Into the Woods

In the previous episode, the brave heroes had fought the Zombie King and survived the devious traps protecting the Iron Rose held beneath a rotten tree. Now Pick, Limolas and Dagaard set out to try and discover the location of the final item required to release Edananar from his frog form. Progress was again slow, but the party took heart when they could see the rising Hills of Evendim; this giving the small hope that the depths of the swamp would soon be left behind. 

Soon the band of adventurers found themselves warily entering a forest of dead trees.  Mists floated in from the swamp obscuring the view further, but untroubled the heroes pushed deeper into the woods and soon came upon a thicket of thorns. It was clear from their previous information that this should be the labyrinth of thorns spoken of as the resting place for the amber stones. A quick survey of the perimeter revealed three entrances and the wanderers soon realised that a strategy to defeat the labyrinth was in order.

e4c4aa06e6061b411f1d084653053476Sadly, after many hours of debate, the best plan they could come up with was to pick the nearest entrance and take the left turn until no more turns could be made and then return to the last turning. Pick, by far the most intelligent of the band, being only slightly below average intelligence, suggested leaving a marker at each turn, and so with bundles of sticks the band set off to explore.

The thorns of the maze pushed in on the adventurers as they explored through the mist. In the mistaken belief that they were efficiently exploring, the party pushed on into the Labyrinth. The tension grew as every wrong turn meant retracing steps and finding the marker sticks, which were becoming less with each wrong turn.

Warily, the party pushed on. Soon Limolas’ sharp ears heard a clacking sound and so the party were aware of the approach of a pair of skeletons.  Unfortunately, the close-packed thorns left no room for manoeuvre and so Pick was forced to deal with both at the junction. Limolas let fly volleys of arrows, but alas they had little effect when his aim was true. So alone and beset on two sides, the brave dwarf swung is mighty warhammer in defence of his comrades. So it is perhaps fortunate that this was the time for our heroes to discover that weapons that break bone, are more effective against the skeletal form of undead.

skeleton_warriors_by_aaronbradburyThe guardians of the Labyrinth dispatched, the explorers pushed on in their haphazard way seeking the centre of the maze. The going was slow and there were many encounters with more skeletons. The dauntless dwarves covering both the van and rear guard dispatched these with ease,  and despite evidence to the contrary Limolas continued to use piercing weapons to provide support.

A cold damp night later, the explorers gained the centre of the maze. In front of them stood a twelve foot high dark green dodecahedral tower, and atop gleamed the prized amber stones. Now the heroes could grab the loot and depart this depressing maze. However, between them and the stones stood a band of skeletal warriors. Faced with odds of three to one, Limolas thought to thin the numbers using his skill as a bowman. His efforts continued to have the same effect as before and the skeletal figures advanced with purposeful menace. The dwarves, taking a more pragmatic view advanced with warhammers swinging and soon the sound of breaking bone filled the centre of the maze. Limolas, finally abandoning his bow, joined the fray swinging his longsword to and fro. Within a few minutes, the floor was littered with a carpet of shattered bones and the heroes could turn their attention to the high pedestal on which the amber stones sat.

A combination of a lack of height and acrobatic skill made it clear very early on that recovering the stones would need a solution that did not involve a tower of two dwarves and an elf. However, by standing on both the dwarves shoulders and using his spear Limolas was eventually able to push the amber stones off the pedestal, where they were soon rolled into the magical bag ready for transport back to the golden frog form of Edananar, All that remained was to find their way back to him through the miles of damp, dreary, dangerous, swamp.


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.


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



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.


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.

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.



Caras Celairnen Conundrum

Sometimes over thinking something can create a sticking point. A knot of knowledge that seeks the most elegant solution. Creativity is about ideas and the time it takes to gestate the inspiration to create something novel and engaging. However, at some point you have to stop with the what ifs and just try it. Iterations of the project will undoubtedly fall by the wayside, which  is the case with my versions of Caras Celairnen. Having created a first draft and then re-read the source material I was unhappy with the layout. I then did some digging and was vexed by the location of the the town on the map. I still am. But whilst I have thrown the location around I have also been looking at some example of villages/towns on rivers to get a feel of how the place might look.

My first issue is the sheer scale of the region into which I need to place my town. Given a blank piece of paper and my own squiggles this wouldn’t be a problem, but I am working from a predrawn map with a rather large scale of 1# to 20 miles. To give you an idea of the vast areas involved lets look at the map in hex form. Numeriador HexEach side of the hex is scaled to 10 miles. That means from corner (side to side) to corner the distance is 20 miles. In terms of travelling time on foot and laden for the journey (loaded march) that’s two days; on horseback perhaps half a day by road. In terms of area its 259.81 square miles! To put that in persepective, a golden eagle has a hunting territory of 60-200 square miles, a lion upto 100 square miles. I don’t think I ever appreciated how vast these maps were or how desolate the space inbetween populations would be.

Now clearly a cartographer cannot be accurate with a symbol on a map of this scale. The map is more pictorial rather than ordance survey accurate. So I scaled the map and overlayed a 1 mile per side hex (2 miles across, area 2.6 sq mi).










Now the symbol of Caras Celairnen is around 20 miles from the tower which is the distance give for the libary it represents in the Arnor module. Which means the town occupies 2.6 sq miles according to the symbol, but its not OS. So how much area would 4000 people really need?

Let’s start with the area of the average household in


pale red is road. pale orange is the city according to map. green is the marsh. brown is a low density area and square is 544 houses in high density. Questions – what is isthmus ground type? flood /marsh/raised. Where should the town go? Is the road a causeway across marshes? Should the marsh go all the way to the rocky spit of Caras Celairnen? How much land around should be devoted to agriculture to provide for daily needs? What fortifications are needed?