Weaving the Threads Together

So far, I have played through almost all of the Prologue, but I have not yet traveled to the Shire to begin the part of the journey that follows in Frodo’s footsteps. As an Elf, I began my experiences in LOTRO hundreds of years before the events of the Fellowship, fighting not against Orcs and Sauron, but against Dwarves. They had attacked Edhelion, the city where my character, Elyon, lived, and I was able to take part in the battle and witness the destruction of her home. Then, the story moved forward to the ‘present’ day–the time period where LotR takes place. A group of elves, including Elyon, had returned to the ruins of Edhelion, hoping to bring back to the place some of its former glory, but after finding some dwarven weapons among the goblins scurrying about the place, she was dispatched to the court of the dwarf Frerir, a friend of the Elves (but not of the Dourhands, another dwarven faction that ruled the area).  After helping the dwarves with various preparations for winter (such as cutting lumber and skinning auroch hides) and weeding out some problematic inhabitants that the Dourhands were not taking care of (mainly poisonous Skorgrim’s Bloom flowers and goblins), Elyon was able to meet up with Elrohir, a son of Elrond, who had discovered that the Dourhands were attempting to bring Skorgrim, their dead leader, back to life in exchange for allying themselves with the forces of Angmar. Elyon joined forces with Frerir’s dwarves to stop this from happening. Tolkien only knows what comes next…

Overall, I felt that the experiences my elf went through were very relatable to the world of LotR, with a few exceptions. First of all, the fact that Elyon was present at the destruction of Edhelion really made her feel like a real elf, who would have memories from hundreds of years back (as Elrond does of the first defeat of Sauron). The NPCs (non-player characters) were all concerned about the land, as elves are, and though they gave me tasks to do, the tasks (like clearing out the slugs from the pool) made sense until I ‘discovered’ the dead goblins with the dwarven axes. After the journey to Frerir’s court, however, the side quests made very little sense. If there was such urgency in finding out what the Dourhand dwarves were up to, why would I chop firewood and make auroch jerky? The dwarves would be perfectly capable of such tasks themselves, and if Elyon’s mission were really so urgent, she would not be asked to do such mundane jobs. So, that sort of broke the nice storyline I was playing out, though I did see the need for her to get experience fighting monsters and for her to level up a bit before leaving the Prologue for the ‘real world.’ The rules of the game interfered with the suspension of disbelief I was experiencing at the time. Or, not exactly the rules, but the necessary mechanics of playing a game interfered with the flow of the story and thus with my suspension of disbelief.

At first, there was almost no connection to the events of LotR, but as Elyon progressed in the storyline I began to see more and more threads connecting her journey to the one depicted in the book. At first, the only similarities were the fact that elves and dwarves had ancient grudges, and that the elves were struggling with living in Middle Earth (as evidenced by the sad attempt to rebuild Edhelion). Basically, she was living in the same world as Frodo and the Fellowship, and that was it. Then, there was Elrohir, seen only a couple of times in the book, but still a part of it, and the alliance of the Dourhand dwarves with Angmar–a province of evil, allied with Mordor and home of the Witch-King in LotR. So, as the journey went on, Elyon’s seemingly separate path began to merge with that of the Fellowship–a common desire to see the Free Peoples survive and to defeat the forces of darkness. The quest to stop the Dourhands shows the largest leap yet towards the merging of the storylines of Elyon and the Fellowship, as confronting any sort of force from Angmar would directly relate to confronting the forces of Mordor. Now, I just have to keep playing and find out what’s next on Elyon’s journey through the Third Age of Middle Earth.

Dacia

Portrait of a Dwarf

By Colin Doberstein

 

           This is a biography of Bamfi, my Dwarf minstrel in Lord of the Rings Online. This post is not written by a singing dwarf. It is being written by a committee of five manatees pushing glass balls with words on them. Admit it: you’re not a bit surprised.

 

            Any discussion of the Shadowhide dwarves of the Ered Mithrin must begin with their distinctively dark skin color (hence the name). Bamfi and his clan have long lived deep under the Grey Mountains, and while no conclusive answer to why their skin is almost pitch black has been reached, the amalgamation of rumor and legend says that the rocks which crowd so tightly around Shadowhide strongholds have begun to imprint their characteristics upon the dwarves themselves. While this may or may not be true, the Shadowhides have taken care to cultivate this rumor, leading to the misguided belief among some that they are actually made entirely from living stone. Were such a misguided traveler ever to come into contact with a Shadowhide dwarf, it is unlikely that the dwarf would care to dispel that notion.

