Cardolan: A Middle Earth campaign setting for 4e D&D
One thousand four hundred years before a couple of hobbits threw a ring into a volcano, the once-great nation of Cardolan was dying. It’s no surprise therefore that few folks at the end of the Third Age (nor many Lord of the Rings fans) know much about this oft neglected corner of Middle Earth.
It’s ripe for use as a setting for 4th Edition D&D – a roughly hewn ancient land that’s seen the fall of the glorious Realm of Arnor that was sundered into three back in T.A. 861, then the death of it’s Last Prince in T.A 1634. In 1650 (the year I propose as the campaign start), Cardolan has become a mere shadow of it’s former self due to the ravages of war and the Great Plague. The concept of Nation has collapsed leaving feuding petty city states and isolated towns and villages fending for themselves against the encroachments of the Witch-King and the greed of Man. It is a time when mercenary adventuring companies are in great demand, when the ruins of Ancient Arnor are ripe for the picking and the vile forces of the Witch-King roam the land. In other words – a perfect Points of Light campaign setting!
Cardolan nestles in the South Western corner of Middle Earth between the rivers Baranduin (Brandywine, as it’s know to the Shire Hobbits) and Gwathlo. It’s a land roughly 600 miles long and 200 miles wide making it (very) roughly comparable to England in size. The remains of the Great Forest scatter the land providing much needed lumber for the countless villages and towns, though what roads once linked them are in serious disrepair following a century of neglect.
If you’re using Winterhaven, Fallcrest and Nentir Vale this could be placed at the mouth of the river nestled between Thalion and Herwen. This puts it close to the Barrow Downs giving plenty of scope for tomb-raiding adventure!
All Core 4e D&D Races are present in Cardolan, though some have different names to those found in D&D. Noldor Elves (Eladrin) are the rarest of folk due to their isolated and secluded nature, and humans far and away the most common. Sindar Elves and Halflings are next most likely to be found among humans with Beffraen (Dragonborn) and Tieflings usually found serving in mercenary companies. While Dwarves prefer to remain in their mountains and Silvan Elves in their forests, it’s not unknown for individual members of these races to leave their homes and seek their future in the wider world.
Humanity makes up the vast majority of Cardolan’s dwindling population. Most folks are of mixed stock and cover the whole spread of mankind’s best and worst traits. Those with higher Charisma (perhaps taking the racial +2 stat bonus in CHA) are most likely to originate from Numenorean stock and carry themselves with a taller, more noble bearing.
The name “Eladrin” is not used; these are the Noldor, the High Elves of Middle Earth who once resided in the Blessed Realm of Aman. These are the most mystical and magical of all the Races, more a part of the Song than a part of the world.
Elves (Sindar and Silvan)
The Sindar and Silvan Elves lack the close connection to Aman of their Noldor cousins, but are much closer to the world. Where the Sindar (Grey Elves) are more akin to mannish tastes, the Silvan (Wood Elf) folk feel a closer kinsip to the forests and nature.
When human and elf mix, heartache all too often follows. At some point a half-elf must choose which heritage to follow; the immortal line of his Elven blood, or the mortal path of his humanity.
The Khazad were created by Aule the Smith as the first Race though their awakening was delayed until after the coming of the Elves. They are firm friends, unforgiving enemies and superb stoneworkers.
Close cousins to the Shire Hobbits across the Brandywine, these Halflings (as they’re commonly known in Cardolan) are somewhat thinner and more active than their portly counterparts. It is likely that Smeagol (Gollum) was a Cardolan Halfling. They generally live in their own Halfling-sized communities though a few families can often be found in larger human towns.
Dragonborn might seem an unlikely race in Middle Earth, but legends tell of a tribe of Woses (Wild-Men) who were captured by Morgoth. He conducted vile experiments on them, cross-breeding with fell beasts and warping them into the Beffraen. The survivors managed to escape and found a home in Cardolan where their great strength and intense hatred of Orcs made them highly sought as mercenaries.
