All That Glitters
by Anders Blixt
It is also possible to relocate the campaign to other uncivilized Gondorian mountain areas: the Anfalas or Drúwaith Iaur foothills of western Ered Nimrais or the Misty Mountains of Enedwaith. However, the Gamemaster must then on his own substitute the Southron locals with the relevant natives (usually Daen tribes) and modify several other details of the text.
The Malduin Area
The Malduin (S. "Gold river", a name obviously acquired after the discovery of the goldbefore, it had no name on Gondorian maps) is one of these creeks, originating about one hundred miles west of the source of the Harnen. It and some of its tributaries contain auriferous sand, which can be washed from the water by the traditional manual process. The streams are rarely more than two feet deep and six feet wide while the Malduin itself is equally shallow, but up to twenty feet wide.
The average gold-washer is a sturdy farmer lad from the Anduin vale or Belfalas. He heard the tales of gold in Harondor, spent his savings equipping himself and trekked the long way to the Malduin. He arrived a bit naïve but soon learnt the basic skills of his new trade and the need to work long hours in the burning sun to avoid starvation. He also learnt of the necessity of cooperation. A lone man has slim chances of survival in a place where there are no effective authorities. The common gold-washersjokingly calling themselves otters, since they work in the streamsband together for mutual benefit, building fortified encampments and jointly maintaining some semblance of law and order. It is important for them to properly delineate land claims and to find methods of settling conflicts without resorting to violence. The otters have for those purposes adapted the legal traditions of Gondor to a set of common law regulations suiting their needs.
There is a sprinkling of non-Gondorians among the otters: Donân from nearby north Harondor, Eredrim from Anfalas, Northmen from Rhovanion, Easterlings from Khand (unpopular among the Westerners), and a closely-knit group of adventurous young Dwarves from Moria.
A Typical Encampment
The Artisans and the
In an encampment there is always a steady need for black-smiths, wain-wrights, tent-makers, and tailors to maintain and repair the gold-washers possessions. Due to the generally inflated price levels, a skilled artisan is able to charge twice or thrice as much as in the Anduin vale cities. However, his costs are equally inflated. Often, an artisan is a part-time gold-washer as well. Since he provides essential services while usually being a fully integrated member of the gold-washer community, the artisan is generally accepted by the otters.
The otters are able to provide much of their own food by hunting and cultivating small garden plots inside the encampments. However, the common mans skills are not enough to bring about some items, such as good beer or spices. (Perhaps the services of women fall into this category as well.) The entrepreneurs supplying such merchandise earn well, and are often the subjects of the otters dislike and envy, forcing them to employ body-guards for protection. Many entrepreneurs are criminals from Pelargir or Minas Anor, sent here by their bosses to make a quick profit.
The Gondorian Presence
Tuor accepted his mission with dark pleasure in his heart, since he realized that this was good chance to make a small fortune through corruption. Being the only permanent representative of Gondor east of the Road, there is nobody to oversee him and discover that he accepts bribes. However, he is not stupid, so he is careful to maintain a surface of respectability and honesty. The best way of satisfying those that bribe him while keeping an aura of credibility is to be elsewhere when something critical happens and to bias the judicial process by an excessive use of petty technicalities to achieve the desired results. Already after one year as warden, Tuor is thoroughly disliked by the otters, but they cannot accuse him of any substantial wrong-doings. Most of their complaints against entrepreneurs and strongmen founder on technicalities, while their opponents are far more successful when they bring their cases to the wardens judgement.
Fifty soldiers cannot keep complete control of several thousand gold-washers scattered in dozens of wilderness encampment. Their main task is to prevent outbreaks of anarchy and banditry, tasks that they so far have managed well. However, they have occasionally been ordered to enforce Tuors unjust decisions against otters. This has caused a lot of resentment among the common gold-washers who no longer fraternize with the soldiers. The two groups become more and more estranged.
The soldiers really dislike going against their countrymen. They think that their main task is to fight raiders, bandits and Orcs, not to evict ordinary gold-washers from disputed land. There is a growing disapproval with Tuors policies, though none yet suspect him of taking bribes.
