Into the mist

In the last session the adventurers had managed to acquire the basket used by the water spirits to keep their treasure. Miraculously this small coracle was transformed into a small bag which the party could carry back to the golden frog. Before leaving the pool Limolas attempted to find more information about the location of the remaining items from the Nixie but it appeared that the adventurers were no longer of any interest to the capricious water maia.

A few false trails later the party were able to relocate the bower of the golden frog and from him discover that the iron rose and amber stones were to be found to the north. They would need to find a floating island controlled by a Zombie king, which could be recognised by a single dead tree on it, and also locate a labyrinth of thorns which was in a wood at the margins of the swamp.

The vagueness of the directions caused much consternation from Pick and Limolas, who began to realise how long this adventure was going to last and the dwindling in food supplies. Not helping the mood of the party is the fact that now the mists have closed in and although the terrain is flat, it has become difficult to make out shapes through the grey fog.

A day of miserable trudging through swamp, with some false starts, and the party discover a strange mound in the swamp. As they approach their nostrils are assaulted by an acrid stench. Fighting back the urge to gag they explore the sight and find cages with disfigured human remains hanging at the top of the small mount. Finding nothing else of interest they return to the causeway path and continue to seek the floating island or the woods.

Sometime later, the party discover a small village of crude reed huts on a large raft of reads. Around thirty disfigured humans appear to live there and the adventurers approach with caution. Limolas attempted to make contact through exchanging a gift of raw boar meat that the party had killed the previous day. Although the gift was accepted the party decide that the gulf in communication is too great and there is nothing to be gained by remaining. They move on through the green, grey swamp seeking a way to one of their objectives.

Just after midday, nearly two weeks after setting out from Caras Celairnen, Limolas spies a lonely tree rising out from the mist. Heartened by the thought of an end to their quest, the adventurers hurry forward only to din that their path is blocked by a green, noisome pool of swamp water. Fortunately, around the edge of the pool are a series of tussocks that should provide a reasonably safe path towards the island. Concerned about the potential of the island to be hiding the Zombie King, who the party presume is some form of Mewlip or Wight, Limolas remains on the shore to cover the party with his bow whilst the dwarves make the trek to the island.

jhwitwWithin the first few feet, it is Pick whose foot slips and enters the water, and from the fetid pool a great blurp of gas erupts. This is followed by a low keening moan that appears to make the ground shudder. Not having travelled far both dwarves make their way quickly back to shore, as a long green and grey tentacle emerges from the pool. Although Limolas attempts to wound the monster, his arrow misses the mark and the party beat a hasty retreat.

Deciding, that to cross the pool would be suicide, and believing that as a floating island, there might be a chance of finding another way on the party retrace their steps to find a new causeway to the floating island.

 

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Captain’s Daughter

In the Shore district of Caras Celairnen tucked up against the main walls and away from the main streets is the Captain’s Daughter. For where is stands this is an impressive in complete with brewery and a good sized drinking room. The two story structure is the home of Hrothgar and like his name sake it serves the finest mead in the town.

Captain's daughter“Then it came into his mind to raise a mead house, mightier far than ever was seen by the sons of earth, and within it, then, to old and young he would all allot that the Lord had sent him, save only the land and the lives of his men.”

 

 

Well so lay the grandiose hopes of Hrothgar, a Northman who though trained in weapons never saw action. His wife Hilda and his son and daughter (Unferth and Hrethal) help in the running of the inn. The inn does well because the mead is good and Hrothgar has relations who are rivermen. From such contacts Hrothgar also runs a quiet line in hard to come by artefacts.

“So lived the clansmen in cheer and revel a winsome life, till one began to fashion evils, that field of hell.”

 

All was well with Hrothgar’s inn until he opened up new cellar space. Behind a rock wall he discovered a passageway that led down into the underdeeps of the old Dwarven citadel. Perhaps not so bad if these depths had not become how to all manner of dwellers of the dark. Soon his inn became plagued by strange visitors and worse his paying guests would disappear. It soon became clear to Hrothgar that he would have to block up the cellar. However, no matter what method he tried there was always one visitor who returned thirsting for fresh meat, Grendel.  The only solution was to slay the monster as quickly and quietly as possible before the authorities became aware of the danger and took the inn away from Hrothgar.

