Monday, October 15, 2007

Too invested for 4e

I've been thinking a fair amount about the fourth edition of D&D, which is "imminent", or at least announced, no doubt to the very sudden detriment of sales of 3e and 3.5 products.

And although almost everything I hear about it sounds positive to me, at the same time I'm more exasperated rather than interested in the concept. I guess I'm just not ready to switch. I've been wondering why that is, and I guess I'm just too invested in the current edition. I feel like I have too much material still that I haven't used enough, and frankly, there's tons of material that I still want to pick up!

This is kinda new for me; although I've been floating around the RPG hobby for quite some time, I've never really seriously invested in a game before the release of 3e back in 2000. I picked up tons of 3e product. I was exasperated and unhappy with the release of 3.5, but since the compatibility between the two versions was very high (most products can be used as is in either ruleset) and because the core books were mostly online in the form of the SRD, I got over that. More or less.

But now, we've got 4e coming out, and from the looks of it, backwards compatibility isn't going to be all that high. So I'm left in kinda a bizarre situation; I like what I hear, but I still have no interest in adopting it.

Luckily, my main gaming group seems to feel more or less exactly the same, or they're even less interested in 4e than I am for other reasons. So it looks like I won't be stuck either having to upgrade or having to stop gaming with my group.

But still; I'm not ready. Maybe if 3.5 had never happened... but honestly, even then I think I'd be saying more or less the same thing. I haven't played the heck out of 3e or 3.5 yet, and I still feel like it's a really robust system, now with tons of options, and I'm not that thrilled about starting over from scratch with a new system, having PHB races and classes and not much else to go on for quite some time. Screw that. Give me my illumian duskblade or whatever other esoteric new concept that a mature system can produce, not yet another dwarf fighter just with new edition rules.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

New campaign setting noodlings

Well, the Freeport Pbp is off and running. Both groups went through an introductory combat to work out some kinks and set the tone. Then they ended up in the same inn, chatting with each other in the common room. A few other things are going on, but all in all, still very much early days. "Team Monkey" has an assignment and the vaguest outlines of a plan, but "Team Gorilla" still doesn't even have a patron or an adventure hook to follow yet.

I had another idea. In fact, I've had it before, but it came back to me and I want to think about it a bit. What if you played D&D---but with no magic? Seriously; instead of magic, you'd have psionics in the same role. Every class that has a spell progression gets the axe. Every race that seems too overtly tied to "classic" fantasy goes. Instead we get: what?

Classes:

Fighter, rogue, barbarian and monk from the PHB. Although I could do without the monk.

Psion, psychic warrior, soulknife and wilder from the XPH.

Lurk, ardent and divine mind from Complete Psionic.

Races:

Keep human from the PHB. Add in elan, maenad, xeph, half-giant, and dromite from the XPH. Synad from Complete Psionic? I dunno. Plenty of racial options, though. I mean, at least a few classic races work. If you're going to have blues, you need goblinoids, and I like goblin and hobgoblin being choices. I'd do away with blues as a separate monster manual entry, and just say that goblins with a psionic class level gradually turn blue.

Hmmm... maybe do something with the gith or duergar, but there's no reason to. I mean, seriously---how many races are there in D&D to choose from now? 50-60, no doubt. I can find more if I need them. The only thing I need to do is work up some fluff about how they all fit together.

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Anyway, that's the core of a new setting. Maybe I'll "Ray Winninger" it up with a few entries to see where it goes.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

This is a webpage that I wrote in 1998 or so discussing the inquiry into the prehistoric wanderings and origins of Men in Middle-earth. For some reason, I came across this recently, and I thought I'd update it slightly and repost it here.

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There are many clans, tribes, nations and kindreds of men spoken of in the works of Tolkien. However, a little research into their backgrounds shows that most of them diverged from only a few basic prehistoric groups of people. The movements and relationships of these groups of people, and the divisions into which they subsequently fell, can be reconstructed, for the most part, especially with the material included in the volumes of the History of Middle-Earth (HoME) series, which contains Tolkien's notes, rough drafts, outlines, and many unpublished and expanded essays. Most useful for discussing the origins of the different types of men in Middle-earth is the chapter in The Silmarillion titled "Of Men" and the essay in The Peoples of Middle-Earth titled "Of Dwarves and Men" although other tidbits of history pop up in various other places as well. These also make clear that hobbits are a branch of men, but as they are sufficiently different from other men, I will not discuss their origins here.

