Archive for April, 2016

Hey everyone! I was on a new episode of the Roleplaying Tips Podcast! This time we talk more about Descent into the Demonplague Dungeon!

From the host Johnn Four:

Thanks to everyone for the interest and feedback on the first RPT Podcast.

I’ve done it again. I spit into a mic and tossed word salad in the hopes something tasty and nutritious for Game Masters would come out.

In RPT Podcast E2, world builder James Introcaso and I talk about the adventure we’re building.

The adventure now has a name!

We talk about adventure design, crafting NPCs, and a couple other topics.

This episode is much shorter, around 30 mins. I think that’s the length I’ll be aiming for in the future. We’ll see as I get a few more of these under my belt.

Update: I’m still working on iTunes and RSS feeds for the podcast. Stay tuned for news on that front. Sorry for the delay on getting this set up properly.

Update 2: My Blubrry podcasting plugin says this is the feed URL. However, it words it like the feed is just for iTunes and other services. It does not say if it’s good for your feed reader. Could you give it a try and let me know if it work ok?

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Let’s make some more aberrations!

A few weeks ago I made the case for needing more high challenge rating aberrations than the ones in the Monster Manual for my soon-to-be-published Exploration Age campaign setting. There’s only 19 total aberration stat blocks in the book, and the highest CR is 14 (beholder in lair), so you might want some more aberrations for your world too! That’s why I’m sharing them on this blog.

In that post I showed off the Lovecraft-inspired moonbeast. Then in a later post I presented my hound of Tindalos. In this post I’m showing off my fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons version of the gug!

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rich Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rich Hershey / Fat Goblin Games


Gugs are fur-covered, vertically mouthed, bug-eyed, spindly limbed giants. These horrifying creatures are constantly hungry and able to fit in almost any space. The aberrations stalk deep underground tunnels for unsuspecting prey.

Driven by Hunger. The gugs’ strange metabolism means the beast is always hungry. As such these alien monsters eat anything that has flesh – living or undead. They will even eat another gug if starving, but the creatures are civilized and only resort to such actions when desperate.

Smart Stalkers. Gugs’ hunger keeps them on the prowl, making them dangerous hunters. Practiced gugs surprise their prey by using their odd, flexible anatomies to drop from impossibly high cave ceilings and leaping out of tiny crevasses. Gugs are used to feeling hungry, so they are patient when hunting, waiting for days clinging to a wall or shoved into a crack.

Cities of Gugs. Gugs live together in the deepest underground caverns in enormous cities of massive towers. A single king or queen has absolute control over the lives of all the other gugs in the city. When the gugs return to the city after a hunt, they must bring a portion of each kill to the monarch.


Huge aberration, chaotic evil

Armor Class 20 (natural armor)

Hit Points 262 (21d12 + 126)

Speed 50 ft., climb 50 ft.

26 (+8)  20 (+5) 22 (+6) 14 (+2) 20 (+5) 14 (+2)

Saving Throws Dex +11, Int +8, Wis +11, Cha +12

Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons

Damage Immunities poison

Condition Immunities exhaustion, poisoned, prone

Skills Perception +11, Stealth +11, Survival +11

Senses darkvision 120 ft. passive perception 21

Languages Deep Speech, telepathy 120 ft.

Challenge 19 (22,000 XP)

Amorphous. The gug can move through a space as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing.

Fall Damage Immunity. The gug can fall any distance and does not take fall damage.

Horrifying Visage. Creatures who start their turns within 30 feet of the gug and can see the creature must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened of the gug for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the gug’s Horrifying Visage for the next 24 hours.

Magic Resistance. The gug has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Magic Weapons. The gug’s weapon attacks are magical.

Spider Climb. The gug can climb difficult surfaces, including upside down on ceilings, without needing to make an ability check.


Multiattack. The gug can make five attacks: four with its claws, and one attack with its bite or swallow.

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +14 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 24 (3d10 + 8) piercing damage. If the target is a creature, it is grappled (escape DC 20). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained, and the gug can’t bite another target.

Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +14 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 21 (3d8 + 8) slashing damage.

Swallow. The gug makes one bite attack against a Medium or smaller target it is grappling. If the attack hits, the target is swallowed and the grapple ends. The swallowed target is blinded and restrained, it has total cover against attacks and other effects outside the gug. A swallowed creature takes 35 (10d6) acid damage at the start of its turn. If a swallowed creature dies as a result of taking acid damage from this ability, the gug regains 50 hit points.

If the gug takes 50 damage or more on a single turn from a creature inside it, the gug must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw at the end of that turn or regurgitate all swallowed creatures, which fall prone in a space within 10 feet of the gug. If the gug dies, a swallowed creature is no longer restrained by it and can escape from the corpse using 15 feet of movement, exiting prone.


Would you like this Lovecraftian beastie to threaten your players’ characters? Grab it now in its own PDF or alongside a lot of Exploration Age’s monsters! Like the icebreaker shark, gaping maw, morchia, and mystauk.

All Monsters


If you liked these creatures be sure to check out my other offerings in the Free Game Resources section of this site and my Pay What You Want products on the DMs Guild for backgrounds, magic items, optional rules, and more.

Playtest it up!

Now I ask you my readers to please go forth and test this nasty. Throw it at your players and see how they fare! If you have any feedback for my monster please leave it in the comments below or email me ( If you tell me your name and the names of your players I’ll give you credit as playtesters in the Exploration Age Campaign Guide!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

This is a guest post from Geoffrey Winn, host of the amazing Appendix N Podcast on The Tome Show network. Geoff was on a recent episode of my podcast, The Round Table, where we chatted about what it would take to create a Middle-earth campaign setting for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. That conversation inspired this series of posts here on World Builder Blog. If you enjoy this post, check out Part I: Introduction and the Region of EriadorPart II: WilderlandPart III: Gondor, Rohan, and Mordor, and Part IV: Other Places, Other Times.

Part V: The Lords of Middle-earth – The Valar, the Maiar, and the Elves

Now that I’ve described the geography of Middle-earth, I want to talk about the races – usually your first choice when making a character in Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder!

The structure of the next three articles is based loosely on the Lords of Middle-earth series for MERP. If you happen to come across these in a rummage sale or at a used bookstore, I highly recommend picking them up. They are, quite simply, game stats for every single named character in Tolkien’s legendarium. My favorite parts are the full biographies of all the Nazgûl – completely made up by the MERP writers of course, and highly controversial, but still fun to read.

