugees north to found Rivendell. Tar-Minastir leads a Númenórean army that, with the Elves of Lindon under Gil-Galad, ultimately defeat Sauron.



The Númenórean captain Pharconatar begins the construction of Tharbad.



The destruction of Númenór.



The two Realms in Exile, Arnor and Gondor, are founded by the Faithful under High King Elendil.



The Last Alliance of Elves and Men wage war against Sauron and eventually defeat him, although Elendil and Gil-Galad are both slain. Sauron is defeated for the final time, his ring cut from him by Isildur. Everyone is quite certain that there is no way that Sauron will ever return. His time is most definitely over. Yes, there is no way that he can recover from this defeat.

Isildur become High King of Arnor and Gondor.

Third Age



Isildur is slain in Gladden Fields. Arnor and Gondor no longer share a High King.



Death of King Eärendur of Arnor. His realm is divided among his three sons into the kingdoms of Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhudaur. In subsequent decades many Northmen mercenaries emigrate to Eriador to serve in the petty wars amongst the three kingdoms.



Around this time reports of “Wizards” start appearing. Only one (“the Grey”) is commonly found in Eriador. The others travel further east.



First reports that a Dark Power, known only as “the Necromancer,” has built a stronghold at Dol Guldur. Greenwood the Great comes to be known as Mirkwood thanks to the Necromancer’s malign influence.



Around this time the Witch-King settles in the abandoned dwarven settlement of Carn Dûm in the far north. The realm of Angmar subsequently attracts evil forces to its service.



Around this time many Hobbits begin to settle around Bree. The Stoors settle in the Angle and the empty lands of Eregion.



The First Northern War pits Arthedain and Cardolan against Angmar and Rhudaur.



The Second Northern War.

King Arveleg of Arthedain is killed in fighting in the Weather Hills. Annúminas is sacked and the capital is moved to Fornost. Amon Sûl is besieged and falls, although its Palantir is saved. King Ostoher of Cardolan and his sons fall in battle on Tyrn Gorthad. Cardolan ceases to be a united realm. With Elvish help, the Arthedain gathered at Fornost beat back the Witch-King’s forces.



A civil war, the Kin-Strife, erupts and divides Gondor.



King Argeleb II grants the Hobbits the Shire in southern Arthedain.

Year One of the Shire Reckoning.



Most of the remaining Stoors leave Rhudaur to join their brethren in the Shire.



The Great Plague devastates Gondor and Eriador. Cardolan in particular is depopulated.



Easterlings called the “Wainriders” invade Rhovanion, driving Gondor's armies out of the southern plains. A Wainrider kingdom is established.



Arthedain and Gondor form an alliance against the Witch-king.

Prince Arvedui marries Gondor’s Princess Firiel.



Gondor battles the Wainriders in her eastern provinces. King Ondoher and his sons fall in battle.



Prince Arvedui’s claim to the throne of Gondor is denied.



Arvedui becomes king of Arthedain. The present.

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