During the First Age, the land of Middle-earth was quite a bit different. There were the lands of Eriador and the lands east of the Misty Mountains as far as the map shows in positions much like they were in the Third Age, but to the west of the Blue Mountains (Ered Luin) was a vast land called Beleriand, where most of the action was, so to speak. Here was the realm of the Sindarin Elves with their king Elu Thingol (Elwë Singollo before the Sindarin language diverged) as well as the various kingdoms of the High Elves (Noldor) and the evil realm of Angband, ruled by Morgoth, a master of such evil that even Sauron was merely a servant, albeit his highest and most powerful. East of Beleriand, everything that happened during the first age, and much of what happened during the second age (especially to men) and even much of what happened during the third age (to men) is particularly shady, while the events in Beleriand are well documented.

The literate elves of Beleriand first became aware of men when the Edain crossed the Blue Mountains. They came in three waves; the people later known as Bëorians were first. They were a small group of people, and were of varied physical stock, since they had mixed during their journeys from the east, but they were mostly broad, brown of hair and eyes (although another source claims they had grey eyes), yet fair of skin. There were exceptions, as Beren was of this house, and he was near seven feet tall, had golden hair and fair eyes. This is considered to be the ancestral condition for the Bëorians, but it had been, to a great extent, bred out of them through mixing with other peoples, which also showed in their speech. It's said that they lived on the other side of a great inland sea from the rest of their kin, probably the Sea of Rhûn. More on their kin later. Tolkien also said that the Bëorians (and the other Edainic tribes) were merely the westernmost vanguard of much larger population movements east of the Blue Mountains, and apparently much of northern Eriador was originally settled by people related to the Bëorians.

The second group of people were actually two completely unrelated peoples, and one of the most interesting. These were the Haladin, or people of Haleth as they were later called. Linguistically, culturally and ethnically, they were unrelated to the Bëorians, although they were united against Morgoth. They were also somewhat swarthy, though more slight than the stocky Bëorians, and came over the mountains in small groups. They were interesting in that their women were known to fight alongside the men, much like the Sarmatians of the steppes in Russia. During the first age, and Haladin were driven nearly to extinction as a distinct group of people as they were eventually absorbed into the other Edainic groups, or killed. However, it later became obvious that the relatives of the Haladin that remained in Eriador spread very far and wide in the south, although this disolution disguised the fact that they were related.

In fact, some of the relatives of the Haladin were pretty poorly treated during the Second Age by the Númenoreans themselves, and therefore became their enemies as a result. Among the more easterly relatives of the Haladin include the men of Dunharrow, most of the native population of Enedwaith and Minhiriath (and indeed, most of the "native" population of Gondor as a whole), the Dunlendings and the men of Bree. Possibly other men mentioned in the north were related too (the hillmen of Rhudaur, perhaps or the men of Angmar and the Grey Mountains, who's origin is mysterious.) I don't think that's the best solution for all of them, especially as we move further north, but it's impossible to rule out an originally Edainic relationship for some of these more mysterious peoples of Eriador and even the Wild.

