Fauna of underground Middle Earth

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.



Velvet worms



Millipedes and Centipedes

Sinocallipus deharvengi



See Cave insects


Main article: Cavefish



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 of the problems with being a GM, especially with Rolemaster, is keeping track of all the NPC in combat. Long ago in a galaxy far away I created some Excel spreadsheets that helped with this sort of thing, but these were sadly lost in PC migration back in the day of 3.5″ floppies. Back in “A road less travelled” I mentioned trying Rolemaster Minion to support me as a GM during combat. So this is a little review of how it has been going.

Initially, I have to say it wasn’t very efficient but this was mostly to do with linking routine OBs to weapon types. It is, after all, Rolemaster, and we are playing MERP but from the players’ point of view, they are not worried if it is a generic table or a weapon specific table. What they do notice is that I am not flipping through a series of tables to find the right weapon (or they are), and I am clearly not cross-referencing a table. I used to use a paper table I prepared with most of the potential protagonists the party would meet and then track on this. This has the potential for many errors when you are pushed including not applying penalties when you should and missing the point of unconsciousness. In Minion, there is none of this as it highlights stunned combatants and when they are incapacitated, and also applies all penalties (unless you switch it off).

In play, there have been a few issues, but I think we can put most of this down to discovering the best way to use the system. You do need to do some preparation work, NPCs and PCs need to all be entered into the program but this is no more than creating a combat recording table. There is a clone function, which is useful for henchmen and guards. The data can be stored through a copy and paste text for a restore. I would recommend keeping a copy of your PC and allies without opponents as this will speed up generating the combat tables. Opponents can be filtered into groups which helps for an adventure with multiple tactical encounters.

There is a facility to roll initiative and play strictly by this order, or as we do, you know which order events occur and then select combatants in each phase. Players can choose to let the auto roll do the work or use their dice roll. Quite frankly, no-one does the former. I mean why would you? Yet it does speed up the NPC combat. Initially, when I was getting the hang of it, I found myself entering the OBs and pulling down menus to select weapons until I got the hang of grabbing from the restore box.  There is also a slight slow down as you check boxes for modifiers for parry and position, but no more than the adjustments made for mental calculation. The benefit is stun and critical penalties are applied automatically. Crit rolls are handled automatically (again players can use their own) but you don’t need to add or subtract from the roll for the crit level.

In addition to the initiative rolling, there is also a dice roll function which can provide hidden rolls for all characters for perception, MM and use item (attunement). Which can be useful for those quick decisions about do they notice, avoid, or use in combat.

There have been a few glitches in play, mostly where I select the wrong character and have to cycle the correct combatants into order (still quicker than looking up results and recording on paper). I did have one occasion where the player and I disagreed on hits, but I’d had a round where the results didn’t appear to have been recorded but I suspect they went in so repeating the attack could have added on. We adjusted in the player’s favour.

Random encounters can cause problems because either you have to quickly enter the details of these or play off the tables. Keeping a backup table of potential encounters is possible but every time the players level up or change OB you will need to go an amend this table and although it appears to be a generic text code I haven’t yet managed to change or add in the raw code without making a mistake somewhere, so you would need to do this in Minion each time.

Overall, I’m much happier with this running the combat than the old pencil and paper method. We now talk more descriptively about the combatants rather than relying on the mechanics to describe the state of injury. “Pick is reeling in front of his foe, blood pouring from his nose like a punch drunk boxer” rather than “Pick is bleeding 2 hits/round with a broken nose and is stunned for 2 rounds”. Currently, we are still double-entry bookkeeping, with players tracking details of their characters, which as we have seen is useful at the moment, but I suspect in time all injuries will be more descriptive. After all, when you break your leg, you know it is probably broken and you are in excruciating pain, how many seconds before you are able to focus clearly is irrelevant you respond either by crumpling in a weeping mess or grit your teeth and try and move. Equally, when bleeding you don’t think “Oh I have 50 secs before I’m incapacitated”; you say “***@@, I’m bleeding badly, I’d better slap a bandage/tourniquet/plaster on that!”. So hopefully, the roleplay experience will be enhanced.

World Anvil update

In my last blog, I introduced the World Anvil site which had been mentioned by the Kind GM. I thought I would give a quick update on my progress as it seems to have occupied a lot of my GM downtime. In addition, there have been some developments that may have widened the appeal to other GMs.

First, the world building, which goes well, The ability to record even brief sketches of a location and the people in one place and link them all is a very nice tool to have. I have been trying this out with my village sketch of Elvenbyen. This seems to work well, owners of establishments can be linked and using categories you can group these into a managed table of contents. I found that linking into broad groups like location, people of note and organisations was about all that was needed. I can upload and access maps linked in this way although I suspect that my conventional paper layout is more accessible in gameplay.  It would be nice if I could hotspot the locations from the map to the descriptions, which I should probably feedback to the developers.

