New Module: Minas Morgul (Parts 1 and 2)

High on a rocky seat upon the black knees of the Ephel Duath, stood the walls and tower of Minas Morgul. All was dark about it, earth and sky, but it was lit with light. Not the imprisoned moonlight welling through the marble walls of Minas Ithil long ago, Tower of the Moon, fair and radiant in the hollow of the hills. Paler indeed than the moon ailing in some slow eclipse was the light of it now, wavering and blowing like a noisome exhalation of decay, a corpse-light, a light that illuminated nothing. In the walls and tower windows showed, like countless black holes looking inward into emptiness; but the topmost course of the tower revolved slowly, first one way and then another, a huge ghostly head leering into the night. (The Two Towers, “The Stairs of Cirith Ungol”)

This module is a long time coming: thirty-two years. Mark Rabuck did a great job with Minas Ithil (1991), but let’s face it, that wasn’t the module we were waiting for, and the Nazgul on the cover seemed to promise more. I’ve held out hopes that Other Minds would take on the task, but in its sixteen years of high-quality Middle-Earth output, those great minds have curiously steered clear of Minas Morgul. The City of the Ringwraiths seems to paralyze RPG designers as much as it did Frodo and Sam when they came too near. Not me. I got tired of waiting, so the wait is over. Minas Morgul is here, for your most challenging campaigns.

Please note that the module is intended for mature audiences. I imagine Minas Morgul as a dark and depraved city and I designed it accordingly. The encounter areas involve sacrifice, extreme violence, rape, and ugly behavior. I subscribe to the point of view expressed by Monte Cook in the D&D supplement, The Book of Vile Darkness (2002), where he says:

“Before you put this book down in disgust, consider this: The darker the shadow of evil, the brighter the light of good. The more horrible the villain, the greater the hero. If you are interested in adding the truly horrific to your game as something for the PCs to vanquish, then this book is for you.” (p 4)

That’s the spirit in which I offer Minas Morgul. It’s designed for 6-8 player characters (PCs) of levels 9-15. An ideal party would include a priest, two warriors (fighters, paladins, rangers, etc.) two magic-users (mages, sorcerers, illusionists, etc.), a thief/assassin, and optionally one or two additional characters of any class. As far as race goes, humans are ideal; elves and dwarves will draw immediate fire in Minas Morgul without foolproof disguises or illusions. Hobbits might pass for small humans, but they will draw undue attention as well. As a grognard, I use the rules for 1e AD&D, though some of 3e creeps in, especially with newer spells and clerical rules for turning undead.

The module is set in the year TA 2968, during the middle of Ecthelion II’s reign as Steward of Gondor (his 15th year; he will rule for 16 more). But it can really be used for any time period between the fall of Minas Ithil and the War of the Ring (TA 2002-3018), with minimal modifications. The only major changes involve which Nazgul reside in the city.

During the 939-year period of 2002-2941, five Nazgul reside at Minas Morgul:

  • The Witch King (Murazor) – First of the Nine
  • The Storm King (Akhorahil) – Fifth of the Nine
  • The Ice King (Hoarmurath)  – Sixth of the Nine
  • The Silent (Adunaphel) – Seventh of the Nine
  • The Night Rider (Uvatha) – Ninth of the Nine

(During this period Uvatha is 30% likely to be absent from the city, since he is the liaison between Minas Morgul and Dol Guldur and Ostigurth, and so is often traveling abroad.)

During the 10-year period of 2941-2951, after the White Council drives Sauron from Dol Guldur, there is an additional sixth Nazgul, as Khamul takes up residence in the city:

  • The Witch King (Murazor) — First of the Nine
  • The Black Ranger (Khamul) — Second of the Nine
  • The Storm King (Akhorahil) — Fifth of the Nine
  • The Ice King (Hoarmurath) — Sixth of the Nine
  • The Silent (Adunaphel) — Seventh of the Nine
  • The Night Rider (Uvatha) — Ninth of the Nine

During the 67-year period of 2951-3018, after Sauron sends Khamul back to Dol Guldur along with Adunaphel and Uvatha, there are now four Nazgul in the city. Indur has left the city of Ostigurth in eastern Mordor and taken up residence in the chambers that were used by Adunaphel.

  • The Witch King (Murazor) — First of the Nine
  • Dawndeath (Indur) — Fourth of the Nine
  • The Storm King (Akhorahil) — Fifth of the Nine
  • The Ice King (Hoarmurath) — Sixth of the Nine

My design assumes the presence of these four (in the year 2968), which results in a power dynamic that’s different from that during the 2002-2951 era. Even though he outranks Akhorahil, Indur usually defers to the Storm King (who remains second in command of the city), knowing that Akhorahil is the Witch-King’s favored. Indur however is contemptuous of Akhorahil, a rivalry that goes back centuries to their reigns in Southern Middle-Earth. And his star is on the rise: he’s gaining the Witch King’s favor as he spearheads a project involving botanical warfare against Gondor. This has Akhorahil steaming with jealous rage; the Storm King favors meteorological warfare (deadly weather), though he has little to show for himself in making that kind of strategy possible.

As for why any group of PCs would be crazy enough to infiltrate Minas Morgul, here are some suggested adventure scenarios.

1. The Vampire Queen. The recent slaying of his only son (in Pelargir, by Corsairs) has left the steward of Gondor, Ecthelion II, grief-struck and renewed his determination to find his only daughter, Elvaleth. She’s been missing for four years, after being intent on spying on the city of Ringwraiths in defiance of her father. Only a fool tries staking out Minas Morgul, and Elvaleth could well be dead, but the steward needs to know for sure, and wants her out of that hell hole if she’s alive. That’s the party’s mission. (The tragedy is that she is now a vampire in a castle of horrors. Encounter area 24 will be the main goal.)

2. A Priceless Book. Gandalf the Grey seeks out the party. He believes there is a book in Minas Morgul that details the biographies of the Nine Nazgul (the Nolulairion) and wants the book badly. He won’t go near the city himself (an Istari would be smelled by the Nazgul before he even reached the front gate), but he has heard that the PCs have the balls to do what few others dare try (and live to tell the tales). So he sends the party to find the Nolulairion, if it is indeed in the foul city, recommending they start looking in the city library on the upper circles. In fact there are two copies of the book in the city, but neither in the library: one is in an old bookstore, unbenownst to the Nazgul; the other used to be in the library but was moved to the garrsion compound when the Nazgul discovered it. (Either encounter area 6 or areas 29 and 17 will serve as the main goal.)

3. Seeds of Doom. Someone in Minas Morgul has dangerous botanical skills. This individual (maybe one of the Nazgul, or a powerful druid) has managed to cultivate seed pods that infect people, gradually transforming them into killer carnivorous plants that thrive in any temperature, and control all plant life around them. Two such pods have been discovered by rangers in the forests of Ithilien; one ranger escaped being bitten, but the other was hideously transformed and killed scores of people before being slain by his fellow rangers. The rangers strongly suspected these pods were planted by agents from Minas Morgul. The party must find out how these pods are being cultivated, and exterminate them and hopefully their creator as well. Gandalf the Grey might be a suitable employer for this adventure as well. (Encounter areas 22 and 27 will be the main goals.) Note: This adventure is recommended for players who enjoy being immersed in backbiting internal politics; they will likely find themselves caught between two Nazgul factions: (a) the faction of Indur (Fourth of the Nine), who is the one spearheading the botanical project, as he believes biological warfare is the answer against Gondor; and (b) the faction of Akhorahil (Fifth of the Nine), who hates Indur, and who usually enjoys the Witch King’s favor, but his own agenda for meterological warfare (as opposed to botanical) has borne little fruit, making the Witch King less than impressed.

4. The Lost Sister. A young woman (19 years old) from Pelargir (Renefee, pronouned “RAIN-fee”) hires the party to get back her twin sister (Koree), who was abducted by raiders from Minas Morgul when the sisters were hiking through Ithilien, naively close to the Morgul Vale. Renefee isn’t rich, but she has a very valuable artifact that she’s willing to give the PCs in payment for taking on so dangerous a task. (Koree has become a captive in the Halls of Rape, and her days are numbered, so the PCs had best move fast, and find out where she is, fast. It’s very possible they will fail in this regard. Encounter area 12 will be the main goal.)

5. Death Tower. By TA 2968 the Tower of Black Sorcery has accumulated so much deadly power that it is blighting lands in Ithilien beyond the Morgul Vale. Livestock are freaking out and dying; people are waking up from nightmares, mentally broken; babies are being born insane, unable to stop shrieking. The rangers in Ithilien have it on good authority that there is an artifact created by the Morgul Lord (the Witch King) that is making this possible — that has made the old Tower of the Moon alive in its evil, and the ghostly green light emanating from its beacon a toxic bane that spreads its ill effects outwards. The PCs need to find this artifact and destroy it. (Encounter area 14 will be the main goal, and probably encounter area 33 as well.)

For myself, I like the idea of using Gandalf the Grey to hire the PCs. Really he could be used for the second, third, or fifth scenarios. The adventures can also be mixed to encompass joint missions for the truly bold. Maybe Gandalf hires the PCs to retrieve the Nolulairion and to find out who is behind the killer plants. Or maybe the rangers of Ithilien hire them to stop the death magic of the Tower and, while they’re at it, to also look for the steward’s daughter. Using Gandalf as an employer has the advantage of knowing that a spy (for the White Council) exists in the city, who could help the PCs (see encounter area 15).

Approaching the City of Black Sorcery

The city of Minas Morgul sits about two and half miles off the road that leads through the mountain pass into Mordor, as illustrated on this map:

Those who approach the city will feel uneasy as soon as they come within a mile of it, and once they are 2000 feet outside the walls, they must save vs. death magic or be unable to look at the city as they approach it. Once they are 500 feet outside the walls, the PCs who failed their save will be unable to approach any further — they will either fall to the ground shivering in terror or run back the way they came. Those who made their saving throw must make another saving throw at the 500-feet point, lest they too succumb to terror (that either paralyzes them or causes them to run), though the save is made at +4 for those who succeeded on the first saving throw.

Those who succeed both saving throws (and can thus enter the city without being petrified out of their minds) will not have to make another save against the city-fear for as long as their stay in the city — a day, a week, a month, whatever. However, even those PCs will still feel a deep sense of unease and suffer -2 penalties on “to hit”, damage, armor class, and any ability checks related to strength and dexterity. Also, if they stay long in the city, any good-aligned PCs have a 10% chance/day of being driven mad. Each PC who is affected gets a save vs. spells at -4 to negate the insanity. Roll d6 to determine the madness for those who fail the save:

  1. Dipsomania. The PC is driven to drink and seeks refuge in booze, taverns, etc, in order to cope with fear.
  2. Schizoid. The PC loses his or her personality and will select a role model (usually another member of the party) and make every attempt possible to become like that character. Selection will be based upon as different a person as is possible with regard to the insane character. A mage will begin to follow the habits of a warrior, and vice-versa; etc.
  3. Demential Praecox. The PC will become wholly uninterested in any undertaking. Nothing will seem worthwhile, no matter how important the situation. Even in life-or-death situations, it’s 25% probable that the PC will choose to completely ignore it as meaningless.
  4. Paranoia. The PC is convinced that fellow PCs are plotting against him, spying, listening, and always nearby. All conversations are about the PC, any laughter is aimed at the PC, and every action of fellow PCs has the purpose of deluding the PC so as to fulfill the “plot”. The PC will be hyper vigilant about his possessions, convinced that his fellow PCs are trying to steal them. The PC will trust absolutely no one, especially his fellow PCs. If the insanity goes untreated for more than two days, the PC will abandon his fellow PCs, convinced that they are now his worst enemies.
  5. Hebephrenia. The PC withdraws from the real world, wandering aimlessly, talking to himself or herself, giggling and muttering, and acting childishly, sometimes even requesting to play childish games with others.
  6. Suicidal Mania. The PC will try to end his life whenever an opportunity presents itself — a dangerous situation, a weapon, etc. The more dangerous the situation or the weapon/item, the more likely PC will react self-destructively. Use a scale of 10% to 80% probability. If the PC is frustrated in suicidal attempts, then he will become homicidal against any who are trying to thwart his suicidal intentions.

Sunlight never penetrates the city, thanks to the Witch King’s sorcery. From the ground to 200 feet in the air, all daylight is snuffed out, and the city’s lighting comes from special lanterns hung everywhere. The lighting is unnerving in the extreme, contributing to the sorcerous atmosphere that makes (good) people go insane: small yellow-green lights glow here and there, lighting up buildings, the roads, and terrain. It’s a weak glow with deep sinister power. The light reveals invisible creatures and anyone hiding in shadows within 50 feet. In effect, this makes invisibility spells/benefits useless in most places in Minas Morgul, even inside many homes where the yellow-green light diffuses through windows. The secret of manufacturing the special oils that create these Morgul lanterns are closely guarded by the warlocks of the Academy (see encounter area 30). (Note: the idea for these lanterns comes from the Dungeon module, “Kingdom of the Ghouls”, a part of which I use for encounter area 14.)

Minas Morgul is a cold city, and thus very undead friendly. Due to the enchantments of the Ice King (Hoarmurath, the Sixth of the Nine), the temperature never gets above 36 degrees Farenheit, even on the hottest summer day, and is always at least 20 degrees cooler than the atmosphere of the Morgul Vale. Since temperatures in the Morgul Vale usually range between 30-80 degrees year round, the temperature of Minas Morgul is anywhere between 10-36 degrees, though usually in the 30s. (Only during the three winter months does it get regularly below 50 degrees in the Morgul Vale.) Winds don’t blow above 15 miles/hour in the city (unless something like a control winds spell is cast), and usually the winds are light to non-existent (0-5 miles/hour). Anyone casting a control weather spell is guaranteed to bring down the Nazgul on their backs swiftly.

Natural Fire, Fire-Based Spells, and Staying Warm

Fire has been outlawed in Minas Morgul, ever since TA 2096, when Ren the Fire King turned on his fellow Nazgul and tried to take the city for his own. Lighting a natural fire or casting a fire-based spell is a capital offense. Candles and lanterns will get you thrown in prison. The mages and priests of the city have a special coldfire spell that they use (see encounter area 3, below), and of course the Morgul lanterns. They absolutely shun spells like fireball, flame strike, wall of fire, fire storm, produce fire, etc. Those caught lighting a torch, candle, or normal lantern, or casting any fire-based spell will be arrested and taken to the Claws of Justice (encounter area 17).

This raises the question of how the mannish population stays warm in a city that’s always between 10 and 36 degrees F. The warlocks of the Academy (encounter area 30) designed a spell for this purpose that doesn’t rely on fire, called heat building. It works as follows:

Heat building

Level: Cleric 2, Mage 3
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Area: Modest sized home or shop
Duration: Permanent
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

By casting this spell on a house or shop or any enclosed building, the structure becomes suffused with enough heat to make the temperature in all rooms 68 degrees F. The spell effect is permanent, unless a dispel magic is cast. For homes or shops that have more than two floors, or whose dimensions on any floor exceed a 50’x50′ area, multiples spells will be required. Residents of the city can hire a warlocks to heat their homes, for a charge of 100 gp per spell — expensive for most people (many of whom have to make monthly payments to the Academy over a long period of time), but again, it has a permanent duration.

The question of cooking food has also demanded creativity. The warlocks have created magical stoves with hot burners, that have levers adjusting the heat on these burners from 200 degrees to as high as 1,500 degrees F. Prices for the stoves range as low as 50 gp and up to 2,000 gp, depending on their size.

Many of the encounter areas involving enclosed buildings will be heated by a heat building spell, and all kitchens will have magical burners, unless otherwise noted.

Getting Inside

Minas Morgul is off-limits to enemies of Mordor, so those who want to break in have a challenge. The city is about three miles (16,000 feet) in diameter. Its walls are 110 feet high, 70 feet thick at the base, and 20 feet thick at the top. The front gate is guarded with manpower and sorcery (see encounter area 1, below), and the back gate is invisible on the outside and also trapped with sorcery (see encounter area 2). However, the back gate is used daily by ghoul raiding parties (see encounter area 14) which would tip off any PCs who are staking out the city to its existence.

In addition, twenty-two towers are spaced evenly around the outside walls, approximately 2,300 feet apart from each other (see encounter area 17 for a map of one). Each tower is 130 feet tall and mounted with a large catapult (capable of throwing a ten-pound stone 500 yards), 2 ballistae (for aiming more precisely at moving targets), and a gong which sounds an alarm. These towers are the main watch posts for the city, and each has at least four mannish soldiers on duty at all times. Inside, the towers hold barracks, limited kitchens, and storerooms. Each tower is accessible only through a single door at ground level, which is always locked and guarded.

High-level characters might think the most obvious way to get inside the city is to fly over the walls invisibly, though even this poses extreme challenges, since a fly spell affects only 1 person, a telekinesis spell maybe two if cast by a high-enough level mage, and, most problematically, any invisibility (from spells or magic items) is negated by the yellow-green Morgul light of the city mentioned already. (The top of the walls have a lantern fixed at every 50 feet.) Anyone flying over the outer wall, whether “invisible” or not, stands a 30% chance of being spotted by the nearest tower guard (+5% per person flying above one).


Right before it fell to Mordor, Minas Ithil was home to 36,000 people, of which less than 4,000 were military defenders: 3,000 regular soldiers and 400 knights. (Though an emergency levy of 6,000 additional soldiers was able to be summoned from other areas if needed.) Under the Witch-King, Minas Morgul has had considerably less inhabitants — about 19,000 at the time this module is set in (TA 2968): 12,000 men, 2,000 orcs, 2,000 ghouls, 3,000 other (trolls, undead, demonic creatures). But most of this population (13,000) is militarized: 10,000 men, 2,000 orcs, and 1,000 other (trolls and undead) are able to defend the city and fight if necessary. (An emergency levy of 7,000 additional orcs can be summoned from Mordor rather quickly if needed.) The militarized force of 13,000 is comfortable enough to support locally and strong enough to deter any realistic counterattack from Gondor.

Note the relatively low orc population (only about 10%) for a city controlled by the forces of Mordor. For comparative purposes, in the city of Ostigurth in eastern Mordor, about two-thirds of the population is orcish, and the mannish forces are a minorty. Minas Morgul (like Minas Ithil before it) is dominated by men, and though these men are just as cruel as orcs, they are more intelligent and cultured.

Population statistics mean more in context, so here are the populations of major cities in Arnor, Angmar, Gondor, and Rohan at various stages in history. The figures are derived from Thomas Morwinsky in Other Minds magazine, issues #13 and #17, except for the Minas Morgul figures (in red) which are mine. (After TA 2002, three cities are renamed because of the Nazgul triumph: Minas Ithil becomes Minas Morgul; Minas Anor becomes Minas Tirith; Lond Ernil becomes Dol Amroth. And Osgiliath is evacuated.)

TA 850 TA 1400
TA 1640
TA 1974
TA 2000
14,500 9,800 8,500
Carn Dum*
4,000 7,500
Minas Anor
5,500 10,500 16,500 41,000
Minas Ithil
8,500 9,500 20,000 36,000
62,400 76,000 25,700 11,700
44,000 60,000 31,500 61,400
Lond Ernil
12,200 21,000 8,700 14,600


TA 2500 TA 2740
TA 2900
TA 3000
Minas Tirith
40,200 33,800 26,200 23,400
Minas Morgul*
14,000 16,000 19,000 21,000
58,600 47,200 47,200 41,200
Dol Amroth
13,500 11,200 10,400 9,700
5,500 6,600 9,100

* Note again the deceptively low numbers for cities ruled by the Witch King. Carn Dum and Minas Morgul may seem low, but they are actually quite high since most of their populations (70-80%) are militarized. Among the free peoples, usually only about 5-10% of the city populations are comprised of the military guard. For example, in TA 1974, Fornost has a population of 8,500, but only 600 are defenders of the city; by contrast, Carn Dum has a population of 7,500, and 6,000 of them are warriors.


The mannish forces of Minas Morgul are a melting pot of many cultures. Few can boast a pure racial heritage, but insofar as what races dominate in one’s heritage, Variags and Haradrim are the most common, and the breakdown is as follows: Asdriags (3%), Balchoth (7%), Black Numenoreans (2%), Brygath (2%), Corsairs (6%), Dorwinirim (1%), Gathmariags (1%), Haradrim (Near and Far) (22%), Kykuriani (3%), Odhriags (2%), Sagath (8%), Wainriders (8%), Variags (34%), and other minority groups (1%). The most common mannish languages in the city are Haradaic (for the Haradrim) and Varadja (for the Variags), but all warriors speak the common battle dialect (“war speech”).

Needless to say, there are no elves (save for a few dark or evil elves, like the ones at encounter areas 10, 22 and 27) or dwarves who call Minas Morgul home. Any elf or dwarf would be arrested on sight, and if the party contains any elves or dwarves, they will need very good disguises or magic illusions that conceal their racial giveaways.


There aren’t many in Minas Morgul. The city has a terrifying enough reputation to keep away even the denizens of Mordor, unless they have no choice but to travel here. The presence of the Ringwraiths and their sorceries are a deterrent to the sane and sensible. Most of the population is militarized, and the city garrison (see encounter area 17) supplies room and board for any additional guards that are absorbed. High state officials are given private accommodations on the upper circles of the city. Still, Minas Morgul is a city and there are at least a handful of inns and taverns that cater to the local population and occasional visitors. PCs staying for longer than a day may want to check into one of them. If they inquire about such public accommodations, they should be able to learn about the following five establishments, since most of the city residents are aware of them.

  • The Bleeding Scab is the popular tavern, located in the northern quarter near the front gate (encounter area 4). Room and board are reasonable and the service decent enough. It’s run by the half-orc Rudin, who doesn’t take nonsense from anyone. It’s rumored that some of the steak he serves is elf-flesh.
  • The Screaming Mace is the tavern catering to the upper middle and high class, located in the downtown area of the southern section (encounter area 5). It’s an expensive establishment, with magically heated rooms, and deliciously hot meals, and run by the warrior Alukhor, who is known to have something of a split personality, and go on homicidal rampages against customers who get too rowdy.
  • The Mean Latrine is a seedy joint located on the upper south side near Ghoul Town (encounter area 13). Only cold meals are served here and the clientele are known to play sadistic drinking games. It’s run by the matron Fat Jeena, who apparently knows a lot about what goes on inside Ghoul Town.
  • The Broken Prayer is a church tavern located in the northwest area (encounter area 8). It’s a small establishment (only one floor) run by the ex-priest Gorotha, who was stripped of his office for preaching heresy (that Sauron is greater than Morgoth; that ass-kissing theology backfired on him spectacularly), though he leads mandatory prayer meetings. Those who refuse to attend his prayer circles are not given a room; ditto for those who are loud and boisterous. He does not serve booze or provide whores. As a result he doesn’t get many customers, but his cook is one of the best in the city. Those who dislike rowdy bars, love fantastic food, and can tolerate self-righteous homilies, come to the Broken Prayer.
  • The Last Wish is a bordello-tavern in the northeast section (encounter area 10). It offers by far the best and most exquisite services available in the city (room, board, and whores), is astronomically expensive… and you might not leave it alive. It’s run by the half-demon Madam Rayz, who takes pride in supplying orgasmic pleasures that are unrivaled in most places of Middle-Earth. But those pleasures can be fatal.

Each establishment is described in detail (in the keyed areas of the module below), including the service prices, but for convenience sake here I lay out all the service prices side-by-side, for comparative purposes.

The Bleeding Scab
The Screaming Mace
The Mean Latrine
The Broken Prayer
The Last Wish
Private Room
2 gp/night 5-12 gp/night 7 sp/night 3 gp/night 10-20 gp/night
Common Room
3 sp/night na 1 sp/night na na
14 sp/hour 3 gp/hour 5 sp/hour na 30-50 gp/hour
Breakfast, plain
5 cp 1 sp 2 cp 8 cp 3 sp
Breakfast, elaborate
2 sp 5 sp 1 sp 4 sp 1 gp
Dinner, 3-course
13 sp 1 gp 8 sp 1 gp 3 gp
Dinner, 7-course
2 gp 4 gp 1 gp 3 gp 9 gp
Supper, plain
3 sp 7 sp 1 sp 5 sp 2 gp
Supper, 3-course
7 sp 2 gp 3 sp 1 gp 6 gp
Ale (pint)
3 sp 8 sp 2 sp na 1 gp
Mead (flagon)
6 sp 15 sp 4 sp na 2 gp
Wine (pint)
1 gp 3 gp 12 sp na 5 gp
Liqueur (gill) 5 gp 7 gp na na 10 gp

For the money system I use the framework of 1st edition D&D:

  • 1 platinum piece = 5 gold pieces = 100 silver pieces = 1000 copper pieces

Except for Middle-Earth I use mithril instead of platinum, so the rates are:

  • 1 mithril piece = 5 gold pieces
  • 1 gold piece = 20 silver pieces
  • 1 silver piece = 10 copper pieces

Wandering Encounters

I almost never bother with wandering encounter charts in my dungeons, but cities are different. After all, you can hardly go through a populated city without encountering others on the roads, and in a dangerous city like Minas Morgul those wandering encounters matter. Roll percentile dice twice every .2 miles, or every 4 minutes, the PCs travel in the city:

01-30: Patrol (d6: 1-5 = mannish, 6 = orcish)
31-40: Off-duty Soldiers (d6: 1=5 = mannish, 6 = orcish)
41-50: Civilian (d4: 1= merchant, 2 = street whore, 3 = drunkard, 4 = dead body)
51-60 Cultist (d10: 1-4 = Cult of the Lightless Light member = 5-7 = Cult of Cold Thunder member, 8-9 = Spider Cult member, 10 = lone raving religious fanatic)
61-70: Creature (d4: 1 = purple worm, 2 = 1-4 giant spiders, 3 = troll, 4 = fell beast)
71-90: Undead (d12: 1-2 = 5-8 skeletons, 3-4 = 3-6 zombies, 5-6 = 1-4 wights, 7-9 = 1-3 yowlers*, 10= spectre, 11= vampire, 12= ghost)
91-96: Demon (type 1-6, determined by the number after the “9”)
97-00: Nazgul** (97 = The Ice King, 98 = The Storm King, 99 = Dawndeath, 00 = The Witch King)

* See encounter area 20 for description of “yowler” childlings
** See encounter areas 32 and 33 for details on the four Nazgul residing in Minas Morgul.

Random Sounds

The sounds of the city alone are enough to drive some people mad. Every half hour, regardless of where the PCs are in the city, roll d6 for a random sound:

1: Tower groan: The Tower of Black Sorcery moans and hiccups a burst of decaying non-light (see encounter area 33)
2: Nazgul shriek: One of the four Nazgul lets out a piercing cry from somewhere in the city
3: Cry of torment: Someone (a man or woman) cries out in pain from a nearby house or alley
4: Savage snarls: Some creature — sounding like a dog or a warg — barks and snarls savagely from somewhere not far
5. Yowler: The hideous shriek of an undead child sounds from a nearby street or alley (see encounter area 20)
6. PC scream: One of the PCs, for no reason, suddenly screams in fright, then gets over his inexplicable terror

Also: At 2:00 PM every afternoon there is a 9% chance that the Cult of Cold Thunder will be sacrificing a victim to summon such a deadly ice storm that will pulverize the entire city (see encounter area 18).

Keyed Encounter Areas

The following encounter areas are keyed in red circles on the map below. I’ve renumbered and renamed them from the Minas Ithil module, as many of the old numbers were scattered about non-sequentially and hard to locate, and obviously most of the old names (which I display as strike-throughs) no longer apply under the new horrors of Minas Morgul. In most cases the buildings have been so repurposed as to be unrecognizable from their original functions, though the structures themselves remain the same. I’ve reformatted the layouts (on the right) so they match my new descriptions. The city is about 3 miles (16,000 feet) in diameter.

First I summarize the 33 encounter areas, then follow with details for each.

1. Gargoyle Watch. The main entry into the city, guarded by manpower and sorcery. If you’re not a friend of Mordor, the gargoyle statues will know it… and within seconds the whole city will know it, and you might be in for a Nazgul surprise right away.

2. Maggot’s Ass. The rear emergency exit, cloaked by an invisibility spell. Trying to get in this way will have you retching from the smell of a thousand sewers.

3. Inquisitor’s Square. The old city market of Minas Ithil has been transformed into a public executioner’s square, where people are burned at the stake by coldfire.

4. The Bleeding Scab. The innkeeper is a half-orc assassin who kills disrespectful guests in their sleep, and (rumor has it) serves elf meat for steak. Amongst his treasure hoard, he has a helpful map of the old city of Minas Ithil.

5. The Screaming Mace. An expensive tavern and inn, run by a Gondorian spy who only remembers his true identity for a total of one hour each day. For the other 23 hours (thanks to a Nazgul curse), he believes that he is a Black Numenorean and wants nothing more than to see the entire nation of Gondor subjugated and enslaved. The Witch King leaves his mace hanging above the bar so that the cursed spy can use it to terrorize the customers.

6. Bookshop of Terror. What used to be a cozy bookstore is now the lair of a terrible entity from the negative material plane. It makes his lair on the fourth floor and is bound there, but its evil pours through the rest of the shop and manifests in highly disturbing ways — the worst being the possession of every single book on the shelves.

7. Apothecary. Dangerous potions, medicines with questionable side effects, and the vilest poisons, can be purchased here. And also helpful potions that just might keep PCs alive in this city.

8. The Broken Prayer. An ex-priest (whose blasphemy was to preach that Sauron is mightier than Morgoth) provides tavern service, but no booze and no whores. He leads mandatory prayer meetings if you want to rent a room here.

9. Rian House. The most tragic site in Minas Morgul constantly replays the Gondorian noble family’s final hours during the sack of Minas Ithil: the ballad of Queen Mirien, sung by Oester Rian in the courtyard garden; the ballroom dance between the Morgul captain and Lizelle Rian; the gang-rape of Katarina Rian in the grand bedchamber; the slaughter of the children and their nanny in the nursery room. There is no peace for these shades. The haunted palace is shunned by all, but contains some very useful substances if the PCs need to be in a Nazgul city.

10. The Last Wish. The old carpenter’s guildhall is now a deadly bordello catering to the most depraved (and suicidal) vices. Ultimate desires are fulfilled in this house… but at mortally steep prices. The courtesans are as likely to murder you after they service you with hours of pleasure.

11. The Morgul Bank. Where wealthy citizens, shop owners, tavern owners, other business owners store their wealth. (The Nazgul of course would never entrust their treasure hoards to a bank. Their own domains at the top of the city offer more security than practically anywhere else in the world.) Only a fool would try to rob this place.

12. The Halls of Rape. The weavers were the largest guild in Minas Ithil, and the men of Minas Morgul have sanctified those halls by turning them into an elaborate rapehouse. Victims are violated around the clock in these halls (women, men, and children alike), tortured more, and then either killed or thrown into the cold streets, their spirits utterly crushed. If the PCs need to rescue someone from this place, they may be provoked to destroy the abominable establishment.

13. The Mean Latrine. This seedy tavern is under management of Fat Jeena, as she is called (affectionately by some, derisively by others). If PCs pay a lot for information on the nearby Ghoul City, she will have plenty to tell — truths, lies, and mixes thereof. The crucified corpse of a horse-lord from Rohan is on display in the center of the dining room, and as customers play drinking games he resurrects for brief intervals of time, screaming in agony to find that he is still being crucified after so many years.

14. Ghoul Town. This is modeled on the city of Kilenor from the module Kingdom of the Ghouls (Dungeon Magazine, issue #70). It’s a mini-necropolis of intelligent ghouls, some of them spellcasters, and the men and orcs of the city shun it like the plague. For any living creature who enters is treated as food. The place is ruled by a nasty Ghoul King. The Witch King allows him the fiction of his independence because it amuses him and because the Ghoul King serves the Nazgul by safeguarding a very important artifact.

15. An Unlikely Spy. He’s been holing up in this seedy apartment for 25 years, since TA 2943 (two years after the White Council drove Sauron from Dol Guldur). Until recently, he reported to Saruman, sending messages back to him periodically about the goings-on in Minas Morgul. Unbeknownst to him, Saruman went rogue in 2953 (15 years ago) and claimed Isengard as his own, but the spy started to sense bad things soon after that, when Saruman began directing him to do peculiar things, and in 2961 (7 years ago) the spy finally cut off all contact with Saruman. But he keeps spying and hopes to share critical intel with Gandalf the Grey once he has something significant.

16. Worm Forest. The old park of Minas Ithil has become the hunting grounds of three purple worms.

17. The Claws of Justice. The garrison of Minas Ithil was demolished in the invasion, and two towers (“claws”) were rebuilt by the Witch King to serve a similar function. The main tower is 244 feet tall, and the Justice Tower is 210 feet tall, where captives are imprisoned and then judged in a parody of Gondorian legal proceedings.

18. Temple of the Black Gale (The Cult of Cold Thunder). This cult has transformed the Gondorian amphitheater into a place of open sacrifice in service to Sauron. Once or twice a month, sometimes even thrice, the cult gathers here to sacrifice people and summon deadly ice storms that pulverize the entire city for 1-4 hours. The cult is patronized by the Storm King, and they hate Indur Dawndeath.

19. The Kill Pit. In Gondor times this arena (which seats over 3000) hosted singing, poetry reading, the unveiling of sculptures, foot races, and children’s games — and on very rare occasions, mock combats and archery contests — but in Morgul times, it’s used solely for the purpose of war sports which almost always involve brutal fights to the death. Currently a vicious Asdriag warrior holds the record of over a hundred kills… but he doesn’t fight fair.

20. Childling Factory. Young kids are taken here to become “childlings”: undead beings who resemble small demonic looking ghouls. Most of the children can’t take the transformation. These childlings lose their minds and are turned out on the streets of the city to join the rest of the wandering undead. Those who pass muster are used for special purpose.

21. Escape Route. This potter’s shop conceals a passage to an emergency underground escape route, in case the city comes under assault and both the front and back gates are threatened.

22. Renegades of Ardor. Two surviving members of the old Court of Ardor in Southern Middle-Earth have been residents of Minas Morgul for 12 years now (since TA 2956), at the invitation of Indur (Fourth of the Nine Nazgul). Having once failed to destroy the sun and moon with ten other court members (in TA 1703), these two elves are making new mischief, cultivating killer plants to unleash in Gondor (see encounter area 27). They live here on the second circle of the city so as to remain far away from Akhorahil (Fifth of the Nine), who hates elves without exception, no matter how loyal to Sauron they’ve proven themselves.

23. Plaza of the Nine. Avoided by most mortal residents of the city, this 150′ x 150′ town square is completely bare except for nine life-sized statues of the Nazgul, each of which carries a “blessing” that most would rather avoid.

24. Castle of the Vampire Queen. Modeled on the first D&D module ever published, Palace of the Vampire Queen (1976). The vampire in this case was the daughter of the steward of Gondor. It’s a tragic encounter area and a very difficult one.

25. Temple of the Web (The Spider Cult). The only encounter area that remains basically unchanged from the Minas Ithil Days. Under Gondor it was an old theater taken over and repurposed by a secret cult (the Spider Cult) nominally serving the Necromancer of Dol Guldur while holding that Ungoliant is supreme. Every follower in the cult prepares for the day that he or she must make the ultimate sacrifice: to devour himself or herself as Ungoliant eventually devoured herself. The cult practices special spells that make self-devouring possible. They recruit new members by abduction and brainwashing.

26. The Chosen Few. The once-wonderful hospice is still a “hospice” — or so it is called — though no one in their right mind wants to be among the “privileged” who are treated here. For in fact they are not treated but exploited. The doctors aren’t priests but warlocks, who use spells to enhance their necromantic powers by siphoning what life remains of the ill and infirm. The head warlock specializes in necromancy by manipulating the life forces of people at death’s door. The spells result in the horrific torture of the poor victims, who of course are already suffering to begin with.

27. Botanical Horrors. A variety of killer plants are being cultivated in this mansion by the dark elves Taurclax and Khelekar (see encounter area 22) to unleash on Gondor. One plant in particular is so dangerous that it could wipe out populations almost overnight.

28. The Mirrors of Shól. The Witch King has fashioned huge wall-sized mirrors that replay key events in the history of Minas Morgul. The privileged elite come to watch these events — like epic horror movies.

29. The Library. Most of the collection of Minas Ithil remains largely untouched, but it’s off limits to any save the Nazgul, the high priesthood, and the warlocks of the Academy. There are also the hidden rooms that the Nazgul never found when they conquered the city, and the books in those collections are now even more priceless.

30. The Academy. Where the magic-users and sorcerers of Minas Morgul delve deep into the black arts, and create things that have no business existing.

31. Temple of Agony (The Cult of the Lightless Light). What used to be the offices for Minas Ithil’s municipal government employees (justices, stewards, and council members) has been transformed into a place of sacrifice for the city’s main religious faction: The Cult of the Lightless Light. The High Priest of Sauron conducts hideous rites that are open to public viewing. There are three chapterhouses for this cult in the city, one on each of the first three circles.

32. Nazgul Nest. The Queen of Gondor’s palace was designed more for luxury than defense, but the Nazgul aren’t worried. No enemy of Mordor has ever made it to the top of the city without Nazgul consent. Should PCs be resourceful or powerful (or lucky) enough to make it here undetected, their luck will probably run out in short order. Currently (in the year TA 2968) three Nazgul reside in the former queen’s palace: Indur Dawndeath (Fourth of the Nine), Akhorahil the Storm King (Fifth of the Nine, but the Witch King’s second in command of the city), and Hoarmurath the Ice King (Sixth of the Nine). Their treasure hoards are staggering.

33. Tower of Black Sorcery. The Witch King resides in the prize bastion. The corruption and transformation of Minas Ithil’s Tower of the Moon is a knife through the heart of every citizen of Gondor. Only the extremely powerful or stupid would consider breaking into this tower. PCs might just have to.

1. The Twilight Gates. 1. Gargoyle Watch. The main entry to the city is flanked by two 130′-foot tall towers, and lit by a Morgul lantern on the front of each tower. (See above for the effects of this lighting, which immediately dispels any invisibility that might be conferred on the PCs.) The entry is protected first by the outer gates (area 1), massive steel doors 30-feet high and 18 inches thick, magically locked by the Witch-King’s sorceries. Two gargoyle sculptures protrude from these gates, each of which is set with the eyes of dark green emeralds. (In Minas Ithil times, the outer gates contained sculpture images of Isildur and Anarion, but those gates were immediately torn down after the war of 2002 and replaced.) The gargoyle statues will sense “enemies of Mordor” (good-aligned characters) within a 15-foot radius, at which point magic mouth spells implanted in the gargoyles will let out ear-splitting shrieks that can be heard throughout the city, and the guards will drop the portcullis down at area 3; the shrieks will continue as long as there are “Mordor hostile” people within 15 feet of the doors (and alert everyone in the city, of course, including the Nazgul). It takes a dispel magic cast at 14th level, or a dispel evil cast at 12th level, to neutralize each gargoyle for 1-4 days. The spells must be cast at 18th/16th level to permanently dispel each of the gargoyle’s enchantments. The gates are opened from the outside by the command phrase, Thór lush shabarlak! (“Death will come to all!” in Black Speech). The gates will swing open (outwards) and remain open until everyone standing outside has either passed through them or retreated at least 15 feet away. From the inside, the gates are opened by pushing outwards, requiring a combined strength of at least 45.

The inner passageway (area 2) is 70-feet long, 20-feet wide, and 30 feet high, illuminated by torches, and barred in the middle by an iron portcullis (area 3). The portcullis is usually retracted into the guard room above, but the guards will drop them immediately if the gargoyles at area 1 start shrieking. The ceiling and walls contain murder holes and arrow slits, placed to drop boiling oil and fire missiles onto invaders. If the gargoyles aren’t shrieking, there will be four guards present in this passageway, armed with swords (2nd level fighters, AC 5, DA 1-8, hp 10-14 each) who will immediately ask the PCs their names and business. (If the gargoyles are shrieking, then this passageway will obviously be vacant, the portcullis will have dropped down, the inner gates closed, and the guards in the ceiling and flanking towers (see area 5) will be be ready to fire arrows and dump burning oil down onto the party.) If the PCs can pass for mannish inhabitants of the city (elves and dwarves will draw instant fire), they should be able to fool the guards and gain entry to the city. They would need convincing disguises or illusions, and be able to speak an appropriate mannish dialect or the common war-speech of Mordor (on which see the section on culture/languages above), but they can fake a considerable amount, since the guards usually have no reason to be suspicious of anyone who doesn’t trigger the gargoyle shrieks. Any elves or dwarves in the party need very thorough disguises or illusions.

The inner gates (area 4) are identical to the outer gates (minus the gargoyles). The command phrase to open these doors is Mûrazôr-búbhosh (“The Great Mûrazôr”, which is the original name of the Witch King), and they swing open (inwards) just like the other gates for the same length of time. From the outside, the gates are opened by pushing inwards, requiring a combined strength of 45. Usually, however, the inner gates are left open, except when there is an enemy threat or the gargoyles are shrieking.

The hallways inside the flanking towers (area 5) accommodate 15 guards in each (2nd level fighters, AC 5, DA 1-6, hp 10-14 each), ready to fire arrows on hostiles inside the passageway. At least half these guards are usually stationed outside, by the inner gates, monitoring who leaves the city. The stairs in each tower ascend to the same central room above, where 10 guards (2nd level fighters, AC 5, DA 2-24, hp 10-14 each) control the winch used to lower and raise the portcullis, and tend to five cauldrons of boiling oil, which are ready to be dropped on any hostiles. A cauldron of oil has the potential to hit 1-3 victims for 2-24 hp of damage each victim.

Those who want to depart the city must have a permit granted by the city watch (see encounter area 17). Guards and soldiers need the permission of their commanding officer. The guards will not push open the front gate for anyone who wants to leave unless they have a permit or military permission. The Witch King is as strict about traffic going out as traffic coming in: he doesn’t want people fleeing the city and spilling its secrets. The penalty for attempts to leave Minas Morgul unauthorized is death by coldfire in the public square (see encounter area 3 below).