With the Haladin came a strange people called, variously, the Drûgs (in the language of the Haladin, apparently, which they spoke somewhat strangely), the Drúedain (Sindarin for "wild-men") or the Woses (which is an adaption of an Anglo-saxon word, if it had survived into modern english.) These strange people were primitive; they lived without shelter (except for children, women, aged and infirm who lived in lean-tos built under trees, at least during bad weather), were extremely secretive (even their close friends among the Haladin were unwelcome among their shelters), were only four to five feet tall, and were fairly ugly. In some ways they seemed like hobbits (short, ate mushrooms regularly, able to move very quietly, etc) but in many ways, they were the antithesis of the hobbits, as they were very wild, grim and secretive. It has been supposed by the historians of Gondor that they came from the lands south of Mordor in the First Age and were actually the first men to cross the Anduin. There they lived in and around the White Mountains, which is probably where they met proto-Haladin men and some of them went with them all the way to Beleriand, and ultimately to Numenor. This is quite probable as there are very ancient statues of men resembling the Drûgs built there (the Pûkel-men) and a remnant of their kind still lives in the wild woods near the mountains. However, descendants of the ancestors of the Haladin live adjacently (the Dunlendings once lived as far east as the Woses), so it is possible, at least, that they had been with the proto-Haladin before they migrated into Eriador even, although these friendly relationships must have broken down, for it is said that the inhabitants of Minhiriath and the Enedwaith were afraid to go into the regions where the Pûkel-men still lived. All of the Woses left before the Downfall of Westernesse, because of their innate instincts, which led them to believe Numenor's days were numbered. It is supposed that these refugees returned to live among their people on the southern coasts of what was later to become Gondor. The Woses are interesting in that their descriptions and habits fairly closely match that of Neanderthal men, except that Neanderthals are generally assumed to be hirsute, which the Woses were not.

Besides the movements into the White Mountains and the forests just north of their Easternmost extremities, they also lingered in the long cape of Andrast, which was also known as the Drúwaith Iaur, or Druedain Forest.

The third (really the fourth if the Woses are counted, which they often aren't) are the people of Hador. Again, this is a late name applied to the people in honor of one of the chiefs who led the people after they were already in Beleriand. The Hadorians were tall, fair-haired and light-eyed, and very, very numerous compared to the other kindreds of the Edain. They made up the majority of what was later the people of Numenor, and as we learned later, their ancestors, the proto-Hadorians, made up the majority of the peoples east of the Misty Mountains as well, i.e. people of Dale, the Rohirrim, the Beornings, etc. Linguistically and culturally, they were very similar to the Bëorians, and it is obvious that the proto-Bëorians had split from the proto-Hadorians further in the east, and had become slightly different in speech and appearance. This is said to have happened when they were separated by a large inland sea that did not have tides, but which had strong storms. Lacking any other alternative, we can speculate that this is probably the Sea of Rhûn. Both the Hadorians and the Bëorians had come together that far west from some point even further to the East, which therefore would be off the map entirely. Presumably they left behind descendents along the march, as they did in the lands that we do know, so we can again speculate that the men of Dorwinion may be ancient and distant cousins of the earliest proto-Bëorians and proto-Hadorians. Possibly even some of the Easterling people that later plagued Gondor were---ironically---originally akin to the Gondorians themselves many thousands of years earlier.

In Númenor itself, the peoples of Haladin and the Drûgs were completely assimilated linguistically and culturally unless they simply left of died, but the Bëorian and Hadorian stock did remain somewhat seperate during the second age, although the distinctions between them were much blurred. Most of the Kingmen were of the Hadorian stock, and were thus destroyed in the downfall of Numenor. However, some of the more provincial people, including many of the elf-friends and the ancestors of the later kings of Gondor and Arnor, were Bëorian and still spoke a Bëorian dialect, although the Bëorians had largely abandoned their Mannish tongue in favor of Sindarin during the First Age.

Meanwhile, the men who remained in Middle-earth in the part mapped by Tolkien were mostly descendents of the same groups of people, as the Numenoreans themselves discovered when they came back to Middle-earth in the Second Age. The proto-Hadorian people especially spread, and were found east of the Misty Mountains in the lands that later became Gondor, as well as in the North (the Wood-men of Mirkwood, the men of the Anduin vales, the men of Dale, the kingdom of Rhovannion, which later evolved into the Rohirrim) and could be easily recognized because their speech and appearance were still similar to the Númenorean's own. In fact, it was from here that the Edain came in the First Age, leaving behind many of their kinsmen. Also in this area, the proto-Hadorians came across dwarves of Durin's line, and entered into a peacable relationship with them. The Hadorians in particular were considered expert horsemen, and provided useful scouts, hunters and farmers for the dwarves, who in turn, provided them with wrought material and fine smithwork, such as the men were previously ignorant of. At this time, the proto-Hadorin tongue, an early form of Adûnaic, came under the influence of Khuzdul and borrowed some of it's structure and vocabulary, if indeed it hadn't already done so in the East. The early Númenoreans also recognized a kinship with the men of Eriador, but following the devastating wars of the Second Age, Eriador was largely unpopulated, except for a handful of sparse population centers such as Lake Evendim or Bree.

