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Old 01-04-2013, 10:48 PM   #1
combatmedic
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Default Fourth Age of Middle Earth gaming

So, the Fourth Age…

Is it boring because Sauron is gone?I’m not asking about novels, mind you, but games. Not the same thing.

My guess is ‘no, it’s not boring for not for gaming.’ Not every Middle Earth game needs to involve saving the whole world from the power of Evil, but games should have a moral dimension.

Evil remains, of course, even if its physical power is reduced. The world doesn’t just become a utopia. All the human failings that create conflict and drama still remain, and many monsters doubtless roam the darker parts of Middle Earth.

Tolkien started work on a thriller involving ‘the new Shadow’, an evil cult or secret society, and gangs of young men or boys acting in ‘orcish’ ways. He ditched it. While it might not have been up his alley, a thriller like that sounds like it could make for a great Fourth Age game set in Gondor.

Something else to consider is whether any of the orcs have changed after Sauron’s fall/banishment. If he’s not able to dominate them as he used to do, maybe some few orcs have turned from evil?
Who are the slaves in Rhun that were set free by Aragorn and given their own lands? Are they humans? Orcs? Half-orcs? A mix of all three kinds?

Magic presumably remains part of the world, although maybe magic related to Sauron is weakened. Or maybe not. Was he the source of black magic or simply a teacher of it? And what of the other sorts of magic in the world?
The elves diminish and retreat, but not all at once. I think a little diminishment of them is probably good from a game balance perspective anyway, judging by stat write-ups I have see :0

Men are the dominant race in this age, but the Dwarves and especially the Hobbits don’t seem to be badly off.
We have a fair idea of the large scale political situation of the early part of the Fourth Age.

Although Tolkien seemed pessimistic about the possibilities of success, a quest to find the missing Entwives might make a fun RPG campaign, if you wanted something grand.

All of this is just IMHO, and YMMV.

But what do you guys think?
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Old 01-05-2013, 01:51 AM   #2
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Default Re: Fourth Age of Middle Earth gaming

The hardest and most important actions for prosperity comes after the big battles and disasters, in my opinion. So I think that setting would be far more fun to play in than any of the main books.
There's a web comic that takes TLOTR as if it were a D&D clone game. The railroading and making the GM PC Frodo the Mary Sue (or Marty Stu if you're need sex agreement in labels.) show how badly such a setting really is for gaming.
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Old 01-05-2013, 02:04 AM   #3
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4th age isn't well enough defined to be a gaming setting. You could do a setting in your own homebuilt 4th age, and that might or might not be a good game, but that's largely up to the GM, not a feature of the 4th age as such.
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Old 01-05-2013, 02:08 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
4th age isn't well enough defined to be a gaming setting. You could do a setting in your own homebuilt 4th age, and that might or might not be a good game, but that's largely up to the GM, not a feature of the 4th age as such.
I consider the relative lack of era speciic details a bonus.
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Old 01-05-2013, 02:53 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by combatmedic View Post
I consider the relative lack of era speciic details a bonus.
My point is, you can do a '4th age of middle earth' game, and it could be a good or bad game, but what makes it good or bad is pretty much you, and not what Tolkien said or didn't say about the 4th age.
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Old 01-05-2013, 02:58 AM   #6
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Is it boring because Sauron is gone?
On the contrary, IMO it becomes interesting because Sauron is gone. If you set a game during the late Third Age the players would tend to be distracted by the thought that there was something else going on that was more important than what their characters were doing, that they could be doing something more worthwhile, that they were not the protagonists, and that their story was not the story. Moreover there would be too much clear-cut conflict in which the players knew who needed to be supported and who opposed, too much patent good and evil: that leaves the players with only tactical choices to make. ("I only need to know one thing: where they are!")

