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OTHER HANDS ISSUE 33/34: War!

Reviewed by Joe Mandala, Copyright ©2001

REVIEW: OTHER HANDS ISSUE 33/34: War!

Editor: Chris Seeman
Graphic Design: Quentin Wescott
Artwork: Quentin Wescott
Linguistic Contributions: David Salo
ISSN: 1081-8359

CONTENTS

Editorial: "What is it good for?" introduction of articles and musings on future Middle-earth games.

Why did the Three Rings lose their powers? Essay on the waning of the Three when the One was destroyed.

Gondorian Warcraft: essay discussing the particulars of the military in the South Kingdom.

Eldacar Must Die! Scenario set in Gondor during the reign of Castamir the Usurper.

Mithril Feature: "The House of Warcraft," a description of three figures from Mithril Miniatures placed in Bozisha-Dar.

Dúnadan Longevity: essay treating the lifespan of the Dúnedain with a list of royal life spans (insert).

Supplement: "Armies of Eriador," indispensable article detailing the military institutions of the four Kingdoms in Eriador Angmar, Arthedain, Rhudaur, and Cardolan.

THE AUTHORS

Charles E. Bouldin, Esq., Why did the Three Rings lose their powers?

Charles E. Bouldin, J.D., is a diplomat for the USA. He recently concluded a tour in Hong Kong, China and after language training is taking his family to Krakow, Poland for his next assignment. His interest in the works of J.R.R. Tolkien dates back to the late 1970s. He has previously written essays as color text for the Middle-earth: Collectible Card Game (MECCG) Players' Guides of the now defunct gaming company, Iron Crown Enterprises. He is active in the MECCG community. His other passions include singing, role playing and dabbling in languages.

Lance R. Blyth, Gondorian Warcraft

Lance is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ.  The piece in OH is his first RPG publication, though he has published some history articles and reviews of books dealing mainly with the military history of the American Southwest.  His interests extend from academia (frontiers of European colonial expansion), to military affairs (Lance serves as a Major in the US Marine reserves and as a live-fire maneuver controller on a monthly basis), to enjoying the outdoors (hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, snowboarding). 

Eric Dubourg, Eldacar Must Die!

Eric has been role-playing for more than ten years, especially with Middle-earth, Five Rings and Star Trek (with a very long MERP campaign that began in Gondor, and which will finish in Mûmakan and Ormal Bay). He is the first developer to tackle Bellakar in Middle Earth (and is now working on Ormal Bay). In real life Eric is an informatician in an SSII (Service Society in Informatique Ingeniery) in France. His interests include Middle Earth, Star Trek, Rome and Egypt.

Chris Seeman, The House of Warcraft, Dúnadan Longevity

Chris Seeman (chris1224@aol.com) is the publisher of Other Hands and has worked extensively on MERP™ (Kin-strife, Southern Gondor, Arnor, Northern Waste, Hands of the 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.

Thomas Morwinsky, Armies of Eriador

Thomas has become a regular contributor to OH, first through the Inland Sea and Nûmenôr maps and later as revision author of Taurinafanto (OH 27) and an article on the history of Mount Gundabad (OH 28). In real life he works on a PhD in Zoology at the University of Kiel (Germany).

EDITORIAL: WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR?

The issue is introduced with a justification of the treatment of war in Middle-earth as an important topic. The history behind some of the pieces (many of which are cast-offs or companion pieces to existing MERP™ modules) is given. There are ruminations on the upcoming games set in Middle-earth from Decipher and (appropriately) the new miniatures war game that Games Workshop will be producing. The editor also brings up the issue of ecumenism, and the possible inclusion of new material dealing with Decipher's new game.

WHY DID THE THREE RINGS LOSE THEIR POWERS?

This essay deals with a very difficult subject, and did not, in the end, unquestionably answer the question. The author cannot be faulted to heavily, though I am not sure that the question can be answered unquestionably. A good theory is put forth, that the Three were destroyed by the external power and spell of Sauron, and treats as irrelevant any possible real link between them (except for the method of their making). The largest problem when dealing with this conundrum is the fact that the Three were created wholly separately and before the one - this theory cleverly sidesteps this issue. While it is a good treatment, it is not infallible but there are some very interesting apocryphal ideas put forth. One of these ideas is that the swords forged of meteoric iron by Eöl came from outside of Arda, and therefore may have been free of the "Morgoth element." Fascinating stuff.

GONDORIAN WARCRAFT

This is a must-read for the military historian who loves Middle-earth. The article is composed as a very practical essay on the means, methods, and composition of the army of Gondor during the Third Age. Everything from the 'kit' (things a warrior carried with him), weapons and armor, training, mustering, organization, to the utilization of the army is covered. A true treatise is probably impossible there is simply not enough source material to be completely detailed on the subject. Lance, however, does an excellent job of teasing detail out of the primary source material (he is an admitted non-expert on ICE's™ works, which probably served him well for this article), and extrapolating some of that material into useful (in gaming terms) ideas. One thing that struck me about this article is its agreement (in wide scope) with much of the ICE™ material, especially in linguistic terminology, which is actually more consistent than the MERP material (perhaps we see Mr. Seeman's fingerprints here). The article also covers some rough historical development, the lack of which always bothered me about ICE's™ nearly static vision of Third Age Middle-earth. All in all, this is a good article, and my only complaint is that it was not a full-length book!