The Valar

The Valar are the gods of Middle-earth. They are intangible spirits that wear bodies like clothes. Their name means “the Powers” in Elvish, which interestingly is also a term used for deities in the Planescape campaign setting for AD&D.

The Valar, their names, their origins, and their roles in the world, are described in the first two parts of The Silmarillion: the Ainulindalë and the Valaquenta. I’m going to avoid repeating all that information here. There are only 15 Valar (8 male, 7 female), and only one is evil. The eight greatest Valar are called the “Exalted,” and these should be presented first to new players who are unfamiliar with Middle-earth beyond the basics.

If you simply want to use the Valar the way you would use deities in any other D&D campaign, that is perfectly acceptable. You don’t have to look far to find listings of the Valar along with information that would be useful for a campaign, such as their portfolios, alignments, suggested domains, etc. There could be a Temple of Manwë in the middle of Minas Tirith with clerics who sell potions and scrolls at standard rulebook price. It’s your game, go for it!

However, if you are striving for a more “authentic” Middle-earth feel, it’s important to understand two things. One, Tolkien was a devout Catholic; and two, Middle-earth is supposed to be Earth in the distant past. The Valar are not simply stand-ins for pagan deities. There is only one true deity in Middle-earth, and that is the Biblical God, called “Eru Illúvatar” by the Elves. The Valar are really powerful angels who were so enamored of God’s Creation that they chose to dwell in the world, govern in God’s name, and protect the world from evil.

The Valar are not worshipped by people in Middle-earth, at least not people that Tolkien considered wise and educated. Most races and cultures probably do not know the Valar exist, or have sketchy knowledge at best. Of all the races, the Elves have dealt most closely with the Valar. Men only know what the Elves have chosen to tell them. Those races that serve Sauron (or Morgoth in the First Age) have probably been duped to believe that Sauron (or Morgoth) is the only true deity.

Among the races that “know better,” from Tolkien’s perspective, there does not appear to be much in the way of organized religion. What few religious ceremonies we know about are held outdoors, usually in a high place open to the sky, and conducted by someone the Valar have appointed to lead the ritual, usually a king. Wise Men of Gondor (and Númenor in the Second Age) probably viewed the Valar more like exalted teachers, to be revered for their knowledge and guiding examples, but not to be worshipped as deities.

The Maiar

With the Maiar, we begin to discuss beings that could actually appear with statblocks in your game. The Valar and the Maiar are really the same “race” of angelic spirits, but whereas there are only a few Valar and their roles are well-defined, there can be infinite numbers of Maiar. Where the Valar serve the role of “gods” in a D&D campaign, the Maiar can be any creature that would be classified as an outsider, elemental, fey, or incorporeal undead.

In The Lord of the Rings, we encounter several characters who are Maiar – Gandalf, Saruman, Sauron, the Balrog, Tom Bombadil and Goldberry. Aragorn has at least one ancestor who is a Maia: Melian, Queen of Doriath. She was cool. Look her up. From this list, we see that Maiar exist in many different forms and power levels. In general, however, the Maiar seem to be elemental or nature spirits. Since there are so many of them, and they can be tied to almost any object or idea, they actually seem to have a lot in common with the kami of Japanese mythology.

Like the Valar, the Maiar are intangible spirits who only wear bodies when they wish to be seen. Their physical forms are called fána. A powerful Maia might be able to shift between multiple fána, while a weaker Maia might only have one. Sauron had several forms in the First and Second Age, but by the time of The Lord of the Rings, he had used up his power and wasn’t able to take shape anymore (a theme in Tolkien’s writings: evil is wasteful).

The Five Wizards, the Istari, are a special case. These Maiar were hand-selected by the Valar and sent to Middle-earth with a specific mission – educate and advise the peoples of Middle-earth, prevent Sauron’s return to power, and do so without seeking rulership or power. The Wizards could only appear as old men; they could not go incorporeal. Their memories were altered in such a way that many of their powers were unavailable to them. They knew they were Maiar, but they only remembered their former lives in their dreams.

If you wish to include some of the more fantastic D&D races in your Middle-earth game, you could simply say they are very weak Maiar or half-Maiar. This works for planetouched races or any race with an elemental theme, such as the genasi, goliaths or aasimar. Tieflings could also work if you “re-skin” them as fire-themed Maiar, rather than fiends.

As NPCs, Maiar can serve as patrons to any spellcaster that requires one, such as D&D’s warlocks or Pathfinder’s witches and oracles. They make good quest-givers, since they have unusual needs and may have limited power away from their homes. They can also be interesting villains. One storyline in The Lord of the Rings Online featured a water-themed Maia, the Red Woman, who became corrupted and turned into a monster when her environment was polluted.

The Elves

J. R. R. Tolkien basically invented Elves as we know them today. Before Tolkien, Elves were diminutive creatures with butterfly wings that would mend your shoes or curdle your milk. Thanks to Tolkien, Elves are now badass immortal ninja warrior-poets.

It’s also safe to say that Elves would not be a core racial option in Dungeons & Dragons if it hadn’t been for Tolkien. Even so, D&D Elves are still a watered-down version of the originals. That may be okay for your campaign, especially if game balance is important to you. If you do decide to make your Elves more like Middle-earth Elves, you may want to consider a campaign where the entire party is Elves.

Tolkien’s Elves are immortal. They do not age beyond adulthood, and they cannot be killed by disease or poison, only violence or extreme grief. Elves’ souls are “bound to the world,” meaning even after they die, they do not go to Heaven. Their souls go to the Halls of Mandos in Valinor (still a part of the physical world, not another plane of existence), and they can return to Middle-earth any time they want. In Tolkien’s writings, most Elves find this to be simply too much trouble and elect to wait out eternity in the Halls of Mandos, but PCs will almost certainly take advantage of unlimited free resurrections if given to them.

Elves seem to be physically and mentally superior to other races in every way. Harsh weather does not bother them. They need little food and water to survive. They can recall any memory from their long lives almost perfectly. Elves can seemingly talk to any creature, even stones and trees, due to their curiosity about everything in the world.

It’s worth noting that we spend very little time with “common” Elves in Tolkien’s writings. Most Elf characters are lords, princes, and other very important people. This may be why Elves seem so amazing. Lineage and rank definitely play a part in an individual Elf’s prowess.

It’s also worth noting that almost everything we read about Elves was supposedly written from the Elves’ point of view. The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion are supposed to be English translations of Bilbo’s writings, and Bilbo’s writings were translations of Elvish books that he found in Rivendell. Naturally, Elves would play up their own abilities in their history books and downplay everyone else.

