Monday, December 21, 2009

Nimwillyn's Yule Dinner

Every tabletop roleplaying campaign has its share of amusing stories and anecdotes. Below is one such story, from the MERP game that spawned many of the members of Heren Lokion. It may serve to bring a smile to certain folks' faces when they remember these days of yore.

Gather about the fire, my friends, and let a tale of mirth drive away the night cold on this grand Vule eve. The tale I tell is true, for I was witness to these events. Nimwillyn, you may find this story of particular interest, for it involves your namesake from ages past.

This tale begins on a Yule Eve much like this one, only long ago and in much less civilized places. My band of adventurers was journeying eastward through the Trollshaws, seeking for the dread fortress of Cameth Brin, which is now known as Garth Agarwen. It was many leagues yet til the city, so we made camp and settled for the night.

Among our company was Hugh of Dunland, Avacar, ranger of Arthedain, my friend and companion Morde, and the burglar Nimwillyn of the Shire. Although the Shire had only recently been settled when we came together in fellowship, Yule traditions were ancient even then and Nimwillyn, aware of the date, had determined to feast that night.

None of the rest of us were in any mood to humor him. The Trollshaws were a savage place even then, and none wished to leave the comfort of the fire. Nimwillyn was insistant and when none strove to go with him, he set off alone into the darkness.

I presumed he would grow bored and return after fetching a coney or some other small animal. Comfort loving hobbits are not generally known for their prowess on the hunt, so I doubted he could down a deer or a boar. But as the darkness of the night deepened, Nimwillyn did not return, so I set out myself to fetch him.

Although hobbit feet are light and easily hidden, I was able to track him without much toil. But I grew leery as I saw another set of tracks amidst his, those of a great sabre-tooth. Surely, Nimwillyn was not so foolish to be tracking such a beast.

Well, let it never be said that one can underestimate the folly of a hobbit. I continued further on, now with some haste, fearing that I might find the beast devouring our burglar. After some minutes of rushing through the trees, I came upon Nimwillyn.

"Hush," he warned me. "It's close."

My eyes grew wide at this one's stupidity, but before I could speak a word a great black beast erupted from the nearby brush. Nimwillyn, who a second before was so proud to have tracked this thing, now nearly wet himself with fear. He dropped his blade and staggered back a step, but the beast was on him.

Quick as lightning, I drew and loosed, feathering the beast just forward of its shoulders. But a single arrow was not enough to fell it, even one so expertly aimed. It turned toward me. Sulring flashed into my hand as it pounced, and sank deep into the sabre-tooth's breast.

Now mortally wounded, the great cat staggered off and collapsed in a heap a few yards away. Nimwillyn was still struck dumb with fear. I moved over to ensure it was dead and then turned to scold the idiotic hobbit.

But Nimwillyn had come to his senses, or so I thought. He looked at the beast now with delight. "How wondrous!" he exclaimed. "Imagine our feast tonight."

By this point, I had given up trying to comprehend the mind of Nimwillyn. This night was some months after another expedition into the woods for blueberries, so he could dye himself and his clothing purple in order to infiltrate a bandit lair. I decided to simply go along, becoming a partner in this madness. With an exasperated breath, I quickly cut some branches for a makeshift sled and we dragged the beast back to camp.

Nimwillyn took great delight in preparing the meat, but no amount of Hobbit cookery could make that monster any less tough and mealy. But Nimwillyn got his Yule dinner, and the only cost was his wits and a pair of soiled trousers.

I have not had a Yule since that day over 15 centuries ago when I haven't thought of Nimwillyn and his Yule feast. Let us hope our evening this day is less eventful but equally joyous.

And let us hope the same to you. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Heren Lokion.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Account of Cainam Sselkcer

Dear Master Salmar,

I apologize it has taken me so many months to write you. I hope that this letter finds you well and that your burns have continued to heal. Regrettably, I have not been able to deliver the letter you bade I bring to Isengard and request that they take me on as an apprentice. Alas I fear that all is not well with Saruman the White. I remember you telling me of the majesty that was Isenguard and the lush grounds surrounding the majestic tower of Orthanc. I arrived to find the grounds decimated. The trees have been ripped from the ground by scores of goblins who in turn have built barrows deep into the surrounding earth. My heart sank to see such beauty torn asunder.

I dared not approach the tower but observed the region from the hills outside the perimeter of the grounds. The goblins continued their scourging of the countryside. They have begun construction of a dam and their need for wood has driven them to Fangorn Forest. The boldness they must have to bring an axe to those trees. I do not know what these creatures have planned, but I fear any plan that could be wrought from such wanton destruction.

After several nights of watching something caught my eye. In the middle of a moonlight night a giant eagle descended from the sky and approached the tower. Initially I thought it was going to land on top of Orthanc itself, but instead it merely flew along side it and I saw what I believed to be a man leap from the top of the tower onto the back of the eagle to be spirited away into the western sky.

I have deduced that if anyone knows what is going on inside that tower it is whoever it was that I saw fly off on that eagle. I have thus traveled west to Breeland. Here I have found my self in the service of some of the dunedain rangers as they seek to conceal the movement of a small band of hobbits. I dare not speak of what they carry, but believe me when I say that with these hobbits travels the fate of all the free peoples of middle earth. I can only hope that the small part I played has aided in their quest.

I now find myself tracking a band of adventurers known as Heren Lokion. Their actions have cost the enemy dearly and they have supposedly been essential to the success of the hobbits and their growing fellowship. I hope to catch up with them some place in the Misty Mountains and offer my services to aid their endeavor.

Please pass along my well wishes to your wife and let my family know I am well. I have enclosed a small sum of money to assist you with the repairs to the library as well as a few tomes to help restock the shelves. I have also included a salve that I was promised would aid in the regrowth of your eyebrows. I will continue to send you these letters as well as any other interesting tomes and tidbits I encounter as time and safety permits. Thank you for all that you have taught me, and please keep a watchful eye out for my family and our village.

Humbly Yours,

Cainam Sselkcer

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Learning to Take in the Big Picture

(Alternate Title: Little Green Bars: They're not just for the healer anymore.)

After spending the last two and half years of my time in WoW raiding, most of which was on progression content in one of the top raiding guilds on my server, I've learned to be extremely focused on my task and trusting my team-mates to do the same. Raid content in WoW, particularly in the Sunwell, was so tightly tuned that there was no room for generalists. You had a job, and you did that job, and while you were aware of the other aspects of the encounter you simply didn't have time to worry about what was going on outside of your assigned role. I played a warlock primarily and in Burning Crusade that meant I killed things because we were overpowered and we were the best at it. In particular I was specced destruction and so I put up my curse and then spammed shadowbolt until my target died. I was vaguely aware of the tank's health because I had a target of target unit frame and kept an eye on it to make sure it was not me, but beyond that I wasn't concerned with the status of everyone else. Minimizing the delay between casts and not standing in the fire were the priorities.

Transitioning back to small group play in a completely different game requires a much different degree of situational awareness. Fewer comrades means gaps in specialist coverage. Flexibility is rewarded to a much greater degree. The loss of a party member goes from "Druid, BR!" to "Crap, here comes the wipe." The presence of fellowship manuevers in LotRO take this to an extreme however. A properly executed FM means your DPS is just as responsible for healing and power regeneration as your healers. It means that your minstrel and tank are just as responsible for killing mobs as your DPS. The options available to you from an FM are incredible and they are very easily capable of turning a wipe into an heroic victory. A botched one can also turn a close battle into a rout and a trip back to the defeat circle. The number of different maneuvers available guarantee there is one for any occasion.

And therein lies the problem. Which one do you pick when there is only a seven second window to select the target of the FM, choose your color, and make sure you press that button in right order with the other five people in your fellowship? A hunter sees a mob that needs to die, so he picks damage. A tank sees that his morale bar is low so he picks healing. A healer is running low on power so he picks power regen. Suddenly an opportunity to make a pivotal shift in the battle decays into an ineffective jumble of random colors. How do we learn to see the whole battle when we've been trained to focus, focus, focus? In my opinion this is what is separating us from being a collection of good individual players to being a well-oiled machine that mows down the minions of Sauron.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The WoW to LotRO transition: A Look Back

Over the summer, the Order of the Serpent World of Warcraft (WoW) Guild transitioned to Lord of the Rings (LotRO, usually pronounced Low Tro) and became the Heren Lokion Kinship.

This post is a message to my old bear-mentor Karthis aka Andrew, author of Of Teeth and Claws gaming blog. I promised him, and his readership a comparative review.

Most MMO reviews that I've read only take into account the experience of the individual. How was solo play? How easy was it to "find" groups? How easy was it to find a guild to Raid with?

Frankly, if this was all about me, I may not have fallen in love with LotRO the way I have. I'm a member of a group of 8 long-time friends committed to playing together. We have our own private vent server, this blog & a "Kin" page on guildlaunch. We picked LotRO because of a collective love affair for Tolkien's works. All of us have played Lord of the Rings as a table-top RPG at one time or another. Some of us are even playing characters straight out of that history.

