On Shaky ground (addendum)

So I got to doing a little extra reading about population and spent a little time digging up some exemplars that would help with the design. I found a nice reference which made Caras Celairnen bigger. I did some scaling up of the map and discovered that there was a lot more land than even I though. I looked at a river port on the Severn (Chepstow) to get an idea of scaling and layout. All of which has been changing my thinking on where the town might be situated and how it might be laid out.

A note on population

In Other Minds, Thomas Morwinsky provides some excellent extrapolations of population in Middle Earth. This would revise TA1640 Caras Celairnen to a population of around 4,000, equivalent to a large modern village  like modern Overton.  The main population sits within an area of 2.5 square kilometres  (1.5 square miles).

A note on scale

Put in context of the inch to 20miles of the maps produce by ICE for MERP that is a very small area on the map. I scaled up the region and the overlayed a Google map on Overton on to the map.Caras isthmus overlay

Caras is  tiny on the map and that river crossing is huge if it was all scaled. Those roads on the Overton map are two cars wide. By scale the bridge would have been half the width of the city, but its a symbol so we can ignore it. So you can really see that there is plenty of space on the drier portion of the spit to place Caras. My initial plan for the town was far too large. Unless I say the bridge is much further to the mouth of the river.The Uialduin river is half a mile across according to this (give or take). A wooden structure is unlikely to survive without constant modification. However, Swarkstone bridge is 17 arches, made of stone and a mile long (with a causeway). If Dwarves built the town then it is entirely possible that such a bridge would exist. Image result for Aust severn  dock shipsThe river Lhun by contrast is nearly two miles wide – similar to the river Severn at the bridges. There was before the bridges a ferry that ran from Aust. A stone jetty providing mooring to cope with the tidal river. Of course no engines, just sail and oars. So perhaps more like the image below of the New Passage ferry further down stream in 1727.

Notes on Chepstow

The medival map of Chepstow could be used as a guide to the sort of layout a town like Caras Celairnen might have. Although Chepstow has no marsh land and the river Wye is only 106 yards across, it was a regular river port with tidal trading links around Europe. The extensive field system provides a realistic idea of how the area around the town is used to support the port population. Short docks and jettys on the inside (slow current bend) provide a good example of the structures that might be in use in Caras. in 1306 Chepstow had 308 Burgages (houses rented from the Lord, hence Burgher). Which looking at the 1686 map leaves me wondering where they all are as there appears to only to be 100-200 houses marked. Either way, with a family size of between 5 and 12 that would put the population between 2000 and 3000 strong. Furthermore, I am sure the map makers didn’t include the serf hovels outside the walls.

Chepstow medieval


chepstow view

 Changes to thinking

First things first, this is a fantasy game I don’t have to follow any of the things I see in real life or stick rigidly to the historical facts. Nor do I need to get bogged down in where the town symbol is on the map, or the size of the river scaled up. I just need to stick to the fact that “situated on a rocky spit of dry land at the otherwise swampy junction”. Rocky spit – means the finger sticking out between the two rivers. We are sticking with my original drawing idea and placing it right on the spit. There needs to be a bridge crossing, but it can go where needed to make anchorage sensible. The swampy area can be much bigger than on the map, but there will be some dykes and reclaimed land near the town that will use the levee bank on the Lhun side as the start point. Perhaps a causeway for the bridge road as well. With this I can happily have anchorage up the Uialduin in that nice slow swampy region to the north, especially if the bridge is high enough for small river barges. Indeed, there is nothing to stop a high span if the ground on the otherside starts high enough. Perhaps the reason the Uialduin is not a delta into the Lhun is because it passes through a canyon formed from two hard rock hills.

On where to place Caras Celairnen

What is Caras Celairnen’s purpose

If Caras Celairnen is to be placed on the map, the purpose of the town need to be very clear. If it is purely a ferry port for goods crossing then it can only sit on the Lhun and would link to the bridge over the Uialduin using some sort of causeway road. However, we have established that there is no marked habitation on the opposite side of the river making a ferry unlikely. Goods are more likely to be shipped up and down river using river barges and shallow draft luggers.