Elves in the First Age

The First Age seems like the ideal time to run an Elf campaign. The Elves are at the height of their power. Later Ages are all about the fallout from First Age events. If The Silmarillion is too dry and boring for you, try listening to Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-earth to get a sense of what I’m talking about. These Elves rage and scream across the world. They betray and murder. They love deeply and disastrously. They swear oaths and reap bitter fruits.

An Elf campaign in the First Age should start at a high level. All the PCs should be Elves, with Men serving as henchmen or followers. The campaign might even start before the First Age, in Valinor, and end with the fall of Beleriand, with years or centuries occurring between play sessions. Elves are immortal, and their stories are told across long spans of time.

Although there are many, many subgroups of Elves defined by Tolkien, for game purposes you should divide Elves into Calaquendi (Light Elves) and Moriquendi (Dark Elves). I’m going to use the terms Light Elves and Dark Elves throughout this article to avoid confusing people who haven’t read The Silmarillion. For my purposes, Light Elves are those Elves who travelled to Valinor, the home of the Valar, and saw the light of the Two Trees before they were destroyed. The Dark Elves never made this journey, either because they refused or because they got sidetracked by the beauty of Middle-earth itself. The Light Elves have more personal power and more knowledge gained from living in close proximity to the Valar for all that time, and even descendents of the Light Elves born after the destruction of the trees retain some of this. The Dark Elves have less power but seem more in touch with the physical world. Unlike drow in Dungeons & Dragons, Dark Elves in Middle-earth are not inherently evil and have no distinctive appearance that separates them from Light Elves.

In The Silmarillion, the main group of Light Elves driving the action are the Noldor (High Elves). They return to Middle-earth at the dawn of the First Age in pursuit of Morgoth the Enemy, against whom they have sworn an oath of vengeance. The Noldor are proud to the point of arrogance, and some of the Noldor are downright villainous. Almost immediately, the Noldor are opposed by a group of Dark Elves called the Sindar (Grey Elves). The Sindar simply want to live peacefully, and they blame the Noldor for bringing evil to Middle-earth. The Sindar are not always the good guys either, however. Their secretive nature and refusal to lend aid at critical times often allows evil to get the upper hand.

In game terms, Light Elves and Dark Elves should be treated as different races. Smaller subgroups, such as the Noldor, Sindar, Teleri, Avari, Nandor, etc., should be handled through backgrounds, feats, traits, or variant rules.

Elves in the Second and Third Age

The distinction between Light Elves, Dark Elves and various subgroups seems to largely disappear after the First Age. The Ring-smiths of Eregion continue the tradition of the proud, arrogant Noldor, and they meet the same fate as their predecessors. By the Third Age, Galadriel is the only powerful Noldor leader left. Thranduil and Cirdan are both Sindar. Elrond is a special case, but we will get to him later. The “common” Elves merge into nations based on geography rather than ethnicity.

Elves in the Third Age are still physically and mentally superior to other races. Legolas could see farther than any of his companions, shoot more accurately, and keep his balance without even trying. He was not troubled by cold weather, and supernatural terror held no sway over him. Only the Balrog of Moria made him lose his cool. The Fellowship of the Ring is perhaps not the best example of a balanced party, as each of its members had wildly different power levels. If you’re trying to run a balanced campaign, Elves in the Third Age should be NPCs and quest-givers, not party members.

Elves in the Third Age understand that their role in history is almost at an end, and some are afraid that it already has ended. Although they are immortal, they begin to experience great sorrow that causes them to slowly fade away. Their souls are bound to the world, and so they cannot truly leave; they simply become invisible, intangible ghosts. The only cure for this fading is to travel West, over the sea to Valinor, which still lies within the physical world and is protected by the grace of the Valar. For this reason, Elves in the Third Age are weak against anything that causes them emotional pain. Seeing or hearing the ocean causes them to long for the West and gradually forget all worldly concerns. If you are playing an Elf PC in the Third Age, this should be a big part of your character’s story.


Half-Elves in Middle-earth are rare and special. There were only two marriages between Elf and Man in the First Age. The first union was between Beren and Lúthien; the second was between Tuor and Idril. The descendents of these two couples eventually met and married each other, which leads us to Elrond and his brother, Elros.

Elrond and Elros were given a choice after the Fall of Beleriand. Elrond chose to be an Elf and stay with his Elven kindred. Elros chose to be a Man, and he became the first king of Númenor, from which all the kings of Númenor, Gondor, Arnor and Arthedain were descended. Aragorn is Elros’ descendent, which, yes, technically makes him a very distant cousin to Arwen.

Arwen, the daughter of Elrond, was an immortal Elf until she met and fell in love with Aragorn. Presumably she continued to be an Elf, even after they were married, but she ceased to be immortal. We do not know if she aged as mortals do. After Aragorn’s death, we are told that she simply travelled to Lothlórien and laid herself down on the hill where they had met. Whether she died of old age, exposure, or simply grief, we do not know, nor do we know who dug her grave.

From this, we can infer that all Half-Elves start out as immortal until they are given a choice to be otherwise. Usually, Half-Elves choose mortality because they are in love with a mortal and wish to be with that mortal, even after death. We do not know precisely why Elros chose mortality, but presumably it was out of responsibility to his people. We also do not know what Eldarion, the son of Aragorn and Arwen chose, or if he was given a choice.

As mentioned in my discussion of Gondor, the Men of Dol Amroth are supposedly Half-Elven, or at least the ruling family is. Tolkien did write a story, never published, naming Galador and Mithrellas as the progenitors of this line. Please consider all that I have said about Half-Elves before deciding whether or not this is true in your campaign or just a fairy-tale.

Part I: Introduction and the Region of Eriador

Part II: Wilderland

Part III: Gondor, Rohan, & Mordor

Part IV: Other Places, Other Times

Part VI: The Mannish Races

Listen to Geoffrey Winn discuss the literature that influenced the creation of D&D every month on the Appendix N Podcast on The Tome Show network!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.

I sit down with Topher KohanJoe LastowskiPaige Leitman, and Ben Heisler to discuss the D&D March survey and the state of organized play. Then it’s an interview with Stephen Rowe and Dan Dillon of The Four Horsemen to discuss their Kickstarter for The Talented Bestiary. This podcast was recorded on March 29 and April 17, 2016.

DMs Guild Pick of the Episode: Gem Dragons of Faerun

Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes. It takes 30 seconds and helps us a bunch.


I’m on a bit of a honeymoon with my lovely wife Bonnie, so this week’s update will be much shorter than usual. I’ve been hard at work on some cool projects I hope to share with you all soon.


