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A review of Other Hands Issue 31/32: Evil Races

Copyright Joe Mandala ©2001

Editors: Martin Burke, Chris Seeman, and Charles Watteyne
Graphic Design: Quentin Wescott
Artwork: Bridget Buxton, Clovis Fajardo, and Quentin Wescott
Linguistic Contributions: David Salo, Arden Smith
Maps: Jeff J. Erwin, Thomas Morwinsky
ISSN: 1081-8359

Contents

  • Editorial: "Journey to the Crossroads," discussion of ICE demise and current contents.
  • Magic Feature: "Heartstrings," two spell lists based on Elven "magic."
  • The Lughoth: detailing an orc-tribe in northern Arthedain.
  • Tol Fuin and the Shadowy Isles: a gazetteer of the islands west of Lindon.
  • Mithril Feature: "Mayhem under the Mountain," a description of four figures from Mithril Miniatures placed in Gundabad.
  • Using D&D 3rd Edition for Middle-earth Campaigns: a treatment for using the d20 system in Middle-earth.
  • The Great Spiders: descriptions and stats for the Great Spiders of Middle-earth.
  • Supplement: "The Eyes of Oclanoc and Other Tales," a set of three adventures set in southwestern Lebennin.

The Authors

  • David Wendelken, Heartstrings
    Bio unavailable at time of publishing.
  • George Photopoulos, The Lughoth
    Bio unavailable at time of publishing.
  • Jeff J. Erwin, Tol Fuin and the Shadowy Isles
    Bio unavailable at time of publishing.
  • Chris Seeman, Mayhem under the Mountain
    Chris Seeman (chris1224@aol.com) is the publisher of Other Hands and has worked extensively on MERP(TM) (Kin-strife, Southern Gondor, Arnor, Northern Waste, Hands of he Healer). In real life he spends his days trying to finish a doctoral degree in Near Eastern Religions at UC Berkeley. He is a noted Tolkien scholar in gaming circles.
  • Brian McNeilly, Using D&D 3rd Edition for Middle-earth Campaigns
    Bio unavailable at time of publishing.
  • Justin Morgan-Davies, The Great Spiders
    Bio unavailable at time of publishing.
  • John Bliven Morin, The Eyes of Oclanoc and Other Tales
    A native of Coronado Beach, Florida, John is a retired prehistorian/archaeologist who lives in Honolulu, Hawaii. He has 4 daughters, 11 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandson! John was introduced to Tolkien's works in 1972, and was introduced to FRP gaming in 1977. After DM'ing for several years and designing his own people and places, he wrote most of Sea-Lords of Gondor, which was edited, supplemented and published by ICE in 1987. Several other pieces written during this time for D&D remain unpublished. He wrote The Eyes of Oclanoc shortly after, and this is its first published appearance.

Editorial: Journey to the crossroads

The editor introduces this issue with some musings on the future of the commercial aspect of Middle-earth gaming - also giving reassurances that Other Hands continues unabated. News from New Line (makers of the soon-to-be-released Lord of the Rings trilogy) is included. Short introductions to the pieces in the issue round out this short editorial.

Heartstrings

An amusing anecdotal introduction to the ways in which an Elf might be persuaded to teach "magic" to a mortal begins this excellent piece. There are some good explanations embedded in the narrative of how magic might work in Middle-earth. The lists themselves are excellent, even though they follow the somewhat stilted form of Rolemaster and MERP lists. Closely related in form and function to the Bard lists in the mentioned systems, the first list is a medley of useful tunes with a wide variety of applications. The second list (Teaching Lore) is useful as a "down-time" list (not really for active adventuring), or one that would be useful for NPCs to have. The Teaching list has some fairly complex mechanics attached to it, but they are fairly and clearly explained. Overall, this article provides a welcome addition to the short, short list of spells that might be justified for use in Middle-earth games.

The Lugoth

This is an excellent article detailing one of many orc-tribes originally described in ICE's Arthedain sourcebook, The Rangers of the North©. The familiar structure of cultural description as found in the ICE material begins the piece. This is followed by the history and description of the Lughoth stronghold, Zaulug. An orkish outpost (fos-hold) is also detailed, for those who don't wish to challenge the might of the entire tribe at once! Four personalities are then described - a vicious lot of backstabbing murderers, this! George has given us a useful glimpse into the internal workings of one of these faceless tribes of orcs. Much of the time, orcs are treated as a homogeneous culture, hell-bent on destruction and internal strife. This also happens to be the case with the Lughoth, though the detail helps differentiate them from other tribes. This article is highly recommended for anyone campaigning in Arthedain during the Angmarian occupation of the northeast frontier. Hopefully other such articles will be written on the remaining tribes!