This leads us to the conclusion it is definitely a multipurpose port. A hub for goods brought overland and down river and also for those that have come up from the sea (bypassing Mithlond).

Where would ships anchor?

Given that a variety of craft will be using this port a number of anchorages would be needed. If the Lhun is tidal, then so is part of the Uialduin around the mouth of the river. This means that there needs to be sheltered anchorage for some of the ocean going ships with enough draft that they aren’t beached on every tide. This is likely that it would have to be in the middle of the channel of the Lhun. Barges would then transport cargo to shore.So we need barge docks in easy reach of the middle channel of the Lhun. We would also expect barges to wish to use the slower current of the Uialduin for mooring and perhaps some areas of the swamp as dry dock repairs. We can also say there are probably several ferries operating crossings, but that they are unlikely to be permenant routes.


We could divide our triangle between the two rivers into each corner zone. The North East corner is really beyond the bridge and although it is possible it might have a sufficient depth for small ocean going ships the presence of marshes suggests not. In contrast, the North West corner is connected to the North road that follows the Lhun. It fits the bill for ocean ships and if the lower portion of the triangle is also marsh then the flats would provide refuge for the river barges. A causeway road would be needed to take road goods to the bridge across the river Uialduin. The south west corner also offers similar attractions to the North west. With the Uialduin backing up water into a marsh because of the Lhun it would suggest that at the meeting of these two rivers in the lee of this spit anchorage is relatively easily. Barges could stay out of the stronger current when unloading ships (less work) and could still be stored in marsh creeks. The bridge is now the only  conudrum. Is it a true bridgehead – no further navigation by keeled vessels, or is the bridge special. The former can go further upstream with again a causeway road to link tot he town. The latter could span the river in high arches as a miracle of Dwarven construction (just because no-one mentioned it doesn’t mean I can’t build it).



On shaky ground

It is not often I get to ponder on something these days, my time taken up by wondering how to get sprogs intereseted in learning stuff to order, but I was planning on making a map of Caras Celairnen over the summer and got to reading some of the source material from Iron Crown (ICE).

caras blurb

The Arnor supplement makes some reference to the town of Caras Celairnen as a river port with some detail on the heritage of the town and rulers. This is all free to view on the Notion Club Wiki, which essentially has culled the information from the books.

I spent a little while researching what a river port might look like on a tributary to a major river to get an idea of how that might look. I printed off some grid paper from Incompetech and made a quick sketch of where it would all go. So one day this summer I took my own sprogs (not the 30+ belonging to others) to the pool and let them loose, while I sat with a coffee and drew my first location map for years. I put a fortification on the end of the spit and then filled the town in below with some warehouse and merchant houses. I including some noble houses and space for itinerant river workers and captains. I thought about where some of the lower orders might live. Then I ran out of space on my A4 sheet of paper, so the planned marsh side town outside the walls didn’t happen. Hey can’t get everything right on your first go!

First attempt a drawing Caras Celairnen

It was then I started to ponder. Did I have enough dwellings to support the population of a full town? Well as it turned out I was probably about right  without planning (if there are around 10 in every household that is not a major house. I can always add a few more houses at the marsh gate at some point. Then I looked at the map again and wondered: how did that marsh form and why is there a path by the big river (Lhun), and is Uialduin a deep enough channel for cargo ships?

This got me to thinking have I drawn this right at all. Is Caras Celairnen a fortified town at all? Knowing what I know about river ports (quay) on the Severn, which when you look at the Lhun you are almost forced to compare the two, is this a viable town?