In the mean time, I’m putting out a call for Round Table panelists. Specifically I’m looking to get some new blood on the show and her from people who are not cis, white, straight men. Why? Because the Round Table has always been about getting different points of view. Up until now we’ve been super duper heavy on our representation of cis, white, straight men. I want more diversity on our panel because it’s clear that different people have different experiences in the gaming world.

I’ve always tried to cultivate diverse opinions on the Round Table. I started with just people I knew personally. Then I branched out into other folks I met online and at conventions. This is the next step in the podcast’s evolution. I firmly believe that a more diverse body of panelists will create a better, more informed podcast that more people will want to listen to.

If more people listen to the podcast, then more people spread the gospel of gaming. That’s good for everyone in the industry – consumers and producers. Inclusivity is good for all businesses. Gaming is no exception. The more people want to play games, the more people are supporting the industry with dollars. That means more products, better products, more jobs in the industry, more conventions, more game stores, more people who know what a critical hit is, and a whole lot more awesome.

What does this mean for the old panelists? Nothing. You’ll still hear from awesome people who are cis, white, straight, and male like Rudy Basso, Greg Blair, Mike Shea, and more. We pump out 50+ of these podcasts a year, so there’s plenty of panel seats to go around.

You’ll also continue to hear from new cis, white, straight men. There’s no shortage of us in gaming and most of us have a lot to say about what’s going on in the world. There will be more voices from gaming’s largest demographic.

One more thing: I continue to be on every podcast and I fall into that demographic. There will never be a Round Table without that representation on it. As the show’s host and producer, I owe to the listeners to deliver on the podcast’s promise of diversity.

So if you’re interested in being on the podcast and want to talk about the latest D&D news over Skype sometime, hit me up at

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

This is a guest post from Geoffrey Winn, host of the amazing Appendix N Podcast on The Tome Show network. Geoff was on a recent episode of my podcast, The Round Table, where we chatted about what it would take to create a Middle-earth campaign setting for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. That conversation inspired this series of posts here on World Builder Blog. If you enjoy this post, check out Part I: Introduction and the Region of EriadorPart II: Wilderland, and Part III: Gondor, Rohan, and Mordor.

Part IV: Other Places, Other Times

Now that I have talked about the three main geographical regions of Middle-earth, I want to talk about those areas on the edge of the map. They are ripe for exploration, precisely because there is not a lot known about these places. I also want to talk about campaigns in the First and Second Ages, when the world looks very different.

Playing outside the main areas of Middle-earth has its share of problems. The game may lose the “feel” of Middle-earth in these areas. It may start to feel simply like alternate history or Hyborean Age, or really any “generic” fantasy world with fantasy versions of real-world places. The GM will have to create every town and NPC without so much as a model to work with.

If you’re okay with putting in the hard work and having a story that is only tangentially connected to the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, feel free to explore these settings. If not, these may simply be places for the PCs to hear about. Maybe an NPC journeyed through one of these far-off places and brought a curse or an artifact back!

The Far North

To the north of Eriador lies the Icebay of Forochel. The region is inhabited by the Lossoth. Tolkien probably envisioned them as being Finnish, Icelandic or possibly even Laplanders. They were primitive; they could not understand metal weapons or sailing boats. However, they knew how to survive in a harsh, cold environment.

The Lossoth seem to be mostly good-hearted. Unlike the Dunlendings, Southrons and Easterlings, they simply hadn’t come to the attention of the Dark Powers, and so they haven’t been manipulated to mistrust and fear the Free Peoples of Middle-earth. When King Arvedui, the last king of Arnor, was fleeing the armies of the Witch-King, the Lossoth were helpful, even though in the end they could not save him. They recovered the heirlooms of his house after he died and returned them to his descendents, which is how Aragorn was able to still have them in his day.

North of Angmar and the Grey Mountains lies Forodwaith, also called simply the Northern Waste. Forochel could be considered a part of Forodwaith. I touched upon this area when I described the Grey Mountains in my Wilderland article. There are Men living here, also called the Forodwaith. We know even less about them than we do about the Lossoth. As far as we know, it is simply a cold, empty area. However, in your campaign, it could be full of frost giants, white dragons, enchanted ice palaces, or whatever else you like.

And of course, at the utmost north of the world lies Utumno, the stronghold of Morgoth that was supposedly destroyed and buried before the First Age began.

The East and the South

East and south of the Iron Hills lies the Sea of Rhûn. The Sea lies within a larger region that is also called Rhûn, which simply means “east” in Elvish. The eastern side of Mordor is the only side that isn’t completely blocked by impassible mountains.

People from the East are called Easterlings. They might hail from around the Sea of Rhûn, the open area between the Sea and Mirkwood, or further east off the map entirely. Their cultures probably resembled various ancient nomadic cultures from the Eurasian steppe. Two specific sub-groupings of Easterlings were the Wainriders and the Balchoch, both of whom were noted for using chariots in combat.

There were probably lots of other groups of Easterlings that Tolkien simply didn’t describe. The Men of Dorwinion, a place briefly mentioned in The Hobbit, may have been Easterlings who peacefully sold wine to the Lake-men. Most of the groups living near the Lonely Mountain were probably similarly peaceful groups who simply wanted to do business.

The region south of Gondor and Mordor is called Harad, which simply means, you guessed it, “south” in Elvish. Harad is sometimes separated into Near Harad, which is visible on the map, and Far Harad, which isn’t. Somewhere further down the coast, also not on the map, lies the Haven of Umbar, home of the Corsairs.

The Corsairs of Umbar were Gondor’s most organized, long-term enemies. Umbar was originally built by Númenóreans just like most of Gondor’s cities. The rulers are Black Númenóreans, sort of the evil twins to the modern Dúnedain of Gondor. Black Númenóreans make great campaign villains when you get tired of orc chieftains and Nazgûl.

Near Harad can probably be understood to resemble Byzantium and the Middle East. Far Harad is definitely supposed to be Africa, as the people from Far Harad are black and ride elephants. There is also the region of Khand, and the people from there are called Variags. I have no idea what their deal is. They like battle-axes. That’s all I got.

Taken altogether, the Easterlings and the Southrons are simply soldiers for Sauron’s war machine. They have been manipulated by Sauron for centuries into thinking that Elves, Dúnedain and Rohirrim are their enemies, and that Middle-earth should properly belong to them, if they are strong enough to take it. Adventurers from Middle-earth will find little welcome or safe haven if they venture into Easterling or Southron lands. Even if they find a town that hasn’t drunk the Sauron juice, spies will almost certainly report their location to servants of the Dark Lord.