The Numenoreans called these men "Middle Men" just as they called themselves "High Men." It was supposed that because of their shared ancestry that these men were superior to other men of Middle-Earth, who didn't reject Morgoth so early in the east and flee to the west. This assumption seems, at best, totally unfounded. As a matter of fact, many of the men, especially of Eriador, were called "Dark Men" when they, too, were ancestral to some of the Edain, namely the Haladin. The proto-Haladin spread far and wide through southern Eriador, and were the first to found Bree, for instance, and are the ancestors of the Dunlendings as well as the men of Dunharrow and Minhiriath just to the south of Bree, who fought against the Numenoreans because of the treatment they received from the heavy-handed Sea-kings. Because the Haladin spoke a language that was unrelated to the Haldorian's, the Numenoreans failed to recognize the ancient alliance of their peoples. By the third age, their language had retreated steadily until it was only represented by the Dunlendings themselves, and by a few odd names at Bree (including the name of Bree itself.) The movements of these people are fairly involved in Beleriand. As I mentioned, the reckless harvesting of timber in Minhiriath and the Enedwaith did not endear the the Númenoreans to these people, and they turned hostile. Many in fact were seduced by Sauron and fought with him, or worshipped him as a god during the "Black Years" of the Second Age. Others, such as the men of Dunharrow, swore allegiance to Isildur, but later feared Sauron and refused to fght at all. The Dunlendings position in all this is difficult to tell (although Dunlend may have been populated later by refugees from Enedwaith, Minhiriath and other places where these people had lived previously.

Of men other than the Edainic peoples already mentioned, we know little. There are various Easterlings that turn up from time to time (the Easterlings of the first age, the Balchoth, the Wainriders, the Easterlings of the War of the Ring, and the Variags of Khand) but little or nothing is known of their affinities. It is indeed slightly possible that some, or even most of these groups, are descended from the same peoples that spawned the proto-Hadorians, some kind of proto-Edainic groups that split of from the westward movement before they come into history at all, east of Rhûn. Such possibilities have to remain completely speculative, however, as we have no way of knowing one way or another. It is probably more likely that they are completely unrelated to any proto-Edainic group, or perhaps even to each other.

More interesting, perhaps, are the Easterlings of the First Age. They had made their way all the way to Beleriand, crossing, in many cases, north of the Ered Luin, which means they must have crossed through the lands of proto-Bëorian, proto-Hadorian and proto-Haladin peoples, if they didn't originate among them. Tolkien calls them "swarthy men" and says that they descended from the northernmost peoples of Eriador. This gives us a few possibilites.

The first is that the Easterlings of the first age were descended from the proto-Haladin. Swarthy simply means dark, and the Haladin themselves were a fairly dark people. We know that the proto-Haladin spread as far north as Bree, where legend has them as the first men to settle the area. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to assume that some of them could have gone a little bit further north and west around the Ered Luin and into Eriador to emerge as the Easterlings of the First Age. However, it seems strange to think that they wouldn't have recognized their kin from the similar languages, if nothing else. The same argument goes if the Easterlings are to be identified with the proto-Bëorians that settled Eriador. Not only that, the Easterlings are described as being physically different from the other Edain; more swarthy, perhaps, and stocky as well, which the Haladin were not.