Hexagonal Graph Paper

My first port of call (past the basic river geography I did at school), was to think about rivers I know well. Have I ever seen a marsh sitting upstream between them and a tributary? Well not really and certainly not with a path on a levee/dyke, because a river prone to big snow melts would scour across that low plain and into that lovely low plain to the south. So search the internet what rivers might have a marsh like this? Well the Amazon river, but that is one big marsh and tropical and kind of unique. The Tigris and Euphrates but that actually is just one very big river delta down to the seas. As is the Ganges, Missippi and pretty much every river you look at. But at least the Tigris and Euphrates did provide an example of a bigger river backing up flow from the smaller river. So perhaps with the winter rain melts off the highlands and Uialduin meandering more the  marsh is more viable. If we assume that the path we see is alongside a levee caused by the Lhun flooding over the years. So we have a Riverine type marsh that is navigable as far as the bridge.

Bridge?! Hang on that bridge is nominally 5 miles up from the confluence, and bridges in general were only built when it was too shallow for masted ships to navigate up river. That is to say the sailing cargo vessels. Also those marshy inlets that remind me of Romney marsh, and some spots on the Severn, which are useful for anchoring luggers and the like are all cut off by the bridge! I know these maps are not geographically accurate but that really does put pay to the idea that anchorage should be on the Uialduin.

Alright so all the anchorage is going to have to be in the bigger river. At least that takes care of the draft problem. Now all the ships have to worry about is the rate of flow and the probable tidal bore that will some up the river  every high tide. I know that on the Severn the ships would moor to a quay that ran along the bank and that there was quite a bit of slack needed on the ropes to account for the tidal reach. So let’s assume that similar moorings are going to be needed for this port.

historyOK back up a bit. What does the source material say that might help with the design? Well the Dwarven trading post was built on the hill (conjures up thoughts of hidden passages below)  on a shelf of land (non-porus rock or there would be no swamp) that has dropped. No clue as to the shape of the hill. It could be a rounded and weathered mount or it could be an escarpment and still fit the description of a rocky spit.

The whole shelf has dropped 1000ft so it would be reasonable to assume that it is more likely to be a rocky escarpment with the vertical side facing the rivers. The sloping side would now drop to the marsh land with its inlets and spaces for flat bottomed barges which can ply trade further up river.

https://i0.wp.com/static.panoramio.com/photos/original/27764454.jpgWe know that Gondor builds an outpost here. They used smaller vessels than the great Gondorian warships used to sail round the coast to transport troops. However, the army encamped on the south side of the Uialduin, suggesting that space is limited on the mount and that possibly the troop docks were temporary structures. Also the draft is not deep enough for large ocean-going ships but river luggers and the like would be fine.

So what have I learnt in the process, well always look at your map carefully. If you are designing landscape from scratch it really helps if you think about the conditions that cause your features. Classically that marsh should be down stream, although the town would still be on a hill above it. Also if you look at river ports there is always mooring in the smaller tributary allowing ships to shelter in a weaker current. Next think about your reasons for placing habitation where it is. Although this is a trade route to the capital of Arthedain and can transport goods from Mithlond, it is actually a terrible spot for Dwarven goods. The Arnor gazetteer already has a ferry point much further North which would allow goods to pass across land without the need to go down river. Also there is no transit point across the river on the West bank linked with the Southern route (well there is now with my unmapped town Elvenbyen), so where do all these ferries load and unload goods for the Dwarves? As a landscape designer then we need to keep the geography and the purpose of habitations real.


A road less travelled

Gaming time again – really has it come round again? There seems something a little upsetting that three months can pass before you can find time to spend an afternoon together. Still only three of us and the players are beginning to worry about their ability to survive combats, despite being perfectly good in a fight. If they take a look at the rationale section they might get a few additional pointers, I did remind them of the need to use parry as a defensive tactic. I also dropped in the need to stock up on herbs that speed up recovery from concussion damage. We also used this session to trial using RM Combat Minion to manage the combat. Although we were quicker in the last session, there is still a lot of table look up and tracking to do and I am not convinced I always remember to tick off the various penalties. RM Combat Minion looks fairly promising in this regard helping to pick up combatants who had fallen unconscious and applying penalties to actions.

