Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Blog Has Moved

I've consolidated my various blogging efforts. Those interested in hearing what I have to say can find me at doctorcomics.blogspot.com

See you there.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Tolkien's Lilith

In all of Tolkien’s novels, in his work on the Silmarillion and its unpublished relations, there are only three wicked women – and two of them are giant spiders. (We will get back to the third, Thuringwethil.) A pass through the legendarium reveals a great many women of virtue and character: not just Arwen, Eowyn, Rosie Cotton and Galadriel, but also Luthien, Melian, Varda, and more. And if we are looking for masculine villains, we have not just the obvious Sauron, Saruman, and Wormtongue, but also people like Dior and Maeglin, or even the morally ambiguous Feanor. Such ambiguity is allowed for men and male elves in Middle-earth, but if you are female you are either Good or a Giant Spider. Spiders are the Wicked Women in Tolkien’s writing.

Most of us know Ungoliant from the Silmarillion, but it is important to note that the version of the tale presented in that book is neither the earliest nor latest revision of that story. Rather, it is simply the version that Christopher Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay, his co-editor (whose wonderful fantasy novels quickly emerged from Tolkien’s shadow into sublime art of their own) chose to go with. Many questions left unanswered in the published story can be resolved if we look to the unpublished manuscripts. In particular, Morgoth’s Ring, the History of Middle-earth volume X is the center of the web when it comes to Ungoliant, Tolkien’s oldest, blackest, and most wicked of stepmothers.

Ungoliant began as one of the Ainur, the immortal spirits which include the Valar and Maiar. The Maiar are traditionally broken up by the Vala whom they served, and the safe bet is that Ungoliant was a servant of Melkor (whom Tolkien initially calls “her master”), but a very interesting possibility I would like to take credit for – but cannot – is that she served Vaire the spouse of Mandos. Vaire is a Norn-like goddess who spins: “who weaves all things that have ever been in Time into her storied webs, and the halls of Mandos that ever widen as the ages pass are clothed with them.” Considering the way in which Maiar tend to mimic the philosophies and practices of their masters (so that Sauron, like Aule, was a smith), Vaire seems an excellent progenitor for the spider-demon.

Regardless of her original house, Ungoliant was a servant of Melkor when she descended into the world and took upon herself the form of “a spider of monstrous form, weaving her black webs in a cleft of the mountains.” But she did not long serve him, and swiftly struck out on her own. She went to the south of Aman, where she dwelt for a long while when the world was lit only with the Two Trees, and the Valar seemed to have left her alone not out of mercy, but out of ignorance, since their eyes were always on the north where the Eldar dwelt and where their cities and monuments had been built. A creature of darkness and never-ending hunger, she hated light but also fed upon it – “she sucked up all light that she could find” – and when she did she cast it back out again in the form of “dark nets of strangling gloom,” or as a vomit that was darkness. “She belched forth black vapours” that were not merely darkness but “Unlight… a Darkness that seemed not a lack but a thing with being of its own … and it had the power to pierce the eye, and to enter heart and mind, and strangle the very will.” This was some vile stuff – quite literally Darkness-with-a-capital-D.

Melkor’s plan to capture the Silmarills involved Ungoliant, and he recruits her through a combination of threats and bribery. He even puts some of his own power into her, to make her more of a threat – something that would (if you will pardon the spider-pun) come back to bite him later on. There are differing versions of Melkor’s scheme; in Silmarillion, Melkor brings Ungoliant to the Two Trees, which he wounds and she poisons. Then, under cover of this new darkness and with Ungoliant waxing in power thanks to her meal, they break into the vaults of the Noldor, kill King Finwe (the first elf to ever die), and steal all the jewels there including the Silmarills. The other, later, version of the story – published in Morgoth’s Ring – casts Melkor as a more manipulative and smarter villain. He does not bring Ungoliant to the Trees, but instead uses her as a distraction and lets her destroy the Two Trees alone. While she is doing that, he is stealing the Silmarills, something he never expected Ungoliant to come anywhere near. Having loosed the demon spider on the Two Trees, Melkor had a perfect cover for his own villainous deeds and prompt escape. But she catches up to him before he reaches the vaults, and so she learns of the jewels of the Noldor despite Melkor’s plans.

Whichever version you are reading, the pair flee over the Helcaraxe, and Ungoliant’s Unlight is so great that even Tulkas the great warrior of the Valar, “was as one caught in a black net at night, and he stood powerless and beat the air in vain.” This is the same Tulkas that kicked Melkor around the block a time or two before now, but Ungoliant was not yet done. By now she has become so huge, so vast in her power and darkness that she no longer calls Melkor “Master.” She knows he is going to try to ditch her and, like a bad date, she refuses to get ditched. “All her eyes were on him,” we are told and finally she demands to be fed. He grudgingly gives her all the jewels from the Noldor – these would be elven jewels which, after their crafting by smiths would be glowing with inner light. She eats them all, and becomes even greater.

But she is still hungry and demands the metal casket which Melkor is keeping in his right hand. These, of course, are the Silmarills and their holiness is burning Melkor’s hand, but he will not give them over. Ungoliant attacks him and is about to kill him when balrogs who have been hiding nearby for many years hear his screams of panic and come to his rescue. Whips of flame are enough to drive Ungoliant away and she goes south again – this time far to the south of Middle-earth, off the map we have from Lord of the Rings. There, she continued to breed, eat, and make her webs until she had eaten everything she could reach and, like the hero of a bad Stephen King story, she finally eats herself.

Ungoliant’s personality is defined by two forces: lust and fear, eternally at war. Her fear is not unusual – every evil creature in Middle-earth is terribly afraid, even if they often seem otherwise. Orcs cower and cringe from their masters, Sauron is constantly afraid the One Ring shall be turned against him, and even Morgoth becomes so enslaved by fear that he refuses to leave his castle for centuries, lest someone come give him a good thrashing. Ungoliant’s fear manifests in her cowardly hiding, something very appropriate to the spider form that she did, after all, choose for herself. When Melkor comes to recruit Ungoliant, the conversation is not printed in Silmarillion, but we can read it in Morgoth’s Ring and it is fear that makes her hesitate – fear not just of the Valar but also of Melkor, whom she tried to escape by fleeing south.

But there is one force greater than Ungoliant’s fear, and that is her lust. To us, this word is about sex, and that may be going on here in a covert way, but ostensibly what Tolkien means when he says “lust” is hunger – the desire to consume. Melkor tries to bully her into helping him, but this attempt to play on her fear is not successful; it is only when he bribes her with glowing elf-jewels that Ungoliant crawls from her cave and again calls him “Master.” Tolkien reiterates Ungoliant’s lust at every opportunity – it was to be “mistress of her own lust” that she left Melkor in the first place. He promises to pay her “whatever your lust demands,” and when she drinks from the Two Trees she “swelled to a shape more huge and hideous than even her own lustful dream had ever hoped to achieve.” On the surface, this is lust-as-hunger. But I think we should be careful before dismissing the argument that when Tolkien writes “lust,” he means, well, lust.

You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to find the monstrous sexual themes of Ungoliant. She’s a perverted mother, breeding with her own children, eating her mates, and creating endless horrific spawn. Her home is the dark cave, and when she jumps Morgoth she enfolds him, wraps herself around him and makes him powerless. She is the vagina dentate, that both spawns and devours, vomiting out her Darkness like some nasty afterbirth. People should give Tolkien more credit as a horror writer.