ELDACAR MUST DIE!

I must begin by stating my bias I am currently editing much material being produced by Mr. Dubourg for the regions of Bellakar and Ormal Bay. That being said, I must admire his ability to produce copious amounts of material. He is definitely the most prolific writer of original MERP material that I know of since the demise of ICE™. Eldacar Must Die! is an intrigue-filled romp from Pelargir to Rhovanion, which involves many high-level officials in Gondor (even possibly Castamir at one point). Beginning with a deliberate murder, and ending in a possible wild chase across Calenardhon and southern Rhovanion, this adventure is not for the faint of heart. Political subversives are set on the one hand against the secret police of Castamir the Cornaran with the PCs in the middle. Threats from without and treason in their midst will keep the PCs on their toes. Throughout, there is plenty of advice for the GM to help his PCs wend their way through this treacherous maze, and they will most likely need his help. Small missteps at nearly any point in the adventure can spell disaster. That said - there is a lot of potential for gripping role-playing in this one. I would recommend this adventure to anyone running a campaign in Gondor (or environs) during the Third Age during the reign of Castamir the Usurper (from 1437 to 1447). It is an excellent addition to the scenarios put forth in The Kin-Strife™.

MITHRIL FEATURE: THE HOUSE OF WARCRAFT

Three figurines from Mithril Miniatures are featured in this issue's article. The First Officer of the Visi (M75b), a Councilor (M76), and a Foot Guard (75a) are showcased. There is also a short explanation of what and where the Visi are, and the ritual battle an initiate must undergo to enter the ranks of this elite fighting corps.

DÚNADAN LONGEVITY

There have been many discussions on various Internet media (most notably the MERP discussion board at http://www.merp.com) dealing with the longevity, in general, of the Dúnedain. This article neatly sums them up and gives a fairly authoritative explanation of the issue. It deals with the misleading (though technically correct) figures given in the MERP™ material, and moves on from there, drawing exclusively from primary (The Lord of the Rings) and secondary (Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle-earth, The Silmarillion) source material. Some notes are made on derived material (MERP™), and major inconsistencies are pointed out. Most interestingly noted are the inherent differences between the King's Men (sometimes called Black Númenóreans) and the Faithful (the Elendili) there is a direct link between the corrupted King's Men and their loss of lifespan (which exacerbates their 'faithlessness'). The numbers provided as suggested life spans through time of the Dúnedain are not definitely set forth as either averages or maximums that crucial decision is to be made by the GM. There is an insert detailing all known royal Dúnadan life spans (as well as those of the Stewards) that also lists ages at which these folks had children. The ages of non-royals are given as a percentage of this maximum royal age (again, through time). I personally consider this the most definitive essay on the subject I have yet read. Kudos to Mr. Seeman!

ARMIES OF ERIADOR

Thomas Morwinsky has done the unthinkable: he has made sense of the miasma that is demographics (primarily military) in MERP™ modules dealing with the Eriadorian kingdoms (Angmar, Arthedain, Cardolan, and Rhudaur). With a fairly heavy hand, and drawing on the excellent feudal material in the Harn™ books from Columbia Games, Thomas redefines the numbers and to some degree the organization of the armies of the region. Each kingdom gets its own treatment, with perhaps Angmar receiving the most drastic revision. This is not a bad thing, as is clearly explained in the supplement. Angmar's infrastructure borders on the absurd in the relevant MERP™ modules (am I being vituperative?).

The article begins with a clear explanation of its goal to provide a reasonable set of numbers for the armies in three key time periods TA1400, TA1640, and TA1974. The numbers are drawn from extended work done on population figures for Eriador that can be found at http://www.otherhands.com, which, incidentally, make much more sense than most of the figures found in the relevant MERP™ modules. We then move directly into discussions on each of the four kingdoms individually. Each section describes the size, composition, tactics, equipment, and brief history of the respective kingdoms, with special treatments of institutions and issues particular to each culture (the Rangers of Cardolan, for instance). Finally, some suggested readings are given, including many Harn™ modules and some excellent works on feudal military organization.

Overall, this is an excellent source for adventuring in Eriador. It helps immensely in understanding the underlying political and military structure of the area, and thus helps fill the backdrop against which your PCs will be adventuring. Indeed, many PCs will at least have contact with, if not be members of, the armies of one of these kingdoms if they spend any appreciable amount of time in Eriador. In that sense, it is imperative to understand the relationship of the armies to the politics, economics, and the societies of Angmar, Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur.

CONCLUSION

Again, Other Hands shows its ability to continue and improve upon the work of the MERP™ authors (and in no small part editors). It sometimes seems unfortunate that much of this excellent work has been published after the corpus of work that ICE™ produced. On the "other hand" (ahem), it is my opinion that in the open forum that seems to have sprung up since the demise of ICE™, with the guiding hand of some select few, there seem to have been written some very excellent pieces dealing with gaming in Middle-earth. Some few can be found in this issue of Other Hands, and I have no doubt that we may continue to expect as much in future issues.

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