MDuckworth83
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Eriador and verisimilitude?

Mon 02 Aug 2021, 15:17

This is something that interests me quite a bit as a worldbuilder and amateur historian. One thing that has always bugged me about Middle Earth is just how empty Eriador really is. Even given 2,000 years of calamity, you'd still expect a de-centralized patchwork of very small fiefdoms reminiscent of 6th century Italy and most of Europe. I've always thought it odd how Rhovanion that is supposed to be this wild borderland region, is dramatically more populated then the vast stretch of land that used to be a great kingdom. It really makes you wonder:

A.) What is so special about Bree that it is literally the only surviving town out of what must have been thousands of towns scattered across Arnor at one point that it survived when everything else went "full walking dead" (almost literally!)

B.) Are there are other settlements across Eriador that survived but just fail to make the annals because neither the Hobbit nor the Lord of the Rings did much besides travel to Rivendell? The books seem to imply Dunedain settlements but it's sort of hard to picture what these look like. I've never gotten the impression that the Dunedain population is very large at all, small enough to be based mostly out of Rivendell, but they must have women and children somewhere. But the Dunedain even during the height of Arnor's power seem to me to be more the ruling, elite class... implying large lower classes of "middle men" native to Eriador... of whom the Bree-landers are the "sole" survivors? On the other hand, the lore seems to imply that it really is an empty land of ruins with the occasional wandering ranger.

C.) What would a Dunedain enclave really look like? Pretty hard to imagine a Dunedain culture living in standard looking villages, but I know that's exactly how some fan-fiction has depicted it.

I suppose these questions are what make Eriador an interesting setting for the game and I look forward to seeing how the TOR 2.0 answer some of these questions.
 
Otaku-sempai
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Re: Eriador and verisimilitude?

Mon 02 Aug 2021, 16:19

A) Well, Bree and the other villages of Bree-land are located at the major cross-roads of Eriador and that probably gave them the edge that allowed them to survive. The final fall of Thrabad was historically quite recent (T.A. 2912). The floods that brought down Tharbad also marked the end of any other remaining permanent communities in Minhiriath.

B) There are Men who are kin to the Dunlendings who still dwell in the forest of Eryn Vorn. But they seem to be quite hostile towards outsiders and reportedly cults of Morgoth worship persist there. And we do know of the existence of the Wild Men of Enedwaith who might be related to the Woses and other Druedain.

C) The enclaves of the Dunedain seem principally (exclusively?) to be located in the Angle, south of Imladris. These might be better described as encampments rather than settlements as they might be required to move from time to time to maintain their secrecy.
Last edited by Otaku-sempai on Tue 03 Aug 2021, 16:02, edited 1 time in total.
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gyrovague
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Re: Eriador and verisimilitude?

Mon 02 Aug 2021, 17:10

Good luck! I don't think Eriador is ever going to make sense as a study in believable migration, settlement, and trade. And every time I read some attempt to do so I think, "Wow, that sucks ALL the magic out of the setting."

When I want there to be some kind of settlement, I drop it in. If, for story reasons, I want the heroes to come across a woodcutter's house in the middle of nowhere, with no obvious explanation for who he sells his wood to, where he came from and who he married, or why he wasn't eaten by trolls long ago, then I do so. And my players never ask those questions.

I go back to Tolkien's essay on Fairy Stories, and the stories that inspire him. Think of how many such stories take place in a setting, be it a woodcutter's cabin or a village or a castle, whose very existence defies logic. For me, that sort of illogic is not just an inconvenient problem to be hand-waved away; the inexplicability is actually part of the magic. Bree's solitary existence, and of vast empty lands devoid of attempts at settlement, contribute to the sense that this world is magical. Attempts to estimate residents per square mile, crop yields, mortality rate of plagues, population growth, etc., kind of spoils it for me.

As always, of course, YMMV.
 
MDuckworth83
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Re: Eriador and verisimilitude?

Mon 02 Aug 2021, 20:42

A) Well, Bree and the other villages of Bree-land are located at the major cross-roads of Eriador and that probably gave them the edge that allowed them to survive. The final fall of Thrabad was historically quite recent (T.A. 2912). The floods that brought down Tharbad also marked the end of any other remaining permanent communities in Minhiriath.

* That's a good point. Being at the crossroads of the two major roads in the region, combined with a very naturally defensive position... and allegedly good nearby sources of food and water, I can see this.

B) There are Men who are kin to the Dunlendings who still dwell in the forest of Eryn Vorn. But they seem to be quite hostile towards outsiders and reportedly cults of Morgoth worship persist there. And we do know of the existence of the Wild Men of Enedwaith who might be related to the Woses and other Druedain.

* Now that is a new one on me! Where does that come from? Where even are the forest of Eryn Vorn?

