Thursday, May 31, 2007

Man (of the West) in Black

I have got to take that Cash CD out of my car before I start dreaming about Reese Witherspoon.

Hey, wait ...

Big River, LotRO-style

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Missing Pinfeather?

I have an ongoing fascination with swan-symbolism in Tolkien, and I have been trying to trace the idea from the Teleri with their swan-ships down to the Swan Knights of Dol Amroth.

But I may have just found the missing piece of the puzzle. It just so happens that Tuor, when he found the armaments left behind for him by Ulmo at Vinyamar, was stymied because the shield was unusually long, and tapered to a point, and bore on it a white swan feather on a blue field.

Later, Tuor took this shield with him to Gondolin, where he joined the House of the Wing, one of Gondolin's twelve noble houses.

That shield, seen here, is obviously a knight's shield, rather than the round sort, and the blue & white coloring of Dol Amroth is seen here for the first time. Could the knights of Dol Amroth trace their symbol back not to the Teleri (as I always presumed) but to Tuor and Gondolin's House of the Wing?

Some references, before I go buy the Book of Lost Tales and read the text for myself. (The version in the Silmarillion does not have many of these details.)

House of the Wing


How to Spot a Gender Faker

An interesting essay on "how to spot guys masquerading as girls online." Though, it seems to me that at a 60% impersonation rate, the bettor in me figures "always assume 'guy' and you will be right more often than not."

And, for the record, I did not make Imraheth female because she would get more freebies from "chivalrous" guys, I made her female because if I have to watch someone's butt for 4 hours a day, I want it to be cute.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Art Imitates Life

I realized yesterday that I have managed to work myself into a position in which my in-game self is in pretty much the exact same position as my real-life self. Well, with the addition of Elves and guys in pointy hats.

My hunch is that all of you try to avoid this circumstance in your gaming. That is, we seek to create art that is an alternative to our life. But what happens when it doesn't work out that way? What do you do?

Any "art imitates life" stories you care to share?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Well, Crap

For about two days I was very excited about a small LotRO project that was getting underway. A fellow on the Turbine boards had speculated about the possibility of an all-Loremaster kinship and he had seem pleased by the initial response. He and I bandied together until we came up with a name, and he seemed to like my idea that every member would have been taught by one of the Istari in the past, ensuring that we would all have at least one plot hook when it came time to sit around the Pony and chat. I used my coveted "Eldiriel" name slot to make up a Loremaster (a student of ring-lore under Saruman, I decided) and ran through the first 6 levels of the Newbie area.

Alas, he has decided the response was not so good after all, and the idea has been scrapped. Just as I was looking forward to assembling a nice, solid, "What we know about the Istari" essay, that would relate the Wizards to character creation in LotRO.

So ... crap.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Love, Sex, and LotRO

My first column for the fine folks of the LotRO RP Haven is up.

You, of course, are morally obligated to read it. It's the Christian thing to do.

The Blessing of Fionwe

My new Middle-earth short story is up at the Green Dragon Inn. In a clever attempt at cross-marketing, I put my Author's Notes for the piece here.

This story began as a way of explaining the fact that our kinship chat channel is In Character. This question is perhaps best phrased as: “If our kinship chat is IC, how can people in Ered Luin and Rivendell be talking to one another?” Different kinships have different solutions to this problem. Some insist that kinship chat must be OOC. Others presume that IC chat takes place “in the tavern” between adventures. Other kinships simply state that every member has a “mini-palantir” (what I derisively call the iPal) and this allows them to talk to one another.

This is my solution: Through the blessing of a Maia wind-lord, any member of the Red Arrows can choose to have his words carried on magic breezes to the ears of any other Arrow. Before any member of the Arrows can enjoy this benefit, they must be brought to the peak of Weathertop and introduced to Fiönwë , who manifests before them. (We can presume that all members present at the date of this story’s publication have had this experience.) To some, this will seem little different than the iPal, but to me it is entirely different. For one thing, this solution has a story, and it creates more stories. Fiönwë is a rival of the Witch-king, whom he considers an old foe. He (and therefore the blessing) is vulnerable to a magic ring coveted by a Rhudaurian sorcerer. The battle to free Fiönwë also incurred the wrath of other minions of Sauron who could return to plague the Arrows later. Every new member of the Arrows also has a great excuse for a short little magical-social RP when they are brought to Weathertop and introduced to Fiönwë . In short, the Blessing of Fiönwë is not just a cheap solution to a problem, it is a story-based solution that creates spin offs.

