This is the original introduction to the players, from circa October 2007 .
|Back in 1992 I decided to run something in Middle-earth as an introduction to roleplaying for some friends, for the simple reason that even non-gamers already have a sense of what the world and its inhabitants would be like. That became a game that ran for 5 years, followed by another that ran for 7, and in that time I got more and more into the background and became more and more of a Tolkien purist. But I stopped short of disappearing up my own goblin tunnel, and hope I have a good sense for the balance between doing justice to Middle-earth as a setting, and still running a game that can be fun.
When I re-read the bit in The Hobbit where Gandalf describes Bilbo to Thorin Oakenshield as “an expert treasure-hunter” I realised that the Dwarves, at least, did indeed recognise something at least akin to a class of professional adventurers. I’d like to use this as the basis of a new game, with the renowned solidarity of the Dwarves also providing a good justification for a group to stick together and not (necessarily) turn to treachery the moment the vault doors are open.
The root of the tale lies in the death of Smaug, the return of the King Under the Mountain and the repopulation of his kingdom by the Longbeard dwarves of Durin’s Folk. The Longbeards were latterly scattered across the North-west, from the Blue Mountains to the Iron Hills, but the War of the Dwarves and Orcs – still within living memory – brought together dwarves of all Seven Houses from the length and breadth of Middle-earth. Dwarves of the other Houses, expert treasure-hunters among them, might therefore also be drawn by the refounding of the Kingdom Under the Mountain: Firebeards, Broadbeams, Ironfists, Stiffbeards, Blacklocks and Stonefeet. At the same time, Dale is being rebuilt and new friendships are being forged between Dwarves and Men.
|Said Gimli Gloin’s son: |
“This is the great realm and city of the Dwarrowdelf. And of old it was not darksome, but full of light and splendour, as is still remembered in our songs.” He rose and standing in the dark he began to chant in a deep voice, while the echoes ran away into the roof.
“A king he was on carven throne
In many-pillared halls of stone
With golden roof and silver floor,
And runes of power upon the door.
The light of sun and star and moon
In shining lamps of crystal hewn
Undimmed by cloud or shade of night
There shone for ever fair and bright.
There hammer on the anvil smote,
There chisel clove, and graver wrote;
There forged was blade, and bound was hilt;
The delver mined, the mason built.
There beryl, pearl, and opal pale,
And metal wrought like fishes’ mail,
Buckler and corslet, axe and sword,
And shining spears were laid in hoard.”
I’d like the heart of the party to be dwarvish, and the Lonely Mountain to be the starting point and base of operations. Men, hobbits – and particularly elves – would likely suffer some discrimination and be regarded as outsiders in some matters, but if they can offer a “treasure-seeking” or other critical skill not found among the Dwarves, they could obviously make a unique contribution to the party.
Niches might include the dwarven specialties relating to locks and engineering, lore (if not practice) of the old ‘door magic’ especially favoured by dwarves for concealing doors and rendering them impregnable to ordinary brute force (for the practice of magic is rare these days). And no party will ever get far without a competent spokesman, a snooper and sneaker, a brace of warriors and perhaps (later?) someone who can help them get by around Wilderland.
The History of the Dwarves
The last thousand years have seen a succession of great tragedies for the Dwarven folk of the North-west of Middle-earth. Whatever the nature of the great and ancient evil that was Durin’s Bane, it slew first King Durin VI and then his son King Nain I, and within a year the dwarves were forced to abandon Khazad-dûm.
The glories of thousand years of craft could not be taken away with them into exile, and so were hidden deep, as secret and as safe as could be.
Though Thrain I founded the Kingdom Under the Mountain shortly after, the most part of the Longbeards and their Firebeard and Broadbeam cousins looked to rebuild their fortunes from the rich seams of the Grey Mountains.
But evil found them there again as they rebuilt something of their wealth. Dragons came out of the frozen North and plundered mine after hold after hall until the dwarves were driven out in defeat and returned south under King Thrór to the Lonely Mountain or under his brother Grór to the Iron Hills.
