Tharbad was an inland port built by the Númenóreans at a ford crossing the Gwathló / Greyflood to protect their mercantile and security interests in Enedwaith. The super-men of Middle Earth constructed an immense bridge and fortifications at Tharbad near the beginning of the Third Age.
The Great Plague of TA 1636 mostly emptied the city, and Tharbad was left to deteriorate over the centuries.
One of the fascinating aspects of Middle Earth as described in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings is the depth of history that sets the backdrop of those books. Tharbad gets a brief mention there and in the History of Middle Earth series. Boromir is noted as losing his horse at the Greyflood crossing on his long trip from Minas Tirith to Rivendell.
Section from poster map accompanying Lord of the Rings 5e roleplaying game
Thieves of Tharbad
Middle Earth Roleplaying (MERP) was THE RPG if you wanted to play in Tolkien’s world in the 1980s and 90s. The game system – based on a stripped-down version of the Rolemaster rules – was mediocre. The rules didn’t fit the world. The authors felt the need to “turn up” the magic to D&D-levels, plus a few other issues.
Nevertheless, the source material and the maps published in over 80 supplements remain invaluable to this day.
The port city as depicted in Thieves of Tharbad is set in TA 1409. The city is in a somewhat diminished state, but still thriving.
Thieves of Tharbad
1985 … Lisa J. Evans & Walter H. Hunt & Evan Jamieson & Richard Meyer & Robert G. Traynor & Terry K. Amthor (editor) … 34 pages … ICE 8050 … ISBN 0915795353
Ruins of the Lost Realm / Ruins of Eriador
Free League Publishing is currently licensed to publish RPGs set in Middle Earth. And they are doing a fantastic job. They have running in parallel The One Ring and Lord of the Rings Roleplaying. The first is its own rules system, and the second is (very loosely) based on the Dungeons & Dragons 5e rules.
So Ruins of the Lost Realm & Ruins of Eriador are the same book published in both systems. Both have the same gorgeous poster map of the city.
Tharbad here is set in TA 2965 – over 1,500 years later! The city is a dilapidated ruin, inhabited by a few squatters, bandits, and pretenders.
Roleplaying over the Millennia
There are a number of approaches to exploring the possibilities of using both settings in TA 1409 & TA 2965.
One would be to blend them together. MERP was always loose about when a given adventure module was set. The default year was TA 1640, but there were a few exceptions, notably here with Thieves of Tharbad being set in TA 1409. But the authors made sure to allow for GMs to set the adventures in the year of their choosing.
Likewise, though Free League’s setting of TA 2965 places the characters squarely between the events of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, this too could be fudged with little trouble. The authors note that “their” Tharbad is likely more populated than the empty ruins implied in Tolkien’s writings.
Play the same PCs in Tharbad over 1,500 years
My idea was to run the same PCs through both modules.
Tolkien elves are immortal. If every player made an elf PC, voila! You now have an adventure spanning a mind-boggling period of time.
It’s very difficult for humans to grasp immortality. It’s seldom been conveyed well in literature and movies. What’s it like for a person to outlive trees?
Tharbad gives gamers an opportunity to explore immortality, the players experiencing a city crumbling into ruins over 1,500 years.
Play one module, then another. Or alternate sessions. Run the characters as low level in one setting, and higher level in the later year.