Tol Fuin and the shadowy isles

This is possibly my favorite article of the issue. Detailing the islands west of Lindon (the remnants of lost Belariand, actually), this piece is an excellent gazetteer. It is accompanied by an excellent two-sided map of Tol Fuin (the largest and most interesting of the islands). Remnants of Sauronic and Melkorian horror, failed colonies, Feanorian hold-overs: these are a few of the fascinating pieces that paint a picture of a shattered land still haunted by its past. The history here is excellent - very well researched and written. There are extensive footnotes, and quotes from both primary sources (mainly the Silmarillion), and from the History of Middle-earth series. A quick geographical gazetteer is followed by the extensive history from the First through the Third Ages. The article focuses mainly on Tol Fuin, though some detail is offered on the other isles. There is not much mechanical detail here, but there are monstrous possibilities for a nautical campaign. I would personally love to write a campaign based on this piece, and could probably run it for years before I exhausted it. I will say it again: this is a very well researched piece with excellent references and writing. This article alone definitely makes this issue worth the price of admission.

Mithril feature: Mayhem under the mountain

Four figures from Mithril Miniatures are featured in this issue's feature. Zalg, the Goblin-king (M93), Karagat the High Priest (M99), Akargun the Warlock (M96), and Saviga, the King's Consort (M95). A delightful little vignette of evil sacrifice, intrigue, and bloody death accompanies the centerfold.

Using D&D 3rd edition for Middle-Earth campaigns

We knew it would happen as soon as the d20 System was released. Rules for playing with that system in Middle-earth have been popping up all over, but this treatment is the most complete and though out I have seen to date. We are treated to methods for adapting the races, languages, money, religion, and magic (including corruption and detection) of Middle-earth to the d20 System. Unfortunately, my knowledge of d20 System is limited, so the practicality of the piece is beyond my experience. There are, however, many excellent tips for running campaigns with any system, and many of the notes are applicable even to using the MERP and Rolemaster systems. This is a good article; well composed, concise, and useful.

The great spiders

In this article, the author tries to describe the many types of "great" (or giant) spiders that infest Middle-earth. It is told from the point of view of one Brandir of Esgaroth, apparently a spider-hunter of some renown. The bulk of the piece is a narrative description by Brandir of the many kinds of spiders in Middle-earth. The prose is a bit stilted, and Brandir seems to have studied with some Elven lore masters at some point (a rare Northman, that!), but the information is useful. He tells us of spiders from the Ungoliant to the 'jumping spiders' of the Yellow Mountains, and everything in between (including a bit on Shelob). By far the most useful part of this article is the "monster statistics" at the end. These include the standard stats given for creatures in MERP and Rolemaster modules. Not the best read of the issue, but definitely useful for those folks running campaigns in Mirkwood or other arachnid haunts.

The eyes of Oclanoc and other tales

[This article is a separate supplemental booklet.] These are a series of three adventures set in and around the village of Gaeros in southwestern Lebennin. Recently devastated by Corsair raids, and lacking the strategic value necessary to house a sizable contingent of Gondorian military, this area is somewhat of a 'backwater' - perfect for adventuresome types. The stories are set around TA1650, and mesh well with most of the rest of the ICE's MERP modules. Indeed the author (John Bliven Morin) was the primary scribe of the Sea-Lords of Gondor©, a seminal MERP module.
The adventures include a typical 'highwayman' run-in, a story of werewolves in a dark, dangerous forest, and a sea-drake hidden below a mysterious cliff-side feature (the face of Oclanoc, from which the name of the module derives). This is fairly stock material, and includes fairly typical storylines. The NPCs are archetypical, the dangers relatively predicable, and the booty correspondingly rich. The werewolf story is probably the best of the lot, including a poignant love affair between an NPC and a beautiful lady (who happens to be a werewolf by night). If you enjoy running adventures that have a 'fairy-tale' feel to them, this is an excellent source. As a matter of fact, journals of adventures run in this module could probably pass for entries in Grimm's Fairy Tales. Not necessarily a bad result, by any means!
With some good storytelling, and an experienced GM, these adventures could add spice and verve to a campaign being run in Southern Gondor. The novice GM would find themselves running a very typical series of adventures, at the risk of boring experienced players. My advice would be to take the stories, throw in some campaign hooks from past adventures (perhaps modify some of the NPCs to fit your Recurring Villains), and be prepared to do a lot of on-your-feet storytelling.
It's been a while since Other Hands featured a full-length adventure, and it's nice to see the feature reappear. While The Eyes of Oclanoc contains good, solid adventures, there is nothing exceptional about them. I recommend that if you are running a campaign in southern Gondor, use these adventures to fill in the gaps. Take the opportunity to use and create some extended campaign hooks - there is plenty of room for improvisation here.

Conclusion

Over all, Chris and his crew manage to again produce an excellent issue with many and varied topics covered (with only two articles apparently having much to do with the issue's title: Evil Races). My favorite article of this issue was Tol Fuin and the Shadowy Isles, but there is quite a lot of other great material to be found here. I again heartily recommend that you obtain a copy if you are running (or are planning to run) a campaign in Arthedain, Mirkwood, Southern Gondor, or off the coasts of northwestern Middle-earth.

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