Although there are vampires in Middle-earth (I know, I said we would get back to Thuringwethil; I lied) there’s definitely something vampiric about Ungoliant the spider. For one thing, she doesn’t eat, she sucks. And when she does, she drains the light/life of her victim into herself, becoming greater. This is the scene from Morgoth’s Ring when she attacks the Two Trees. Tell me this isn’t vampiric.

"Then with her black beak she pierced their rind, wounded them deep; and their juices gushed forth and she drank them up. But when no more flowed she set her mouth to the wounds, and sucked their tissues and wounded them, root, branch, and leaf, and they died."

We may as well write “Ungoliant sucks root” on the bathroom wall of the Prancing Pony.

Individually, all of these elements make Ungoliant a wickedly sweet villain, someone who can give us the epic heebie-jeebies. But taken together, they remind me of someone else: the Biblical demon mother Lilith. Now, Lilith has quite a modern history of her own and it is important to remember Tolkien is writing in the 1940s and 50s, long before Anne Rice and Mark Rein-dot-Hagen. Tolkien’s Lilith is the Judaic first wife of Adam, whose refusal to be on the bottom became a morality tale meant to instruct women on their proper place in society (that place being: on the bottom). Cast out by God, Lilith became the mother of a vast brood of monsters, a dweller in darkness who – by the Middle Ages – was bride to the fallen angel Sammael, a devourer of children, and queen over her life-draining vampiric minions, the succubi, lilim and lilitu. Ungoliant serves all these roles, just translated through the Middle-earth lens. Morgoth is both her Adam and her Sammael – the man she leaves, and the man she partners with, finally jumping him in a perverted intercourse complete with web-bondage and whips (albeit whips of flame). Lilith’s monstrous brood become Ungoliant’s unnumbered spawn, and Lilith’s night-dwelling habits (she was called “the screech owl”) manifest in Ungoliant’s ever-present darkness, her need to dwell in shadow while simultaneously hating and hungering for light. And in both Lilith and Ungoliant we have that overpowering lust, that unstoppable corrupting sexual fervour.

And that, my dear Bagginses and Boffins, is why Weavers are still played in the Ettenmoors even though their crowd control sucks. Well, it doesn’t really suck. Unless you’re a Tree. In which case … well. You know where to find their number. You'll call, won't you?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Ah-ooooo! Werewolves of Angmar!

One of the fissures which usually divide LotRO gamers is the one that separates roleplayers from the PvP crowd. On the surface, this schism has some pretty simple and solid grounding: it is very hard to roleplay in the Ettenmoors, especially when you are moving, fighting, or in a raid -- and you're pretty much always moving, fighting, or in a raid. However, beneath the logistics of typing while fighting, there is also a prejudice that says roleplayers are somehow pansies who are more interested in staying out of combat than getting in it.

There are roleplayers in the Moors, and there are more people who are interested in roleplaying there but who are unsure exactly what that would look like. In this, our first segment of PvRPMP, we'll look at Wargs. Why the warg? The warg is a very popular class for first-time monster players because the warg has stealth and a sprint speed, making it easy to avoid action in the Moors when you are nervous about getting jumped. Also, a few wargs can get together into an excellent ambush party -- what we affectionately refer to as a "gank squad." Wargs also appeal to the furry crowd, and are one of the more "monstrous" of the monster play options, allowing veteran players to try something they would not get to do in other games.

No one wants to be told how to roleplay and that's not my goal. Instead of setting borders, let's look at how big the park is, and what landmarks there are.

First off, wargs can talk. (This is especially good for wargs because they already have an excellent howling animation.) This scene comes when the leader of a warg pack has got Gandalf, Bilbo, and the dwarves caught up in trees:
He spoke to them in the dreadful language of the Wargs. Gandalf understood it. Bilbo did not, but it sounded terrible to him, as if all their talk was about cruel and wicked things, as it was. Every now and then all the Wargs in the circle would answer their grey chief all together, and their dreadful clamour almost made the hobbit fall out of his pine-tree. (The Hobbit, "Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire")
Thus, we can see that not only do Wargs talk, they even have their own language. In the same chapter we learn that Wargs are not domesticated animals. Rather, they are their own people who cooperate with Goblins in matters of war.
The Wargs and the goblins often helped one another in wicked deeds ... Then they [the goblins] often got the Wargs to help and shared the plunder with them. Sometimes they rode on wolves like men do on horses.

Later, in the Battle of Five Armies, some Wargs will turn on their goblin riders and eat them, which just goes to prove that evil sucks.

Now, what are Wargs exactly? The word Warg is Old English, Old Norse, and Old High German, and aside from its wolf meaning "also had the sense of an outlaw or hunted criminal." Tolkien explained he used the word for "this particular brand of demonic wolf" in a letter to fantasy and science fiction author Gene Wolfe, dated 1966. When demon-wolves appear to attack the Fellowship of the Ring on the slopes of the Misty Mountains, nothing is left of their bodies after death:
When the full light of the morning came no sign of the wolves were to be found, and they looked in vain for the bodies of the dead. No trace of the fight remained but the charred trees and the arrows of Legolas lying on the hill-top. ... 'It is as I feared,' said Gandalf. 'These were no ordinary wolves hunting for food in the wilderness....' (Fellowship of the Ring, "A Journey in the Dark")
Gandalf's fears are hinted at earlier, in the actual fight with the wolves, when he resists them with an incantation that summons fire. In that incantation he uses the word ngaurhoth, which is "Werewolves." The werewolves of Middle-earth are not the shapeshifters we have been conditioned to expect. Instead, they are demons in the form of wolves; their relationship to Wargs proper is not clear, but presumably Wargs are the weaker descendants of true Werewolves, which must be exceedingly rare by the end of the Third Age.

Werewolves have a long and vicious history in Middle-earth; the oldest one we know of was named Draugluin. He was "sire of the werewolves of Angband," where Morgoth and Sauron holed up for the First Age. "A dread beast, old in evil," he was nevertheless killed by Huan, the Hound of the Gods. Sauron himself was so enamoured of werewolves that he was called "Lord of Werewolves" for much of the First Age and kept many of them as servants. In his own effort to kill Huan, he adopted the shape of a werewolf, but Huan bested him. As per the rules of shapeshifters in Middle-earth, once Sauron's werewolf form had been destroyed, he was never again able to adopt it. The most famous werewolf of all was Carcharoth, the "Red Maw." Carcharoth bit off Beren's hand and swallowed a Silmaril; the fire of the holy jewel drove Carcharoth mad and he ate Man, Elf, and Orc in a rampage around Beleriand until eventually half the heroes alive had to band together to slay him.

From all of this, we can make some broad generalizations about what Wargs are and where they come from. The first werewolves, as "demons," must have been Ainur: lesser immortal spirits like Sauron or the Balrogs. They descended into Middle-earth and adopted wolf shape. Countless generations of interbreeding -- and their own ever-weakening power -- resulted in the breed of intelligent demon wolves called Wargs. Ordinary Wargs bleed and leave their corpses behind -- but the bodies of true Werewolves vanish with the sunlight. It is logical to presume that Werewolves continue to serve and even worship Sauron, Lord of Werewolves. Wargs on the other hand, far more numerous and common, are left more or less alone to do whatever evil they come across. Sauron does not try to control Warg packs directly; rare Werewolves are at his service instead.

