Situation Mining: Umbar After Sauron

Judd Karlman established the practice of situation mining: taking ideas and premises from various media and formulating them as potential Burning Wheel campaigns with character ideas, questions, etc. His site is full of great stuff in that regard.

It’s mentioned in Tolkien’s appendices that after the War of the Ring, Near Harad and Umbar are brought under Gondorian rule. I always thought that sounded like a rich environment for a Burning Wheel game. We got a proud city-state with a shady history, whose religion has been revealed to be a sham perpetuated by the dark lord, now without its proud navy, and forced to submit to its hereditary enemy. Excellent campaign fodder. Here’s an attempt at situation mining it.

These ships? Sunk! Fantasy Flight Games 2016.

In the books, we never hear much of Umbar aside from the corsairs. Is it a kingdom? An oligarchy? Perhaps ruled by a council of the grandest corsair lords – whose power base of warships has now been eradicated. Perhaps it is ruled by a puppet prince. How do the Gondorians impose their rule? How do merchants and commoners navigate the new situation? What has happened to the former priests of Sauron? What’s political environment like after the city has been humbled so profoundly? Use the pre-game to answer these questions and fine-tune the Situation.

Potential flashpoints include choosing new leaders, new market opportunities, dealing with underground Sauron-cultists, negotiating the power vacuum left after the war. Tie the Beliefs into volatile, dramatic premises. Umbar is a small enough setting that the political and the domestic go hand in hand – milk it for all its worth! Lean into the themes of injured pride, of dark pasts, of forgiveness, redemption and rebuilding.

Sample Cultural Traits

Culture clash between Umbaran, Gondorian and Haradrim norms could be a central theme. Cultural traits in Burning Wheel don’t mean that every member of the culture actually are this way, but are rather points for how the culture is perceived and sometimes perceives itself.

Umbaran: Aggressive, Mercenary, Swaggering.

Gondorian: Dutiful, Proud, Righteous.

Haradrim: Devout, Merciless, Sharp Dresser.

Burned Up Characters and Belief Prompts

All made using the excellent charred-black online character burner.

Umbaran Ship-Noble

  • Write a Belief about the qualities and worthiness of your house, and how you aim to preserve those in the new age.
  • Write a Belief about something you admire about Gondor, reluctantly or not.
  • Write a Belief about how you need to ensure you get a say in ruling Umbar.

Ex-priest of the Dark Lord

  • Write a Belief about the connections you still have with the Dark Lord’s loyalists.
  • Write a Belief about someone you need to ally with and offer your services to.
  • Write a Belief about what you gave up to serve the Dark Lord, and how you now wish to reclaim it.

Good excuse to use the ‘Faith in Dead Gods’ rules from the Codex.

Gondorian Envoy

  • Write a Belief about some public or governance project in Umbar you wish to realize.
  • Write a Belief about your home’s history with corsair attacks.
  • Write a Belief about the pressures and demands from the crown of Gondor and how they affect you.

Haradrim Merchant

  • Write a Belief about how your business can benefit from setting up shop in Umbar.
  • Write a Belief about what you lost in the War of the Ring and how Sauron’s lieutenants subverted your home.
  • Write a Belief about some clandestine trade deal you have a part in.

One thought on “Situation Mining: Umbar After Sauron

  1. In the books, we never hear much of Umbar aside from the corsairs.

    Turns out there’s more: lotr.fandom.com/wiki/Umbar
    But yes… one of the early Numenorian colonies, as such likelihood that one of 3 Numenorian Nazguls was a local boy (Games Workshop went this way), corsairs, the war with the Haradrim, the war with Gondor, and then being annexed after War of the Ring. Certainly a mess with lots of possibilities.

    Is it a kingdom? An oligarchy? Perhaps ruled by a council of the grandest corsair lords

    The most plausible variant, yes.
    Their military and economical backbone was the fleet. A ship’s Captain is near-sovereign, especially if the homeland is not overburdened by lawyers or theocrats. But they also expect that at any given time someone has to be in charge. Also, each Captain is away a lot, perhaps during most meetings, because they are still sailors. And at least during the war with Gondor their commander was the “Captain of the Haven”.
    This adds up to… “first among equals” grade monarchy, ruled by captains sailing on and off and constantly present commanders of their major ports (perhaps Captains semi-retired due to age or injury?) in an uncomplicated hierarchy, with Captain of the Haven nominally on top.
    Consider the possibility that Council of Captains occasionally “worked” the way nobles in Poland did. As in — oh, look, someone acts up by using veto, just because he got bored and wanted to remind of his mostly-sovereignty… sounds like a normal Friday.

    – whose power base of warships has now been eradicated.

    Along with a huge chunk of their logistics and in this case, power structure.

    Like

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