In the Lonely Mountain they had two centuries of prosperity, but even within the lifetime of Thrór, Smaug the Golden came again in search of dwarven gold and there was a massive slaughter of the Dwarves, with the survivors driven out once more. Many went to the Iron Hills and others went west to their few distant kinsmen in the Blue Mountains; many strove as traders or hiring out their skills with metal and with stone.
The lands of the Longbeards, west and north and east of Mirkwood the Great therefore hold a legacy of a thousand years of treasures buried deep in the hope that they might escape the claws of the dragons, of weapons stored in secret caches against the day that the dwarves might return and take them up once more.
No race in Middle-earth is so secretive as the dwarves, none so jealous, nor any as skilled in the working of stone, metal, runes of protection or curses to afflict those who would steal their gold. Though much lore has been lost through long years of decline, some few still pursue the arts of the expert treasure-seeker.
The Houses of the Dwarves
Tolkien never really shows us the diversity that exists amongst the Dwarves of the different Houses. Though tight with one another, they’re not necessarily even all good guys!
Shortly after the Coming of Smaug, the aging King Thrór ventured alone on a desperate quest into Khazad-dûm and was brutally slain by Azog the Orc.
The War of the Dwarves and Orcs, fought to avenge him, is still within living memory for the Dwarves of the refounded Kingdom Under the Mountain. This War brought together an alliance of dwarves from all the Seven Houses in Middle-earth.
In times of great need even the most distant would send help to any of their people; as was the case in the great War against the Orks (Third Age 2793 to 2799).
– ‘Of Dwarves and Men’, Peoples of Middle-earth p. 301
The venture must not only have been one of vengeance for the death of Thrór, but for many must also have reawoken thoughts of the countless treasuries and armouries of Khazad-dûm and what still lay stored there a thousand years after the death of Durin VI. That Dáin Ironfoot, the slayer of Azog, beheld a horror in the gate of Khazad-dûm that prevented the surviving dwarves from reentering their abandoned mansion must have been a great disappointment to many.
Years later, the Death of Smaug allowed the refounding of the Kingdom Under the Mountain, with Dáin Ironfoot as its king. The repopulation of the dwarven kingdom of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, would not only have included the Longbeards and their longstanding allies, the Firebeards and Broadbeams of the Blue Mountains, but perhaps also Stiffbeards and Ironfists from the east, and even Stonefoots and Blacklocks from further afield — “east of east”, as it has been described. It is likely that this would have brought together treasure-seekers and loremasters with their stores of histories and ancient maps that had previously long been sundered from one another.
And Balin, kinsman of Thorin Oakenshield, speaks of establishing a colony in Moria that might, for the first time in a thousand years, offer a base from which the adventurous and the learned could seek to explore the halls of the Dwarrowdelf…
The Dwarves of the Seven Houses would differ in many ways even if Mannish observers might distinguish them only by the lengths of their beards and the colours of their hoods.
The first Men to become allied with the Dwarves of Nogrod and Belegost in Beleriand in the First Age were brave and loyal folk, truehearted, haters of Morgoth and his servants; at first had regarded the Dwarves askance, fearing that they were under the Shadow (as they said).28
28 For they had met some far to the East who were of evil mind. [This was a pencilled note.]
On the previous page of the typescript my father wrote […]: ‘Alas, it seems probable that (as Men did later) the Dwarves of the far eastern mansions (and some of the nearer ones?) came under the Shadow of Morgoth and turned to evil.’]
– ‘Of Dwarves and Men’, PoME p. 303
Against this we have the stronger reference from Appendix F of LOTR:
They are a tough, thrawn race for the most part, secretive, laborious, retentive of the memory of injuries (and of benefits), lovers of stone, of gems, of things that take shape under the hands of craftsmen rather than things that live by their own life. But they are not evil by nature, and few ever served the Enemy of free will, whatever the tales of Men may have alleged.
– ‘The Languages and Peoples of the Third Age’, LotR