Another possibility is that these Easterlings were descended from some more northern group of men, probably Forodwaith, which were completely unrelated to the Edainic peoples. In fact, a footnote in The War of the Jewels specifically confirms that this is the case for at least some of their tribes. However, The Silmarillion seems to imply that the Easterlings of the First Age were separated by more than simply political allegiance and actually made up more than a single ethnic group. Their lands are marked on the map just north of the Grey Mountains and they became the Lossoth, some of the Easterlings in Beleriand, and probably the men who later emerged as allies and citizens of Angmar in the third age. Possibly even the mysterious Hillmen of Rhudaur and other men of unknown origin in the north come from this same stock. If so, these men must have come east from Hildorien in very ancient times, yet after the coming of the proto-Edainic groups (who were really two unrelated groups, if you remember, the proto-Haladin and the proto-Hadorians) because the proto-Edainic people were said to be the first men to flee the darkness of the east. It seems difficult to imagine these proto-Forodwaith as arriving in their historical seats without having to at least cross through the lands of Edainic peoples since it is said that the Awakening of Men occured in the southeast. More likely they would have been barred from crossing, and so would have had to move west through an even more northerly route, which seems unlikely, though not impossible. From the movements of the Éothéod in Appendix A, it seems that some of these men may have been in the Grey Mountains before the Edainic peoples thought of moving so far north. Therefore we are left with the somewhat unlikely idea that the proto-Lossoth and proto-Angmarians migrated from the east in some remarkable parallel to the Edain, yet much higher north and with no contact at all with the early Edainic groups. Despite it's apparent unlikeliness, it still seems more likely than any alternative.

One possible and interesting, although speculative, solution is that the Forodwaith were a "lost Edainic" tribe of people, unrelated to either the proto-Haladin, or the proto-Haldorians, yet who had rejected Morgoth and travelled west at more or less the same time as the other tribes, if not indeed in front of them. In this scenario, they could be the mysterious blood that was mingled with the proto-Haldorians to emerge later as the proto-Bëorians, with most of the language retained from the latter, but much of the physical appearance dependant on the former. Unfortunately for them as a people, they travelled too far north before crossing Ered Lindon, and came under the influence of Morgoth in his northern seat of power. Indeed, some of these men that later emerged as First Age Easterlings were faithless and betrayed the Eldar and the Edain for the chance to have power over them, given by Morgoth. In fact, it is said that they were already under the thrall of Morgoth before they were ever met by the Edain or Eldar. However, others were faithful, and the Lossoth were not under the shadow when they are mentioned later. However, if they are indeed the same people, the men of Carn Dûm and Angmar were very much under the Shadow, and subject to Sauron and his agent, the Witch-king.

The Easterlings of the Third Age are, as already mentioned, even more problematic, and we have no real clues as to what their ancestry may be. It is certainly possible that many of them are descended from the same stock as early Edainic peoples, who abandoned the westward march before the other groups arrived into the histories at the far eastern edge of what is known of Middle-Earth, but we have no way of knowing. We do know that the Wainriders and the Balchoth were primarily the same groups of people who originated from just beyond the Sea of Rhûn, and in the case of the Balchoth, they had combined with Variags of Khand after first fighting with them, who are another group of people we know nothing about, except that they maintained some type of cohesion to be mentioned by name again in the War of the Ring. Khand, in fact, gives a location, to the southeast of Mordor. However, other than the name, that portion of the map is blank and we know nothing about it. These early Easterlings plagued the Northmen of Rhovannion for many generations, and are probably the same groups of people that made up the Easterlings of the War of the Rings, and they may have been also related to the earliest "wild men out of the East" to invade Gondor, although neither the earliest Easterlings nor the Easterlings of the War of the Ring are described as using wains or chariots. They also plagued Gondor itself, and caused it considerable distress, although the final defeat of these Easterlings was the event in which the remnant of the Northmen came to Gondor's aid, and Gondor ceded Calenardhon to them, thus paving the way for the foundation of Rohan. The last groups of easterlings are described as bearded men wielding axes, and the men of Gondor believed them a "new" type of Easterling. It is unclear which (if any) real world population the Easterlings are supposed to represent. Although Tolkien specifically denied any direct representation, it is also clear that the "Middle Men" of Middle-earth are very similar to the Germanic peoples and since he was trying to create a "mythology for England" it is difficult to see them as not ancestral in some way. The vast hordes of the Easterlings, therefore, probably represent many peoples, as our own hordes of peoples who moved westward from the steppes of Central Asia into Eastern Europe and beyond. To me, the Wainriders always seemed similar to the Scythians, rather than to Turkic peoples. If this correllation is true, and the "Middle Men" are supposed to be westward striking "Indo-Europeans" like the Germanic peoples, then this gives me a very tenuous line of logic to relate these Easterlings to the Edainic peoples themselves, since the Scythians are another branch of the Indo-Europeans.