When we go to make our monster characters, we're clearly told that our wolf-demons are "Wargs," and not werewolves, but if even a wizard has a hard time telling the difference, then nothing prevents us from playing either sort. Those who want to make a character with a long history, perhaps stretching as far back as the First Age, can do that using this mechanism. Your Warg is not a Warg at all, but actually a Werewolf, perhaps an old servant of Sauron back in Angband or Beleriand. You made it through the War of Wrath and somehow survived the sinking of the land. You may have an excellent dog-paddle. In the centuries that followed you may have hung out in Mirkwood around Dol Guldur, or kept a long vigil for your master while he was imprisoned in Numenor. Now that Sauron has openly declared himself in Mordor, you're as happy as an immortal demon in wolf-shape can be: you have Dunedain and Hobbits to kill, and once again you have a chance to taste Elf-flesh. However, you are much fallen from your original stature. The years may weigh heavily on you; much of your strength has gone, given out to hordes of demonic wolf cubs which you have inflicted on the world. A shadow of your former self, your life is one of cruelty, misery, and pain. Your joints ache. Your teeth hurt. But you still have it where it counts because your heart is black as pitch.

When Luthien needed to disguise her boyfriend Beren, she gave him the appearance of Draugluin the Werewolf; she did this using his skin and some good old fashioned song-magic:
By the counsel of Huan and the arts of Luthien he was arrayed now in the hame of Draugluin, and she in the winged fell of Thuringwethil. Beren became in all things like a werewolf to look upon, save that in his eyes there shone a spirit grim indeed but clean; and horror was in his glance as he saw upon his flank a bat-like creature clinging with creased wings. Then howling under the moon he leaped down the hill, and the bat wheeled and flittered above him. ("Of Beren and Luthien," The Silmarillion)
This is a great example of how shape-shifting may be explained for our own characters, at least those with ancient ties. Thuringwethil was not a vampire, but she was wont to adopt the shape of a bat when she wanted to, and Luthien mimics her trick in this passage. This suggests another type of character we might play: neither a Warg nor a Werewolf, but what the developers call "Ancient Evil": a lesser spirit of the Elder Days which, through magic, can adopt the form of a wolf for special occasions. (Like, say, Creeping.) These characters would have a more humanoid shape, and that shape might even be pleasing to the eye as Sauron sometimes was. But they probably have some item of apparel -- a wolf-skin is traditional -- which they can put on and, in so doing, adopt the form of a Warg. In this way, you can have your cake and eat it too. You can run with the pack as a Warg, but you can always slip off to RP opposable thumbs. Like the werewolf, these Ancient Evil would be former servants of Morgoth and Sauron, but they never made the permanent shift to wolf-form. Their powers are still much diminished (it is hard to explain a "mere" 50th level character as a veteran of the First Age without decreasing your power in some rather heavy-handed way) and they probably cannot sire offspring. That is, if you want to have wolf-babies, you have to be a wolf, and that means adopting wolf shape permanently. Ancient Evils who just put on their wolf-cloaks for a little run around TR can return to a non-wolf form when they want to put the moves on, but they can't sire cubs.

In this column, I have attempted to sketch out some basic outlines for Warg characters in the Ettenmoors. Tolkien doesn't really tell us much about them; you can read every line he wrote about Wargs in an hour. But we can see some important things right away: Wargs are not animals. They talk and have a society of sorts. They are descended from older and more powerful wolf-demons called Werewolves. And if you don't want to limit yourself to four-legged RP (there's a naughty joke here, but I am passing over it with unusual restraint) you can even play an Ancient Evil who dons a wolf-cloak every evening to get some exercize.

Just watch those hobbit-toes. They go straight to your hips.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Storytelling I

With a successful kinship-wide plot behind me, and the inspiration of both Melthanwen's wonderful guide to PvP (which has already proven extraordinarily useful to me) and some recent conversations with friends online, I have decided to start a guide to doing one of the few things on this game which I think I excel at: plots. Now I must say, up front, that for some people the very notion of a guide to player plots is something of an oxymoron. To some, the only true kind of RP is completely freeform, so that no player ever communicates with any other player Out Of Character, characters know only what they are told, and anyone can join or leave the story more or less at any time, and take the story in whatever direction they choose to take it.

These are not "plots." Because, to be frank, they don't have a plot. A plot is a storyline structure, or at least some kind of basic goal or summary which the story encapsulates. These freeform experiments are stories, and sometimes those stories can rivet the attention of the players that are in them. But they do not suit me, and I will tell you why: in theory they are good, they have a certain conceptual purity which appeals to the hardcore roleplayer. But the practical issues of playing in an MMO "on the ground" nearly always prove destabilizing to this kind of freeform RP, so that the person you need to RP with never seems to be online when you need him to be, or someone quits the game, or gets bored with her character, or decides to do something wacky to the story so that what could have been a satisfying and triumphant conclusion instead fizzles out with a whimper, or the story accumulates so many involved characters that it spirals out of all management until eventually everyone just sort of tries to pretend it didn't happen -- sort of like World War I.

Now I am not trying to suggest that plots should be scripted. No one finds such a script more boring than I do, and spontaneity, suspense, and tension are the hallmark of some of our favourite stories. But I maintain that it is possible to craft and play in a plot which is both unpredictable and yet dramatically organized. Ultimately, many will see this as the age-old debate between the Simulationist and Storyteller. The first camp is made up of folks who want the game to be as much like real life as possible, and if it is messy, and stories prove unsatisfying, well, that's the way life is. The game should be no different. The other camp has a different priority: they are not trying to mirror life, they are not attempting complete immersion. Rather, they are trying to create a dramatic narrative, and that is not going to happen spontaneously. Lives are not dramatic by nature. They only attain great drama when we shape them and cast them.

This guide could be book-length. It could go on indefinitely. I'm not going to try to write the whole thing now or even try to outline it or make chapter titles. I'm just going to pick a place that seems like a good spot to start, and follow my nose. So, see, I may be a Storyteller at heart, but even I can't help the occasional freeform moment.

Story Goals

This is usually where I start. And even when I don't start here -- such as when a moment of random RP in the Pony leads me into someone else's story -- I often find myself coming back here. A story goal is perhaps the key thing that separates that random RP from something more long-lasting and memorable. In short, we ask ourselves, "What is it that I want this plot to do?"

Note that we are not outlining the plot at this stage. We are not deciding how it is going to go, what characters or in it, or how it will resolve. Some of those things we may never "decide," leaving it to chance. Instead, we are taking the macro view. We have a character; that character is important to us, and we want that character to grow, change, and tell a story. So, what chapter are we on? What is the function of the story we are about to embark on?