The most exciting thing to me about these regions is the chance to delve into one of the great unsolved mysteries of Middle-earth, the whereabouts and fate of the Blue Wizards. Two Wizards wearing blue arrived in Middle-earth with Saruman, Radagast and Gandalf, but they disappeared early on and were never heard from again. Tolkien himself never really decided what to do with these guys. He went back and forth on it in his own private notes and letters. They could be good guys, leading small pockets of resistance that are ultimately doomed. They could be bad guys, founders of black magic cults, attempting to carve out small realms for themselves as Saruman did. You get to decide!

The Deep Places of the Earth

I want to talk briefly about the world below Middle-earth. If you like the Underdark as it exists in Dungeons & Dragons, you can certainly use all those concepts in a Middle-earth game.

The Misty Mountains are riddled with networks of tunnels and caverns, and these may certainly connect to the Grey Mountains in the north and the White Mountains in the south. Orcs who know the way could travel anywhere in Middle-earth without ever seeing the sun.

The Dwarves delved too deeply in Moria and awoke the Balrog, who had apparently been trapped there since the First Age. Does this mean that Moria connects to the ancient strongholds of Angband or Utumno, or both? After Gandalf plummets from the bridge in Moria, he describes monsters too horrible to name. They seem to be reminiscent of the Ragnarok serpent as they gnaw upon the roots of the world. Creepy!

The Blue Mountains also have connections to the First Age. The dwarven cities of Belegost and Nogrod supposedly existed in these mountains and were destroyed at the end of the First Age. Thorin’s family lived in the Blue Mountains after Smaug drove them out of the Lonely Mountain. Perhaps they thought they could find these lost ruins, but they never did. Perhaps adventurers could find them!

The First Age

Having covered every possible region of Middle-earth where adventures could happen, let us now travel back in time.

The First Age began with the first rising of the sun and moon in the sky, and it ended with the destruction of Beleriand. The story of the First Age is told in The Silmarillion. A GM who has not read and thoroughly understood The Silmarillion should not run a First Age campaign. If you need a quick review, you can read my friend Jeff Wikstrom’s summary of The Silmarillion.

The First Age can be exciting for players because you have a whole new continent to explore. It is an epic time. The monsters are larger than life. We’re talking dragons, werewolves and vampires here. We’re talking not just one balrog but entire armies of balrogs. Sauron himself is little more than a lieutenant of Morgoth, the Great Enemy at this time. Perhaps there are other unique beings, equal in power to Sauron, doing terrible deeds across the land.

Who can stand up to these monsters? Epic-level godlike super-Elves, of course. The Elves of the First Age are at the peak of their abilities. They craft magic items, argue with gods, and fight with each other as often as they fight against evil. When they can’t be bothered to stir from their hidden fortress kingdoms, they train loyal Men to be their eyes and ears and hands. A family of Men may take great pride in serving a particular Elf-lord for generations.

The trouble with the First Age is the difficulty in telling original stories. This age is when the legends are made that will shape future ages. The latter ages are pretty much defined by the actions of Fëanor, Beren, Lúthien, Túrin Turambar, Eärendil and the rest. The PCs may feel like they are treading between the legs of giants here, even if they are epic-level super-Elves themselves. Finally, Beleriand ceases to exist beyond this age, meaning anything the PCs create – kingdoms, alliances, friendships – will disappear.

It may be better to use the First Age in flashback. Perhaps a PC in the Third Age finds a magic sword in a dungeon. In the next session, the PCs could play First Age heroes who wield the sword, explaining its story. In Middle-earth, the origins of something like a sword are often a big part of its significance.

The Second Age

The Second Age begins with the destruction of Beleriand and the creation of Númenor. It ends with the destruction of Númenor, the first defeat of Sauron, and the establishment of Gondor and Arnor in Middle-earth. To me, the Second Age is more interesting for adventures than the First Age.

This is the time of Númenor, the great island empire. Númenor was Middle-earth’s version of Atlantis. The Númenóreans were responsible for a lot of the huge, wondrous structures we see in The Lord of the Rings, such as Isengard, the Pillars of the Argonath, and the seven-tiered city of Minas Tirith. We are told that the Númenóreans had mastered ocean travel, and they could sail all around the world, which was flat at this time.

What is happening in Middle-earth at this time? Aside from the Elves involved in creating the Rings of Power, we really don’t know a whole lot. The places we know from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were wilderness. However, we know that Númenóreans did come to Middle-earth in their ships. Some of them started small kingdoms of their own. The ruins of Vinyalondë, described in my discussion of Eriador, are the results of one such attempt. The Haven of Umbar is another.

In the Second Age, PCs are explorers from Númenor conquering the wilderness. You could play an entire campaign revolving around building a town, gathering resources, dealing with natives, and so on. Will the town survive into the Third Age, or will it be lost to history? The PCs might have to deal with other Númenóreans who have unjustly exploited the peoples of Middle-earth. Meanwhile, back home, petty nobles squabble with each other over money and politics. A PC may have to swiftly return to Númenor to help her family, abandoning all her hard work in Middle-earth.

The Fourth Age

At first glance, a campaign set in the Fourth Age seems like a great idea. Characters can use The Lord of the Rings as a background and forge ahead with new stories. You can have new plots, new bad guys, and not worry about messing up canon.

Unfortunately, Middle-earth just doesn’t feel like Middle-earth anymore. The Elves are largely gone. The Wizards are gone. Sauron is gone for good, and there are no rings to deal with. Everything magical and fantastic slowly fades away as the world transforms into the world we know, our Earth.

Tolkien tried to write a sequel to The Lord of the Rings set in the Fourth Age called The New Shadow. He didn’t get very far. Ultimately, he decided there just wasn’t any interesting story to tell.

If none of that bothers you, go ahead and have adventures in the Fourth Age. Adventures could involve going into Mordor, the East and the South, undoing the evil of Sauron. PCs could free slaves and try to convince the peoples of those lands that Sauron had lied to them. One or both of the Blue Wizards could be the villain of this campaign, having decided to take Sauron’s place. One final mystery remains – where is Radagast?

Playing with History

What if Sauron won? Suddenly, you have post-apocalyptic Middle-earth. The entire world is covered in shadow, and there is a burning red eye in the sky at all times. PCs need to avoid orc patrols everywhere they go. Is Gandalf organizing a secret hobbit resistance? Could the PCs steal a ship and sail into the West, as Eärendil did, and appeal to the gods for help? What would that help look like? (I think it looks like awesome weapons and armor for the PCs!)