On the other hand, a lot of Southrons earn money by selling supplies to the gold-washers. There is a steady demand for wheat flour, spices, hides and cloth, goods that the natives produce themselves and exchange for gold at a good rate. The precious metal is then used to buy tools and weapons from the Gondorian villages in western Harondor.
Hence there is no united Southron front against the gold-washers. Instead, there has already been strife among the natives when antagonistic groups have tried to settle their conflicts by force. (This is fortunate for the Gondorians; should the natives unite, the new-comers would not have a chance of surviving in the foothills.) So far, no Gondorian knows of these incidents, since there is so little communication between the two ethnic groups.
The Ephel Dúath
The Orcs have little information on the events in the foothills and do not understand why there is such a sudden influx of Gondorians. Occasionally, a group attacks an otter encampment to steal food and weaponry, but there is no organized warfare due to the absence of a strong leader to take command over the squabbling tribes.
It is suggested that the Gamemaster uses the following simple method to determine how much gold a player character discover during a day in the stream. Since this is a fairly boring task, it should be burdened by too much arithmetics.
The Formula For Success
The result is the amount of gold, measured in grams (28 grams Å 1 oz), that the gold-washer has found. If the final result is zero or negative, too bad, you did not find any gold today.
If you roll a 10, roll again and add the result; if you roll another 10, roll again, etc (it is an openended series of rolls, making it possible though, extremely unlikely, to find quite big lumps of gold).
Example: The experienced Boromir, who has staked a section of poor quality stream, works hard a sunny day; his player rolls 10, and hence rolls again, another 10, and again, 7, giving 27-6 (poor quality stream) = 21 grams. Boromir really struck it lucky when he found a gold lump weighing about 3/4 ounce.
His buddy Dior in the adjacent stake is less lucky; his player rolling a 4, giving a zero result. No nuggets found today. However, he expects Boromir to make a small celebration with his buddies tonight.
A Tale of Savagery and
The players, living or staying in one of the encampments, face the choice between fighting the injustice or leaving. Their fellow otters are tough frontiersmen, but not warriors. The seven mercenaries are competent and merciless and plan to kill or scare away the undesirable otters with terror, leaving false clues implicating Southrons as the perpetrators. The swordsmens presence is initially unknown, but the players have the opportunity of uncovering the true story behind the fearsome events. However, putting them permanently out of action will be a major accomplishment.
The disappearances are discovered after a few hours but nobody is able to understand what exactly has happened.
The rumour of the killings spreads like wildfire in the area. The stories become more and more distorted and frightening as they travel by word of mouth. Soon a lot of otters are convinced that their are stalked by Southron vampires and other terrible creatures.
Day 5 Onwards
If the players do not successfully deal with the mercenaries, the area will after two weeks be empty of gold-washers, apart from the stubborn Dwarves. Arthads henchmen will gradually take over the abandoned encampments, while the mercenaries depart from the area. The crimelord has then achieved his plans.
While all this goes on, the Warden and his men will be on patrol in another part of his hundred. He has been bribed to stay away for at least three weeks.
Arthad and his henchmen arrived to the Malduin about a year ago, claiming a potentially rewarding area and building an encampment there. He quickly discovered Tuors corruption and started to bribe the Warden to further his interest. The strongman covets the neighbours claims and tries to find ways of expelling the local otters. However, mainly due to the stubborn Dwarves, Arthads plans have not progressed. To remedy that, he has sent for some assistance from Pelargir, thinking that what he cannot get by bribes and threats he can get by brute force.
The Seven Mercenaries
The seven have lived for some time in Pelargir, earning their living as swords for hire in the local Underworld. The city authorities know that they are crooks, but have had a hard time pinning anything on them, since those that are about to witness against them in court usually disappear without a trace. The Northmen are a competent bunch of crooks, who rarely act rashly.
Now the mercenaries have come to Malduin on Arthads invitation to terrorize certain settlements and scare off their inhabitants. The Northmen arrived in secrecy, establishing a small camouflaged camp in the wilderness. Their spokesman, Arn, visited Arthads settlement during a night to get instructions and receive part of their wages. Then they initiated their terror campaign.