15 sample story goals (you may recognize some):

  • I want to create a really neat history for my new tier 5 critted item.
  • I want to explain where my character has been for the last three months while I was away in Real Life.
  • I want my character to move on from a personal relationship with a player who is no longer in the game.
  • I want to give the kinship a flavorful recurring adversary.
  • I want my hero to have a rival played by someone other than me.
  • I need to explain a drastic change in the character's personality, because I find the character boring as he currently is and I want to change him.
  • I want to reveal an aspect of my character's past which I think is really cool but which no one knows about but me.
  • I want to give my character a heretofore unknown child -- a young son or daughter he did not know he had.
  • I want to explain why my character is suddenly followed around everywhere by an unshaven guy carrying a flag.
  • I want to explain the new skin I just gave my bear pet.
  • I need to come up with a reason why my character hangs out with her kinmates, and doesn't just ride off to Angmar or home.
  • I want to forge an alliance between my kinship and another.
  • I just read the Lord of the Rings for the first time, and I want my character to have a stronger connection to the lore.
  • I want to explain why my Man character has a house in the Dwarf neighborhood.
Looking over these story goals, you will see that most of them can be highly variable in terms of scope and size. Indeed, you can achieve some of them without really having a plot at all. You can simply decide -- since you have control over your own character and plenty of NPC cast members -- that your character performed some service for a Dwarf-lord, who gave her a house, and that's all there is to it. Story told. There's no "plot" to speak of because the whole thing happened off-stage (though now that she has a Dwarf house, that house itself could spin off into more stories). On the other hand, if you decided you wanted to make a plot out of this, then you could start thinking about how you could earn that Dwarf-lord's favor in the game, and what complications might ensue, and who might not want you to have that house, or who might want the Dwarf-lord dead, and pretty soon you have more than a goal, you have Story Elements.

Story Elements

A Story Element is, again, not an outline or a script. At its most complete, it might be a single scene, but it is probably not even that developed. It is the "cool bit" which you want to include in the story: that moment of drama, or tense revelation, or particular game mechanic which you just can't wait to do. Writers and directors often start writing without a full knowledge of what the story will be, but they know that at some point the protagonist is going to draw a sword out of a stone, or have a fencing duel atop a crumbling tower, or nearly die from drowning, or pretend to be a nobleman. Kenneth Brannaugh, who has directed several adaptations of Shakespeare for the cinema, started working on his version of Hamlet with only one idea in his head: he knew Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were going to arrive in Elsinore on a steam train, waving hello while the thing trudged through the snow. That was his first Story Element. What's yours? What scenes, vignettes, lines of dialogue or other "cool bits" are making you really want to do this story?

15 Sample Story Elements (look familiar?)

  • Someone will utter a prophecy about my character's death
  • My character will reveal scars she got at the hands of her off-stage torturers
  • My character's father will admit that he is not my real father after all, but was charged with raising me by a wandering wizard
  • Someone will be entrusted with a Ring of Power
  • It will be revealed that the mysterious spy lurking in Bree is a creature unlike anything the heroes have seen before
  • A hero will be knighted
  • My character will defeat the mysterious masked villain, only to learn that that villain is her father
  • My character will have a "training montage" in which much time passes as I quickly learn a new legendary skill
  • I will wrestle an alligator
  • I will make an impossible shot with my bow and save the day
  • My friends will engage in a riddle game. The stakes: my life!
  • A Maia will appear before us and recognize us as peers and friends
  • King Dwalin will angrily banish my dwarven champion
  • My character will be left at the altar
  • My character will be poisoned, and have only hours to live unless the cure is found
You may not have a lot of story elements when you first start thinking about a plot. You may be intimidated by the blank page. Don't worry, it'll come. There is no reason to force yourself at this stage. Don't think of the page as blank -- think of it as obscured. Your exciting, suspenseful, and dramatically satisfying story is there, you just can't see it yet. You will find your way one step at a time, and fill in blanks as you go. As long as everything you decide later makes sense with what has been revealed so far, you're golden. Contrary to some opinions, you don't need to have all the answers to every possible question. If you're like me, the best answer to that question will come to you when you are eating lunch and far from the computer. Let it happen. Write down what you know and move on.

Story Scope

We don't have an unlimited canvas in LotRO. There are some things we can control, but many other things we can't. If you want Barliman Butterbur to have a role in your story, you can probably get away with it. But he can't die, and even getting him out of the Pony can pose some logistics problems. It's tough to RP having a horse if you are less then 35th level, even if your character is from Rohan and should have an effing horse. You see what I mean. But now is probably the time for you to decide just how big you want your story to be. Most of us have an epic streak; we have gotten it from movies, from the novels themselves, or just our own ego. We want our stories to be big. But we should rein in that impulse at least a little. When you are starting out as a Storyteller, you will want to keep the loose ends to a minimum. The more people that are involved, the more likely it is that someone in your story will start taking it over with an idea which that player thinks is brilliant, but which thwarts your goal for the plot. Moreover, as the cast of a story gets larger, it begins to snowball into an ever larger cast, as each person in it comes into contact with more and more people. Stories are as communicable as the common cold, and just as hard to cure. Once a person is hooked into a story, it's very hard to just let it go. You end up with two dozen people all struggling against each other for dominance, and since you can't put any of them out of your misery with an axe to the head, your story is the only casualty.

Think about your scope. There are some obvious categories to work with here, but these are almost entirely artificial and highly variable. What is most important is not the scope you choose, but that you choose one in the first place and stick to it.