While we don't "role play" over vent with one another, our RPG roots seep into all aspects of our activities. We've created elaborate backstories for several of our characters. Kin members have written "in-character" posts on our blog. This is something that never really happened for us on WoW. Sure, WoW has a solidly developed Lore, but it simply can't hold a candle to LotRO.

The Lore of the game, our history with Tolkien (I've read the books 5 or 6 times and re-watched the movies in "extended edition marathons" over the holidays) and the great decisions of the game designers have created this amazing sense of foreboding - unless you play in the Shire* - which has colored our kin's entire experience thus far.

*Hobbits (and other players) who choose to do their starting levels in the Shire are rewarded with a completely different feel than any other MMO encounter I've ever had. The entire zone seems to be about helping bake pies, smoking the perfect weed, and dealing with gossip.

Of course, fostering the imagination can't be the only reason to play.

At a fundamental level LotRO is no different than WoW (and perhaps any other MMO.) LotRO still depends on the "holy trinity" for instances & elite quests. LotRO is still about leveling to unlock new abilities, become more powerful & open up more content. There's lots of "fed-ex" quests and return "but I was just there!" quests. LotRO is also a subscription service, something Andrew has been arguing against for a while.

note: LotRO subscriptions can run as cheap as $10/month if you take a multi-month plan. Having multi-month subscriptions often entitles players to free digital downloads of expansions. We're getting the Merkwood expansion for free. You can also choose a "life-time" plan, but it's $200.

Virtues: Unlike WoW, "Deed" farming is valuable. Complete a certain number of quests, use an ability enough or kill a certain number of a particular mob and you will unlock an equipable "virtue." These abilities are essentially LotRO's answer to Talent Trees. I love it. Players can just play the game and unlock the deed that unlock naturally from playing OR they can take the time to research deeds they want and fight for them. If a Champion never develops his defensive talents, he'll always just be a dps and never be able to be a tank.

Professions: More than WoW ever did, LotRO rewards teamwork on professions. A group of players can plan to have a set number of players designated for each profession & then have others be gatherers. There's no such thing as a "bind on pickup" crafted item. There are no bonuses for having a specific profession. A solo player can thrive on his or her own. But, the design encourages team-work. I have no crafting profession, instead I gather extra mats. I help mine materials for my wife's jewelcrafter, she in turn crafts gear for everyone in the Kin.

Following the Story: There are tons of quests in each zone. You can't really be a "completest" in LotRO. Many quests help show you a vision of life in Middle Earth. Most quests connect directly to the growing evil surrounding the players. LotRO has this massive interlocking chain of quests called "Books." Each book intertwines with the the Fellowship of the Ring. The players become "supporting cast" in the grand story. Stories involve helping to cover the tracks of the ringbearer or killing agents of the enemy that are too close to the ring. Our Kin is just completing Book 5 and there are a lot more books ahead of us.

Value of a Diverse Cast: Just like WoW, every class brings something different to the table, but LotRO really rewards diversity even in low level instances. Bring too many hunters & champions (raw dps classes) and you won't win. You need support classes that can crowd control, back-up heal, do creative support. This isn't just in Raids or in select boss fights. This is a fundamental aspect of all the fellowship quests I've seen thus far.

Fellowship Maneuver: The Fellowship Maneuver is a triggered event that encourages teamwork. When grouping (any size) there's a chance that a maneuver will be triggered. Each player gets a pop-up to select one of 4 colors. Fellowships (groups) that choose good color combinations are rewarded with anything from straight damage to the mob, to fellowship heal over time & instant power regen. The more in sync a fellowship is and the larger the combo, the more powerful the maneuver. Pugs suck at maneuvers. Our group loves the challenge. Some classes (remember my comment about diversity) can trigger fellowships. We have won fights because fellowship maneuvers were triggered. We have also lost fights because of failed maneuvers.

Death: Instead of "health" players have moral. Being "defeated" means you've run out of moral and must retreat. A player who dies out in the world can choose to revive in place once an hour, but beyond that defeat is painful and has consequences. The results can be devastating for a fellowship. A lot of activities take place is densely populated open elite zones OR public instances. If your fellowship wipes, a hour of work can go down the drain. Defeat also creates dread. Dread greatly reduces a player effectiveness. Many bosses cause even more dread. Too much dread saps a player to the point where they can do nothing but simply run away and cower. Jewelcrafters can create hope tokens which counter-act dread. The best choice is to avoid wipes by playing smart.

Note: I know Andrew is a fan of the undying style game. It's possible to play in LotRO as well. The game rewards players for avoiding death by cool new titles every 5 levels. But beware bad connectivity! I had an alt moving along quite nicely, she died to a DC. Sigh!

Housing & Banking: A Love/Hate Relationship: Players start with a lot of bag space. We get access to a modest sized bank really early. This seems really great until you realize that bag space is fixed, your bank is small, extra bank bags are smaller & exorbitantly priced. The solution? Get a house. You & your Kin can get houses. Your house is located in a homestead in the human, elf, hobbit or dwarf zones. Houses are cool places to display trophies. They also have trunks.

I LOVE this feature because my house reflects my main's taste and attitude (role-playing opportunity) and our Kinship house is a great place for us to display the trophies from our successful instance runs. I can "pop in" to a friend's house to drop of crafting mats or see their personal trophies.

I absolutely HATE this feature because my house, the Kin House, my friends' houses & my bank are scattered about. The trunk space is small and finite. Actually, the bank/bags/mail/auction system is by far my biggest - and only real - complaint about the game. It's clunky to the point where I realize that Blizzard has a really well-designed system in place. (I take back every bad thing I've ever said about Blizzard's mail/bank/auction system.)

Some Concluding Thoughts: There's a lot more to say about this game. I am really enjoying it. There's so much to talk about, I've failed to get into the individual classes I've tried. It's good for solo-play, but great for groups. If you are a small group of 6+ looking for a new home, I recommend you play LotRO. You will be rewarded with tons of fellowship quests, opportunity for collaborative work, and a game rich in story.

At this time, the wife and I are avoiding the "life-time" membership. It pays for itself in under 2 years, but with the variety of new games on the horizon we wonder if our group will look elsewhere in a year. After the holidays when we've paid for the Christmas, we'll reconsider it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Report from the North

Lord Denethor,

I hope this missive finds you well and our city safe from the Enemy. It has been over a month since my arrival in Rivendell with Captain Boromir. Many other mighty lords and captains have come here lately too and they have held a great council to discuss the war that all can see coming now. I do not know what was said, but clearly a decision of great importance was made as your son has decided to lend his aid to a mission of much secrecy. Mithrandir is involved in this, as is a Ranger of the North who bears a mighty heirloom. The Enemy is watching this place closely and they dare not set out until the area can be cleansed of his agents. The Nine were abroad here and though they were defeated when they attempted to enter Rivendell, at least one is still at large and organizing the remnants of Angmar to great evil. Already I have seen first hand evidence of this in the North Downs where a great force of orcs and trolls was gathering in the fallen capital of Arnor. With foul sorcery they have even called up evil spirits in the bodies of fallen soldiers to do the work of the Enemy. With the aid of several companions and the blessing of Captain Boromir we entered Fornost and slew the Orc chieftain Zanthrug who lead them, but I fear he was just the beginning. Rumors abound that a great evil has arisen in Angmar again and if it is not stopped it will sweep away what little defense there is in the North and come at Gondor. I feel it is my duty to aid the people of this land in the defense of their homes else our own land will have no safe borders. I would have gladly accompanied Captain Boromir but he has assured me that what hope exists in the success of his quest relies on secrecy and a small company.

I will send reports as I am able but with the treachery of Saruman and the closure of the High Pass through the winter I fear they will be long in reaching you.

Ever your humble servant,


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Nimbwillyn's Guide to Farming