2. The Dawn Portal. 2. Maggot’s Ass. The rear gates to Minas Morgul are not lit by any Morgul lanterns nearby, and they are cloaked by a permanent and powerful invisibility spell. It takes a see invisibility cast at 9th level or true seeing cast at any level for someone to see these gates. To actually remove the invisibility so that anyone can see the gates requires a dispel magic cast at 14th level (which will make them visible for 1-4 days) or at 18th level (to make them permanently visible). Of course, the other way to see the gates is by holding a Morgul lantern within 50 feet of them, but that requires obtaining such a lantern to begin with, most of which are inside the city. There are lanterns afixed high at the top of the 110-feet walls, out of reach to those who can’t fly; but there are also two lanterns within easy reach at the front gates (see encounter area 1 above). The PCs may steal either one of them without sounding an alarm.

The gates function mostly as an emergency escape route rather than an entry point, and so they open from the inside only, by pushing outwards with a combined strength of 45. Unlike Gargoyle Watch, there is no magic command word that opens them from the outside. The gates do however have a powerful enchantment cast on them.

For indeed anyone who tries forcing the gates open — whether by the battering ram of an army, or blowing them open with a spell like telekinesis, or casting transmute rock to mud, or whatever — will be assaulted by a hideous stench that pours outside from the gates, smelling like a thousand unwiped asses. Everyone outside within 100 feet must save vs. spells, at -2 if within 50 feet, at -4 if within 25 feet (which will likely be the case for small parties). Failure to save means the PC is inflicted with extreme nausea and stomach distress, becoming thoroughly unable to attack, or cast spells, or concentrate on spells, or do anything else requiring attention. The only action a PC can take is a single move action per turn. Meanwhile guards will pour out while the troll on the second level sounds the alarm. To get over the nausea, the afflicted PCs must move out of the 100-foot range of the gates and wait 5-10 (d6+4) rounds to recover. Once the gates are no longer under assult, the stench dissipates after 1-4 rounds. The stench will be immediately triggered if the gates are threatened again in any way, no matter how many times a day it happens.

On the ground level are stationed a total of 44 guards, all of whom can be deployed at the arrow slits to fire on any intruders: 4 in the room with slits firing outside; 20 in the guard room; 5 in the rectangular fighting corridor, and 15 in the curving fighting corridor. Any of these guards can move to the second level and fire on the outside (the room with eight arrow slits) or inside the city (the room with nine arrow slits), in the case of invaders who make in through the Maggot’s Ass successfully. All guards are 2nd level fighters, AC 5, DA 1-6, hp 10-14 each.

The upper level has 10 more guards (2nd level fighters, AC 5, DA 2-24, hp 10-14 each) who stoke five cauldrons of boiling oil, ready to pour down the murder holes into the passageway below. In the alarm room is a huge gong tended to by a troll (AC 4, HD 6, hp 42, DA 5-8/5-8/1-12; regenerates 3 hp/round).

It should be noted that the gates of Maggot’s Ass can theoretically be destroyed by any of the aforementioned methods (battering ram, telekenesis, rock to mud, etc.), but since the stench never lets up, that’s a tall order. There is however one way past the gates without triggering the stench: by using a passwall spell to the immediate right or left of the gates. Passwall creates a passage through stone betweeen 10-25 feet deep (depending on the caster’s level), and the stone wall immediately adjacent to the steel gates on either side is only about seven feet deep to the guard rooms. Of course, the PCs will have to contend with them…

It should also be noted that this gate is used daily by the raiding parties of Ghoul Town (see encounter area 14), who are not allowed to use the front gates. So PCs who are on a careful stakeout might learn the existence of this gate if they spot ghoul raiders coming or going.

34. The Market. 3. Inquisitor’s Square. [No layout map.] Those who pass through Gargoyle Watch (area 1) will soon find themselves in the old city market of Minas Ithil, which has been transformed into a public executioner’s square. The Witch-King wants all visitors (and trespassers who manage to get inside the city) to see what happens to those who displease the Ringwraiths — whether for serious crimes, petty crimes, insubordination, or blasphemy — and Ulrac the Inquisitor is in charge of these executions. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings, sometime between 8-10 am, he burns 3-6 victims in an auto-da-fé, mostly human or orcs from within the city, though sometime one of the free peoples captured as spies or infiltrators; an elf or dwarf is considered a prize capture and will draw extra spectators. If PCs enter the square between 8-10 am on a Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, there is a 33% that an execution of 3-6 victims is about to begin or is already underway.

An auto-da-fé is unpleasant to watch. The victim is tied to a stake, which at Ulrac’s command bursts into a pillar of coldfire. The coldfire functions like normal fire in terms of the intensity of pain it delivers to living beings, except that the fire is white with a dark green tinge, searingly cold instead of hot (though it’s such extreme cold that it effectively feels about the same), and instead of blackening what it burns, it turns flesh purplish. Victims will scream uncontrollably, and must make a constitution check after 2 rounds of burning, for each round, or pass out; victims (whether passed out or not) will die from the burning in 10-15 rounds (d6+9).

Ulrac, the Inquisitor of Minas Morgul, is an 11th level priest of Sauron (AC 1, hp 63, DA 3-8). He has a ring of armor class 1, a mace +2, a wand of coldfire (36 charges), and a cloak of the bat that allows him to shapechange into a bat twice a day. His spells are:

1st levelcause fear, curse water, deathwatch, doom (x2), endure elements
2nd leveldarkness, heat building, hold person (x2), silence
3rd levelcause serious wounds (x2), coldfire, dispel magic, speak with dead
4th leveldeath ward, detect lies (x2), sending
5th levelgreater command, insect plague, slay living
6th levelharm (x2)

He has four bodyguards always nearby (4th level mannish fighters, AC 3, DA 3-8 or 1-8, hp 28, 29, 31, 32) armed with swords and long bows, plus there are 9-14 (d6+8) guards patroling the square whenever he is present to execute someone (only 3-8 guards patrolling during the downtimes). Those guards are 1st level, AC 6, DA 1-8 or 1-6, hp 7 each, and carry swords and short bows.

Should PCs try rescuing anyone from an execution, Ulrac will furiously order his guards and the patrol guards to attack the party — to subdue them if possible. He will cast silence (with a 15-foot radius) centered on the most powerful looking spell caster, then darkness (with a 15-foot radius effect) centered on the most powerful looking warrior, and then hold person on three PCs who need the most subduing (though they get saves). He reports directly to the Storm King (the Fifth of the Nine Nazgul, see encounter area 32) and will cast a sending to Akhorahil, if things go badly (if subduing doesn’t work) and it becomes apparent that the PCs are dangerous infiltrators. In that case he will order the guards to kill the PCs and he will start using more serious spells like cause serious wounds, insect plague, slay living, and harm.

If, on the other hand, Ulrac and his guards do manage to subdue and capture the PCs, he will have them bound (and the spellcasters gagged) and taken to the city jail (encounter area 17). There they will get a full taste of Morgul justice. Ulrac works there, and he will torture all truth out of them, using his detect lie spells to aid in this process. If he and the other justices determine that the PCs are perilous threats (rather likely), then Ulrac will contact the Storm-King via a sending spell. (See encounter 17 for further details of how PCs will be treated should they be captured and jailed at any point.)

Ulrac has a wand of coldfire that he periodically recharges with his spell as needed. The coldfire spell works as follows.


Level: Cleric 3, Mage 4
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: 100 feet + 10 feet/level
Area: 10-foot radius, 10 feet high
Duration: 20 rounds
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: Yes

The spell produces a bonfire of excruciatingly cold flame. The fire is white with a dark green tinge, and instead of blackening what it burns, it turns flesh white as snow. The spell was designed by the Storm King (Akhorahil) as an executionary tool for bound victims. Those trapped inside the bonfire will scream uncontrollably, and must make a constitution check after 2 rounds of burning, for each round, or pass out; bound victims (whether passed out or not) will die from the burning in 10-15 rounds (d6+9). Those who aren’t trapped inside the coldfire but fall in or are exposed for a single round or two take 1-12 points of damage.

25. The Black Swan. 4. The Bleeding Scab. This inn is under management of Rudin, a half-orc assassin who plays fair with his customers as long as they don’t give him lip. Rudeness might get a customer killed in his sleep. The restaurant and bar (area 1) are usually active, especially in the evenings and night. A man named Scorby tends the bar, his wife Dora cooks meals in the kitchen (area 2), and anywhere between 1-3 girls wait on tables, depending on the time of day. In the evening hours, three strippers (all women; it’s a patriarchal joint) do their thing on a table in the center of the room. They provide whore-service (to either men or women) upon request, for 14 sp an hour.

Private rooms may be rented for 2 gp a night (areas 6). Poor customers can take a cot in the common sleeping room (area 7) for just 3 sp a night. There are 20 cots, 1-12 of which will be taken at any given time. (The strippers/whores will not service anyone in the common sleeping room, only in private rooms.) The full menu for the establishment is as follows.

Private Room 2 gp/night
Common Room 3 sp/night
Whore 14 sp/hour
Breakfast, plain 5 cp
Breakfast, elaborate 2 sp
Dinner, 3-course 13 sp
Dinner, 7-course 2 gp
Supper, plain 3 sp
Supper, 3-course 7 sp
Ale (pint) 3 sp
Mead (flagon) 6 sp
Wine (pint) 1 gp
Liqueur (gill) 5 gp

Rudin’s room (area 5) is off limits to anyone but himself. His pet warg (Sauce) lives in the room at the top of the stairs (area 4) which has an illusionary wall concealing the open doorway to it (so there is no reason for guests to think there is a room at area 4). The warg will instantly attack anyone who tries entering Rudin’s room (AC 6, HD 4, hp 31, DA 1-8 + rabies), raising hell and alerting everyone in the establishment. The warg has the rabies virus but not the disease (in other words, is not infected by the virus it carries), due to a special potion created by warlocks of the academy (see the Apothecary, encounter area 7). Anyone bit by Sauce must save vs. paralyzation or become infected with rabies. After one day, the PC will experience partial paralysis, brain dysfunction, confusion, agitation, terror, delirium, and lot of tears from the eyes and saliva from the mouth. He or she will attempt to bite those who come near, which will spread the disease. The infected PC will die within 3-10 (d8+2) days, unless a priest with a cure disease or heal spell comes to the rescue.

Rudin’s treasure is kept under his bed in a locked chest trapped with a poison needle (save vs. poison or die in 5-8 rounds): 67 mp, 839 gp, 2,610 sp, a diamond worth 500 gp, and a yellow topaz gem worth 300 gp. There are also six vials of poison for use on weapons (a very strong poison causing death in 2-5 rounds upon a successful hit), as well as a map of the old city of Minas Ithil, which PCs would find helpful in getting the layout of the land.

If there are elves in the party (disguised, of course) they will be recognized at once by Rudin’s sword, which lights up in the presence of any elf, and also throbs in its scabbard if the blade is sheathed. Rudin has a good poker face, and if he feels his blade throbbing, he will scrutinize the party while carrying on normal conversation, trying to identify the elf or elves. Once he figures it out, he will try to assassinate any elves at the best opportunity, and then call the City Watch on the rest of the party. Any elves slain will be cooked and served as steak for his paying customers.

If there are no elves in the party, and the PCs don’t antagonize Rudin, they should be able to get along with him fine and feel secure in renting a room. If they ask him about the city, he can provide a general description of most of the keyed areas in the module, though he will speak disdainfully of the other inn/taverns in order to keep the PCs as his paying customers. He is also willing to sell his old map of Minas Ithil for the outrageous sum of 2,000 gp (if the PCs look like they can afford it), but can be haggled down to 1,000 gp — still an absurd price, though it will be useful to the PCs. He will claim the map has great historical value and is a “priceless artifact”. PCs who purchase the map should be given the huge fold out map from Mark Rabuck’s Minas Ithil module. That may be hard to come by these days, as the module has been out of print since the late 90s, but this is a shot of the map which may be enlarged (click on it) and printed out:

Rudin: 9th level assassin: AC 3 (chain mail +2), hp 54, DA 6-15 (sword +3, d8+5, plus poison). S 17, I 11, W 13, D 12, C 15, Ch 5, Co 8. The sword is named Elf-slammer (in Orcish), is +6 against elves, and lights up and throbs when an elf comes within a 30-foot radius. Rudin keeps his blade covered with the poison from his vials, that causes death in 2-5 rounds if the victim fails a save vs. poison; even if a save is made, the victim experiences weakness and cannot fight or do anything strenuous for 1-6 hours. Neutralize poison or heal will negate the poison’s effect.

50. Anarion’s Crown. 5. The Screaming Mace. Those entering this establishment for the first time will be surprised. For a crowded tavern it’s rather subdued, with customers on good behavior. It’s also clean, expensive, and fairly high class. Those who have money will be able to get a very satisfying meal and good drink, whether beer, wine, or liquor. And the meals are deliciously hot.

The place is run by a Gondorian spy who only remembers his true identity (Berendur) for 15 minutes every morning at 3:00 AM, every morning at 9:00 AM, every afternoon at 3:00 PM, and every evening at 9:00 PM. Outside that collective one hour of time — thanks to the Witch King’s curse — he believes that he is a Black Numenorean named Alukhor, and wants nothing more than to see the entire nation of Gondor subjugated and enslaved. When he was captured seven years ago as a spy in the Morgul Vale, the Witch King, for amusement sake, decided to let him live in Minas Morgul in this cursed state, and to even run the most expensive tavern. Those fifteen minutes every six hours are sheer hell for Berendur, as he can remember everything he has done as Alukhor for the last seven years, though he can never remember any of his fifteen-minute stretches as his true self. It’s literally like waking up for the first time every six hours, and needless to say, in that state of confused horror, fifteen minutes isn’t enough time for him to try escaping the city. If he should try, he has a handler, Jamar, who works as his assistant and does damage control when Berendur acts confused, wonders where he is, etc. Many of the inn’s customers are used to Alukhor’s fits of confusion and simply think that he’s crazy… especially since he’s also a homicidal maniac.

Enter the second part of the curse. For added amusement, the Witch King has left his terrible mace on display for the past seven years, suspended from the ceiling behind the bar. (This is the mace that will shatter Eowyn’s shield arm on the Pelennor Fields.) The Witch King isn’t worried about it being stolen, as only the stupidest fool would try, and he has plenty of other weapons he can rely on, not to mention his spells (see encounter area 33 for full details on the Witch King). His mace is called “Death’s Proclaimer” (in Black Speech) and has the following properties:

Death’s Proclaimer: Mace +5. It has a permanent symbol of “slow death” on it. Anyone hit by the mace must save vs. spells or suffer a slow and agonizing death over 1-100 weeks. (Remove curse, break enchantment, or dispel evil will heal the victim.) The mace shrieks when wielded.

Thus the reason for the good customer behavior and lack of rowdiness: Should anyone get boisterous or belligerent — or piss off Alukhor in almost any way — the next part of his curse kicks in, whereby he grabs the Witch-King’s mace, starts swinging it around for a shrieking dramatic effect, and smashes the offender with a single hit. If the poor fool isn’t killed, he will suffer a slow death over the next 1-100 weeks. The tavern’s regulars know that the mace belongs to the Morgul Lord, that Alukhor is his “pet” in some way, and that in and of itself is enough to ensure good behavior… until someone gets drunk enough to trigger Alukhor’s wrath. It doesn’t take much.

A remove curse will remove the Alukhor persona and make the man 100% Berendur again, but only if it’s cast at 40th level (which is the Witch King’s level), so it is extremely unlikely that the PCs will be able to cure the man of his affliction — unless they are lucky enough to have something like a ring of three wishes. (Assuming that you as DM even allow wishes in your game.) It should be presumed that Berendur cannot be saved; if the PCs try helping him during one of his 15-minute windows, he will beg them to put him out of his misery and kill him.

Alukhor is the bar tender most of the time, with Jamar filling in other times. Two cooks labor diligently in the kitchen, and up to four teenagers (two boys, two girls) wait on the booths, depending on how busy it is.  Under the bar on the first level, a box holds 11 mp, 47 gp, 128 sp, and 24 cp in separate compartments. Jamar occassionally empties a lot of this out and brings it to the city bank (see encounter area 23).

Berendur/Alukhor’s bed chamber (area 3) is on the second level, with Jamar’s (area 4) next to him. Four bed chambers (areas 5) can be rented for 5 gp a night, another one (area 6) (two beds) for 8 gp a night, and the largest (two beds plus a small dining table) for 12 gp a night. All chambers have a desk and a plastic tub for bathing. There is a bell for room service. The teen waiters are a reliable staff who will bring meals, pails of hot water for baths, etc. Each bed chamber has a 20% chance of being already rented when the PCs first enter the establishment.

Four whores are employed by Alukhor (three women, one man), all of whom are extremely good looking (comeliness scores of 15-18) and professional. They have their private dining room on the second level (area 1) and a sitting room where they read, relax, and play board games with each other while waiting for customers. They charge 3 gp/hour for their services.

The full menu for the establishment is as follows.

Private Room 5-12 gp/night
Whore 3 gp/hour
Breakfast, plain 1 sp
Breakfast, elaborate 5 sp
Dinner, 3-course 1 gp
Dinner, 7-course 4 gp
Supper, plain 7 sp
Supper, 3-course 2 gp
Ale (pint) 8 sp
Mead (flagon) 15 sp
Wine (pint) 3 gp
Liqueur (gill) 7 gp

Berendur/Alukhor: 8th level ranger of Ithilien: AC 2 (studded leather +2), hp 44, DA 3-10 (sword +1, d8+2) or 7-14 (mace +5, d8+6). S 15, I 12, W 10, D 17, C 11, Ch 14, Co 16. His treasure is kept in a secret compartment in the eastern wall: a locked iron box holding 6 gems (3×100 gp, 2×500 gp, 1000 gp), a sack of 102 mp, a sack of 416 gp, and a sack of 1,365 sp.

48. Dalinvar’s Bookshop. 6. Bookshop of Terror. What used to be a cozy bookstore is now the lair of a terrible entity from the negative material plane. The creature is called the Hazul and it is bound to the third floor (in the master bed chamber), but its evil pours through the rest of the shop and manifests in terrible ways — the worst being the possession of every single book on the shelves.

The entry is where all the books are, on shelves to the sides and in two alcoves. The reception desk area is vacant, though there is a heavy leatherbound book on the desk that will open when the party is fully assembled in the room. The pages turn noisily, as if an angry invisible force is trying to find a particular page, and then they suddenly stop, and a guttural voice speaks from the pages: “Leave now or never.” That’s probably an invitation to most PCs, but they’re about to get more than they bargained for. To start with, the front door vanishes exactly one minute after the voice speaks from the pages, and all of the windows in the shop on every floor are transformed into glasteel (per the 8th level mage spell), trapping the PCs in the shop. The Hazul won’t return the door and change the windows back until every PC has either been slain or devoured by a book. (Though killing the Hazul will release the shop from the whole curse.)

The Hazul is in a constant state of unrest and anger, not comprehending mortals at all, only knowing that it wants to terrorize and consume them. It will become instantly aware of the presence of any mortal entering the bookshop and become agitated that it cannot leave the master bedroom on the third floor. Almost unconsciously, it will cause things to happen to the PCs, regardless of where they are in the building. Roll d6 every 3-6 (d4+2) rounds:

  1. a loud noise creaks on the ceiling above
  2. a baby cries softly in a nearby room
  3. the nearest door swings open with a loud bang, and something beyond it snarls like a dog
  4. blood drips from the ceiling and pools on the floor
  5. the voice of a man gasps harshly from around the corner: “I see you, scum!”
  6. a colony of cockroaches with tiny human heads pours out a nearby wall, chittering loudly

This list of occurrences is meant to be illustrative, not exhaustive. All the noises are glamours (there is no baby, dog, or man) and visuals like the blood and cockroaches are illusions (which can be disbelieved with a saving throw). These are all scare tactics, and a mere hint of the real horrors in this place.

The books

As for the books, they have the outward appearance of being the same books that Dalinvar sold when he owned this shop in the days of Minas Ithil — rare tomes, hard to find, many of them priceless (to scholars). But woe to the fool who opens any of them now. Thanks to the Hazul’s permeating evil, each book functions sort of like a mirror of life trapping, except that each book can only hold one soul within its pages. The PC must save vs. spells or be hideously sucked into the book pages, a process that will horrify onlookers as the PC’s body contorts and shrivels until the book “gulps” him — and then spits back a pound of flesh and blood in return. The PC is trapped inside the book pages with half of his or her hit-point score chewed up. The only way to release the PC safely is to kill the Hazul on the third floor (which liberates every book from possession), or cast dispel evil on the book at 13th level (which will keep that particular book free of the Hazul’s influence for 24 hours). Destroying the book — breaking the binding and slicing up the pages, or damaging the book with any spell — will free the person inside but also kill him, returning a chewed and horribly disfigured corpse. Removing a book from the shop will liberate it from posssession (and return to life anyone trapped inside), but of course the PCs have to contend with no doorway out and locked windows of steel.

If the PCs are looking for the Nolulairion (see adventure option 2), a copy of that book is here and can be found after 1-6 turns of searching the shelves. It’s possessed like all the other books — really nine books within one — a huge tome providing extremely detailed biography of all nine Nazgul, for which Gandalf the Grey will pay handsomely. The original copy of the Nolulairion used to be in the city library (encounter area 29), though that copy was moved to the Justice towers (encounter area 17), when the Witch King discovered the secret library rooms and found the book (in TA 2489). Dalinvar had paid the librarian’s assistant director to lend him that copy so he could make another; in doing so the assistant director was breaking strict rules that guarded the secrecy of the book.

Much of the information listed here is provided in the Nolulairion, but only up to the date of TA 1980, which is the year the book was published; it was written in the years following the fall of Angmar in TA 1975. If the PCs aren’t on a mission for Gandalf the Grey, this book can be easily sold to someone else. To many scholars it’s worth easily 100,000 gp; many wealthy academic institutions would he happy to purchase it. Few mortals know anything about the Nazgul, and whoever did the research for this book (it’s anonymous) got the facts right, however the hell he or she managed to do that. None of the Nazgul is aware that this copy of the book exists. If they did, the Witch King would seize it from the bookstore and move it to the Claws of Justice to shelve with the original copy.

The work room

The next room is where Dalinvar’s scribes labored. Sitting at one of the desks is the skeletal husk of a particular scribe from Minas Anor who moved to Minas Ithil and fell in love with the place. If the desk is approached, the husk will animate, the skeletal face glare up at the PCs and croak, “This was my home. You’ll never leave it either.” The husk is an illusion; the Hazul is manipulating images from what used to go on in the shop, as the creature can “see the past” of whatever area it is confined to. Touching, striking, or attacking the illusion will cause it to turn its head to the ceiling and wail horribly before it vanishes, requiring all in the room to save vs. petrification or go mad (roll d6 as if being driven mad by being in the city; see the intro section of this module). The illusion will reform in 1-6 days.

On the Illuminator’s work table at the far end of the room is a cursed ring of fire elemental command. An identify spell or similar detection will reveal this to be a simple ring of fire resistance. Only when it is put on will the wearer realize its full powers. These powers can be used by any character class, not just a mage, by the power of mental desire:

  • Fire resistance (unlimited use)
  • Burning hands (unlimited use)
  • Fireball (twice per day) or Delayed Blast Fireball (once per day)
  • Smoke form (once per day, wearer only)
  • Wall of fire (once per day)
  • Flame strike (once per week)
  • Fire storm (once per month)

The ring belonged to Dalinvar, though he never put it on because he was aware of the ring’s curse. He was trying to hire someone powerful enough to get rid of the curse (the curse has nothing to so with the Hazul; it predates the fall of Minas Ithil). The nature of the curse involves a trio of efreet (AC 2, HD 10, hp 60 each, DA 3-24), which appear out of nowhere at the most inopportune times to assault the ring-wearer. There’s a 40% chance that these efreet will do this whenever the ring-wearer engages combat with a powerful foe, or is relying on stealth and quiet to accomplish something. The efreet will surprise attack on a 1-5 (d6) and will remain engaged in the attack for 5-12 rounds (d8+4) before vanishing back to the elemental plane of fire. This can happen more than once per day, up to three times a day, though the chances drop to 20% and 10% respectively, after each time they appear. Killing any of the efreet will result in another efreet taking it’s place in seven days. The curse can be removed by a remove curse cast at 16th level, or by taking it to the Academy and placing it in the Trough of Belak (see encounter area 30). Until the curse is removed, the ring cannot be removed from the wearer’s finger (save by cutting the finger off), and the wearer will refuse to part with it anyway.

Of course, this ring is effectively “cursed” in another way, since the use of any fire-based magic is a capital offense in Minas Morgul. Using any of its powers while in the city will draw certain attention and invite arrest. If captured, the offending ring-wearer will be thrown into the jail cells at the Claws of Justice (encounter area 17).

The second floor

The sitting room looks like it was once a cozy reading place, and indeed customers often browsed and read books that they couldn’t afford to buy. In this sense the bookshop was a quasi-library. There’s a large ornamental mirror on the eastern wall, that will show a person’s normal reflection 50% of the time. The other 50% of the time it will show the PC luminous and ghostlike, looking 40 years older (elves still looking about the same), with black eyes. If the PC fails a save vs. death magic, he or she will age 40 years on the spot, and appear as in the mirror — luminous and ghostlike with black eyes, and will suffer agony when exposed to sunlight (no problem in Minas Morgul), taking 1-4 points of damage per round. It takes a remove curse cast at 12th level to undo this perverse aging. The slaying of the Hazul will not revert the PC back to normal, though it will free the mirror from the curse so that it can’t affect anyone like that anymore.

In the dining room are four wights (AC 5, HD 4, hp 22 each, DA 1-4 + energy drain) sitting at the table motionless. If the room is entered, the kitchen door slowly creaks open, and a voice croaks from the kitchen, “Save yourself from Hell!” The door then slams shut and there is silence for a few moments, and then (what sounds like) all hell breaking loose behind the door — crashing utensils and dishware, and a man screaming, as if he’s being ripped apart limb from limb. By this point the PCs may think this is smoke and mirrors, given the numerous illusionary scare tactics they’ve been hit with (from the d8 roll every 3-6 rounds), but there’s something quite real going on this time. More on that in a moment.

If the PCs open the kitchen door, the wights will suddenly become active and leap up to attack. A potion of undead control from the Apothecary (see encounter area 7) will work on them fine and control them, but clerical turning will not — and indeed will backfire. The wights wear special armbands against turning, so that if a priest tries to turn/dispel them, the wights will double in size (HD 8, hp 44 each, DA 1-8 + energy drain) until slain or triggered to sit down at the tables again. (A potion of undead control from the Apothecary will work on them giant-sized as well, since it effects up to 32 HD of creatures.)

Inside the kitchen is Dalinvar himself, minus his legs and hands which were removed centuries ago. He was once a 7th-level mage, but he’s been rendered so insane by this point that his stats don’t matter; he’s effectively 0-level with a single hit point that never goes below that score, despite the constant assault and torture that he is forced to endure. The kitchen is indeed Dalinvar’s hell, and has been so for the past 966 years (if the time period of TA 2968 is being used), since the fall of Minas Ithil in 2002. He will beg the PCs to put him out of his misery, and good PCs would consider that an act of goodness indeed. If he is healed of his afflictions and insanity, and his limbs regenerated, he will promptly kill himself anyway.

The third floor

The southern bedchamber contains a wheep: AC 3, HD 9, hp 49, DA 1-6 (bite), 1-8 (acid spray), or fear paralysis (wail of the void). She lies in the bed wailing, and anyone entering the room must save vs. petrification or shiver with fear for 1-4 rounds. [Note: I had never heard of a “wheep” before designing this module. They used to be victims of unimaginable tortures and now creatures of the negative material plane, having empty eye sockets that leak black ichor over their faces. They constantly wail and moan while gargling on that ichor that flows into their mouths. They’re blind but “see” through acute hearing and smell.] This wheep is bound to the bed and cannot leave it; it basically lies there to suffer in close proximity to the Hazul who feeds off torment and pain. The party would be wise to bypass the wheep entirely. Nothing can be done for the soul she once was; there is nothing to be gained in this room (no treasure or magic items); and killing the wheep does nothing to alleviate any evil or curses throughout the bookshop.

The master bedchamber is the prison of the Hazul (AC -7, HD 16, hp 96, DA energy drain plus petrification, SR 40%). The creature has a 40% spell resistance, thoroughly immune to cold-based attacks and paralysis/poison/etc., and is only harmed by weapons of +2 magic or greater. It appears as a shapeless shadowy amoeba-like creature, though more gaseous than solid, about 10 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 7 feet high.

Soon after taking over Minas Ithil, the Witch King summoned the Hazul and then realized he didn’t want it when he saw that the creature couldn’t be compelled to obey anyone, not even a Nazgul. He bound the Hazul to this bedroom with enchantments that make it impossible for the creature to leave, though it can certainly exert influence on the rest of the shop (as the PCs will have more than found out by now). The Witch King left it in this bookshop as a means of keeping people away from the books (which can always give people seditious ideas) but without destroying the books in case the Witch King ever wants to go through them.

The Hazul attacks by lashing out with an amoeba-like appendage, and a successful strike does no actual hit points worth of damage. It drains the PC 2 energy levels (save vs. death magic for 1 level drained), and the PC must save vs. petrification or his/her mind will be filled with the most terrifying image he or she has ever faced or thought of. The PC will scream, paralyzed, for 1-4 rounds before recovering and being able to attack again. If the creature rolls a 20 to hit, the save vs. death magic must be made at -2; failure means that the PC has been sucked into the eye of the Hazul, which functions as a sphere of annihilation (irrevocable death).

If the Hazul is killed, the entire bookshop, and every book, is free of the curse that has plagued it for so many centuries.

44. Herbalist’s Shop. 7. Apothecary. This shop is run by the chemist Abukef-Kahn. He’s from the far east and specializes in hard-to-find potions, medicines with nasty side effects, and the vilest poisons. He is usually in his workroom (area 1), but comes to help customers when the doorbell rings and they enter the store (in area 3). There are all sorts of concoctions that can be purchased on the shelves here, and the DM may use discretion, but the following in particular are in abundance, 7-12 bottles of each on the shelves.

Healing soda (ingested), 900 gp: Heals the drinker as the priest spell, but also makes the drinker uncomfortable in weather above 40F (-2 penalties to hit, damage, armor class, and saving throws), and unable to do any strenuous activity at all in temps above 70F. The side effects last 1-4 months.

Restoration tonic (ingested), 500 gp: Restores all energy levels lost from the touch of an undead, but also makes the drinker uncomfortable in sunlight (-2 penalties) and takes “burning” damage from natural running water (1-12 hp of damage/round) or holy water (2-24 hp of damage/round). The side effects last 1-4 months.

Worm poison (injury), 300 gp: Harvested from the purple worms of the Morgul Park. Save vs. poison or take 12d6 damage; half damage if save is made.

Jagsaw poison (injury), 800 gp: A rare poison from the southern jungles of Middle-Earth. Save vs. poison or go into immediate convulsions, and die in 3-6 rounds, experiencing the most horrendous agony as one’s skin turns purple, eyes bleed, and mouth foams.

Truth serum (ingested), 700 gp: Save vs. poison or unable to lie (knowingly) for one hour, and indeed will reveal the interrogator’s worst and most embarrassing secrets, as the drinker gains an especially powerful ESP ability for an hour as well.

Undead control (ingested), 2,000 gp: Illegal in Minas Morgul, but Abu-kef has six bottles in his private working room (area 2). The potion affects up to 32 HD of undead as a charm person spell. The undead are allowed a crummy saving throw at -5, and the charm effect lasts for 11-20 (d10+10) rounds. The potion also affects Nazgul (except for the Witch King, who is 40th level, and Khamul, who is 33rd level), and so it is a capital offense to sell, buy, or be in possession of this potion. Abu-kef will not acknowledge that he has such a potion, let alone sell one, to anyone until he is certain they won’t rat him out (through use of his medallion of ESP). PCs would be very smart to buy all six potions for whatever they need to accomplish in Minas Morgul. Especially if they need to go into Ghoul Town and/or beard the Nazgul in their dens at the top of the city.

Virus carrier (ingested), 1,200 gp: If the potion is taken during the incubation period of a virus, it will render the person or creature a permanent asymptomatic carrier, meaning the person or creature will always carry the virus but never get the disease. So the creature can spread the virus however it normally gets spread (biting in the case of rabies, through the air and personal contact in the case of cold and flu, contact with infected blood or body fluids for ebola and AIDS; etc.) This is a dangerous potion that allows people or creatures to be used for biological warfare purposes. A cure disease spell will not remove the effect of the potion, because the person or creature does not have the disease. A heal spell, however, will remove the virus from the body and negate the potion’s effect.

57. Leather Works. 8. The Broken Prayer. This church tavern located in the northwest area is a small establishment (only one floor) run by the ex-priest Gorotha, who was stripped of his office for preaching heresy (that Sauron is greater than Morgoth; that ass-kissing theology backfired on him spectacularly), though he leads mandatory prayer meetings. Those who refuse to attend his prayer circles are not given a room; ditto for those who are loud and boisterous. He does not serve booze or provide whores. As a result he doesn’t get many customers, but his cook is one of the best in the city. Those who dislike rowdy bars, love fantastic food, and can tolerate self-righteous homilies, come to the Broken Prayer.

Each of the three private rooms (areas 1) can be rented for 3 gp a night. There is a 33% chance that one of the rooms will be booked when the PCs arrive. The kitchen (area 2) serves the small tavern (area 3), which does not have a bar. The menu is as follows:

Private Room 3 gp/night
Breakfast, plain 8 cp
Breakfast, elaborate 4 sp
Dinner, 3-course 1 gp
Dinner, 7-course 3 gp
Supper, plain 5 sp
Supper, 3-course 1 gp

The yard (area 4) is where Gorotha leads his prayer circles. There are four heating pillars (triggered by a command word) to make the yard area bearable during prayer time, and there are two altars, for Sauron and Morgoth each; the one for Sauron is slightly bigger. Gorotha is unrepentant of his heresy and continues to preach the “inferiority of Morgoth” (though without the benefit of priestly status and spells), and he has also now taken to bashing Indur Dawndeath, the Fourth of the Nine, as a “false Nazgul”. This is more ass-kissing theology, which he believes will keep him in the good graces of the Witch King and Storm King, but which the Witch King sees through as sheer phoniness; he plans to allow Indur to kill Gorotha at some point, when Gorotha’s crackpot teachings no longer amuse him. There is a base 1% chance per week of this happening — that Indur will break into the Broken Prayer around 4:00 AM and touch Gorotha with Dawnsword:

Dawnsword: On a sleeping victim at night, Indur need only lightly touch the blade to the individual’s flesh, and death will automatically result as soon as the sun rises. The victim will not awaken on his own after being touched by the sword; though if he is forcefully woken up (before dawn), that breaks the assassination spell. The sleeping victim must be touched by the blade at least three hours before sunrise, and as dawn breaks, his body suddenly stiffens like a rod, he screams out like the damned, and dies with hideous contortions frozen on his face. (See encounter area 32 for further details of Indur and the other Nazgul.)

Note that if the PCs question or challenge Gorotha’s theology in any way, he will become aggressive and start ranting, and heap the vilest curses on Indur Dawndeath, even arrogantly (and stupidly) promising that he will someday kill the Fourth of the Nine himself. Unfortunately for him, there are scrying devices in his establishment: two spying gems from the Morgul Bank (see encounter area 11). One of them is on the heating pillar second closest to the altars, the other one on the ceiling of the indoor tavern. These gems have extreme chameleon powers and so are virtually impossible to detect unless the specific area is being searched or scrutinized carefully. These gems were planted by the Witch King, who can access the stream (as if it were a modern recording in our world) by using the master gem (kept in the Tower of Black Sorcery, see encounter area 33), at any point within the previous 36 hours. He often skims through these “recordings” at his convenience to see what Gorotha is up to. Any threats to kill Indur, while impossible to take seriously, nonetheless stand a better chance of provoking the Witch King to unleash Indur on Gorotha (30% instead of 1%). More importantly: as a consequence of spying on Gorotha, the Witch King might take a serious interest in the PCs, depending on what they say and do in the tavern and yard. If they appear to be spies who don’t belong in Minas Morgul (which is the case), then the Witch King will become livid and immediately send two other Nazgul — Akhorahil (the Storm King) and Hoarmurath (the Ice King) — to find the PCs and bring them in for questioning.

16. [Rian House]. 9. Rian House. The most tragic site in Minas Morgul retains its name, as it constantly replays the the noble family’s final hours during the sack of Minas Ithil. The ballroom dance of the Morgul captain and Lizelle Rian. The gang-rape of Katarina Rian in the grand bedchamber. The ballad of Queen Mirien, sung by Oesten Rian in the garden, on his knees in tears. The slaughter of the children and their nanny in the nursery room. The Morgul priest who laid this curse (he’s no longer alive in TA 2968) was a thoroughly despicable man who had a particular grievance against the Rian nobles (for reasons long forgotten). He was able to bind the souls of the Rian family to their mansion and force them to relive their traumas without surcease. Good aligned PCs will be horrified by what these souls have endured for the last millenium and will want to release them from such a curse if possible. They may have come here on rumors that the Rians had been worried for many years about a Ringwraith attack on the city and had paid wizards to create protective magics against undead. That rumor is true.

Removing the curse in each case requires simply the blessing action of a priest by sprinking holy water around the room and on the shade itself. Remove curse or dispel evil will also do the trick, but there’s no need to waste those spells unless the priest is out of holy water. The rite of holy water will dispel the repetitive performance at once; the images of all enemy attackers and rapists will dissolve; and the suffering shade will be tearfully grateful, his or her soul finally able to depart in peace. On some intuitive level, these shades know what the city has turned into over the last nine centuries, and in some cases these shades will send helpful messages of advice to the liberating PC.

With three important exceptions, there is nothing of value to be found in the Rian House — no treasure or magic items, as it was all plundered by soldiers on the day of the slaughter. The exceptions are the chemical substances that the Morgul forces ignored, not even suspecting they were valuable: the powder in the women’s powder room, the tobacco in the men’s smoking room, and the spell-enhancer serum in Raffe Rian’s bedchamber. See below for details of these substances.

The first slaughter show that the PCs will probably encounter is in the ballroom on the first floor, which replays the dance between the Morgul captain and Lizelle Rian. It isn’t the real soul of the Morgul captain. All of the soldiers in these shade dramas are illusionary simulations that nevertheless seem 100% real to the Rian souls being re-tortured and re-killed by them. This replay is on a four-minute cycle: the captain forces Lizelle to waltz, spins her around, and then finally, without warning, buries a knife in her heart. If liberated, the shade of Lizelle slowly vanishes; she looks at the PCs in gratitude but is unable to find any words. This is the only replay on the first floor. There was much more massacre (servants in the kitchen, etc.), but the Morgul priest was only interested in trapping the souls of the Rian family themselves.

On the second floor there is one slaughter show, in the small western salon (between the grand salon and the small middle one), where Jannys (JAN-eez) Rian was hiding when the soldiers came. As soon as two soldiers enter the room, one of them runs her through with a spear. If liberated, Jannys thanks the PCs and begs them to free the rest of her family on the top floor from the eternal outrages being committed on them.

In the ladies’ powder room is a prize commodity for any PCs who might confront any of the Nazgul, or who need (for whatever crazy reason) to beard the Ringwraiths in their den at the top of the city: in a plastic container, a powder that makes one undetectable to undead. This powder will work even in the city lights of the yellow-green Morgul lanterns, as it doesn’t involve an invisibility spell per se, but rather enchantments worked into the powder that neutralize the senses of undead. Not only that, because it’s not an invisibility spell, the user of the powder remains undetectable to the undead even when attacking. The powder is sticky but it does blow off relatively easy — after 5-12 rounds of combat, running, or heavy athletic activity — so one must apply it judiciously to maximize the best use out of it. If the powder user is just walking or moving carefully, the powder will blow off after 2-5 hours. (The winds in Minas Morgul never get high enough to worry about that being a factor.)

In the men’s smoking room are three pouches of tobacco — a purple pouch, a blue one, and a green one. There are enough pipes lying around to take advantage of any of these tobacco flavors, each of which cures and confers a particular 6-hour immunity. The tobacco in the purple pouch cures insanity and makes one immune to insanity (including the atmospheric effects of Minas Morgul) for 6 hours. The tobacco in the blue pouch removes fear and makes one immune to fear (including Nazgul-based fear) for 6 hours. The tobacco in the green pouch neutralizes poison and makes one immune to any poison for 6 hours. There is enough tobacco in the purple pouch for 39 smokes, in the blue pouch for 20 smokes, and in the green pouch for 24 smokes. A mage could figure out how to replicate and grow such tobacco given a lab and 1-4 weeks of time, but the mage would need to keep enough tobacco for at least 3 smokes (of each kind) to work with and analyze.

The third floor is a horror show that will make even the most seasoned PCs throw up. They will first come to the courtyard, which replays the lament of Oesten Rian, on his knees singing/weeping the ballad of Queen Mirien. As the PCs ascend the stairs, the simulations of the Morgul soldiers will race around them and leap into the garden, where they hack Oesten limb from limb. His replay is on a nine-minute cycle (three minutes for the ballad, six for the soldiers to arrive and hack him to pieces). If liberated, Oesten will thank the PCs to a heartbreaking tune and fade away.

The grand bedchamber replays Katarina Rian’s gang-rape at the hands of eight soldiers, in front of her parents, Wylan and Gina, who are forced to watch. This replay is on a lengthy 44-minute cycle and is absolutely terrible to watch. The PCs will doubtfully be able to stomach even a small part of it. If liberated, besides voicing her eternal gratitude she will also send a telepathic message of advice to the PC who freed her: “The powder room downstairs will help you.” (It was Katarina who stashed the invisibility to undead powder in that room.)

The northwestern bedchamber was the room of Katarina, who was dragged into the grand bedchamber of Wylan and Gina for her gang rape. There is no slaughter show in this room.

The western bedchamber was the room of Raffe Rian, who was held upside down by four guards and split down the middle with a two-handed sword. His replay is on an eight-minute cycle. If he is liberated, he will cry his thanks, and point to the desk near his bed as his shade slowly evaporates. In the top drawer of that desk are three vials of milky liquid. Each vial contains a swallow of spell enhancement serum, that allows a mage or sorcerer or illusionist (though not a priest or druid) to cast each of his or her memorized spells twice a day instead of once (or four times, if memorized twice, etc.). A most formidable weapon if the PCs intend to go against a powerful opponent, like a Nazgul.

The southwestern bedchamber was Oesten’s room, but he was in the courtyard during the invasion, and his replay has already been described above.

