If the Chiefdom of Rhun has an opposite – in terms of units, in terms of tactics, in terms of strategy – it is surely the City-kingdom of Tharbad. Where Rhun's warriors are aggressive, Tharbad's soldiers tend toward defense. Where Rhun's hordes prefer the all-out charge to decide the battle quickly, Tharbad's companies often prefer to hold their ground in a shieldwall. Where Rhun controls wide lands in the East, Tharbad is straitened along the Greyflood.
On the other hand, both Rhun and Tharbad command somewhat diverse populations – more so than many of their neighbors. Rhun's Easterlings are composed of tribes following many different traditions. And Tharbad's inheritance as presented in Dominion of Men is without doubt the most diverse in all the lands of the West.
The city of Tharbad gets little attention in Tolkien's writings. Probably its most notable mention is when we learn during the Council of Elrond that Boromir lost his horse crossing the river there. In the late Third Age, Tharbad was a ruin.
But in the Fourth Age, with the unification of Gondor and Arnor under one crown, it is reasonable to suppose that such an important settlement would have risen to some prominence. After all, Tharbad lies directly on the route of the North-South Road (or the Greenway, for you Bree-landers) – a route that saw increased traffic during Elessar's reign and surely beyond. Tharbad's position on the Greyflood also gives it access to sea-borne trade. No doubt the city grew prosperous, supporting newcomers and even new settlements in the area.
And these newcomers must have been of many types indeed. Founded and rebuilt largely by men of Gondor, Tharbad also claims settlers from the sparsely populated lands of Eriador to its north, Dunland to its south and east, and Rohan. While following Dunedanic culture overall, the people of Tharbad may claim descent from any of these four groups.
Tharbad's unit roster mirrors this cultural diversity. At its core, Tharbad's soldiery is composed of Dunedanic-style infantry – spearmen, swordsmen, and bowmen. These troops are not so advanced or plentiful as the options available to the Reunited Kingdom, but they are vital to theCity-kingdom's success in war. Around this solid core of infantry, troops specializing in other fighting styles round out Tharbad's military and give it a surprising flexibility in battle. From its Rohirrim-influenced light riders to its Dunlending-influenced pikemen, Tharbad can train forces to meet almost any threat.
That's a good thing, because Tharbad's position at the crossroads of trade routes also makes it vulnerable.
The City-kingdom begins play in possession of a handful of settlements along the Greyflood, from Lond Daer – its most distant town, at the river's mouth – to Tharbad itself, guarded both north and south by permanent forts. Ships can travel the Greyflood all the way to Tharbad, making it easy for the City-kingdom to send forces in support of threatened settlements and allowing it to take advantage of lucrative sea trade.
But several factions can be found nearby – and if you're playing as Tharbad, all of them are stronger than you.
Northward, the two Dunedanic giants struggle for mastery of Arnor. To your south, Dunland and Rohan clash over the plains and hills. Keeping mostly to themselves, the Elves and Dwarves have enclaves in the area as well.
So where does Tharbad fit in to all of this conflict? It's a difficult question. On the one hand, Tharbad stands to profit by remaining neutral and trading with everyone it can. Staying out of wars – and even avoiding problematic alliances – gives you a low diplomatic profile and convinces other factions that you're not a threat. On the other hand, wealth alone won't prevent your trading partners from turning on you once their other foes are dealt with.
Because it can't simply conquer in all directions, Tharbad must be especially aware of the status of other factions. Of note here is the special relationship between the Reunited Kingdom and Rohan. These allies will become involved in each others' wars automatically, so if you get into conflict with one you will soon be in conflict with the other. And suppose the RK drives out Adunabar in the north, while Rohan drives out Dunland in the south? You'll be stuck between possibly the two strongest factions on the map.
So Tharbad must make its moves carefully, with one eye to profit and another to long-term security. Focusing on wealth in the early years will allow you to afford a standing army that can take advantage of opportunities as they arise, and your Emissaries will not only earn you trade rights with every faction they encounter, but also act as spies – and bribe or bankroll other factions' forces as needed. Is the RK doing too well in the north? Gift some of your coin to Adunabar to prolong theconflict. Dunland massing troops along your borders? A few well-placed bribes can make some of the barbarians disappear, and make future battles easier.
Some nearby independent settlements offer tempting targets for early expansion, but as with all things, choose with care. Ideally, new conquests will offer sea trade and some worthwhile resources, while also being somewhat out of reach of potential foes. If these criteria point you to a settlement held by a rival faction, well, sometimes being opportunistic means being aggressive. Just make sure you can finish what you start.
Tharbad occupies an interesting position in DoM, both geographically andin terms of gameplay. A faction of many cultures but beholden to none, Tharbad offers defensive-minded players a challenging opportunity to steer the fate of an emerging power in Middle-earth and attempt to chart your course between some of the strongest kingdoms in Dominion of Men.