Farming can be one of the most expensive professions to advance. If you're a farmer, you're most likely churning out ingredients for a cook. These quickly become food which you and your kin devour. Simply put, money goes in, no money comes out. Other professions generally have to make large numbers junk items that if made wisely vend at or above production costs. They gather resources in the wilderness, where experience and loot can be gained from the foes that must be defeated to reach said resources. Farmers do their best work in Hobbiton, where cups of tea must be defeated to overcome drowsiness. Other professions can "make all" on a large stack of mats and step away to do other things. A farmer tries to make all on a "stack" of fields and finds he can harvest three before the rest despawn.
But it's not all bad. You and your kin need new weapons and armor every few levels, often more if you like to hold out for shard gear. You and your kin need food every few minutes (often more if you've been holding out too long for that shard armor). And while a cook might be able to gather resources in the field, it's frustrating and time consuming to do so. Cooks need farmers. So, what can you do to make farming a little less painful.
Rotate your crops. Or rather rotate yourself as you plant fields. If you face one direction while planting, each field spawns right atop the previous. When you try to harvest, you're starting from the newest and must wait for the harvested field to despawn before moving on to the next. As I said before, you'll only going to get 3 (maybe 4 with really good tools) before the older ones despawn. By rotating as you plant, you leave a side of the older fields sticking out where it can be clicked on and harvested in the order it was planted and without having to wait for harvested fields to despawn (which seems to take slightly longer than the time to harvest a field). I can easily plant and harvest four fields at a time (with some margin for error if I screw up). I suspect as many as six fields might be possible, but I find four to be easiest. Just make a 90 degree turn after each field completes. I rotate clockwise, by doing this and keeping my inventory closed, I have my mouse in position to click the first field as soon as I've finish planting the fourth. If you enjoy generating positive torque, I'd select the "close while crafting" box or you'll have trouble clicking that first field without moving.
Take time to sell the roses. Or any other flower. Flowers vend nicely, the flowers from one fair crop will generally pay for the field you planted to get it. They also have a chance to proc the crit spice of their tier and/or components for scholar dyes. If you're not actively supplying a cook, flowers are a great way to grind out farming skill.
Buy seed. When you start out farming, collecting the seed from poor crops is great for saving money and generating skill. But the saving erodes quickly, seed costs 4c each regardless of type, poor crops vend for 1c times the tier of the crop, factor in the wear on your tools and seed is cheaper to buy if you don't mind passing up the skill--if I had a do-over I might not buy seed recipes past t3.
Fertilize it. Once you've mastered a tier, don't ever plant a field without making sure your using fertilizer--double check that box is ticked before you start planting. Well-tended fields yield far more fair crops than poor and will be more likely to proc special items like spices and dyes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

3 High Road in Bronsworth

A letter home...

Dearest Mother,

As father advised, I purchased a little home in the Bree Homesteads. It is not the farm, but it is home. My service to the army and dedication to our people more than covers my costs. My new assignment for Captain Anatariel goes well. We have traveled near and far defending the lands from dark forces. Forgive me if I am not permitted to share more.

Before you ask, I do not think my meager dwelling will be enough to sway the heart of the beautiful elf-maid, Calendriel. In the many months since I saved her from the spiders, we have become friends and comrades. She has repaid me ten-fold. Yet, I do not she will even think of me the way I do her. Perhaps it is as Aunt Gertie says, "All love is unrequited." I have little doubt she will eventually join her people in their journey across the sea.

Oh yes, the rumors are true. I have seen them on their pilgrimage. The elves are leaving. It saddens me that I joined this company, filled mostly with elves, only to know that they will be leaving us when our task is done.

Perhaps that's the reason I bought this home. Life must go on when the elves leave. I must go on. I must have hope that I will survive this struggle and that there is a future for us all. Thus, the home. A place I may find a fine round women to share with and children of my own to raise.

I know that father thought me foolish for running off after my elf-maid. But that fool's errand has lead me to a purpose.

Please forgive the sad tone of this letter. I assure you things are well. My new friend, Nimbwillyn brings me cheer and food. I thought so little of hobbits when I first left home. But, the little fellow has shown me that their love of food and comfort is really a zest for life and peace. He works just as hard as any of us. I have invited him to join me on my next visit home so you two may share some recipes. Just hide the silver before we arrive.

Enclosed, you will find a little money to help make up for my absence at harvest time. Use it to heir an extra hand.

With Love,


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What’s holding you back? Hunter's and their Stances

So I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about the various hunter stances. There are a number of Hunter’s in Heren Lokion and we all seem to have a different approach. So I thought I’d share a few thoughts on my stance selection.

Stances are all about what is holding you back or limiting your DPS. So to answer what stance to choose I ask myself “What is limiting my DPS in this fight?”

Strength Stance: If there’s nothing holding you back, then let loose with everything you got. Strength stance is the best DPS especially if you get a few traits in the bow master line. But remember there are a lot of things that can hold you back. Threat and power are the obvious issues here with threat being the half ton gorilla. So the times to use strength stance are when you are soloing, or playing like you are soloing. What I mean by playing like you are soloing is when you are ina group fighting normal mobs of equal or lower level. Things that the party is just going to mow down. In this situation, might as well use Strength stance, the mob isn’t going to live long enough to get to you anyway.

Precision Stance: It’s a good middle of the road stance. It does not have the threat magnifier of strength stance but still offers some benefit in the form of reduced miss chance and increased crit chance on quick shot. This is the stance I’ll typically use against higher level mobs where misses are more common place.

Endurance Stance: This is the bread and butter stance for grouping vs bosses and many elite mobs. In longer fights the typical limiting factor is going to be threat. You can’t do more damage than the tank and dish out hate. Endurance gives you an extra 10% (20% traited) damage that you can do before the mob comes to eat you. It also has the added benefit of costing you less power, which gives you more staying power. It’s not as sexy as Strength or Precision stance, but over the long haul, assuming you are in a situation where your Tank is not doing THAT much more threat than you can dish out, it’s going to end up putting the most hurt on the mob.

So to sum up… in simplified terms…

Strength: Burst Damage
Precision: Middle of the Road
Endurance: Sustained Damage

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Into Garth Agarwen

Authors notes: The first thing to keep in mind is that these will be written in-character. Seeing as I consider my LOTRO Ellote to be one and the same as my MERP Ellote, this will mean several things. For one, she will on occasion make references to prior adventures, companions, or to her dilemma with Elrond. Secondly, Ellote is a storyteller and bard out to enhance her own fame first and foremost. From one who has claimed descent from nearly every elven hero in the Silmarrilion, you can expect a bit of embellishment on her part in these tales, and always done to make Ellote look better.

My Lord Elrond,

I trust this missive finds you well. You requested of me, as you no doubt recall, that I provide a detailed account of my journeys in Middle Earth in these last days. I am no fool and am fully aware of your lack of faith in me. However, as other accounts will no doubt confirm, you will find nothing but truth in this letter.

Two days prior, with my companions from the Heren Lokeon, we stole into the ruins of Garth Agarwen. We of long memory remember that this place had another name once, and thus this was not the first time I had ventured within these walls. But this letter is not about past glories, but rather present events. So I will dwell no longer on such things.

My companions were named such. Anatariel, a captain of Gondor, Shyiel the bard, Relan the warrior, Calendriel, and the hobbit Nimwillyn. These last two bear particular interest to me, for I hold many fond memories of other companions long ago who bore these names. But I am straying into the distant past again.

But perhaps that is not so great a fault, for what once was does indeed have bearing on what is now, as you shall see. It was no accident that we came to this place, sent here by Radagast on an errand of some urgency. For Ivar, the Blood-lord, servant of the Witch-king had found a terrible power sleeping within these ruins, one once worshipped by cultists in Rhudaur long ago. He had found Naruhel, the Red Maid, and corrupted her to serve the Dark Lord.

So we ventured within to stop this abomination from being unleashed upon the free peoples. But we were dogged at every step. As I said many a year had passed since I last set foot here and my knowledge of this place escaped me. So many years had passed that I could no longer find my way. Shyiel, however, brought knowledge of this place from more recent days and unerringly guided us through the maze of ruins that this once great Mannish city had become.

The maze was not the only difficulty. This place was well guarded by Dunnish tribesmen, cultists and worshippers of the Red Maid. We fought through patrol after patrol, seeking Ivar and his charge.

But navigating the maze and overcoming its guardians was as yet not enough to steal into the ruins’ darker portions. A series of gates, with wood too strong to batter down and locks too complex for Nimwillyn to pick, denied us further progress. Their keys, therefore, must be found.

We divided rightly that these keys were held by Ivar’s lieutenants among the Hillmen. The first of these, one named Temair, proved little challenge. But Ivar’s strongest allies were not all among the living. We challenged and overcame two others, Edan and Eslyd, to gain entry to Ivar’s own lair.

But the Blood-lord was not alone. Mighty as he was, he strove against us with horrid undead. Twice we assailed his lair and twice we were driven back in retreat. Frustrated and wounded, we decided upon a new strategy.

Our third foray into Ivar’s lair began. Relan changed the Blood-lord while Anatariel focused on his allies. The rest of us, myself included, fought down two banner-bearing wights at the fringes of the lair. These minions made use of some foul magic that sapped our strength. Once defeated, Ivar and his minions no longer held so great an advantage. But he remained a mighty foe, nigh impervious to the strength of our arms. Yet in the end, we prevailed and struck him down.

But although loosed from her leash, the Red Maid was no less dangerous. Taking the keys to her chamber from Ivar’s stinking corpse, we ventured yet further into his accursed lair. Like Ivar, the Red Maid sent forth her bodyguards to thwart us. After besting hordes of undead, we came upon her accursed pool.

It became clear to us that the Witch-King’s evil ran deep within her. After boasting of our demise, she summoned forth demonic spirits from the very waters. Once we defeated these foul minions, she turned to her cultists. Although outnumbered, we drove these off as well. Frustrated by our apparent unwillingness to die by her slaves’ hands, she came forth herself at last.

Her power was mighty, using the very water of her lair against us. Her water magic could throw us about or pin us in place as she wished. Relan and Anatariel would charge in, naked steel in hand, only to be thrown back. Shyiel kept our spirits up with her songs of valour, but often could not move. But neither spell was of effect against Calendriel’s runes or my bow. As we battered down her defenses, I saw my opening and loosed. The shaft struck the Maid and cast her down into darkness at last.