The northeastern bedchamber was used by the matron Merial Rian, the mother of Wylan. She was almost 80 years old,  chairbound and unable to walk. Her replay is on a three-minute cycle: four soldiers walk in the room, look at her, and start laughing. One of them walks behind her chair, yanks her head up by the hair, and another soldier decapitates her with his sword. If liberated, she wails, crying out to her son Wylan that she’s finally coming to him at last, before fading.

The eastern bedchamber was the room of Cortland Rian, who was killed outside the front of the mansion, vainly defending it as the soldiers poured in. There is no slaughter show in this room.

The southeastern bedchamber was the nanny’s bedroom, but she was in the nursery room with the children when the soldiers came, and thrown out a window. There’s no slaughter show in this room.

The children’s room was the room of three kids (Spore, Raelick, and Hiree), but they were in the nursery room with the nanny, so there is no slaughter show here.

The nursery room replays the outrage against the three kids, after the nanny is shoved out a window. A soldier picks up Spore (ten years old) and snaps his neck; another picks up Raelick (nine) by the ankle, swings her around, and smashes her brains against the wall; and another violates Hiree (seven) in the worst way before throwing her the way of the nanny. The replay is on an eleven-minute cycle. If the kids and nanny are liberated, they all cry their gratitude — unbelieving of the mercy they just received — before fading away.

30. [Carpenter’s Guildhall]. 10. The Last Wish The old carpenter’s guildhall is now a deadly bordello catering to the most depraved and suicidal desires. Last wishes indeed. But not everyone dies at the hands of these courtesans, and those who want to live consider it worth the risk (and astronomical price), since the courtesans are legendary for eliciting pleasures that are mind-blowing. They can prolong orgasms repeatedly, and arouse their clients to degrees that are normally physically impossible.

The establishment is run by the half-demon Madam Rayz, and she is no one to mess with. She’s a retired courtesan but keeps her spells at the ready just in case her staff need assistance against trouble-making clients. Prospective clients come first to the reception hall (area 1), where Madam Rayz works at her desk and books the appointments. Visitors can see the menu displayed on the wall to the right as they enter:

Private Room 10-20 gp/night
Courtesan 30-50 gp/hour
Breakfast, plain 3 cp
Breakfast, elaborate 1 gp
Dinner, 3-course 3 gp
Dinner, 7-course 9 gp
Supper, plain 2 gp
Supper, 3-course 6 gp
Ale (pint) 1 gp
Mead (flagon) 2 gp
Wine (pint) 5 gp
Liqueur (gill) 10 gp

The presentation room (area 2) is where Madam Rayz showcases her courtesans to the client. She will book an appointment for anyone who seriously wants a taste of The Last Wish, for a time when all the courtesans will be free so the client can see them all together. There are five to pick from, and they each have their own price according to their character level. (See the appendix at the end of this module for the courtesan class.) There are no male courtesans at The Last Wish, reflecting the patriarchal culture of Mordor, though any one of these ladies will be happy to service a woman as much as a man. They will only service one client at a time; gang-bangs and orgies are not permitted at The Last Wish.

During the presentation, the five courtesans (all with comeliness scores ranging between 16-19) will assemble (in area 2) as Madam Rayz explains the proficiency level of each, their official title, their specialty (if they have one) and the rate each one charges. She will make very clear to the client the risks involved, and that while her ladies can elicit miraculous pleasures, their clients often don’t leave The Last Wish alive. The table below lists the likelihood that the courtesan will decide to murder the client at the end of the night’s pleasure. That figure is for the DM only. Madam Rayz will phrase the matter more generally, saying that the more experienced and expensive the courtesan is, the greater the risk. Only in the case of Morrow will she emphasize how high the risk is, since, after all, Morrow’s speciality is death and oblivion.

Murders her clients
Human 7th Seductress General 30 gp/hr 10% of the time
Dark Elf 8th Vixen General 35 gp/hr 15% of the time
Human 9th Nymph Pain; agony; injury 40 gp/hr 40% of the time
Demon 10th Nymph Degradation; slavery 45 gp/hr 45% of the time
Vampire 11th Nymph Death; oblivion 50 gp/hr 90% of the time
Madam Rayz
Half-demon 14th Nymph General (Retired) (Retired)

There are complementary services on the first floor to those who rent a courtesan and room: a swimming pool (area 6), private baths (areas 7), and masseuse parlors (areas 8). The swimming pool is a bit chill (70 degrees F), but the private baths are luxurious (99 degrees F). In the masseuse parlors, three 3rd-level courtesans (charmers) are at hand to help the client relax before beginning his (or her) night’s pleasure in one of the five “pavilions”.

The second floor has the dining hall and kitchen, where 1st and 2nd-level novice courtesans labor to produce absolutely gourmet meals. These are priced according to the menu listed above.

The “pavilions” (areas 3×2, 10, 13, and 16) are where a PC may be treated by the courtesan of his (or her) choice to a night’s experience he (or she) will never forget — assuming, of course, that the PC survives the experience. Clients typically pay for pleasures lasting 1-4 hours. All of the courtesans have communicate spells, so language is never a barrier; and they all have protection from disease, which they always cast before enaging a client. Here are the details of the five courtesans and their pavilions. (For descriptions of their sexual spells, see here.)

Poledra is a 7th level human courtesan (seductress) (AC 0, hp 36, DA 2-5, Comeliness 16) who services clients in the northern pavilion on the first floor (area 3). She wears earrings of armor class 0, has a dagger +1, and a dildo of anal rapture (which brings a man or woman to orgasm by anal sex alone, and prolongs the period of orgasm by four times the norm). Her armoire (in area 5) holds 650 gp, a green emerald worth 3,000 gp, and a mithril necklace worth 12,000 gp. Her spells are:

1st levelcharm male (x2), flash, masturbation, silvertongue
2nd levelcommunicate (x3), protection from disease
3rd levelcandlelight dinner (x2), seduce III
4th levelstrip

Cyanai is an 8th level dark-elf courtesan (vixen) (AC -1, hp 41, DA 2-5, Comeliness 18) who services clients in the southern pavilion on the first floor (area 3). She has black hair, black-green skin, and eyes that seem like wells. She wears earrings of armor class 0, has a dagger +1, and 13 packets of dream-mist powder (when made into tea, the drinker has hallucinogenic visions of incredible beauty for the next 21-30 minutes, during which time he is 50% likely to lose any action that he attempts). Her armoire (in area 5) holds 820 gp, a tiara worth 16,000 gp, and a gold amulet of luck (+3 on saving throws). Her spells are:

1st levelcharm male (x2), ecstasy, kiss of sleeping, masturbation, silvertongue
2nd levelcommunicate (x3), jealousy, protection from disease
3rd levelcandlelight dinner (x2), seduce III
4th levelkiss of paralysis, strip

Brandi is a 9th level human courtesan (nymph) (AC -2, hp 47, DA 2-5, Comeliness 17) who services clients in the Pavilion of Sweet Agony (area 10). She specializes in “luscious pain”, blending excruciting agony with exquisite pleasure, and making the client crave both simultaneously. She wears earrings of armor class 0, has a dagger +1, and 8 bottles of liquid agony (potions that stun the drinker for 1-4 rounds and produce feelings of intense pain, interpreted as pleasure, for 1-4 hours) . Her armoire (in area 12) holds 380 gp, 15 pink pearls (250 gp each), and a box of screams (captures the screams of her clients that she can play back and listen to at leisure). Her spells are:

1st levelcharm male (x2), dire chastity (x2), ecstasy (x2)
2nd levelcommunicate (x3), jealousy, protection from disease
3rd levelcandlelight dinner (x2), obsession (x2)
4th levelkiss of paralysis (x2), strip
5th levellust

Lichnor is a 10th level demon courtesan (nymph) (AC -3, hp 52, DA 5-12, Comeliness 17) who services clients in the Pavilion of Abject Slavery (area 13) She specializes in humiliation and degradation, and traumatizes even those who think they like S&M. She has red-brown hair and is beautiful but fierce looking. She makes snarling dog-like noises that she can’t help when involved in sexual intercourse, which are so disturbing that they have a 20% chance of dispelling the PC’s seduction and in its place leaving fear and paralysis — which triggers Lichnor’s rage and all but guarantees that she will finish the night by killing the poor client. She wears earrings of armor class 0, has a dagger +1, and a whip of grateful tears (causing 1 hp of damage per lash and making the client want more). Her armoire (in area 15) holds 500 gp, 200 mp, a ruby pendant (11,000 gp), a skull mask, and a book of evil incantations (mortals looking through its pages must save vs. spells or be driven immediately to suicide). Her spells are:

1st levelcharm male (x2), Freudian thoughts, masturbation (x2), silvertongue
2nd levelcommunicate (x3), impotence, jealousy, protection from disease, reverse sexual orientation
3rd levelcandlelight dinner (x2), kiss of slavery (x2), sexual nerd
4th levelgender dysphoria, kiss of linking, strip
5th levelembarrassing fetish, sex slave

Morrow is an 11th level vampire courtesan (nymph) (AC -1, hp 59, DA 5-10, Comeliness 19) who services clients in the Pavilion of Eternal Night (area 16). She specializes in death and oblivion and almost always caps off her night by killing her client. However, she wears a necklace with a special enchantment that neutralizes her energy drain ability (without it, she would kill her clients as soon as she touched them). She has emerald hair, skin as white as ivory, and is beautiful beyond imagination. She wears earrings of armor class 0, has a dagger +1, and a blanket of cold numbness, which she usually places over her clients in the end, as they die, allowiing them to pass peacefully. Her armoire (in area 18) holds 900 gp, 5 diamonds (5000 gp each), and three bottles of elven blood. She is so extraordinarily beautiful that she seduces at 4 HD higher than normal, and all saving throws against her sexual spell effects are made at -2. Her spells are:

1st levelcharm male (x2), fascination, kiss of wounding (x3), silvertongue
2nd levelcommunicate (x3), kiss of weakness (x2), protection from disease
3rd levelbodyguard (x2), candlelight dinner (x2), seduce III (x2)
4th levelkiss of paralysis, strip, vampiric passion (x2)
5th levellovesickness, seduce V, stop!
6th levelkiss of death

Madam Rayz is a 14th level half-demon courtesan (nymph) (AC -1, hp 80, DA 3-8, Comeliness 15). She wears earrings of armor class 0 and has a dagger +1. She is the owner of The Last Wish, a retired courtesan, but still keeps her spells at hand. They are:

1st levelcharm male (x2), ecstasy, flash, kiss of sleeping, PMS, silvertongue
2nd levelcommunicate (x3), impotence, kiss of weakness, sleep theft, transfer charm
3rd levelbodyguard (x2), candlelight dinner (x2), resist charm, seduce III (x2)
4th levelkiss of linking, strip (x4), virtuous ward
5th levelkiss of disfigurement, lust, seduce V, sex slave (x2), stop!
6th levelheartbreaker, mass ecstasy, power word castrate, sex change

Madam Rayz’s private bedroom is area 9. The private bedrooms of Poledra, Cyanai, Brandi, Lichnor, and Morrow are areas 4×2, 11, 14, and 17, respectively.

A final note about The Last Wish. While it might seem surprising that such a place would get any business at all, it’s not surprising in the city of Minas Morgul, where the very atmosphere saps the will and kills the spirit. Most of the city’s residents are not good-aligned (almost all are evil or neutral), and so they don’t need to worry about being driven mad on a daily basis (see the intro). Nonetheless, they’re not immune to despair. The Witch King’s sorceries eat away at everyone. To those who live in darkness, always cold, never seeing the sun, under the Nazgul eye, a place like The Last Wish could seem like a rapturous escape from all of this.

33. [Smith’s Guildhouse]. 11. The Morgul Bank. The old smiths guildhouse is now a bank, run by a greedy twit named Yukozeera, or Yuko. He would sell his own mother (and in fact did) and reports directly to the Storm King. He keeps the bank open night and day, around the clock, so there are never worries of a break-in. The staff and guards (detailed below) are on three eight-hour shifts: 10am-6pm; 6pm-2am; 2am-10am. The new guard shifts come from the city garrison (see encounter area 17) while the clerks and bank tellers arrive from wherever they live in the city.

The walls of the building are insulated on the interior with an alloy that neutralizes all spells and magic items. No one can get inside by means of teleporting from the outside, or by using a spell like passwall, and no one can steal anything and vanish away. No one can cast any spell or magic of any kind inside these walls. That applies no less to the elites who run the city (even a Nazgul can’t cast spells here), which is why Yuko relies on a large contingent of strong soldiers.

(It’s even a challenge to damage the building from the outside, as the exterior of the wall is made of galvorn, the rarest and hardest metal in Middle-Earth. A fireball cast by most mages would hardly scratch it.)

There are a total of 60 guards (Lvl 3 fighters, AC 4, hp 21-27 each, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow) under command of four strong captains (Lvl 7 fighters, AC 2, hp 52, 55, 57, 60, DA 3-10/3-10 sword or 1-6/1-6 arrow). The captains report to Yuko and do whatever he says. Yuko is 0-level twit and can’t fight; but he’s a genius accountant and the Storm King has made it clear that the soldiers are to obey his orders like they would the word of Sauron. 8 guards are stationed in each of the four alcoves. 6 are stationed in each of the safe deposit box rooms (areas 2). 8 are on constant patrol througout the entire building checking in on every room. The remaining 8 stand on guard outside the front doors, where they force vistors to surrender their weapons. If a party larger than six comes to the front doors, some will have to wait outside; only six customers are allowed in the building at any given time.

Perched on top of the bank outside, unseen from below, is a fell beast (AC 6, HD 13, hp hp 80, DA 1-8 (bite)/1-6×2 (claws)) that will rise up and shriek at the sign of any assault or break in. This will bring 10-100 (d10x10) additional guards from nearby areas in 11-20 rounds, as well as a Nazgul on horseback. Roll d20 to determine the Nazgul: 1-6 The Witch King, 7-16 The Storm King, 17-19 The Ice King, 20 Indur Dawndeath. (See encounter areas 32 and 33 for details on these Nazgul.)

Six bank tellers work at their stations, receiving deposits or providing withdrawals for the customers waiting in line. The eyes of the alcove guards are on them at all times.

For customers who pay for the privilege of a special deposit box, the safe desposit rooms (areas 2) have twelve pillars in each room, each pillar having 30 safe-box compartments that can only be opened with the customer’s key or Jukozeera’s master key. The fee for renting a box is 20 gp/month. Only one customer at a time is allowed in a safe deposit room, and a guard must escort the customer inside (where the six guards await, monitoring the room).

The vaults (areas 3, 4, 5, 6) are each double-locked, and require two keys to turn at the same time. One of the keys is held by Yuko, who is usually working in one of the four record-keeping rooms (areas 11),and he always to approve the vault being opened anyway. The other key is held, randomly, by one of the six guards in the room, and ditto in the other area 2, where a guard holds a copy of the exact same key. (The same key-duo opens all the vaults.) The vaults are filled as follows.

Area 3 has 2,400 pounds of gold, at half-pound ingots, worth a total of 614,000 gp; and 300 pounds of mithril, at half-pound ingots, worth a total of 384,000 gp. The ingots are stacked on the floor.

Area 4 has chests containing a total of 270,000 gp and 81,000 mp.

Area 5 has chests containing 729,000 gp worth of jewelry.

Area 6 has chests containing 513,000 gp worth of gems.

The total value of these four vaults is 2,640,000 gp. None of the chests is locked, as locks would be superfluous for anyone who could get inside these vaults.

The secret vaults are filled as follows:

Area 7 has 50 pounds of pure laen ingots, worth 320,000 gp. The ingots are stacked on the floor.

Area 8 has 45,000 bloodstained gold pieces that are cursed, heaped in a huge pile on the floor. Since magic doesn’t work inside the walls, the curse isn’t activated until someone takes some of coins (at least 5 of them) outside the building. At which point the coin bearer succumbs to paranoia (see the insanity section at the beginning of the module), convinced that everyone else — but especially friends — is trying to steal from him. Yuko often gives mixes a handful of bloodstained coins in with a sack of normal gold to customers who piss him off for the slightest reasons, or for no reason at all.

Area 9 has 3 jewelry artifacts, each of extremely expensive value: the Claw of Angmar (a dragon’s claw holding a huge black obsidian gem, the claw studded with rubies, worth 90,000 gp); the Crown of Ny Chennecatt (the Storm King’s old gold crown, studded with yellow sapphires, worth 50,000 gp); the Pendant of Dir (the matriarchal heirloom seized by the Ice King upon killing his mother, bedecked with diamonds, worth 40,000 gp).

Area 10 has 16 spying gems of various colors and kinds, but each worth about 4,600 gp. There are a total of 24 in circulation, plus a 25th master gem. Their magical function doesn’t work in the bank, but the Witch King uses these gems, in conjunction with the maser gem (that he always keeps), to spy on people throughout the city. For example, two of them are currently planted at The Broken Prayer (see encounter area 8). These gems have a limited range of 2 miles (if a gem is planted further than that from the master gem, it won’t work); they stick and cling to almost any surface, and have extreme chameleon powers and so are virtually impossible to detect unless the area is being searched carefully. By using the master gem, the Witch King can access the “data stream” of the spying gems (as if it were a modern recording in our world), at any time within the previous 36 hours before the data is lost.

The total value of these four secret vaults is 660,000 gp. Add to the total of the other four vaults, the Morgul Bank is 3,300,000 gp strong.

The other four rooms (areas 11) are record keeping rooms. At any given time during the day, 3-6 clerks will be working here.

Note: I designed this encounter area not so that PCs should actually try to steal from the bank or launch on assault on it, as either action would be extremely foolish. It may come in useful as a supplemental location depending on what kind of scneario is being run. It’s also helpful to know (even if only as a point of academic interest) how much money Minas Morgul has on hand. And this doesn’t even include the private hoards of the Nazgul and other powerful elites in the city, who trust to their own security.

28. Weaver’s Guildhall. 12. The Halls of Rape. The Weavers were the largest guild in Minas Ithil, and the men of Minas Morgul have sanctified those halls by turning them into an elaborate rapehouse. Victims are violated around the clock in these rooms (women, men, and children alike), tortured more, and then either killed or thrown into the cold streets, their spirits utterly crushed.

Four guards are always posted at the entrance (area 1), armed with swords and bows: 4th level fighters, AC 3, hp 20, 22, 24, 25, DA 1-8 (sword), 1-6 + poison (arrow). The arrows are dipped in tranquilizer poison (save vs. poison or pass out for 1-4 turns), to subdue opponents if the arrow doesn’t kill. These guards will ask anyone who wish to enter the halls for the password, which changes every week. When the PCs arrive, the password will be “jelly flesh” (in Black Speech). Those who don’t know the password will be told to leave at once.

The password is known only to a circle of elites in the city (and whomever any member of that circle wishes to share the password with), but PCs might divine the password with an ESP spell when the guards ask them for it (as the guards will obviously be thinking of the word when demanding it), or by a divination spell, or by staking the place out and waiting for someone to arrive and speak the password.

If things go badly for the guards, they will call the dozen guards inside the entrance hall (area 2), also armed with swords and bows: 2nd level fighters, AC 6, hp 9×2, 10×3, 11×2, 12×2, 13×2, 14, DA 1-8 (sword), 1-6 + poison (arrow). These guards mill about and watch to make sure nothing happens to the merchandise (the captives to be raped) in the rooms to the left (areas 3-7). These guards in turn will summon their leaders from the room to the right (area 8), not to mention the dozen guards who are off-shift resting in the barracks (area 9). Those off-shift guards have the same stats as the dozen currently on guard. The room adjacent to the barracks (area 10) is bathing room for the guards.

The guard leaders (area 8) are 2 captains and a commander. The captains are 6th level fighters, AC 3, hp 37, 41, DA 1-8 + poison; their sword blades are laced with purple worm poison (save vs. poison or take 12d6 damage; half damage if save is made). The commander is a 9th level fighter, AC -1, hp 62, DA 4-11/4-11 + poison; his weapon is a sword +3 of quickness, striking twice in one round, and is also laced with purple worm poison. He also wears boots of striding and springing, and will try to make a quick getaway should things go completely south, and he will alert the city watch.

Captives awaiting their terrible fate (in areas 3, 5, and 7) may wait anywhere from a day to couple of weeks, depending on the tastes of the paying customers. The southernmost room (area 3) contains 31-50 (d20+20) good-looking women between ages 16-40, at any given time. A bathroom (area 4) is supplied for their convenience, containing two toilets. The middle room contains 11-20 (d10+10) children/teens between the ages of 6-15, and the northern room (area 7) contains 5-10 (d6+4) weak but attractive men (each having a strength less than 9) between ages 16-30. The men and children share the other bathroom (area 6). Most of the captives (94%) are human (some even Morgul residents); the others (6%) are elves. All windows are barred in these rooms. The captives are not allowed to leave their rooms except to use the bathrooms. Meals are brought to them from the kitchen (area 12) three times a day. All three rooms (3, 5, and 7) have permanent symbols of hopelessness inscribed on the walls that keeps their occupants lethargic and submitting to the demands of the guards. (Note: if the PCs see the symbol, they could be affected as well if they fail their save.) Each symbol can be dispelled by a dispel magic cast at 11th level.

If PCs are searching for the girl Koree (see adventure option 4), she will be found in area 3 if she hasn’t been claimed yet by a client. Roll d12: if the die number is less than the number of days since her abduction, then she is either killed (01-50%) or out in the cold streets of the city somewhere, horribly broken (51-00%). (There’s no way a 19-year old girl as attractive as Koree would remain unclaimed longer than 12 days, even given the stiff competition from the other women.) Remember, the PCs were hired by Koree’s sister three days after her abduction and it took them two days to get to Minas Morgul. Depending on how shrewd they are as detectives, it might take them a day or two (or even three) to learn about the Halls of Rape and that it would be a likely place that an attractive woman would be made captive. So there is a very good chance that Koree will already be killed or traumatically wounded, and thus gone from this establishment. The manager’s office upstairs (see area 20, below) has a ledger with the dates that all captives were brought to the halls, and when they were claimed by a client.

Clients often take advantage of the banquet hall (area 11) and the extravagantly sumptuous feasts provided from the kitchen (area 12) attended by three gourmet cooks. The other banquet hall (area 13) is for the guards and officers when they are off-shift. The “playground” (area 14) is the outdoor area where rape parties occur, unless a client wants a private room upstairs. Enchantments keep the atmosphere in the playground 68 degrees F (since Minas Morgul never gets above 36 degrees). About 40% of the clients enjoy rape parties (usually resulting in gang rapes, as the clients share their victims) while the other 60% prefer the private rooms upstairs. The outdoor rape parties are scheduled twice a day, after the lunch banquet at 1:00 PM, and after the dinner banquet at 7:00 PM.

There are no gang-rapes allowed in the upstairs private rooms, where people pay extra to be left alone. These rooms are available for use at any time of the day or night. In the morning hours (6:00 AM – noon) there is a 50% chance at any given time that 1-4 rooms will be occupied. In the afternoon and evening and night hours (noon – 2:00 AM) there is an 85% chance at any given time that 3-12 rooms will be occupied. Sixteen of these rooms (areas 17) are the usual fare, and there are plenty of torture instruments on display for clients who like sort of thing. Three of these rooms (areas 16) provide a bonus role-playing service, whereby a male courtesan, dressed as a guard, will “rape” the client as the client rapes his victim. Typically when a client is done raping his victim, he (or she) throws the victim out the window to the playground below — a 40-foot fall that has a 50% of killing the victim. Those who survive (probably with broken bones) are picked up and thrown into the street. (If a rape party is going on down below, the client is cheered when he throws a victim out the window.)

Clients often use the lounges (areas 15) to chill out after a rape. For those who wish to spend the night after their fun, private suites are available (single-beds in areas 18, double-beds in areas 19).

The establishment is run by Mikor, a 10th-level illusionist. His administrative office (area 20) contains all the bookkeeping, ledgers, and admin files. Any new captive is brought to his office and he asks their name (using suggestion on any who refuse to answer), which he writes in the ledger. If PCs are searching for the girl Koree (see adventure option 4), the ledger will have her name listed, the date she was brought into the Halls, and the date she was claimed by a client (if that has happened already). Because there is a good chance she has already been claimed (and thus killed (01-50%) or suffering horribly somewhere else in the city (51-00%), probably on the cold streets), the adventure could turn from a rescue operation to a vengeful crusade to destroy this establishment.

[Note: If the Vampire Queen scenario is being played, and the PCs somehow get involved with the Halls of Rape, the records going back four years ago will show Elvaleth (the daughter of Gondor’s steward) as having been brought here and claimed by a client. She is now the vampire of the castle at encounter area 24.]

In Mikor’s files can be found the “menu” for the Halls:

  • Woman, playground — 10 gp
  • Woman, private room — 20 gp
  • Woman, role playing room — 25 gp
  • Man, playground — 5 gp
  • Man, private room — 15 gp
  • Man, role playing room — 20 gp
  • Child, playground — 20 gp
  • Child, private room — 30 gp
  • Child, role playing room — 35 gp
  • Banquet — add 10 gp
  • Private suite — add 15 gp

To put this in perspective, here are typical costs of whores in major cities of Middle-Earth (like Minas Tirith and Pelargir).

  • Street skanks (destitute, 6-10 marks per day): 1-2 cp per hour
  • Street walkers (poor, 4-8 marks per day): 4-8 cp per hour
  • Brothel whores (common, 3-5 marks per day): 5 to 7 sp per hour, for classier brothels 12-15 sp per hour
  • Prostitutes (high class, 1 mark per day): 2 to 6 gp per hour
  • Contractual Courtesans (elite, 1 mark every few days to a week): 10 to 30 gp per hour

Remember that 1 gp = 20 sp = 200 cp, and that one silver piece is the average amount that a commoner (or peasant or day laborer) makes in one day. So even though all these prices might seem cheap to high-level PCs who probably have a lot of gold, 5-7 silver pieces per hour for a common brothel whore is actually a significant sum of money — for most people, it’s a “week’s paycheck” blown in an hour. What this means is that Mikor is basically charging courtesan rates for the pleasure of raping, torturing, and brutalizing/murdering attractive looking victims. This makes sense in a city like Minas Morgul, where abduction, rape, and murder aren’t crimes (unless you do them to the ones in power), which removes the risk factor that would otherwise make these services incredibly expensive. For example, to find services like these in a city like Minas Tirith or Pelargir would mean the black market, and customers would likely have to pay hundreds of gold pieces for a victim, or even thousands.

Mikor is a 10th level illusionist (AC -3, hp 39, DA 4-7 x2). He has a gauntlets of armor class 0 (his 18 dexterity gives the added +3 bonus) and fast spellcasting (he can cast 2 spells per round), a dagger +3, and a wand of prismatic offense (which can shoot a color spray for 1 charge, a rainbow pattern for 2 charges, or a prismatic spray for 4 charges). The wand currently has 28 charges. His spells are:

1st levelhold portal, hypnotism, reduce person, ventriloquism
2nd levelalter self, ESP, mirror image, whispering wind
3rd levelmajor image, suggestion, tongues
4th level confusion, phantasmal killer, stoneskin
5th levelnightmare, prying eyes

He will use his spells smartly. If threatened by a powerful party, he will use whispering wind to alert the city watch, and cast stoneskin to protect himself (absorbs 10 hit points of damage from each weapon that strikes him, for 100 rounds), mirror image and confusion to confuse attackers, and phantasmal killer on the PC who appears to be most dangerous. Not to mention his prismatic wand, which is very powerful. He is one vengeful son of a bitch, and should he escape the party, or the party escape him, he will cast nightmare on the PC who did him the most harm — for many nights ahead, even after the party leaves Minas Morgul, as the spell has an unlimited range. (He sometimes uses nightmare on captives who have foolishly tried to escape.)

Mikor will use prying eyes at the sound of any battle downstairs in the foyer to see what is going on. He will not go downstairs to assist the guards in the event of an attack. He is an absolute coward and if he is warned that much in advance of a PC threat then he will stay in his office and cast whispering wind (to alert the city watch), and then alter self so that by the time the PCs enter his office he will appear as a female elf with no pants on, and passed out on the floor. He will have thrown open the window too, so that the room is cold when the PCs enter. When “awakened”, the “elf” will cower in terror and claim that she was raped by the manager of the halls who is a powerful mage and flew magically out the windows. At the best opportunity, Mikor will suddenly drop the act and appearance, and surprise attack the PCs (getting 4 spell attacks for the first round, instead of 2).

His treasure is kept in a triply locked chest under his bed (in area 21). Thieves can pick at a -20% penalty. Inside is the following: 6,700 sp, 2,100 gp, 500 mp.

Needless to say, most PCs will be appalled by the nature of this establishment — certainly all good-aligned PCs, most neutral-aligned ones, and even plenty of evil PCs. After all, being evil-aligned (whether lawful evil, neutral evil, or chaotic evil) doesn’t necessarily mean that one approves or accepts or is indifferent to the most depraved behavior imaginable. It’s true that evil characters don’t care about people’s rights or happiness (they’re concerned primarily about power), but it’s not (necessarily) true that they relish harming and torturing people (especially children) for sport. One could well understand the PCs’ desire to burn this establishment to the ground, whether they come here looking for a specific victim (Koree) or stumble on the place by accident.

53. The Golden Plough. 13. The Mean Latrine. This seedy tavern is under management of Fat Jeena, as she is called, affectionately by some, derisively by others. If PCs are willing to pay for information on the nearby Ghoul City, she will have plenty to tell — some of it truth, lots of it lies, and plenty of the in-between.

There is always a crowd to be found in the tavern (area 1), drowning themselves with watery ale and shitty wine. The floor is covered in sawdust, which is Fat Jeena’s way of “cleaning” the place — by simply covering the floor with sawdust as more and more dirt builds up. There is no bar; customers sit at the long tables which are rarely wiped down.

The preserved corpse of a Rohirric horse-lord is on permanent display in the ring of the wattle fence (area 2). The corpse is crucified on a cross, its face controrted into a rictus of agony and rage. The real horror is that this horse-lord comes alive (literally resurrects) every time someone drinks ale from a dragon horn that Fat Jeena passes around to the customers. The horn is used for a drinking game (complements of the house), and holds a quart and a half of ale. It’s black and set with rubies, and worth 20,000 gp, though only a fool would try stealing it from Fat Jeena or removing it from this establishment. Anyone who does try will be polymorphed into a frost salamander, that requires a remove curse cast at 9th level to dispel.

When anyone takes a gulp of ale from the dragon horn, the corpse resurrects for 30 seconds to 2 minutes (depending on how big the swallow of ale), and the crucified horse-lord (Gleothain) will scream in agony, “Help me! Take me down! Take me down!” and keep on like this before dying for the thousandth time. The only way he can be saved from this horrible fate is to either remove the curse of the dragon horn (cast at 9th level), or destroy the horn (a spell like disintegrate will do the trick), or chop his head off and burn it in coldfire. Any one of these methods will release his soul and finally give him peace. Any attempts to resurrect him after saving him will fail, as his soul has been been too abused (he’s been raised way too many times) for his constitution to stand any more returns to life.

The kitchen (area 3) contains passable food — mostly nuts, cheeses, and cold meat platters. Nothing hot can be ordered. There’s no cellar, so the kegs of ale and wine bottles have to kept here on ground level. But Minas Morgul is always cold enough that no one has to worry about warm booze. It’s cheap and awful booze in this tavern, but at least it’s cold. On the second level, there’s a closet (area 4), Fat Jeena’s room (area 5), and nine guest rooms (areas 6) at 1 gp a night. Poorer travelers may take a cot in the common room (there are 20 cots) for just 3 sp a night. The screaming from Gleothain goes on until 2:00 AM, when Fat Jeena closes the tavern and stops serving food and drink.

Rumors that Fat Jeena can supply about Ghoul Town:

  1. “Those ghouls aren’t like other ghouls. They’re geniuses — evil fucking geniuses — but just as bloodthirsty.” (true)
  2. “The ghouls are breeding their own orcs to take over the whole city someday.” (first part true, second part false)
  3. “Somewhere in that town there’s a stick that raises people from the dead. Used to belong to a priest of Gondor.” (true)
  4. “The ghouls have their own king, and even the Witch King is scared of him.” (first part true, second part false)
  5. “There’s an evil thing in the black castle that gives the black tower its power.” (true)
  6. “The ghouls have concentration camps of elves, and they execute elves on a weekly basis.” (false)

Regarding the second rumor, the orcs are being bred for a food supply, not a military force which the Nazgul wouldn’t tolerate. The third rumor refers accurately to a rod of resurrection. The fourth rumor is correct about the Ghoul King, but the Witch King isn’t scared of him in the least. The fifth rumor refers accurately to the Orb of Transfiguration (the “black castle” is where the Ghoul King resides in Ghoul Town, and the “black tower” is where the Witch King resides at the top of the city). All these details are described in encounter area 14, below.

55. Cooper’s Shop. 14. Ghoul Town. Note: this map doesn’t come from the original Minas Ithil module. It’s modeled on the city of Kilenor from “Kingdom of the Ghouls” in Dungeon Magazine, issue #70, which I’ve modified at various points. I’ve wanted to use this module and found it a perfect fit for Minas Morgul.

Ghoul Town was built between TA 2005-2024 as a means of keeping the ghoul population of Minas Morgul under control and separate from the rest of the inhabitants. All of the undead pose an ongoing danger to the men and orcs of the city, but the ghouls especially, given their insatiably bloodthirsty feeding habits. They have also been the most numerous of the undead in Minas Morgul, and after three years of feeding terror (after the conquest of 2002), the Witch King knew he had to do something to keep better order. Ghoul Town was his solution.

He gave the ghouls a mini-necropolis (about 2,000 x 3,000 feet) for entirely themselves. Currently (in TA 2968) about 2,000 ghouls reside in the town. It’s avoided by all living creatures, including the city guards, who don’t want to be eaten. The ghouls are ruled by their own king (Zorku) from the Blackgate Palace (area J). The Witch King allows the ghouls their fiction of independence because it amuses him, and because King Zorku also serves him by guarding the Orb of Transfiguration (on which see further).

Ghoul Town never sees any sleep (obviously, since undead don’t sleep), and there is always plenty of hustle. It’s a big task to keep 2,000 ghouls fed, as their diet requires sentient humanoid creatures (men, elves, dwarves, orcs, trolls, etc). Raiding parties come and go daily, and the ghouls have ongoing permision to leave the city and return, but only by the back gate (Maggot’s Ass, see encounter area 2). They have strict orders: the citizens and guards of Minas Morgul cannot be preyed upon — unless those citizens or guards are foolish enough to enter Ghoul Town, in which case they’re fair game for eating. The lighting of Ghoul Town (per the Witch King’s decree) is the same as elsewhere in Minas Morgul, coming from the lanterns that give of the sinister yellow-green light. So invisiblity is just as useless in Ghoul Town as it is elsewhere in the city.

It should be stressed that the ghouls of Minas Morgul aren’t the mindless beasts of D&D. They are highly intelligent and the equivalent of the shadow ghouls (or “true ghouls”) described in Dungeon Magazine #70. In other words: they are turned as wraiths, not ghouls; they have intelligence scores between 8-16; warrior ghouls have AC 3; HD 4; #AT 3 or 1; DA 1-8/1-6/1-6 plus paralyzation (lasts 2d6+6 rounds), plus strength drain (1 point of strength per touch), plus grave rot (or by weapon type). This means being bitten or clawed by a ghoul carries three threats at once — paralysis, strength drain, and grave rot. The grave rot disease works as follows: At the end of any battle with with one or more of these ghouls, anyone who took a hit from a ghoul’s bite or claw (on top of whatever paralysis and strength drains they suffered), they must make one saving throw vs. poison. Those who fail lose 1-6 hp each day until the grave rot disease is cured or until they make a constitution check with a -4 penalty. Paladins are immune to the effects of grave rot and can use their cure disease ability to remove the affliction from others.

Many of the ghoul nobles, moreover, are priests with clerical spells. In a word, Ghoul Town is dangerous, and it’s heavily patrolled. PCs have 2 in 6 chance per turn of encountering a patrol of 8 warrior ghouls (23 hp each), who won’t hesitate to attack the PCs to make them their next meal.

The eastern border of Ghoul Town is a high bluff (about 70 feet high) which prevents entry from the east or exit from the west. Those who need to walk “around” Ghoul Town must use the roads in the first circle of the city. See the city map below, where Ghoul Town is the area in red. There is a gap in the wall near the eastern bluff of Ghoul Town (see the passage indicated by the white mark, to the right of Ghoul Town close to the reaer gate below.

Here are some reasons the PCs might want or need to enter Ghoul Town.

  • for the fun of it (doubtful)
  • to obtain a rod of resurrection (in the temple, area H)
  • to destroy the Orb of Transfiguration (in Blackgate Palace, area I)

Rumors of a rod of resurrection can be pried out of Fat Jeena at the Mean Latrine tavern (see encounter area 13), and she also believes that the Ghoul King guards an incredibly powerful artifact for the Witch King — something that gives the Tower of Black Sorcery an extra deadly power. (She has no idea what the artifact is, or that it’s an orb.) A rod of resurrection would obviously be a great boon in a killer city like this, and the Orb would be essential if the PCs are trying to neutralize the deadly sorcery emanating from the Witch King’s Tower out into the land of Ithilien.

A. Lower Town. Ghoul warriors (AC 3; HD 4, hp on average 23 each; DA 1-8/1-6/1-6 plus paralyzation (lasts 2d6+6 rounds), plus strength drain (1 point of strength per touch), plus grave rot (or by weapon type)) live in about 30% of these small stone huts. They are the ones who go on raiding parties outside Minas Morgul. Ghoul commoners (AC 5; HD 3, hp on average 16 each; DA 1-8/1-6/1-6 plus paralyzation (lasts 2d6+6 rounds), plus strength drain (1 point of strength per touch), plus grave rot (or by weapon type)) are the other 70%, who make weapons and armor, and carry tribute and flesh in from the outside. These commoners are the ghouls most often eaten by the other ghouls during fits of cannibalism, when raiding parties are unable to bring back enough man or orc-flesh.

B. Breeding Pits. The Witch King allows the ghouls to breed their own orcs for food and slave labor, and he has given Sauron’s formula to King Zorku, who shares it with his high priest (Grazonymer; Gruh-ZON-uh-mer), who is in charge of the breeding pits. The pits are low trenches overseen by the ghouls; along the edges of the pits are a series of bone posts; stretching from post to post are think lines of greenish light, like strands of faerie faire. These wards wound any mortal creature touching them for 1-6 hp of damage. The orcs’ morale is low and they cannot be persuaded to fight. If freed, they flee Ghoul Town as fast as they can put this nightmare behind them. There are 8 ghoul warriors (AC 4, HD 4, hp 23 each, DA 1-8/1-6/1-6 + paralyzation) who oversee the orcs. Usually about 320 orcs (AC 10, HD 1, hp 2-5, DA na) are in the pits at any given time.

C. Upper Town. Ghoul merchants, tradesmen, and artisans, as well as the ghoulish elite (priests and the more wealthy) live in the upper region of the town.

D. Barracks. 20 ghoul warriors (hp 23 each) live just outside the palace, guarding the entry.

E. The Limehouse. This white manor built on top of a mountain of skulls hasn’t been inhabited since TA 2802. It used to be the residence of the Ghoul-Mage, a position that has since been abolished. The Marquis Folgnaw was the last Ghoul-Mage who rebelled against King Zorku and tried to usurp the throne. The civil was ugly, lasted for weeks, and almost wiped out the ghouls of Minas Morgul entirely. But with the help of Volluck (see area H) and his priesthood, Zorku was finally able to gain the upper hand and obliterate Folgnaw. He put a ban on the Limehouse (no one is allowed to enter without his permission) and outlawed the position of the Ghoul-Mage. Note: If DMs are setting this module prior to TA 2802, they could have fun with political clashes between the Limehouse and Blackgate Palace.

F. Boneyard. The bones scattered across this field are the remains of the ghouls’ foes. Most are normal bones, but there are hundreds of undead — skeletons, and zombies too, left by the ghould priests when they’re not in use. The skeletons and zombies have orders to protect the boneyard and will all leap up to attack anyone on the field. Those outside the field are ignored unless a ghoul priest commands them otherwise. The zombies are animated corpses that the ghouls haven’t eaten yet. Once the ghouls do eat them, the zombies become skeletons. Currently there are 874 skeletons (AC 7, HD 1, hp 4, DA 1-6) and 57 zombies (AC 8, HD 2, hp 9, DA 1-8).

G. Mushroom Forest. Green and purple molds and fungi grow here. There’s a 20% chance of encountering 1-4 commoner ghouls in the forest, who will attack.

H. Temple. From a distance this building looks like a jumbled mass of broken stones, but the walls are carefully mortared together. The entry is an open hole that puts one in the huge single-room temple (with a sacristy to the side), where a black fire burns perpetually in the center. Beside the fire on an altar is a large chalice filled with murky water. A ghoul dressed in black robes with a green-bronze breast plate chants invocations into the darkness, as three other ghouls with cowls on their heads stand beside him.

As soon as the ghouls notice the PCs, the leader, the priest Volluck (AC 1, HD 7, hp 40, DA 1-8/1-6/1-6 plus paralyzation (lasts 2d6+6 rounds), plus strength drain (1 point of strength per touch), plus grave rot) barks a command word, and the inky water in the chalicce begins to flow over the rim. His three acolytes (AC 3, HD 4, hp 21, 23, 25, DA 1-8/1-6/1-6 plus paralyzation (lasts 2d6+6 rounds), plus strength drain (1 point of strength per touch), plus grave rot) spread out and advance as the puddle of darkness retreats into the shadows and then Volluck begins a new chant in a much deeper voice, casting silence 15′ radius on the party.

The temple’s black fire is a portal to the demi-plane of shadow; anyone walking through the fire is sucked into that plane. The creature flowing out of the chalice is a darkness elemental (AC 2, HD 16, hp 91, DA 2-24 + chill/blind) that will chill a victim’s spirit by attacking the PC’s shadow. This is a deadly attacks: a PC’s shadow has an AC of 10 (minus whatever dexterity bonus the PC has if he or she is aware of the shadow attack, which will be very unlikely at first), and if the victim’s shadow is hit, the PC feels suddenly cold to the marrow of his or her bones, and must save vs. petrification at -6 or go blind. (A cure bindness or heal spell is needed to cure the blindness.) Light and healing spells cast on the darkness elemental cause 1-8 hp of damage per spell level.

