Beneath Your Feet: East Rohan

February 6, 2013

Tolkien's Lore

There was much fanfare when it was announced that we players would be joining the Fellowship (or its remnants) in Rohan. The endless, rolling plains of the realm of the Horse-lords is perhaps second, depending on who you talk to, to the Shire for most idealized and beloved landscapes in Middle-earth. From the books and the films we get a great sense of speed and wonder as we partake in the view of horses galloping down the endless grasses of the Riddermark. From our first sight of it, as Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn descend down the East Wall, to the beautiful description of Shadowfax’s race from the Gap of Rohan to Gondor, Rohan is an idealized, unspoiled land with a people who refused to “industrialize”, preferring a lifestyle of horsemanship and pastoralism. In Turbine’s recreation of this land the rolling plains and grasslands are there but things seem…crowded.

How troublesome are these departures from the texts? What is eastern Rohan really like?

I got a nice little chill when I first crossed into Rohan. I took the long road through the Great River region (as opposed to the Epic story, which kind of dumps you near the Argonath), crossed the bridge over the river Limlight, and watched the landscape tumble into brown, grassy hills as my mount and I passed into the Wold and Rohan proper. The low, sad violin kicked in and at once it was as though I was in both the old west and one of my favorite parts of my favorite fantasy world. There are many such moments in the Riders of Rohan expansion; it is well done and beautiful. The land transitions seamlessly and realistically from one area to the next; it never feels forced or wrong or unnatural. Being able to see (almost) clear across the plains and over the Entwash River, into the West Emnet where Théoden King dwells and Helm’s Deep rests and where the Three Hunters have gone, is terribly exciting and evokes a strong response in all of us lore nerds.

The Eastemnet, as basically the whole of eastern Rohan is called, was established along with the entire nation of Rohan in 2510 of the Third Age. The land was given to Eorl the Young as a gift for his people’s valour in the Battle of the Field of Celebrant and quickly the horsemen collected their families from up north and brought them down to this green, fertile land (for more on that, click here). The beauty of Rohan makes it a land of renown and desire, and as such the Rohirrim spent a great part of their history defending this land. Orcs, of course, and Dunlendings and Balchoth and Easterlings; even in his weakened form hiding in Dol Guldur, Sauron was constantly poking at his foes, keeping them on guard, and looking for weak spots. The Dunlendings were especially ready to attack the Rohirrim, for they had occupied (read, “were squatting on”) Calenardhon before it was Rohan to the irritation of Gondor. This notion is heavily relied upon in the Rise of Isengard expansion and plays out during the Battle of Helm’s Deep as well. Such bitter legend was tied to the fearsome “Straw-heads” (their nickname for the Rohirrim) that the Dunlendings were surprised when, after they lost Helm’s Deep, they weren’t killed or burned alive, but forgiven and set upon the task of tending to the corpses on the battlefield. But that’s a different story altogether.

So, the Rohirrim were and have been a fighting people. It took many years for the Rohirrim, formerly called the  Éothéod, to fully migrate to their new homes and once there they quickly restructured their new nation with a strong focus on the military. There were three Marshals of the Mark, each responsible for a different part of Rohan. Without going into great detail (check this out if you’d like more information), Éomer was the Third Marshal during the time period in which we interact with him in the game, making him the military commander over the East-mark (essentially all of the Eastemnet). For reference purposes, after Théodred’s death, Elfhelm is First Marshal and Erkenbrand is Second Marshal, over the West-mark. All of that is to say that it is Éomer who has rule over the Eastemnet in this time of war, despite his falling out with the King, and his orders were for all to vacate the East-mark and cross the Entwash into western Rohan.

LOTRO plays with this bit of history in the various storylines we come across in Eastern Rohan. Many of the thanes and other leaders are struggling with the idea of retreating from their homes, even when their people’s farms and houses have been sacked by roving orcs. Some are even convinced the orc issue isn’t a big one and are directly violating Éomer’s orders. They do a good job interweaving the story from the books: some see the young Marshal, who went out hunting orcs against the orders of Théoden King, as a bit of rebel and refuse to obey him. Others see that the Kings judgement is cloudy at best and do what needs doing, even if it is against his order. Others still are conflicted: do they do what they know is right and, in doing so, disobey their King? It is the central question of the Riders of Rohan expansion and one that Turbine used to good effect in crafting the stories.