C) The enclaves of the Dunedain seem principally (exclusively) to be located in the Angle, south of Imladris. These might be better described as encampments rather than settlements as they might be required to move from time to time to maintain their secrecy.
* Ah, I do seem to recall something about the Angle now. That makes sense.
 
MDuckworth83
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Re: Eriador and verisimilitude?

Mon 02 Aug 2021, 20:48

Good luck! I don't think Eriador is ever going to make sense as a study in believable migration, settlement, and trade. And every time I read some attempt to do so I think, "Wow, that sucks ALL the magic out of the setting."

**It can. I mean, I really went hardcore down this road when designing my own D&D setting, and it really came down to this. Medieval Europe was pretty damned populated anywhere there was anything close to decent farmland. By the the later middle ages, it was common to have a village or hamlet every three miles sprawled across the landscape. I did eventually come to the conclusion that fantasy settings (except for the grittier GRRM Song of Ice and Fire types) do kind of need to be unrealistically depopulated for a lot of practical and story reasons. But Tolkien takes this to a bit of an extreme with Eriador. **

When I want there to be some kind of settlement, I drop it in. If, for story reasons, I want the heroes to come across a woodcutter's house in the middle of nowhere, with no obvious explanation for who he sells his wood to, where he came from and who he married, or why he wasn't eaten by trolls long ago, then I do so. And my players never ask those questions.

** Sometimes though, it can be a lot of fun to come up "with" some clever, believable reasons why the woodcutter's house is in the middle of nowhere. I think this is what really brings a world alive to players, and makes them realize this isn't just a static setpiece but a living, breathing world where things happen for reasons and have consequences. I think you can still have your magical elements that don't look like a parallel of how medieval Europe would have developed... but then have a really clever reason for why that is. I definitely prefer that to handwaving things. **

 
gyrovague
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Re: Eriador and verisimilitude?

Mon 02 Aug 2021, 21:31

** Sometimes though, it can be a lot of fun to come up "with" some clever, believable reasons why the woodcutter's house is in the middle of nowhere. I think this is what really brings a world alive to players, and makes them realize this isn't just a static setpiece but a living, breathing world where things happen for reasons and have consequences. I think you can still have your magical elements that don't look like a parallel of how medieval Europe would have developed... but then have a really clever reason for why that is. I definitely prefer that to handwaving things. **
It can. Again, though, I'd suggest that a world that is not "living, breathing" but instead exists in a kind of dream-like stasis can also be immersive, but in a different way. Just like actual dreams: when you wake up you all the inconsistencies in your dreams are laughably apparent, but while you were in them it all seemed perfectly normal.

That doesn't mean my preference is everybody's cup of tea, of course. I get that some (many?) people worlds that don't raise all sorts of questions about trade and population growth. I just think there's a trade-off to doing that.

So although I used the term "handwave" earlier, I think the word implies that something is wrong about the world, and you handwave it away because you can't explain it. Since I accept that fairy stories aren't logically consistent with how things work in the real world, no actual handwaving is performed or required. Does that make sense?

EDIT: And this thread is for people who are into verisimilitude, so having said my piece I will quietly slip out the back now.
 
Dunheved
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Re: Eriador and verisimilitude?

Mon 02 Aug 2021, 22:05

I think this (And several points in a variety of threads and posts ) cuts right into the whole idea of fantasy works. So much is NOT said, and merely implied, that any reader will never see more than a tiny fraction of a story world. And with good reason,

e.g. when we visit Dale, we meet the king and maybe three named nobles in an adventure story. And a villain or two. (Tolkien himself didn't even name the Master of Laketown, nor the Great Goblin.)
But in reality, go shopping in a medieval town - 40 or 50 shops? 1 to 4 representatives of each of the necessary trades to 'run a proper town? Perhaps every third or fourth house was a public house.
So if those wild guesses are even close to the right magnitude, and I were the LM, am I going to prepare all those backgrounds - just for a cameo appearance, or simply a walk on part in my commentary? Not a chance. Not in detail. I just won't do it. Necessity is the Mother of Invention, they say, and I haven't got all that time.

Merry spent a while in Rohan. That culture occupies a lot of pages in LOTR. How many Riders get named, other than those sung about in the song at the end of Pelennor? And how many of those aren't leaders or nobility? Tolkien didn't exactly overpopulate his world really. (Heresy to even type that!)