Volluck’s spells are: cause light wounds, curse water, detect good, sanctuary, darkness, desecrate,  silence 15′ radius, animate dead, deeper darkness, spell immunity. After casting his silence spell, he will use desecrate (he and his underpriests gain +1 modifiers and cannot be turned), and spell immunity on himself. His acolytes don’t have spells.

The sacristy off to the side contains a number of teasures in an iron chest: a corroded copper chalice (3 gp), a sliver plate (300 gp), golden candlesticks and censers (3,000 gp), and a bronze knife with a wavy blade and a huge black opal set in the pommel (6,000 gp). On the wall of the sacristy are clamps that are made for holding a rod. If the PCs have come looking for the rod of resurrection, it has been removed from the clamps by Vullock and hidden in a secret compartment in the floor; opening the trap door results in a powder explosion of poison. Everyone in the room must save vs. poison or die choking in 1-4 rounds (the opener must save at -4). Disarming the trap is easy enough for a thief or assassin (normal percentage chance). The rod of resurrection has 8 charges.

I. Blackgate Palace.

The palace is guarded outside by a pair of stone golems (area 1) carved into the shape of deadly angels (AC 5, HD 14, hp 60, 60, DA 1-8/1-8 + touch of death; +2 or better weapon to hit). They are standing over the entrance and look like statues — black figures with feathery wings, skull heads, and skeletal arms waving huge scythes. They attack only living creatures passing below them. The touch of these angels drains one hp permanently from the target and temporarily reduces his or her constitution by 2. If the constitution drops below 3, the victim lapses into a coma. If it drops to 0 or below, the victim dies. Lost constitution points are restored at the rate of 1/hour.

The front doors (area 2) open easily, but it summons a blade barrier that will bar passage. Anyone passing through the barrier takes 6d8 damage (save vs. spells for half). Once the spell sheds blood, the baldes stop for a full round. Then they resume again. Closing the doors stops the spell effect. The passagweay leads to a hall filled with Gondorian banners hanging from the ceiling and battered shields on the wall — trophies taken from raiding parties in Ithilien. The suits of armor at the four corners are more than they seem; they are helmed horrors (AC 2, HD 4+20, hp 29, 38, 41, 44, DA 1-8 (halberd), SA dimension door 180-foot range, magic missile 4x/day, immune to illusions, charms, magic missile and cold-based spells). There is a 30-foot long table in the middle of the room that has an old map of Minas Ithil, which the party would find helpful. PCs should be given the huge fold out map from Mark Rabuck’s Minas Ithil module if available; it’s hard to come by these days (the module has been out of print since the late 90s), but here is a shot of the map which may be enlarged (click on it) and printed out.

The nobles’ hall (area 4) is filled with a putrefying stench that will nauseate even the most seasoned PCs. At a long table are seated 15 noble ghouls (hp 18-30 each) — utter cowards who care for nothing other than their own advancement. They are feasting on provisions brought in from the servants’ hall (area 5) and placed on twelve tables surrounding the long one. Blood is dripping from their faces and they cannot be bothered to get up and check any commotion going on in the hall of helmed horrors (area 3). They will scarcely glance at the party who are interrupting their meal, and if threatened they will run their assess off into the Court of Lost Souls (area 9).

The servants hall (area 5) always contains 9-20 (d12+8) commoner ghouls (hp 16 each) preparing meals for the nobles in area 4. Some of these involve heartflowers, special seeds that grow only in living flesh. Other vittles are no less vile — kegs of blood and people tied up and carefully carved so that their brains are exposed for ready consumption. At the other end of the castle, the Hall of Broken Pillars (area 6) is the center of the guest quarters (all now in the dining room, so this room will be empty). The guest chambers themselves (areas 7) are used largely for rest and chatter, since undead need no sleep; these rooms too are empty during feast time.

The doors (area 8) leading to the Court of Lost Souls are each marked with a large iron cross. Each cross is the focus of a teleport trap. When the door is opened by any living creature, a glyph of vanishing activates and the creature teleports away, appearing in the temple (see area H above) within striking range of the darkness elemental.

The Court of Lost Souls (area 9) is the throne room of the Ghoul King, Zorku, lit by the usual yellow-green Morgul light. The king’s white throne seems like it is carved of liquid stone, moving with the flickering flame of the Morgul light, and he sits on it, wasted-looking, wearing a silver crown and plate armor decorated with green inlays. He has gaping black holes for eyes and looks utterly horrifying. He holds a mace in one hand and a wand in the other. His throne is surrounded by four floating skulls, each lit by flaming eyes. Two female ghouls stand on the steps up to the throne, wearing thin green and black robes, each with a sword on her hip.

Zorku’s cloak is made from flayed leather and dyed with blood; it’s a lurker cloak that allows him to polymorph into a lurker (a creature that looks like a flat stingray) and fly off and escape if things go badly. His stats are: AC -5, HD 12, hp 84, DA 1-8/1-6/1-6 plus paralyzation (lasts 2d6+6 rounds), plus strength drain (2 points of strength per touch), plus grave rot. He wears a bracelet that protects him from turning, and gives him a spell resistance of 40%.

The skulls that guard Zorku are the animated skulls of what used to be four mage apprentices to the Marquis Folgnaw (see encounter area E, The Limehouse). Now they serve eternal penance for the crimes of their master. The skulls float up near the ceiling and rain down magic missiles and (coldfire-based) flame strikes (cast at 9th level) on anyone who attacks the king. They each can use two flame strikes per day (for 9d6 damage a strike) and unlimited magic missiles (5 per shot, or 5(d4+1)). Their stats are: AC 3, HD 4, hp 18, 19, 21, 23. The king is also guarded by his consorts, Adela and Zifferin, who will defend him to the death. They are armed with short swords +3. Their stats are: AC 6, HD 6, hp 33, 35, DA 4-9 (with swords) or 1-8/1-6/1-6 plus paralyzation (lasts 2d6+6 rounds), plus strength drain (1 points of strength per touch), plus grave rot.

In the royal chamber (area 10) is a rug, a wardrobe, a chest for valuables, a large mirror, and a writing desk. The rug is laid out at the entrance, and is a rug of smothering. The rug will tightly roll itself around the first person who steps on it and suffocates him/her in 3-6 rounds, unless a hold plant is cast on it (which kills it) or a dispel magic is cast at 10th level (which neutralizes the rug for 1-4 rounds). Standing in the corners are two helmed horrors (AC 2, HD 4+20, hp 29, 38, 41, 44, DA 1-8 (halberd), SA dimension door 180-foot range, magic missile 4x/day, immune to illusions, charms, magic missile and cold-based spells) who will attack any living intruder. The desk has a secret compartment containing the royal seal, an image of a crowned skull surrounded by a wreath of interlocked scythes. The bone-white seal is worth 1,000 gp for its workmanship.

Note that if Zorku escapes in lurker mode, he will fly to the top of the city to warn the Witch King of the dangeorus intruders, and the Witch King will arrive on horseback in 11-20 (d10+10) rounds to make sure that his precious Orb (see below) is safe. There is a 60% chance he will arrive with 1-3 of the other Nazgul. If Zorku is killed, the Witch King will learn of his death only after the priest Vullock learns of it and sends a contingent of ghouls to warn the Witch King.

The bone staircase (area 11) is made of bones and leads down from the throne room to the Chamber of the Orb (area 12), a dark spherical room built around a black and shadowy orb that hangs suspended from the ceiling by a chain. The room is protected by a forbiddence spell cast at 15th level, which can only be dispelled by a caster of equal or higher level, casting either dispel magic or sympathy. Any good creature trying to enter the room must save vs. spells or suffer 4d6 damage and be unable to advance, and neutral creatures must save or take 2d6 damage and have a 50% of being unable to advance. Even if the save is successful, good and neutral-aligned creatures will feel very uncomfortable in the room.

The Chamber of the Orb is the holy of holies, and what the PCs are probably seeking if they’ve chosen to brave the horrors of Ghoul Town to begin with. For this is the Orb of Transfiguration, an artifact created by the Witch King to give the Tower of Black Sorcery its nightmarish powers. Those powers have by now grown to extend well beyond the borders of the Morgul Vale and into Ithilien (see encounter area 33 for full details). Only by destroying the Orb can the Tower’s power be dramatically reduced.

The Orb can be easily removed from the chain. It cannot be so easily destroyed. The following will destroy it:

  • a dispel magic cast by a 40th level mage or greater (fat luck there; the 40th-level Witch King is the most powerful mage in Middle-Earth, aside from Sauron himself)
  • a dispel evil cast by a 25th level priest or greater (also extremely unlikely; the PCs are between 10-15th level)
  • a disintegrate spell cast by a mage
  • a sunbeam spell cast by a priest or druid
  • taking the Orb out of Minas Morgul and bathing it in sunlight for ten minutes (ten rounds)

When any of these methods is applied, the Orb begins to dissolve, and it releases a wave of darkness. Anyone within 30 feet suffers 6-48 hp of cold damage (save vs. spells for half) and is permanently blinded (save vs. spells for 1-6 turns) until a cure blindness or heal spell is cast. Then a most terrible thing occurs. The PC responsible for the Orb’s destruction (whether by casting a spell or by physically carrying it outside to expose it to sunlight) will scream horribly and his eyes will go white as he collapses on the ground. The PC must save vs. death magic at -6. Failure means that his soul has been trapped in the Witch King’s tower (see encounter area 33), his physical body a lifeless husk until the soul can be freed. If the PC makes the saving throw, he instead goes into cardiac arrest and dies in 1-3 rounds, unless a heal spell is quickly cast.

The Witch King will become instantly aware of both events — (a) when his precious artifact has been destroyed, and (2) if someone’s soul has appeared in the special receptacle at his tower. Assuming he isn’t already on his way to Ghoul Town or has arrived, he will arrive in 6-15 (d10+5) rounds to wreak devastation on the destroyers. In this case (if he isn’t already on his way), there is a 98% likelihood that he will bring all three of the other Nazgul. (See encounter areas 32 and 33 for full details on the four Nazgul residing in the city in TA 2968.) The Witch King will be so livid at the Orb’s destruction that he will barely be able to discipline his wrath. If there is no soul trapped back at his tower, he will want to take at least one or two PCs alive so he can find out everything about them and then torture them in slowly — for days in his tower — before killing them too. But if he has a soul trapped, he and the other Nazgul will fight to utterly annihilate the PCs.

54. A Tenement. 15. An Unlikely Spy. A Dunlending who goes by the name of Grissur has been holing up in this seedy tenement for 25 years, since TA 2943, two years after the White Council drove Sauron from Dol Guldur. He’s a spy and until recently has reported to Saruman, sending messages back to the White Wizard periodically about whatever he learns about the Witch King’s agendas. Unbeknownst to Grissur, Saruman went rogue in 2953 (15 years ago) and claimed Isengard as his own, but Grissur started to sense bad things soon after that, when Saruman began directing him to do peculiar things, and in 2961 (7 years ago) he finally cut off all contact with Saruman. He remains in this hell of a city, mostly because he has no home to return to in Dunland (his family cast him out and he was shunned by his village, falsely accused of raping the daughter of the village chief). In a way he has come to think of Minas Morgul as his home, and he keeps hoping to gain some critical information that he can share with someone else on the White Council, like Gandalf the Grey whom he has always respected.

Grissur looks like an Easterling, so blending into Minas Morgul was never hard. He used the modest amount of start-up money Saruman gave him to rent a cheap tenement in a seedy neighborhood, and settled on an upper floor (areas 7 and 8). The surrounding apartments look nearly the same, consisting of sitting rooms (areas 1, 3, 5, and 7) and bedrooms (areas 2, 4, 6, and 8). The downstairs apartment on the left (areas 1 and 2) is occupied by a Variag sister and brother (ages 19 and 15) who have been surviving on their own since their parents were killed by Ithilien rangers; they hate Gondorians with the purist hatred on hand. The downstairs apartment on the right (areas 5 and 6) is taken by a drunkard who beats his 9-year old son. The upstairs left (areas 3 and 4) is rented by a street whore (Darcy) who barely makes enough to pay the rent. Grissur prefers lousy neighbors in a shabby tenement because it keeps him under the radar. He’s a professional thief but no one knows this. For his cover job, he works as a tanner two blocks down the street, and gets paid 2 silver pieces a day for his efforts. He’s been doing this for 25 whole years (he was 26 years old when he arrived in Minas Morgul and is 51 now), and by now no one remotely suspects that he’s a spy. How the PCs hook up with Grissur, if they do at all, is left to the DM, but here are suggested means:

  • If the PCs were hired by Gandalf the Grey, then Gandalf (being a White Council member) knows that Grissur is a mole working for Saruman, but he has no idea what has become of Grissur since Saruman went rogue and claimed Isengard for his own (or if Grissur is still even in the city). Nor does Gandalf know that Grissur has been working as a tanner for his cover. (Saruman kept most of the details of his mole to himself.) The PCs will have to ask around for Grissur until someone in the city recognizes the name and can direct them to the tanner. Gandalf does, however, know Grissur’s real name (Dregith), and will have told the PCs this in advance, even though he is confident that Grissur would never revert to using his real Dunnish name while staying in Minas Morgul. Still, if the PCs find Grissur and mention his real name, Grissur will take that as unshakable proof that they are telling the truth about working for Gandalf, and he will absolutely trust them.
  • If the PCs draw attention to themselves and become the subject of gossip, then Grissur may use his spy/thieving abiliities to actively seek them out and see what these troublemakers are all about. How the PCs get on Grissur’s radar could really happen in any number of ways. As a spy he keeps his ear to the ground.

From all his spying, and from the gossip of city residents who use his tanning services, Grissur has gathered the following bits of information that PCs may find useful.

  • If the Death Tower scenario is being played, then Grissur has helpful information. He has known for years that the Witch King’s tower (encounter area 33) keeps growing in power, thanks to an artifact hidden somewhere in Ghoul Town (encounter area 14). The artifact was an act of retaliation on the Witch King’s part: to make the free peoples pay for the White Council driving Sauron from Dol Guldur in TA 2941. The Witch King finished creating the artifact in 2948, Grissur’s 5th year in Minas Morgul. But in the past 20 years of its operation, Grissur has learned nothing more about what the artifact is: some say it’s a staff, others say it’s a ring; some say it’s an orb, others a dark gem; still others say it’s the skull of an elf. All he has deduced is that the Tower has by now absorbed enough power from the artifact to cause the blight that has been afflicting Ithilien for the past six months… and it’s getting worse.
  • If the Seeds of Doom scenario is being played, then Grissur can flesh out the background and politics behind it. Ever since Grissur’s 8th year in the city (TA 2951), there has been a serious clash between two Nazgul — the Fourth (Indur) and the Fifth (Akhorahil). Grissur only knows them by the names that most of the city’s inhabitants know them: Dawndeath and the Storm King. The arrival of Dawndeath in 2951 (when three other Nazgul left the city for Dol Guldur) marked a change in what had been a united Nazgul presence for over nine centuries. Technically, Dawndeath outranks the Storm King, but the Storm King has always been the Witch King’s favored and second in command. Dawndeath defers to the Storm King, but in recent years Dawndeath’s star has been on the rise. In 2963, he began spearheading a project of botanical warfare, inviting two renegade elves from southern Middle Earth to put their skills to use in this regard. Grissur knows their names — a Sinda elf named Taurclax and a weird pale-looking Noldo elf named Khelekar — and that they were both apparently involved in an audacious plot to destroy the sun and moon over 12 centuries ago. Now they are cultivating extremely lethal plants, somewhere on the upper circles of the city (though residing on the lower circles), and while the projects are coming along well (so the rumor goes), the Storm King is furious. Not only has Dawndeath been gaining favor in the Witch King’s eyes, there is insult to injury: the Storm King (so it is said) has been trying to counter the botanical warfare project with his own prefered ideas for meteorological warfare (toxic weather and deadly storms)… but he’s coming up dry. Grissur doesn’t know precisely what botanical horrors are being cultivated in the upper circles, but knows of the particular one that the PCs are looking for, that went on a rampage in Ithilien. It’s some kind of weed that infects a person or animal creature, and causes it to transform into a mansion-sized carnivorous plant. This weed is the crowning handiwork of Taurclax and Khelekar (see encounter areas 22 and 27), and it poses a serious threat to all the free peoples, let alone Gondor.
  • If the Priceless Book scenario is being played, Grissur knows nothing of the Nolulairion, and can only suggest that if a book like that is still in the city — and hasn’t been found and taken by the Witch King — then it could be in one of two places: the city library (encounter area 29) or the old downtown bookshop that was known for having very rare items in the days of Minas Ithil, and is now sealed off and shunned for being haunted (encounter area 6). (Gandalf will have only suggested the library to the PCs, knowing nothing of this bookshop.) Grissur’s personal advice is to start with the bookshop as the lesser evil, as the library is on the upper circles and guarded under a very watchful eye. (In truth, the library is by far the lesser evil — what haunts the bookshop is nasty in the extreme — but unfortunately the copy at the library has been moved to the main tower of the Claws of Justice (encounter area 17), which is as perilous to infiltrate as the old bookshop. The PCs will be able to discover that it was moved to the Claws if they go to the library and do good detective work.)
  • If the Vampire Queen scenario is being played, Grissur knows nothing of any woman named Elvaleth, or anyone known for being the daughter of Gondor’s steward. But if the PCs mention that she’s been missing for four years ago (since TA 2964), that will give him pause, as he does recall something happening approximately four years ago: a castle on the mid-level of the city became taken over by a vampire. City residents began steering clear of the castle more than before, and nearby homes were abandoned. Grissur will suggest that maybe Elvaleth was taken to this terrible place, though he feels that’s probably a shot in the dark. (See encounter area 24: Elvaleth was indeed taken to this place, but the tragic surprise is that she is the vampire.)
  • If the Lost Sister scenario is being played, Grissur knows nothing of a 19-year old girl named Koree, but if the PCs describe her as very attractive (being the twin sister of the girl that hired them), then he will urge looking for her in the Halls of Rape (encounter area 12) as soon as possible.

Grissur keeps his treasure under his bed: 2,763 sp, 142 gp, and a stasis jar with three carrier moths. He used these moths to send messages back to Saruman — moths specially trained by the White Wizard to return to Orthanc Tower and recite the lengthy message spoken to it by Grissur, in Grissur’s exact voice. He still has the same number of moths (three) in his stasis jar as when he began in TA 2943, for whenever he sent one back, Saruman sent a replacement back (with the ability to hone in on Grissur, wherever he was in the city). Grissur would then place the moth in the stasis jar until he needed to use it.

If PCs get on good terms with Grissur, they could certainly have fun coming up with insolent or misleading messages to bait Saruman. Alternatively, if the PCs for whatever reason wanted to use the moths to send a message from one of themselves to someone else and somewhere else other than Saruman and Orthanc (like Gandalf, if he’s their employer and they know where he is staying), then a druid could do so by either a combination of charm animal and animal messenger spells (charm animal to give the moth the message, animal messenger to send it to the desired party at a specific location) or simply a dominate animal spell (which would take care of both). Either of these options would co-opt the moth’s special abilities for the druid’s preferred recipient. There is no limit to how far the moths can travel in Middle-Earth, though they won’t go overseas, and they will die in temperatures below 0 degrees F. These moths travel on average 20 mph or 480 miles per day.

It is very possible that Grissur can be moved to accompany the PCs on their quest in the city (if the PCs wish to have him). Use your judgment in game play, or roll on the following table:

Adventure Scenario Base % that Grissur will join the PCs*
Death Tower
Seeds of Doom
A Priceless Book
The Vampire Queen
The Lost Sister

* Add 2% for every charisma point above 12 of the PC’s leader or spokesperson, and add 20% if the PCs have been hired by Gandalf the Grey (and they tell Grissur this). The maximum % chance shouldn’t go above 95%.

Grissur: 10th level thief, AC 3 (studded leather +2, +2 dexterity bonus), hp 49, DA 3-8 (short sword +2). S 11, I 16, W 13, D 17, C 14, Ch 12. Alignment: chaotic good. He wears a ring of protection from insanity, given to him by Saruman, that has protected him (as a good-aligned person) from the city’s sorcerous atmosphere.

His thieving abilities: Pick pockets 80%, Open locks 67%, Find/remove traps 65%, Move silently 78%, Hide in shadows 63% (usually useless in Minas Morgul, in the lantern lights), Hear noise 30%, Climb walls 99%.

39. The Park. 16. Worm Forest. [No layout map.] The old park of Minas Ithil has become a home for purple worms, who feed on the molds and fungi that now grow here. For sport, the men and orcs of Minas Morgul sometimes ride out to this forest on wargs to hunt the worms. Currently three purple worms reside in the forest (AC 6, HD 15, hp 61, 67, 75, DA 2-24 (bite)/2-20 (sting) + poison + swallow whole). If a purple worm can grab a victim (by scoring two successful hits in a round), it may try to swallow the victim whole in the next round, provided the victim is much smaller (like humanoid sized). Once inside the worm, the victim takes 2d8+12 points of crushing damage plus 8 points of acid damage per round from the worm’s gizzard. A swallowed creature can cut its way out by using a light slashing or piercing weapon to deal 25 points of damage to the gizzard (which is armor class 3).

12. Garrison. 17. The Claws of Justice. Note: these maps don’t come from the original Minas Ithil module. They come from the module “Calenhad: A Beacon of Gondor” (1990), which details one of the seven beacons that links Gondor to Rohan. I found the tower designs to be exactly what I had in mind for the Minas Morgul garrison, and since I was never able to use the Calenhad module, it turned out to be a gift on a silver platter.

The garrison of Minas Ithil was demolished in the invasion of TA 2002, and two large towers (“the Claws”) were rebuilt by the Witch King to serve a similar function. The main tower is 244 feet tall, and the justice tower is 210 feet tall, where captives are imprisoned and judged in a parody of Gondorian legal proceedings. The main tower is run by a manpower of 82 (plus 44 non-combatant servants), the justice tower by a manpower of 24. And there are a total of 26 soldiers in the barracks.

The northern wall of the compound is the outer wall of the city and has three watchtowers. The three watchtowers on the adjacent walls are identical. The watchtower in the middle of the western wall guards the entry into the compound. All six watchtowers are 130 feet tall, and are basically the same as the 22 watchtowers that are spaced evenly around the entire city wall (see intro at the start of the module). Each watchtower has 4 guards, for a total of 24 on wall-watch duty.

[Nearly all of the soldiers in the compound are men, unless otherwise noted. Less than 5% are orcs.]

That makes a total manpower of 200 for the Claws of Justice compound (including the 44 non-combatant servants), which is considerably less than the number of Gondorian soldiers (well over 1,000) who were stationed in the Minas Ithil garrison. But to an extent, a garrison is redundant in a city like Minas Morgul, where most of the population (70%) is militarized (contrast with Minas Ithil’s 8%). Given that 70% of Minas Morgul’s inhabitants already constitute a “garrison” of defenders (13,000 of the 19,000 inhabitants), most of them are required to live spread out across the city, in the old residential homes.

Still, a centralized military building is necessary, even if only a small portion of soldiers live here. The Claws of Justice serve as the base for the high ranking officers, the city jail, and the infamous Morgul Court, where the Three Justices — the highest ranking officials in the city, after the Nazgul — allow captives to plead their case before they render a decision. These justices are the Tower Commander (Cinderfist), the Inquisitor General (Ulrac), and the Drake Mage (Hyxen). In most lands controlled by Sauron there is no pretense to due process, but in a city that was ruled for so long by Gondor — the nation that most prides itself on due process — the Witch King found it amusing to turn the idea on its head; to pervert due process in the name of serving it (see the Justice Tower below, area 50).

And even though there are only 200 people “manning the fort”, only a fool would think this compound is poorly defended. It would be suicide to attack it, for obviously the alarm would sound. If that happens, then 10-100 (d10x10) soldiers will come running from nearby areas, arriving in 3-6 rounds. Another 50-500 soldiers (d10x50) will arrive in 11-20 rounds, as well as a Nazgul on horseback. Roll d20 to determine the Nazgul: 1-10 The Witch King, 11-16 The Storm King, 17-19 The Ice King, 20 Indur Dawndeath. (See encounter areas 32 and 33 for details on these Nazgul.)

The compound is also highly dangerous to infiltrate. Typically only high-level PCs would stand a chance of slipping in and out undetected. One could conceivably come as polite supplicants to ask questions about a prisoner, or even visit a prisoner, but that requires solid disguises — not to mention a damn convincing story — that make the PCs appear to be mannish residents of the city, or perhaps visiting officials from somewhere in Mordor.

Of course, the PCs might find their way to the Claws by a much worse route. If they get into trouble in the city and are captured alive by guards or city officials, they will be taken here and thrown into the dungeons of the Justice Tower to await trial, which will make things quite interesting. They will certainly be found guilty, and other PCs might have to mount a prison break. Those who are found guilty in the Justice Tower (which is nearly all of them; only 0.5% of the prisoners are found innocent) are either sentenced to be executed in the public square (encounter area 3, above) or (for warriors and high-level thieves/assassins) sent to fight to death in the kill pit (encounter area 19). See more on this in the keyed descriptions of the Justice Tower.

Alternatively, if the Priceless Book adventure scenario is being played, the original copy of the book the PCs are looking for is in the library of this compound (see the Main Tower, area 115). DMs can come up with more scenarios. The PCs might even want to check the Justice Tower if they’re playing the Vampire Queen scenario and guess (quite wrongly but reasonably) that Elvaleth, daughter of the steward of Gondor, is being held in the prisons. Or maybe there’s an actual prisoner they need to rescue. The Claws of Justice offer a variety of adventure possibilities, all of them challenging.

The Watchtowers

Each of the six watchtowers is 30 feet in diameter, and there there are about 35 feet of height between each of the four levels. The entry (area 1) is always accessed from inside the compound. There are always four guards (Lvl 2 fighters, AC 5, hp 14-18 each, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow) stationed in each tower, and two are on lookout duty while the other two either rest in their rooms (areas 1-4) or eat at the barracks dining hall (on which see further below).

On the second level are battle corridors (areas 5 and 6), with many arrow slits in the walls, allowing the guards to fire on any attackers. On the third level the same (areas 8 and 9), and also storerooms (areas 6) with huge supplies of bows, crossbows, quarrels and arrows.

The fourth level is where the stairwell ends, and the tower is roofed to protect against rain. The terrace is surrounded with crenelations to help the guards repel an attack if they shoot from up here. There is a gong which the two guards on duty won’t hesitate to bang should any potential threats appear. Three bangs means that auxiliary forces from the barracks should investigate the watchtower and give whatever help is required. Six bangs means the compound is being perilously threatened, and that the other five watchtowers shoud start banging their gongs too — which constitutes an official alarm. (If that happens, as stated above, then 10-100 (d10x10) soldiers will come running from nearby areas outside the compound, arriving in 3-6 rounds. Another 50-500 soldiers (d10x50) will arrive in 11-20 rounds, as well as a Nazgul on horseback. Roll d20 to determine the Nazgul: 1-10 The Witch King, 11-16 The Storm King, 17-19 The Ice King, 20 Indur Dawndeath. (See encounter areas 32 and 33 for details on these Nazgul.)

Note: The watchtower in the middle of the western wall guards the entry into the compound. The gate is just ten feet southeast of the tower, and the control winches to open and close the portcullis are on the fourth level outside the tower along the terrace wall, close to the alarm gong, and also a telescope that allows the two guards on duty to see clearly whoever is down at the gate and what is going on there. The guards at this tower are especially vigilant and will shout down rude questions at those seeking entry whom they don’t recognize, or who are not members of the city elite. The way they communicate (from 130 feet above) — once they get over their amusement of shouting rude questions — is with a necklace of distance talking (made by the Drake Mage). The senior of the two guards wears the necklace and is able to communicate with those standing up to 200 feet away as if they were only 10 feet away — his voice projects to those down below at the gate at a conversational volume, and he, in turn, hears whatever they say — and indeed whatever they might whisper in hushed tones to each other, thinking themselves out of earshot.

The Main Tower

Ground Level (Entry and Drill Rooms): The Main Tower is 140 feet in diameter (until the fourth level), and there are about 35 feet of height between each of the eight levels. The entry (area 35) is gained through a pair of steel-reinforced wooden doors, flanked by a pair of guards (Lvl 3 fighters, AC 4, hp 24, 25, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow) at all times. When closed, the locks of these gates can be picked by a thief or assassin at a -20% penalty. The passage continues into the tower (area 36) to the main stairwell. Two portcullises are positioned in the ceilings, capable of sealing of the tower should the outer doors be breached.

At the halfway point of the passage, a small flight of steps on either side gives access to other rooms on this floor: two watchposts (areas 37 and 41), each containing a guard (Lvl 2 fighter, AC 4, hp 16 each, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow) who watches over the entry hall — either one of them can raise or drop the portcullis; two guardrooms (areas 38 and 42), each containing seven guards (Lvl 2 fighters, AC 4, hp 14, 15, 16×3, 17, 18, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow); a lesser armory containing a huge supply of melee weapons, missile weapons, and polearms. A lot of these weapons are blunted for use in the practice rooms.

The pole arm practice room (area 43) has dummy targets placed against the far wall to test the accuracy of spear throwing and lance gutting. A guard (Lvl 3 fighter, AC 4, hp 26, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow) is stationed just inside the entrance. The missile practice room (area 44) has a bunch of target boards against the wall; archers from all over the compound come here and spend hours practicing their aim. A guard (Lvl 3 fighter, AC 4, hp 25, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow) is stationed just inside the entrance. The melee practice room (area 45) is the most popular practice room; guards spend hours here stabbing and pounding the shit out of each other. A guard (Lvl 3 fighter, AC 4, hp 27, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow) is stationed just inside the entrance. At the center of this level is the grand stairwell (area 46) that runs from top to bottom of the whole tower.

Cellar Level (Servants’ Quarters, Work Rooms, Stores): The servants chambers (areas 3-12) quarters two servants per room (Lvl 0, AC 10, hp 1, DA 0); each contains two small beds, a small trunk for storage, and a chest for personal possessions.

A laundry room (area 13) is where the clotheswashing for the entire compound gets done (for those who actually care to wash their clothes). The room contains tubs full of filthy soapy water and dirty laundry. 3-4 servants (AC 10, Lvl 0, hp 1, DA 0) are laboring here 70% of the time during the day. One of the servants is an attractive young woman, Conswalis, who is often raped (in one of the tubs of filthy water) by the orc Grunzel (the butcher who runs the slaughter room, area 14). Grunzel has violated her so often in this fashion (most of the time in front of the other servants) that he has acquired a fetish for laundry rooms, and is unable to “get it up” outside a laundry room. Lately he has taken to hiding in the laundry room when the servants are off duty, and waiting for anyone to enter, whereupon he ambushes the poor victim (whether female or male) and rapes her or him in a tub full of filthy soapy water. (The servants, of course, tolerate this outrage, knowing they would die if they complained about Grunzel’s behavior.)

If the PCs enter the laundry room during the day, roll percentiles:

01-15 — Servants present, and Grunzel is in the middle of raping Conswalis
16-70 — Servants present; Grunzel in the slaughter room area
71-85 — Servants away; Grunzel in the slaughter room area
86-00 — Servants away; Grunzel hiding behind a pile of laundry, waiting to ambush and rape anyone (who is not a guard or important official) entering the laundry room

In the last scenario, if there is only one PC, Grunzel will simply leap from behind the pile of laundry and try to rape the PC. In the case of many PCs, Grunzel will wait for them all to leave the room, and then make an attempt to quietly nab the last one out the door (not being picky about who he chooses). If he succeeds on a surprise grappling check, he will throw sleeping dust in the PC’s face to overpower him or her and keep the PC quiet (the victim can save vs. poison to be slowed instead of put to sleep). He will then proceed to rape the PC (unconscious or not) in one of the tubs. Of course, it won’t take long for the other PCs to realize that their fellow PC is missing and for them to return to the laundry room, where they will behold Grunzel violating their conscious or half-conscious friend in a tub of putrid water. From this point, high-level PCs should overpower Grunzel with ease.

Screams are often heard from the slaughter room (area 14), where captives caught on raids are being made into man-flesh for breakfast, lunch, or supper. Cannibalism is a delicacy at the Claws. 60% of the time during the day, 3-4 servants are here gutting and chopping up 2-4 men, preparing them for the kitchens (area 21). In each of the storage rooms (areas 15-19), there are 3-6 captive people bound and gagged, who will be slaughtered in the next few days. The Butcher’s Chamber (area 20) is a three-room private suite (office with his records on captives, his private sitting/dining room, and bedroom) of the sadistic orc Grunzel (AC 6, HD 3, hp 20, DA 1-8) who oversees the slaughter room, and who often rapes servants in the laundry room (area 13).

In the kitchens (area 21), a large “burner” stove (see intro) opposite the entrance arch is almost always being put to use during the day, as preparations for breakfast, lunch, and dinner never cease. Manflesh is often being cooked here, brought from the slaughter room (area 14). The store rooms (areas 22-25) are stocked with various ingredients and cooking utensils. The Cook’s Chamber (area 26) is a three-room private suite (office with his records on current levels of cooking items, his private sitting/dining room, and bedroom) of a Balchoth named Kruschok (AC 9, Lvl 0, hp 1, DA 0).

The brewery (area 27) is where ale is distilled, and the store rooms (areas 28-30) contains supplies for the brewing process, and bins of hops and grains. The Brewer’s Chamber (area 31) is a two-room parlor for the brewer Stammitz (AC 9, Lvl 0, hp 1, DA 0), from Near Harad. By far the favorite haunt of many of the Claws’ inhabitants is the wine cellar (area 32), where barrels of imported wine are crammed to the ceiling and left to mature. Finally, the important siege stores (areas 33 and 34) hold six-months supplies of salted meats (area 33) and dry food stuffs (area 34). If a siege is expected, and there is time to organize, each room can double its capacity for a year’s supply.

Second Level (Audience Hall, Tower Captain, Special Forces): The corridor from the stairwell (area 48) divides two storerooms, one that contains ceremonial banners (area 49) for the main hall, the other containing linens for beds (area 63) on this level and the next.

Next to these store rooms are servants’ quarters (areas 50, 51, 61, 62), each quartering 2 servants (Lvl 0, AC 10, hp 1, DA 0), and containing two beds, a trunk for storage, and a chest for personal possessions. The servants in areas 50 and 51 keep the whole tower clean (sweep, mop, etc.), and the servants in areas 61 and 62 work in the upper kitchens on the fifth level (area 111).

Special forces (areas 52-55 and 57-60) are quartered at two per room (Lvl 6 fighters, AC 3, hp 48, DA 3-10 sword or 1-6 arrow), for a total of 16. They are experienced warriors who are used as shock troops, or as warg-riders (the wargs from the stables), or as leaders of the guards when the prison alarms sound in the Justice Tower (see the Justice Tower below, in the Upper and Lower Dungeon descriptions). Each chamber contains two beds, a large chest at the foot of each for items of clothing, and a small chest for personal possessions.

Omar the Tower Captain (Lvl 10 fighter, AC 0, hp 77, DA 4-11, sword of sharpness, ring of protection +3) gets a two-room suite (area 56). Militarily, he is second in command under Cinderfist (the Tower Commander), but practically he is the fourth in command, as the Three Justices (Cinderfist the Tower Commander, Ulrac the Inquisitor General, and Hyxen the Drake Mage) are the absolute law. Omar coordinates the day-to-day running of the Claws, and on that basic level his word is actually law, since Cinderfist doesn’t micro-manage him.

The most celebrated room of the Claws is the great hall (area 66) where affairs of state are conducted. Surrounding the stairwell is a collonade with the carved faces of previous Tower Commanders, numbering fifty-six. A huge dais is at the northern wall, where the Commander, flanked by his Captain, greet important guests and conduct business.

Third Level (Tower Commander, Elite Guard): Armories (areas 68 and 69) are encountered right off the center stairwell, that contain plenty of melee, missile, and polearm weapons.

Cinderfist the Tower Commander (Lvl 15 fighter, AC -2, platemail + 5, hp 127, DA 4-15, two-handed sword +3) has a huge three-room suite plus a reception hall. The study (area 71) contains reports that require his special attention, and confidential orders from the Nazgul, all locked in a desk that can be picked by a thief or assassin at a -20% penalty. The parlor (area 72) is where ladies from the other side of the tower (areas 83) are brought to him to be used as sex slaves. Sometimes he uses his bedchamber (area 73) for this purpose too.

The elite guard (areas 76-82) are quartered at two per room (Lvl 8 fighters, AC 3, hp 64, DA 3-10 sword), for a total of 14. They are highly experienced warriors held in reserve, to meet the most dangerous threats to the compound efficiently. Each chamber contains two beds, a large chest at the foot of each for items of clothing, and a small chest for personal possessions.

The ladies’ bower (area 83) is a three-room suite containing 3-8 women at any time. The accommodations in these rooms are lavish but seldom enjoyed, as these ladies are used as sex slaves — to meet the the very violent and degrading needs of Cinderfist. If they leave the tower alive, they usually leave scarred and broken.

Fourth Level (Archers): On the fourth through sixth levels, the tower’s diameter is 105 feet (on all the levels below, it’s 140 feet). This gives the fighting terrace (area 86) elbow room (about 15 feet wide) and provides archers a place from which to fire with great accuracy.

Highly skilled archers (areas 89-100) are quartered at two per room (Lvl 7 fighters, +4 to hit with long bow at a high distance, AC 3, hp 53, DA 1-8 sword, 1-6 arrow + poison), for a total of 24. They are used for missile defense outside on the terrace, should the tower be directly threatened. Each chamber contains two beds, a large chest at the foot of each for items of clothing, and a small chest for personal possessions — including poison that they use on their arrows (causing double damage and death in 5-10 rounds; if save, only double damage is taken).

Fifth Level (Inquisitor General, Drake Mage, Guest Chambers, Upper Kitchens): Five guards (Lvl 3 fighters, AC 4, hp 24, 25, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow) are stationed on this level: one at the top of the staircase, and four in the circular corridor (area 103).

The upper kitchens (area 111) serve the Inquisitor General, the Drake Mage, and any special guests. The servants from areas 61 and 62 on the second level labor in these kitchens.

The double guest suites (areas 106 and 107)  and single guest suites (areas 110 and 112) are reserved either for city elites or dignitaries from abroad (Mordor, Harad, Khand, Rhun, etc.). They have opulent furniture and come with first-class service.

Ulrac the Inquisitor General occupies the northwestern suite (areas 104). He’s an 11th level priest of Sauron (AC 1, hp 63, DA 3-8) and he performs public executions every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings at the town square near the front gate (encounter area 3). The PCs may have already encountered him there, doing his dirty work. He is responsible for the interrogation (torture) of all prisoners brought to the Justice Tower, and he’s the chief advisor to the Tower Commander Cinderfist (who pretty much does what Ulrac says). Ulrac has a ring of armor class 1, a mace +2, a wand of coldfire (36 charges), and a cloak of the bat that allows him to shapechange into a bat twice a day. His spells are:

1st levelcause fear, curse water, deathwatch, doom (x2), endure elements
2nd leveldarkness, heat building, hold person (x2), silence
3rd levelcause serious wounds (x2), coldfire, dispel magic, speak with dead
4th leveldeath ward, detect lies (x2), sending
5th levelgreater command, insect plague, slay living
6th levelharm (x2)

He has four personal bodyguards always nearby (4th level mannish fighters, AC 3, DA 3-8 or 1-8, hp 28, 29, 31, 32) armed with swords and long bows), and they occupy the suite next to him (areas 105) and guard his personal treasure hoard. Their beds are in the first room entered; Ulrac’s hoard in the second.

Hyxen (HICKS-en) the Drake Mage occupies the southwestern suite (areas 109). He’s a 13th level mage (AC -1, hp 46, DA 2-7) and a secondary advisor to the Tower Commander. He is responsible for placing special enchantments on various parts of the compound that help make it secure. He and Ulrac despise each other. Hyxen, while thoroughly evil, finds Ulrac’s torture policies to be gross, and believes that prisoners should simply be killed (without even a trial). He has a morningstar +1 and a ring of the cold drake. This ring makes his skin appear scaly when worn; and it bestows an AC of -1, a magic resistance of 33%, a thorough immunity to cold spells, and gives complete command over a single cold drake. Hyxen’s spells are:

1st levelalarm, comprehend languages, feather fall, shield
2nd levelESP, mirror image, obscure object, wizard lock
3rd leveldeep slumber, dispel magic, heat building, sleet storm
4th levelcoldfire, scrying, wall of ice
5th levelcone of cold, dominate person, permanency
6th levelchain lightning, flesh to stone
7th levelmass hold person

Hyxen has a pet cold drake, Rekaur (REE-kower), that occupies the suite next to him (areas 108) and guards Hyxen’s personal treasure hoard. The drake’a lair is the first room entered; Hyxen’s hoard the second. Due to Hyxen’s enchantments, Rekaur has the ability to shrink in size at will, down to as low as one tenth his normal length. He’s a 60-foot long dragon, and thus can become as small as 6 feet in length, which is how he keeps himself to fit in the 12′ x 15′ room (area 108). At full length, Rekaur is AC 2, HD 16, hp 88, DA 1-6/1-6/1-8, plus frost breath weapon 3x day, for 88 hp of damage, or 44 if save. As a 6-foot long midget he is AC 0, HD 6, hp 36, DA 1-4/1-4/1-6, plus frost breath for 36 damage or 18 if save.

Sixth Level (King’s Chamber, Treasury, Armory, Library): There are four room complexes on this level. The king’s chamber (areas 114) consist of three spacious rooms (parlor, study, and rest chamber) which are used by either the Witch King or Storm King when a Nazgul comes to review the Claws’ fortifications twice a year. (It will only be the Witch King or Storm King who supervises this function; no other Nazgul.) These three chambers have rich velvet carpets and rich sinister-looking tapestries hanging on the walls. It’s by far the most richly furnished suite in the compound. When the Witch King or Storm King come here, he meets frequently with Cinderfist in the parlor to discuss the Claws’ current status and needs. The door to this suite is kept locked. A thief can pick it at a -15% penalty.