Our quest successful, we returned to Radagast to claim the rewards of our success. Our next endeavors will take us north, to another fallen city. I will keep you abreast of our successes there in my next correspondence.

My name will be vindicated, Lord Elrond.

Your humble servant,


Thursday, September 24, 2009

A little less Extreme

So, as I've been mucking my way through the lower levels in LOTR it's occurred to me that one of the things I like about LOTRO is that it's a little less "extreme."

Now I don't mean that the game is any less intense or anything like that, rather that the classes, as I've found them are not so specialized that they cannot do anything else.

For example, the Hunter in LOTR is very similar to the mage in WoW. It’s a ranged nuking class. However, if you get into melee with the mage, lets face it, the mage is done for. All he can really do is try to perform some maneuver or ability that will put you at range again. If they can't, more than likely, they are toast.

But In LOTR the Hunter can fight in melee. Sure it may not be the most effective and there's a loss in DPS. But the bottom line is that the hunter carries melee weapons and knows how to use them. As a player I find it satisfying to not have to run like a little girl from anything and everything and to have a few abilities to finish off my opponent should he get into melee with me.

I've also found that this is true with Wardens. They are melee fighters and sure they may not have the best ranged attack in the world, but it's there and it's strong enough to down a mob of equal level.

I find it to be a nice compromise. No one will ever mistake my hunter for a melee fighter, but when my back’s against the wall, it's nice to have options.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Here follows the tale of Ellote Wyrmsbane.

In the middle years of the Third Age, there came forth from Imladris, Ellote the bard and her companion Morde, the rune caster. They sought adventure in the kingdoms of Men, now under threat from the realm of Angmar in the north. In Bree, they found kindred souls in Nimwillyn of the Shire, Hugh of Dunland, and Avacar of Gondor. From there, they ventured forth into the Great Barrow, defeating its dark lord. From his lair, Ellote claimed the sword Sulring, which she bore for many days. But also in that lair, Morde laid his hands upon a book of ancient magic, and it began to consume him. For the Rings of Power are not the only artifacts of evil in the world.

After gaining a new companion, a shield-maiden of the Eotheod, Ellote journeyed ever northward. They came to Cammeth Brin the capital of Rhudaur, now under thrall of Angmar. There was her first battle against the Nine and their minions. As they entered the palace, seeking to rescue the captives therein, the power of the book took hold of Morde and he felled many foes. Ellote herself struck down the king of Rhudaur, servant and slave of Angmar that he was.

From Rhudaur, they ventured further north, to Gundabad, for they had learned that Angmar's assault upon Arthedain was imminent. They entered the fortress by secret ways, through the lair of a great dragon. Greed however took hold of Hugh and the swiped a mere trifle of the dragon's horde in its absence. That act would come to haunt the companions in time to come.

Within the fortress, they found the battering ram, Grond, and sought to destroy it. But it was guarded by many foes, not the least of which was Angmar himself, the dread Witch King. As Ellote succumbed to his evil power, Morde unleashed the full power of the book, summoning forth a daemon of the outer world as he did so. In the chaos of the battle between the two minions of darkness, the companions escaped.

No longer was the evil of the book concealed and as they fled, the companions made an oath to seek the book's destruction. In the archives of Fornost, it was learned that only the fiery breath of a dragon could destroy the book. So once more, the companions set out to find a dragon's lair. The closest known lair was on the southern border of Angmar, the home of the dragon Corligon the Red.

Within the lair, the companions faced down the wyrm. Morde cast himself into the dragon's maw, breaking both his body and the evil power of the book. This act sorely wounded the dragon, but just as victory seemed certain, another dragon joined the fray. For the dragon of Gundabad had sensed his stolen treasure was near and had come to reclaim what was his.

Then Ellote took up her bow, and the shield-maiden her spear. Avacar charged forth, as Ellote loosed. Her shot was true, piercing Corligon's brain through his eye and casting down the great wyrm. Its body struck down Avacar as it fell. But the Eotheod's spear was also true and the dragon of Gundabad fell also. The surviving companions fled to the south to nurse their hurts of both body and soul.

So ended Ellote's first Fellowship and from thereafter, Ellote became known as the Wyrmsbane, for she and her companions had slain not one, but two of the great beasts at once. Yet despite this great glory, her heart was heavy, for her companions had died or deserted her. She gave birth to her firstborn son soon thereafter, Saemonades, whose father could be none other than Morde. But even this act brought her no joy. She departed Imladris for lands of the south, hoping to sooth her troubled heart with more adventure, perhaps seeking her death at the hands of the servants of the Enemy.

She came to the city of Men on the borders of Mordor, Minas Ithil, and there sought solace. To buy room and board, she played music and soon her renown with a lute brought her to the attention of the queen of the city. She performed before the royal court and there joined with a new group of companions: Tu-Amarthanon of the Southrons and Nonamae of Minas Ithil. A dwarf there was also. Together these were conscripted by the queen to seek out servants of the Enemy within the city. After uncovering and destroying a nest of them within the city, Ellote journeyed forth into the land of Mordor to find the rest.

Their journey was beset with ill luck from the start. Tu-Amarthanon fell before a band of orcs and Nonamae fled into the night. Only Ellote and the dwarf remained to be taken in thrall. The orcs took from Ellote her mighty blade Sulring and the bow that had laid low the dragon and threw her into a vile dungeon to rot.

But when the orcs came to torture her, she and her remaining companion won free against many foes. For in her torment, Ellote became fell and terrible and none could stand before her. They escaped from Mordor and then parted ways. Ellote went north to Lorien.

But few have ever escaped from the dungeons of the Enemy and Ellote's own people believed her story not. Forsaken by her own, Ellote ventured to Mirkwood, where she was espied by the Necromancer of Dol Guldur. For he had a task and found the elven bard, now abandoned and alone, much to his needs.

Servants of the Necromancer brought Ellote to Dol Guldur and there he offered to restore her former glory, if only she would serve him in a single task. Far to the south, he said, was a group of elves, the Court of Ardor, who had found a means to cast down the Sun and Moon from the sky. Such an act would throw the world into chaos and loose the bindings that held Morgoth, the Great Enemy, in the outer darkness. Fearing this doom, Ellote heartily agreed, knowing not the true identity of the Necromancer.

The Necromancer then opened his armory to Ellote, allowing her the pick of his stores. She chose from among them the infamous sword of Maeglin, Anguirel, and an elven bow taken from a fallen Galadhrim. So armed, she journeyed far to the south and passed out of all memory and knowledge for a time.

After nearly a century, she returned, appearing in Imladris before Elrond with a fantastic tale of how she and numerous companions had cast down the Court of Ardor and prevented the return of the Black Enemy, Morgoth. But to Elrond, it was an idle tale, full of falsehood, for he could not see beyond the truth that Ellote had taken refuge with the Necromancer of Dol Guldur. Seeing her as in league with enemies of the Free Peoples, he declared her life forfeit and would have had her slain had not the words of Saemonades, her son, persuaded Elrond otherwise.

Thus, it became Elrond's judgment that she remain confined in Imladris. The accursed sword of Maeglin and her bow were taken from her and placed in Elrond's armories, tokens to be held there until Elrond judged her faithful once more.

Although vexed by her confinement, Ellote made the best of things, marrying and giving birth to a daughter. She herself commissioned a group of adventurers to retrieve her lost sword, Sulring, when rumor of it coming north again reached her ears. Although the companions were successful in this quest, Elrond again saw fit to take the blade from her and extend further his distrust of her.

For a thousand years, this continued. The Kingdoms of Men rose and fell in the north. Angmar was cast down and left in ruin. Great events and tales, but Ellote entered not into them, for she remained a prisoner in Imladris. But when the Ring of Power was discovered in the lands of the Shire late in the age, Ellote petitioned Elrond to be given the chance once more to be proven faithful, and in this, Elrond relented., but with a single condition. Her weapons of old would remain in Imladris and that only when she had proven worthy of them could she take up Sulring and Anguriel once more. Ellote then headed for Bree to continue her quest. What be her doom from henceforth remains to be written.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Tale of Tarqwin

As told by Shelwin Kelnarn

It’s one thing when you’re the runt of the litter. It’s something else when all of your kind are thought of that way. Tarqwin was the second eldest of 5 siblings, 3 sons and 2 daughters. His family moved out to Archet after thier farm in Buckland was taken by fire. Archet had lush green pastures waiting to be tilled and the hands of skilled hobbit farmers were a welcome addition to the area.

However, growing up in Archet was not easy for a young hobbit. The human children were bigger and matured faster than Tarqwin. While not small for his own kind, he was always the smallest of the boys playing whatever the game of the day was. He was not skilled with the wooden swords the fought with, nor could he run as fast or jump as high as the other boys. But all in all he liked the humans. They had a zest for life that could not be denied and while his father kept on telling him that a hobbit’s place was in the home, as he watched his friends leave Archet in search of new opportunity, there was a small part of him that longed to see what was out there.