It is also the greatest departure the game makes from the books. Here’s why: there are no thanes, no massive towns, and, in fact, very few people at all in the Eastemnet who would have to answer such a question. As far as can be told from the books and maps, there are no permanent settlements east of the Entwash river. This half of Rohan is almost strictly pasturelands that the herdsmen of Rohan use seasonally to feed their flocks.

What are, in the texts, open fields void of anything but herdsman, we have open fields with city-fortresses well within view of each other. In The Two Towers, when Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas have their legendary race across the plains it is entirely empty because Éomer has ordered that even the herders clear out of the Eastemnet for orcs of the White Hand have been causing so much trouble. The settlements of LOTRO’s Eastemnet have been caught in the trail of these orcs and are burning for it.

The vast majority of the Rohirrim live in the western half of Rohan, the Westemnet, in the shadow of the White Mountains where the lowlands, fueled by mountain streams, make for good farmland and the rivers make for stronger defense. I’ve ranted about this on the forums a bit already, so I will make my case brief. In short, at the time of the passing of the Three Hunters through east Rohan in pursuit of Merry and Pippin there is ostensibly no one there besides Éomer’s company. They’ve cleared out.

rohan_region

By way of a quick overview of the topography, let’s start from the Wold and work our way southwards. The Wold is a subregion of sharp hills and dry grass, formed by the remains of the Emyn Muil so very nearby. The jagged cliffs and rock formations of those hills give way to the first region we encounter in Rohan. In stark contrast to the Wold and the East Wall are the mainstay of Rohan in the Norcrofts and Sutcrofts. The oddly placed outcropping of stone, where Cliving is, seems kind of erroneous but apparently it will be replaced with a new landmass soon (Wildermore). The flat plains all move westwards and to a slightly lower incline to the Entwash Vale (remember, vale and dale just mean “valley”), which slows south and east and splits Rohan in two. As it swoops eastwards to meet the Anduin it forms the marshy area known as the Wetwang which one can see well from atop the Amon Hen. Finally, at the northward tip of the Entwash River and the northernmost boundary of Rohan, is Fangorn Forest. This one deserves it’s own article, of course, but remember its place at the foothills of the Misty Mountains and Gap of Rohan for its position allows the Ents to defend the Eastemnet when it is invaded during the War of the Ring. Were it not for the watchfulness of Ents, Éomer King might not have had a home to return to! But, again following the river, before the big curve we reach Snowbourn, the main city of East Rohan which serves as a gateway to the West. Beyond the River is Edoras, where later this year we will join Théoden, Eowyn, Gandalf, Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn, as they await the hammer-blow from Saruman in Helm’s Deep.

I hope you have all enjoyed this second edition of the article! Please feel free to comment with any suggestions: are the articles too long? Is there somewhere in particular you’d like to see discussed? Would you like to see transcripts from past episode of the podcast featured here?

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About shipwreck

shipwreck is a family man, reader, writer, and gamesman. He can be found in LOTRO on the Elendilmir server and keeps a personal blog at The Last Ship where the words are always guaranteed.

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23 Responses to “Beneath Your Feet: East Rohan”

  1. Atzumo Says:

    I love this kind of articles, but they are a little heavy and I can understand why some people can get tired after reading for a bit.
    Kinda like some chapters of the Silmarillion, if you get what I mean.

    Maybe more images to separate the paragraphs would help? Like photos of the part you are talking or maps with a circle and a red line for settlements and routes, respectively.
    Just my 2 cents, warmly waiting for next article!

    Reply

  2. Stinghen Says:

    I commend you on taking the trouble of writing this article. It looks to me spotless, and I very much agree with your considerations there.