A note on the timeline. Gandalf battled the Nine atop Weathertop on Oct 3 and Aragorn and the Hobbits arrived there Oct 6. This story takes place in the early morning hours of Oct 4, after Gandalf’s hasty departure. This sets the story firmly in the “early days” of the Red Arrows. Since the Epic Quest of LotRO allows you to meet Gandalf in Bree on the night of September 30th, “The Blessing of Fiönwë” must take place very soon after that point, which is the Prologue to Epic Quest Book II: the Red Maid. This is also a convenient point for me to note that this story allowed me to solve another problem that had been niggling me for, oh, about 20 years. You see, I could never really understand how Gandalf could fight off all the Nine at once on Weathertop, and later have so much trouble with the Witch-king alone. Also, it has long seemed to me that Aragorn’s ability to fend off the Nine with nothing but a couple of torches was problematic. I am aware of the many defenses and rationalizations for these plot points, and I can even agree with most of them. But by placing a fallen Maia on Weathertop (who could secretly lend his might to Gandalf, and whose presence might give the Witch-king pause) I was able to personally patch a rough spot in the novel which, I admit, seemed to matter only to me.

A few notes on specific characters and their story roles follow.

Fiönwë is a Maia, a fallen servant of Manwë who has become trapped here in Eriador. His name is taken from Tolkien; it was the original name of the character written of in the Silmarillion as Eönwë, the Herald of Manwë. The “Fiönwë” name dates from the time when Tolkien envisaged the character as Manwë’s son. The concept of the “children of the Valar” was later dropped.

Lagasuk-najor is Rhudaurian for “magical hill-man.” (My Rhudaurian is taken from the MERP module Angmar, now out of print. I recall that it is stolen from a real world Asian language, but I could not tell you which.) He is conceived as a recurring villain for Red Arrow storylines. Trained in sorcery by the Witch-king himself, he is missing both his hand and his magic ring, the latter of which he would stop at nothing to regain. Lagasuk-najor is best for storylines and plots in which he is not required to actually appear in game, since it is not possible at this moment for us to make sorcerers in Monster Play. Think of him as an offstage mastermind.

Shalkafsog is Rhudaurian for “leg biter.” He is a monstrous Warg intended as a recurring foe and he is ideally suited for Monster Play since any one of us could make a Warg Stalker with this name. He would not be a master villain, but makes a great thug or lieutenant.

Shakalam-hom is Rhudaurian for “ass-kicker” or “kicker of ass.” He is an Uruk warleader ideally suited to PvMP play. He could easily take on the role of recurring foe for the Arrows. Cunning and strong in battle, he is a match for any of the Arrows in hand to hand combat and he commands a legion of orcs. He makes for an excellent leader figure, but can also be a “second in command” or lieutenant to Lagasuk-najor or any other high ranking minion of Sauron or the Witch-king.

Anghithya is the Iron Ring of Mist (the name is, of course, Sindarin). This lesser ring was crafted by some talented minion of Sauron, probably in the time of the first rise of Angmar in the Third Age. The powers of the ring are not entirely known, but although it was made as a trap for Fiönwë we can presume that it has other powers. The ring is now kept by the Red Arrows, and they are on guard against efforts by Lagasuk-najor to reclaim it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Tolkien Quotes FTW

Pixel for pixel, my absolute favorite collection of Tolkien quotes.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Days of Fame and Glory!

Two interesting developments for those who give a damn about what I do.

I've been talking to the people at the LotRO RP Haven and after a flatteringly brief exchange we have decided that I will do a column there roughly every other week. The form will be a bit like this blog, though with more time spent in drafting and revision, though I suspect that the "rantlike" nature of what I dare to call "essays" will not alter. My first column, "Love, Sex, and LotRO" should be out next week, Eru willing and the creek don't rise.

Secondly, I have finally finished a draft of a story I have been tossing around in my head for about a month. It began as my answer to the "IC kinchat" dilemma, or "How can a Hobbit in the Shire and an Elf in Rivendell talk to one another IC?" The germ of my resolution to the problem was easy to come up with; it was the story that was a bitch, but the development came to me Thursday and I have been itching to get it down on paper ever since. I expect to get it posted at the Green Dragon and on the Arrows homepage in the next day or two, and I will put some Author's notes here as well.

In other news, Veingloria appears to be MIA and I miss her.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Picking it from the Tree

One of my fellow Red Arrows (whose delightful blog you can read here) has developed a special project she calls a "Limited Play Group." The idea is to make a small group of characters who aim to always and only play together, and probably only once a week for a few hours. Of course, this being online, there are exceptions allowed, mostly allowance made for people who can't make it to the scheduled session and need to "catch up" during the week.