  • You. This is in many ways the least satisfying level of scope, since by definition your hero is the only person to participate in it, and the only person to know what happened in it. It will make a fine journal entry or two, I'm sure. But it won't make any RP for anyone else, except potentially as aftermath when everyone asks you, "So, how did you lose your eye?"
  • Your close circle. This is a story for you and your intimate friends, family, and lover(s), who will care the most about you and who you can rely upon to shake heaven and earth where you are concerned. These sorts of stories are a great stage for intense drama, since with a small cast each person gets plenty of stage time and you don't have to worry about someone you don't know coming in and taking over. We're probably looking at around half a dozen player characters here. If you insist that you just have too many close friends to fit into such a small number, well, lucky you, but you are definitely biting off a larger story chunk. Advance to the next size scope.
  • Your network/kinship. If there are a couple of dozen people involved in your story, you are looking at a pretty challenging organizational hurdle to overcome. There's just no way that you are going to be able to keep tabs on everyone involved in a story of this size. Those in the story will do things you don't know about, and because they cannot find you or talk to you, they will make judgement calls regarding the story which you may later have to struggle to reconcile. Your inability to oversee everything also ensures that some of the things you absolutely need to have happen will not, in fact, happen because the person you expected to do them either will have misunderstood your directions or simply won't get around to it. What this all means is that you need to do more planning for stories of this sort, preparing multiple ways to accomplish certain Story Beats (we will get to Beats later). Also, information management becomes a big concern at this level. At smaller scope, you can just get everyone together in a chat room and share info. Exposition seldom needs to be given more than once. But at this level, you will never be able to get everyone in the plot together at once. You need to think about a way to get information out to players even when they are not online, and you need to recognize that some people will just be forever in the dark about what the hell is really going on. At this scope, you also have increased your cast to the point where there are major roles and supporting roles. With only five or six people to worry about, you can ensure that each character has a dramatically satisfying scene or two. But when you are working with a whole kinship, or your large group of friends, we must recognize that some of those people will be stars, some will be minor parts, and some will be walk-ons. Think about who you want to rely on, and who will get the bit parts. Perhaps you can give those minor players a larger role in your next story. Remember: you are not obligated to include everyone. This is a story you made. It may not be about you, but it is the story you want to tell. If someone else really wants to tell some other story, they can do it on their own time and leave your plot alone.
  • Multiple Kinships. Developers on LotRO can make plots that encompass every player in the game, but for those of us on the other side of the keyboard the largest story we can really conceptualize is one that involves more than one kinship. The most common sorts of plots at this scope are rivalries (in which two kinships are pitted against each other) and alliances (in which two or more kinships come together against a common foe). Both can be satisfying, but it is important to recognize some incontrovertible facts. Mechanisms for physical violence between player characters are woefully inadequate for most large scale conflicts. Two people can duel quite easily, but if two kinships decide to draw arms against each other there's no practical way in the game to resolve this. Even in small groups, "consent based" combat (Gandalf: "I smash the bridge under your feet, sending you down into the pit!" Balrog: "As I am falling, I swing my whip for your legs!") can be very difficult for some of the involved players to grasp, and when you are working with players you do not know, you simply cannot trust the 12th level hunter to fall down when the 36th level captain swings his sword at him. There's a good reason for this: despite all those deadly weapons flying around, no PC in LotRO can ever die unless they stop paying Turbine. In almost every case, this means that rivalries between two kinships must either be defused or at least cool down into a long-term simmer. Because no matter how evil a particular kinship may act, they will always escape justice. This doesn't make for a very satisfying story, and it doesn't even make much sense -- since one wonders why, if an evil PC is really in the wrong, they are not beheaded. Because evil players can therefore be evil without ever suffering any consequences for their actions, their behavior is encouraged. If you really want to do a story of two kinships quarreling with each other, my advice is to make a misunderstanding or trick at the root of the conflict, so that both kinships can return to honourable behavior and good will when the story ends. Otherwise, the rivalry only ends up with both groups looking impotent. You can only explain passifism for so long when your heroes are out slaughtering orcs and trolls every day. Alliance plots are much easier, since they involve a common foe, usually an NPC. or possibly some non-violent event that brings the two kinships together; you may have a marriage that unites the two groups, for example. But because the numbers are still large, these sorts of stories can still be a challenge to coordinate and ultimately you are still writing for a small group of select people within those kinships, and letting the bulk of the members find their own RP along the way.
Next time: Story Beats and the Wandering Path

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Age of Copper

The Age of Copper

The copper age was brief. The luster of
that metal led the eye to stare, the hand to grasp.
So glowing and resilient, what smith could handle
It but covet not? And so I did.

Some men think copper stern and hard. A mace
Head they would make it, or nails. But I
Did revel in its softness, its slender neck.
For it is green shelter in December snow.

So quick are copper's hot, electric limbs
That, parted though it be from me, I feel
It still in hair and fingers both. Arsenic
Is a slow and body-wracking death.

Say not that I did shun this noble metal
But rather, say that copper shunneth me.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Man-Elf Love

With the Spring festival in the air, it seems a good time to address a particular roleplaying issue that can cause a lot of arguments among lorehouds. As most Tolkien enthusiasts know, romantic relations between Elves and Men are very rare in Middle-earth. Indeed, each is a legendary pairing. The first, Beren and Luthien, was so personal to Tolkien himself that he had these names inscribed on the tombstones of he and his wife. Elendil and his wife sired Elros (first King of Numenor) and Elrond (first king of the Superior Study). The most famous example of Man-Elf love, of course, is that of Arwen and Aragorn; this love affair, betrothal, and marriage is the archetype for most romantic roleplay in Lord of the Rings. Purists will note that there is one other example of inter-racial love in the setting; Imrazor the Numenorean, who despite his name was the lord of Dol Amroth in Belfalas, rescued a handmaid of the elf-maid Mithrellas and had two children with her before she disappeared without a trace. The son went on to found the line of the Princes; we are told nothing of the daughter.

That’s it. To be completely loyal to the setting, there should be no other marriages between Men and Elves. But players are players, and they want to have fun. Surely, there must be a way to make that possible? Is abstinence the only lore-appropriate solution? Where can we find wiggle room, in a way that honours Tolkien’s design yet still gives players room to, well, play?

There are some obvious routes to take. First, is anonymity. The Lord of the Rings is a manuscript written by people who lived in Middle-earth. They didn’t know everything, and did not record everything they did know. There might be marriages between Men and Elves which they knew nothing about, or for whatever reason decided weren’t important enough to be collected with those of Luthien, Ellendil, and Arwen. The example of Imrazor is a good one for inspiration here: the note about a strain of Elvish in that family line is actually from unpublished sources like Unfinished Tales and the People of Middle-earth; it was slated for inclusion in the Appendix to Return of the King but cut for reasons of space. Surely there could have been other examples like it, which were also cut? To answer yes, we have to acknowledge what makes Imrazor’s romance inferior to the others: Mithrellas’ handmaid was not an Elf of any particularly legendary stature. She did not have Luthien as an ancestor (as Arwen does) and she’s not descended from Noldor or anything fancy like that. She’s just a plain old Sindarin Elf. For his part, Imrazor was a great Man, but not one of the Dunedain. His two children were not Elves. They were counted among the people of Men. (Please don’t use the word “Human” while you are in Middle-earth. No one in Tolkien’s writings ever refers to a man or a woman as “Human.” Dwarves and Elves do not refer to “humans.” Every time you say “Human” in LotRO, you make meta-Strider cry.)

Another easy way out of this is to play the Avari card; the Avari are what Tolkien and some in the setting refer to as “dark elves.” They’re not black skinned, they don’t use poison, and they don’t worship spiders. Instead, they are “dark” because they never saw the light of Aman, the Eden-like paradise across the sea. They have always, and will always, remain in Middle-earth until the end of the world. And this means that, since they don’t know the Valar, their culture and ways could be quite different than what we expect. Indeed, Tolkien tells us almost nothing about them. Frankly, they didn’t interest him very much. But they can be very useful to us, since it is somewhat easy to imagine a Dark Elf who did not realize that marrying a Man was wrong. Odd, perhaps. Remarkable, even. But not wrong. And since the deeds of the Avari are not included in the Lord of the Rings, it makes sense that this marriage is not included there either.

These two methods have a common drawback: they have little interaction with the setting. They both rely on sketching in details around the hard facts. You can’t make an Avari if you select a homeland from one of the Elf options in the LotRO menu. Imrazor’s coupling with an Elf will never be mentioned in LotRO because it exists only in texts which Turbine does not have the rights to use. We’re carrying our flashlights into the darkness here, and while that can be rewarding and fun, it doesn’t give us the frission of interacting directly with the things that Tolkien did actually write, and which can actually appear in the game.

And that, of course, means Aragorn and Arwen. This relationship, between a Man and an Elf, is happening right in front of us while we play. The War of the Ring is followed by the wedding of these two illustrious individuals. It’s only natural to want to follow suit. Indeed, let’s see if we can get out of our dilemma by asking, “What Would Arwen Do?”