Fantasy Flight Games published an amazing series of books for D&D 3rd Edition called Midnight that basically dealt with this topic. Go pester them for a 5th Edition update!

What if Galadriel took the One Ring and became a Dark Queen? What if the Witch-King was unable to conquer Arnor, but instead Gondor became abandoned after the Great Plague? What if the Lonely Mountain never fell to Smaug, so there was no need for Bilbo to travel over the Misty Mountains, and he never found the One Ring…? In your game, you don’t have to follow the books. Do your own thing. Drop your PCs into any time period, and just see what happens when you mess with it.

What possibilities can you think of?

Part I: Introduction & the Region of Eriador

Part II: Wilderland

Part III: Gondor, Rohan, & Mordor

Part V: The Lords of Middle-earth

Part VI: The Mannish Races

Listen to Geoffrey Winn discuss the literature that influenced the creation of D&D every month on the Appendix N Podcast on The Tome Show network!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.

I sit down with Round Table newbies Michael Ambyth and Seth Zolin to discuss Gothic Heroes, the latest Unearthed Arcana article, and Chris Cocks being named the new president of Wizards of the Coast. Then it’s an interview with James D’Amato of the One Shot Podcast to discuss the Noisy Person Cards Kickstarter. This podcast was recorded on April 11 and 16, 2016.

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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Guess who’s on another podcast? That’s right! This guy!

I have been super busy working on some secret RPG-related projects. I can’t say too much about most of them other than they all involve adventure design and use the fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons rules. There is one project I can write and talk about quite a bit! I’m working hard with Johnn Four of Roleplaying Tips to bring you a dynamic, engaging story – Descent into the Demonplague Dungeon.

The Product

Descent into the Demonplague Dungeon is a four-part adventure path from the mind of Johnn Four produced by an amazing team he put together. Each adventure can be played individually or as a series that will take player characters from level 1 to level 20 in a tale of disaster, politics, intrigue, and demons. The adventures are modular can be easily broken into pieces and dropped into your favorite published or homebrew campaign setting.

The first adventure takes characters from level 1 to 4, introduces them to a town that’s at the center of the campaign’s story, takes them through three small dungeons, and gets them involved in local politics. The second adventure is designed sandbox style. The characters explore a greater area outside the town, dive into dungeons, interact with creatures in the wild, and begin to unravel the campaign’s big mystery. The third part of Descent into the Demonplague Dungeon is a hex crawl. Characters are forced into unknown lands, changed by a recent disaster, full of new monsters, hazards, and dangers. The final adventure sees players make their way into the storyline’s namesake. It’s a massive dungeon crawl full of challenges meant to put high level characters to the test.

My favorite part about the Descent into the Demonplage Dungeon is that the adventures are designed to react to the actions (and inactions) of the PCs. The characters have a chance to shape the world around them. As the world reacts characters reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of their actions. Descent into the Demonplague Dungeon has replay value. Each time you play through it, you and your friends can tell a very different story than you did last time.

Another cool piece of the adventure is that there’s going to be all sorts of great extras, previews, digital generators, and more that go with it. The biggest of these is a bunch of super helpful advice that will guide you through creating your own adventures.

What’s the Story?

Warning! MINOR spoilers for Descent into the Demonplague Dungeon ahead.

A comet struck the Luna Valley. The Ice Tongue Glacier, which once filled the entire vale, melted after days of quaking and endless heat following the impact. Entire cities were covered in mud, animals starved, and the survivors crowd the only small village left in the valley. Tomar’s Crossing, a small village built on a hill that poked above the glacier, is packed with refugees, low on food, plagued by hungry beasts, and about to elect a new Village Council.

Meanwhile the melt has uncovered forgotten civilizations, buried beneath the Ice Tongue Glacier. Four-millennia of forgotten ruins, treasure hoards, and dangers are ripe for exploration. Where many see disaster, others see profit. Those brave enough to venture out into the transformed Luna Valley can find untold wealth… if death does not find them first.

The comet has unleashed something else, trapped deep beneath the glacier and far below the earth. Something locked away long ago for the good of the world. Something that just woke up… and is trying to get free.

The Podcast

So to promote our first adventure in the Descent into the Demonplague Dungeon series, Johnn started the Roleplaying Tips Podcast! Every other week we’ll talk about how the adventure design is going and give you some insight into creating your own! Guess what? The first one is up! Take a listen to Johnn and I dishing on the ideas and inspiration behind the adventure and use our advice to craft your own stories (and get excited about ours)!

Take a listen!

Let me know what you think about the adventure and the podcast in the comments below!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

This is a guest post from Geoffrey Winn, host of the amazing Appendix N podcast on The Tome Show network. Geoff was on a recent episode of my podcast, The Round Table, where we chatted about what it would take to create a Middle-earth campaign setting for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. That conversation inspired this series of posts here on World Builder Blog. If you enjoy this post, check out Part I: Introduction and the Region of Eriador and Part II: Wilderland.


Part III: Gondor, Rohan & Mordor

In this article I will discuss the three largest and most powerful nations of Middle-earth, all of which sit conveniently right next to each other and make up the southernmost portion of the map.

Campaigns that take place in Rohan or Gondor will have a different tone from Eriador or Wilderland campaigns. These are societies made up mostly of Men (humans) that have little interaction with other races (aside from orcs, whom they kill on sight). They encompass a far larger area than the “city-states” of Bree or Lake-town. They also have far more history than any of the other locations we have looked at.

The histories of these nations can be found in Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings. I’m going to try to avoid simply repeating all that history here. If you’re thinking of running a Rohan or Gondor campaign, I encourage you to read all of Appendix A and look up any unfamiliar terms at

Mordor is probably not a place for an entire campaign. It is a place for PCs to visit, briefly, and only when they are high level… unless the intent is for the PCs to suffer a horrible demise! Nevertheless, I will describe Mordor and present ideas for adventures and campaigns therein.

Describing Rohan

Rohan used to be a province of Gondor called Calenardhon. The land was depopulated during the Great Plague, and so it was mostly empty (but not entirely) when Gondor granted the land to Eorl the Young and his followers, the Eorlingas.
Rohan, called the Riddermark or simply “the Mark” by its own people, is huge. It includes most of the land north of the White Mountains, from the Gap of Rohan to the Anduin. The northern borders are Fangorn and the Limlight, a tributary of the Anduin. (Note that most of Tolkien’s rivers are “the Something” and not “the Something River.” He was very fussy about this.) The only land in this area that is not part of Rohan is Gondor’s northernmost province, Anórien.

