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.

10 comments:

Bashel said...

I love the post, and the effort to explore role-playing in the 'moors. If you ever want to role-play with any monster players, let Shadowclan know!

*chitters*

Doctor J said...

Thanks for the support, Bashel. My weaver is Saemelethril, so we've met in the Moors and our tribe -- GROND -- is up for RP with Shadowclan any time.

Keep up the good weaving.

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