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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.