The people of Rohan are best described as “land Vikings” – brash, bold warriors who ride across the plains on their mounts, which they value above any other possessions. Their culture is actually a blend of Scandinavian, Goth and Anglo-Saxon, but if you’re not a scholar of ancient history, “land Vikings” is good enough for most people. They are ruled by a King, and their chief military officers are Marshalls. The First Marshall of the Riddermark is the highest military officer, stationed at Edoras, the capital. The Second Marshall is stationed at Helm’s Deep, and the Third Marshall is stationed at Aldburg, which doesn’t appear on any map but is somewhere east of Edoras.

Rohan has always been a fierce ally of Gondor. The two nations share a bro-mance going all the way back to Rohan’s pre-history, when the Rohirrim were simply called “the Northmen.” However, although Rohan fights on the side of the “good guys” in The Lord of the Rings, they are not entirely good people. This will become evident as we talk about Rohan’s enemies.

Enemies and Adventure in Rohan

Rohan’s chief enemies are three other groups of Men: the Dunlendings, the Easterlings, and the Woses.

From Gondor’s point of view, the Dunlendings were squatters. They moved into Calenardhon after the region was depopulated by the Great Plague. After Calenardhon was granted to Eorl and became Rohan, the Rohirrim began driving the Dunlendings out. Today, the Dunlendings live in Dunland, west of the Misty Mountains and south of Moria and Eregion. The Dunlending culture is probably similar to that of the ancient Celts.
The biggest conflict with the Dunlendings came in T.A. 2758, when Wulf son of Freca sought vengeance upon King Helm Hammerhand of Rohan for the death of his father. The conflict between these two powerful historical figures would make a great backdrop for a Rohan campaign, as it also coincided with the beginning of The Long Winter and an invasion of Easterlings.

Are the Dunlendings evil? Depends on who you ask. The Dunlendings themselves probably don’t think so. They simply want their land back. Unfortunately, they are less advanced than the Rohirrim, and so they seem like little more than superstitious back country folk. They are easily manipulated into doing evil by the Dark Powers. What would an adventure campaign from the Dunlendings’ point of view look like? A campaign that starts in Dunland is conveniently close to places like Moria, Isengard, and Tharbad.

The Easterlings are actually several groups of Men that come from somewhere East of Mordor. Sometimes they are from around the Sea of Rhûn and sometimes they are from parts further off the map. Their cultures are probably inspired by Eastern Europeans, Russians, Mongolians and even ancient Chinese. Like the Dunlendings, they are easily manipulated by Sauron into doing his dirty work. Rohan exists in the first place because Eorl rode out the north to save Gondor from an Easterling invasion.

The Woses are an especially interesting and often overlooked group in Middle-earth. They are related, somehow, to the Drúedain (NOT the same as the Dúnedain – note the difference in spelling!) that appeared during the First Age. They are a race of quiet, forest-dwelling Men with strange nature magic, most notably the ability to turn into stone. They seem to be peaceful, and yet we hear that the Rohirrim hunted them for sport. The Woses have no great agenda in Middle-earth, and they only live in a few small, isolated places around the fringes of civilization. Perhaps PCs need to seek out the Woses to get a specific bit of lost knowledge or healing magic against a particular type of poison. They would first need to find the Woses and then convince them their intentions are peaceful.

In the north, Rohan faces more supernatural and monstrous threats. Fangorn and Lothlórien are both “haunted, spooky forests” from the typical Rohirrim’s point of view, and Mirkwood is not far away either. The Elves of Lothlórien, while not evil, are very protective of their privacy, and they are no allies to the Rohirrim.

Finally, there is Isengard, a prime example of an adventure site. If a GM does not want to use Isengard itself, it could be the model for similar sites anywhere in Rohan or Gondor. Isengard is a mysterious, black tower that looks like someone stuck four gigantic black pillars in the ground and fused them together. No one knows how it was built or why it was built. As for who built it, the mostly likely candidate is the Númenóreans, who were doing all sorts of strange things in Middle-earth in the Second Age. What’s inside the tower? Who lived there before Saruman? Does the tower itself enhance certain types of magic somehow? Could there be underground tunnels connecting to a dungeon full of monsters and treasure? Endless possibilities, folks.

Describing Gondor

Gondor is simultaneously the largest, most powerful nation in Middle-earth and a nation in decline. The borders of Gondor change throughout the Third Age, but for the most part, Gondor contains all the land between the White Mountains and the Sea.
The people of Gondor are Dúnedain, Men of the West. The Dúnedain are the heirs to the legacy of Númenor, a mighty island empire that existed in the Second Age. The Rangers of the North are also Dúnedain, but the two cultures have grown apart over time. The Dúnedain are very proud. They have knowledge, technology and magic that other Men do not have. They live long lives, although ironically one of their biggest flaws is their fear of death. The pride of the Dúnedain and the conflict it creates is one of the chief themes of Gondor.

Early in the Third Age, the capital of Gondor was Osgiliath, a beautiful city straddling the Anduin. East of Osgiliath, Minas Ithil (Tower of the Moon) guarded an entrance to Mordor. West of Osgiliath, Minas Anor (Tower of the Sun) sat at the base of Mindolluin, the easternmost peak of the White Mountains. All three cities were connected by a road that passed through the beautiful country of Ithilien. That was when things were good in Gondor.

By the end of the Third Age, Osgiliath was in ruins. Minas Ithil had been captured by Nazgûl and renamed Minas Morgul (Tower of Dark Sorcery). Ithilien was overrun by orcs. The capital had been moved to Minas Anor, renamed Minas Tirith (Tower of the Guard). Once ruled by a line of kings descended from Elendil the Tall, father of Isildur, at the end of the Third Age, that line has died out, and Gondor is ruled by Stewards.

Other than Minas Tirith, Gondor’s most important cities are Pelargir and Dol Amroth. Linhir is a distant third on that list, because it contains a strategically important port and bridge. Pelargir is home to the bulk of Gondor’s mighty navy (which becomes less mighty over time). Dol Amroth has a bit of a fantastic history, having once been the home of Celeborn and Galadriel. Rule of the city was granted to a line of Princes when Galadriel departed for Lothlórien, and supposedly the people of the city all have Elven blood. This is probably just a folk tale, made up and passed around by the ignorant, but it can be true in your campaign if you want it to be.