With the defeat of Grendel, the way became clear to explore areas of the Underdeeps opened up by the passage in the cellar. Many hidden doorways and collapsed passageways wait to be found and cleared. The risk is great but the potential reward of discovering a lost Dwarven artefact attract adventurers in the know to the Captain’s Daughter.  Hrothgar charges a fee for entry to the Underdeeps and also sells adventurers packs of useful items such as torches and lanterns in bulk. Adventurers are expected to find their own path and pay a finders fee on all treasure returned to the surface. In addition, Hrothgar will often buy items that would be difficult to sell from adventurers.

This sideline in artefacts and a well connected network to distribute them means that Hrothgar often has small commissions for adventurers to undertake for a reward. These can involve the Underdeeps below the inn, but more often the wily inn keeper has heard rumour of an item in other locations which he believes he can sell on at a profit. For such tasks adventurers will receive the usual adventurer’s supplies excluding transport (unless needed to return the item).

Who lives here?

So finally, I think I have managed to find a purpose for the town of Caras Celairnen. Using Rolemaster campaign lore it is an easy task to begin populating the town with militia and the usual tropes of healers, mages, and thieves. A random variation on percentages of populations really does take care of that. But who else lives in the town aside from the main characters of the town?

earlymarketA simple trawl of medieval professions leaves a huge list of potential trades that could be used to populate the town. The problem for me as a GM is that I really don’t care about them in any detail, and neither will my players, who will probably only want to see the inside of the nearest tavern and the outfitters. However, my trick is to have these trades available to draw on to create colour to the daily life and give a reason for different districts to flourish. After all who would live in a town dominated only by criminals and militia?

So more to the point how common are these trades and how many of each will we need to populate the city. In Caras Celairnen, I have set 7 trading lords (that is lords of sufficient wealth to trade over distance). They will have their own network of middle men, merchants who will sell to the local market of transport goods onwards at their own risk. That means a transport crew (ship or otherwise) of around 20, dockers, warehouse men, clerks, would account for another 10 or more workers. That is without including servants needed for running the household, Although some may work for more than one employer. No man is an island they say, and certainly not all will be bachelors so now we need to multiply to include a family of between 5 and 12. Easily each Noble Lord could be directly responsible for the “existence” 50-100 people of the town

To support around 100 people there will need to be a baker, some form of costermonger, tailor, inn keeper with their families.   Ancillary trades such as tailors, washerwomen, cloth dyers, leatherworkers, tinkers  would also be needed but probably to a lower density than the main trades. So the trickle down effect means each noble lord creates around 150 people of the town.

42fec890ea305312db69e4cec130453d-medieval-art-medieval-woodcutBeyond these direct employs there are other direct employees we need to consider. The Militia need feeding and entertainment, as do the local healers, wizards and other local colour. There are also the middle merchants to consider who will also use services and goods and employ a few others directly. To complete these thoughts on the demographics of the town, because there are so many wealthy individuals, there will also be high quality, high end artisans. Not forgetting at the lower end the night soil movers and beggars.

Having considered all these factors the demographics of Caras Celairnen begin to look something like this.

A Militia Garrison for around 400 with 30 or so NCO and officers.
2 shrines with Clerics – one should be to Ea as this is Dunedain culture
30 or so healers of various levels
30 Guides but I may change this as there seems little need
4 magic users or different shades

74 Criminals in various guises of fences, footpads, burglers and thugs – some of whom will have day jobs.
20 Entertainers

minstrels

 

400 businesses – Acater (food vendors such as bakers), innkeepers, boothman, colliers, costermongers, habdasher,  iron monger, hay merchant, egglers, fishmonger, blacksmith, linen draper, mercer, milkmaid, oynter (oil seller), peddlers, pie sellers, spice merchant, vintner, leatherworker, fletcher, wool stapler and wood sellers

124 transporters to include carters, ferrymen, lightermen, bargees, and pilots

At a conservative estimate this would put the population of the town between 1500 and 4000 which neatly fits with the suggested population of the town by Thomas Mowinsky in Other Minds and Jeff Erwin in the Lindon gazetteer.