The library and reading rooms (areas 115) are a critical place for PCs who are looking for the Nolulairion (see adventure option 2). A copy of that book is here and can be found after 1-6 turns of searching the shelves. It’s a huge tome — really nine books within one — providing extremely detailed biography of all nine Nazgul, for which Gandalf the Grey will pay handsomely. This is the original copy of the Nolulairion that used to be in the city library (encounter area 29) but was moved here after the Witch King discovered the library’s secret rooms and found the book (in TA 2489). Much of the information listed here is provided in the Nolulairion, but only up to the date of TA 1980, which is the year the book was published; it was written in the years following the fall of Angmar in TA 1975. If the PCs aren’t on a mission for Gandalf the Grey, this book can be easily sold to someone else. To many scholars it’s worth easily 100,000 gp; many wealthy academic institutions would he happy to purchase it. Few mortals know anything about the Nazgul, and whoever did the research for this book (it’s anonymous) got the facts precisely right.

There are many other valuable books in this library: spellbooks with incantations of the vilest nature, histories, tomes dealing with math and science, all of which would be considered rare and worth a lot of money in even a major city. The room is also quiet, with a permanent silence spell cast on it, that requires a dispel magic cast at 13th level to negate. So PCs who need to communicate in this room won’t be able to do so by means of speech.

The treasury (areas 116) contains the Claws’ wealth: taxes collected for the Justices, wages paid to the manpower who guard the compound, confiscated valuables from prisoners, and a good portion gifted by the Witch King out of his personal hoard. The total comes to 128,000 gp, 13,000 mp, and 564 gems of all sorts, ranging between 100 – 5,000 gp each. All of this wealth is in unlocked chests. The door to the room, of course, is always locked, and can be picked by a thief at a -30% penalty. Only two people have keys to this room: Cinderfist and Omar (the Tower Commander and Captain).

The armory (areas 117) contains the bulk of the Claws’ weapons and armor — literally hundreds of bows and crossbows, melee weapons, and polearms, and chests full of arrows and quarrels; stacks of shields piled to the ceiling, and countless suits of armor. The military estimate is that the entire stock of weapons would last for months if every member of the compound fired non-stop.

Seventh and Eighth Level (Council Chamber, Roof):

The Council Chamber (area 118) is the entire seventh level. It has a large circular table in the middle. On the first day of each month — and whenever else is deemed necessary — the Three Justices adjourn here with senior ranking officers to assess and discuss the functioning of the Claws. If the city ever came under attack, the council would meet each evening to discuss tactics, and to plan the next day’s strategies.

On the eighth level the tower stairs finally stop at a door opening onto the roof (area 119). The door can be locked from the inside, should it be required. The roof is surrounded with crenelations (area 120); war machines can be positioned to fire over the city wall at any attackers coming up the Morgul Vale; they can also be positioned to fire against any attackers within the city who have breached the walls of the compound. There is a beacon (area 121) fueled by greenish-white coldfire cast by Ulrac the Inquisitor General, and made permanent by Hyxen the Drake Mage.

The Justice Tower

Ground Level (Guards, Prison Records): The Justice Tower is 60 feet in diameter, and there are about 35 feet of height between each of the seven levels. Entry (areas 34 and 36) is gained through either pair of gates that are usually kept flung open, but when they are closed they need keys to unlock. The doors are bound with iron and steel, making them exceptionally resistant to rams. Arrow slits fill the corridor (area 35), and four portcullises are positioned along the corridor to further obstruct entrance. The guards usually rely on these portcullises and leave the gates open.

There are eight guards (Lvl 2 fighters, AC 5, hp 14-18 each, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow) total, four in area 37 and four in area 39, ready to rain arrows on hostiles through the arrow slits.

In area 37, there is the prison-records office (area 38), containing a list of all those being held in both the dungeons below, the reason for their presence, and the date for their trial. The records are constantly updated, and are kept for five years before being archived on the second level in area 41.

In area 39, stairs run down to the dungeons and up to the higher levels.

Upper Dungeon (Prisoners: First and Second Grade Offenders): Two guards (Lvl 2 fighters, AC 5, hp 14-18 each, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow) are always present (in area 18) to monitor the cells of the upper dungeon. Stairs going down to the lower dungeon are at the northern end of the room, and stairs up to the ground level are at the southern corner. A locked iron-bound door leads to the first and second grade cells on this floor; each of the two guards stationed here has a key to the door and to all these cells (areas 20-33). One of the guards frequently paces the circuit corridor (area 19) to check on the prisoners held inside the cells.

There is an invisible alarm on the wall of area 18, specially enchanted by the Drake Mage Hyxen. It is triggered by the code phrase, “You can’t prevail against justice.” If the guards are attacked or forced to hand over the keys, one of them will speak the phrase to the PCs. At that point the invisible alarm will go off, but it won’t make any noise; it will set off a chain of noisy alarms elsewhere in the compound (so intruders will have no idea that an alarm has been sounded) at the following places:

  • Justice Tower, 4th Level, Stairwell Hall: 8 of the 10 guards from areas 55-59 will come running down, and they will alert and bring the 4 guards from area 39 on their way down (they will also alert the Three Justices immediately below on the Third Level, area 50, if the Justices are hearing any court cases)
  • Main Tower, Ground Level, Stairwell Hall: 10 of the 14 guards from areas 38 and 42 will come running to the Justice Tower
  • Main Tower, 2nd Level, Stairwell Hall: If he is in his chambers (area 56), which is only 33% likely, Captain Omar will grab the 4 guards from areas 55 and 57 and come running to the Justice Tower (those four guards will come running in any case and provide the leadership in the absence of their Captain or Commander)
  • Main Tower, 3rd Level, Commander’s Suite: If he is in his chambers (areas 70-73), Cinderfist will be alerted and make his way to the Tower of Justice, and he will come very quickly if he believes that Captain Omar is elsewhere
  • Main Tower, 5th level, Inquisitor General’s Suite: If he is in his chambers (area 104), (he is away every morning between 7am-11am at the public executioner’s square), Ulrac will be alerted and will make his way (without hurrying) to the Justice Tower to find out what is going on, and to be sure his precious torture subjects don’t make any getaways
  • Main Tower, 5th level, Drake Mage’s Suite: If he is in his chambers, (area 109), Hyxen will cast a scrying spell on the room of the triggered alarm (either this one or the one in the Lower Dungeon; the chain of alarms sound different for each), observe what is going on, and then act accordingly; he may leave the matter in the guards’ hands or come to assist them if the threat looks bad

Note that from 1 pm-5 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the Three Justices (Tower Commander, Inquisitor General, and Drake Mage) will already be in the Justice Tower (on the 2nd or 3rd level, addressing court cases), and will be alerted by the guards from up on the 4th level who come down running.

The alarm is very likely to be triggered, unless the PCs kill the two guards right away in a single round. (High-level PCs getting the initiative to attack should be able to do that.) Alternatively, the PCs might think to cast a silence spell to prevent the guards from crying out. Other than that, it’s a sure bet at least one of the guards will be able to say what’s necessary to sound the alarm.

All prisoners — on this level and the lower dungeon below — are either awaiting trial on the third level of the tower (see area 50 below), or have had their trial and are waiting to be transported to either (a) the public executioner’s square near the front gate, where they will burn in coldfire (see encounter area 3 above), or (b) the kill pit on the western side of the city, where they will fight as gladiators for the entertainment of others (see encounter area 19). Only warrior or thief-acrobat types (those who can handle themselves well in combat) will be sent to the kill pit; all others (and certainly spellcasters) will be sent to burn. Approximately 0.5% of the prisoners brought to the Upper Dungeon (1 out of 200) are found innocent and set free. Usually those rarities involve bribes of family or friends in high places. All the cells described below have a privy and straw for a bed.

The outer cells (areas 24-33) hold the first-grade offenders: people accused of petty crimes, minor theft, or blasphemy. The locks can be picked by a thief or assassin at a -10% penalty. Of the ten cells, eight are currently occupied, as follows:

Cell 24: A man named Jastel, accused of blasphemy, speaking against the Cult of the Lightless Light. His trial is set for within the next two weeks. (He’s innocent: he spoke not a word against the cult; but he will confess to guilt under torture.)

Cell 25: A man named Cuther, convicted of stealing from a jewel shop, and sentenced to fight in the kill pit; he will be transported there within the next week.

Cell 26: Empty.

Cell 27: A man named Hewett, accused of defacing property. His trial is set for within the next week. (He’s innocent; framed by a fellow citizen; but he will confess to guilt under torture.)

Cell 28: A woman named Draneera, convicted of blasphemy, and sentenced to public burning within the week.

Cell 29: A man named Rataro, accused of blasphemy. His trial is set for within the next three weeks.

Cell 30: Empty.

Cell 31: A man named Ulgarin, accused of walking in the upper circles of the city without a permit. His trial is set for within two weeks ahead. (He’s innocent: he went nowhere near the upper circles; but he will confess to guilt under torture.)

Cell 32: A man named Varen, accused of indecent exposure. His trial is set for within a week.

Cell 33: A man named Floki, a religious fanatic convicted of trespassing and breaking/entering into homes to preach his sermons; he is sentenced to public burning within a week.

The inner cells (areas 20-23) hold the second-grade offenders: grand theft or murder of guards or important city officials. The locks can be picked by a thief or assassin at a -20% penalty. Of the four cells, two are currently occupied, as follows:

Cell 23: A warrior named Jilanthor, convicted of killing a priest of the Cult of Cold Thunder, and sentenced to fight in the kill pit; he will be transported there within three weeks.

Cell 22: Empty.

Cell 21: A whore named Jhorian (Oh-RY-an), accused of knifing a captain of the guard as she tried to seduce him in order to rob him. Her trial is set for within a week. (She’s innocent: the captain tried to rape her, and she was fighting back in self-defense; but she will confess to guilt under torture.)

Cell 20: Empty.

Lower Dungeon (Prisoners: Third and Fourth Grade Offenders): Two guards (Lvl 2 fighters, AC 5, hp 14-18 each, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow) are always present (in area 1) to monitor the cells of the lower dungeon. Two locked iron-bound doors lead to the third and fourth grade cells on this floor; each of the two guards stationed here has a key to the door. One of the guards frequently paces the corridors (areas 2 and 7) to check on the prisoners held inside the cells. Note: Unlike the guards in the Upper Dungeon, these guards do not have keys to the prison cells. Only the Tower Commander (Cinderfist), Inquisitor General (Ulrac), Drake Mage (Hyxen), or Tower Captain (Omar) have keys to these cells, and only these four individuals can unlock a prison cell occupied by a third or fourth grade offender.

As in the Upper Dungeon, there is an invisible alarm on the wall of area 1, specially enchanted by the Drake Mage. This one is triggered by a different code phrase, “You have no right!” If the guards are attacked or forced to hand over the keys, one of them will yell the phrase at the PCs. At that point the silent alarm will go off and trigger the actual alarms in the same places triggered by the Upper Dungeon alarm (see above). This chain of alarms sounds much deeper, so that the guards know which dungeon level is being threatened.

As with the prisoners in the Upper Dungeon, these prisoners are either awaiting trial on the third level of the tower (see area 50 below), or they have had their trial and are waiting to be transported to either the public executioner’s square or the kill pit. None of the prisoners brought to the Lower Dungeon is ever found innocent. Any high-level PCs captured in the city are more than likely to be jailed on this level as major threats.

The outer cells (areas 8-17) hold the third-grade offenders: anyone judged to be a serious menace, any spellcaster accused of a crime, any spellcaster who used a fire-based spell for whatever reason, or any Gondorians or dwarves caught as infiltrators or spies. The walls are insulated by a galvorn alloy that prevents spellcasting (though spellcasters will be gagged anyway, just to be on the safe side, and then their tongues cut out after they are convicted). The locks can be picked by a thief or assassin at a -30% penalty. Of the ten cells, five are currently occupied, as follows:

Cell 8: A former guard at the Main Tower named Blojek. He tried to frame Captain Omar. His trial is set for within a week.

Cell 9: Empty.

Cell 10: A mage named Tharagun (lvl 8, hp 24), arrested for casting a fire-based spell in the city (a fireball). He has been convicted, and his tongue cut out, and sentenced to public burning (coldfire, of course) within a week.

Cell 11: Two dwarf brothers named Bain and Cain (Lvl 7 warriors, hp 68, 71), seized as spies in the pass of Cirith Ungol. They’ve been convicted and sentenced to fight in the kill pit; they will be transported within a week. (Alternatively, they are already at the kill pit; see encounter area 19.)

Cell 12: Empty.

Cell 13: A Gondorian sage named Fallon caught in the city as an infiltrator. He has been convicted and sentenced to public burning within a week.

Cell 14: Empty.

Cell 15: Empty.

Cell 16: A woman named Furma, accused of using a wand of flame to make a fire and keep herself warm. Her trial is set for within three weeks. (She is innocent; she is not a spellcaster and has no magic-using abilities at all. But she will confess to guilt under torture.) She has been raped personally by the Inquisitor General himself twice already.

Cell 17: Empty.

The inner cells (areas 3-6) hold the capital fourth-grade offenders: anyone who commits treason, anyone who speaks or acts against any Nazgul, or any elf. The locks can be picked by a thief or assassin at a -40% penalty. Of the four cells, two are currently occupied, as follows:

Cell 3: Empty.

Cell 4: An elvish ranger (lvl 7, hp 52) named Talfir, caught spying on the city. He was horribly abused and sodomized by the guards before being locked up in this cell. His trial is set for within four weeks.

Cell 5: Empty.

Cell 6: A priest (lvl 5, hp 26) named Letchet, who served in the Cult of the Spider (see encounter area 25) until he couldn’t shut his mouth about how much he hates the Storm King; the Cult excommunicated him and he began preaching screeds in the street, demanding that the Witch King banish the Storm King from the city; he has been convicted and his tongue cut out; the Witch King has ordered that he rot in this cell for three whole months before burning in the public square.

Second Level (Offices, Meeting Room, Map Room, Torture Chamber): The first room off the stairs from below is an archive room (area 41) for all the prison records older than five years (see area 38 on the ground level).

The next rooms over are offices (areas 42 and 48) used by the Three Justices when they prepare for court cases on the Third Level. The rooms are filled with desks and tomes detailing various aspects of Gondorian law and the mockeries and perversions of that law developed in Minas Morgul. The desks are usually scattered with papers relevant to upcoming cases. Room 48 tends to be used by Ulrac and Cinderfist; room 42 is used by Hyxen who can’t stand being in the same room with Ulrac anymore than he must.

There is another office (area 43) filled with records of past cases that record everything the defendant said during trial, with a crude analysis every defendant’s “lies”

The center room is an armory (area 44), filled with melee weapons, pole arms, and bows.

The walls of the map and chart room (area 45) are covered with maps depicting regions primarily in Mordor and Ithilien, but also southern Gondor and the area from the north of Mordor to southern Mirkwood.

The meeting chamber (area 46) is where the Three Justices confer on a current case so that Hyxen may (as the juror) deliver a verdict.

The interview (torture) room (area 47) allows the accused to present their case to the Inquisitor General, who serves as the “defense”. He “defends” the accused by “encouraging” the truth out of them (by means of torture) and thus saving their soul. If the defendant continues to “lie” in the court room, he will be brought down here and repeatedly “interviewed” by Ulrac until he is willing to speak the “truth” (that is, admitting the accusations against him). The most vile and despicable torture instruments hang on the walls of this rom.

Third Level (The Court Room): The most important room (area 50) of the Justice Tower — and certainly the most dreaded of both towers — fills the entire level. There’s a large dais against the wall with three chairs. The court sits three times a week, from 1 pm-5 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, though it will convene on any day and time of the week if the Justices deem it necessary. The Three Justices serve as judge, jury, and executioner: the Tower Commander is the judge, the Drake Mage  is the jury, and the Inquisitor General is the executioner — though the Inquisitor General also serves the role of the “defense” in a perverted sense (see area 47 above, on the Second Level).

Full details and stats for the Three Justices are provided in Main Tower: areas 70-73 for Cinderfist, area 104 for Ulrac, and area 109 for Hyxen. While Cinderfist is the nominal one in command of the Claws, the real power resides with Ulrac, and the Commander would never do anything to incur the wrath of the Inquisitor General. Hyxen can’t stand Ulrac, and is openly contemptuous of the Inquisitor, but will almost always deliver the verdict Ulrac wants, as Ulrac is highly favored by both the Witch King and Storm King. Guilty is almost always (99.5% of the time) the foreordained verdict.

In the days of Minas Ithil, the old garrison served as a true court of justice, presided over by three Osshir (“fortress judges”), adhering to the following procedure:

  1. Prosecutor states the case and presents the evidence against the defendant.
  2. Defendant responds and presents evidence on his own behalf.
  3. Witnesses are called (prosecutor then defendant).
  4. Cross-questioning occurs.
  5. The Osshir leave and deliberate the verdict.
  6. The Osshir return and deliver the verdict.

The Witch King found it amusing to pervert this procedure as follows:

  1. The Inquisitor General states the case and presents the evidence “on behalf” of his client, the defendant (in other words, delivers the accusation). The Tower Commander accepts the statement and adds anything before allowing the defendant to respond.
  2. The defendant responds.
  3. If the defendant’s response runs counter to the Court’s case against him (as presented by the Inquisitor), witnesses are called (if there are any) by the Inquisitor General, and the Tower Commander decides who is allowed to testify.
  4. The defendant responds to the witness testimony.
  5. If the defendant’s response still runs counter to the Court’s case against him, he is taken downstairs by the Inquisitor General to room 47 and “interviewed” to get a more “truthful” answer; he is tortured in this way until the “truth” is obtained, and the defendant confirms his guilt in the courtroom.
  6. The Justices adjourn to room 46 downstairs to discuss the case, until the Drake Mage decides on a verdict (guilt or innocence) and the Tower Commander decides on a sentence (public burning or fighting in the kill pit).
  7. The Justices return and the Drake Mage delivers the verdict; the Tower Commander pronounces the sentence. The Inquisitor General escorts the convicted person back down to the cells.

Cases typically take between fifteen minutes to an hour, with the Justices taking another fifteen minutes to deliberate (in room 46), plus any added intervals needed for “interviewing” (torture) by the Inquisitor General (in room 47).

Fourth Level (Guards): Ten guards (Lvl 3 fighters, AC 4, hp 24 each, DA 1-8 sword or 1-6 arrow) are quartered here, two in each room (areas 55-59), plus there is a storeroom (area 54). These guards will come running if the alarm is sounded in the prison cells (see the Upper and Lower Dungeons).


Fifth Level (Drilling Ground): The single room (area 60) serves as a workout and drilling ground for the guards below on the Fourth Level. The terrace (area 61) allows them to fire from the battlements with ease. Two ballistae are kept up here in case the compound is breached and the tower assaulted.

Sixth and Seventh Levels (Watch Posts): A relaxation room (area 62) and watch post for the guards. The Justices also sometimes take breaks here in between cases, enjoying the yellow-green Morgul light of the city that filters through the windows. Sometimes they even deliberate on the roof (area 63) instead of room 46 on the Second Level.

The Barracks, Smithy, and Stables

The barracks are occupied by 1st-level warriors (13 in the long barracks, 9 in the little barracks), who stay in these rooms for the duration of their training service at the Claws of Justice, typically from 4-6 months. The five officers who sleep in the “little barracks” are 4th-level supervisors.

Long barracks: There is an entry hall (area 1), cloak room (area 2), a dining hall (area 3) with three large tables and plenty of chairs, a kitchen (area 4), where three servants work during the day, a pantry (area 5). On the second level is a balcony (area 7), a study (area 9) where officers file performance evaluations of the guards and also their own personal reports to the Tower Captain (Omar). The sleeping quarters has beds for thirteen men (AC 5, Lvl 1, hp 6-10, DA 1-8 polearm or sword), with a chest for personal belongings at the foot of each bed.

Little barracks: There is a kitchen (area 2), pantry (area 3), and officer’s dining hall (area 4), and the officers’ quarters (areas 6-9) for four senior guards (AC 4, Lvl 4, hp 28, 30, 33, 35, DA 1-8 sword). The upstairs contains three sleeping chambers (areas 11-13), at three beds a piece, for the nine soldiers being trained here (AC 5, Lvl 1, hp 6-10, DA 1-8 polearm or sword). There’s also an officer’s quarters (area 14) for a fifth senior guard (AC 4, Lvl 4, hp 32, DA 1-8 sword) which is similar those on the first floor (areas 6-9).

Smithy: The forging chamber (area 1) is shaped like an inverted “T”, where two smiths work daily to craft the various items demanded of them. A coldfire furnace stands opposite the massive steel-reinforced doors, while worktables at the east and west sides provide an area for finer work to be pursued. The furnace works by coldfire magic cast by Hyxen and made permanent the spell with that name. The storerooms (areas 2 and 3) contains racks of sword-shafts, finished blades, dagger blades, quarrel tips awaiting the final stage in the creation process. The smiths are particular and don’t allow anyone in here to view unfinished products. The two smiths share their quarters together (area 4).

Stables: The stablemaster’s day begins early, when he prepares the wargs for patrol drills into the city, and sometimes outside the city. The barn (area 2) can accommodate up to 26 wargs (AC 6, HD 3, hp 21 each, DA 1-8), although there are usually one or two stalls that remain empty. A tack room (area 3) has bridles and saddles for the warg riders. The parlor (area 5) is a resting area for the stablemaster, and the kitchen (area 6) is garden variety. The stable-boy’s room (area 7) contains a bed, a small table, and a chest, in which the stable-boy keeps his possessions. The still room (area 8) has ointments and healing salves for injured wargs, and the bedchamber (area 9) has a large double bed, several comfortable chairs,
a small coldfire hearth, and a three blanket chests.

43. Theater. 18. Temple of the Black Gale (The Cult of Cold Thunder). In Minas Ithil days this was an amphitheater, but now it’s a place of open sacrifice to Sauron. Once or twice a month, sometimes even thrice, the Cult of Cold Thunder gathers here to sacrifice people on the stage (area 3) and summon deadly thunderous ice storms that pulverize the entire city for 1-4 hours. The high priest wears a talisman that makes the translation from sacrifice to storms possible; it was fashioned from the magics of two Nazgul — the Storm King and the Ice King — and the cult is utterly devoted to these two Ringwraiths. The thunder from these storms is so loud that it causes sonic damage. The Witch King approves these storms as a means of keeping the city’s population terrorized, and as a continual reminder of the power of their overlords. Unlike the Spider Cult (encounter area 25), this cult is on good terms with the Cult of the Lightless Light (encounter area 31), which is the dominant cult in the city.

At 2:00 PM every afternoon there is a 9% chance that the cult will be sacrificing a victim on stage (area 3) to summon such an ice storm. This roll should be made every day at 2:00 PM regardless of where the PCs are in the city. The ice storm will cause 3-30 points of damage per minute to everyone in the city not under a roof, and 1-12 points of sonic damage per minute to everyone not below ground level under a roof.

The high priest Jâe-Shônba (a vicious Balchoth) rides a chariot through the streets of Minas Morgul after he and his underling priests perform the sacrifice and summon the ice storm. He and his cult (and the four black horses that pull the chariot) are thoroughly immune to both the ice and thunder, and they thrive in these hellish storms. They will shriek and laugh their asses off as they barrel down streets and run over whomever they can.

Jâe-Shônba is an 9th level priest of Sauron (AC -1, hp 60, DA 4-9). He wears platemail +3 and has a mace +3 and a sacrificial dagger +1. His spells are:

1st levelbane, comprehend languages, curse water, divine favor, obscuring mist
2nd leveldarkness, enthrall, hold person, silence
3rd levelanimate dead, blindness, deafness, dispel magic
4th leveldeath ward, poison, sending
5th levelrighteous might, unhallow

He has four priests who follow his word without question. They are 5th level (AC 4, hp 34, 36, DA 1-6). Each is armed with a mace and has banded armor. The spells for each are: cure light wounds, doom, sanctuary, shield of faith; desecrate, death knell, silence; blindness, prayer. Each priest commands a wight, who serves as his bodyguard (AC 5, HD 4, hp 20 each, DA 1-4 + energy drain).

The entire amphitheater area is under an unhallow spell cast by Jâe-Shônba some time ago (the spell effect lasts a year), which means the area is warded by protection from good, all undead are turned at a -4 penalty, and a blindness spell is triggered on any who attack the priests or their wights. Any attacking person is subject to one blindness spell effect per day, and each must save vs. spells to negate; the blindness (like the normal spell) is permanent.

Note that this cult hates Indur Dawndeath and will do anything to undercut the Fourth of the Nine without jeopardizing themselves or incurring the wrath of the Witch King.

41. The Arena. 19. The Kill Pit. Under Gondor this arena hosted singing, poetry reading, the unveiling of sculptures, foot races, games for the city’s children, and — on very rare occasions — mock combats and archery contests. In the Morgul era this place has been used for the sole purpose of savage combats to the death. Any warrior or thief PCs captured in the city and brought to the jail (see encounter area 17) might be released to have the “honor” of fighting in this pit. Other PCs might need to break into the cells of this pit to rescue their friends, or perhaps an NPC, depending on the DM’s campaign.

The arena floor (area 1) is the main feature, a flat area of packed sand on top of the bedrock. The yellow-green Morgul lanterns provide the usual light, spaced evenly around the walls of this level (as well as on levels 2, 3, and 4) to bathe the pit in a weird candor. Sound in the arena travels remarkably well, and when all the seats are empty, a whisper on the floor carries up to the highest seats. During pit fights, 20 guards (AC 5, Lvl 3 warriors, hp 21 each, DA 1-6 arrows, 1-8 swords) are stationed around the wall of the arena floor, about 40 feet apart. The cell block in the northern section of the wall is accessed by two arched gates with portcullis, one to the northwest and one to the northeast. The warden’s block in the southern section of the wall is accessed by a single arched gate to the south. (See further below for the layout and contents of these blocks.)

The next level up (areas 8 and 2) is the level accessed by gates from the outside (area 6). There are four gates (north, south, east, and west) which are kept locked when the arena is not in use. The gates provide access to the first gallery (area 8) which leads to what used to be (in Minas Ithil times) the noble boxes (area 2), and which now serve similarly as priority seating for the elites of Minas Morgul: high priests, warlocks, garrison commanders, etc.

A winding stair (area 5) allows access to the other levels (both above and to the arena below) from the gate level of areas 6/8/2. The next level up (areas 9 and 3) are the reserved seats for priests, military captains, business owners, and other important figures.

The highest level up (areas 10 and 4) are where common citizens sit on marble terraces (not seats) and watch the distant action as best they can. This level is almost always unruly, with the spectators pelting rubbish at performances that don’t go their way (when they lose bets) or when a combatant is killed too quickly.

— The cell blocks on the northern arena floor

The two arched gates with portcullis (to areas 2 and 15) provide access to the cell block area. Either gate has a 40% chance of being partially open. During pit fights it’s always closed. The portcullis are controlled in areas 1 and 16 by the guards in areas 2 and 15.

Behind those gates are guard rooms. The west guard room (area 2) and east guard room (area 15) are almost identical. Each contains a wooden table, big chairs, a barrel of beer with a huge ladle, a half dozen pewter mugs, and a long bench. A brass bell is mounted on the interior wall with a pull cord attached; this is rung when a captive escapes. In each guard room are three Uruk-hai orcs (AC 6, HD 3, hp 17, 18, 19, DA 1-8) and a troll (AC 4, HD 6, hp 34, DA 5-8/5-8/1-12; regenerate 3 hp/round), usually either sitting at the table playing dice, or just drinking. One of the Uruks (in each guardroom) has keys to each cell, and the pit warden in the southern block area (see below) also has a set, making three sets of keys total. There’s a door that leads to a mechanical room (areas 1 and 16), which contains the clutch, chain drum, and winding mechanisms necessary to raise and lower the portcullis to the arena floor.

On the west side there is a kitchen (area 3), with vats holding raw meats, a charcoal pit with a cauldron of porridge, buckets with mops, and four meat hooks hanging on wall pegs. There’s a faucet on the wall, and wall shelves with wooden bowls, a ladle, and a sack of raw porridge mix. An ogre (AC 5, HD 4, hp 20, DA 1-10) will be found laboring in this kitchen, making meals for the guards and prisoners, 60% of the time.

On the east side there is an armory (area 14) where weapons and armor are stored for the combatants to use in the killing pit. There are currently 27 long swords, 8 short swords, 2 two-handed swords, 3 battle-axes, 4 war hammers, 4 maces, 2 morning stars, 15 throwing spears, 7 lances, 4 suits of plate armor, 6 suits of leather armor, 13 shields, 10 long bows, 112 arrows.

The cell block tunnel (area 17) leads to ten cells (areas 4-13). Each cell has vertical iron bars and a gate that is always locked. Anyone who is brought to a cell will be scheduled to fight a person or creature from another cell in 1-4 days. The fight is always to the death, and the survivor will then fight again in another 1-4 days.

The occupants of the cells are currently as follows. Captive PCs who are brought here will be thrown into an empty cell, whether to fight singularly or as a group.

Orcs (area 4): three huge Uruk-hai warriors named Dracor, Blit, and Slyme (AC 10, HD 4, hp 24, 27, DA 0). They used to be high-ranking city guards until they killed their commander in a conspiratorial plot. They are scheduled to fight the polar bears (area 8) this very day, and will be each given plate armor, a shield, three throwing spears, and a long sword.

Black drake (area 5): a juvenile one (AC 3, HD 10, hp 63, DA 1-6/1-6/1-8 + acid breath 3x/day). If the dragon is set free it shows no gratitude, and throws a temper tantrum as it tries to kill its liberators before fleeing the pit.

Empty cell (area 6).

Thief (area 7): a woman named Laurel (AC 7, Lvl 12 thief, hp 57, DA 0) is scheduled to fight the Variag Yolarez (area 13) warrior in two days. She will be given leather armor (for AC 5), a bow and eight arrows, three throwing spears, and two short swords that she can fight with simultaneously (2-7/2-7 damage).

Polar bears (area 8): two foul-tempered adults (AC 6, HD 8, hp 51, 52, DA 1-10/1-10/1-12), enraged at their imprisonment. Note that a paw hit of 18 or better indicates a hug that will inflict 1-20 additional hit points of damage to the 1-10. If the bears are set free, they will either attack their liberators before fleeing (40%) or just try to flee right away (41-00%).

Empty cell (area 9). Any warrior or thief-type PCs who have been jailed at the garrison (encounter area 17) and transferred to the Kill Pit here will be put in this cell. They will be scheduled to fight the aurumvorax (area 11) in three days. They will allowed the weapons and armor of their choice from the armory (area 14). Of course, their personal weapons and armor, like all their possessions, will have been confiscated at the jail.

Aurumvorax (area 10): this starving beast (AC 0, HD 15, hp 90, DA 1-6(x8)/1-8 + special; takes only half damage from blunt weapons due to heavy hide and bones) is currently the most dangerous cell captive. It gets eight clawed attacks and a bite; once it bites successfully for 1-8 points of damage, it holds on, and in each succeeding round inflicts an automatic 8 hp of damage (plus whatever the claws do). If the creature is set free, it displays its “gratitude” by attacking its liberators without hesitation.

Dwarves (area 11): two brothers, Bain and Cain (AC 10, Lvl 7 warriors, hp 68, 71, DA 0) were seized in the pass of Cirith Ungol. They are scheduled to fight the black drake (area 5) the following day. (Alternatively, this cell is empty and Bain and Cain are still in jail waiting to be brought to the kill pit; see the Claws of Justice, encounter area 17.)

Empty cell (area 12).

Warrior (area 13): a Variag named Yolarez (AC 7, Lvl 11 warrior, hp 121, DA 0; strength 20, dexterity 18, constitution 19) has been here for months and currently holds the record for most kills. He was consigned here for strangling a priest of the Lightless Light (see encounter area 31), but the crowds have come to adore him. He’s never pitted against beasts (like the black drake, polar bears, or aurumvorax), only against other people or humanoid creatures. He is scheduled to fight the thief Laurel (area 7) in two days, and will be given his usual — a shield and leather armor (for AC 4), a battle axe (for 1-8 + 4 damage), and he gets two attacks per round.

— The warden’s blocks on the southern arena floor

An iron gate provides access to the warden’s block area. It’s always closed and locked. The pit warden and pit mage are the only ones who have keys.

The block tunnel (area 6) leads to five spacious rooms (areas 1-5). Each room has a door that’s open or shut half the time, but never locked. The gate in the tunnel provides the security.

The pit warden (area 4) is a Harad warrior, Lu’mokr, a mean pisser who runs the arena efficiently (AC 3, platemail, Lvl 12 warrior, hp 75, DA 5-12, morningstar +2 + strength bonus). This room is his private chamber, and he can be found here (if not out on the arena floor) almost all the time. His treasure is under his bed in a locked iron chest: 7,388 gp, 1,400 mp, and 26 huge gems worth 500 gp each. He has a key to the gate in the block tunnel (area 6) and also a set of keys to all the cells in the northern cell blocks.

The pit mage (area 5) is a psychopathic Sagath, always on call in case a combatant in the pit turns out to be a spellcaster who somehow squeaked by the authorities’ screening process. He’s in this chamber almost all the time (AC 4, studded leather + dex bonus, Lvl 9 mage, hp 38, DA 1-6, quarterstaff + spells), and his spells are:

1st levelhold portal (x2), hypnotism, magic missile
2nd levelknock, silence (x2), web
3rd leveldeep slumber, hold person, ray of exhaustion
4th levellocate creature, charm monster
5th levelhold  monster

These spells are self-explanatory and obviously geared towards damage control — should any of the pit’s gladiators get funny ideas, attack the guards, try to escape, etc — and the silence spell in particular to deal with any spellcaster threats.

More damage control is provided by 3 trolls (AC 4, HD 6, hp 36 each, DA 5-8/5-8/1-12; regenerate 3 hp/round) who live in the center room (area 3). They have heavy chains and nets at the ready in case they need to subdue any prize combatants that are especially dangerous and/or huge in size (like bears and small dragons).

As in the northern cell blocks, there is a kitchen (area 1), with vats holding raw meats, a charcoal pit, meat hooks, a faucet, shelves with bowls, etc. An ogre (AC 5, HD 4, hp 20, DA 1-10) will be found laboring in this kitchen, making meals for the warden, mage, and trolls, 60% of the time. The trolls eat in their room (area 3), while the warden and mage eat in the dining hall made specially for them (area 2).

32. Gem House. 20. Childling Factory. Young kids between ages 6-9 are taken here to become “childlings”: undead who resemble small demonic looking ghouls, with pointed teeth and scarlet eyes. Most of the children can’t take the transformation; these childlings lose their minds and become useless, and are turned out on the streets of the city to join the rest of the wandering undead. Those who pass muster undergo worse torments.

The process is as follows: Kids are first brought up to the dormitory rooms on the third level (areas 8), where they undergo individual attention and have hideous spells worked over them, in the room of makeover (area 11). This process is the brainchild of the sorcerer Warriz, who works in his office (area 9) around the clock to supervise the floor and make sure the children don’t try to escape. His two assistants (Dreblek and Ancherol) are in areas 10.

After undergoing the makeoever in room 11, the kids are put into sleeping pods, for their last mortal sleep, in the bay room of the second floor (area 6). There are six pods in the room. (Roll 1d6 to determine how many are currently occupied.) The child wakes up in 1-3 days, and at that point is a childling. If the child’s mind was able to take the transformation (only a 20% chance), then the childling has a heightened intelligence, speaks like a foul-mouthed perverse adult, and is incredibly strong. These childlings are used for special purposes by the Witch King and Storm King. The majority of childlings (the 80% whose minds couldn’t take it) become “yowlers”, can only shriek and not speak, and are let loose on the streets to scavenge with the packs of zombies and other undead.

The few successful childlings become “corabites” and remain in these dormatories (in areas 7) until they’re called on for special purpose. They usually don’t have to wait long.

At any given time, there are 3-6 children in the sleeping pods (area 6); 1-2 corabites in each of the two mid-level dormitory rooms (areas 7); and 4-9 children awaiting makeover attention in each of the top-level dormitory rooms (areas 8).

  • Untransformed children: AC 10, hp 1, DA 0
  • Yowler: AC 5, HD 3, hp 15, DA 1-4 (wail: automatic damage per round, from everyone in a 30-foot radius, though not through walls or closed doors or windows)
  • Corabite: AC 2, HD 6, hp 30, DA paralysis + special

The yowler is a mindless undead child that habitually yowls in frustration. Yowlers are common on the streets of Minas Morgul and mortal residents know to run at the sight of them, or shoot/slay them (guards and equipped citizens) if they won’t run away themselves.

The corabite is a very intelligent undead child that intuitively knows a mortal’s deepest fears and worst secrets just by looking at the person. The corabite will single a PC out and start spewing vulgar filth while mocking or condemning the PC for doing something awful that the PC is ashamed of. The corabite conveys such a violated feeling that it paralyzes the victim for 1 round before he or she can act.

Both yowlers and corabites are undead and thus may be turned.

The first floor (areas 1-5) is a decoy meant to dissuade anyone from investigating the building. All five rooms are dirty and empty and convey the look of an abandoned building. The ceiling is magically soundproofed so that the kids and (especially) the yowlers on the two floors above cannot be heard. A permanent alarm spell (mental variety, not audible) has been cast on the entry foyer (area 1), which will silently alert Warriz on the upper levels. The stairs in this room that provide access to the top floors have a permanent persistent image cast on them to make it seem like there is nothing there. (Note: there are no Morgul lanterns on this first floor, but even if one is brought in as a light source, it will not reveal the staircases, since they are not invisible; they are masked by an illusion.)

Warriz is a 12th-level sorcerer: AC 1 (bracers of AC 3, plus dexterity bonus, hp 54, DA 2-7/2-7, nunchucks of speed +1). His spells are:

1st levelalarm, grease, sleep (x2)
2nd levelcommand undead (x2), silence, touch of idiocy
3rd leveldeep slumber, halt undead, phantom steed, suggestion
4th levelanimate dead, mass reduce person, shout
5th levelpermanency, persistent image, symbol of pain
6th levelcreate undead, shadow walk

Dreblek is an 8th level sorcerer: AC 4 (bracers of AC 5 plus dexterity bonus, hp 36, DA 4-9, mace +3)  His spells are:

1st leveldisguise self, hold portal, magic missile (x2)
2nd levelcommand undead, scare, summon swarm
3rd levelhalt undead, ray of exhaustion, stinking could
4th levelblack tentacles, crushing despair

Ancherol is a 7th level sorcerer: AC 3 (bracers of AC 5 plus dexterity bonus, hp 32, DA 3-10, scimitar +2) His spells are:

1st levelcolorspray (x2), shocking grasp, ventriloquism
2nd levelcommand undead, hideous laughter, hypnotic pattern
3rd levelhalt undead, slow
4th levelphantasmal killer

The three sorcerers will be alert at once to any intruders in the building (from the alarm spell) and prepare accordingly, casting their spells for maximum effect. If the PCs penetrate the illusion masking the stairs, Warriz will cast grease on the stairs as the party ascends, to make them slip and tumble back down, as Dreblek and Ancherol rain down magic missiles and color sprays. And so forth.

29. Potter’s Shop. 21. Underground Escape. This old potter’s shop is now abandoned and the rooms contain nothing but broken pottery. The rooms used to be the shop (area 1), workshop (area 2), cellar (area 3), apartment (area 4, that the potter leased to someone else), sitting room (area 5), master bedroom (area 6), smaller bedroom (area 7), and storage (area 8). Amidst the broken pottery on the floor of the workshop is an intact bowl of purification (any drink or food put in the bowl becomes safe for consumption, no matter what poisons, toxins, or bacteria/viruses it carried), and in  master bedroom there’s a slightly frayed rope on the floor amidst the junk, but it’s a functional rope of climbing.

A careful search of the cellar conceals a passage to an emergency underground escape route. The Witch King ordered its construction as soon as he took over the city. He would not fall into the same trap the Gondorians did. If the city comes under assault and both the front and back gates are threatened, the escape tunnel goes for 20 miles before emerging halfway through the mountain pass into Mordor.

27. Moneylender’s House. 22. Renegades of Ardor. An old moneylender’s shop is currently the residence of two elves from southern Middle Earth: Taurclax and Khelekar. They arrived in the city five years ago (TA 2963) and have a very dark history, being surviving members of the Court of Ardor that tried to destroy the sun and moon in TA 1703. (Of the twelve members of that Court, five survive.) Technically only Taurclax was a court member, but he and Khelekar were always joined at the hip, and that remains true after twelve and half centuries. Taurclax is a Sinda elf and a very powerful druid; Khelekar is an albino Noldo, sage and scholar. As an albino he looks freakish, not that Taurclax minds that at all; the two elves are passionate lovers, and Taurclax is turned on by physical “weirdos”. Each will kill for the other and never betray him.

Their presence in Minas Morgul is something of a bone of contention. During Indur’s reign in the south (as the Mumakan God-King, Ji Amaav IV, between TA 2084-2460) he initiated a friendly relationship with Taurclax, seeing in the evil druid something that might be exploited in the future. It proved to be true. Sauron still has a purpose for him. He and Khelekar, under Indur’s patronage, are breeding killer plants to use against Gondor — thorn dogs, corpse flowers, assassin vines, and worst of all, krynoids. They labor on these projects in the upper circle of the city (see encounter area 27), and some have already been put to use. The Witch King is increasingly pleased by the commitment of these elven renegades.

The Witch King’s right hand, however, is not pleased at all. The Storm King (Akhorahil) not only hates elves without exception (no matter how loyal to Sauron they’ve proven themselves), but he loathes homosexuals. During his reign in Ny Chennecatt (TA 1051-1640), he executed thousands of sodomites as a matter of state policy, and the mere sight of an open homo is enough to send him into apoplectic rage. It doesn’t help that the Fifth of the Nine has his own ideas about warfare but hasn’t borne any fruit. He believes in the power of meteorology — harnessing the weather to unleash murderous storms — as opposed to botany. The best he has come up with is the talisman that allows the Cult of Cold Thunder to summon the deadly ice storms (see encounter area 18). Those storms are lethally powerful but require mortal sacrifice, and the talisman user cannot send those storms to a distant target; they only rain their destruction down on the place where the caster makes the sacrifice. The cult, under Akhorahil’s patronage, has done a fine job terrorizing the inhabitants of Minas Morgul (which the Witch King loves, make no mistake), but that only goes so far.