The countryside of Gondor is divided into several provinces that get progressively more rural the more one travels west. Folk from the western provinces are often the butt of jokes from city-folk. Western Gondor seems to be, for the most part, safe and quiet; a place that produces bored farm-boys and farm-girls who head east in search of adventure. However, the quiet western provinces could just as easily be the perfect hiding place for a villain who wants to go unnoticed.

One notable site is the Stone of Erech in the Morthond Vale, near the southern exit of the Paths of the Dead. As with Isengard, the Stone is a mysterious artifact out of the past that could serve as a model for similar sites in Gondor. It is a giant, black sphere, six feet in diameter, that lies half-buried in the earth. Supposedly, Isildur brought it with him from Númenor and placed it in its current location. Why would Isildur go through the trouble of bringing a huge, heavy rock across the ocean, carry it miles inland, and bury it in the earth? What magic or technology was used to accomplish such a feat? Could it, in fact, be an alien spaceship? Like Stonehenge, the Stone of Erech is a place of mystery. It is heavily connected to the Oathbreakers that haunt the Paths of the Dead.

The Long Defeat of Gondor

The major theme that any GM needs to consider when running adventures in Gondor is that of greatness slowly whittled away by an unrelenting, unseen Enemy.

At the birth of the Third Age, Gondor was a mighty nation. Its armies had (with the help of Elves, though they soon forgot) defeated Sauron, conquered Mordor, and brought peace to the world. Even after the North was destroyed by the Witch-King of Angmar, Gondor was strong. They sent a navy all the way to the Grey Havens, and in a single year, they defeated the enemy that had plagued the North for centuries.

However, by the end of the Third Age, all is doom and gloom. Sauron controls Mordor again. Osgiliath is in ruins. No king sits upon the throne. The southern provinces are in the hands of evil Men. The provinces are not able to muster mighty armies like they used to.

I will not attempt to describe all the ways in which Sauron whittled down Gondor’s defenses. Sauron had three thousand years to accomplish his goal and many, many weapons at his disposal. He sent plagues (The Great Plague), controlled the weather (The Long Winter), and sent wave after wave of Easterlings, Southrons and Corsairs against Gondor’s borders.

However, the Men of Gondor were sometimes their own worst enemies. They were arrogant and often forgot the contributions of other races. One of the most devastating early episodes was the Kin-Strife, a civil war that occurred because Gondor’s King had married an outsider (in fact, the daughter of Vidugavia of the Northmen, mentioned in my previous article). While Sauron was certainly manipulating events behind the scenes, the chief culprit for this atrocity was simply racism.

Adventuring in Gondor

For the most part, things are peaceful and safe inside Gondor’s borders. There are not a lot of rampaging orcs or evil wizards. Adventures within Gondor would most likely involve elements typical to urban campaigns: politics, crime, and the odd haunting or malfunctioning magic here and there.

During times when Gondor is openly at war, more opportunities for adventure open up. A band of orcs or brigands might threaten a town because the soldiers are away on the front lines. The PCs might have to defend an important bridge against saboteurs or keep a mountain pass free of monsters so that food and supplies can get to the soldiers. Perhaps spies and traitors have taken over a beacon, and the PCs need to take it back so important messages can be sent.

Describing Mordor

Mordor is surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges that meet at almost perfect right angles, as if they emerged from the earth at the command of some evil god. At the gap between the northern and western mountain ranges is a giant gate, the Black Gate or the Morannon. The other well-known entrance to Mordor is Minas Morgul. There may be other, secret ways over the mountains, and they are probably all very dangerous.
In another D&D campaign setting, Mordor would be on another plane of existence altogether. Being in Mordor is like being in the Abyss or Hell. The sky is black, nothing grows anywhere, and everything is out to get you. In the northwest, there is a network of roads connecting the Black Gate, Minas Morgul, and the Dark Tower of Barad-dûr, Sauron’s chief stronghold. This whole area is called Gorgoroth. The southern portion of Mordor is called Nurn and contains an inland sea with the same name. Sauron allows the sun to shine here so that his slaves can grow food to feed his armies.

All of the major named towers and fortresses, aside from Barad-dûr itself, were built by the Men of Gondor to keep a watch on the land and keep Sauron out. One by one, Sauron took those sites from Gondor and populated them with his orcs. Most of this was done while Sauron was living in Dol Guldur, pretending to be the Necromancer.

Adventuring in Mordor, or Time to Roll Up New Characters!

One does not simply walk into Mordor. If you are a PC in Mordor, your first goal should be to get out as fast as possible. Mordor is not a good place to be. What are you even doing there in the first place? Silly adventurers.

That said, it’s possible to have adventures in Mordor that don’t result in instant death. After all, Shadows of Mordor, a recent popular video game, took place entirely in and around the Land of Shadow. High level campaigns could end here. Low level campaigns could start here, with the PCs as slaves attempting to escape from Nurn.

Adventures in Mordor should be quick, sneaky and require lots of planning. First, the PCs need to figure out how to get in. Do they go in through the Black Gate, or do they find a secret way? Next, they must avoid orc patrols, find whatever it is they came for, and get out fast. Mistakes should have severe consequences for the PCs.

You could run a grim and dark campaign where the PCs come from nations to the South and East. They are allies of Mordor, or at least the orcs won’t kill them on sight, which means they can travel to towns and adventure sites that would be beyond the reach of most adventurers. Perhaps the PCs are slaves to one of the lesser Nazgûl, who relies on them to accomplish missions in places where he can’t go. The PCs need not be evil for this to work, and maybe at a turning point in the campaign, they free themselves and strike back at their master.


I couldn’t wait to write this article. There is just so much to say about these three regions, I wasn’t sure I could do them justice in just one post. What do you think? My next post will cover other regions and other time periods that were not covered in the previous three posts. More posts to come will deal with the races, monsters and larger themes of Middle-earth. I hope my words give you insight into running great campaigns!

Part I: Introduction & the Region of Eriador

Part II: Wilderland

Part IV: Other Places, Other Times

Part V: The Lords of Middle-earth

Part VI: The Mannish Races

Listen to Geoffrey Winn discuss the literature that influenced the creation of D&D every month on the Appendix N podcast on The Tome Show network!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.

I sit down with Teos AbadiaRuss Morrissey, and Dan Dillon to discuss making money in the tabletop RPG business. This discussion is a continuation on a subject first discussed in Round Table 113. Then it’s a conversation with Chris Matney of Trapdoor Technologies to discuss an exciting partnership with Paizo! Their mobile app Playbook will have a whole library of official Pathfinder material soon! This podcast was recorded on March 15 and April 7, 2016.

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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!