“Far, far below the deepest delving of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he. Now I have walked there, but I will bring no report to darken the light of day.“
The trouble with dungeons in Middle Earth is there is a limited number of monsters for you to meet as you wander through the hidden depths of Arda. In the most part, this is because Tolkien didn’t do monsters in the classical literature sense. His scary monsters were all the creatures of Morgoth and apart from those which had direct contact with his protagonists were left implied and unmentioned. All of which leaves a GM in Middle Earth with very little variety in the evil monster department underground. Orcs, the odd troll, giant spiders, and a variety of undead are your only option and quite frankly as a GM varying tactics to keep the players’ interest can become tricky. Even more so if you believe there should be a reason for a monster inhabiting that room or area of cavern. There are the Maia linked to the various elemental forms but if you are using the MERP/Rolemaster systems you might as well be thinking of assaulting a dragon and we know how well that turned out for Thorin and co.
So what is the answer for those surprises in the caverns? The Moria module which you would think would provide a decent treatise on cave dwellers, but actually most of the fauna described would still need access to the open upper levels to feed. Goblin Gate is even less forthcoming only adding the vampire bat to the list because the bat was associated with the goblin army in the Hobbit and I am guessing the brief reference to them in the Silmarillion.
Adventures in Middle Earth rarely focus on exploring underground and yet every quest covered by Tolkien had some form of underground journey. So perhaps there should be more of a consideration of the denizens of the deep.
With no mythical creatures to draw on GMs would naturally drawn on non-fantasy creatures which Middle Earth would happily accept. Bats, bears, and anything that basically has the prefix of Cave are trogloxenes: creatures which live periodically underground but rely on above ground for food. Obviously these encounters will be near entrances to deeper caves and are covered in the fauna sections of most of the MERP and Rolemaster material.
What we really need are troglobites – animals that live underground permanently in cave systems. Unfortunately, these are really small and pretty much not very aggressive which could lead to come interesting encounters.
As you enter widening passage a hochenwartii scuttles past. Idly you swat it from the wall to the floor where it curls up briefly before scuttling into the darkness.
Which is where Gandalf’s passing comment on the nameless things begins to provide an opening. Already we have giant spiders but what if there were other giant fauna below which live in a thriving ecosystem on which the nameless things would in term feed on and presumably surface into the the depths of Dwarven delvings. Thankfully, you can find a long list of these in Wikipedia and suddenly the risk of being crushed by a giant Phantom cavesnail as it blindly travels forward through a tunnel or even attempts consume the adventurers makes your random encounters far more interesting.
Below are some links that I’m using to create some challenging encounters in my underground campaign sections. I will build a bestiary companion on this blog as I go.
There are no known mammals that live exclusively in caves. Most bats sleep in caves during the day and hunt at night, but they are considered troglophiles or trogloxenes. However some fossorials which spend their whole lives underground might be considered subterranean fauna, although they are not true troglofauna as they do not live in caves.
One little side project is an inn generator for Middle Earth (it’s not a tricky job but I’m not hitting it hard at the moment) so that I can just add colour to stops on journeys. One in created for the Shire Campaign is the Midnight Rooster which has become the base of the characters. Hence, it received a little more than the usual brief description. I have used the “Remarkable Inns” ratings system (well worth getting a copy here).
Wibblesham, The Shire
$ $ $
Hobbits and Eriadorians
Friendly to all Free Peoples
One common room and two single rooms
The Midnight Rooster sits at the foot of the hill on the bank of the River Fayn in Wibblesham. Sarsen sandstone blocks have been used to build this tavern, each block telling its own story through the weathering on its surface. The original building has been enlarged by burrowing into the hillside to create a small smial for the owners that faces into the stable yard at the rear of the inn. The area in front of the inn is churned with mud due to the proximity to the river. To allow patrons to enter and leave without tramping through the mud wooden planks have been added to create a veranda and entrance route. Round to the side, within view of the entrance, a patch of ground is used for regular games of toss the horseshoe.
Inside the main common room is furnished with simple pine tables and benches scrubbed with with regular use of soap and water. In each corner of the room a hanging brazier smoulders casting a musty fragrance into the room. In the winter, the table closest to the fire is occupied by the Gaffa and Sam; anyone who tries to occupy these seats, should they be empty, will receive disapproving stares and if they still don’t take the hint then Theo will come and have a quiet word. The inn has three lodging rooms – one common room and two single rooms. Should the inn become overfull then Theo will seek alternative space in local houses of the village although the costs will rise.
The inn keepers are Theodulf and Primrose Sandy who manage most of the day to day affairs. Theodulf is well known within the village, often consulted by Mayor Gresham Shaper on matters outside of a moot. The capable pair are supported by a stable boy Benji Heathertoes and Molly Bracegirdle the kitchen assistant.