Taurclax is a Sinda elf, a very powerful (25th level) druid who worships Ythmor (EYETH-moor), the Eternal Weed, a demigod allied with Sauron. His stats are AC 1, hp 85, DA 3-10 (sword) or 1-6 + poison (bow). S 15, I 15, W 17, D 13, Co 14, Ch 18. Alignment: neutral evil. He has a stole of AC 1, a sword +2, a ring of treeform (allows the wearer to turn into a tree and live off the soil indefinitely, provided there is good deep soil available), and a long bow +3, 28 arrows poisoned with very strong pentanoth (save vs. poison or fall into a coma for 1-4 days; if save, loss of will for 7-12 hours). His spells are:

1st levelcalm animals, endure elements, entangle, hide from animals, pass without trace
2nd levelanimal trance, fog cloud, hold animal, summon swarm, wood shape
3rd levelcontagion, cure disease, neutralize poison, speak with plants, water breathing
4th levelantiplant shell, command plants, cure serious wounds, freedom of movement, repel vermin
5th levelawaken, commune with nature, tree stride, unhallow, wall of thorns
6th levelantilife shell, find the path, ironwood, move earth
7th levelanimate plants (x2), creeping doom, true seeing
8th levelcontrol plants (x2), finger of death, whirlwind

Khelekar is an albino Noldo elf, a (21st level) scholar who is utterly devoted to Taurclax. His stats are AC 2 (robes plus dexterity bonus), hp 51, DA 1-6 (short sword). S 7, I 20, W 14, D 16, Co 11, Ch 12. Alignment: neutral evil. He wears robes of blurring blindness, enchanted black robes that cause his form to blur at will and also shine with an incredibly blinding light that causes all missile and melee attacks to be made at -6.

23. Plaza of the Nine. Avoided by most mortal residents of the city, this 150′ x 150′ town square is completely bare except for nine life-sized statues of the Nazgul. Bathed in the disturbing yellow-green night glow of the city, these statues are positioned so that none is closer than 15 feet to any other statue, with two exceptions. (a) Akhorahil the Storm King is only 10 feet behind the Witch King (who of course leads at the front), implying that he ranks second in the Witch King’s eyes, even if he’s only the Fifth of the Nine. (b) Ren the Fire King is a full 30 feet behind the closest statue of Uvatha (who is toward the back), and his statue is defaced and cracked, for the Eighth of the Nine commands no respect in the city of Minas Morgul (see encounter area 28, and the brief bios of the Nazgul in the appendix, for the reason why). If the Witch King had his wish, Ren’s statue would be broken in half and lying on the ground (and Ren himself would be stripped of his Nazgul status), but Sauron won’t have that. For all Ren’s outrages, the Dark Lord still has use for him.

These enchanted statues were created by the warlocks of the Academy (see encounter area 30) on the Witch King’s orders, in TA 2102, the centennial anniversary of the fall of Minas Ithil. Those who touch a statue will receive a Nazgul “blessing”, as follows. Since these blessings do as much harm as good (if not more so), an unwilling subject may save vs. spells to negate.

1. The Witch King: The PC now has an intelligence score of 22, and an intuitive knowledge of wizardry and sorcery. He can begin immediately to study mage/sorcerer spells at 7th level of proficiency, no matter what the PC’s character class. (The PC is now effectively multi-class.) If the PC is already a mage/sorcerer, he is moved up to at least 7th level; if already higher than 7th, he simply gains one level. On the downside, the PC’s alignment has become thoroughly chaotic evil, and by the end of a month he will be a wraith.

2. Khamul the Easterling: The PC has a heightened sense of smell. He or she can determine the location of the source of any given odor, if the source is within 100 feet. This is very useful in preventing being surprised and knowing what may lurk behind closed doors without opening them. On the downside, the PC cannot stand the smell of elves, will not come within a 100 feet of an elf, and (Eru forbid) if the PC is an elf, will be filled with such self-loathing that he or she will either suffer an identity crisis, and become convinced that he’s been shapechanged into an elf by a perfidious mage (01-85%) or he will simply commit suicide (86-00%).

3. Dwar the Dog Lord: The PC is an instant friend of any dog, wolf, or warg. None of these animals will attack the PC. He cannot control or charm the dogs, but the animals will not actively harm him or his friends. The downside is that he easily loses his temper with foes or rivals, and will (50% of the time) automatically draw his weapon to attack those rivals, even if his fellow PCs are trying to be diplomatic or negotiate with them.

4. Indur Dawndeath: The PC has jungle vision and can see through plants at a range of 150 feet. The PC also has overwhelming urges to assassinate those who disagree with him, and will try to assassinate at the best opportunity, which he may do at 7th level of proficiency, no matter what the PC’s character class. (The PC is now effectively multi-class.) If the PC is already an assassin, he is moved up to at least 7th level; if already higher than 7th, he simply gains one level.

5. Akhorahil the Storm King: The PC acquires x-ray vision — which is very, very nice — but unfortunately is overwhelmed by constant sadistic urges to physically abuse and inflict pain on his friends and allies.

6. Hoarmurath the Ice King: The PC (if male) becomes affronted by any woman who asserts herself in a role of leadership, and will do anything in his power to rip the woman apart limb from limb; a female PC will become passive and submit to male leadership in all things. On the convenient side, the PC is also thoroughly immune to cold, down to -50 degrees F.

7. Adunaphel the Silent: The PC’s throat hurts whenever he tries to speak, and has a 50% chance of failing to vocalize what he wants to say. (This is terrible for spellcasters.) On the upside, the PC now has a dexterity score of 22 (+4 bonus to AC and when attacking with missiles).

8. Ren the Fire King: The PC’s face takes on an insane look, and he faces his friends, screaming, “I am Ulk Chey Sart, Son of the Exalted Volcano! Bow down before me now!” If the PC isn’t worshipped at once, he or she will attack everyone and fight them to the death, as he is now an ultra-megalomaniac — convinced that he is the Fire King of Chey. There are no positive elements to this statue’s blessing.

9. Uvatha the Horseman: The PC cannot fall off a horse while riding, and fights at a +3 advantage (to hit and damage) when on horseback; and if the horse is in moderately decent shape, the PC can coax enough speed out of the animal to travel 70 miles/day. On the downside, the PC is now so ugly looking (a comeliness score of 2) that virtually everyone in Eru’s creation finds him repulsive, and can’t help but gasp in shock at how hideous he looks.

In addition, anyone who receives a blessing from a statue will be thoroughly unable to attack or harm the particular Nazgul represented by the statue. Practically speaking, this probably won’t matter in the case of Nazgul who don’t live in Minas Morgul (Khamul, Dwar, Adunaphel, Ren, and Uvatha, at the time this module is set in TA 2968).

Any one person can only receive a single blessing from any one statue. Once a PC fails a save and receives a blessing, no more blessings are possible unless the first blessing is removed by any of the following spells: remove curse (cast at 12th level), break enchantment (cast at any level), dispel evil (cast at 12th level), or greater restoration (cast at any level). Removing a blessing entails removing the whole thing — the advantageous elements as well as the harmful ones.

24. Castle of the Vampire Queen. Note: these maps don’t come from the original Minas Ithil module. They come from the module “V5: Palace of the Vampire Queen: Castle Blood” (c. 2013, Pacesetter Games & Simulations), which takes its inspiration from the very first D&D module ever published, “Palace of the Vampire Queen” (c. 1976, TSR). I’ve always wanted to use this first-ever module and Minas Morgul is a perfect fit. My design uses the layouts from the more recent castle with some contents from both the castle and the original palace, but most of the contents are my own. The scale is 10 feet for every square.

In the days of Minas Ithil, this castle was a special shrine dedicated to Vana, the Vala (goddess) of youth and vigor (“Vana the Ever-young”). The castle was sacked in the fall of 2002 and defiled by the Morgul high priest, who opened a powerful gate in the castle’s chapel. He began leading perverse worship services that mocked the “ever-young” Vala with dreadful summonings of those who really do “live” forever: the undead from the Negative Material Plane. The high priest had other priorities, however, and the castle was soon abandoned. Over the centuries, various creatures of the city have used the castle as squatters — orcs, ogres, trolls — who tolerate each other since there is enough space. Stray undead continued to find their way through the chapel gate and wander the halls, though most of them eventually left the castle for the streets. After all, this was a city that welcomed undead, and where it was safe outside because the sun never shined and it was always cold.

Then, in TA 2964, the castle was mysteriously taken over by a single undead creature: a vampire queen driven by hateful purpose. The daughter of Ecthelion II, Elvaleth, who ventured foolishly to spy on the city of Minas Morgul, was swiftly captured for her efforts, brought to the Halls of Rape (encounter area 12) and violated so thoroughly that nihilism was her only response. While the evil of this place has reduced Vana’s ability to manifest in the castle, she used the conjurer Hannish (see area C6) as her instrument to record what happened to Elvaleth. He wrote the Vala’s words on a scroll (that requires read magic to read) and left it on the altar in the center of the room. (Right after that, he was seized by the Vampire Queen’s minions and brought to her, made into what he is now, and thrown into room C6.)

The scroll that explains how Elvaleth, daughter of Ecthelion II, became the Vampire Queen:

The young woman named Elvaleth came here, broken in the Halls of Rape. She was battered and feverish and barely alive, and carried by four other girls who had been likewise abused for sport. This group of five moved into the castle and found refuge from the horrors of the city in the large chapel where they set camp for the night. But one of the girls, a low-level mage, begged the group to leave. She felt there was something terribly wrong within the castle. The altar of the chapel felt evil.

But the other girls refused to leave. They had shelter from the dregs of the city who were chasing them, and Elvaleth couldn’t walk or stand another moment. They thought she wouldn’t survive the night. She had been too horribly violated by her rapists.

Deep into the night, the young mage was awakened by the sounds of someone talking aloud. She roused herself only to see Elvaleth standing before the black arch at the end of the chapel. She was speaking in a strange and surprisingly powerful voice. The young mage couldn’t make out the words, but there was a taint of evil to Elvaleth’s speech.

The young mage began to rouse the two other girls, but she was too late. The runes on the arch glowed red and black tendrils of mist emerged from the arch and swirled about the girl. Elvaleth went rigid and then fell to the ground. The glowing letters faded and wisps of black dissipated.

The young mage rushed forward and cradled Elvaleth in her arms. But before the mage could speak, she was flung like a rag doll across the length of the chapel where she smashed against the far wall and fell to the floor, dying.

The other three girls turned back to look at Elvaleth. She was standing again, her expression ugly and dark. Her eyes, once blue as the sky, had turned pitch black .

“Join me or perish,” whispered Elvaleth. The three girls knelt in acquiescence, as Elvaleth went over to the young mage — who was now the one at death’s door — and broke the girl’s neck with her bare hands, and then sank her teeth into the neck to drink.

Minutes later, Elvaleth, covered in blood, rose and turned to the three horrified girls, commanding: “Drink my girls, drink! Then follow your queen. There is much for us to do!”

Keyed areas of the castle

C1. Foyer. A wide set of stairs leads to the heavy wooden doors that provide entry to the castle. The doors are damaged from a battering ram (from the fall of Minas Ithil in 2002) and they don’t close properly. But the doors must be pushed open to allow entry. The hinges are rusty and when the doors move, they make tons of noise that echoes throughout the castle. This won’t necessarily alarm the residents (as the inhabitants of this castle frequently come and go), but it will be difficult to catch any of them by surprise, unless the PCs find a shrewd means of opening these doors quietly.

Even if they do that, they won’t be able to avoid being spotted by the spectre (area C10) (AC HD, hp 13, DA + energy drain), who is the castle’s enforcer, working directly for the Vampire Queen. The spectre will always be found in this chamber watching for intruders by using the arrow slit. If it detects intruders entering the foyer at C1, it will attempt to follow them and strike from behind. The spectre’s lair (area C11) is reached by a tunnel through the rubble.

C2. Entry Hall. Great stone columns are evenly spaced throughout this hall, with a ceiling is 15 feet high. The room has no furniture but for a couple shattered chairs, but the hall itself — like most of the castle — is in surprisingly good condition considering how ruthless the forces of Mordor were when they sacked the city. The castle was plundered and very little of the original furniture or decorations remain. The front tower was almost completely destroyed, as well as the dining hall (area C3) at the castle’s rear, immediately to the west of this hall.

C3. Ruined Kitchen and Dining Hall. The ceiling of this chamber has collapsed and filled this chamber with a ten foot high pile of debris. Stone and wood are shattered and covered with dirt. There’s nothing of interest here.

C4. Outer Walk. This long hall was designed to help defend the castle. Arrow slits line the walls, for the days

C5. Armory. This chamber has broken crates and barrels on the floor, along with some weapon racks torn from the walls. Five swords, four shields, 1 long bow, and 16 arrows are lying about in this mess. There are also seven human corpses stacked very neatly against the northern wall. They’re not rotting and are well preserved, but they are not undead, nor do they pose a threat. The vampire queen simply hasn’t found a use for them yet.

There’s one particular item of interest. Hanging from a hook on the northwest wall is a long and shiny sword. Beneath the blade are the bones of at least two skeletons, and several of the bones are split in half. If the sword is approached within 10 feet, it will speak the words, “I am trapped.” The sword is indeed trapped, but in a different way than it’s “cry for help” might imply. It can be removed easily enough, by extracting it from the wire that holds it. Buy anyone who does this is struck by a massive pendulum blade that swings down from the ceiling, for 2d6 damage. The trap can be detected and disarmed by a thief. The sword, however, will also burn any non-good aligned creatures who touch it, causing 4d6 damage to evil creatures, and 2d6 damage to neutrals. The denizens of the castle have avoided the sword for centuries.

The sword can communicate and it will answer any direct questions, but only if asked by a good-aligned character. The sword has hung in this chamber since the siege of 2002 and it knows what has transpired within this chamber, which isn’t much. It is a sword +1 of truth, enabling the wielder to detect lie without fail, but also requiring the wielder to speak nothing but the truth — making the weapon, quite literally, a two-edged sword.

C6. The Conjurer. An ex-mage named Hannish (AC 10, HD 4, hp 24, DA 0) is confined to this room. He used to specialize in conjuring entities from other planes, and came into this castle three years ago (four years after Elvaleth came) hearing rumors of the powerful entity that was ruling it now. In the chapel he was possessed by the goddess Vana and given his answer; he was made to write what happened to Elvaleth on a scroll and leave it on the altar. As soon as he left the chapel he was seized by Elvaleth’s warrior skeletons and brought to her on the second floor, where she turned him into an “almost undead” — a being that shares the basic characteristics of most undead (immune to sleep, charm, hold, and cold spells; doesn’t age; doesn’t need food, drink, or sleep, etc.), but looks purely human, has no offensive capabilities, and indeed has no will to fight any creature at all, even in self-defense. He retains the same basic persona that he had in life (neutral in alignment, and a nice enough guy), though he’s confused, thoroughly unmotivated, and under a permanent forget spell that makes him unable to remember anything about being in the chapel, writing the scroll, and being taken to Elvaleth. He’s not sure how he became as he is; he assumes just being in the castle did that to him (which may alarm the PCs). Anytime he tries to focus on the interests he had a mortal human (his mage occupation, his hobbies, and general life), the memories leave him depressed and wondering how he could have ever been interested in such banal pursuits. He stands in this empty room, paces about, or sits on the couch provided — confined by the skeletal guards outside, area C8 — happy enough with his existence, as he doesn’t need or miss anything else.

Except one thing: his dog (Olaf) that is kept in the next room over (area C7), and which he is allowed to visit once a week. The dog is fed by the skeleton warriors and is allowed the run of the outer walk for about 15 minutes twice/day. Hannish loved Olaf so much that not even undeath could change his feelings for the dog. But this is torture, since Olaf no longer returns Hannish’s affections; his previous master carries the offending scent of the undead. This breaks Hannish’s heart, and he will ask the PCs to take Olaf with them away from the castle, if they seem like they will make good masters.

The upshot is that Hannish doesn’t know much about the castle or its occupants, and some of what he thinks he knows is wrong. He believes that a vampire queen rules the castle, which is true, but believes that she is the room right across the hall (in area C9), which is a half-truth if that. He should be played as a tragic character, all the more tragic since he’s content to go on “living” in this small room, doing nothing for the rest of eternity.

C7. Olaf. A friendly tan bloodhound (Olaf) lives in this room, formerly belonging to Hannish (see area C6 above). The dog will bond with any neutral or good-aligned PC who shows it affection and will want to leave the room with the PC and follow him/her as its new master.

C8. Warrior Skeletons. This hallway is patrolled by three skeleton warriors (AC 5; HD 4; hp 22, 23, 24; DA 1-8/1-8). They tend to mill about the north end of the hall, and they will attack any who enter. They attack fast and get two sword thrusts per round. One of the skeletons carries a silver bell (35 gp), which it rings as soon as intruders (those not normally in the castle) are spotted. The skeleton must purposefully ring the bell. The bell magically alerts the Vampire Queen, who possesses the captive held in area C9.

C9. “The Vampire Queen”. The door to this room is locked and the key was thrown away a long time ago. It locks and unlocks from the inside only, by a hidden latch next to the door on the inside, though a thief or assassin might pick the lock from the outside. The room is empty except for a young woman sitting on the floor with her back resting against the north wall. Her hands are tied behind her back and her legs are bound at the ankles. Her name is Reveera, and she’s a thief who was captured in the streets a few days ago by one of the ogres on the second floor (areas C21 and C22). The Vampire Queen is always looking for amusement at the torment of others, and frequently orders (young female) captives brought here so that she can toy with them, and use them to bait intruders to free her from her room on the second floor (on which see further). The warrior skeletons in the hall keep captives fed for an indefinite time (usually from a week up to a month) and then kill the captive when the ogres return with another girl. Reveera, like all captives, is made to wear a necklace with a silver bat pendant having two tiny rubies for eyes, concealed under her shirt. So long as she wears the necklace, the Vampire Queen (in area C26) can take possession of her body at any time. If the bell with the warrior skeletons is sounded (see area C8), the Queen is immediately aware of intruders and she will take possession of Reveera, who becomes conscious.

If the bell was not sounded by the warrior skeletons: Reveera will be unconscious. If roused, she begs the PCs to free her. She will take the necklace off in disgust at once and throw it on the floor, advising the PCs not to touch it. She has no weapons or supplies. She will immediately flee the castle and won’t be encountered again. If the PCs keep her restrained, she will curse them and start screaming. A know alignment spell will show that she is chaotic neutral, and a detect lie will show that she means what she says when she assures them she was captured and means them no harm.

If the bell was sounded by the warrior skeletons: Reveera will be possessed by the Vampire Queen (Elvaleth), fully awake, and she will beg the PCs to free her — and to help her “complete her mission”. She tells them that she was recruited to come to the castle and obtain a white candle from one of the rooms. This is a lie to get the PCs to remove the candle from the chapel (area C16). If the PCs have the sword of truth (from area C5), the sword will reveal the lie immediately. Reveera/the Queen will also ask the PCs why they came to the castle. If the sword of truth is present, the PCs have a difficult time lying to her. If the PCs say that they have come looking for a woman named Elvaleth, then Reveera/the Queen will pause for a long moment, and then say that “no one by that name is in this castle”. That should raise suspicions, since Reveera is presenting herself as an outsider on a mission to infiltrate the castle. How would she know the name of everyone in the castle?

If the PCs refuse to help Reveera obtain the white candle, then she will reveal herself as Elvaleth the Vampire Queen, and order the PCs to leave the castle at once, or they will die. Then she stops possessing Reveera, who immediately takes the necklace off in disgust and throws it to the floor, and flees the castle, advising the PCs to do the same. If the PCs do agree to help Reveera find this white candle, then the Queen is amused. She/Reveera will help the PCs as little as possible unless it serves the purpose of getting the magic candle. The Queen will not attack the PCs through Reveera. Reveera’s stats are: AC 8 (no armor, just dexterity bonus); Lvl 4; hp 20, DA 0 (no weapon). S 10 I 12 W 12 D 17 C 13 Ch 13.

C10. Spectre. The castle’s enforcer (for the Vampire Queen) is an enhanced spectre (AC 0, HD 9, hp 60, DA 1-10 + energy drain of 2 levels, or 1 if save is made). It is very powerful and strong, and it attacks any intruders it does not recognize. It sticks to this chamber watching for intruders by using the arrow slit (to location C1). If it spots intruders, it will attempt to follow them and strike from behind with a surprise attack.

C11. Spectre Lair. The spectre throws treasure it gains from the intruders it kills into this room. On the floor are 12 mp, 86 gp, 341 sp, and a potion of delusion (labeled as a healing potion). Inside the healing potion is a gold key that unlocks the doors to area C12. Looking carefully into the liquid of the potion, or drinking it, will reveal the key.

C12: Offering. The doors to this room are locked (the key is in the potion bottle in area C11). Against the north wall stands a statue of a beautiful human woman, holding a bowl before her on outstretched arms. Her eyes have been defaced. The statue is of the Vala, Vana the Ever-young. Any cleric, druid, or paladin will recognize her as Vana. If two gold coins (or more) are placed in the bowl, the statue glows brightly and its eyes are repaired. Whoever placed the coins in the bowl gains the ability to cast greater restoration one time. This can only happen once.

C13. Sacristy. This area is built completely of white marble and white granite. A small alcove in the north wall is flanked by two statues of men in armor. The statues have been badly defaced. The alcove is splattered with blood and a single shelf holds a golden bowl. Dried blood is spattered across the bowl. The bowl is protected by the watchful eye of Vana the Ever-young. Any evil creatures that touch the bowl suffer 1d6 fire damage. However, any good character that secures the bowl and cleans it will be unharmed. The bowl is worth 2,500 gp if returned to a temple in Middle-Earth devoted to Vana.

C14 and C15. Storage Rooms. These rooms are empty.

C16. Chapel. This chapel is in ruin. The remnants of pews are scattered and broken. Two statues of the goddess Vana face each other from across the east and west walls, the eyes of each defaced. On top of the altar in the center of the room is a white candle burning (a rare sight in Minas Morgul, where fire is a capital crime), along with a scroll. There is a pile of bones rest at the center of the room, with scraps of clothing mixed in. The bones are from the first victim of the Vampire Queen — the young girl who was trying to help Elvaleth (as described in the scroll). The candle cannot be extinguished while in this room; it was lit by the goddess Vana herself: so long as the candle burns, the Vampire Queen cannot leave her lair in area C26 on the upper floor. The 40’x40′ central area of the chapel (where the 6’x3′ altar is) has been hallowed by Vana so that no evil creatures can get through the altar and touch the white candle. Good or neutral-aligned PCs try can easily approach the altar and remove the candle from the room, but they would probably only be moved to do this at Reveera’s urging, if Reveera is possessed by the Vampire Queen (see area C9). If they do remove the candle from the chapel, Elvaleth is liberated from her confinement to room C26, will rally her forces in the keep, and come after the PCs to slay them (see area C26).

The scroll on top of the altar requires a read magic, and if it is read, then the DM should read what the scroll says word for word (see the top of this encounter area, where I reproduce the scroll in italics).

C17. Black Arch. This area at the south end of the chapel is not protected by Vana’s hallowing. Straddling a raised dais is black wooden arch with two onyx pillars. Red runes are carved over the arch and a thin black mist constantly swirls inside the archway. The arch is a gate to the Negative Material Plane; stepping into it is thus disaster (instant death). The gate can be opened by anyone who reads the runes on the arch, but the only ones who can read the runes are (a) a priest of at least 11th level, (b) a mage of at least 9th level, or (c) any mortal at all who is at death’s door (close to dying). Those who read the runes are instantly transformed into an enhanced ghost (01-50%) or an enhanced vampire (51-00%), unless they save vs. death magic.

The Vampire Queen, formerly Elvaleth, found herself in front of the arch and near death. For whatever reason she read the runes,  and was transformed into a greater vampire (see area C26). To close the gate and make the archway harmless requires a dispel magic cast at 16th level.

Second Level of the Keep

This level of the keep is occupied by both undead who serve the Vampire Queen, and mortal creatures who have carved out lairs for themselves. These creatures (orcs, ogres, and trolls) don’t serve the Vampire Queen but they don’t mess with her either, and she tells the undead to leave them alone.

A significant portion of this level was damaged in the fall of 2002. The intact sections are generally maintained and in good repair. Most of the inhabitants avoid contact with each other, preferring to mind their own business. They rarely investigate strange noises, including sounds of combat.

C18-C19. Stair Landing and Hall. There are five warrior skeletons (AC 5; HD 4; hp 21, 22, 23, 24, 25; DA 1-8/1-8). They patrol these areas and the hall leading down to the audience chamber (area C34) and they will attack anyone who doesn’t belong, in other words, anyone but the orcs, ogres, and the troll who reside on this level. They attack fast and get two sword thrusts per round.

C20. Wolf Guard. A wolf of nasty temperament (AC 7, HD 2, hp 14, DA 1-6) lives in this room, the pet of the orcs in room C28. The wolf will growl at any passers-by, but it won’t attack unless this room is entered, or if room C28 is entered by anyone except the orcs. It howls if the room is entered, alerting the orcs who will immediately come to investigate. The wolf wears a silver collar worth 75 gp (a gift from the Vampire Queen).

C21-C22. Storage Rooms. These rooms are empty.

C23. Troll. A troll (AC 4, HD 6, hp 34, DA 5-8/5-8/1-12; regenerate 3 hp/round) makes this room his lair. His treasure is a pile of gold 2,259 gp and a jewel worth 1,000 gp buried in that pile.

C24. Spectral Guard. Two spectres (AC 0, HD 7, hp 44, 48, DA 1-8 + energy drain of 2 levels, or 1 if save is made) guard the door to C25, which provides access to the Vampire Queen’s lair (area C26). They will attack any creature not invited by the Queen to be here.

C25. The Blue Candle. In the center of the room is a small brass pedestal with a tall blue candle set on it, burning brightly (a rare sight in Minas Morgul, given that fire is a capital crime). The candle is magical (it burns perpetually unless a dispel magic at 9th level is cast on it) and it endows any person who touches it with an immunity to energy drain that lasts 24 hours. But that person also loses any money (coinage) that he or she is carrying. This includes money in a bag of holding, if the PC is carrying one, since touching the candle turns any bag of holding into a normal sack (meaning it will only hold 1,500 coins instead of 25,000). All money on the PC’s person simply disappears and goes to room C40. Each time the candle is touched, the candle is reduced in size. When the PCs enter, it will have been touched (sometime in the past four years) six times and is half the original size. The candle can be touched six more times, but PCs may not think it’s worth it — unless they think to leave their money bags/sacks on the floor when touching the candle. Then they can pick up their money right away again. This trap serves the Vampire Queen’s amusement, as she loves to test the mettle of those who are coming after her.

C26. The Vampire Queen (Elvaleth). Herein waits Elvaleth, who is now the Vampire Queen of the castle (AC -3, HD 12, hp 74, DA 5-10 + energy drain, 2 levels or save for 1 level, plus charm, shapechange into bat, or assume gaseous form). She can instantly establish telepathic communication with any of the warrior skeletons, spectres, and her ladies in waiting throughout the castle, though that’s only one-way: they cannot communicate telepathically to her (which is why the warrior skeletons need the magic bell to alert her of intruders on level one). The undead receive their orders from any of the ladies in waiting, who often slip in and out of room C26 in gaseous form to relay information to their queen and receive any instructions from her.

Elvaleth has been constrained by a special warding cast by the goddess Vana. This happened soon after Elvaleth became the Vampire Queen. Elvaleth cannot leave Room C26 unless the white candle is removed from the chapel (area C16), not even by assuming gaseous form to slip through the arrow slits. If Elvaleth were liberated from this room, she would embark on a plan that is possible because of her intuitive understanding of the runes on the gate in the chapel (area C17) — an understanding that no one else has, not even the Witch King, that was made possible by her horrendous abuse. She would use the gate to make an army of vampires with women who suffered hell in the Halls of Rape, and unleash destruction on that establishment, and then on the rest of the city. While such a plan might sound nice to the PCs, it’s a ludicrous fantasy, as the Witch King wouldn’t allow it; he would simply assume control of Elvaleth and her vampire army and make it part of his. Vana knows Elvaleth’s special psychic connection to the gate, and doesn’t want to see the Witch King’s army supplemented with a huge army of vampires. Gondor would be up the creek. The best the goddess could do was confine Elvaleth to an area and keep her away from the gate.

The best the PCs can do is kill Elvaleth. There is no way to return her to mortality and she’s living a hell as the Vampire Queen — a tiny part of her aware of the horrific being she has become and crying out inside her mind. If the PCs kill her permanently (stake through the heart and chopping of the head is best), it will be a great mercy.

Female PCs who are killed by Elvaleth rise as vampires in service to her. Male PCs who are killed by her rise as “almost undead”, like Hannish in area C6 (see the description there) under a powerful forget spell effect. She will either let these men go (to wander the streets of Minas Morgul aimlessly) or imprison them (like Hannnish) for her amusement.

C27. Room of Tribute. The denizens of the keep will often leave offerings to the Vampire Queen to placate her and stay on her good side. The offerings are either blood or money.

C28. Orcs. Five Uruk-hai (AC 6, HD 2, hp 12 each, DA 1-8) make this room their lair, and 2-4 of them will be present at any given time. They used to be six in number, but one of the Uruks strayed into the spider lair (area C30) and is now hanging there as feed. This room is watched over by the Uruks’ pet wolf at area C20. They have 532 gp and 2,890 sp in a chest.

C29. Ogres. Cries will be heard behind this door as it is approached. Three ogres (AC 5, HD 4, hp 20 each, DA 1-10) make this their lair, and currently two of them are present, slaughtering children to make blood pudding. There are three drained bodies and five children still living (and crying for help). Most of the blood is consumed by the ogres in their pudding, but some goes to the Vampire Queen (at area C27) as tribute. They have 1,640 gp and 5 gems worth 300 gp each piled in a corner.

C30. Spider Lair. These three ruined chambers are plastered with webs all around. It’s the domain of a giant spider (AC 3, HD 8, hp 42, DA 1-4 plus poison, save at -2 or go into a coma for 1-4 days, and then die). The southernmost chamber is where the spider stores her feed; currently the comatose body of an orc (from area C28, who foolishly wandered into the webbed lair) is hanging in a webbed cocoon. The Uruks have written him off; not only do they not want to mess with the spider, they know the Vampire Queen is fond of the creature.

C31-C33. Bathrooms. These rooms were once opulent well-appointed bathrooms, but now they are in ruin and full of trash. The denizens of the castle use these rooms to deposit their garbage and waste.

C34. Audience Chamber. A stone throne rests on a raised platform in the southeast part of the room. The skeletal remains of old warriors, and their spears, lie on the stairs below the throne. This used to be a reception hall hosted by the warden of the castle, a Gondorian noble devoted to Vana the Ever-young. There is a 20% chance that one of the Vampire Queen’s ladies in waiting (from areas C37-C39) will be seated here, and will attack any intruders who don’t belong in the castle, summoning the other two ladies in waiting.

C35. Hallway. Nothing of interest in this hallway.

C36. Lammasu Statue. The statue in this room is stone with jewels for eyes. One eye is missing and can be found in room C40. If that eye is returned and put in place, the lammasu comes to life (AC 6. HD 7, hp 49, DA 1-6/1-6, protection from evil 10′ radius, cure wounds 9-28 hp of damage, once/day, speak holy word once/day) and will aid the PCs against the ladies in waiting (C38-39) and the Vampire Queen (C26). The lammasu will insist on helping the PCs against these vamps, and his holy word will be of immense help indeed.

C37-39. Ladies in Waiting. Each room contains a female vampire (AC 1, HD 8, hp 50, DA 5-10 + energy drain, 2 levels or save for 1 level, plus charm, shapechange into bat, or assume gaseous form). These were the three young women that were violated in the Halls of Rape along with Elvaleth (as related in the scroll in the chapel, area C16). These vamps will hurry to protect their Queen in room C26 if she needs help (they will float through the arrow slits in gaseous form) and bond together against any intruders whom they spot in this wing of the castle (or the audience hall, area C34). The lammasu in area 36 would be a great help to the PCs against these vamps if they can figure out how to bring it to life.

C40. Treasure Hoard. Herein lies the Vampire Queen’s hoard, piled on the floor. Some of it comes from those who touched the blue candle in aread C25. There are 5,273 gp, 819 mp, 36 gems worth 100 gp each, 17 gems worth 1,000 gp each, and 3 gems worth 5,000 gp each. Also in this hoard is the gem that is the eye for the stone lammasu in room C26.


56. 25. Temple of the Web. The only encounter area that remains largely unchanged from the Minas Ithil Days. Under Gondor it was an old theater taken over and repurposed by a secret Spider Cult nominally serving the Necromancer of Dol Guldur while holding that Ungoliant is supreme. It’s still the same, but without the need for as much secrecy. Every follower in the cult prepares for the day that she must make the ultimate sacrifice: to devour herself as Ungoliant eventually devoured herself. The cult practices special spells that make partial self-devouring possible, in preparation for the day of each member’s apotheosis. They recruit new members by holding public services that seem relatively benign but have a subtle brainwashing effect.

The temple is run by the priestess Ohikha (Oh-HEE-kuh) and her assistant Helmare (Hel-MAH-ray). They are the only cultists who live in the temple, but spread throughout the city are many underling priestesses who preach the Spider’s Word, as well as the cult’s thugs who abduct people for sacrifice. Men can be priests in this cult but they can’t rise above 5th level.

As a matriarchal and elitist cult, its members believe themselves superior to the other cults in the city, to men, and to the working class. They obey the Witch King as they must, but they hate his second in command, the Storm King and his lackey the Ice King, each of whom are virulent misogynists. The cult does whatever it can to thwart the Storm King without endangering themselves. The Spider Cult thus hates the Cult of Cold Thunder (see area 18), who serve the Storm King (and Ice King) and are continually plotting against those cult members. While the Spider Cultists are uncompromising in their allegiances, they have no use for reckless fanatics, and Ohikha recently excommunicated a member (the priest Letchet) who couldn’t be discreet about his hatred for the Storm King. Ohikha cursed Letchet to forget everything about the Temple of the Web and Ungoliant and his service there, but he began openly preaching his venomous hatred for the Storm King in town squares. For that crime of treason he is now imprisoned in the Claws of Justice (see encounter area 17, the Lower Dungeon.)

When the temple isn’t in use, the front door is kept locked. Thieves and assassins can pick it normally, but there is a magic trap on the floor directly behind it: a symbol of arachnid hunger. A PC who steps on the symbol must save vs. spells or become ravenously hungry for insects, worms, and snails, but poisoned if he or she tries to eat any fruits or vegetables. The poison incapacitates the PC for 1-8 hours, and the hunger effect lasts for 1-4 weeks unless a restoration or heal spell is cast).

When services are in session, the door is left open to the public. The services are hosted on the main floor (area 1) three times a week: Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings, and Sunday nights. Usually between 3-8 wealthy (upper middle class or elite) people attend (whether regular devotees or guests), and that’s the number the PCs should encounter if they choose to attend a service as guests. The services consist of sermons about one’s “inner spider”, collective chanting, ritual dancing, and the offering of a gem when the collection plate is passed around (value between 10-100 gp is expected). Those who do not contribute a gem to the collection plate will be frowed upon though not necessarily expelled from the service. Putting any kind of coinage onto the plate is considered sacrilege, as the cult doesn’t believe in owning money; only gems and jewels. The sermons are usually delivered by Ohikha (80% of the time), but sometimes she allows her assistant Helmare the honors (20%). Both priestesses are present in either case. After the plate is passed around, the one leading the service makes a sacrifice of sparrows on the altar (area 2).

During a service, a non-believer must save vs. spells or become affected by the droning chants as if by a suggestion spell, in which case the victim will want to learn more about the Spider Cult and potentially become a member. Those affected by the suggestion spell will be susceptible to Ohikha’s geas: she can smell high-level PCs as soon as she sees them, and after the sacrificial ceremony she will try to geas a PC who was affected by the chants (if all the PCs made their save, a random PC will be chosen). A PC who failed the suggestion save needs a 20 to resist the geas save; a PC who resisted suggestion can resist the geas by saving normally. Failure to save means the PC will do all in his or her power to assassinate Jâe-Shônba — the priest who leads the Cult of the Cold Thunder (at encounter area 18) — whom Ohikha loathes more than anyone else in the city, ever since her 12-year old daughter was killed. (She was run over in the streets by Jâe-Shônba during one of his “joy rides”.)

Behind the altar is a secret trap door (the “T”, designed to look like a floor slab) leading to the cellar (where the other “T” is labelled). The trap door is trapped by a symbol of leprosy. Anyone going through the door must save vs. spells or be afflicted with a rotting disease loss of feeling and blood in the extremities; 50% of the damage taken by the PC in melee combat is doubled, and the PC’s charisma is reduced by 6 points.

The cellar is where the real sacrifices are made. On Sunday nights (but not Wednesday nights or Sunday mornings), after the sparrow sacrificial ceremony, the priestess leads everyone down below, though she will only invite guests (like the PCs) if she has either made converts of them or has managed to geas one of them. Otherwise she will tell them they must leave the temple. Down in the cellar altar room (area 7), the priestess conducts a much more intense ritual that ends with the sacrifice of a person. Ohikha uses her sacrificial dagger +2 (or lets Helmare use it), and the blade currently holds seven doses of spider venom; anyone stabbed with this dagger must save vs. poison or die immediately. The sacrifice is led by whichever priestess led the upstairs ritual (Ohikha 80% of the time, Helmare 20%). Both priestesses are present for the ritual in either case.

To keep herself supplied with human sacrifices, Ohikha uses her network of thugs who live in residential areas throughout the city. Every week they will abduct someone who is a either a member of, or sympathetic to the Cult of Cold Thunder, usually low-level initiates or “nobodies” who will hardly be missed. The captive is put into one of the two cells in the cellar, bound and gagged. Currently the smaller cell (area 8) contains a novice of the Cold-Thunder cult (a 1st level priest with 5 hp). He will be the one sacrificed should the PCs attend, or stumble upon, a Sunday night worship service. The larger cell (area 9) is currently empty.

Ohikha is evil but cultured and civilized, and she will generally respect those who respect her. She will not abide chauvinists or superior attitudes of any kind, and she will outright attack any who profess a liking for the Storm King or the Cult of Cold Thunder while having the balls to enter her temple.

If the PCs attack Ohikha and/or Helmare, or if she attacks them, then the PCs will not find the priestesses defenseless. They have no bodyguards or underlings who stay at the temple, but they hardly need them. Each has a summon spiders spell (see below) that will provide an adequate bodyguard force, and they are equipped to flee easily (see their cloaks) should attackers prove too much to handle. In addition, Ohikha has the especially useful devour self spell to fall back on, though she will only use that spell if she can evade the PCs and find a place to hide.

Ohikha is an 10th level priestess of Ungoliant (AC -4, hp 64, DA 3-6; S 9, I 18, W 11, D 20, C 15, Ch 12, Co 16). She wears a cloak of the spider (poison immunity, spider climb ability at the speed of walking with two hands free, move through webs at normal speed, cast web twice per day, and allows quick action giving her the automatic initiative as well as to break off from melee and dash off fast without being subject to an extra attack), a headband of AC 0 (she has a dexterity of 20, which gives her the AC of -4), a black pearl necklace of protection against missile attacks (both normal and magic missiles), and has a sacrificial dagger +2, spider venom. Her spells are:

1st levelcomprehend languages, cure light wounds, endure elements, obscuring mist, sanctuary
2nd levelcalm emotions, cure moderate wounds, find traps, heat building, make whole
3rd levelbestow curse, coldfire, deeper darkness, dispel magic
4th leveldetect lies, dismissal, poison, summon spiders*
5th leveldevour self**, geas, magic jar

Helmare is a 7th level priestess of Ungoliant (AC 0, hp 47, DA 2-9), armed with a scimitar +1, and a cloak of blurring (the wearer is hard to see, AC 0, and can disengage from battle and flee without being subject to an extra attack)

1st levelcommand, cure light wounds, doom, magic weapon, sanctuary
2nd levelaugury, hold person, shatter, status
3rd levelblindness, contagion, poison
4th levelslay living, summon spiders*

* Summon Spiders

Level: Cleric 4
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Duration: Until the spiders are slain or dismissed by summoner
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

When this spell is cast, 3-6 giant spiders (AC 4, HD 4, hp 25, DA 1-8 + poison, die in 1-4 rounds) are summoned to defend the priestess to death.

** Devour Self

Level: Cleric 5
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Spellcaster
Area: Spellcaster
Duration: 1-4 hours
Saving Throw: None
Spell Resistance: No

The priestess must remove all her clothes and possessions in order to cast this hideous spell. When she does, a grotesque spider-like form begins to spawn from the priestess’ back, and starts consuming the priestess from head to toe, much like a snake can swallow a human being. The process goes more quickly than a snake, taking 20 minutes instead of an hour, and when the priestess is fully consumed at the end of those 20 minutes, she becomes one with the spider. Once consumed, she undergoes a process of empowerment that takes 1-4 hours, during which time the spider hides in the safest place it can find (if there is trouble the priestess is trying to escape or avoid) or it simply rests in the priestess’s chambers if there is no danger present. After 1-4 hours, the spider withers and crumbles, and, if the priestess makes the proper constitution check (see below), she rises from the ash nude but whole, and stronger than before: (1) she has gained a level; (2) she is fully restored to full hit points and spell usage, including new spells from the level gain. On the other hand she also loses 1 point of charisma, and that loss cannot be regained by any restoration spell. When she casts enough devour self spells to reach a charisma score of 2, she becomes apathetic, and when she hits 0, she becomes truly devoured and dies for good. (Someone reduced to a charisma of 0 is wholly without passion for life, can’t make any decisions, and is unable to act or care about anything; not comatose, but so overwhelmed with apathy that it makes the person effectively catatonic and eventually dead).

If the spider is attacked while the priestess is being devoured, it is hard as nails to kill. It has an armor class of -7, HD 12, and hp 96. The spider cannot physically attack, but for every time that it is successfully struck, its body releases a cloudkill in a 20-foot radius (automatically killing those of 3 HD or less, killing those of 6 HD or less who fail their save, and causing 1-4 point of constitution damage to those over 6 HD) that dissipates after three minutes. If the spider is killed, then the priestess inside dies, permanently and irrevocably.

There is always a chance that the priestess will not survive the devouring process, and that is determined by a “resurrection survival” check, based on the priestess’s constitution score: 1 — 30%; 2 — 35%; 3 — 40%; 4 — 45%; 5 — 50%; 6 — 55%; 7 — 60%; 8 — 65%; 9 — 70%; 10 — 75%; 11 — 80%; 12 — 82%; 13 — 84%; 14 — 86%; 15 — 88%; 16 — 90%; 17 — 92%; 18 — 94%; 19 — 96%; 20+ — 98%.