AEredluin1 road less travelled is built on the plot from Seeking Solis, but now transported into the region of Numeriador and the village of Eruimar at the end of the Rammas (wall) of Ered Luin (Blue mountains). Having decided that the information on the spies is worth giving to some sort of authority both Pick and Limolas has expressed a desire to travel South. Limolas wishes to travel to Mithlond to deliver the information and to further research where the mysterious Barad Cam might be. For Pick this is a less desirable option, he is hoping to travel to Caras Celairnen and the kingdom of Arthedain where he can find passage back up river towards the Dwarven centres of  Nogrod and Telenaug. Here he hopes to find the same information, but without having to have contact with the elves.

So it is that our mismatched pair decide to travel south having realised that their star is waning in Culwic. Suitably equipped for travelling in the wilds – pack pony carrying tent and food – they make their way along Rammasluin road (Sindarin: blue wall) to Eruimar. Resting up in the village, which is a popular stopping off point for traders of Dwarven goods and adventurers alike, the party discover rumours of a black-marketeer and when news of an attack on a caravan. Naturally their suspicions are aroused, and Limolas investigates further, but is unable to find any further leads. Meanwhile, one of the survivors of the attack, a certain Hobbit by the name of Jerramiah Fallowhide, has given a breathless account on how he and fellow trader (Grubby Durnan) managed to escape. Clearly, unhinged by his narrow escape the inner warrior has been released. Jerramiah wants to rid the area of the bandits and get his cargo back. Grubby seems more intent on drinking the Laughing Brook Inn dry. The rest of the village who have crowded in also would appear to feel helping Jerramiah is not worth the risk. However, a stout and courageous Dwarf by the name of Dagaard Drachoschlar steps forward offering the service of his hammer and with the offer of free beer on the Hobbit, Pick and Limolas decide to provide their services in investigating the crime.

Investigating the ambush site revealed a picture of the story that matched Jerramiah’s version events. The hapless Fredwine and two of the guards lay dead, another (Culwine) appearing to have escaped. The remains of Grubby’s cart of coal lay smouldering obviously not worth the effort of transporting, but the other three carts had been driven off into the wilds. Limolas tracked the carts until if became too difficult for him to track further, but with his sharp elven eyes spotted a lone watchtower up towards the mountains. Further stealthy investigation by Hobbit and Elf discover the empty carts outside of what appears to be a well defended tower.

LimolasLeaving the two dwarves out of sight, Limolas and Jerramiah scouted the surrounding area to see if they could find some tactical advantage that did not require a full frontal assault or scaling the walls. They soon discovered a cave with a secret door, but were stumped when it came to disarming the trap. Limolas, not known for his intellegence, spent many hours staring at the problem until he believed he had a solution. The rest of the party waited outside while he tested the solution.

Not losing a member of the party under a pile of rock proved to be the first lucky break Limolas and Pick had had in their adventures. In due course the party made their way up the secret passage to the sub levels below the watchtower. Nervously, they made their way through a series of abandoned rooms until they met their first group of bandits. Luckily, the bandits were sleeping and despite the stated aim of rendering their opponents unconscious they dispatched the somnolent soldiers speedily.

Up on the next level they met another group of brigands, more active this time but still not ready for an enemy within the walls. Pick chose this moment to lose his cool and spent the majority of the brief combat tripping over objects. Thankfully, Dagaard proved to be a more effective fighter, and Limolas dispensing with trying to use a bow to fight in a melee proved that parrying was a good method of creating an opening from which to dispatch an opponent. Although the combat was brief the party knew that all hope of stealth was now gone.

With caution the party pressed further up the watchtower, unexpectedly no further reinforcement appeared, but moving through the third level they came upon a room with an attractive woman by the name of Ferien who claims to have been held hostage. The players ,succumbing to her powers of persuasion, believe they have rescued an Arthedain princess, and are congratulating themselves when the sound of running feet from the corridor and a cry from Jerramiah bring Pick and Limolas rushing from the room to his aid. Jerramiah tells them he has just been knocked down by Culwine ( a guard on the ambushed caravan) and another man. He tried to tell them they had been rescued but they would not stop. The not so agile, Pick races downstairs but is too slow to prevent the escape of Culwine and his companion on two of the three horses used to pull the carts.