Some have also looked at the term "Variags of Khand," noted that the word Variag is an alternate form of Varangian, and assumed the Khand is also populated by "Nordic" peoples. Both of these lines of evidence, while intriguing, are two speculative to be advanced very far, however.

The last major group of men that Tolkien mentions are the Southrons, or Haradrim. Little is known of them other than the general location of their country south of Gondor both along the coasts and in the interior, although even there we don't have a name save Near Harad and Far Harad (near south and far south, really.) However, unlike the situation with the third age Easterlings, we do have fairly good descriptions of the men of Harad from Sam's encounter with one in Ithilien. It appears that the Haradrim are very dark, darker at least than any other race of men in middle-earth that we know of (except the men of Far Harad, who are described as being black of skin and looking like half-trolls) and resemble in many ways the Near and Middle Easterners of our world, who's geographic position they occupy in Middle-earth as well. Their language gives us only a single word, mûmak which is not enough to use one way or another to pinpoint possible relations with any Edainic tongue. [Note: The name of Gandalf in the South, Incanus was derived from two Haradrim words, Inka+nush, which meant 'north-spy.' but evidently Tolkien changed his mind, gave the name a Quenya etymology and decided that Gandalf had never gone to the Southrons, concerning himself with the Edain and other peoples who were traditional foes of Sauron.] Even if it did, however, there are at least three avenues through which is could have come as a loan, and there are at least two definate cases of Númenoreans or Gondorians settling and mingling with the Haradrim. The first are the Black Númenoreans, kingmen of the second age who worshipped Sauron and used the old Númenorean harbors as their bases of operations. It is not certain to what extent these Black Númenoreans contributed to the ethnic or linguistic identity of the Haradrim, but we do know that they quickly became as commen men. Also, after the Kin-strife, Castamir and his rebels also moved southwards, founding the Corsairs of Umbar and mingling significantly with the Haradrim. However, it is most likely that the majority of the Haradrim descent comes from completely different groups of men than the Edainic.

It's not impossible to raise the claim that they might have a strong element of proto-Haladinish blood in them too, since it seems that proto-Haladinish people were settled along the coast just to the north of present day Harad (the Men of Dunharrow, for instance.) The proto-Haladin were also dark, though not as dark as Haradrim seem to be, so even if this highly speculative scenario were true, there would almost certainly have to have been another group of men that contributed to the Haradrim's blood.

Faramir states at one point that all the speeches of men are ultimately descended from elves, and while it is certain that borrowings from various Avarin and Eldarin languages have heavily influenced Mannish tongues, it is not certain that Faramir is right in this regard. The most accomplished Noldorin linguist, Pengolodh (who's name is simply Sindarin for 'speaking Noldo') said once that Adûnaic seems to resemble in many ways the ancient Valarin language as well. Despite the policies of the Valar after the coming of the children of Ilúvatar, it is obvious that they loved the second children as much as the first. While the elves invented their own languages, it is possible that some, at least, of the men, were taught language directly from Ulmo or some other Vala who had enough interest to check on Middle-Earth still, rather than first learning language from the elves. It is also said that the language of the Edain (that is, Adûnaic) resembled Dwarvish in many sounds and forms, and that it had several loan words from that language as well. Since Aulë the Valar created the Dwarvish tongue for them, it is certainly likely that it would have resembled the Valarin language as well, providing yet another avenue for this Valarin influence. Most likely, in my opinion from the various readings in HoME, is that both of these conditions are probably true, and the languages of men are influenced by the Elves, the Dwarves and the Valar, as well as the inventiveness of men themselves.