 

Trade the life blood of nations

Which as far as I can tell is an apocryphal quote attributed to the Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith, but none the less holds true for a town such as Caras Celairnen. In this post I will be considering some of the economic needs to support the town in what is a strange location.

It is an undeniable truth that trade requires goods that one place has and the other does not have in a high enough order to meet from within. Caras Celarnen must have it’s own needs to function as a town, but lets assume that is as little as food probably from the regions surrounding or at worst from the Shire and Saralainn. So aside from this what goods could flow through the town or to rephrase what do the surrounding kingdoms produce, and how far will the merchant’s travel? It is probably safe to say that Mithlond, the tower hills and the regions of Lindon are going to be pretty much self-contained with minimal leakage of Elvish craft as their involvement in humans affairs decreases (see History of Lindon). The Dwarves of Ered Luin on the otherhand will want to trade, not least to satisfy the desire for gold. Extensive seams of coal, copper (blue mountains), and finished metal products are likely to be the main exports. Equally, to the south is the shire and the fragmented mannish kingdoms of Cardolan (now lost). Here the region is rich in arable land and so we would expect there to be grain, and cattle flowing from this region.

earlymarket

Trade requires a market

What then of potential trade partners who would “use” the town as a transit point. As Kingdoms of major populations there is of course Arthedain in the mid-Third age, the Dwarves of Ered Luin and the Elves of Lindon. Minor populations are the Hobbits in the shire, Rivermen on the Lhun, Saralainn.

The Elvish lands of Lindon should for the most part be thought of as self sustaining, the lands are extensive, include plenty of wood and mining opportunities, and in Harlindon probably a climate conducive to good arable land. Wine might be one thing lacking, being a cooler temperate climate some might be shipped from Gondor, but this would not be passing through Caras. In all, the Elves would really only be looking for the craftsmanship of the Dwarves which matched that of the Noldor. Since there are fewer Noldor perhaps this would be a reason to trade through Caras, where a neutral ground for negotiations or even a neutral negotiator can be arranged. Certainly, in the third age, the breakdown in trust between elves and dwarves would make this true.

The Dwarven market is far easier to understand. With limited land for farming and for the more northerly communities a limited growing seasons food would be the prime consideration. In addition, if dwarves main occupation is mining or crafting the time they are able to spend on growing crops would be less. This ideas is supported in some ways by the description of Erebor in the Hobbit, where Dale was clearly the town that supplied the food needed to support the Dwarven community.

In the Third-Age Arthedain is a kingdom on a war footing. It too will be lacking in food to supply its populace. Again because of the shorter growing season, but also because of the large standing army. Most of this would be supplied from the Shire to the South, but perhaps some might come from Lindon. What would be needed in a greater quantity would be materials for building and maintaining defenses (wood and stone). Also a significant quantity of metal and leather for weapons and armour. This may be supplied as raw materials or perhaps some as better crafted weapons from the Dwarves and again possibly the Elves of Lindon.

Trade needs transportation

trade routesWhat makes a good trading centre is its access to various transportation links, in Middle Earth of course this is land, sea and rivers. Sea links to Arthedain and the dwarves are nonexistent so all trade conducted with this region must either pass up one of two rivers or be transported overland. From Caras Celairnen this would either be up the Uiladuin or though the lands of Noirin with a potential poor route across the northern hills of Evendim. Arthedain would also be open to the Branduin river route or an overland route from Tharbad, reasons why Caras Celairnen might be chosen as a route will be discussed later. As for Lindon, as discussed earlier, there is little that they might need that could be supplied beyond Dwarven crafts.

