Hammer and the Anvil

Depending on the GM, a lot of time can be spent building the locations in which adventures can be set. I know some GMs just take it all from published materials and run without thinking about the big picture. To be honest why would you when your players are just interested in solving the mystery, slaying the beast and getting the gold/girl. For me this works well for one off adventures, but not so well when the characters become involved in a campaign or series of interlinked adventures. I begin to find my players become more interested in the world around them and I have to have a set of reasons why they can’t take over a town as overlords or set up their own bank or…. Well the hundred and one off-the-wall reasons that can be given by players. Which means at the very least you should have some background at your fingertips.

Then there are GMs who write adventures/campaigns creating the content needed to play a game because, well they enjoy the process or don’t like what is available. Finally, there are the world builders who relish the chance to think about the macro and the what ifs. Well I’m one of those, and even though Middle Earth is full of source material, there are plenty of places to build and develop. My computer, and some binders are littered with pen sketches of places, notes on names and characters: along with adventures to run. So it was with interest that I read about World Anvil  on the Kind GM’s blog.

The site provides a way to organise all those pesky bits of paper into a coherent gazetteer. You will have seen some of my latest content appearing on the blog pages, but really that is an awkward way to manage the content.  So I have been plugging in some text of locations that are of interest currently to see if the site will work for me.

The content holders are useful and mostly match with information and ideas that I want to record, and there is a useful way of linking characters into geographical locations. However, there doesn’t appear to be a way of linking the location to the characters, unless they own the site. If you upload maps they can be linked to the site and I guess using a side bar space I can start adding specific detail from the map.

When I started I just put up one location and started to link characters associated. I soon discovered that when you do this, you will need at least some headline work on races and locations of a top level nature to tie things together. For example, I needed to create a species man and then subdivide to ethnicity Northman/Riverman to include this information on the character. It is possible to get away without having this infomation and leaving it very generic, but at some point linking locations and characters into kingdoms etc has to be done. As a result, it is better to do it early and add to each new item rather than retrospectively.

One thing I do like about the design of the site is the ability to put in secret information that is not generally known to the world. This apparently would be available to subscribers of the world stream but not to the casual observer. Quite how this works in practise I don’t know. I guess a player could read the public content and GMs subscribe, but how do I know which is which?

The website allows for collaboration (any budding authors drop me a line), but really without upgrading to a private account, I don’t think the capacity for images is going to be large enough to cope with more than a few maps. So at some point I’m going to run out of space. It also uses BB code (a cut down HTML) which in this day of smart interfaces seems a bit dated. Even the basic WordPress toolbar begins to look science fiction compared to this.

As a trial I’m going to carry on building locations and ideas for Caras Celairnen because it does make organising the content easier. It is a useful tool for creating the correct environment and forces me to think about who lives in a place and what they look like and how they act. However, at some point I will end up taking all the text and relocating in a more published format elsewhere. Like many internet ventures it will only last as long as the server, so it will pay to make a back up.



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.


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.


Engagement vs Involvement: The forgotten balance

Every player, and more importantly, every PC, who is participating in an RPG is a member of a team. That team can be constructed to form an idealized “machine” if the players collaborate on their character designs, but more normally, things are looser. At best, you have the GM constructing a team model in which…

via Engagement vs Involvement: The forgotten balance — Campaign Mastery

Gygax On…The Nature and Variety of Challenge — Creighton BroadhurstCreighton Broadhurst

I don’t intend to do this too often, but somehow this one with the quote from Gygax chimed with the recent post “Roleplaying in a vacuum“.


It’s not the world’s snappiest title, but challenge is at the heart of every gaming session. The PCs may have to crush the forces of the evil goblin king, root out a pernicious black cult or simply find their way out of a labyrinthine network of caverns. By William McAusland (Outland Arts) Whatever their…

via Gygax On…The Nature and Variety of Challenge — Creighton BroadhurstCreighton Broadhurst