If the camp is discovered by outsiders, the Northmen will kill them if that seems to be a good option. Otherwise, they will pretend to be newly arrived goldwashers, who are looking for a good place to start working. They have been very careful to not leave any clues that point towards their camp.
The PCs Fellow
The Dwarves have built their own encampment, actually a stone house they built themselves, at a stream that they have staked out as their own. The neighbouring otters were originally a bit suspicious of the Naugrim, but quickly realized that the newcomers were honourable and hard-working individuals. The Dwarves used their skills to select a good area to exploit; their gold-washing operation has been unusually successful so far.
The Dwarves get along well with the neighbours, since they have been treated well by the otters. On the other hand, they are very angry with Arthad who offered them what they considered to be a trifling sum to move elsewhere in the region. Unknowingly, Arthad insulted the Dwarves and they have vowed not to give in to his demands even though they may have to fight to defend their claim.
The Disputed Area
The PCs Home
The crime lord was smart enough to bring a lot of cash and useful supplies with his expedition, so he has had no problems keeping his men in a good mood. The local prostitutes have agreed to visit to the encampment regularly. Arthad also has an arrangement in which his underlings pay him a significant part of the gold they find in return for food, lodgings, and protection. The henchmen are loyal, though a bit bored. Arthads plans of gradually taking over all of the Malduin and strike it really rich fill them with anticipation. They believe that this is their greatest opportunity ever to make big money.
The henchmen are mostly rogues and robbers from Pelargir. Some have joined the gang after it came to the Malduin, hearing of the crime lord and believing that they would be better off joining his rough but well-run operation. When the adventure starts, Arthad has 41 henchmen plus the lieutenants Hador and Forweg, the latter serving as an unusually brutal chief enforcer.
Starting the Players
Finding and Facing the
One is to closely investigate of the murder sites to track the coming and going of the murderers. A very skilled tracker may be able to find some clue proving that the perpetrators were in fact not Southron. For instance, he may discover boot-print that definitely not originated from the sandal-using Haradrim.
It is also possibly to try to find the two otters who disappeared during the evening of day 3. If the players find their graves and exhume the corpses, they will see that the men were tortured before they died.
The most dangerous but also potentially most rewarding strategy is "counter-stalking", when the players monitor the otters gold-washing, perhaps using one of their number as a "bait", looking for suspect activities. The PC stalkers must be very good woodsmen to be able to surprise any of the Northmen, but if they succeed, they will have revealed the true culprits.
Even if the players succeed in identifying the murderers, they cannot immediately find out why they are here or who hired them. A captured mercenary will no break easily and talk. A prisoner may be recognized by someone who has lived in Pelargir, but to investigate that further, the characters need to travel thither. Arthads lieutenant Forweg went to Pelargir two months ago to hire the mercenaries. In that city there are some witnesses at the Black Squid inn who saw the notorious criminals meet for a discussion.
In the Malduin area, there is only one event that connects the mercenaries to Arthad: Arns visit to his encampment late day 1. His arrival was witnessed by several of Arthads henchmen. They do not know why he came or that he had his friends nearby. However, they know who he is, since he is a well-known man in the Pelargir underworld. However, to find out about this, the players have to make one of Arthads henchmen talk, which is not easy. Capture and interrogation is a crude method, and more subtle approaches could avoid attracting Arthads ire.
If the Northmen realize that their cover has been blown, they will immediately abort their operation and depart from the area. Arthad has hired them to kill people, but they will not recklessly risk their own lives for gold.
Talking to the Dwarves
The Dwarves have not been deterred from gold-washing by their kinsmans death. However, now they work in groups of four and are well-armed. This has made the Northmen reluctant to attack them, preferring instead the less formidable Mannish otters.
If the players decide that they need some armed might as support in an expected confrontation, the Dwarves are willing, even insistent, to help. This could prove an essential reinforcement since the eleven Dwarves are competent and well-equipped fighters, though they are not particularly proficient in stealth skills.
The best method of defeating the strongman may perhaps be an attack on his camp by a united force of gold-washers; after all, Tuor and his men are elsewhere for three weeks. Arthad is not willing to risk his life to pursue his greedy plot.
Copyright©1998 Anders Blixt