So when my players asked me to run something set in Middle-earth I chose the beginning of the Fourth Age, and the Reconstruction of Arnor. There was conflict between the Dunedain of the North and the Hobbits of the Shire (on one hand) and the immigrating Men of Shadow on the other, and something to be said for each side. The Dunedain of the North had given their all to the struggle for over a thousand years, and deserved recognition and reward: Arnor was made up of lands that were rightfully their lordships. On the other hand the refugee Black Númenoreans had been promised a new start and land for the homesteading, and they had preserved arts the the Dunedain of the North needed, and they had repented, goddammit! Without open warfare and clear-cut good and evil there was a lot more to do, find out, and think about than tactics. The PCs ended up striving to prevent a split between the young and old Black Númenoreans over the issue of humility. It was fun.
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Old 01-05-2013, 03:02 AM   #7
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Previous discussion.
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Old 01-05-2013, 08:48 AM   #8
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Default Re: Fourth Age of Middle Earth gaming

Remember also that the magic is dying... the Elves are leaving... the old world is fading... I'd make fourth age Middle Earth a Very Low or No Mana zone.
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Old 01-05-2013, 12:35 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by combatmedic View Post
I consider the relative lack of era specific details a bonus.
I don't. Every bit of specific detail someone else provides for me is something I don't have to spend my own limited efforts on. And I've not yet met a game setting so detailed that it didn't leave me all the scope for my own additions I could possibly use.

The amount of effort I would have to put into a 4th Age campaign would be much better spent reviving my old fantasy campaign.


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Old 01-05-2013, 10:45 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by combatmedic View Post
So, the Fourth Age…

Is it boring because Sauron is gone?I’m not asking about novels, mind you, but games. Not the same thing.
Not necessarily, but it is fundamentally different than the previous 3 Ages. The Dominion of Men has begun in earnest, in a sense the Fourth Age onward (Tolkien said at one point that he thinks today we are at least in the Fifth, and probably the Sixth Age, in the 20th century) is 'our world', and will 'feel' different.

That said, there are certainly role-playing opportunities for those who like those sorts of settings: there are wars waged as Aragorn reasserts royal authority across his dominions, formerly enemy-held territories to explore and reclaim, etc.

IMHO, though, a better role playing period is the very late Second Age. JRRT laid out quite a bit about it in a high concept way, but left almost all the details unexplored.

In late Numenor, for ex, it would be possible to game out scenarios involving hiding from the authorities, continuing the worship of God and friendship with the Eldar, while the King's Men try to hunt out the dissenters. Numanor under the last two Kings probably had all the appurtances of a semi-tyranny,
and until Ar-Pharazon at the end it was one of the nastiest dictatorships ever.

Can the PCs rescue the Faithful prisoners before they are sacrificed to Melkor? Will the PC's wife help him in the task, she claims to be of the Faithful, but her family is King's Men, can she be trusted? Is one of the party an informer? Can the underground railroad smuggle the escapees through one of the ports to safety in Middle-earth?

(Canonically, one such 'underground' action was executed by Isildur, when he saved a fruit of the White Tree before Ar-Pharazon destroyed it, that seed gave rise to the White Tree of Gondor. Many other opportunities exist.)

(It should be kept in mind that for all it was an island, Numenor actually only had a few really good seaports, most of the coast was rugged and cliff-faced. Only the southern coast was gentle...and some of that was marshy, it might actually be a good place for rebels and dissenters to hide...)

When the End approaches, Elendil and his sons, in accordance with the command of Elendil's father, are on the run, avoiding both the King's press gangs and Sauron's evil priests, until they gather in an escape fleet hiding on the east coast. The PCs can be Faithful followers of Elendil, can they get their party of women and children to the ships in time to escape? They must avoid both the authorities trying to draft men for the Armada and the Sauronic priests seeking sacrifices to Melkor, keeping in mind that the majority of their fellow Dunedain are on the other side.

If they do escape, there are new kingdoms to found in Middle-earth, about which foundation Tolkien told us almost nothing in detail. If the PCs are lieutenents of Elendil, or Isildur or Anarion, there are many opporunities in the foundation of Arnor and Gondor.

It should be kept in mind, too, that the Faithful thought that the only good thing to come of the downfall of Numenor was that Sauron was gone. The discovery that he was still active in the world would be a huge shock for the Faithful, just as they were starting to get their footing in Arnor and Gondor.

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Magic presumably remains part of the world, although maybe magic related to Sauron is weakened. Or maybe not. Was he the source of black magic or simply a teacher of it?
Magic in Tolkien's world is a complicated mix of things not necessarily actually related to each other, other than in mortal misperception. But no, Sauron isn't the source of evil magic, Melkor is. Melkor infused the world with his own essence, that essence is the basis for much of the 'black magic' of Sauron and the other evil powers.
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