The origin of Cardolan Tielflings are lost to time. Some speak of a race of humans who (like the Beffraen) were warped by Morgoth in the Second Age, while other tales tell of unholy matings between willing humans and Morgoth’s servants. Yet other histories (no doubt penned by Tieflings themselves) tell of a proud and goodly race of High Men who were cursed by Morgoth for daring to stand against him when others fled. Whatever the truth, Tieflings are more numerous in Cardolan that in any other part of Middle Earth, most likely due to the spirit of tolerance (some would say desperation due to the encroachments of the Witch King) that makes Beffraen and Tiefling alike accepted members of human society.
As with Races, all of the Core 4e D&D Classes are present in Cardolan. The volatile nature of the realm means that Fighters, Warlords and Rangers are in particularly high demand though any Class that is willing to accept coin for services will find a welcome in most towns and villages. Where there is a vice of any kind, Rogues will always find a home.
I think that they went as emissaries to distant regions, east and south, …. Missionaries to enemy occupied lands as it were. What success they had I do not know; but I fear that they failed, as Saruman did, though doubtless in different ways; and I suspect they were founders or beginners of secret cults and “magic” traditions that outlasted the fall of Sauron.
— Tolkien, in a letter regarding the Blue Wizards
Two of the Istari known as the Blue Wizards (Alatar and Pallando) were charged with spreading the knowledge of Magic to the lesser races in order that they might better defend themselves against the wiles of Morgoth. They taught the ways of the Wand and Staff; knowledge of the Orbs (lesser Palantir) came later, either as a result of crude experimentation or as an attempt at subversion by Morgoth’s agents.
Clerics and Paladins
Religion pervades all society in Middle Earth. Eru stands as the One True God, the All Father, with countless Valar being worshipped as lesser gods. Clerics and Paladins dedicate themselves to one of the Valar in particular and act as their servants in Middle Earth.
|Manwe||King of the Valar, Lord of air, wind and skies||Pelor or Bahamut|
|Ulmo||Lord of Waters||Melora|
|Mandos||Judge of the Dead|
|Lorien||Master of Visions and Dreams||Ioun|
|Varda||Queen of the Stars||Avandra|
|Yavanna||Giver of Fruits|
|Nienna||Lady of Mercy||Raven Queen|
|Este||The Gentle Healer|
|Melkor/Morgoth||The Dark Lord|
Clerics and Paladins offer their lives in service to the Valar; Warlocks pay a far higher price in return for their powers, for it’s their very soul they have sold. Star Pact Warlocks swear to act in the service of Varda for all eternity, knowing that when they die their souls will become stars to light the darkness. Through visions that border on insanity, their fragile minds see something of all that Varda perceives and only those with the strongest wills survive.
Fey Pact Warlocks do not serve any Valar, but act in the service of the Land itself. They are recognised as kin by Ents, Maiar and spirits (such as Tom Bombadil) who work to keep the Land free from the taint of Morgoth.
Most feared of all are the Infernal Pact Warlocks for (whatever twisted reason) they have sold their soul to Morgoth Himself. Perhaps it was through trickery or torture, but the price will fall due on the character’s death, and not even the other Valar would be able to break the contract.
Monsters and Adventures
In short – if it’s in 4e D&D, it’s in the campaign though many origins and names may need altering to fit Middle Earth. Dragons and their ilk are known as Fell Beasts, and Demons and Devils are twisted Maiar that followed Morgoth, their corrupt forms bound forever due to their evil nature. Goblins, Kobolds and Orcs are all called “Orcs” by common man, though more learned folk differentiate the breeds. Trolls and Monstrous Spiders are particularly common among the deserted caves and ruins that scatter the land.
If you’re using published adventures or the default 4e D&D setting, it’s a simple matter to “Tolkienize” them. Replace references to ancient Empires with Arnor – or, if it’s evil, with a realm from the Second Age that was ruled by a minion of Morgoth. The Big, Big Evil in the Campaign is the Witch-King who rules Agnmar to the North. To the East across the River Gwathlo lays the remains of Rhudaur, a once-sister Kingdom to Cardolan and now devastated wasteland and warning of Cardolan’s nigh-inevitable fate.