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 its 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.

Eladrin (Noldor)
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 (Beffraen)
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.

Name Title D&D equivalent
Manwe King of the Valar, Lord of air, wind and skies Pelor or Bahamut
Ulmo Lord of Waters Melora
Aule The Smith Moradin
Orome The Huntsman Corellon
Mandos Judge of the Dead
Lorien Master of Visions and Dreams Ioun
Tulkas The Champion Kord
Varda Queen of the Stars Avandra
Yavanna Giver of Fruits
Nienna Lady of Mercy Raven Queen
Este The Gentle Healer
Vaire The Weaver
Vana The Ever-Young
Nessa The Dancer
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.


30 Comments on “Cardolan: A Middle Earth campaign setting for 4e D&D”

  1. I love this idea. My group probably has close to a year before we’re done with the current campaign. But a one-shot or something to get a feel for it…. Cool idea.

  2. Good job! This looks very workable. My enthusiasm doesn’t extend to the addition of tieflings and dragonborn, though you do make a good case for the two and I might come around.

    Note on term usage: only the top 14/15 of the Ainur are known as the Valar, by definition — the rest are known as the Maiar, so there are no “lesser Valar” as stated in the penultimate paragraph.

  3. Well, you need to know that you can practically do anything with any Roleplaying Game if you are willing enough. Just remember that there are better rule sets for certain Genres.

    I.e. Superheroic Roleplaying can be done with 4e; but Mutants and Masterminds, Villains and Vigilantes, and the official company RPGs (along with Silver Sentinels) do the genre better.

    You CAN do the Savage Dragon with 4e. And you CAN do Middle Earth with 4e. But remember that some RPGs can do genres and worlds better when they are written for them in mind.

    But just remember, theoretically, you can do anything with any roleplaying game.

    Eltons last blog post..Series Bible

  4. @All Glad y’all liked it :D Welcome to the campaign setting I’m using for 4e D&D.

    @Stargazer Yeh. I can see some Tolkien fans turning in their grave at the thought of sullying Middle Earth with D&D, but the truth is that 4e is the first Edition I’d even consider up to the task. The loss of Vancian magic and 4e’s emphasis on epic-style play means it works pretty well. Hope so, anyhow!

    @benpop Gah! Good catch, corrected. That’s what I get for writing on a flow from memory late at night :D

    @Elton Absolutely!

  5. The way I’d cut it, tieflings become Black Numenoreans, half-elves become Numenoreans. & I’d probably just ignore the dragonborn– not a snub on the race, but I don’t see ’em fitting in.

    mordicais last blog post..Demon Drop.

  6. @mordicai That would work too. I intentionally aimed to fit all the Core D&D bases into the setting to keep all of the players’ options open, but as ever YMMV. It’s good to see the creative juices going on this one.

    (and hello if you’re coming from Robot Viking!)

  7. i agree with Jens Alm… I would make the Elves the three races… Half Elves sounds like a Human or Elf racial feat.

    Dragonborn? I would just exclude them. Maybe add in one of the races from the MM to replace them or find a Middle-earth race that the mechanics work for and change the fluff. Your fluff change could work.

    Like the Black Numenorean for the tiefling… change the way they look and use the same mechanics.

    I would also ask the players to change the name of their powers to fit a tolkien theme.

  8. Take a look at the new Player’s Handbook 2. There are several new options that can really enhance the Middle Earth feel, including:

    The Diva race – Seems tailor made to let players run Maiar like Gandalf. In fact, perhaps Wizards are almost always of the Maiar race, now that it’s playable.

    The Half-Orc race – Some people like to play Uruk-hai, so this race could find use.

    The Shaman class – As protectors and wielders of natural spirits, this seems tailor made for emulating elf magic.

    The Warden class – This class is a “primal” powered woodsy warrior. At first I disliked this class as treading too close to the Ranger’s territory, but when viewed for Middle Earth it’s quite appropriate.

    There may be a few other classes and races that can fit into Middle Earth (Bard? Gnome?), but the ones I’ve mentioned seem the best to me. I’d recommend removing the Cleric and Paladin in favor of the Shaman and Warden (that’s a Leader and a Defender for a Leader and a Defender), so that you’ve still got options for those two roles without inserting god powers where they don’t belong.

    You can remove the Dragonborn and Tiefling now in favor of the new, more appropriate Half-Orc and Deva.

    I also recommend removing the Warlock class as an option, that just doesn’t seem to fit to me (are there magical curses in Middle Earth?). An extra striker class that could be added to replace it is the new Barbarian class (Wild Men anyone?). But it’s not absolutely necessary; you’ve already got the Ranger and Rogue.

  9. This is beautiful stuff Greywulf. I’m getting the core 4E books, and am totally using your setting for my 4E games! I’ve always wanted to do D&D in Middle-earth, a merging of my two great passions, and this is just flat beautiful.

    1. What you’re doing there is posting up copyrighted material that belongs to someone else and that’s a big no-no.

      I’ll let your comment stand but suggest that you think twice about a) posting stuff like this on scribd, and b) posting a link to it in public. Just a heads up.

  10. Maybe you could also add the Seeker as an extra striker class. We don’t see many heroic barbarians in Middle-Earth :)

    It’s not-too-magical and it can also add some striking depth.

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  12. Dear Greywulf,

    Don’t know if it’s been pointed out already, but I guess the Numenorians could use half-elf stats, because in the Middle Earth true half-elves (like ELROND, for Eru’s sake) were very rare and looked like full elves.

    GREAT work, btw. I do not play 4e, but I read the book and this could really be a great campaign!

  13. I think this is really creative, and I have always loved the often overlooked Kingdom of Cardolan. While many would say it is only a place of ruin and wasted ambition, we shall see the glory of Cardolan restored. (I would probably not have Dragonborn, though. That’s just me, I’ve not been keen about dragons. In too many settings they bounce around like Greek gods leaving unwanted offspring all over the place.) But this is highly commendable.

  14. Well firstly our group started with the D&D box set back in 1976, we moved into 2d edition and started running a AD&D club here in Arlington Texas back in the early 1980’s. By 1988 we had codified our world into multiple nations run by the multiple D.M.’s we had running games in our club. We started out in 1976 using Tolkien’s world due to it’s completeness and readily available maps. One of our group even went so far as to draw us a map based as close to the then available maps as possible which showed our version of the Professors world. We merely added our own petty nations to the LoTR map and inserted anything AD&D had as well as everything our players wanted added in. We had a D.M.’s council which reviewed all request’s for approval or modification to fit the Campaign.The world of the LoTR is so rich and so flexible you can add virtually anything you please.
    Unfortunately REAL LIFE has a way of busting up Fantasy and our club gradually dwindled from a top of 100 to 125 players bi-weekly to only our original 10-12 players in roughly 2000. We continue to play periodically and have been adding our children into the fold. Our group was not the only group I knew of to use the LoTR maps; I have met gamers from across the nation who have used or are using the Tolkien world. I’ve spoken to not only AD&D and D&D gamers who use the LoTR world but Runequest ,Tunnels and Trolls and several others even a Traveller Campaign and all PRE- I.C.E.’s Middle Earth Role Playing game and their fantastic maps of Middle Earth. So my suggestion to you is GO FOR IT and enjoy the adventure!! David A.Ray former Vice President, Arlington AD&D Club Arlington Texas.

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