A portly, bustling Harfoot of average height whose nut-brown round face is always ready with a friendly greeting for both local and visiting traveller. As the Inn is never packed with travellers, being on a less travelled routes, Theo can take the time to get to know his customers and is very knowledgeable about the travelling conditions for the local region. He will be able to inform travellers of the state to the toll at Axbridge by Cluad and the presence of Amlin’s blue-scarfed Road Wardens.
Cheery and with a ready laugh, Primrose is most often found in the kitchen of the Midnight Rooster preparing the food for the evening or around the village collecting ingredients for the meal. In addition, she can be found clearing the sleeping accommodation and doing the laundry. As she often says, “a woman’s work is never done” as she tucks a stray strand of light brown hair back into her cap. The poor woman should be given more recognitions for when her husband is out with his cart collecting a delivery of ale or goods from further afield she is also serving drinks and attending to the customers.
Ales and Drinks
A light ale with the smell of caramel and herbs and a light fresh taste.
A dark chocolate porter ale kept for winter
A rather bitter brew drunk as a restorative with morning breakfast
Roasted wild mushrooms
Rabbit stew with Rosemary
Lamb hot pot with neaps and tatties
pint in a pot
dish of the day
sausage, bacon, egg and slabs of bread
Bread and cheese
Common room lodging
Shared room of eight guests with straw pallets
Single room lodging
Individual beds with fresh linen
Enough space for ten horses with feed included
Cribbage, Nine-man Morris, Horseshoe rings, singing led by Ed
Patrons of note
Short-haired and lean in the face for a Hobbit, Gresham has a quietly handsome visage often marked by an expression of mild puzzlement. Some think he spends too much time on reflection and philosophy. Gresham is not only the Mayor of Wibblesham but also a respected sculptor who is called upon for commissions from Fornost to Tharbad. He lives behind the Inn and has a studio in the wood on the far side of the hill.
Ring of Shaping: Allows wearer to sculpt quickly and exactly according to his feeling.x3 PP multiplier.
Short Sword: Avar kynac (long knife), blood-drawing. +15OB; does a secondary slash critical.
Shield: Missile warding. +10 DB; +20 DB versus missile attacks.
Braces: Suspenders, protection against bleeding wounds. Reduces bleeding hits per round to the body and neck by half.
Unusually for Hobbit Shirriffs, the Shirriff of the Valley Rovers division of the Southfarthing is a rosy-cheeked and sandy-haired female Fallowhide. Born with an adventurous spirit Mally was always to be found climbing trees with her elder brothers or boating and swimming in the river Fay. With a natural sense of justice she became a natural choice for Chief Shirriff. She can be found in the Rooster chatting to locals and catching up on the gossip and rumour with a smile and a ready laugh.
Towering over the usual patrons of the inn, the blonde-haired, craggy featured Riverman is a well known visitor to the Rooster during the summer trading season as he makes trips up the Fayn to Axbridge and Sackville with goods for trade. In general, he keeps to himself sitting in the corner of the common room to drink and eat before retiring to his camp and boat at the end of the evening. However, if a game of cribbage is on offer he may stay later, particularly if there is a chance of playing for money. Those seeking local knowledge of the area surrounding the Branduin would do well to ask over a game of chance rather than directly.
Trading 30, Gambling 25, Boat handling 45, River Lore 45, Region lore (Fayn & Branduin) 38, Navigation 30
Items of note
Superior steel handaxe +5OB
A grey-haired Harfoot of many summers can be found, pint and pipe in hand, either enjoying the warm sun on the veranda in the summer or occupying the prime spot near the fire in winter holding forth on the local news and business of the day. He doesn’t much like the refugees from Cardolan who he thinks are stirring up trouble by not fitting in with the live-and-let-live philosophy of Wibblesham.
Intense chocolate brown eyes peering out from under white bushy eyebrows, Sam is Gaffa’s companion in arms. Sam remembers the great migration and the fearful days up in the Ettenmoors and the stories of his elders of the days when Hobbits lived by the Anduin. He provides a counterbalance to Gaffa over the refugees, reminding him that they are all refugees and of the worries of settling into a new land. He is however, quick with advice on how things should be run in Wibblesham, whilst being supportive of Gresham as Mayor.
Stout, even for a Hobbit, and with traces of flour in his hair and clothing, Bill is the local baker. He pops in to the Rooster at the end of the day for liquid refreshment and the dish of the day after a hard day in the bakery, leaving the lad to stoke the fires before the next night’s bake. A widower, he and his sons bake the finest bread between Michel Delving and the Branduin. Bill is very knowledgeable about local matters as his sons who travel delivering bread to the local farms gather rumour and gossip.