    Reply

  3. Wilros Says:

    I really enjoy these articles and would not want to see them any shorter. If anything, I would love to get even more info! There is so much background info and history that makes the books and the game so much more interesting. The discussion about lore vs game is fascinating to make sure I’m remembering the books correctly and also to see what kind of changes the developers have made and for what reasons they may have done so. I look forward to the next installment!

    Reply

  4. Avatar of Lilikate Buggins.
    Lilikate Buggins. Says:

    Thankyou, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and will open up all the links and read those too. Look forward to reading more.

    Reply

  5. EiledonTruevoice Says:

    Don’t stop! Stay your course! Your love and clarity for Tolkien brings light and excellent crit and direction for the future of LOTRO. Your writing is full of awareness and strength. Ride on my Brother! Write on!

    Reply

  6. Jim Says:

    If it wasn’t for the due-diligence of LotRO’s lore-master player base, the game would have veered far more off track than it currently does.

    Thank you for your efforts shipwreck, they do make the game better.

    Reply

  7. Avatar of Andang
    Andang Says:

    I love your articles! If anything you should make them longer. Obviously I would like to see what little (or large) amount of lore there is with the Ettenmoors…

    Reply

  8. Frandoc Says:

    No, it is most certainly not too long. Could be even longer if you are so inclined.

    Reply

  9. Starry Mantle Says:

    Hi Shipwreck! Great piece, and it’s good to see you settling into your new home at CSTM!

    I like a nice dense post to sink my teeth into, so I think you’ve got the length just right with this. I liked the suggestion someone made above of using maps or diagrams where appropriate, too.

    – Starry

    Reply

  10. Elliottwald Says:

    Thanks I loved this!

    Reply

  11. Estendir Says:

    The problem is, in the books whole western Middle Earth is empty, way too much for a land quite friendly for settlers. Tolkien for some reason didn’t care about this.

    Reply

  12. Ben Says:

    I enjoy reading the article but I might say this in response to your comments regarding the open plains of Eastern Rohan: Empty areas make for boring questing. The ONLY way they could do something like this (and not just make a big empty space that people avoid since it’d be horrible for leveling) would be to make a moving camp/quest hub that traveled through the land with you. Though if they did this the whole thing would be a linear progression.

    Reply

  13. Pasduil Says:

    Fine article.

    The main point about emptiness applies to almost the whole of Middle Earth. To make it work as an MMO, they’ve had to fill up Tolkien’s world with lots of quest hubs, characters and enemies where there weren’t any in the books. That gives the place a different feel, but it’s a reasonable compromise because I doubt people would enjoy long sessions of travel without encountering anything but wildlife.

    Reply

    • Avatar of shipwreck
      shipwreck Says:

      I agree, it is certainly a trade off to make the game work. My typical response to things like this would be to have camps of hunters/herders/Rangers (in Eriador) in temporary shelters. It would provide the necessaries of quest hubs and still feel at least a little more authentic, instead of massive settlements every few miles. I’m not a game designer so I can’t say why this is a bad choice, I’ll just assume it is since they’ve used this very sparingly in LOTRO :)

      Reply

    • Avatar of shipwreck
      shipwreck Says:

      I agree, it is certainly a trade off to make the game work. My typical response to things like this would be to have camps of hunters/herders/Rangers (in Eriador) in temporary shelters. It would provide the necessaries of quest hubs and still feel at least a little more authentic, instead of massive settlements every few miles. I’m not a game designer so I can’t say why this is a bad choice, I’ll just assume it is since they’ve used this very sparingly in LOTRO :)

      Reply

  14. susan Says:

    nicely done

    Reply

  15. Psallo Says:

    I missed your first article, but after reading this one, I had to go back and read the other. Loved them both. I really enjoy the contrasts you bring out between the various representations of both Dol Guldur and Rohan.

    Looking forward to the next installment.

    Shipwreck FTW x2!

    Reply

  16. DK Says:

    Good article!

    Reply

  17. Aerindis Says:

    I’ve been listening to the podcast as I travel around LOTRO and am loving these articles. Please, no shorter!

    Reply

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