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.


  1. I was just recently reading the MERP Angmar supplement and considering giving AtDM a go, so I will be watching your developments with great interest.

  2. Always dig Liz Danforth's drawings, especially her elves.

  3. Regarding: "... the first session will involve travel to the town of Northva Rhaglaw."
    Well, that certainly did not happen! We've had four sessions now and the party is nowhere near Northva Rhaglaw. But they'll get there eventually...


Blog Archive

About Me

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