It wasn’t until his early teens that he discovered the bow and it proved to be a great equalizer for him. With a bow in his hand his small stature didn’t seem to matter so much anymore. He took to archery very quickly and soon surpassed the other boys in the village with he skill. He spent a great amount of time hanging out at the hunting lodge and would go out into the wilds with any hunter who would take him. Gradually he learned the ways of the forest. Soon, he was able to help support the family with the game he could bring down and the suppleis he could forage from the forest.

Then, things began to get darker. The wolves in the area become bolder and began to venture into their lands killing the livestock. The local ruins became the base of operations for a small band of thieves who harassed the farmers in the countryside. When the local constable came to advise people to move into town for their own protection, Tarqwin’s family boarded up thier farm and took refuge within the town walls. When Tarqwin encountered the black rider on the road that evening, he knew that things would never be the same again for him or for Archet. Days later, the town of Archet was burned to the ground. Tarqwin’s father tried to help save the town, but eventually succumbed to the smoke and flames.

Tarqwin’s mother’s family back in the Shire heard of his family’s strife and offered to take her and the rest of the family in. But Tarqwin could not bring himself to go with them. His mother urged me to come with them, to the safety of the Shire and away from all the evil that these men seemed to attract. However, while he did long to settle down in the Shire, he knew that this was not his path. He had seen the dark rider and he believed that if something was not done that this darkness would spread even to the farthest, more serene reaches of the Shire. If that darkness was to be stopped, then it would take the actions of many of the free people to see it through and some how he knew that his place was to be out there confronting it.

He still thinks of his mother and his family often. He hopes that they are well and enjoying life. But mostly he hopes that they never come know the horrors and evils that he will be facing in the months and years ahead.

(Well maybe a little roleplaying is OK)

Sigh...Letting Go of WoW Blogs & Podcasts

Funny thing about giving up World of Warcraft...

It's life-altering.

I "forgot" to cancel my subscription last month. Part of me kept thinking I would hop back on and play. But, then I saw that I hadn't logged on since early July and I realized that my wife & I had wasted a combined $90 for July, August and September. It got easier to hit the cancel button after that.

My RSS feed contains a lot of WoW blog. It's hard to let go. But it's time to say goodbye to them too. Here is a list of the blogs & podcasts I will miss the most. (Yes, there are more. Yes, I'm pathetic.)

Goodbye Daily Druid, druid-news aggrigate extreme. I even appeared in your listings once or twice. I haven't glanced at the feed in months, so it's not a hard break for me.

Goodbye Flyv. You were a guild-mate and a teacher when I started to learn to feral tank. You've also moved on from WoW. But, your direction and my interests have drifted apart. It's time for me to accept that and move on.

For months, I really hoped Phaelia would return and provide us with more Resto4Life. Now, I'm glad you didn't. You helped make my wife an amazingly awesome tree and amused her endlessly. She had so much fun reading your blog that I started reading it and eventually tried to learn to Boomkin & Tree when the dual-spec option happened.

Goodbye Pike, reluctant leader of the hunter community. Most hunter-blogs flare bright for a while then burn out. Yet, Aspect of the Hare goes strong. Elitist Jerks may have taught me how to raid, you taught me how to enjoy it. After I swapped to full-time feral druid to off-tank for my little 10-man guild, I kept reading your blog. Now, sadly, we have no place in each other's lives. I may miss you most of all.

Goodbye Kalon and your blog ThinkTank. Think tank is the ultimate tanking (mostly feral) blog around. Yours may be the hardest break. How is it that 2 months have gone by since I last played Rhus, yet I'm still reading your theory craft? Why do I care about the Feral loot-tables in the Coliseum? Why would I care if I should keep T8 cat gear or not? (Especially since I slowed and then stopped my progression before getting any T8 gear for my cat.) Your blog is like catnip rolled in honey. What feral off-tank (current or retired) can resist you?

Goodbye Randydelux & Scott. Last week when I caught myself loading your latest podcast on my iPod before a hike, I knew it was time to stop. There are no LotRO podcasts that can even hold a candle to the Instance. I've seriously considered listening to your show just for the fun of it. It's not going to happen. ExtraLife will continue to be part of my day and I'll be trying ExtraLifeRadio.

I continue to follow and support Andrew over at Of Teeth and Claws in his game-blogging endeavors. I'm glad that he's branched out from WoW to write about all things gaming. I think his latest crusade against subscription MMO's is thought-provoking. I have a lot to say about subscription MMO's and why they work, but that's a different post.

Goodbye World of Warcraft, I've canceled my subscription, deleted all the theory-craft sites from my bookmarks and now, I'm not even going to read blogs about you.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Concerning Roleplaying Hobbits

So I haven't posted about LOTR:O yet. To be honest, it was mostly becasue my initial experience with the game was less than positive and I didn't want to rain on everyone else's parade. Everyone seemed to be having so much fun and I didn't want to bother folks with the fact that I wasn't. Besdies I was sure I'd finde my niche and start enjoying the game sooner or later.

Well, I've found that niche, or rather I found that I was in a niche that did not fit well with me. Since switchingto Tarqwin I've had a new zeal for the game and have been putting in far too many hours. But that has led me to think about how I got down the road with Shelwin to begin with and what I think it comes down to is this...

Roleplaying =/= MMO
I had a great time when I played Shelwin in a table top Roleplaying game. He was a lot of fun to play. But as I think back on the game, it was the roleplaying moments that I liked. In the game Shelwin did the last 4 points of damage to a dragon and killed it. In the roleplaying game it was magnificent fun. Everyone talking about the hobbit bard who slayed the dragon. We still laugh about it. But in an MMO that 4 points of damage would just be 4 points of damage. It's just bad DPS.
All the things I like about Shelwin were roleplaying things. Like his obsession with food. I could translate it into the game, but it wasn't the same. When grinding on Goblins does one really care that your title is Master Journeyman cook or that I can play desperado on my harp? The roleplaying aspects that I enjoyed tabletop, quite frankly, were pretty boring in the MMO. Ultimately the roleplaying aspects I tried o port into the game did not make up for the lack luster MMO experience. I just never liked the feel of minstrel, combined with the slower questing of the shire, and my system crashes it made for a slow painful experience.
Tarqwin however is a better MMO character for me. I've always liked the ranged dps role and he dishes out pain. His crafting professions I find useful and much easier to manage. I'm also hoping they may end up profitable.
So in the end, the lesson for me is don't try to make a game into something it's not. MMOs can be a lot of fun but while they are similar to roleplaying games, they are not. Approaching the game with the right attitude and expectations go a long way to enjoying the game a lot more fully in the long run.

Relan goes to the shire

Relan journeys to the Shire. He's told that agents of the enemy are beginning to spread even into the quiet world of the hobbits. His enemies are goblins & brigands. He is to defeat as many as possible for the glory of Bree & to protect the hobbit and their bountiful farms. So, he travels to Michael Devling with stern determination. The hobbits all eye him with suspicion whenever he mentions trouble. Trouble doesn't happen in the Shire. Perhaps the occasional wolf problem. But trouble?

So, he sets off looking for his glory. Sure enough, there are no enemies. The tranquility is utterly lost on him. He sees endless green fields and only thinks that perhaps the enemy will be over that hill or the next. He begins to wander aimlessly. Nothing. This place of green hills and pipeweed fields, of low ceilings and small doors grates at him.

Before he was sent here, he was on important missions in the old forest & the Barrow Downs. Certainly, it was filled with horrors that would haunt him for the rest of his life, but there was also exhilaration and adventure. Certainly, his duty was there. Wasn't it?

Perhaps over this next hill...

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Meanings of Words

I decided to fool around a bit with the Notary in LOTRO this morning, giving my toons some surnames that grant character. I've always enjoyed playing around with the rich language that Tolkien created for Lord of the Rings. Most of my toons have some meaning in their names that describes their background or character.

Heren Lokion - As we've said elsewhere on this blog, this is our "translation" of Ordo Serpentis from Latin into Quenya (high elven). "Heren" means Order, as in "Heren Istarion," the Order of Wizards. Interestingly, it's close in spelling to "heru," which means lord, and another translation of "heren" is success, fortune, mastery over. Lokion, I think we misspelled. It should be Lokeon, which is simply the word for snakes made possessive, i.e. "of the snakes." So, Heren Lokeon is "Order of the Snakes" or "Mastery over the Snakes."

Ellote - My main's first name translates to "Star flower" from Quenya.

Avouz - This was a name created via a random letter generator. Avouz was originally a character from D&D Dark Sun realm, so there was no languages to draw upon. However, treating this as an actual Tolkien word produces some interesting results. "Ava" means outside and is used to describe the Void, i.e. Avakuma. "u" is a negative, i.e. "not" or "against." The letter Z does not appear in Quenya that I can tell. Avouz is an Avari prince in LOTRO, so one could argue that his name is from a language that evolved from Quenya and it translates to "Against the Void" or "Not outside."