Pick returns to Limolas, Dagaard and Jerramiah where the party discusses the way forward. Dagaard  declares that they must protect the fair maiden from harm at all costs and although they may have dispatched many foes they cannot risk leaving her behind or taking her into combat. They agree to split with Dagaard and Jerramiah with protecting Ferien, and Pick and Limolas further exploring the tower.

Pick and Limolas encounter no real further problems until they start to exit onto the roof where the two roof sentinels try to keep them at bay with ineffective arrow fire. Rushing the guards they discover a third brigand who compared with his fellows prPickoves to be a more effective opponent, but when outnumbered is still quickly defeated. Believing the last of the bandits to have been dispatched the pair take a moment to look out over the battlements. They spy a robed and cloaked figure in a hat climbing up the road to the tower. At this moment they hear a grunt and one of the previously dead bandits has made his way to the edge of the battlements and jumped over the edge. A little surprised Pick and Limolas attempt to mark where the body has fallen but it proves to be lost in the underbrush. Assuming the bandit to now be dead, they turn their attention back to the approaching figure.

Racing through the castle levels they gain the mid level arrow slits in time to see the robed and cloaked figure wave a greeting to the tower. Fearing a wizard, Pick issues a challenge to the approaching figure, who (upon realising that the watchtower is no longer under the previous occupants) makes a run for safety. Limolas lets fly with an arrow and by freakish fortune manages to hit his first mark, although the arrow is flying sideways. Unfortunately, for the fleeing traveller is does so in a rather forceful way an killing him outright. Both Pick and Limolas go down to inspect the body and rather than a feared wizard discover they have killed what appears to be a scholar. Deciding to check on the bandit that fell from the tower they pass round to the other side, but apart from the obvious sign of the passage of a falling body can find no evidence of the bandit. Unsure what this means they bar the main entrances and return to Dagaard, Jerramiah and Ferien.

Upon reaching the princess’ room they find only Dagaard and Jerramiah waiting. When asked where Ferien is they respond that she is a nearby room. However, it becomes quickly clear that this is not the case and on further inspection the party discover that the final horse has been taken and there is no sign of the princess. Confused now as to if it was the missing “dead” bandit or Ferien, who may have also escaped out the secret tunnel, the party decide to block up the tunnel and bar the doors. Then they take to hunting in earnest for Jerramiah’s goods.

weapon_rack1Jerramiah’s goods turn out to be some shields and spears smithed in the dwarven forges of the Blue mountains. Not an exactly legit cargo, Jerramiah is now forced to consider options for recouping his losses. In investigating the origins of the cargo it becomes clear to Pick and Limolas that Jerramiah may have been set up. He was contacted by a soldier of Arthedain who gave the name of a quartermaster in Fornost as wishing for the weapons to be shipped away from spying eyes. The soldier’s name was Herren, but Jerramiah now realises that the man was one of the bandits from the castle having seen the uniform in one of the rooms. In searching the rooms the party also discover several coded messages, including one with a red crescent moon seal, which when added to some Angmar gold coins, suggests a spy plot connected to the Witch King. The final nail in the coffin is a book detailing the weaknesses and strengths of several nobles of Arthedain suggesting someone is plotting to overthrow King Argleb and that at least one loyal noble is marked for assassination.

Having secured the tower the party are now considering what options to take next. Given Jerramiah wishes to sell his weapons, and Pick and Limolas would like to hand the spy information over to the Arthedain authorities, the plan is to return to Eruimar to replace the horses, hitch up the carts with cargo and travel to the river port of Elvenbyen to transport the goods downriver to Caras Celairnen. Meanwhile, Dagaard reveals that he is under a geas to revenge the death of a companion in Caras Celairnen and although he knows not the name of the man who poisoned them both believes he will recognise him when he sees him.