Categories provide the hierarchy for organising your information, however, I have not got two locations on the go and the article list by which each entry is organised is a bit too long for this to work as well as it should. Yes, you can filter into main categories, but what if the character or organisation fits over more than one category.  Also when working on one location you really only want to see those articles, but overall not too much of a problem. Linking to various articles uses drop downs and these currently aren’t linked to the category you are working on. This does mean you have to scroll a lot as your list of characters or locations increases. Again though, another thing that could be fixed.

Overall, the World Anvil site is providing a useful way of organising information for locations I am creating. As it has the crosslinking categories I can keep a database organised and when it comes to publishing the location information it should be a simple matter of taking the online information and putting it in a location-specific document. Of course, my biggest fear is that the website will go defunct and I will lose all the information so my paranoid brain is getting ready to copy all the web pages into an offline version.

A new feature that has been introduced is a Campaign section. I suspect it is going to be most useful to gamers who play online, but the plot functions do intrigue me. I have had a little play and it does have the potential for organising your story arc and individual scenario story. PCs and NPCs can be linked and through the generic table function, I guess stats could be added. Using the image function you could store maps and the 6 point story structure gives everything the basic planning features you would need. I am trying it out to organise some of the ideas I have for the current campaign, much of which is written on paper as sketches. I must say it is helping me think about the details, but in the current format, there are a few things that make it clunky to work with. For example, in a scenario, I might want an NPC antagonist and rather than creating them in the plot, I need to create a character and then go back and link to the plot. The same is true of locations. This makes workflow trickier, well for someone who tends to use multiple sheets of paper it does.

The second part of the Campaign feature is the session tools. There is one for playing and one for reporting on the session itself. I have had a mini play and again it could be a useful tool. Online it probably would work as a playing space, but what if there is no internet! Furthermore, I think a GM is going to need to flip multiple tab windows to track all the information they need. Having paper strewn everywhere may be a bit inconvenient, but you generally can still talk to your players in this state. I wonder if the chat window/video is as accessible or would you need a second computer? In the world of rock paper scissors, paper still beats electronics for overall usability.

So we are not there yet – probably closer for DnD GMs, less so on the plotting and world-building side, but still an interesting project and it does need a download backup function.

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 sidebar 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 information 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.



In the last session, our hapless heroes had become separated and their stories had taken different paths. Recovering in the Dwarven enclave of Caras Celairnen, the dwarves had begun to search for possible news of the return of Limolas to civilisation, more in hope than any real sense of success. As a result, they did not tax their own resources too heavily, instead relying on using the elf’s cash reserves to pay some street urchins to pass on news of any sightings.  Then, feeling that duty had been done, they set about resting and planning on how to return to the Edanaar, the golden frog, to complete the task.

633cc7e45250ccdb5a1aabbeea991001-middle-earth-josephMeanwhile, sometime later, Limolas returning to the town shorn of is belongings and trousers – is detained by the city guard. Attempts to engage the city militia in contacting his friends fail miserably, and the elf is forced to sit and wait in a cell. Finally, he is taken to a court in front of the Arquan of the Karras and a chance to plead his case. However, his dishevelled appearance and lack of means do not help his poorly constructed arguments of being an adventurer down on his luck with companions in town. Perhaps it is not a good idea to mention your friends are dwarves when you are an elf.  After deliberation, the elders of the city decide that Limolas is a potential risk to the safety of the city and decide – in the interest of security –  to bad the elf from the city.  So it is that down-on-his-luck elf finds himself contemplating the long walk along the two-mile causeway towards the next chance of shelter and food.

At that same moment, the dwarves receive word of an elf who matches their description has just been thrown out from the town. With maximum dwarven haste, the pair make their way down to the causeway gate and a short dash across the causeway soon reunites them with their lost companion. After briefly swapping tales, the party hatch a plan to house Limolas for long enough for them to complete the quest.

alabasterReasoning that it is only a matter of time before the banishment will be forgotten, Limolas settles into the shore camp occupied by many of the river’s itinerant travellers who stop-over at the Karras.  When Limolas is sufficiently recovered, the party travel into the fens again and with only minor incidents return to the bower of the Golden Frog.  Upon the presentation of the gifts to the idol, a golden mist swirls around and miraculously Edanaar stand before the adventurers.

Within a matter of days, Edanaar and been reunited with his long-lost love. The party rewarded both in coin and some minor items settle into the town to finally reflect on their adventure and again on how being reunited allowed the lost lovers to be united again.

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



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.