Saemonades - Taken from the Greek name Simonides. This one is a bit trickier than Avouz was to plug into a Tolkien language. "Si" means now. There is nothing for "mon" although "men" means region. "Ada" is man in Sindarin, i.e. "Adan" or "Edain" in the plural. "Man of the now region?" Or perhaps "Man of this time." Still an odd name for an elf, but no worse than its original Greek meaning "snub-nosed one." His surname is easier, "Mordeion," son of Morde. Morde was the elven spellcaster played by another friend of ours in our very first MERP campaign back in college.

We don't know a whole lot more about Tolkien's languages for the Rohir, Dwarves, and other races, although it is obvious he did do some work in these areas. Still, I'm not sure I want to try to figure out what Stofnar or Maeoden mean in English. I did my own little language game for Nord, claiming that "korath" means child and "nord" means north in Haradric, so he is "child of the north."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Interesting observation....

As I've been diving into the Lord of the Rings game, I've also been rereading the trilogy and rewatching the Peter Jackson movies from a few years back. I've just gotten to the part in the movies where Grima and Saruman have identified Aragorn's ring as the "Ring of Barahir."

Being ever curious, I decided to snoop around and find out a bit more of this heirloom, which according to the story is a mark of Aragorn's kingship.

According to the summary on Wikipedia (which is affirmed by my MERP sourcebooks), the ring has a lengthy history as an artifact of Arnor, the north kingdom of the Dunadain after the fall of Numenor.

I find that interesting, because the shards of Narsil are also regarded as an heirloom of the north kingdom.

Is it just me, or do the two most important marks of Aragorn's kingship, the Ring of Barahir and the Sword-that-was-broken, both point to him as the Heir of Arnor, not Gondor? Granted, the north kingdom is long destroyed by the events in the Lord of the Rings and also Aragorn's reign at the end of that book extends over the lands of the north kingdom. But it seems odd to people make such a fuss over these two items when they belong to the north, not to Gondor.

(Also, Elrond grants Aragorn the Scepter of Annuminas as a gift upon receiving the crown, yet another artifact of the kingdom of the north.)

Bilbo's Trolls

See, I told you they're out there :)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Too much of a good thing...

One of these days, I'm going to learn. But then again, after almost 37 years of life, my pattern of extremes is pretty hard wired.

I swapped from WoW to LOTRO and wholeheartedly embraced this game. I rolled a full cadre of 7 toons, deleted a few, then rolled some more. I've leveled four crafting professions to expert and a fifth to artisan. I have 5 toons over level 20 and a sixth closing fast.

And I am burned out on LOTRO.

Too much, too soon, too quickly. I rushed in and now I'm suffering for it.

You'd think I'd know better. This is the same road that led to much of my disillusionment with World of Warcraft. Solo play is fun to a point, but the fresh stuff is the stuff you can't get to without a group. Logging on every day out of habit more than desire to grind out another daily quest. Now it's logging on every day for a little while to grind out a quest I already did on 3 other toons just a few days earlier. Gets old fast. Different game. Same dilemma.

We should be starting our group activity soon, renewing our old WoW raiding schedule to do some instances, Great Barrow at the start. I told the rest of Heren Lokion that I'm taking a weekend break, and I may hold off logging in again until the actual start date. Not sure.

Either way, I need to find something else to do for a while, before I ruin a great game.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I think I'm eating my words...

Over the last few posts, I've been grumbling about WoW and its failed direction and my lack of interest in ever going back as a result.

Then, due to Blizzcon, all the preview and teaser material for the Cataclysm has been released.

I may have changed my mind. This isn't an expansion. It's World of Warcraft II for all intents and purposes. The game looks like a total reset, with the world literally being transformed from what it was. I have no idea how they're pulling that off. Are all the 1-60 quests and zones going to be completely revamped or is this going to be the ultimate use of the new phasing tech where the world will change after some level 80 quest line?

Flying mounts in the old world. Cool.
Goblins as a playable race. cool.
Heroic versions of old world dungeons. cool.
Human hunters. Cool.
Deathwing as the main villain. VERY cool.

Of course, this won't be released for another eighteen months probably, so there's still plenty of time for LOTRO goodness in the meantime.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Too little, too late, Blizzard

Caught this on a random visit to one of my old World of Warcraft stomping grounds. This is from the patch notes for WoW 3.2.2.

The Brood Mother Returns

After years of lurking in her lair battling the many brave adventurers who travelled from afar to challenge her, Onyxia returns to commemorate World of Warcraft’s five-year anniversary.

Onyxia has been scaled to offer new challenges to level 80 players and is now available for testing in 10- and 25- player modes.
Adjustments have been made to the encounter to keep it fit for modern raiding, but the fundamental experience of fighting the Brood Mother will remain, as will the horror of the Deep Breaths!
Some classic items Onyxia offered level 60 players will have their stats adjusted appropriately for level 80 players.
Brood of Onyxia, a very rare 310%-speed mount modeled after Onyxia herself will be available for the luckiest of challengers.

Now they catch on that there's value in older content. Too bad they didn't figure this out ages ago before we all got bored and left. Of course, their idea of "adjustments made to keep it fit for modern raiding" might include Ony crapping epics and then fleeing in fear when she sees a typical raiding party. That would certainly fit Blizz's faceroll-to-victory design paradigm.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Pet-peeve List

Ok, I'm loving LOTRO, but there are some things about this game that drive me nuts. Things WoW, in truth, got right. So I'm putting together my Pet-Peeve List of things in LOTRO that I wish were more like WoW.

1) GIANT TOOL TIPS! My God, you mouse over a spell or ability and half your screen disappears as the interface tells you all the intricate details of what that ability does. You can't see the mob you were about to cast that spell on, since its behind the tool tip. Can't see yourself because you're behind the tooltip. And what's worse? You can't turn them off. You can make them mobile, in that they appear where your mouse pointer is, but so far, I've not found an off option or anything else that might make them smaller.

2) Color coding. I've figured most of this out, but it's still not a great way to do things. Grey = trivial. Green = weaker than you. blue/white = around your level. Orange = slightly above you. Red = a lot above you. Purple = death if you challenge me. But then, your kinsman are also blue. Summoned mobs also work off the same pattern when you see them running around. Never mind the whole silver ring icon for quests vs. the grey ring icon, the difference of which is substantial, but you can't tell until you're on top of the quest giver.

3) Buying and Selling. I hate that you cannot sell direct from your bags. Invariably, after a visit to a vendor, I've left some dealer trash behind that I somehow missed while scrolling through the list.

4) The Mail System. The last one is the biggest doozy of them all. No mechanism to send multiple items. No auto-delete of item mails after the item has been retrieved. No fill-in-the-blank name from your friends or kinship list. That one really gets me. I have a hard enough time with my own toon names. So I hope Shelwyn and Gwennyn enjoy the stuff I sent them (as opposed to Shelwin and Gwenynn, who they were meant for.)

Sometimes, when a game is this good, these missteps are all the more jarring. That's a bit how I feel here. Ok, Turbine, fix these things and your game will be about perfect.

Friday, August 7, 2009

One month out

As I got ready to leave on business Tuesday morning, it occurred to me that my WoW account was expiring that day. It had been roughly a month since I'd started LOTRO and now the hammer was falling on WoW. Did I miss it? Will I want to go back? Is LOTRO going to be as fun? All those questions ran through my mind.

Truth is, though, I don't miss WoW. Not in the slightest. Presently, I am having as much fun in LOTRO as I was in WoW, perhaps more at the moment because of the newness of the experience. I've got three toons now to level 20+ and a couple more catching up fast. I've discovered which classes I love (champion, hunter, warden) and which I don't (minstrel). I'm loving the crafting system, which is far more complicated and involved than WoW's but also more useful.

Will I ever want to go back? I can't say. Maybe if the next WoW expansion (Maelstrom, I believe) is really cool, but maybe not. It'll likely be more of the same dumbed down content that killed Lich King for me: Show up, fail, and still get epics.

I've heard rumor from a long time LOTRO-playing friend that LOTRO is not the place to go for challenge, so once I hit end game I may feel differently about some of this than I do now. But for the time being, I'm enjoying the ride. WoW will still be there and there's always the new stuff coming down the pike.

Do I regret playing WoW for almost four years of my life? Not in the slightest. I had some great times in game: Beating tough bosses, getting cool titles, causing a few wipes (with the requisite laughs). It was a good game for its time, but I think the truth of the matter is that I've outgrown it now.

So farewell to the World of Warcraft. Middle-Earth and perhaps worlds beyond await.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

For the gay fashion designer in all of us...

Ok, I'll admit I've gotten spoiled in one way by WoW. I've enjoyed seeing my max level characters walking around in set armor with these superb bad ass looking weapons. Having to shift gears to playing lowbies in a new game, even one as pretty as LOTRO, has been a bit jarring.

Thankfully, the outfit system that you unlock at level 20 helps immensely. I do appreciate that once you unlock it on a single toon, it is then unlocked for all your toons on that server. When Korathnord hit 20 a few days ago, I eagerly jumped in to give my characters that special look.

However, there were still two problems. One, I was dissatisfied with the selection of cosmetic "outfits" available at the four capitals (Michel Delving, Thorin's Hall, Bree, and Celondim). I found some of what I wanted, but not others. Two, this was exacerbated by seeing other toons run about in the world with some very cool looking gear.