In our modern way of thinking transport is a given and reduced to a logistics exercise based on just in time delivery with transactions with the ultimate vendor already completed and just the vagaries of local consumers the unknown. However, delve in to the history books and suddenly transport is much less reliable. Medieval and by implication fantasy trade transport was a far riskier adventure. For example, will your chosen transport method actually get your goods to the destination? Can you repair the transport on the journey or will you be forced to abandon your goods? Is the cost of the goods less than the transportation costs (method + labour + security + damage). Further risk is from robbers, hence security, given the wildness of Middle Earth their is almost certainly a “finders keepers” type rule on goods as it would be nigh on impossible to prove ownership, especially if you or your minion in charge of the cargo is dead. If this is so then there must be preferred ways of transporting goods where risks are lower. I suspect that highest risk would be long land routes, but water based routes up rivers and by sea would be more preferable. Lets look at the evidence.

caravanFor starters the road network was awful! Yes around the major population centres the road was more apparent, but that could make it worse due to the heavy traffic use.  Even if you allow for the high engineering level of the Dwarves, Elves and Dunadan to allow for Roman-like road networks. This would only account for major military transport routes. Certainly, in the third age both the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings suggest the major highways are no more than grassed tracks rather than well maintained highways. So rather than get into an esoteric debate on road engineering in Middle Earth, I am going to suggest that roads aren’t great. This means carting your goods across land is a slow. I suspect the times given for travelling with a cart in MERP are on the optimistic side of travel. Fresh goods do not travel far! No fruits of the south will be making it overland to Arthedain. Yes sir we have no bananas! A second reason for land being the least favoured method is the amount of goods you could transport! A carthorse could haul around a 10th of its weight for 8 hours which is not much (150lbs, see Wagonteamster for more). Add to that you will need camp equipment and feed for the horses and suddenly  you realise the idyllic image of a farmer bring his goods to town on a cart is about all you will see. The alternative would be juggernaut trains of carts moving constantly up and down roads. It makes you realise that goods going overland need to be highly portable and valuable.

hulkWhich brings us to the water-based routes; the undoubted advantage of water is, in general, the ability to carry heavy loads for a reduced effort. A river is an ideal downstream transport system for heavy loads. Timber can be rafted down with little or no effort, with the advantage that not many timber bandits are known. Using river barges on larger rivers would allow lots of goods to be transported easily and, if the barge is able to stay away from the banks, the risk of theft is low. Of course here in the UK we are very familiar with the maritime power of trade. Again long distance trade using sea is far more attractive to a merchant shipping goods than a long land trade. Pirates of course would be an issue, but really a random attack is unlikely given the size of water a single pirate would need to patrol. Which of course only leave state sponsored piracy, either by commission or omission!

Between the bastion of of Gondor and the Elves of Lindon there would be very little opportunity to operate a pirate fleet with state “backing”. However, the middle kingdoms are in ruin and the small kingdoms that have established themselves are a weaker area and Gondor and Lindon’s patrols would be less effective in the inshore regions. As a result, trade routes between Gondor and Lindon and onto Caras Celairnen will probably stick to the deeper ocean.

(quick background reference Middle Ages Trade & Commerce)

 

Trade is run on credit

The most important thing to remember about real trade in a medieval/fantasy environment is that rarely does money trade hands. The often misguided idea that merchants might wander around with huge crates of gold to purchase the goods that will be sold (for profit) at another location is complete nonsense.

Medieval trade was always conducted using scripts and tallies. Goods would then be sold tally-sticks-300x235onto middle men for distribution to redeem the credit into useable cash. All this means that merchants need to have a reputation and sufficient collateral holdings to support their involvement in the trade. That is to say unless you are planning on a risky trade venture, most merchants will be landed gentry. They in turn will recoup their debt by selling on to middle men to deliver to the local populace.

Of course Middle Earth is also a more Middle English Anglo-Saxon tradition so these more modern developments might not exist, except for the high level of civilisation attributed to the Dunedain, Dwarves and Elves.

