Ruins of the Lost Realm
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
When I first read The Lord of the Rings, I found myself enchanted by the idea that just outside the Shire were the remains of what was once a great kingdom, The Lost Realm of Arnor. And how its leaders continued guarding the land, even after the kingdom’s fall, preserving the king’s line all this time.
While Cubicle Seven’s exploration of Middle Earth initially focused on the Wilderlands, as seen in The Hobbit. Free League has started their setting off in the lands that were once the Kingdom of Arnor (nothing about the game precludes other locations).
While the core rules began this trend, the supplement Ruins of the Lost Realm does a much deeper dive into this area. It is currently available as a PDF, with a printed book forthcoming. Like the core rules, the text is primarily black, white, and red, with occasional full-color illustrations. The inside front cover has a two-page spread map of the city of Tharbad, while the inside back cover has a map of the Eriador region (which appears to be a duplicate of the map in the core rules).
Chapter One – The Fog Over Eriador
The book is divided into three chapters. The first one, “Fog Over Eriador,” details various regions of Eriador. Most detailed is the city of Tharbad, once upon a time a major port city on the border between Arnor and Gondor. The authors acknowledge stretching the official Tolkien lore a little, as Appendix B of Lord of the Rings describes Tharbad as being “ruined and deserted” due to floods. The authors interpret this to mean the town was mostly abandoned but continues as a shell of its former self, now ruled by brigands. It’s one of the less pleasant places outside of lands of the Enemy I’ve seen in Middle Earth—one could argue it’s a little out of place in Middle Earth, but I found it to be a very beautiful location.
At first glance, I’d be tempted to say it seems a place that the likes of Fafhrd or the Grey Mouser might be comfortable visiting, but looking at it more closely, it is a place with lots of opportunity for those trying to make the world a better place. Some of its inhabitants are cruel, while others are resigned to their fates. But there are possible allies there as well. There is a would-be freedom fighter, probably doomed without help from a Fellowship. There is an elderly librarian who might aid a Fellowship with her lore. Tharbad presents an excellent opportunity for players to leave their mark on the setting.
While Tharbad receives the greatest detail, several other areas are detailed:
- Swanfleet – A swamp populated with refugees of all sorts—Men, Hobbits, Dwarves, and Elves. There is ancient lore of the Elves to be found here. It is also a place of great danger—and talking animals, like otters. Otters who want money. I think the whole thing was a setup for a dad joke, though I approve…
What does an otter do with money? They wait until a Dwarf-smith comes by, and then they buy clever toys to play with as they swim along. Where does an otter keep its money until then? In a riverbank!
- Lond Daer – Once the first settlement of the Núménoreans on Middle Earth, most of the original settlement is now submerged beneath the water. Once wholly abandoned, it is experiencing a resurgence and building up to become a town—that is, if the serpent recently slain there doesn’t have friends.
- The Dwarf Halls of Harmelt – Ancient mines in the Blue Mountains, inhabited by Dwarves digging ever-deeper for veins of gold, fearing one day the wealth may be tapped out.
- Ruins of Cardolan – Details the lands of one of the splinter kingdoms of Arnor, emphasizing its ancient watchtowers, some of which still survive.
- Eryn Vorn – A small forest once part of a great woodland that included The Old Forest and Fangorn, inhabited by savage tree-dwellers.
- Lone-lands of Minhiriath – Seemingly empty lands in northern Arnor, yet inhabited by many individual homesteads and small hamlets.
The presentation of Tharbad was done exceptionally well. It superbly brings the area to life and presents a lonely but not empty land. The locations chosen are not academic but designed to be used.
Chapter Two – A Gathering Storm
The second chapter details groups that pose a threat to the region. Each of these groups is detailed with its goals, resources, and a timeline of activities they will undertake (and what will happen should the Fellowship do nothing). The authors note that in some cases, the organizations have competing goals and possibly contradictory timelines, encouraging Loremasters to adapt this material to their individual campaigns.
The main antagonist groups include a band of Black Núménoreans, agents of Saruman looking for ring lore, and raiders from Dunland. It’s worth noting that this is not yet the Saruman who has wholly turned to evil, and he has the potential to be a patron for the Fellowship.
Chapter Three – Landmarks
While chapter one deals with regions (the smallest of these being settlements), Chapter Three deals with individual landmarks. Each is
Some of the landmarks are on the more mysterious side, like ancient Elven towers where ring lore might be found. Others are ancient ruins, like Weathertop or ancient islands that are all that remain of Annuminas, once the capital of Arnor. There are potential places of safety, like Ranger refuges and the Halls of Queen Nimue in Lond Daer—though even these places of relative safety have adversaries and opportunities for adventure. And there is a place of massive danger, the goblin-infested Mount Gram.
I initially found the book’s organization a bit strange, with some overlap between the first and third chapters. However, I began to see the actual value of this as a toolkit for an entire campaign. For example, there are ancient elven towers with ring lore within the swamps of Swanfleet. The details of Swanfleet can be used as the Fellowship seeks out these towers. The ancient elven stronghold is fully detailed in Chapter Three, and opposition from Chapter Two can be leveraged to provide an active threat to the Fellowship. As detailed in Chapter Two, they might unknowingly find themselves opposed to Saruman and his quest for ring lore. Or perhaps the Black Núménoreans are searching for that lore. Similarly, Lond Daer is an obvious target for the Dunlendings or the Black Núménoreans, and the Fellowship might find themselves allied with Queen Nimue.
I referred to this book as a toolkit, which was a deliberate choice. The book does not present you with an entire campaign. However, it provides a Loremaster with a lot of resources for building a campaign—and does a lot of the heavy lifting for such an effort.
Is this book for you? If you’re looking for an encyclopedic guide to Eriador, you’ll find this book was not designed for that. It is designed to be used. Nor is it a fully-detailed adventure path or campaign. However, it is an excellent aid for Loremasters planning an Eriador-based campaign. It is overflowing with ideas, locations, seeds, NPCs, and events that can be combined for a very enjoyable campaign—and multiple campaigns using this as their starting point might look very different from each other.
[Reviewer note: I received this PDF from backing Free League’s One Ring Second Edition Kickstarter.]
~ Daniel Stack
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