Arwen has loved Aragorn for decades. She met him when he was a young man; he was pretty innocent and na├»ve, despite the death of his father and some adventures with Elladan and Elrohir. He loved her instantly, but this does not seem all that unusual. Everyone who sees Arwen falls a little bit in love with her; she’s just that beautiful and good. Aragorn’s love was of a different kind, but he had a hard time persuading Elrond of this. All Elrond could see was a young kid, and he certainly was not about to allow his daughter to marry just anyone, even if she wanted to (and it is not at all clear at this point that Arwen did want to marry Aragorn.) So Elrond laid down the law: if Arwen was going to marry a Man, then that Man would be no ordinary Man. He would be the Elessar, the king of restored Arnor and Gondor. If Aragorn could become that, then – and only then – would Elrond give his permission for Arwen to wed.

Clearly, Aragorn was not very good at meeting his girlfriend’s parents. He should have worked a bit more on that “Good to meet you, sir” handshake.

Tolkien’s characters live by a code of honour that is full of absolutes. If Elrond had created these conditions, then the only thing Aragorn could do was fulfill these conditions. The alternatives – running off together, carrying on a secret affair under Elrond’s nose – would be dishonourable and therefore unthinkable. Elrond had a gold ring above his head, and Aragorn clicked on it. Now he had a quest chain. Maybe he would rather be rolling off for Putrid Slime, I don’t know, but he didn’t stand around. He got right on it. He rode off to Rohan and served the King there as a warrior and counselor. He went on to Gondor and led an invasion of Umbar which extended Gondor’s power to the farthest it had been in centuries. He traveled with Gandalf, and learned much of the world from this Wizard. He went even to the far East and South, off any map Tolkien ever drew, where “the stars are strange.” Maybe he met Cthulhu. Well, okay, maybe not.

Eventually, he returned. And when he did, he was no longer the wet-behind-the-ears noob he had been before. He had leveled up. He was now a great man. But he was not yet great enough. He was not yet the King, and so Elrond’s approval had not yet been gained. He and Arwen could walk through Lorien, holding hands and exchanging sweet words, but not much more than that. By now, Aragorn was impressive enough that Arwen had a new respect for him, and she truly loved him in return. With a little help from Galadriel, they became engaged.

That’s pretty much where our story picks up, and the end is yet to be seen in the game. Aragorn has a lot to do: he’s Gandalf’s right hand man up through Moria, then leader of the Fellowship all the way to the Falls of Rauros and Boromir’s death. Then it’s off to rescue Merry and Pippin, find Gandalf along the way, help Theoden fight off the army of Saruman at Helm’s Deep, use the palantir to challenge Sauron (!), go through the Paths of the Dead, summon an army of Oathbreakers to the Stone of Erech, take over an entire fleet of Corsairs out of Umbar, and lead that fleet of black-sailed ships to a last minute rescue of Minas Tirith. Last on his to-do list: March to Mordor and call out Sauron. But what does Arwen do? She eventually comes to Minas Tirith, of course, but for the entirety of the War she seems to be sitting out in Rivendell, sewing Aragorn’s banner and … what?

I suggest she’s talking up Man-Elf love, that’s what.

Back in the late Middle Ages there was a thing called the “Court of Love.” It grew up in France around Eleanor of Aquitane, her daughters, and courtiers. Chretien de Troyes was one of these courtiers, and the romance “the Knight of the Cart,” which introduced Lancelot to the world, was written in this environment. The Court of Love was about encouraging romance and putting women in charge of the relationship. To do this, women assigned tests to their lovers, and only granted increasingly intimate favours to those lovers as each test was successfully completed. This was a marathon, not a sprint; men who lost patience with waiting had no sympathy from the ladies involved and were fit only for ridicule and contempt.

It’s easy to picture Arwen as a kind of Eleanor of Aquitane figure. She’s the most famous female of her age, related by blood to some of the most important and influential individuals in history. Her home, Imladris, is the destination for the world’s powerful elite. And like Eleanor, she has a lot of time on her hands with little to do. How does she pass that time? She gets some of the smartest, cleverest, most beautiful and interesting people in Rivendell and she becomes the leader of their social circle. While she sews Aragorn’s Pristine Master Standard of Hope, she and her close companions tell stories of love to one another and, in the process, define a new kind of romance – a romance between Men and Elves. A romance which will strengthen the Kingdom of Gondor and Arnor Restored. A romance which will last for not one lifetime, but for centuries. A romance which will bring new light and power into the bloodlines of the West. Tolkien almost tells us about Arwen’s court when he writes in the Tale of Years that Sam’s daughter went to Minas Tirith to become a handmaid of Arwen. And what was the name of this little hobbit-lass? Eleanor. (No, really.)

In Arwen’s Court of Love, marriage is far more important than it was in Eleanor of Aquitaine’s. Indeed, marriage and child-rearing is the ultimate goal, to be awarded only after the lover has proven his quality in test after test. Go kill that elite goblin over there and then you can walk the gardens with me. Go kill a hundred trolls and then you can hold my hand. Go learn how to play the harp and then you can touch my hair. Go get me a trophy from Carn Dum and then we can kiss. After each challenge is met, the intimacy between the two lovers goes up one incremental step. (You should read the manuals on courtly love that were actually written in the period, detailing exactly what part of your lover you could and could not touch at each stage of courtship. Hilarious.)

While all the Man-Elf loves we see in the setting are always between a Man and an Elf-maid, there’s no reason to limit Arwen’s encouragement in this way. Her Court of Love can include Elf-lords and ladies, Men and Women, all sharing their tales and between them constructing a new social order. How should Men and Elves love one another, from here on out? You see, the Lord of the Rings really only tells us how things have been up to the War. It has very little to say about what happened after. Arwen is the trend-setter in Middle-earth. She has all the style, the grace, the influence. She wears the most beautiful clothes and has the bravest husband. She’s the future Queen of the West, the Jackie Kennedy of Middle-earth. Everyone wants to be like her. And if she’s marrying a Man, well … then marrying is suddenly in. Marriage is trendy. And marrying across your race is even more trendy.

Which is all according to her plan. Sure, Aragorn will be wearing the crown and mopping up all the Orcs left over after Sauron is defeated, and he’ll be heroic and all that. But Arwen’s contribution is more long-term. If her Court of Love is successful, she will have created a whole new social class of Half-elven families who are fanatically loyal to her and Aragorn. And their lifespan is measured in centuries. Most of the Elves are leaving Middle-earth, but Arwen’s Court of Love will persuade some to stay, and their children will be mortal, part of the aristocracy of Gondor. If the new Kingdom is to last beyond Aragorn’s life, it will be in no small part due to Arwen, her influence, and the existence of these Half-elven Gondorian families.

So cheer up, all you would be lovers. There may not be a lot in the novel that encourages your romance between Man and Elf, but you have a role model to work from and she has plenty of reasons to encourage you. Find Arwen in Rivendell and pull up a spot on the floor. Start telling your tales and setting your challenges. Put your love to the test, as Arwen’s father has for her. Make sure your lover is really worth your affection. You want a love that will stand the test of time, a love for the centuries, not just for the moment. And when this War is done, and Arwen’s champion has proven himself to be a true lover, and become King, you and your love will join him and Arwen in Minas Tirith, there to bring new light and luster to the White City.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Separating the Men from the Dorfs

Back when I first started to write columns for the LotRO RP Haven one of my fellow Red Arrows suggested I write a bit on the problem of "dorfs," which is a particular form of Dwarf player character who seems to be common in LotRO. We are talking here about Dwarves who talk in a Scottish accent, who carry beer mugs into Carn Dum, and who fly into berserker rages at the sight of an Orc. They are laughable comic relief characters or, if we're lucky, gruff mentors to younger heroes. Inspiration for these depraved and sad excuses for Dwarvenkind are perhaps inspired as much by Warhammer and World of Warcraft as by Peter Jackson's trilogy and the Gimli presented by John Rhys-Davies. Sadly, they have little in common with the Dwarves of Tolkien's world, but we have been conditioned by other media so that we think we know how to roleplay a Dwarf. All of the races in Middle-earth have this issue (Elves too) but for now let's focus on the Khazad and, as Yoda would say, unlearn what we have learned.