(more reading)

Trade as the life blood of Caras Celairnen

So what does this all mean for our small market charter town on a river. Having established that the town itself was already pre-established for the purpose of trade between the Dwarves and the Elves and that as time passed it became subsumed into human culture until gifted to Arnor, the principle trade with the Dwarves is a vital element. However, such a trade route would probably not be sufficient to sustain the town and the opportunities afforded by close proximity to Lindon suggest that some Elvish goods would also be available. Finally, although the Gwathlo also provides a good route towards Fornost; Caras also provides a safer harbour in a more stable political region.

Jeff Erwin’s Lindon

225px-lindon_28merp291

Well it would be rude not to make a nodding mention of Jeff Erwin’s unfinished gazetteer on the Elves of Lindon when looking into how to incorporate the non-canonical Caras Celairnen into a synthesised MERP game environment. When I started looking into using the town as a location, I found a tantalising reference to this work on several sites. Tracking down a manuscript on the internet proved to be a little disappointing. I think given the half hinted references in some of the original MERP material I was hoping for a little bit more at least on the Second Age settlement, if not details for the Third Age.  Instead, I ended up with more questions than answers.

 

Caras Celairnen, we are told, is a bastardisation of the Quenya Gobel Calarnen (Lampwater). I think that at some point in a fan magazine discussion there was a long discussion on ICE place names and corrections that involved Chris Seelman and Jeff Erwin. The main reason for the name change was that they wanted the Elvish to represent Lampwater town. This appears to be the rationale behind a long series of mind bending linguistic drifts and mistranslations. However, it seems to me reading the history section that the tower by the brilliant water would apply very well to an administrative centre of Galadrial. Indeed, it is unlikely the Elves would have built a town on a swamp, and the history refers to a lake in the second age. Accordingly, the name fits and it is only over time that the swamp moved in as the effects of the two rivers was slowly realised. That men call it Lampwater town needs have no linguistic link to the original place name; firstly because the town was rebuilt and remodelled by man and second it is an appellation (nickname).

 

633cc7e45250ccdb5a1aabbeea991001-middle-earth-josephAccording to the lengthy History section Caras Celairnen was the largest town in the region, serving as administrative and commercial centre of Eldarin Eriador, who were ruled by Galadriel from lake Nenuial. This fits with the reference in the Northwestern Gazetteer that the Elves had the town built by the dwarves as a trading post. In the Lindon Gazetteer this is referred to as being similar to Tirion in the west. Probably a rather grand claim given the legendary status of the city on the shores of Valinor. Somewhat confusingly, the Lindon Gazetteer also says that  Galadriel ruled from a tower near the Uialduin  which overlooked both the lake and the mighty Lhun.  Although, it is an easy stretch to imagine Galadriel having several dwellings throughout a vast region.

 

This information gives a hint about the geography in the second age. First there was a lake, and given the size of the marsh this would have been large and fed presumably by the Uialduin. Time may have shifted the course of the Uialduin as well so this might be further north. Presumably, over time the lake has silted up and the marsh has formed  as the river moved south. Second the region was covered in more trees although how wooded this realm was is not clear. However, if we look book at the Silmarillion maps we can could expect a region covered with great forests and still many Ents present.

We learn that man began to settle round the town during the second age. These were the remnants of Beor’s house and Edain who had never crossed Ered Luin. This created a mixed race town, which was also occupied by Dwarves. A harmonious beginning to the second age. However, with the arrival of Elendil and the faithful this changed with the Dunedain being granted the town by Gil-Galad. This means that during this period the Elvish influence across the region diminished quickly, as we know that Elendil established Annuminas as his capital. Later Jeff suggests that the ruins of a tower occupied by Galadriel or the town were incorporated into a fortress of the Noirinanyar family by the mid-TA. This is clearly a mix up as it doesn’t fit with the MERP canon for the kingdom of Arthedain or with the Royal Charter to Silanir’s line which was regranted to a junior line. I think more on the politics needs to be addressed as there is also reference to a half-elf as the direct descendent who is invited by the elders to rule when no suitable descendant of Silanir is available. 

