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MESBG Terrain Project - Part Two: Stranger in a Strange Land

Since reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy back when I was in high school, I was captivated by the world that Tolkien had created in his works of fiction. But it wouldn't be until later in life that I would be drawn into Middle Earth Strategy Battle Games (MESBG).


In case you missed the first part of this series of articles, you can find the link to it here:



But in a nutshell, this series of articles will chronicle my journey to make a Ruins of Karna gaming table for MESBG. In part one, I explained how I got involved in MESBG and my motivation to bring this part of Middle Earth to life in the form of a gaming table.


A Map of Harad - Source: Harad Source Book Published by Games Workshop 2007.


For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Karna is a city in the middle of Harad, the realm that lies to the south of Gondor in Middle Earth and is nestled on the banks of the Uarbor River (as shown in the map above). Unfortunately there is scant mention of Karna in Tolkien's works, so a lot of my research came from Games Workshop's Harad Source Book published back in 2007.


To summarise it's recent history (apologies to the die-hard Tolkien fans out there, I hope I don't butcher this too badly!) Karna would play a pivotal role in the Haradrim's fight to drive the Gondorian occupation forces out of their lands at the start of the Third Age. Having occupied Harad in the wake of the Battle of the Last Alliance, the people of Harad grew bitter and resentful towards their Gondorian occupiers. Though the Haradrim had been pretty much enslaved by their former masters the Black Numenoreans during the Second Age, the hurt from this new thraldom was all the rawer. While the Harad did mount some resistance during the early years of the occupation, it was piecemeal and easily quashed.


It would take Sauron's intervention generations later, where his emissaries would incite a mass uprising to overthrow Gondor's stranglehold on Harad. To lead this united rebellion would be Mardat the Serpent Lord, a King of Far Harad. A charismatic leader and sound tactician, he would unite the disparate tribes of Harad into a single fighting force and claim the temple city of Karna as his capital. It was from here that he would attempt to drive out the forces of Gondor from Harad.

Concept sketch of the Ruins of Karna - Source: Dan Payne


While Mardat won many battles against Gondor's forces in the region, he would never see a liberated Harad in his lifetime for he was challenged to a duel by one of the Haradrim Chieftains under his command and felt honour bound to accept. Unfortunately for Harad, Mardat was slain in this duel and his successor was not up to the job. When word of Mardat's death reached the forces of Gondor, they quickly moved to put down the now fractured rebellion and, to add insult to injury, sacked the city of Karna. What took place during this violent sacking of is not mentioned, but it left this once proud jewel of the desert a smoking ruin that during the time of the War of the Ring was said to be haunted.


Harad wouldn't pose a serious threat to Gondor until the ascension of Suladan as Serpent Lord prior to the outbreak of the War of the Ring when the forces of Gondor would be driven back north across their border and a combined army of Harad and Mordor would ultimately lay siege to Minas Tirith as detailed in Tolkien's Return of the King.


All that occupies this ruined shell of a city is the mysterious order of warriors known as the Watchers of Karna and the Dimlokhi (evil spirits), the former protecting the wider world of Middle Earth from the threat of the latter. With not much detail written about the city of Karna, I felt it gave me more license to be imaginative and draw upon multiple sources to help bring my vision to reality.

Concept sketch of a Karna city block - Source: Dan Payne


In addition to this information that I gained from the Harad Source Book, I also drew upon real-world cultures, design and architecture to inspire the look for the terrain to go on my Ruins of Karna gaming board.


Last year my wife and I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Morocco on holiday, a country that for centuries has been a melting pot of cultures including Islam, Berber and other African nations. One of the highlights of our trip was visiting Ait Benhaddou, a traditional Berber village that is now protected as a UNESCO world heritage site. The name might not be familiar to you, but the sight of it will be as it has been used as a filming location in movies and TV shows such as Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and Game of Thrones (2011 - 2019).


The village is built on the slope of a hill that lies on the banks of the Ounila River in Southern Morocco and it is believed that the settlement was established as a stopping-off point for merchants and herders travelling on one of the main trans-Saharan trade routes. Archaeological evidence suggests that the settlement dates back to the eleventh century during the Almoravid period and while the oldest buildings in the village were constructed in the seventeenth century, the Berbers who still live there today continue to use construction methods that date back to that time.


Ait Benhaddou - Source: Dan Payne


From the design aesthetics used in a lot of the Haradrim artwork done over the years for Tolkien's books, their portrayal in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy and the models produced by Games Workshop, it is clear that these artists and designers were also inspired by real-world cultures such as those found in North Africa. So I too decided to draw part of my inspiration from what I saw in my travels in Morocco and created the concept sketches that I featured in this article.


In the next part of my MESBG Terrain Project series, I will hit the hobby table and start constructing the Ruins of Karna. Until then, keep on hobbying!


To check out my latest hobby projects, follow me on





 

Inspired to build some Middle Earth Scenery? Check out Gap Games by clicking the link and help Arc40k along your journey.

 



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