Much of the problem with playing a Dwarf is that we have all these memorable scenes from the film that simply didn't happen in the novel. Gimli belching in Theoden's hall, then drying the beer off his mouth with his beard? Didn't happen. Gimli calling Galadriel an "Elf-witch" as they enter Lorien? Didn't happen (there's a similar exchange, but the suspicious hero is Boromir, not Gimli.) The infamous "Game Over" drinking contest from the Extended Version of Return of the King? Not in the novel. "Never trust an Elf!" No. "Not the beard!" No. "Nobody tosses a dwarf!" No. That business about the Dwarf being so loud "we coud shoot him in the dark"? No, that was Boromir too.

Of Lads and Laddies
Rule #1 (accent): No Dwarf in Middle-earth ever uses a Scottish accent, nor do they use words we associate with Scottish dialects.

Gimli may have called Legolas "lad" in the film, but neither Gimli nor any other Dwarf in the novel actually uses that word. Ever. Some players love their accents; but the truth is that they are much harder to read than they would be to listen to. Some Dwarf player characters spell their words so bizarrely that they are impossible for new roleplayers to play with. Look at it this way: when you intentionally mis-spell your text, you are imposing a demand upon those playing with you. "Decode my bizarre accent!" you say. Well, yes, I could do that. But why should I have to? Are you just that damn special? Answer: No. You're not.

And accents are not lore-appropriate. As I mentioned, they are very scarce in the novel. We do see a Cockney accent in a spot or two -- but it is not spoken by Men. It is spoken by Orcs! That's right, all of you players of Men: talking Cockney makes you sound like an Orc. Bree-landers don't have a Cockney accent.

If Dwarves don't talk with an accent, and they don't use vocabulary stolen from the Cheif Engineer of the USS Enterprise, how do they talk? Well, let's tune our palantir to Rivendell and we'll see. This is when Frodo meets an elderly and much respected Dwarf whom we can find at his camp in the south-west Misty Mountains:

'Welcome and well met!' said the dwarf, turning towards him. Then he actually rose from his seat and bowed. 'Gloin at your service,' he said, and bowed still lower.
'Frodo Baggins at your service and your family's,' said Frodo correctly.

Rule #2 (Greetings): The first person says, 'At your service.' The second person must surpass the first speaker, and offer more. 'At your service and your family's.'

This exchange is repeated several times in The Hobbit, when Thorin and his company all show up at Bag End. Bilbo is too flustered to respond properly, but all the Dwarves do their part with the sole exception of Thorin. Oakenshield, who Tolkien calls 'haughty', is far too important to offer his service to Bilbo. But Gloin is not too proud to say this to a Hobbit he has never met, the nephew of an old friend.

What do we learn here? The importance of courtesy. The Dwarves are an ancient and proud race, and they value courtesy. They expect other people to be polite to them, and they are naturally polite in return. Now, Dwarves can be rude. But their definition of "rude" does not involve direct insults. We can find an example a few pages later, in the Council of Rivendell. Legolas is telling the tale of Gollum's imprisonment by the Elves.

'... we had not the heart to keep him ever in dungeons under the earth, where he would fall back into his old black thoughts.'
'You were less tender to me,' said Gloin with a flash of his eyes, as old memories were stirred of his imprisonment in the deep places of the Elven-king's halls.
'Now come!' said Gandalf. 'Pray do not interrupt, my good Gloin. That was a regrettable misunderstanding, long set right. If all grievances that stand between Elves and Dwarves are to be brought up here, we may as well abandon this Council.'
Gloin rose and bowed, and Legolas continued...


Think about how restrained this is. Gloin and his fellow dwarves were kept prisoners for weeks in the dungeons of King Thranduil, who is Legolas' father. Chances are very good that when Gloin and the rest were brought before Thranduil, Legolas was there. In other words, Gloin and Legolas both have personal memories of this incident. And yet Gloin sat down at the table with Legolas, saying nothing about the incident until it was brought up. When he did mention it, he only alluded to it, because both he and Legolas knew full well what was being talked about. There was no angry challenge, not even a direct insult. Gloin does not insult all Elf-kind. When Gandalf asks for peace, does Gloin forgive and forget? Nothing says he does! Bowing is an apology, but the apology is not directed to Legolas. Gloin is pretty mad! Instead, the dwarf apologizes to Gandalf, and keeps his mouth shut out of respect for the others present.

This teaches us rule three:

Rule #3 (courtesy): Dwarf problems are not for others to get involved in.

If Gloin has an issue with Legolas, he'll take it up with Legolas. The rest of the Council of Elrond does not need to be bothered by it.

Now, one of the things we think we know about Dwarves and Elves is that they don't get along. The root of this quarrel is long but basically has two strands. The oldest reason is related to the Silmarils and can be found in the Silmarillion. Without going into long detail, King Thingol Greycloak hired Dwarves to put one of the Silmarils into an ancient golden necklace of Dwarven make which Thingol happened to have been given as a gift. But once the necklace got the stone, the resulting treasure was so greed-inspiring that Thingol and the Dwarves fought over it and the King was murdered. The Dwarves were later hunted down and killed by Beren, but each side thinks the other did them wrong. Now this was a long time ago and most Elves don't remember this or have any personal grudge, but there's a more recent reason for Dwarf/Elf friction: the Elves blame Dwarves for the appearance of the Balrog of Moria, which forced many Elves that lived near the Misty Mountains to flee western Lorien. Some loss of life was involved, though for Elves the sudden appearance of such a powerful evil is a crime in and of itself. Gimli and Legolas get into this issue on the outskirts of Lorien, when Legolas sings the Lay of Nimrodel.

'It is long and sad, for it tells how sorrow came upon Lothlorien, Lorien of the Blossom, when the Dwarves awakened evil in the mountains.'
'But the Dwarves did not make the evil,' said Gimli.
'I said not so; yet evil came,' answered Legolas sadly.


And that's the end of it. Gimli doesn't bring it up again, or further try to defend himself. He knows he's right, he isn't going to change Legolas' mind, best just keep quiet for the good of the Fellowship.

Gloin may be the ideal Dwarf -- respected but not conceited, wise and yet vigorous, the sort of individual which younger Dwarves would idolize. Here he is again, with a suggestion for Elrond at the Council:

'Still it might be well for all,' said Gloin the Dwarf, 'if all these strengths were joined, and the powers of each were used in league.'


That's right, an old Dwarf, who spent a spell in an Elvish prison, just suggested to the most famous Elf in the world that the Dwarves and the Elves should work together. Why? Because he knows our next rule:

Rule #4 (practicality): Give in when it makes sense to. Working with other people means you have to set your personal issues aside.