The most pleasant surprise in all this is that I did not know Veingloria was such a GM! While she will no doubt hide her head and insist it is the players who make any project come to life (a fact no less modest for being true), it has been wonderful to sit back and take direction from someone who knows what she wants. And get your mind out of the gutter.

Of course, this meant I had to come up with a character. Being a big fan of romance subplots, I was a bit deterred by the fact that half the group turned out to be dwarves. (Who may not pop out of the rocks full-grown, but who pretty much rule out a love story unless you like your women with beards.)

However, since we will be using fellowship chat so much, it also occured to me that this might be a good time to test out LotROs voice chat system, which is fully integrated into the game and easy to turn on. Of course, this means I will have to buy a headset, so if anyone has a low-cost high-quality recommendation for me, I am all ears.

I have long wanted to try the Loremaster class, and I decided to try it in this project. The trouble was that the only Loremaster idea I really had was my "Don Quixote of Midddle-earth" idea, an aging Man who has decided the world is just too unkind to be left as is, and he has exchanged it for a better, more magical, fantastic existence. Add some Emperor Norton in to your Cervantes, just for spice, and you have Romestamo the Blue, East-Helper and self-proclaimed Wizard. VG convinced me to try this humorous approach despite my misgivings that it will all wear pretty thin after a session or two.

I got the Wizard bug when reading through a part of "Peoples of Middle-earth," the 12th volume in Christopher Tolien's effort to publish all his father's drafts and notes in a readable form. To most, this History of Middle-earth is the ultimate sign of a lorehound gone overboard. Who in the world would want to read the rough draft of a book that is already out? But I have found these books to be wonderful for inspiring character ideas based on what "might have been."

Did you know, for example, that King Theoden of Rohan originally had a daughter? Yep, her name was Idis, and she appears to have had a lifespan measured in pages, since by the end of the chapter in which she was invented, she had already been written out. But I found this too good an idea to pass up, and so I made Idis, a Guardian and Shieldmaiden of Rohan, whose mother always told her that she was King Theoden's daughter. Of course, she has no proof of this, and it is probably one of those stories you tell a child who keeps asking where her Daddy is, but she clings to it desperately nonetheless as a kind of moral compass. (Ask yourself What Would Theoden Do?)

Lorehounds will recognize the idea of the Blue Wizards; we know from LotR that there are five wizards, but Alatar and Pallando are named only in Unfinished Tales. Of course, wise developers have banned those names for reasons of copyright infringement. I could not make Pallando the Loremaster on LotRO online even if I wanted to. But what only the most diligent lorehound knows is that before the Blue Wizards were named Alatar and Pallando, they were named Morinhetar and Romestamo. When I went to make my character, Morinhetar was already taken. I wonder if the player knows the history of the name he chose, or if he picked it out of a Sindarin dictionary because it meant "Darkness Slayer."

There are so many more character ideas in these books: Hamilcar Bolger, who was briefly abducted by Black Riders and rescued by Gandalf before the idea of Saruman had even come to Tolkien yet; Frana, advisor to the King of Rohan, whose name was changed to Grima only at the very last minute; would have beens, could have beens, and perhaps still-to-bes.

As my old Gaffer used to say, "If the fruit on the ground's gone bad, pick it from the tree."

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Halfway House

It's official. My current character on LotRO is the highest level character I have ever had on LotRO, since Captain Imraheth is now 26th and has surpassed the Closed Beta (and less linguistically proper) Guardian Imrahis.

I have found it hard to keep up with some members of my kinship, who are power-levelers simply beyond my ability. At level 26, I feel pretty solidly in the middle of the pack; there are folks riding their horses around now (which means they must be 35th or more) but our kinship still has plenty of heroes in the 16-20 range.

It certainly has been helpful to have those highpockets around when it comes time to perform various difficult quests. In particular, Book II proved to be something of a mixed blessing. I thought it very interesting in terms of visuals and mood, but we blew through it all so fast that I was unable to really figure out everything that was going on. The Red Maiden seems to be a sort of riff on Goldberry, but the exact relationship is unclear to me. The name Iarwain Ben-Adar got tossed around a lot, and that's Tom Bombadil, who seems to have cursed Ivar of the Red Hand? I'm going to go back over my quest logs for Book II and see if I can figure it all out.

The flying Oathbreakers were sure cool, though, and I had a great time working with Radagast. It was actually kind of cool to get defeated when I did, since we managed to get far enough that Radagast was able to defeat Ivar on his own, without our help. A bit of a Pyrhhic victory for the Red Arrows then.