So I went searching and found a website that has pictures of all the different outfits and crafted armor: Darzil's LOTRO Crafting Guide

It's been a boon. Only thing is, most of what I want seems to be Lossoth gear. The site doesn't give level ranges on the gear, but I'm guessing it's going to be a while before I get any toons up to the frozen north to pick the stuff up.

Either way, check the site out and let that inner fashion designer burst forth...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Give me fish now, and keep nasty runekeepers, er chips!

Games based on Tolkien's works always have to involve some additions to the lore, otherwise you may as well just read the book. Sometimes these additions are good, sometimes not so good. For the most part Turbine has handled its additions in a way that make them very credible extensions to the story. Here's an example. At this point in the game, the hobbits have all reached Rivendell, and Frodo has accepted the quest of the One Ring. From the Council of Elrond we know that Gollum has escaped captivity in Mirkwood and seemingly did so with the aid of servants of the Enemy. What's this have to do with you? Well, while wandering the Trollshaws in search of adventure you hear rumors of creature that has been raiding fishing nets and even tried to steal a baby from a house. So, with the help of a local hunter, you set a trap for the creature and wait. What follows is an entertaining chase with a challenging encounter at the end of it. A fun quest line, with a nice solo quest at the end, and the reward of interacting with Gollum.

Not all of Turbine's additions are great from a lore standpoint though. Runekeepers? Really, what were you thinking? They're a good class from a purely game mechanics point of view, and adding a second healing class was definitely helpful, but seriously, this isn't very faithful to Tolkien. Gandalf started a fire to keep from freezing to death and said that he just painted a bullseye on himself for anyone to see, and Runekeepers are throwing lightning bolts around like there's no tomorrow. How hasn't the Enemy found all of them and either recruited them or put them down? Granted, several of the classes in the game have some rather overt displays of power, but RKs are nothing but overt displays of power.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I hear Amon Sul is lovely this time of year.

I'm going to post some screenshots here every once in a while. In WoW the only screenshots I ever took were from boss kills. Middle-earth is much more photogenic. I have pics of me in front of Bag End (stupid Lobelia wouldn't move out of the way though) and the Prancing Pony. Here's one I took of Weathertop. I had just finished doing a fellowship quest with some pugs when I noticed there was an awesome view of Weathertop over my shoulder. There's some light rain, but the sun is peeking out through the clouds.

I'm glad everyone has decided to make the transition and join me in Middle-earth. I started playing back in January after Edge cleared all initial WotLK launch raid content within a few weeks of launch. I tried talking people into following me then, but not everyone was as burned out on WoW as me at that point. I was beginning to think inertia might keep things that way indefinitely, but wow was I surprised how fast the change came. Everyone seems to be enjoying things so far. Nord and LRNs are posting here again, so I'll take that as a good sign. My only concern is that some may be enjoying the change but when the newness wears off then it could go back to same old, same old. Hopefully that won't be the case though; Turbine has been doing a good job of actually adding new small group content with each patch and even (gasp!) revamping low level zones for a smoother leveling experience.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Spoiled by MERP

I've mentioned way back when this blog began that I tend to be a gamer who likes to have a little roleplaying sprinkled in with his hack-and-slash. Most of my WoW characters had their origins in D&D characters I played back in college or grad school.

As we make the switch to LOTRO, my stable of classic characters goes back even farther, all the way back to junior high when I bought my very first table-top roleplaying game: Middle Earth Role Play (i.e. MERP).

MERP was a watered down version of Iron Crown Enterprise's other flagship game title, Rolemaster. RM is less-than-affectionately known as "Chartmaster." It is among the most complex table top systems out there. However, with that complexity also comes flexibility. You could literally play just about anything in RM or in MERP.

As such, I'm finding a lot of my old toons just don't work in LOTRO.

For instance, Mechnar and Maeoden were two Rohirrim brothers. Half-brothers really. One (Maeoden) was your stereotypical blonde blue eyed horseman, what you'd expect from MERP. The other was a half-orc, the result of Maeoden's mother spending some time as prisoner of Saruman's orcs. I can do Maeoden easily enough (he's my captain in LOTRO), but not Mechnar.

That might be a bad example, seeing as you'd probably never have orcish toons in LOTRO of any kind. But there are others. I've got a Black Numenorean sea captain in my stable of toons, an Easterling, and probably a Haradrim if I look hard enough. None of these nations or homelands are as yet represented in LOTRO. They might be, once the map expands to include territory east of the River Anduin or south of Lorien. But given these "peoples" were typically allied with Sauron, I'm not holding my breath.

All MMOs (and most computer roleplayers in general) lack the flexibility for folks to make toons with this level of originality. But I miss it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Day One - Still tired from the move...

Well, our group has all successfully gotten onto LotRO, even our friend in Thailand. The downloader kept crapping out on him, but he's got it now. Now the fun begins.

The game is visually stunning and uniquly different looking from WoW. We're all enjoying the immersion into Middle-Earth. The sense that events of the Lord of the Rings are unfolding just outside of our vision is great. They did that well. When you play a Hobbit, the tutorial zone has you evading Ring Wraiths at the same time that Frodo is. Win!

The similarities to WoW (and other MMOs) in the UI, quests, and game mechanics are widespread and obvious. The worry here is that it'll feel too much like WoW. It doesn't. The similarities have freed me to enjoy the game while not being too confused about the basic mechanics. I understand basic things like organizing bags, following my map, and drop quests.

Basic fight mechanics are similar: Push buttons in sequence based on your attack options. Combat in LotRO feels, thus far, less hurried. That's a welcome change that I hope remains. WoW combat sometimes felt frantic as I waited to time the GCD & latency to maximize my dps.
Everyone has had a chance to make a few characters & complete the starting zone at least once. We've begun to talk about what roles/characters we plan to use on group activity nights. Just like other MMOs, instances require the trinity of tank, dps, healer. Classes like the Captain also appear to fill "support" roles in groups/fellowships.

I'll probably be our tank. I'm looking hard at the Warder & Guardian. I'll probably end up with 2 or 3 active toons for a while. One for the group, one for just me & the wife and one for pure solo. We'll see. I could never maintain that many active toons in WoW. Expect me to lower that to 1 or 2 after a few months.

More to come...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Heren Lokion

And so it begins...

Over the weekend, most of us were able to get onto Lord of the Rings Online & start doing starting zone quests. Soon, we formed our Kinship (that's LotRO talk for Guild.) The name chosen? Heren Lokion. According to people smarter than me (Amaeva & Nord) it's the Order of the Serpent. Althought, they also say it's more like people who pwn snakes (or dragons.) Fitting.

First impressions? That's all I really have. LotRO is both uniquely different & exactly the same as WoW. Longtime WoW players will recognize the basic UI framework and the general mechanics of the game. The initial combat pacing feels "slower" than WoW, but not in a bad way.
So, am I back into blogging about gaming? We'll see. The real topic I'm interested in is the state of our guild/kinship. The group has been playing WoW together for nearly 4 years & gaming together for over a decade (for some it's nearly 2 decades.) The dynamic of group gaming & how LotRO works for us will be my main focus. But, I'll also post about the game itself.

I'll try to get the others to post a bit about their experiences.

Friday, July 17, 2009

How I put the nail in the WoW coffin...

Since Wrath came out, my friends - like many WoW players - have expressed various degrees of disappointment with the difficulty level. We're not "hard core" players, nor are we purely casual. We want to log in and have a variety of experiences. As time marched on, all of us broke with 25-man raiding. We started spending more and more time just doing casual stuff together and less and less time Raiding with our guilds. Quests, instances, achievements & 10-mans were the name of the game and that game was losing it's fun.

Early this summer, we decided to switch to our horde toons in an effort to breath new life into our experience. We had abandoned the toons way back when Burning Crusade happened. Equipped with our under-geared level 60's & a pair of Death Knights, we began to run old instances. It was fun, but much easier than we remembered.

Then the beginning of the end.

Upon reaching 70, our Prot Pally, Destro-Warlock and I (on a hybrid Disc leveling priest) blew through Utgarde Keep. This was in crappy outland dungeon blues & greens. The next night, the 3 of us went over to Nexus. It was much more of a challenge for us, but we also defeated that instance. Heck, it felt like an actual accomplishment. We had fun! It felt like a Burning Crusade instance. We also felt sad. In order to achieve this effect, we had to be undermanned, undergeared and play toons that none of us had touched for 2 years.

Now in the 70-72 range, our group picked the lock to Kara. We obliterated it with 6 players. Again, undermanned, undergeared and on unfamiliar toons. Fun, but...sigh!

Finally, the nail in the coffin.

After doing Kara for a few weeks (and trying some bosses in AZ), we returned to Northrend and went after instances with mobs 3-5 levels higher than us. Azjol-Nerub...pathetic. Next came Drak'Tharon Keep. At one point, I - the healer - got so bored that I ran past the tank and used SW:P to aggro 4 packs of mobs back to our tank. Nobody died!