So is Eriador empty? YES. AND also, absolutely, NO. Empty of adventurers, and of communities with an outlook into their immediate surroundings. YES. Bree is very unusual because it welcomes strangers, the other places prefer to steer clear of adventures.* So, NO it is not empty. If you like, Eriador is covered in Shire like communities, but they keep themselves to themselves. If they weren't there, Goblin hordes would be set up all over the place, wolf packs would roam free and wide. Apply the rules of population from our real historical world, to Eriador, what normally prevents a set of wider communities developing over the years would be the idea that Eriador is a desert. (hot or cold as you prefer.)**

Of course, you might want to simply accept that things in Middle Earth are different. So different however, that we cannot (And should not) attempt to apply our our historical awareness onto Middle Earth. In which case speculating how to apply our rules becomes self defeating. And this sort of thing might be declared pointless by some.
Me: I will populate Eriador and everywhere else as much as I want to, and need to to fulfil the narrative I want. And will accept anyone else's Tales from the Great Beyond as true unless it breaks canon. (Including what Free League provide)

What I would really like is a sourcebook of (a)100 to 200 People and Places in Free League's Middle Earth. With (b) several sample villages, or streets to help me rapidly populate a settlement my Company comes across.
I have my own list of 40 names that are linked to a trade or a job in Laketown. Really basic, but gives me a seed for any NPC I need in that area.

* including the Shire, and the Baggins view of the world, pre Hobbit. Without Bilbo, the Rohirrim would have had another white patch on their map of the North. Dwarves would ignore it's value.
** yet Tolkien is careful to add pertinent populations to the Cold desert (the Lossoth); and the Hot desert (Harad and Umbar).
 
coniunctio
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Re: Eriador and verisimilitude?

Tue 03 Aug 2021, 08:56

Dunheved... I can highly recommend the Other Minds issue 13 study of 'Population and Urbanisation in Eriador'. It tracks things from earlier on in the TA and presents a cohesive and plausible account of the enclaves across Old Arnor as the Rangers attempt to preserve and guard their claim on their old kingdom. They have enclaves strategically placed across Minhiriath Rhudaur, The Angle, Evendim etc. Plus it is a good summary of the overall strategic situation throughout the Northern Wars and the decline and fall of Arnor. A list of the may fiefdoms across the area and their towns and cities which fall away...It also includes Angmar's rise as well as Rhudaur settlements and the displacement of Dunedain from the latter.
 
rennarda
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Re: Eriador and verisimilitude?

Tue 03 Aug 2021, 12:11

I always take the approach as a GM that the media we have (novels, books, maps, movies) are just historically flawed and biassed impressions of true events and places. The actual truth is possibly quite different - enough so that I can drop in entire communities that were never mention in the books just because they weren't relevant to the stories being told. Eriador has never made sense to me as it stands - how does almost nobody from other lands know about the Shire, when it's practically the only inhabited place in the whole land according to the stories and maps we have? Instead, I prefer to imagine that there is far more going on in Eriador than the Hobbit chroniclers ever bothered to tell us about - they are naturally going to say that the Shire was the most important place!

I do the same for any other world I game in, eg. Star Wars.
 
Themadviolinist
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Re: Eriador and verisimilitude?

Tue 03 Aug 2021, 16:48

Couple of thoughts. If you're looking to a European model, I think I would go further back than the late medieval, especially in TOR. While historical consistency was not necessarily the Professor's highest goal, the tech is more like 9th or 10th century than 14th; think pre-Norman England. IF we are to believe that mail is the height of armor tech, than this is more appropriate, (I think, though actual armor experts can feel free to well actually me.) And yes, there are inconsistencies; Saruman and what sure looks like some sort of gun powder, but then he is one of Aule's students after all.
I think my vision of Eriador is not as empty as the books might lead us to believe. WE know that there are regular travelers along the East Road and the Green Way. Travelers indicate settlements. That said, it is a land of a fallen civilization, (two or three, if you include Eregion and Moria) that has been the scene of war, plague and famine. IF you want to look to differences between Middle EArth and our world, there is the existence of truly evil creatures who act like stereotypical Vikings without any of the Vikings' good points. There must be large areas where resettlement is discouraged by the presence of SAuron's creatures, or nameless things.
I think my Eriador is more populated than the journeys through somewhat inhospitable terrain that we see in the books would imply, with small scale settlements, and possibly local warlords of various stripes occupying useful bits of land, especially along rivers or where there is good farm land to be had. There are large tracts of uninhabited land as the population hasn't yet recovered due to war and plague. It seems likely that as the Shadow lengthens, the incidence of encounters with evil creatures increases; some settlements may band together, either in temporary alliances, or in more permanent groupings under the direction of strong leaders. Other settlements are swallowed up.
I don't think any of this detracts from the magical nature of Middle EArth, where the magic is subtle and you can't put your finger on it. There are places of magic, both both for good and ill; Rivendell and the Old Forest. There are places where human rules do not apply; Fanghorn for one. I'm also playing with Dunlendings not as villains, though they will be co-opted by the master of persuasion to attack their ancient enemies whom we love. This'll be odd for some, but I like the complications it causes.

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