 

            Bamfi himself left the tunnels deep under the Grey Mountains because of the declining strength of the Shadowhide clan in that area. Since the intense darkness that pervades most Shadowhide settlements has necessitated a system of coordinated sounds to communicate over long distances, Bamfi found himself already in possession of the basic skills of a minstrel. Being fairly gruff and solitary (standard for most dwarves), Bamfi has taken up the life of a wanderer, adventuring to increase his own power with the hope of increasing the prestige of the Shadowhide dwarves across Middle-Earth.  

The Cowbell is Not Mightier Than the Sword

By Colin Doberstein

         As a minstrel, I smite the forces of evil in Middle-Earth with my cowbell, a one-dwarf symphony of destruction. My lute solos drain the life from my enemies’ bodies and my voice strikes fear into their very souls. Hordes of goblins, however, are beyond my power, so I found myself in a fellowship with two dwarven champions, whose methods of combat, while nowhere near as stylish as my own, are significantly more effective. This posed a problem for me: as I am accustomed to fighting on my own, I normally have to use my various ballads and cries to inflict enough damage to win a fight. Since my two companions were armed with swords and axes, rather than words and percussion instruments, I realized that my role as a dealer of direct damage was insignificant at best. I found myself grudgingly trying to boost my companions’ strength, healing them on the rare occasion that a puny goblin scored a lucky hit. My most significant contribution was looting the corpses that my fellows left behind in their haste to make more. We completed our quest with ease, but even though I was two levels higher than my compatriots, I felt completely unnecessary to the proceedings.

 

         I’m fairly sure that the two champions in my fellowship did not feel the same way. This is an example of what I’ve been told is the crippling paradox of a minstrel’s existence: we exist to aid our fellows, but in order to gain enough levels to do so, we must be able to fight on our own. This leads to a radical shift from the way I fight when I stand alone to the way in which I fight when part of a team. While this seems like a necessary consequence of being a supporting class, it really does get in the way of me developing a style of playing, since I have to throw it out the window once the situation changes. This breaks whatever immediate connection I have going with the game at that time, since I need to step outside my murderous musician for a moment. I can adjust to singing arias of aid, but I would rather be able to stick with songs of slaughter, since that’s what I do for 95% of my fights. 

The View From the Sidelines

To help get this blog rolling, I’d like a quick show of hands from cyberspace. How many of you, after watching The Fellowship of the Ring, wanted to be Gandalf? Quite a few of you. How about Legolas? Again, a pretty fair contingent. Aragorn? I think I see a few hands raised out there. Ok, now the million-dollar question: how many of you wanted to be Sam? Anybody? Anybody? Bueller? Well, I have good news for anyone out there shouting:  “I want to be Sam! What would be so cool about killing hundreds of the minions of Sauron anyway? I want to be useless except as a provider of moral support!” The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar will let you fulfill your fantasy of watching more powerful fighters do all the work, at least through the introductory quest chain.

 

Being a dwarf (in LOTRO, at least) my first task as a denizen of Middle-Earth was one of the utmost importance and peril: I had to walk through a mine and tell miners that it was time to watch our King, Thorin Oakenshield, depart for the Lonely Mountain. One particularly obstinate miner by the name of Tvistur (if you’re like me, the first thing you though when you saw that name was “Right hand on red”) has opened a long-sealed passage that houses a large, angry cave troll. The troll flattens poor Tvistur (“Skull on red”) and chases after Gimli, who should need no introduction. Now is my chance to be a hero, I am instructed to follow the troll and help Gimli defeat it. Armed with a knife I found on the way in, I set out to help slay the beast, only to be immobilized as soon as I came within sight of it. In this state, I was able to heroically watch Gandalf arrive in the nick of time and turn the troll to stone. Quest completed! I only shudder to think what might have happened if I hadn’t been there. Most of the rest of the introduction involved my character running errands for higher-ranking Dwarves, but once a treacherous plot to reanimate a dead dwarf leader was discovered, I once again sprung into action and went to the dwarf in question’s tomb to help avert this catastrophe. What, you ask, was my quest objective? Kill the conspirators, perhaps, or save Elrond’s son, who was being held hostage? No, my job was, and I quote, “Protect Dwalin” while he cleaned up the mess. This being done (and done well, let me add) I am now in the main part of the game, where I can hopefully begin to do stuff out of the shadows of people who matter.

 

My point is this: developing a narrative is an admirable goal in a video game, but a big part of the appeal of games such as LOTRO is the chance to be a hero. If I wanted to watch other people save the world, I would watch the Lord of the Rings movies. I assume that now since I’m out of the introductory part of the game, I will be doing things on my own, but it would have been nice to feel like I actually mattered, even a little bit, to the story being woven around me. If I’m participating in the actions, let me participate in the story too.

 

That’s all for now, but since this post is a week overdue, you all will be hearing again from me shortly. Lucky you.

 

                                                                        -Colin Doberstein