Ohikha has a constitution of 15, so she has an 88% chance of surviving a devour self spell every time she casts it. That means she has a 12% each time of being truly devoured, which means dead for good, with no chance of being resurrected by any means (not even a wish). Needless to say, she uses the spell sparingly, either because she’s in desperate need of protection, or because she feels she’s reached a point in her service to Ungoliant that requires a spiritual transcendence on her part.

Ohikha has cast 1 devour self spell since reaching 9th level (when she got the spell); that’s how she immediately became 10th level. She had a charisma of 13 but now it’s 12. This means she has “12 lives” (assuming she can survive each spell casting), or twelve spell castings, before hitting a charisma of 0. She enjoys the influence she has on people and is in no hurry to deteriorate into a non-charismatic just to gain levels. But that conflicts with her religious beliefs and so she also feels pulled in the other direction. The doctrine of self-devourment states that loss of influence, the loss of purpose, letting go of life’s concerns — and yielding to pure hunger — is the fundamental goal that Ungoliant achieved. It is ultimately the goal of every priestess who serves the Spider Cult. Thus Ohikha both craves and fears to keep using the devour self spell.

If the PCs kill Ohikha, a contingency spell will go off right before she goes below 1 hp, triggering a magic jar that will allow her to possess her slayer (the PC gets a save vs. spells at -3). She will then become a lurker inside this PC and use the victim to bring down the Cult of Cold Thunder at all costs. If she hasn’t already geased another PC to assassinate Jâe-Shônba, she will try to do so through the possessed PC, giving her more power to destroy her rivals and personal arch-enemy.

The second floor of the building is reached from the back area on the ground floor (area 3), which holds a room for the sacrificial sparrows, along with a staircase going up to the private rooms for Ohikha (area 5) and Helmare (area 4), as well as their shared sitting room (area 6) and kitchen (unnumbered). Ohikha’s personal treasure is kept in a locked box beneath her bed, trapped with spider-poison darts (save or die in 1-6 rounds): 16 rubies worth 100 gp each; 12 opals worth 200 gp each; 10 topazes worth 500 gp each; 5 emeralds worth 1,000 gp each, 3 sapphires worth 2,000 gp each, 2 amethysts worth 5,000 gp each, and a black pearl set in a mithril necklace worth 10,000 gp. The pearl and necklace are both magical, and if they are worn around the neck, the wearer is immune to all missile attacks (both normal and magic missiles). This necklace is identical to the one Ohikha wears around her neck, which allows her to scry (spy) on whoever wears it, no matter how far away they are. Helmare’s treasure is kept in a locked box, with a live poisonous spider inside: eight 500 gp gems, four 1,000 gp gems, and one 5,000 gp gem.

Here ends parts 1 and 2 of the Minas Morgul module. Part 3 will come in late April/early May, detailing encounter areas 26-33.


Appendix: The Courtesan Character Class (for encounter area 10)

The Courtesan is specialist sub-class of magic-user, their specialty being concerned with charming and inducing people into sex. Here are the charts for advancement and spells.

See here for the listings and details of the courtesan sex spells.

Minas Ithil –> Minas Morgul

My project for the year: to redesign ICE’s Minas Ithil module as it should have been done originally, for the post-2002 period, after the Nazgul seized it and brought it under Mordor’s control. In other words, when Minas Ithil became Minas Morgul.

The cover art certainly led one to believe that it would focus on that later period, and was a blatant case of false advertising. Anyway, it’s a lot of work for me ahead — quite a big city –and I’m looking forward to it.

Good Intent, Bad Law: Roe v. Wade’s 50th Anniversary

Today is the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and many is the lamentation that it didn’t live to see its 50th year. I remain divided in mind about it. As a firm pro-choice advocate I was dismayed by Roe’s overturning last summer, but from a judicial point of view I can’t deny it was a bad ruling. I had always been aware of pro-choice feminists who believed that Roe had little to no legal support (not least the late Ruth Ginsburg), but not until last year did I bother to give it much thought. Roe, I’d thought, was here to stay (my “prediction” in 2018 that it would be overturned in 2021 by Samuel Alito was just a dark fantasy I pulled out of my ass), and I was just thankful that abortion rights had the highest level of protection.

Why was Roe a bad ruling? Because it (a) fixated on a peripheral issue (privacy), and then (b) used that faulty element to make a judicially activist fiat, which ended up (c) putting the brakes on a trajectory in American consensus that was actually favoring abortion. In this I follow the late Ruth Ginsburg.

Pro-choice advocate Tom Flynn has also criticized Roe as an overreaching fiat that settled the abortion in an unstable and undesirable way:

“By enforcing a preemptive victory for those in favor of abortion rights, it brought the grass-roots debate about the subject to a premature end. The important questions, such as ‘When does a fetus become a human person?’ were never really thrashed out. So we arrive at today’s situation, where abortion rights exist only by court order because advocates never got the chance to build a broad-based constituency for them.”

Prior to Roe, the trajectory toward abortion acceptance was clear. Sixteen states had liberalized their abortion statutes. The American Medical Association had reversed its policies, shedding its strict anti-abortion skin and adopting strong pro-choice guidelines. If not for Roe, many states would have almost unquestionably established liberal abortion policies. Roe‘s overreach ignited religious-right activism, and when right-wingers are out in droves to “defend the most innocent lives from murder”, it’s hard to claim the moral high ground, especially when the pro-choice case rests lamely on one’s “right to privacy” (the basis of Roe) and one’s “right to choose” (to choose murder? asks the anti-abortionist). Without Roe, progressives could have finished their task in educating people as to why abortion is not just “my business” and “my choice”, but actually morally superior in a world of unwanted pregnancies, poverty, rape, and unnecessary suffering.

Fifty years after Roe, and one year after Dobbs, I’m hoping that the latter will enable the fulfillment of the former’s ambitions in the legislative arena where it belongs. And it’s not an unreasonable expectation. Polling shows that there is little support in America for an abortion ban, especially if it doesn’t make exceptions for rape and incest. 80% of Americans want to keep abortion legal, either entirely (32%) or with some restrictions (48%), while only 18% want it banned entirely.

In responding to the fury over Dobbs, Andrew Sullivan had this to say:

Dobbs will send the abortion issue back from a single court to democratic debate and discussion – where it is in every other western country. Even the most progressive countries regulate abortion through the democratic process. In Germany, it’s illegal after 12 weeks of pregnancy — more restrictive than the case of Dobbs that bars abortion after 15 weeks. European countries where the legal cutoff is even more restrictive: Austria, Spain, Greece, Italy, France, Belgium and Switzerland. Abortion enshrined as a constitutional right? Not even in super-progressive Canada. The United States, in other words, has been an outlier in the past and, with Roe reversed, it will return to a democratic politics of abortion, in line with most of the Western world. Abortion, if we wanted, could actually be an issue that restores health to a polarized polity by forcing us to come to various forms of compromise over an issue we’ve debated entirely in the abstract until now. We can no longer punt it.

“States can pursue different legal regimes, from the very permissive to the very restrictive, and the results can be weighed up. Remember federalism? This is a near-perfect reflection of its essential role in keeping this country in one piece. And, in my view, all of this actually calls the cheap, moralizing bluff of the religious right. Now they actually have to enforce and defend draconian bans — and see popular revulsion grow, unless they too can come up with a compromise. Leftists, if they could only snap out of their disdain for democracy, can make a powerful case for moderation on this issue against right-extremism. To do that, of course, they will have to back some restrictions on abortion in some states — which some seem very reluctant to do — and even allow some diversity of opinion within their own ranks.

“So let’s stop the hyperventilation and get back to democracy. Persuade people, if you can. Get them out to vote. Stop demonizing those you disagree with and compromise with them in office, however difficult that may be. What Roe did was kickstart the extreme cultural polarization that has defined and blighted the last few decades of American politics. Maybe the end of Roe can mark the beginning of a return to living together, and negotiating a way to make that bearable.”

With Sullivan I agree, as I do with Edward Lazarus, the law clerk for Justice Harry Blackmun (who wrote the opinion for Roe). Lazarus said: “As a matter of constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible. I say this as someone utterly committed to the right to choose and as someone who loved Roe‘s author like a grandfather.”

This may not be a triumphal way of honoring Roe’s 50th anniversary, nor the most respectful one, but I do honor what came of Roe, even if it was through a judicial error. And I stand with Ruth Ginsburg, Tom Flynn, Andrew Sullivan, and Edward Lazarus (and plenty of others) in defending abortion rights and wanting those rights codified in law — not by a judicial fiat which begs to be overturned by those who soundly interpret the Constitution, but by a democratic process that binds the judiciary to respect it.

The Meaning of “All Israel”, Part 2: “Saved or Safed?” (Mark Nanos)

Always know that Mark Nanos will shake things up. His Mystery of Romans (1996) had a major impact on me and is still one of my favorite books on Paul, even if I don’t buy all of its arguments. I’m hard pressed to think of a better treatment of Rom 4:18-25 and 14:1-15:6, and also some parts of Rom 11. (When it comes to Rom 13, he loses me.) At any rate, Nanos has done more work on Romans recently, and he is retracting some of his views set forth in that fabulous book. I find that unfortunate; his new reading of Romans 11 is (to me) less plausible. The good news is that it’s always rewarding to read Nanos; there’s always something I take away positively, even if in overall disagreement.

I’ll focus on two articles: “Paul – Why Bother?: A Jewish Perspective” (2019) and “All Israel Will Be Saved or Kept Safe? (Rom 11:26): Israel’s Conversion or Irrevocable Calling to Gospel the Nations?” (2021). The first is a revision of a lecture that Nanos gave at Lund University in Sweden, and the second is an article published in Israel and the Nations: Paul’s Gospel in the Context of Jewish Expectation (edited by Frantisek Abel). Nanos’ new reading involves re-translating a lot of terminology — the following three highlights in particular.

1. “Unpersuaded, not disobedient”. According to Nanos, it’s more accurate to translate Paul as saying that the Jews have “not yet accepted” the gospel instead of “rejected” the gospel, but this really amounts to a distinction without a difference. Even if the best translation for ἀπειθέω is “unpersuaded” — instead of either “disobedience” or “rejection of that which is known to be true” (p 282) — how different, ultimately, does that make Paul’s argument? Nanos asks:

“Would most Christians or Jews be accurately described as rejecting Islam or Muhammad as ‘the Prophet’? Does not that judgment require that they have been convinced that the claims made were true? Are they rejecting God’s grace? Or are they not persuaded of someone else’s claims for God, perhaps even not very aware of, or simply indifferent to those claims, more than likely convinced that what they do uphold as truth does not lead them to give this much thought?” (“Paul – Why Bother?”, p 283)

It’s actually very common, and accurate, to describe Christians or Jews (or any other non-Muslim group, like Buddhists or Hindus) as people who reject the claims of Islam. That judgment doesn’t necessarily require the non-Muslims to have accepted the claims of Islam in the first place. Christians reject Islam; Jews reject Islam; Muslims reject Judaism; Jews reject Christianity. All of these are common expressions in which “reject” could mean just about anything — “adamantly oppose”, “be unpersuaded by”, “be indifferent to”, etc. I always imagined that the non-Christian Jews of Paul’s day “rejected” his gospel for any number of these reasons — whether because they directly opposed it, were unconvinced by its claims, didn’t take it seriously, whatever. If there’s a difference between “not accepting Christ” and “rejecting Christ”, that difference is only on a high level of abstraction. Besides, Paul’s point about the Jews “not (yet) accepting Christ” is preserved (and acknowledged by most commentators) anyway, in the olive tree metaphor: there is still hope for the Jews; they may be grafted back in to the tree — or “unbent” and righted on the tree, if that’s the better reading. Which takes us to the next point.

2. “Bent, not broken off” (stumbling, not falling). On this point Nanos is more persuasive. He argues that the tree branches of the olive tree are better translated as being “bent” rather than “broken off”:

“In the early part of the allegory [of Rom 11:17-24], when discussing the bent branches, Paul only uses the verb ἐκκλάω, which just so happens to include the translation option ‘to break’ as in ‘to bend’. But when the allegory turns to threatening the foreign wild shoot with what it can expect if it should grow arrogant towards those branches temporarily bent aside to make a place for itself, then Paul introduces the verb ἐκκόπτω, which does indicate being ‘broken/cut off’, signalling a much more severe fate.

“When read this way, we can see that Paul was explaining why some Jews had not yet joined him to proclaim the message to the nations, which, he argued throughout the letter, was Israel’s special role, that over which some of Israel (even if many) were stumbling (Rom. 3:2; 9:6; 10:4, 15). This development represented a temporary anomaly that would soon be resolved, and that somehow had resulted in the best interests of the non-Jews anyway. In terms of branches, some among Israel were broken as in bent back, but not as if cut off of the tree, which fit the stumbling but not fallen metaphor that preceded.” (“Paul – Why Bother?”, p 280)

Only when speaking of the Gentiles (the wild olive shoot) does Paul threaten being broken or cut off altogether; the non-Christian Jews are simply “bent”. And instead of being “grafted back in” (Rom 11:23-24), these bent branches are “invigorated again”; Nanos again finds lexical support for the Greek phrase in these verses, which normally means “to goad” or “to spur on”. Now, if the lexical data does in fact support these translations of “bent”/”invigorated” branches for the Jews, then I agree with Nanos that it better supports the argument of Rom 11:11-32, especially what is announced in verse 11: that Israel has not stumbled so as to fall. On the other hand, I find it just as plausible that Paul used an imperfect metaphor. (The best theologians have been known to do so.) Either way, the overall argument of Rom 11:11-32 is clear: the situation for the Jews is temporary. So I don’t think anything stands or falls (pardon the mixed pun) on whether the branches come down or not.

3. “Safed, not saved” (protected in the interim, not redeemed in the end). Here’s where things get interesting. Nanos argues that the Greek word σώζω in Rom 11:26 was usually used to indicate being “saved” in the sense of being protected or kept safe (or “safed”, as he coins for English usage) more than in the sense of being converted or rescued from being lost:

“What the lexicons reveal is that the Greek word σώζω and cognates were normally used to refer to protecting and keeping safe — before and besides Paul’s supposed use, that is. This word group was not used to discuss someone or thing that had been lost being returned in the evangelical salvation sense that it has come to denote — converted in common parlance — but to prevent someone or something from becoming lost, or from the threat thereof; in this case, to preserve these Israelites in their covenant standing as Israel during this anomalous period so that all Israel could complete the calling to bring the ‘news of good’ to the nations: the gift of the entrustment with God’s oracles was irrevocable (cf. 11:28-29 with 3:1-2).” (“Saved or Safed”, p 244)

For Nanos, in other words, Israel wouldn’t need saving in the end; the Jews weren’t losing covenantal status for not accepting Jesus. What Israel needed was protecting; the Jews’ covenantal status was in jeopardy during this period of the apostolic missions, because they had been called to be a light to the nations, and most of them had not (yet) accepted Christ as the messiah, and so they could not be that beacon. For Paul, their covenantal status would be protected by the scheme he presents in the olive tree metaphor: the Jews (the bent branches) would turn to Christ as they witnessed more and more Gentiles doing so. That’s the first major takeaway of Nanos’ argument.

The second takeaway is that Jewish salvation itself doesn’t depend on accepting Christ. According to Nanos, for Paul the Jews should accept Christ (for the reason just mentioned), but whether they do or don’t, they will be redeemed in the end on account of being God’s chosen people. Yet strangely, Nanos denies that he advocates a two-covenant reading of Paul: “Some readers may be tempted to classify my argument as another expression of the various Sonderveg and Two Covenant alternatives. It should not be.” (p 254) With all due respect, it should absolutely be. What makes a two-covenant reading is that Jews can be saved apart from Christ, and that is exactly how Nanos reads Paul: the Jews should accept Christ (and be a light to the nations) but they don’t have to in order to be saved:

“As I understand Paul, he confessed Jesus as Messiah and upheld that his fellow Jews should do the same, but not in order to be saved in evangelical salvation-based terms by any mechanism, period. For Paul, that was a truth claim made within Judaism; it did not involve Jews being saved in evangelical soteriological terms because they were never lost in the logical way that paradigm requires. What he promoted was a chronometrically based propositional claim that an awaited event, when the reign of God would arrive to rescue those who were already in a living covenant relationship from sinfulness, from sinners, from enemies, and so on — so that they could complete their calling to bring the gospel announcement to the nations — had begun. That premise, central to the gospel, should shape the thoughts and lives of the non-Israelites he addressed toward humble concern for the well-being of those Israelites who were not persuaded that was the case yet: they remained the “beloved” because of the promises made to their fathers, not least to Jacob/Israel. To argue that Israelites were being protected during this anomalous period of alienation while retaining continued covenant standing is not the same as the later evangelical concept that Jews need to believe in Jesus Christ to become saved, which empties their historical covenantal standing as “irrevocable” of the substance that Paul labors to explain.” (“Saved or Safed?”, p 255)

Nanos thus argues that Jewish soteriological salvation doesn’t depend on the preserving of covenantal status — in other words, it doesn’t depend on accepting Jesus as Israel’s messiah which leads to the bent branches being straightened again on the olive tree. But it appears that Gentile soteriological salvation, in a way, does depend on the preserving of Israel’s covenantal status — so that Christian Jews can bring the good news to the nations and convert Gentiles before the end of all things.

I’ve always found Nanos to be a refreshing exegete who thinks outside the box. As I said, he often fails to convince me, but not because he can’t make a formidable case. The biggest problem with this reading is the same problem for all two-covenant approaches. It doesn’t make sense of Paul’s sorrow and “unceasing anguish” for his fellow Jews (Rom 9:1-5) that he can go so far as to wish himself “accursed and cut off from Christ” for their sake. Those aren’t the feelings of a guy who knows that his countrymen are going to be saved, no matter what. He wouldn’t wish the worst thing on himself simply because his fellow Jews aren’t “gospeling the nations”. That’s a much too limited point for the overall concern of Rom 9-11.

I believe it’s accurate to describe Paul as follows: He believed that most Jews were lost, in need of salvation, disobedient, for not accepting the gospel; he believed that they were rejecting the gospel (whether because they were unpersuaded, actively hostile to it, or indifferent about it), but that this was a temporary state for them — they were “bent” branches, as Nanos says, not “broken off” altogether, and would either be righted again during the apostolic missions, or redeemed at the end, by Christ himself. That’s assuming that “all Israel” referred to the Jews. If “all Israel” referred to both the Jews and the northern tribes, as Jason Staples has suggested (and talk about thinking outside the box), Paul may have envisioned the saving of all twelve tribes, of which Gentiles were actually a part. I find either one of those readings (the fourth and fifth listed here) about equally persuasive at the present moment. Regretfully, I remain unconvinced by any variation of the two-covenant reading, though I am glad that someone like Nanos is willing to go to bat for it. He’s one of its better advocates, and we need them.

The Meaning of “All Israel” in Rom 11:26: Five Views Ranked

After reading Jason Staples’ book, The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism, I want to revisit Paul’s argument of Romans 11:25-27, in particular his claim in verse 26 that “all Israel will be saved”:

(25) I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, (26) and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; (27) “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

What does “all Israel” refer to in Paul’s statement? Here are five possible answers, each ranked on a scale of 0 to 10.

1. The two-covenant reading: Israel in 11:26 refers to the Jews, who don’t need to believe in Christ to be saved (Stendahl, Gaston, Gager). Christianity is a separate path to salvation for Gentiles, not Jews who can be saved as they’ve always been saved, through the Torah. By rights this reading deserves a plausibility score of 0. Paul is clear that salvation comes through Christ alone, and damnation awaits you otherwise, no matter who you are. Not to mention that this view makes no sense of Paul’s sorrow for his fellow Jews  (Rom 9:1-5) and his intention to make them jealous in the section immediately preceding this passage (Rom 11:13-24). But I throw it a bone, since some interpreters (like Stendahl) give it more nuance than others (like Gaston and Gager) whose ecumenical/post-Holocaust sensibilities are so transparent. Plausibility ranking: 1/10.

2. The replacement reading: Israel in 11:26 refers to a spiritual Israel, that is, the church, consisting of Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ (Wright especially). This reading earns a few points for the reason that Paul does imply that the church is Israel elsewhere, like in Galatians (6:16). The problem is that it makes nonsense of his argument in Romans, where prior to the passage cited at the top, Israel is clearly used in the traditionally ethnic sense — indeed the whole argument of Rom 9-11 is to explain how Gentile inclusion does not threaten Jewish salvation but actually reinforces it. If the ethnic Israel (of Rom 9:1-11:24) has been replaced by a new group just being called by the same name (Rom 11:26), that’s a baby-switcher and doesn’t prove Paul’s case at all. As Jason Staples says, “that would be like telling parents that they needn’t worry about their child’s safety because a substitute child with the same name can be provided.” While it’s true that biblical prophecies and promises are often understood by New Testament authors to be fulfilled in radically revisionist ways, that isn’t the case when the author is going out of his way to argue (at tortured length) why the recipients of the traditional promises have nothing to worry about. On the replacement reading of Rom 11:26 they have plenty to worry about; it’s bad news and hard to take seriously. Plausibility ranking: 4/10.

3. The causal reading: Israel in 11:26 refers to the Jews, who will be saved through jealousy — their jealousy of the Gentiles being saved through the apostolic missions without their co-participation (Sanders, Dunn, Watson). Their resentment will provoke them to reconsider the gospel and become saved, as Paul just argued in the preceding section (Rom 11:13-24). In other words, Jewish disobedience leads to Gentile salvation which in turn leads to Jewish salvation. The Jews still have a chance, and will indeed be ultimately saved (11:26). They are God’s enemy for the time being, but God’s chosen in the end (11:28). This is the most straightforward reading of the text and plausible — meaning that it’s a plausible interpretation of the text as it stands in Romans. As a salvation scheme it wouldn’t have sounded very plausible. Most Jews would have scorned the idea that they would be provoked to accept Jesus Christ because they were jealous of Paul’s success in converting pagans. The proof of the pudding was in the eating: Jews were obviously not being converted en masse as Paul intended. Plausibility ranking: 7/10.

4. The miraculous reading: Israel in 11:26 refers to the Jews, some of whom will be saved as in reading #3 above, through jealousy of the Gentiles during the apostolic missions (Rom 11:13-24), but most of whom will be saved miraculously, by Jesus himself, when he comes again at the end of all things (Rom 11:25-27) (Munck, Tobin, Esler). On this reading, verses 25-27 don’t reinforce verses 13-24; they are a “Part 2” argument. Paul knows good and well that his “jealousy” argument of verses 13-24 is a desperate scheme and not the way things are panning out. His people remain unconvinced by the gospel. So to keep God’s promises to the Chosen intact, he introduces in verses 25-27 a failsafe for any Jews (indeed, most Jews) who continue to reject Christ during the apostolic missions: Christ himself will save the bulk of the Jews in the end, whether by preaching to them directly or miraculously converting them at once. Plausibility ranking: 9/10.

5. The twelve-tribes reading: Israel in 11:26 does not refer to the Jews (readings #1, 3, 4) anymore than it refers to the Gentile dominated Christian church (reading #2). It refers to exactly that — the twelve tribes of Israel, which includes Jews (those like Paul who are descended from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and/or Levi) and those from the northern tribes of Israel who are not Jews. This is a new argument from Jason Staples, the foundations of which are laid in his book on Second Temple Judaism. His argument is that the restoration of Israel always, by definition, included more than just the Jews who returned from Babylon, and Paul makes that idea work to his advantage, arguing that since the northern tribes of Israel have become assimilated among the Gentile nations, the only way for Israel’s restoration to happen is for Gentiles to be included among Israel. That’s what the “fullness of the nations” is coming into (Rom 11:25). Says Staples in a blogpost:

“What does Paul mean by ‘fullness of the nations’? Why use that specific phrase? It turns out that phrase appears in one place in Paul’s Bible: when the patriarch Jacob blessed the two sons of Joseph [Ephraim and Manasseh], he declared a greater blessing over Ephraim (which also became another name for the northern kingdom since Ephraim was the ruling tribe), promising that Ephraim’s ‘seed [descendants] will become the fullness of the nations’ (Gen 48:19)… By echoing this distinctive phrase, Paul effectively argues that the plan of God has been hidden in plain sight: northern Israel would become gentile-ified but would then be restored — in the process fulfilling God’s promise to bless the nations through Abraham’s seed.

This reading can satisfactorily answer all questions. The ‘fullness of the nations’ represents the seed of Ephraim (the northern kingdom) assimilated among the gentiles. It enters and is reincorporated in Israel, and this is the means by which not only the Jews but all Israel will be saved. Thus Paul argues that incorporation of gentiles is a necessary part of Israel’s restoration and is in fact evidence of God’s faithfulness to Israel — God will go as far as incorporating gentiles (!) to essentially resurrect Israel from the dead (see Ezekiel 37; Rom 11:15).

“This reading explains how Paul can insist both on the continued special status of Israel while also emphasizing the equal incorporation of believing gentiles in early Christian communities. It also dispenses with the major weaknesses of the other proposals. Unlike the ‘replacement’ view, Paul has not replaced the ethnic understanding of Israel or argued that the gentile church has somehow become a ‘new Israel.’ Instead, the gentiles’ salvation depends on their inclusion in Israel, something that amounts to an ethnic conversion. And unlike the other common scholarly views, Paul has also not redefined ‘Israel’ to more narrowly refer to Jews only but instead continues to keep the broader emphasis on all twelve tribes.”

As I see it, this reading also doesn’t need to rely on the crutch of a “Part 2” miraculous end-time deliverance (reading #4). On the assumption that “all Israel” refers to the Jews, Paul’s “jealousy” scheme (Rom 11:13-24) is hollow since most Jews are not in fact accepting the gospel (out of jealousy or for any reason), and thus most of Israel is not in fact being restored — which is why the Jews require a divine bail-out at the end. But if Paul believes that Gentiles are included in ethnic Israel, then that goes a long way to solving the problem of so many Israelites (supposedly) being left out of the covenant promises. Jews are a subset of Israel; they are not (contrary to what most scholars assume) equivalent to Israel.

My only reservation with Staples’ reading is that it has the whiff of being too clever for its own good. (Sort of like Bruce Chilton’s interpretation of the eucharist.) But I have to admit, his book on second temple Judaism paves the way for it convincingly. I can’t see anything significant that is wrong with it. For now my assessment of his reading is very high. Plausibility ranking: 9/10.


Appendix: Romans 11:13-27:

(13) Inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry (14) in order to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. (15) For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (16) If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump; and if the root is holy, so are the branches.

(17) But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the richness of the olive tree, (18) do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. (19) You will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” (20) That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. (21) For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. (22) Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you too will be cut off. (23) And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. (24) For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.

(25) I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, (26) and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; (27) “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

(28) As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. (29) For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.

The Spirit of Martin Luther King Day

On this day let’s keep in mind what Martin Luther King stood for:

“Identity politics is not a path to empowerment. There is no ‘unique voice of color’ or of women or of trans, gay, disabled, or fat people… Today’s social justice scholarship leads scholars and activists to deny the possibility of a universal human nature, which makes empathy between groups very difficult. This denial does not bode well for minority groups, and this view was not shared by Martin Luther King Jr., or by the liberal feminists and Gay Pride activists of the 1960s and 1970s. Their overall message was strongly (if imperfectly) liberal, individual, and universal, and it succeeded by appealing to empathy and fairness. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” said Dr. King, appealing to white Americans’ pride in their country as the Land of Opportunity and their sense of fairness, and making common cause with them in their hopes for the next generation. He called upon their empathy and stressed their shared humanity. Had he, like Robin D’Angelo, asked Americans to be “a little less white, which means a little less oppressive, oblivious, defensive, ignorant, and arrogant,” would this have had the same effect? We think not. An understanding of human nature is essential to any attempt to improve society… What is most frustrating about [woke] theory is that it tends to get literally every issue it’s primarily concerned with backwards, largely due to its rejection of human nature, science, and liberalism. It allots social significance to racial categories, which inflames racism.” (Cynical Theories, pp 257-258)

So let us:

  • Affirm that racism remains a problem in society and needs to be addressed.
  • Deny that Critical Race Theory provides the most useful tools to do so, since racial issues are best solved through the most rigorous analyses possible.
  • Maintain that racism is defined as prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory behavior against any individuals or groups on the grounds of race and can be addressed as such.
  • Deny that racism is “prejudice + power”, that it is hard-baked into society, that it is unavoidable and present in every interaction to be discovered and called out.
  • Maintain that each individual can choose not to hold racist views and should be expected to do so, that racism is declining over time and becoming rarer, and that we can and should see one another as humans first and members of certain races second, that issues of race are best dealt with by being honest about racialized experiences, while still working towards shared goals and a common vision. (Ibid, pp 266-267)

Happy MLK Day!

The Idea of Israel in Second-Temple Judaism

On Facebook I posted a chapter-by-chapter review of Jason Staples’ new book, and here I gather all the entries into a single review. The book’s thesis is that throughout the 2nd Temple period, “Israel” was not an equivalent term for “the Jews”. It’s a solid argument and carries some interesting payoffs.

Chapter 1: Jews and Israelites in Antiquity: The Need for a New Paradigm

In this chapter Staples addresses the traditional assumption, shaped by Karl Kuhn in 1938, that “Israel” is positive insider language while Ioudaios (“Jew”) is negative outsider language. While it’s true that “Israel” is almost never used by an outsider to refer to a Jew, and while Ioudaios almost never occurs in the context of insider prayers, there are too many exceptions and theoretical problems with relying on Kuhn’s general idea. In particular, there’s not a single example of Ioudaios (“Jew”) ever being used as a disparaging term in pre-Christian antiquity. Ioudaios seems to have been the default term used by both insiders and outsiders. Kuhn had essentially explained the difference between “Israel” and “Jew” by superimposing the idiom of Nazi Germany onto antiquity (Kuhn was himself a Nazi). And while Staples (rightly) acknowledges that one “could be an anti-Semite, even a Nazi, and arrive at an accurate scholarly model”, the insider/outsider model really doesn’t account for all the data.

This is of interest to me, since modern scholars like Jack Elliott have actually relied on Kuhn’s model in order to *combat* anti-Semitism in biblical studies. Elliott wrote the well-known essay, “Jesus the Israelite was Neither a Jew Nor a Christian”, arguing that Jesus is properly understood as an Israelite, not a Jew. And for good reason: (1) Jesus identified himself and his associates as Israelites. (2) Jesus never called himself a Ioudaios (“Jew” or “Judean”) and was never designated as such by fellow Israelites. He was called, or thought of as, a Ioudaios (“Jew” or “Judean”) only by non-Israelite outsiders whose terminology was consistent with Hellenistic and Roman practice. (3) His first followers were identified by fellow Israelites also as “Galileans”, “Nazarenes”, or members of “the Way”, but never as “Jews” or “Judeans”. (4) They too, like Jesus, viewed themselves as Israelites. (5) The apostle Paul’s usage is consistent with this pattern. He too prefers “Israel” and “Israelite” as self-identifiers. With an eye to the Israelite fellow believers who are in the audiences of his letters to the Philippians, the Corinthians, and the Romans, he identifies himself as an “Israelite”. With an eye to his Gentile readers, on the other hand, he can also identify himself, as a concession to their nomenclature, as a Ioudaios. Elliott’s essay, to me, still carries persuasive power. We’ll see if I remain persuaded by the end of Staples’ book. [See the end of the review, where I return to the subject.]

Staples concludes the first chapter by taking his cue not from Kuhn but Josephus, who shifts from using “Israelite” (in Antiquities 1-11) to Ioudaios (“Jew”) (in Antiquities 11-20, Apion 1-2, Life, and War 1-7). “It would of course be absurd,” says Staples, “to conclude that this terminological shift is because Josephus wrote the first eleven books of Antiquities to an insider audience but the rest of his corpus for outsiders.” The shift is rather because Josephus is narrating a linear history, and after the point of the Babylonian Exile, the group in view has changed: only a subset of Israelites returned to the promised land — the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, plus Levites. For Josephus, “Israelites” is no longer appropriate, because the Ioudaioi (“Jews”) are a subset of people within the whole house of Israel. Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews. “In its broader sense, the term ‘Jew” includes those specifically from the tribe of Judah and at least Levites and Benjaminites.” Jospephus believes that the bulk of Israel never returned from exile.

Chapter 2: The Other Israelites

Staples shows further how “Israelite” and “Jew” weren’t equivalent through the examples of Israelites who were not understood to be Ioudaioi (Jews) despite scholars who say otherwise. In particular, the idea that Samaritans were a variety of Jews, or apostate Jews, or a Jewish sect is “a non-sequitur, akin to treating Canada as a part of the United States or Presbyterianism as part of the Church of England.” Josephus, for example, does regard Samaritans as apostates or imposters, but of Israel, not of the Jews, and he goes out of his way to clarify that neither the Ioudaioi (Jews) or the Samaritans themselves identify Samaritans as some breed of Ioudaioi (Jews).

Then there were the “Hebrews”, a linguistic label referring to either the ancient biblical Hebrews, who spoke either Hebrew or Aramaic, or to later speakers of a Semitic tongue: “When not referring to biblical figures, this term was most typically used of those Ioudaioi (Jews) who remained Semitic speakers, typically those living in Palestine. Not all Jews were Hebrews, as most Jews in the disapora were Hellenes rather than Hebraioi. Likewise, not all Hebrews were Jews, as the Samaritans in the land are an example of the former but not the latter.”

A sidebar from all of this what Paul means when he uses Hebraios on two occasions (2 Cor 11:22 and Philip 3:5), each time in order to assert his authority relative to rival apostles. Staples suggests that by claiming to be a Hebrew, Paul is saying that he can speak Hebrew and Aramaic — that he can read the Torah in its original language and speak in Jesus’ native tongue.

I have no real problems with anything in this chapter. Staples is right to reverse the commonly accepted idea. Those who called themselves “Israelites” in the 2nd-Temple period don’t fall under the umbrella of “Judaism”. It’s rather that “Judaism”, like “Samaritanism”, were “sects of a more broadly imagined ‘Israelism’.”

Chapter 3: Judah’s Bible and Biblical Israel

In this chapter Staples critiques the scholarly default-reading of the Old Testament, namely that since the northern Israelites had disappeared after being taken away by the Assyrians, the biblical writers and editors took the liberty of appropriating the term “Israel” and equating it with the people of Judah (later Judea) in their construction of biblical Israel. In other words, Judah became Israel after the fall of the northern kingdom.

That view admittedly has intuitive appeal, since the Hebrew Bible was edited from the perspective of the southern Judahites. But to the attentive reader, says Staples, that only highlights the true oddity — that the Bible “grapples with and constructs not Judahite/Jewish identity but Israelite identity, consistently constructing a biblical Israel larger than the Jews alone… Far from appropriating the full heritage of Israel or constructing a post-exilic Israel comprised of a remnant from Judah, the biblical stories construct, emphasize, and idealize a unified twelve-tribe Israel and lament its broken state, regularly depicting Judah as incomplete without its northern counterpart.”

The Hebrew Bible is thus “the great metanarrative of deportation, exile, and potential return” (Robert Carroll). The Torah, the Deuteronomist histories, and Chronicles “position their readers and their communities in a liminal position awaiting Israel’s restoration”. They do this by “establishing a continual reminder of the broken circumstances of the present, constructing an Israel *not* realized in the present… Put another way, at the root of exilic and post-exilic Judaism we find not a redefinition of Israel limited to Jews/Judahites, but a theology looking backward to biblical Israel and forward to a divinely orchestrated future restoration of Israel far exceeding the small return of Jews in the Persian period.”

Deuteronomy, for example, has a clear pattern of obedience and blessing, disobedience and chastening, return and mercy, exile and restoration. It doesn’t establish a new Israel limited to Jews, as often supposed, but rather the essential unity of the twelve tribes — promising the restoration and return of Israel much larger in scope than the Jew refugees from Babylon. This isn’t a Judean appropriation of Israel.

Likewise, the narratives of Samuel and Kings don’t appropriate Israel or legitimate Judah, but rather underscore the incompleteness of Israel in the present and point to future redress, by “constructing an Israel that once was, now is not, and is to come.”

At first blush the narratives of Chronicles seem different with their anti-northern bias. They heap disproportionate blame on the northern tribes and Jeroboam I instead of Solomon. They focus on the southern tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi — suggesting to many scholars that these three tribes, in the Chronicler’s view, have become heirs to all of Israel’s heritage. Staples shows however that the Chronicler is actually open-minded to the north and concerned for their plight, and like the Deuteronomist histories upholds the ideal of a restored and reunited twelve-tribe Israel. The Chronicler, to be sure, gives that hope a different thrust: Deuteronomy and the books of Samuel/Kings rely on a model of accumulated sin and decline; the Chronicler presents a more immediate system of reward/punishment and repentance/restoration — “a model consistent with the concept of individual (rather than intergenerational) responsibility”. The theology isn’t uniform but the central grammar of discourse (restoration eschatology) is shared in all these Old Testament books.

As I read Staples’ arguments hand in hand with the biblical text, I don’t sense any hoodwinking. It may be, as he suggests, that the Hebrew Bible narratives “consistently place the reader in the implied context of exile, in a place awaiting reconciliation”. But part of me wonders if this business is being exaggerated. I’m thinking of Tom Wright’s work in New Testament studies which overplays the idea of first-century Palestinian Jews — especially figures like Jesus and Paul — feeling like they were in exile just because they lived under Roman rule. Is Staples arguing for a Wright-like paradigm on slightly different terms?

Chapter 4: Between Disaster and Restoration: The Prophets

A fairly straightforward chapter arguing that the prophets function overall like the Torah and historical narratives, putting the reader “in the liminal space between the tragedy of divine wrath and the reconciliation through divine mercy”, in other words, reinforcing hopes for the reunification of the tribes that were scattered by Assyria no less than the tribes scattered by Babylon.

This is seen in seven of the twelve minor prophets (Hosea, Amos, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Zechariah, and Malachi) and also in the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel). In the case of Isaiah, Staples refutes the common view that the idea of “Israel” becomes restricted as one moves from First to Second to Third Isaiah — from a broad vision of Israel chapters 1-39, to a narrower vision in chapters 40-55, and even narrower in chapters 56-66. [First Isaiah was written during Isaiah’s lifetime, 740-700 BCE, with some later editions; Second Isaiah during the Babylonian Exile, between 587-539 BCE; and Third Isaiah was written after the Jews (descendants from the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi) returned from Babylon to Judah in 538 BCE.] The obvious problem with the “narrowing” view of Israel in the Three Isaiahs is that premodern readers assumed a unified authorship (they didn’t read the Bible like modern historical critics) and so would have naturally read all references to “Israel” in (what we call) Second and Third Isaiah in the same broad sense used in First Isaiah. Not only that, says Staples, there’s no evidence for the assumed shifts of meaning in any case. Historical critics should read the entirety of Isaiah as the ancients did. While it’s true that Second and Third Isaiah are concerned with Zion/Jerusalem/Judah, that doesn’t mean the term “Israel” only refers to those points. The Israel-became-Judah theory assumes what it needs to prove.

Chapter 5: Israel’s Incomplete, Failed, and Delayed Restoration

A meaty chapter that sticks it in the eye of scholarly consensus, and sure to generate controversy. The first half covers Ezra and Nehemiah and the second half 1 and 2 Maccabees.

The academic consensus for Ezra and Nehemiah is this: The two books portray Israel’s restoration. The temple is rebuilt and the returned exiles from Babylon — that is, the southern tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi — now constitute “Israel” while the “people of the land” are foreigners to be avoided and not married. The first problem with this consensus view, says Staples, is that to equate the Jews (the descendants of the southern tribes) with Israel “represents an uncritical acceptance of Ezra-Nehemiah’s argument and application of that perspective to the historical situation”. The second problem is that treating the events of Ezra-Nehemiah as the restoration or end of exile runs counter to both (a) the message of Ezra-Nehemiah itself and (b) how Ezra-Nehemiah was interpreted throughout the second temple period. It’s true that the books of Ezra and Nehemiah narrate many *attempts* to restore and redefine Israel, but the books make clear that those attempts failed and kept restoration a future dream. There is no “realized eschatology” in Ezra-Nehemiah, contrary to the consensus view.

Staples suggests that Ezra 3:12-13a — the people’s response to the laying of the foundation of the temple — is a fitting summary of the emotional response in general that runs throughout Ezra and Nehemiah: many weep, many shout for joy, so that no one can distinguish the shouts of joy from the sounds of weeping. The return to the land and rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple are important events, but they also leave a hell of a lot to be desired, falling short of the golden age promised by the prophets.

The completion and dedication of the second temple in Ezra highlights its inferiority when compared to the first temple erected under Solomon. Solomon’s temple was dedicated with a huge feast of 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep; the second temple only with 100 bulls, 200 rams, and 400 lambs. Unlike Solomon’s temple, the second involved a sin offering (of twelve male goats), “underscoring the incompleteness of Israel and the continued hopes of a fuller (twelve-tribe) restoration. The returnees from Babylon thereby serve as the vanguard on behalf of the rest of Israel, whose restoration appears to depend on this atoning work.” And finally, unlike Solomon’s temple, there was the absence of any sign of God’s approval of the second temple.

Worth noting is that the people of the land, to say the least, could hardly have had warm and fuzzy feelings for the new temple regime, especially after having offered to help the Jews in their rebuilding efforts only to be given the cold shoulder. As Staples says, the Jews’ rejection of help shows that they didn’t regard the people of the land to be legitimate Israelites, even if the people identified themselves as Yahwists or Israelites (as surely those from Samaria, the descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, did). They were seen as rejected by God, rebels and idolaters, squatters on the land, and their shrines as illegitimate places of sacrifice.

Basically, I read Staples as arguing that the narratives of Ezra and Nehemiah show a tension between desire and result, which accounts for why these books want to have their cake and eat it — that is, to imply that the Jews (the descendants of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi) are “Israel” while also implying that Israel extends far beyond the Jewish community. Each episode of Ezra and Nehemiah begins in the hope of restoration and ends in failure and disappointment, and each failure leads to a cranking up of purification efforts, especially in the defensive marriage strategies (to wed only Jews). Ezra’s procession to the land (around the time of Passover) was aimed at fulfilling restoration prophecies, but his efforts failed. Nehemiah’s mission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem was actually a clear acknowledgment that restoration was far away (from prophecies like Zechariah’s that “Jerusalem will be inhabited without walls”). Etc.