Let's look at that scene in the Hobbit when Thorin is brought before Thranduil. It is useful because it shows how a Dwarf and an Elf in a hostile situation might talk to one another. Where do they draw the line, and does their fight break out into violence or even death?

The king looked sternly on Thorin, when he was brought before him, and asked him many questions. But Thorin would say only that he was starving.
'Why did you and your folk three times try to attack my people at their merrymaking?' asked the king.
'We did not attack them,' answered Thorin; 'we came to beg, because we were starving.'
'Where are your friends now, and what are they doing?'
'I don't know, but I expect starving in the forest.'
'What were you doing in the forest?'
'Looking for food and drink, because we were starving.'
'But what brought you into the forest at all?' asked the king angrily.
At that Thorin shut his mouth and would not say another word.


Thorin never stoops so low as to insult Thranduil or assault him. That would be lowering himself to the level of his poor host. He answers truthfully when he can and shuts up when he can't. But he is certainly stubborn, and he has a dark sense of humour you have to love.

The most famous example of Dwarvish stubborness happens in Lorien, when Gimli arrives with the rest of the Fellowship and Haldir only allows him into the woods on the condition that he be blindfolded.

This was not to the liking of Gimli. 'The agreement was made without my consent,' he said. 'I will not walk blindfold, like a beggar or a prisoner. And I am no spy. My folk have never had dealings with any servants of the Enemy. Neither have we done harm to the Elves. I am no more likely to betray you than Legolas, or any other of my companions.'


Note that Gimli does not insult Haldir, or the Elves. Instead, he defends himself. And that defense -- his own word -- should be good enough for anyone. Why is he so insulted anyway? Because to be blindfolded would be to be treated "like a beggar or a prisoner" or "a spy." Gimli is proud.

Rule #5 (pride): Show some self-respect, will you? No drunken, belching, swearing please.

Lets continue to follow this scene. It teaches us a lot.

'I do not doubt you,' said Haldir. 'Yet this is our law. I am not the master of the law, and cannot set it aside. I have done much in letting you set foot over the Celebrant.'
Gimli was obstinate. He planted his feet firmly apart, and laid his hand upon the haft of his axe. 'I will go forward free,' he said, 'or I will go back and seek my own land, where I am known to be true to my word, though I perish alone in the wilderness.'
... Gimli drew his axe from his belt. Haldir and his companion bent their bow, 'A plague on Dwarves and their stiff necks!' said Legolas.

Gimli is willing to draw his axe and die here on the edge of Lorien to defend his good name, that's how serious he is about being honest and truthful. Note that Haldir believes him ('I do not doubt you.') but is shackled by the laws of Lorien. We have the classic irrestistible force vs. immovable object. So how does it resolve? Aragorn, the Captain and fellowship leader, knows the answer: if we all share the Dwarf's cause, he'll let it go.

'It is hard upon the Dwarf to be thus singled out. We will all be blindfolded, even Legolas. That will be best, though it make the journey slow and dull.'
Gimli laughed suddenly. 'A merry troop of fools we shall look! Will Haldir lead us all on a string, like many blind beggars with one dog? But I will be content, if only Legolas here shares my blindness.'


Gimli gives a little here, but he expects Legolas to give the rest of the way. That is enough for him.

'I am an Elf and a kinsman here,' said Legolas, becoming angry in his turn.
'Now let us cry: "a plague on the stiff necks of Elves!"' said Aragorn. 'But the Company shall all fare alike. Come, bind our eyes, Haldir.'

And that's the end of the story: everyone's eyes and blindfolded until they reach Caras Galadhon, and Gimli is content because everyone shared his fate. Even Legolas cooperates, though he whines a little. (I know. Elves. Sheesh.)

Between all of these scenes, you have been able to see the language that Tolkien uses when Dwarves like Gimli and Gloin talk. It is not accented, crude, or simple. Indeed, it is usually quite elevated. They uses words like "perish" instead of "die," and "tender" for "nice." Look at the sentence structure used by Gimli and Gloin in the lines above; it's not simple stuff. Let's look at a moment when Gimli has a lot to say. This will help us answer the question, "How does he say it?" The Fellowship can see Caradhras for the first time, and the two mountains next to it.
'I need no map,' said Gimli, who had come up with Legolas, and was gazing out before him with a strange light in his deep eyes. 'There is the land where our fathers worked of old, and we have wrought the image of those mountains into many works of metal and of stone, and into many songs and tales. They stand tall in our dreams: Baraz, Zirak, Shathur.
'Only once before have I seen them from afar in waking life, but I know them and their names, for under them lies Khazad-dum, the Dwarrowdelf, that is now called the Black Pit, Moria in the Elvish tongue. Yonder stands Barazinbar, the Redhorn, cruel Caradhras; and beyond him are Silvertine and Cloudyhead; Celebdil the White, and Fanuidhol the Grey, that we call Zirakzigil and Bundushathur.
'There the Misty Mountains divide, and between their arms lies the deep-shadowed valley which we cannot forget: Azanulbizar, the Dimrill Dale, which the Elves call Nanduhirion.'
'It is for the Dimrill Dale that we are making,' said Gandalf. ... 'There lies the Mirrormere, and there the River Silverlode rises in its icy springs.'
'Dark is the water of Kheled-zaram,' said Gimli, 'and cold are the springs of Khibil-nala. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them again soon.'


Wow. Where to start. First, we can see some of the things we have already talked about working here as well: Gimli uses words like "Yonder" for "Over there," and "of old" for "a long time ago". He doesn't say "I can't wait", he says, "My heart trembles at the thought". But what else can we learn?

Rule #6 (long-winded): Something that's really important deserves a lot of words said about it.

Gimli isn't the only one with this issue. Thorin is remarkable for his long speeches. (The Hobbit: 'If he had been allowed, he would probably have gone on like this until he was out of breath, without telling any one there anything that was not known already.') But you can see that the more important a thing is, the more names it has, and Gimli is going to tell you every single one of those names, in every language he knows (including Elvish, note). Those mountains have at least two names; Caradhras has three. Moria is so important it has four names! Pay attention to them. Gimli is liable to quiz you on them later.

We'll finish with one last exchange which is notable even among Tolkien scholars for the way it shows the author's grasp of dialogue. You may think, 'You have shown us all these Dwarves talking with fancy words and elaborate sentences. But everyone in Tolkien's world talks like this. I want my Dwarf to be different!' But not everyone in Middle-earth does talk like this. This is how Dwarves talk and its different than other races. This is illustrated in The Hobbit, when the Dwarves and Bilbo say farewell to each other.

Then the dwarves bowed low before their Gate, but words stuck in their throats. 'Good-bye and good luck, wherever you fare!' said Balin at last. 'If ever you visit us again, when our halls are made fair once more, then the feast shall indeed be splendid!'
'If ever you are passing my way,' said Bilbo, 'don't wait to knock! Tea is at four; but any of you are welcome at any time!'


In The Road to Middle-earth, Tom Shippey wrote that, in this scene, the two speakers are using very different language and speech, but are basically saying the same thing: "You are welcome in my home."

Or, in ancient dorf-speak: "Urr, laddie, c'mon over to me Hall, and we'll toast ye a barrel a'mead!'