With a ready smile, this ruddy cheeked farmer will happily launch into song and fill the common room with bawdy songs of love and life. The rest of the locals are well-versed in the songs and join in readily with choruses and responses. Ed is the local most likely to welcome travelling strangers with a strong gripped handshake and an earnest greeting. Soon the visitor will find that they have bought him a pint and revealed the reasons for their journey and, if not careful, minor details that should not be revealed. Ed is a good judge of character and if concerned about the traveller will send a message to Shirriff Mally or Mayor Gresham.
Dark hair tied in a top knot and with a permanent scowl of his face would lead most to think of Creg as at the least unfriendly, if not hostile. However, a blow to the head when younger has left this simple farmer with a permanent twist if features. Creg can often be found in the Rooster on market days amiably chatting with fellow Wibbleshamites over a pint or two of Golden Ale. He is a very trusting soul and generous to a fault and the locals will protect him from those who may take advantage of his simple nature.
The stable boy is a twenty-five year-old Eriadorian of average height and chestnut brown hair. Mostly, Benji tends to his own small holding of a few sheep and goats on the edge of the village. However, when he notes that visitors are arriving by road he will pop down to stable the horses. He is a likeable chap who has a reassuring way with livestock and especially horses. He keeps the stables clear and the grain hoppers for the horses are always filled. Any conversation will inevitably turn to either the horses at hand or the fine animals he has tended at some point in the past.
Hair falling in dark curls and dark red pouting lips would make most grown hobbit boys melt on the spot and they do. Molly is without a doubt the most popular girl in the village and currently is helping her aunt in the kitchen of the Rooster to keep her away from obvious trouble. Thankfully she is a diligent girl with a sensible head on her shoulders. Her father is only too keen for her to find a suitable husband, if only to reduce the number of idle hobbit youths he regularly has to scare out of his flowerbeds.
Commonly known as Herbert is the long suffering father of Molly, who he adores. Herbert has a small farm on the hills outside of Wibblesham and has sent Molly to work with his sister Primrose at the Rooster where he hopes she will be kept away from the local hobbit boys. Primrose should keep her safe enough during the day. On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally check up on the girl and then it would be rude not to have a pint and a chat while he was at.
1 Common room
Inside the main common room is furnished with simple pine tables and benches scrubbed with with regular use of soap and water. In each corner of the room a hanging brazier smoulders casting a musty fragrance into the room. In the winter, the table closest to the fire is occupied by the Gaffa and Sam; anyone who tries to occupy these seats, should they be empty, will receive disapproving stares and if they still don’t take the hint then Theo will come and have a quiet word.
Primrose and Molly are usually busy in here preparing food or washing bedding. The kitchen is large with scrubbed preparation tables from which cooking utensils hang. A couple of large kettles and pots sit by the fireplace where a fire is always burning. Near the door three laundry tubs can be found.
3 Hay loft
Originally a storage space for a cart this area now is where bedding and oats for the stabled horse is kept.
Each stable has room for two horses in close quarters if needed but in general only one horse is stable in each double doored stall which allows comfortable movement for the beast.
5 Store rooms
A passage from the original building has been built to connect the inn to the hill behind. A door which is not often locked (PLlight) leads down to the store rooms and the entrance to the Sandy’s Smial. The storerooms contain about a week’s worth of provisions for the inn.
6 Living room
Entrance to the Sandy’s smial is through a locked door (PLMed). It is a cosy dry space with a small fireplace on the inner walls flanked by two comfortable armchairs. Rose patterned curtains hand over the round windows that look out onto the inn’s courtyard. In front of the windows is a small dining table with three stools. Currently in one corner is a small camp bed for Molly if she is staying at the inn overnight.
The bedroom is relatively large for a hobbit smial and contains a generous double bed, a large wardrobe that occupies one wall and a dressing table in front of the windows.
8 Single guest room
The larger of the two guest rooms is clean and has storage for items in a lockable trunk (PLMed). The door to the room can secured with a key rented from the inn for 5tp per day (PLMed).
9 Single guest room
The smaller of the two guest rooms is clean and has storage for items in a lockable trunk (PLlight). The door to the room can secured with a key rented from the inn for 5tp per day (PLMed).
10 Common sleeping dormitory
The dormitory is regularly swept and the pallets are beaten and aired every week making sleeping comfortable if basic. There is plenty of light provided by a number of small windows around the room. Paying guest will need to provide their own bedding, although it is possible to hire sheets and a blanket for 2tp per night. Theo is proud of the safety of his inn and travelling kit can be left safely in this room.
In the courtyard a simple well which draws its water from the Fayn.