The idea that my level 72 Discipline Priest could intentionally aggro 4 packs of elite level 75-76 mobs to our under-level party and obliterate them was too much for us. What did we have to look forward to? Our Alliance toons had 10-man Ulduar (which was still mostly challenging.) Our Horde would quickly catch up. There was nothing else. Achievement grinding is all well and good, but where's the excitement? 5-man heroics...heroic, my ass!

I wrote a survey for the group asking various questions about our various needs from our online experience & how folks felt about WoW. The answers were all the same. We played MMO's to play together. We want to have fun, but we also want to be challenged. WoW was no longer doing that. The game had degraded into two types of encounters: Mindnumbingly easy or super-impossible hardmode. One friend put it best...

That the game now only seems to have two degrees of difficulty: "Bring your A game or don't come (and you'd better not have more than 400ms latency)" and "Go ahead and face roll your keyboard, we don't care, you win, have this completely useless item."

Why would we continue to play under those conditions? None of us needed the so-called hardcore gamer experience, but none of us want to face roll the keyboard either. We took the results of our little survey, did some research and plan to adopt Lord of the Rings Online as our new MMO home for now. We should all complete our transition by September.

Some of my friends have been with Warcraft since the original beta. My wife and I have been playing for nearly 4 years. There are been weeks & months where we did nothing else but sleep, work, wow. I understand making WoW accessible. I liked the concept. They went too damned far.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sartharion Down

We had our third full clear of Naxx this weekend, and after killing Kel'Thuzad everyone still had enough energy to go visit Obsidian Sanctum for the first time as a group. We had nine in the raid at that point, and as it was the first time on Sartharion for several people, we opted to kill all of the drakes before engaging Sarth. Killed him on the first pull even with one of our two healers disconnecting halfway through the fight. Next week we'll try it with Shadron up, and hopefully get some attempts in on Malygos too. I know we're geared enough to start Ulduar 10 now, but I think the practice from EoE and OS hard modes will be a good way to improve coordination and boost confidence.

We've got old friends running with us from Entropy Dawn, so we've got 8 now, which is enough for all the T7 instances (in fact we cleared half of Naxx with only 8 this week), but we're going to need to pick up 2 more for OS hard modes and Ulduar. Hopefully we can pick up some regulars, but at least if we have to pug it will only be for DPS.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Better Late Than Never

Ordo Serp, with some help from a couple pugs and friendly QSS folks, had our first full clear of Naxx this weekend. Not exactly a cutting edge achievement, but still one I'm pretty proud to be a part of considering that 30% of the raid had never seen anything beyond Arachnid Quarter and the beginning of Plague Quarter before this weekend. We managed to get Patch down with plenty of time left before enrage (not quick enough for the achievement but still good for a first kill), Four Horseman went down on the first try, and we even brought down Kel'thuzad on the first pull, despite our add tank dying three times during the fight and having to get the adds tanked by the MT and a cat turned bear. I think all four of our druids used their battle rez during the fight, and for the last 30% there were only 5 or 6 of us alive.

Filling out the group turned out to be much easier than I had expected. Rhus and Girarde were able to call upon some people in QSS, and I put us in LFM for Naxx. Before I even had a chance to look at who all was available I was getting tells from people. Only one bad apple in the bunch, and he seemed like a nice guy, just had no clue how to play (definitely was an eBay toon). The experience has given me hope that we will be able to do this weekly, and maybe even build up a few relationships in the process. It would be nice to get a consistent group of 10-12 people so that not only can we clear Naxx, but also try to move beyond into Eye of Eternity and Obsidian Sanctum. In my perfect world we'll be like a little miniguild that will conquer all the 10 man content as it becomes available.

As anxious as I am to get into Ulduar I think our next big goal should be Sarth 3D. I think the shared title we'll get will really give a sense of accomplishment, and it would be nice to get each of us a cool mount.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Jousting 101: Valiant

Nord should unlock the champion level quests today for the Argent Tournament. I've learned a few things about jousting in the game over the past few days, a few pearls of wisdom that might prove helpful to others.

At the valiant level, there are two quests that require mounted combat: The Grand Melee and At the Enemy's Gates. They work a little bit differently, so I'll do each in turn.

The Grand Melee

If you've worked your way through aspirant, you already know the basic abilities. But like most of these vehicle quests, don't presume you'll use all of them. Your best strategy in the Melee is to focus on only three abilities: Defend, Shield-breaker and Strike.

Before you even talk to an opponent to challenge them, bring defend up to 3.

When the fight begins, to hell with chivalry, you get a few brief seconds while your opponent rides away from you. Hit them with a shield-breaker and then ride after them. DON'T CHARGE. It's not worth it, especially given how you keep riding past them after the hit. You want to keep to point-blank range as much as possible.

While in point-blank range, spam Strike. Eventually, they'll try to move away to set up a charge. Shield-breaker and close the gap quickly and then repeat spamming Strike. Refresh defend periodically so that it's timer doesn't run down. The fight won't be over quick, but you will take them down.

Situational awareness is important. There can be 5 or 6 other jousts going on at the same time and that makes this quest live up to its name of "Grand Melee." But that can also lead to confusion. On more than one occasion, I've lost my opponent in the fray, which often gives them the leeway to get away from me and charge me to death. Try not to let that happen.

Enemy Gates

This one can seem intimidating at first, since each of the lieutenants has a retinue of about 5 footmen. But it's not as hard as it looks. There are also the commanders, which look a bit like lieutenants but are larger and have a full 3 stack of defend on them. You take them down in the champion version of this quest, but avoid them for now.

The Scouts are designed to a be nuisance and little more. Their lightning attack does very little damage, but it does remove a level of Defend with each hit. Tag them with a shield-breaker twice and down they come, but refresh Defend once you're done.

As for the others, find a lieutenant and charge them. Charge appears to have an area effect attack of some sort, because often times I find I ride down and kill the footmen while attacking the lieutenant. Be careful to reign in your charge once you overshoot. It's very easy to aggro additional mobs if you don't. Spam strike while in melee range, keep defend up, and you'll drop these guys quickly. Same goes for any footmen who survived your initial charge.

Watch out for fast repop. With anyone and everyone trying to do these quests, it's very easy to be rushing towards a lieutenant group in the back row only to have groups repop on top of you. Fighting 2 or more lieutenants plus 10 or so footmen is bad. If they dismount you, pray you're playing a class with an aggro dump, because you will not solo them normally. For me on a warrior, all I can do is stand there and let them kill me.

Edit: Champion Level Battle Before the Citadel

Basically the same quest as Enemy Gates, only upgraded for Champion level. Now you get no credit for the footmen, but have to kill 5 lieutenants and a commander. If you're working through valiant for another faction, this quest overlaps with it.

Commanders fight like the valiants back at the tourney camp and are defeated the same way. However, note that every time the champion pulls away to charge you, odds are good following him is going to aggro more mobs. Footmen are a minor nuisance, just ride over them. Shield-breaker scouts fast, since they'll make you very vulnerable to the commander's attacks. I suggest fleeing if you pull a lieutenant.

Now that a lot of folks have hit champion, the whole zone is a serious clusterfuck. It ain't much fun to try to kill 5 lieutenants when 10 to 20 other people are competing for them. Same for the commander. Lots of kill stealing. Repop is super-fast, which can get you in over your head real fast. Nord died twice today trying to complete this quest because of that.

FYI, I've not done the "challenge the champions" quest at the camp yet. I've not decided if I want to try it yet. Considering the chaos that this whole event is degenerating into, I doubt I want to. I'm torn. Claymore of the Prophet is seriously sexy.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Return of Horde night

Way back in the misty long forgotten past, before the threat of Arthas and Illidan, Ordo sought new adventures amidst the Horde. Those days have now returned.

In the months leading up the release of TBC, we spent as much time, if not more, leveling Horde toons on Malfurion server. It was a lot of fun. It was a nice distraction from the doldrums of the Classic endgame. It gave us an opportunity to play a few toons outside our usual comfort zone.

With pretty much all of us in Ordo now out of the hardcore raiding scene in Wrath, we've been itching to find things to do to keep things fresh. At present, our usual core of Rhus, Jaemia, Stofnar, Sofia, and the rest have reached a point where Heroics no longer satisfy and it's been difficult keeping consistent with our Naxx-10 plans on Saturdays (People traveling, visits by in-laws, work commitments, etc. In a larger guild, these sorts of things don't have any real impact. With only seven of us, they pretty much mean no group activity for a few weeks.)

As such, a few Ordo folks bounced over to Malfurion to dust off the old Hordies a few weeks ago and then invited the rest of us to join in. Last night was our first real group run with our Horde toons in probably two years. Most of our Horde are still hovering around level 60, so we tackled the Hellfire Ramparts. It was tricky. I think most of us had forgotten how difficult that instance can be at level, but we managed with only a few wipes.

Looks like this is going to be a regular thing and I certainly enjoyed myself. Farimaer might be a bit rusty, but he acquitted himself well and I had fun playing him again. Look forward to next Tuesday.