As a resource for understanding what the Elvish kingdoms might be like and how they may interact with the other races this partially completed work is a must read. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really answer anymore questions about how the town of Caras manages to survive on a trade route that must be heavily reliant on the “black smiths of the blue mountains” as Thorin was once called, and the good graces of Cirdan to sail ships through the 10 mile gap of Lhun. In fact, in some ways it poses more problems with different modules, histories and gazetteers fighting over a nebulous borderland.

 

 

 

A Frog he would a wooing go.

At the end of the last session the party were alone deep in the swamp north of Caras Celairnen. Cold, damp and guide-less, they have been forced to rely on Limolas’ tracking skills to navigate the dangerous causeways that criss cross the dangerous marshes.

Another day of grey, green dreariness and swamp wild-life lead the party, after a few mis-steps, to a small floating island. On the island was a small bower, within which sat a small golden frog. Limolas and Pick are first to step tentatively on to the island. Sensing no traps they move closer to the bower. Whereupon, the frog speaks to them and beseeches their aid in reuniting him with his lost love. The frog tells the party that his was once a mortal man who fell in love with a Silvan elf in the years of twilight as the sun first rose. He tells of how an elf perverted by Morgoth cast the spell on him as he returned bearing wedding gifts for his love, and how until they are returned he cannot resume his mortal form.

The party debate the risk and rewards. In the first instance, they decide that this is not what they are being paid for and that taking the idol to the Alabaster lady is the best option. That is until they discover that the frog cannot be moved. It seems they need a magical basket which is currently in the possession of some water maia.

The party set off back into the swamp in the direction indicated by the golden frog. After some minor swamp encounters they soon arrive at a hedge of swamp bushes behind which they hear the light laughter of female voices. Peeking through the bushes they spy the beautiful form of the water nixies grouped around a large pool. In the middle of the pool floats a small coracle filled with treasure.

Retreating away from the pool the party debate the best approach to securing the basket. Aware of the elemental power of the Maia, Limolas suggests that direct force should be a last resort measure. As a result, the party decide to try charm and the hope that a love story will melt the hearts of the Nixie. Much to the party’s surprise this approach works wonderfully, although it costs them in a few magical items and coins to secure the boat, which when touched by mortal hands becomes a small basket.

Encouraged by the turn of events the party return to the island of the golden frog.

Gone fishing

In the last session, the party had escaped the perilous Oracle caves with barely a breath in their bodies. All the party were affected by hallucinations, but Pick was more affected than the rest of the party and spends several hours muttering about visions of a great Dwarven hall in which great lost Dwarven treasures could be found.

When the party are fully recovered they set forth, guided by their local guide, into the swamp. Initially, they are guided safely through the swamp and meet nothing but some local wildlife. However, after a day in the swamp they meet another of the treasure hunting teams and although the party tentatively try to open a parley, the other group attack. Narrowly, avoiding an opening salvo of crossbow bolts the two parties close. It is suddenly clear that the other party have a wizard as shock bolts fly, but they prove ineffectual. Again it is Dagaard who leads the melee, with Pick being redoubtable in defense and Limolas able to dart round and remove the threat from the wizard. The brief battle done, the party assess the situation to discover their guide has disappeared. Now they are alone in the swamp.

Thankfully, Limolas finally finds that he is an expert in something other than fashion and begins to navigate the tricky paths through the swamp. The party even have time to stop and do some fishing providing a fishy supper for the night. However, the lack of firewood demonstrate the importance of thinking ahead before planning to live off the land.

Night falls and although there is a close run encounter with a corpse candle, which almost lures Pick into the swamp, the party are able to continue their search in the morning. Navigating the paths proves tricky and once or twice back tracking is required. The swamp becomes more sinister as time passes and the party of encounter a giant versions of Leech and Catfish before they make camp for another night in the swamp.