And it is these repeated failures, concludes Staples, that provide the wider context in which Ezra and Nehemiah limit the term “Israel” to the Jewish exiles over against the people of the land. But that’s not the same thing as limiting “Israel” to the Jews in general (descendants of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi) in the way usually understood. “The Jewish returnees are the sole legitimate representatives of Israel *in the land*. They are the vanguard of Israel’s restoration, having separated themselves not only from the nations but also from other Yahwists in the land, all apparently in the hopes that the remainder of Israel would be restored under Jerusalem’s authority.”

Turning to the Hasmoneans, the case of 1 Maccabees is the exception proving the rule. Unlike all the other literature examined up to this point, 1 Maccabees uses Israel language more or less synonymously with “the Jews”. And yet on closer examination, Staples finds that even here, Israel is used in relation to restoration hopes. The military successes of the Hasmoneans against Gentile oppressors function in a similar way to the southern tribes returning to the land and the temple being rebuilt in Ezra-Nehemiah: I Maccabees, like those books, appropriates “Israel” in the belief that the promised restoration is almost taking place, though far from complete. I Maccabees appropriates the term even more so, so that “Israel” and “the Jews” are indeed almost equivalent; yet, as Staples emphasizes, not even I Maccabees supports the insider-outsider distinction as Kuhn thought (see chapter 1 above). For in I Maccabees, Ioudaios (“Jew”) is frequently used as insider term. The upshot for I Maccabees, is that while “Israel” and “Judah/Judea” mean very close to the same thing (and that is exceptional), the Judah/Judea/Jew language is the default “when speaking in a more mundane register”, while the Israel language is invoked to make a precise point that Judah/Judea under Hasmonean rule is fulfilling God’s promises about the restoration of Israel.

As a sidebar, I’ll note that I’m not surprised I Maccabees is exceptional in the way that Staples finds. It’s exceptional in other ways too, notably for being the only book (in the Catholic and Orthodox bibles anyway) that validates holy war in a prescriptive sense — to enforce the Jewish religion by force of arms. (The holy wars of Joshua, by contrast, aren’t presented as prescriptive or patterns to follow; nor do the armies of Joshua subjugate their foes by forcing Israelite religion on them.) Unlike 2 Maccabees, which teaches the superior resistance acts of spiritual protest and martyrdom — and unlike Daniel which (even better) is about the supreme faith that leaves the rightings of all wrongs to God — I Maccabees prescribes Taliban-esque violence and sacralizes warfare.

2 Maccabees of course was written much later than I Maccabees, takes a much dimmer view of the Hasmoneans, and even holds a measure of respect for “rebel” Yawhist groups like the Samaritans. It seems to recognize the Samaritans’ claim to Israelite heritage, “even if they are not at present united with (or under) Judah as the Jewish author believes they should be”. Staples finds that “Israel” in 2 Maccabees functions as it does in all the other literature and not as it does in I Maccabees. Here, Judah/Judea is not synonymous with Israel; it’s but a part of Israel, the full restoration of which lies in the future.

The chapter concludes urging that when we hear the word “Israel” in Jewish literature of the Second Temple period — even in the odd-ball case of I Maccabees — “our ears should be primed for eschatological, messianic, or theological-political claims”, and that conclusion seems sound.

Chapter 6: Exile and Diaspora Theology

This chapter shoots down more consensus views, this time pertaining to Jews in the diaspora, who supposedly discarded restoration eschatology. That view depends on two pillars: (1) that the Septuagint weakens the negative prophetic view of the exile in favor of a new “Hellenistic optimism”; (2) that the passage of time changed the perspective of those who voluntarily remained outside the land (unlike those captured and forced into exile) and prospered in stable communities. Staples knocks over these pillars with relative ease.

In the first place, neither the Septuagint or later Hellenistic Jewish literature dilutes what the prophets said about exile. They present the diaspora as a sign of judgment based on the Torah’s curses. It’s true that the Septuagint amplifies the concept of injustice of the nations toward Israel and Judah, but not to soften the prophetic passages that declare exile to be a divine punishment. “Like Zechariah, the Septuagint holds these two together as complimentary rather than incompatible.” And in any case, the idea of the nations being unjustly oppressive isn’t a “positive” or “optimistic” theology. The first pillar rests on sand.

With the regards to the second and more plausible pillar, it only sounds more plausible but really depends on caricature. Staples cites Eric Gruen as representative of the problem, as Gruen writes (speaking for many scholars): “It’s not easy to imagine that millions of ancient Jews dwelt in foreign parts for generations mired in misery and obsessed with a longing for Jerusalem that had little chance of fulfillment. To imagine that they repeatedly lamented their fate and pinned their hopes on the recovery of the homeland is quite preposterous.” But that’s just caricature and Staples rightly refutes it.

For obviously, just because Jews had thrived and acculturated in the diaspora doesn’t mean they replaced traditional restoration eschatology with a (supposed) positive universalist diaspora theology. Says Staples: “Evidence of prosperity is insufficient to come to such a sweeping conclusion; to suggest otherwise reflects a startlingly consumerist perspective.” As an example, Staples uses American Christian Evangelicals, who adhere to apocalyptic theology (that characterizes the present world as evil) while also being prosperous, politically active, and well integrated into secular society.

I’d suggest another example: Muslim jihadists who adhere to (mainstream) holy-war doctrine (the necessity of killing infidels and/or dying while trying to kill them, to be rewarded in paradise) though many of them are wealthy and some even well integrated into secular societies. (The idea that jihadists are usually poor and uneducated has been disproven.) To imagine that jihadists living in the secularized west experience everyday life in a state of anxious bloodthirst is as much a caricature as to imagine diaspora Jews constantly and miserably longing for the return to the promised land. But, as Staples says, it’s equally absurd to assume that social integration means the traditional values have been discarded.

A solid chapter that corrects naive understandings about the diaspora Jews.

Chapter 7: Israel, the Jews, and Restoration in Josephus

In his chapter on Josephus, Staples makes a comment which I enjoyed, namely that “it’s difficult to escape the sense that many of Josephus’ modern interpreters desperately want him to be positive about the diaspora and latch onto any possible indication of such a view, ignoring all evidence to the contrary.” Start reading the Qur’an and Hadith critically, and you’ll feel the same way about interpreters of Muhammad. They desperately want him to be positive (and peaceful) about all sorts of things. It’s hardly novel to point out that in the field of historical criticism a scholar is as likely to be led by his conclusions rather than to them, but it never gets any less exasperating.

The view that Josephus, as a Roman shill, was positive about the disapora is shown by Staples to be without foundation. He was prudently vague and subtle so as not to provoke his Roman patrons, but he repeatedly implies that Roman rule will be temporary and followed by the righteous rule of Israel. And he was clever and coy enough that Jewish readers would have understood him as saying that, while Roman readers (like many of our modern scholars) would have seen him saying the opposite. For example, in Antiquities 10, he cites Daniel’s prediction of the desolation of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes and then goes on about Daniel’s writing “about the Roman empire, and that it would be desolated by them”. According to Staples, Josephus is being “deliciously ambiguous” here, as Roman would have understood ‘it’ as the temple and ‘them’ as the Romans, while Jewish readers familiar with Dan 9:26 and connecting it with the stone of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (mentioned already by Josephus) would have known that Josephus was referring to the destruction of the Roman empire by a restored Israel.

In other places he appears just as subtle, as in Antiquities 11 where he speaks of the “two tribes now subject to the Romans [the Jewish ones, Judah and Benjamin]” and then writes: “But the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates until now and a re a boundless multitude, not to be estimated by numbers”. Rome may have subjugated the Jews, but the rest of Israel is beyond their control and dominion, and Josephus’ sly point here is that eventually even Roman power won’t be able to prevail against this “boundless multitude”.

I agree with Staples that Josephus didn’t take pride in the diaspora, but rather in “the superiority of the Jewish people’s laws and customs that gave them fortitude in spite of their calamities.” He didn’t reject restoration theology, just the opposite, but advocated a quiet version of it, as he wanted the Jews to serve their Roman masters while waiting patiently for the restored kingdom of Israel. In that sense, suggests Staples, Josephus was a lot like Jesus and Paul, urging his Jewish readers to “wait it out” and shun the violent insurrectionist approaches of any would-be messiahs on the make. I had never thought of it like that, but yeah, it seems about right.

Chapter 8: Israel and Restoration in Philo

Acknowledging the writings of Philo as complex, Staples nevertheless nails him down pretty well, and offers a corrective to the majority of scholars who tend to glide over Philo’s interest in practical nationalism and ethnic heritage, or who (like interpreters of Josephus) believe that Philo thought of the diaspora in positive terms.For example, Philo’s discussion of the Babel story makes clear that diaspora is a form of destruction (“to disperse is the cause of bad things”), though God uses it for redemptive purposes, and once the diaspora has done its dirty work, Israel’s restoration will follow. Staples largely follows E.P. Sanders’s view — for all Philo’s allegorizing, he never gave up on eschatology.

Philo’s treatise On Rewards and Punishment puts the matter beyond doubt, really. It’s an exposition of Lev 26 and Deut 28-30, retelling the biblical stories and urging his readers not to despair over the long-delayed restoration and rescue from the diaspora, but to obey the Torah, as collective Torah obedience will trigger the overflow of eschatological blessings. Granted that Philo is speaking of a virtuous transformation of the soul, but that’s not incompatible with a literal return of all the tribes of Israel. For Philo they go hand in hand, and indeed he specifies that the restorative promises apply to those scattered “in Greece and barbarian lands”.

The chapter gets interesting toward the end. Staples first shows that like Josephus, Philo doesn’t use “Israelite” as synonymous with “Jew”. “Israel” is an aspirational identity tied to restoration, and the relationship between God and Israel is portrayed differently that the relationship between God and the Jews. For Philo, “Israel is a class of virtuous people who embody the principles of the Torah and have come to see God” — but as long as the disapora reigns, Israel doesn’t.

The Jews, on the other hand, while a subset of Israel, are not *all* necessarily part of Israel, and this is something I never fully appreciated: just how close Philo is to the apostle Paul. Like Paul, Philo believes that some of the Jews have been “cut off” from Israel due to disobedience, while proselytes (Gentile converts) who follow Abraham’s example can be incorporated into Israel. Branches may be cut from the tree, “but the tree will always be preserved, with new shoots regenerating it to life”. The restoration of Israel isn’t the exclusive heritage of the Jews. The only difference I can see between this scheme and Paul’s (in Rom 9-11) is, as Staples says, that Paul goes a step further than Philo in doing away with circumcision and Torah-identity as a requirement for Gentile proselytes.

Staples’s book doesn’t cover the New Testament ideas of Israel, but he does have a sequel slated for publication this summer, Paul and the Resurrection of Israel, and it’s not hard to see where he’s going with Romans 9-11.

Interlude: The Introduction

Before moving on to chapter 9, I want to go back to the beginning of the book, since I skipped over the introduction, where Staples presents his reasons for translating the Greek word Ioudaios as “Jew” (as most do) instead of “Judean” (as some scholars prefer). In the past I have argued strongly for the “Judean” translation, so I feel I should comment.

It’s curious that Staples objects to “Judean” given his thesis. The point that he (correctly) drives home, chapter after chapter, is a point that is rarely recognized or acknowledged in modern scholarship, namely that “the distinction between Jews and northern Israelites persists with surprising regularity in the literature of the Second Temple period” (see p 315 for example). But that’s precisely one of the reasons scholars prefer to translate Ioudaios as “Judean” rather than “Jew”. “Judean” intrinsically distinguishes itself from the northern tribes. “Jews”, as we tend to think of them, refer to the adherents of beliefs and practices associated with the Mishnah rather than the temple cult of Judea, and it was only by the third century CE that “Judaism” (as we tend to think of it), really emerged — that is, a common pattern of religion irrespective of locale. The predecessors of the Jews, the Judeans, were localized and provincial, with a different pattern of religion based on the temple cult. And that doesn’t depend on a false distinction between ethnicity and religion, as Staples worries about. He writes in the intro:

“The attempt to distinguish between religion and ethnicity is anachronistic… There was no transition from ‘Judean’ ethnicity to ‘Jewish’ religion.” (pp 17, 19)

Of course not. I agree completely. But this objection is a bit of a smokescreen. The anachronism is a straw man. Some scholars may argue for the “Judean” translation on that basis, but not all do, and I never have. On the contrary, “Judean” is preferable for the reasons I stated above, and also — now that I think about it, and quite ironically — because it would probably enable more scholars to see what Staples wants them to see: the distinction preserved in the 2nd-Temple literate between Ioudaioi (“Judeans”) and northern Israelites.

That said, this isn’t a hill I want to die on. I’ve lost the will to go to bat for the “Judean” translation, for pragmatic reasons. It’s not only scholars who read my blog; many non-academics read it too, and while they’re a smart bunch, many feel like I’m pulling some kind of trick by saying that “Jews didn’t exist until the third century”. Even when I spell out that nothing substantive is being lost — that instead of plotting the history of “Israelites–>Jews” we should be viewing it as “Israelites–>Judeans–>Jews” — it’s perceived that an oblique agenda is at work. And I don’t want to write in a language that disorientates my readers. I also believe in bridging the scholarly ivory towers with the masses. From that point of view, re-writing our bibles to replace every instance of “Jew” with “Judean” is too impractical. So nowadays, instead of insisting on the trajectory of “Israelites–>Judeans–>Jews” I just go with “Israelites–>2nd-Temple Jews–>Rabbinic Jews”.

So that’s my hypocritical critique of Staples on translating Ioudaios.

Chapter 9: Exile and Restoration in the Dead Sea Scrolls

Turning now to the sect behind the Dead Sea Scrolls, Staples gives a lengthy treatment of these “exiles within the exile” — “exiles from rebellious Judah within the continuing exile of Israel”. They had withdrawn to the wilderness (the “new Sinai”), some to the desert region along the Dead Sea at Qumran, others to places that cannot be determined. From wherever in the wilderness they made their nest, they lived austere lives preparing for the coming of God. Thoroughly disgusted with the wickedness in the land of Judah, they had turned their backs on that wickedness to rejoin the larger body of Israel that had remained in exile ever since the Assyrians deported them. So while they consisted of the southern tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi (Levites were the leaders) they never identified themselves collectively as “Judah”; the text at one point says that the sect is “in Judah”, but not actually “Judah”.

Nor, argues Staples, did these members see themselves as constituting “true Israel”, as often supposed. Israel was yet to return. These members were a vanguard — “the vanguard of a return to virtue and obedience that would eventually culminate in the restoration of the twelve tribes, with all the nations subjugated to Israel.” And yet, all the same, they were already a *part* of “true Israel”. Unlike most of the literature covered by Staples, the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t restrict the word “Israel” to the biblical past and/or the apocalyptic future; they portray the sect as already participating in the apocalyptic future — a realized eschatology made possible by following the levitical Teacher of Righteousness: “Although the full restoration has not yet occurred, the sect is the breakthrough, the leading edge of the divine moment.” Its members are already fulfilling the Deuteronomic requirements for restoration, and as such they have become the necessary atonement to trigger the restoration. They were part of “true Israel” already, but not to be strictly identified as such.

Thus, these southern tribes composing the righteous remnant will ultimately be joined by the “exiles of the sons of light from the wilderness of the peoples”, meaning the northern Israelites — the significance of which Staples believes has been widely missed in the scholarship of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Chapter 10: Israel, Jews, and Restoration in Tobit and Judith

Tobit and Judith should IMO have been included in the bible (not just the Catholic and Orthodox), if for no other reason to ensure wider readership of some entertaining literature. They were written by Jews long after the Jewish return from Babylon (early 2nd century BCE for Tobit, late 2nd century BCE for Judith), though each story takes place before both exiles, during the Assyrian period, and in a northern Israelite setting. Staples highlights things about them that are often unappreciated.

The book of Tobit is emphatic that one should preserve one’s tribal identity by not marrying outsiders, but Staples points out the overlooked implication, that this means shunning Jews as well, for the protagonists aren’t Jewish. “If Sarah were to marry a Jewish man, that would be as much a tragedy in this narrative as if she were to marry a Gentile.” She should marry an Israelite, and in particular a Naphtali Israelite.

Basically Tobit reassures its readers that Israel’s restoration is on the way, provided that a faithful remnant of Naphtali exists to be restored. Endogamy is the key to keeping the tribe alive. The story is a survival story and a clear model for any of the twelve tribes to follow, including the Jewish ones who are the book’s audience. As in the other 2nd-Temple literature surveyed by Staples, the Jewish return from Babylon is not understood to have ended the exile. It was a “partial mercy” at best; the “times of fulfillment” await in the future, when all Israel — all twelve tribes — will be regathered and restored.

Moving onto Judith… I love that Staples calls this book an alternate-history revenge fantasy that Quentin Tarantino could have written. You know, the revisionist histories in which arch-villains get shafted: Inglourious Basterds, where Adolf Hitler is burned down in a theater by the French Jewess; and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, where Sharon Tate is not killed by the Manson Sisters (they are instead brutally killed by the film’s protagonists). In the case of Judith, the Assyrian general Holofernes is decapitated by a Jewess whose home he is about to destroy — a ludicrous but deliciously thrilling fantasy.

There’s more. “Judith” means “Lady Jew,” but she’s actually not a Jew, rather a northern Israelite from the tribe of Simeon. She personifies “Israel” and is a stand-in for Jews who are the book’s audience. Likewise, Nebuchadnezzar is portrayed as the king of the Assyrians, but he was really the king of Babylon; he personifies the tyrants who brought down northern Israel and southern Judah, just as the Seleucid tyrants were (right before Judith was written) trying to bring down the Jewish Hasmonean kingdom (between 140 – 116 BCE). Nebuchadnezzar and the Assyrians are stand-ins for the Seleucids.

Staples suggests that the book of Judith is like I Maccabees. Just as the Maccabean military victories against the Seleucids initiated an age of righteousness, Judith’s actions — her deceit and seduction and decapitation of Holofernes — are portrayed as righteous, and also work for the benefit of Israelites (in the story), meaning for the benefit of Jews (whom the story is really about). Exceptionally, “Israel” and “the Jews” are almost (though not quite) synonymous, and Judith’s actions (like the Taliban-esque warfare depicted in I Maccabees) are portrayed in a positive light. The difference between I Maccabees and Judith is that “Israel” and “the Jews” are actually equated in the former, but made equivalent in the latter. As Staples says, the Assyrian period framing has the effect of connecting contemporary faithful Jews with their Israelite forebears. In any case, it’s an exceptional use of “Israel” in 2nd Temple literature.

Chapter 11: Israel in the Apocalyptic Literature

I’d never realized that the term “Jew” (Ioudaios) is almost completely absent from the apocalyptic literature of the 2nd Temple period — The Wisdom of Ben Sira, Psalms of Solomon, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Baruch, IV Ezra, 2 Baruch, and Testament of Moses. Staples covers all of these, and finds, in keeping with the pattern set forth in most of literature he covers in the book, that these apocalyptic texts set the reader in the “liminal space between exile and restoration of the twelve tribes”, on the brink of receiving God’s promises but unable to enter for now.

The term “Israel”, in all these texts, also matches the pattern found in most of the other 2nd Temple literature (except for I Maccabees and Judith), referring to either the unified biblical Israel of the past, the northern tribes, the “people of God” in prayer or liturgy, or the restored Israel of the future. Never “the Jews”, who are a small subset of Israel.

Staples is careful to stress particular variances across these texts. For example, the Testament of Moses is more like the biblical prophets and Josephus in the way it portrays the northern tribes as multiplying and increasing in huge numbers among the nations of their exile. IV Ezra, on the other hand, is more like Tobit, in that the gathering of Israel will not be from among the nations, but rather from more distant regions where the northern tribes had withdrawn to in order to preserve their tribal heritage.

Chapter 12: Bringing it all Together

The biggest takeaways of this book:

1. With only a couple exceptions (I Maccabees and Judith), “Israel” isn’t equivalent to “the Jews” in the 2nd Temple period. The latter is a subset of the former.

2. There’s no evidence that “Israelite” should be understood as an insider term, and “Jew” an outsider term. There are plenty of instances where “Jew” is used by insiders to refer to themselves.

3. “Israel” usually refers to either (a) the northern tribes or (b) the twelve-tribe covenant people who will be regathered and restored. (Also sometimes to (c) the unified biblical Israel of the past, or (d) the diachronic “people of God” in prayer and liturgy.)

4. “Jew” refers to the subset of Israel derived from the kingdom of Judah, either by descent, marriage, or proselytism/conversion. However, since the kingdom of Judah included other tribes (esp. Benjamin and Levi), the term “Jew” does extra duty as a tribal label and umbrella term including those other tribes.

Staples makes a pretty damn convincing case IMO, and given that most scholars assume the equivalence of “Israel” and “the Jews”, I will be watching closely for academic reviews of the book. There are none as of yet.

And yes, to bite the bullet, I’m convinced that the insider/outside distinction should be discarded. However, it may be that Jack Elliott is right for the wrong reason. On Staples’ reading, the only reason to regard Jesus as a Jew is because of the testimony that Jesus descended from the tribe of Judah (in the Gospels, Hebrews, and Revelation). But if that lineage is a Christological fiction (which isn’t unreasonable to suppose), then the historical Jesus, as a Galilean, may have descended from a northern tribe, and perhaps that’s why he refers to himself in the gospels as an Israelite but not a Jew. I can see many a historical-Jesus scholar leaning in that direction.

Why South Park is Cancel Exempt

In my celebration of All in the Family I thought about South Park and how it’s managed so incredibly to survive the era of cancel culture. Some have suggested that, like Family Guy, the animation has something to do with it. Perhaps to a small degree. People could be more receptive to offense when the world is a cartoon and “doesn’t look real”. But last year’s furor over Dr. Seuss makes me doubt very seriously that this is a significant reason.

There’s a big difference between South Park and Family Guy in any case, and it’s one that makes Family Guy not a good example of a show that has “survived cancellation”. Seth MacFarlane has actually succumbed to a significant amount of woke pressure. Family Guy doesn’t joke about the same things it did back in 2005, especially when it comes to LGBTQ issues. MacFarlane has even recast actors to match the skin color of the animated characters they voice. South Park, on the other hand, has never pandered like this or watered down its offenses. Just the opposite: Trey Parker and Matt Stone have gone in the other direction — escalating offense, pushing the envelope more each year. The question presses: How do these guys keep getting away with it, when anyone else would be panned and erased into obscurity?

I finally came across a satisfying explanation. According to this critic, South Park has been impervious to cancel culture for the following three reasons, each of which is critical.

(1) The frog-in-the-pot phenomenon. South Park has acquired its exempt status by a slow build — increasing its offensiveness gradually over time, crossing new lines that were previously thought uncrossable. Parker and Stone didn’t plan their success that way. Just the opposite: in interviews they say they never expected success and thought it was a given that they would be cancelled sooner than later. Their mindset has always been, “Since this is probably our last season, let’s push things further.” That consistent fearlessness in taking offense to the next level (instead of dialing back as Family Guy did) was, ironically, a key to their success. It’s like the urban legend of the boiling frog: if you want to cook a frog, you don’t have to kill it first; all you have to do is put it in room temperature water and heat the water very slowly. If you heat the water too quickly, or put the frog into hot water, it will jump out. But if you heat it slowly enough, the frog will remain in the water until it boils to death. Parker and Stone have been slowly cranking up the heat in their pot for 25 years now, and because of that, the frog has yet to jump. [In this analogy, the “frog” is Comedy Central” and “jumping” is canceling the show.] They might have cranked up the heat too fast on a few occasions and made the frog agitated, but as of today, the water is still on its way to boiling. If you look back at old South Park episodes, they are incredibly tame compared to what the show would later be like. That slow build has laid the groundwork for the show’s invulnerable status. If, for example, they had created an episode like “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson” (season 11, episode 1) — which uses the word “nigger” 42 times — back in season 1 or 2, the frog would have leaped from the pot in a heartbeat.

(2) Equal opportunity offense. South Park makes fun of absolutely everyone, including themselves. There is not a single person, group, or idea that is off-limits when it comes to criticism. Parker and Stone don’t choose sides. Atheists are skewered as much as religionists, Democrats are blasted as much as Republicans — often both sides within a single episode. Take the episode “Goobacks” (season 8, episode 7), for example, which satirizes events taking place at the U.S. border with undocumented immigrants crossing over. South Park ridicules those who are completely against it and those who are in full support of it. (The TV interviewer has two guests: “On my right is pissed-off white trash redneck conservative; on my left is aging hippie liberal douche-bag.”) The South Park philosophy that absolutely nothing is off limits is an important part of the show’s untouchable status. If you are equally offensive to everyone, it’s actually the ultimate form of equality. It’s almost like the offensiveness of the show cancels itself out. The show is never trying to push an agenda or make you feel a certain way about a topic. It makes fun of everything and lets you decide what you want to believe. Parker and Stone aren’t preaching to you. They’re showing the flaws in your beliefs as well as those of people you disagree with. Because of this, South Park is the last true social satire to exist in the mainstream — finding comedy in the absurdity of our society, rather than taking sides.

(3) South Park is not, in the end, offensive. That sounds contradictory, but to those who watch entire episodes of South Park, and invest in watching a lot of episodes, it becomes clear that the show is not ultimately offensive. Consider one of the most controversial episodes, “Red Hot Catholic Love” (season 6, episode 8), which follows Father Maxi as he goes to the Vatican to help deal with the Catholic priest molestation scandal. When he arrives, he learns that every single Catholic priest in the entire world molests kids. That may sound offensive, but Parker and Stone aren’t literally suggesting that all priests are pedophiles. They’re using hyperbole and caricature to highlight a real issue. That’s what they do in most episodes: take real issues and exaggerate them to make a point. The actual message of “Red Hot Catholic Love” is neutral and inoffensive: that if you look too deeply into religious texts, you create expectations and ideas that are absurd in modern times; but if you refuse any set of moral standards, your expectations and ideas can become just as absurd. The episode follows the same formula as almost every episode of South Park: (a) select a topic; (b) hyperbolize and exaggerate to the point of silliness; (c) end with a neutral opinionThe reason there is so much outrage about things that happen in the show is because people who are offended probably don’t watch the entire episodes. You can’t claim a show is offensive based on short clips of priests insisting that they should have the right to molest their altar boys. You can’t claim a show is anti-Semitic or insensitive from watching short clips of Cartman impersonating Hitler and being anti-Semitic. You can’t say Parker and Stone are racist for depicting the character of Tuong Lu Kim as a slant-eyed Chinese man; Parker and Stone over-emphasize stereotypes associated with Chinese people, just as they do with other peoples (like flapping-head Canadians) to show how absurd the stereotypes are. Fans of South Park understand that the show is ultimately not offensive, but rather the opposite.

This analysis makes perfect sense to me. I suspect that all three factors account for South Park‘s cancel-exempt status. The show has survived because it built a reputation for itself before taking the gloves off completely, and has offended everyone impartially in a way that the overall presentation is never truly offensive. Each is not enough in itself to account for South Park‘s survival. The second factor in particular (equal-opportunity offense) is often parroted by many people as “the” answer, but there are plenty of equal-opportunity offenders who come under cancel fire (or even physical assault), like Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock. South Park lives on for a combination of reasons, and it stands to reason it will keep going until Parker and Stone decide to retire because they’ve run out of ideas and are boring people instead of offending them.

All in the Family at its Peak: The Year 1973 (50th Anniversary)

Drum roll, please… 2023 is the 50th anniversary of one of the best years in American history. (It’s also the 40th anniversary for one of the worst years in American history, but that’s a story for another day.) It was certainly the best year for All in the Family, the social-satire sitcom which ran for nine full seasons (1971-79) and did more to change American attitudes than most legislature. The high point of that run was the stretch of episodes in the second half of season 3 (Jan-Mar 1973) and the first half of season 4 (Sept-Dec 1973). They were loud — really loud — and riled viewers with crude language and socio-political clashes that pulled no punches. In 1973 it was the most popular TV show for embracing every controversy, framing debates through dialogue that was equal parts argumentation and ad hominem. The same controversies rage on today.

This post also honors the 100th birthday of show producer Norman Lear (which was last July, and yes, he’s still alive). Robert Lloyd summarized perfectly what Lear intended with All in the Family and why a show like this would never air in today’s age of woke purity and polarized politics:

“Lear’s method was to put characters with clashing worldviews in close quarters. What distinguishes their arguments from our current flavor of polarization, in which debate is impossible because everybody knows everything, is that they lead to (at least temporary) understanding. (And you are laughing at home, hopefully.) All in the Family began with a printed disclaimer, noting that it ‘seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices and concerns. By making them a source of laughter, we hope to show — in a mature fashion — just how absurd they are.’… The satire is spread around, more or less equally distributed. Maude and Mike the Meathead can be doctrinaire, pompous, in their liberality; everyone is an idiot sometimes. But most characters can be as admirable as they are aggravating; they have heart, even if buried or deformed by circumstance. As noisy as they could be, the sound and fury signified not so much dysfunction as health. Disagreement, the very possibility of unshackled argument, is in Norman Lear’s world a form of patriotism.”

One quibble: I don’t think “more or less equally distributed” is accurate. The show’s liberal bias is like a sledgehammer; Archie is used in every other frame as a mirror for toxic conservative attitudes. But yes, it does also take wonderful opportunities with Mike — to underscore liberal hypocrisies (see my #2 pick below) in ways that catch the viewer off guard. If I were writing an “All in the Family” series in the 2020s instead of the 1970s, I would reverse the proportion somewhat, and satirize the left more heavily than the right. The left has lost its way since the ’70s.

These are my ten favorite episodes from the twenty-five that aired in the year 1973. Watch them and celebrate them in the upcoming year.

1. The Battle of the Month (S03, E24; March 24, 1973). Surely the loudest episode of the nine-year run (which is saying a lot), the season-three finale is a non-stop argument that escalates and escalates until you think the Bunkers and Stivics are literally going to kill each other. (Well, maybe not Edith.) It starts with Gloria having her period, and Archie letting it rip on the divinely-ordained nature of a woman’s woes. His retelling of Adam and Eve is his most hilarious bible-butchery and makes Gloria apoplectic with rage, prompting her to shit on everyone in the family, not just her father, but Mike, and even (no: especially) her poor mother whom she calls a “nothing” for letting Archie walk all over her. In the bedrooms that night, Mike and Gloria continue tearing each other apart, Archie listens through the wall and starts screaming at them, and then everyone meets back down in the living room for Pajama World War 3. This is the best All in the Family episode because it’s the purest, doing what the show does best on zero plot and ceaseless yelling. It’s brilliantly scripted, though I imagine a lot of the dialogue came spontaneously from the actors. It’s hard to imagine rehearsing an episode like this, where the argumentative momentum never flags. It must have been fun as hell for the actors to perform. [Watch the episode here.]

2. The Games Bunkers Play (S04, E08; November 3, 1973). Almost tied with Battle of the Month. The Bunkers (minus Archie) get together with Lionel and the Lorenzos for a board game called “Group Therapy”; they take turns drawing cards and sharing their feelings and opinions about each other. If the other players think the card-reader is being honest, they vote “with it”; it not, they vote “cop out”. The game is Mike’s idea, but he sorely regrets suggesting it, as he gets voted down by the group every time it’s his turn. I always admired the way All in the Family occasionally skewered the hypocrisies and prejudices of the left, and here Mike is skewered sixty ways to Sunday: for patronizing Lionel (Mike basically sees Lionel as a “black person” to stick up for and make himself feel good about), for being an anal-retentive jerk to Gloria when she uses her card to ask Edith a question instead of himself, and for throwing obnoxious temper tantrums when everyone else calls him on his bullshit. As in Battle of the Month, the yelling and screaming is carried on a momentum that makes it impossible to look away, until Mike finally goes nuclear: “I thought we could have a nice game without Archie, but as it turns out I’m playing this game with five Archies, and every single one of you is worse than the real one!” Rob Reiner deserved an Emmy for this performance. I consider The Games Bunkers Play to be the most revealing episode of the nine-year run, because we see how seriously flawed Mike is, and flawed in a way that (as Lionel says) makes him worse than Archie, because Mike at least knows better and is equipped to be a better person. [Watch the episode here.]

3. Archie Goes Too Far (S03, E17; January 17, 1973). When Archie denies Mike and Gloria the privacy of their bedroom, and Edith the privacy of her diary, they get so fed up with him that they leave the house, refusing to live under his roof. They don’t depart as a unity though; they exit one by one. Mike and Gloria are as pissed at each other as they are at Archie, which of course is Archie’s fault, for exposing a love poem that Mike had written to a former girlfriend. So after 53 episodes, this is what it finally takes for Archie’s family to walk out on him. It ends the way it only can, with Mike, Gloria, and Edith each having the grace to admit fault in some way, and Archie refusing to admit that he was wrong in any way. And so they come back for six and half more seasons of abuse. The first half of the episode is the great part and very loud; the second half sees everyone making their way to the home of Gloria’s friend who’s hosting a pizza party. Archie finds the place last, and his outrage at everyone having a good time without him is priceless: Edith (wearing a kimono) runs to him and gives him a kiss, and Archie, indignant, tells her to “Take off that Chinky bathrobe.” Today you couldn’t get away with writing dialogue like that for a TV series, unless your name is Trey Parker or Matt Stone. [Watch the episode here.]

4. We’re Having a Heat Wave (S04, E01; September 15, 1973). The season-four premiere is the second loudest episode of the series (after Battle of the Month, the season-three finale), and definitely the nastiest. The racial slurs are off the scale, as Archie dumps on the coloreds, the Japs, the Chinks, the Krauts, the Micks, the Wops, and the Puerto Ricans (the one group he doesn’t have a slur for). Tempers are high to begin with in the Bunker household (with a heat wave and no air conditioning), but when Archie learns that the next-door house on his block is being sold to a non-white couple, he goes through the roof and helps circulate a petition to keep the newcomers out. Henry Jefferson learns of the petition and wages war on Archie — until it comes to light that the non-whites moving in are Puerto Ricans, not blacks, at which point Henry joins forces with Archie and his friends to keep the Hispanics away. Mike and Gloria are furious at them both, and the screaming doesn’t let up. There are so many classic lines from this episode, including Mike and Archie’s argument about Watergate, Edith and Archie’s argument about swearing, and Archie trying to persuade Irene and Frank Lorenzo to buy the house that the Puerto Ricans put a deposit on. Irene thinks it wouldn’t be the Christian thing to do. Archie: “It would be the most Christian thing you ever did. All we’re trying to do on this street is separate the white from the chaff.” [Watch the episode here.]

5. Everybody Tells the Truth (S03, E21; March 3, 1973). This is a popular fan favorite, in which Mike and Archie tell contradictory versions of a black refrigerator repairman. Mike paints Archie as a hyper-racist screaming at the guy over the slightest provocation, and with a repertoire of racial slurs, while Archie counters with his version, in which he appears calm and reasonable, and was yelled at and scolded by everyone in the family for no reason at all. Archie claims that the man pulled a knife on him; Mike says there was no knife. Then Edith clears things up with her version of the story, showing how Mike and Archie equally distorted things. I’m a sucker for Rashomon-style stories (like Ridley Scott’s Last Duel) and All in the Family is perfect for it. The guest actor (Ron Glass) is brilliant portraying three different versions of the repairman — an Uncle Tom (as Mike tells it), a rude thug (as Archie tells it), and an everyday normal guy (as Edith tells it). [The episode can be watched free on amazon prime with ads here.]

6. Archie and the Kiss (S04, E04; October 6, 1973). One thing about Archie is that he comes by his prudishness honestly. He’s not the sort who frowns on lewd jokes and obscene images while stashing Playboys under his bed. He’s genuinely unsettled by nudity, and so when Gloria brings home a sculpture of Rodin’s “The Kiss”, Archie loses his mind and tells her that it’s pornography and has to go. She refuses, and Archie tells Frank Lorenzo to take it back (it was a gift to Gloria from Frank’s wife Irene, but Frank doesn’t know that, and Archie lies to Frank, saying that Irene only loaned the statue to Gloria). Frank takes the statue back, and Gloria goes ballistic on Archie, refusing to speak to him ever again. The rest of the episode shows Archie cluelessly trying to make amends with his daughter — buying her a ridiculous gift, his prudishness manifesting in hilarious ways. Great lines in this episode, like Archie’s declaration that the Rodin sculpture belongs in the men’s room as a fountain, if anywhere at all. There is also the hilarious bit at the beginning where Archie keeps slamming the front door to spite Mike and show his anger. [The episode can be watched free on amazon prime with ads here.]

7. Black is the Color of My True Love’s Wig (S04, E11; November 24, 1973). In which Mike demands that Gloria wear her new wig when they fuck, and Gloria goes ape-shit: “I’m not going to be the other woman in my own marriage!” All in the Family left not a stone uncovered, and this was a great issue to tackle, though I suspect it would be handled differently today. As presented in the episode, the question is: Is it possible for someone to be unfaithful to a marriage partner when having sex with that marriage partner? Today the issue would probably turn on the objectification of women (treating one’s spouse as an object or thing), but in the 70s, objectification theory wasn’t the rage yet (it gained traction in the PC-age of the 90s), and indeed the writers of this episode seem to have no problem with a certain level of objectification that is natural to a healthy sex life. Pornography, fashion modeling, attractive clothes, wigs, etc. all simply highlight a particular aspect of beautiful people. The issue isn’t one of objectification but rather fidelity. Is Mike in love with a dark-haired fantasy figure? Mike assures Gloria at the end that’s not the case, that it’s only Gloria in the wig that fires his libido. The problem is less that Gloria is being “reduced to a sex object” and more that she’s being supplanted in Mike’s imagination. It’s a brilliantly scripted episode, and one of Rob Reiner and Sally Struthers’ best performances ever. Archie is in the second half, and he’s just as hilarious, offended by Mike’s fetish for conservative puritanical reasons. [The episode can be watched free on amazon prime with ads here.]

8. Archie Learns His Lesson (S03, E22; March 10, 1973). You feel for Archie in this one. He’s taking night classes so that he can get a high-school diploma, which will qualify him for a work promotion. In the end he gets the diploma but not the job (which goes to the boss’s nephew), but the plot isn’t what the episode is about. It’s about Archie’s revision of American history as he hates what his textbooks tell him, especially about manifest destiny, the Spanish-American War, the Mexican War, and the Native Americans. He insists that the Indians don’t vote, and when Mike says the Indians were granted citizenship in 1924, Archie says he knows that, “but the Indians don’t use their right to vote: they sell all their horses for booze and then they can’t ride into town”. The argument goes downhill from there until Mike is ready to kill himself over Archie’s stupidities. Then Gloria has a conniption over Archie’s crib notes and his plans to cheat on his test. He rationalizes cheating as being honest with himself (that he wouldn’t be able to pass otherwise), though Edith foils his plans in this regard, and he ends up passing anyway. [The episode can be watched free on amazon prime with ads here.]

9. Henry’s Farewell (S04, E06; October 20, 1973). A momentous episode which sees the departure of Henry Jefferson and the introduction of George. Prior to this season-4 episode, George Jefferson was mentioned by name only. The reason given in the show is that he refused to set foot in a white man’s home — especially a white man like Archie’s — and so remained off-screen for three whole seasons. The real reason is that the actor Sherman Hemsley had been cast to play George from the start in ’71, but had another acting commitment until late ’73. Norman Lear didn’t want to replace Hemsley (thank the gods; no one could have played George like Hemsley) and so he hired Mel Stewart to play George’s younger brother Henry, who would serve as the “black foil” for three seasons until Hemsley became available. This all worked out well for the show. Henry was no George but was one hell of an entertaining prelude. He ended up getting the best seasons of All in the Family (1-4), while George only got the tail end of the glory era. These two men were as racist as Archie (believing that people should stick to their own kind) and also just as sexist (holding that women belong in the home), and a lot of that mutual bigotry is on hilarious display throughout Henry’s Farewell. [Watch the episode here.]

10. Hot Watch (S03, E19; February 17, 1973). The most underrated episode of the nine-year run has a rather forgettable plot: Archie comes home with an expensive watch that he paid pennies for (not at a store, but from a guy he barely knows), and almost right away the watch breaks and everyone fears that it’s stolen merchandise. Archie then schemes to find a jeweler who will fix the watch with no questions asked. There are plenty of episodes in which Archie tries to cheat to come out ahead; in season 3 alone are the following: Archie’s Fraud (he fails to report income on his tax return for driving a taxi cab), The Locket (he tries to collect insurance for Edith’s missing jewel so he can buy a TV set), Edith’s Winning Ticket (he tries to cash in on “Edith’s” winning ticket, even though it’s really Louise Jefferson’s ticket, and not Edith’s). They’re good episodes but not exceptional… except for Hot Watch where the family bickering goes into overdrive and the dynamic between the actors yields top-notch performances. And Archie is utterly shameless. At one point he uses the watch to time Edith setting plates on the dinner table, and she’s literally running around the table losing her breath. [The episode can be watched free on amazon prime with ads here.]

Looking Ahead: The 50th Anniversary of 1973

Last spring I posted an exercise:

“If you could go back in time and live out two full years in America, any two years between 1913-1992, what would they be?”

I chose the years 1925 and 1973, and we’re approaching the 50th anniversary of the latter. I plan on a series of special posts throughout the year 2023, to celebrate and analyze certain events of 1973. Here are some to expect on the dates listed.

January 1 — All in the Family: The show hit its peak during late season 3 (Jan-Mar 73) and early season 4 (Sep-Dec 73) and had a lasting impact on the social fabric of America.

January 22 — The Paradox of Roe v. Wade: Abortion made a constitutional right. Weak ruling, good result, now nullified.

March 1 — The Dark Side of the Moon: A watershed for rock music.

March 27 — The Godfather: The epic film wins Best Picture, becoming the new Citizen Kane.

October 1 — Birth of TSR (Tactical Studies Rules Inc): Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson create Dungeons & Dragons, which will be published the following year.

October 13 — Selling England by the Pound: The best album by the most important prog band.

December 15 — Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders: The American Psychiatric Association declares that homosexuality is not a mental illness or sickness, and removes from its manuals the listing of same-sex activity as a disorder.

December 25 — The Exorcist: A cinematic masterpiece that couldn’t have been made any time else. Its like will doubtfully be seen again.