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  • Book vs. Game: The Great River

    I finally started a reread of the Lord of the Rings this summer: Fellowship was a slow start, because school has really stunted my motivation to read recreationally, but I finished the first book recently and am now onto The Two Towers.

    I last read the trilogy when I was in 9th grade (at 14). That was years ago, so I’m basically experiencing the books’ prose for the first time all over again. I know the general plot by heart at this point, but book ≠ movie ≠ game: there’s things that were changed in adaptation that I didn’t remember, little nuances of the narrative I didn’t pick up on as a freshman in high school, and funny or poignant bits of writing that give the books their unique flavor. And knowing LotRO really well adds something extra to the experience: I’m pretty constantly comparing Tolkien’s worldbuilding with the devs’ and mapping his descriptions onto the landscape of the game, which gives me something concrete to visualize while reading.

    LotRO is, in general, very faithful to the story of the Lord of the Rings—there’s the odd deviation in plot and occasional stretching of lore, and there have been plenty of necessary concessions made to adapt Middle-earth to the more interactive video game medium—but those are relatively small deals, and you can tell that the devs understand and respect the story and world and aren’t interested in upending it for the sake of spectacle. Honestly, that barely even needs saying at this point—we all know that the game is incredibly immersive, accurate, and carefully built—but rereading the books has definitely reinforced that for me, especially when I stumble across small details in the narrative that I immediately recognize specifically because of my experience in LotRO. My favorite one of these moments of recognition so far has been towards the end of Fellowship, in Book 2, Chapter 9: “The Great River.”

    You may recognize the phrase The Great River in a LotRO context because, well, there’s an entire region named after it (introduced in 2012, level 70-75, served as a transition between the Dunland and Rohan expansions). I was thinking about the visuals of that area while reading the first few pages of this chapter, and there were several passages of description that shocked me with how closely their details corresponded to the game environment. Part of the beauty of LotRO’s worldbuilding is in how it can bring even the lesser-known, lightly described parts of the map to full, vibrant life, and the Great River is a perfect example of that. The beginning of the chapter has just a couple paragraphs of description, which are spread among a couple pages of travel and dialogue, and from that the devs made an entire region that became a crucial introduction to the people, culture, and landscape of Rohan. So I decided I would make a blog post comparing excerpts from “The Great River” with screenshots from the game, partly just for appreciation and partly because I thought people might find it interesting! I won’t be citing page numbers (everyone’s got different editions), but all the quotes come from the first two pages of the chapter in my own copy of Fellowship.

    Frodo was roused by Sam. He found that he was lying, well-wrapped, under tall grey-skinned trees in a quiet corner of the woodlands on the West Bank of the Great River, Anduin. He had slept the night away, and the grey of morning was dim among the bare branches.

    Thinglad, on the west bank of the Anduin

    …As the third day of their voyage wore on the lands changed slowly: the trees thinned and then failed altogether. On the eastern bank to their left they saw long formless slopes stretching up and away toward the sky; brown and withered they looked, as if fire has passed over them, leaving no living blade of green: an unfriendly waste without even a broken tree or a bold stone to relieve the emptiness.

    They had come to the Brown Lands that lay, vast and desolate, between Southern Mirkwood and the hills of the Emyn Muil. What pestilence or war or evil deed of the Enemy had so blasted all that region even Aragorn could not tell.

    Upon the west to their right the land was treeless also, but it was flat, and in many places green with wide plains of grass. On this side of the River they passed forests of great reeds, so tall that they shut out all view to the west, as the little boats went rustling by along their fluttering borders. Their dark withered plumes bent and tossed in the light cold airs, hissing softly and sadly.

    The Rushgore
    Looking towards the tower of Ost Celebrant

    Here and there through openings, Frodo could catch sudden glimpses of rolling meads, and far beyond them hills in the sunset, and away on the edge of sight a dark line, where marched the southernmost ranks of the Misty Mountains.

    Looking west: the Rushgore and Parth Celebrant

    …Once or twice the travelers heard the rush and whine of swan-wings, and looking up they saw a great phalanx streaming along the sky.

    “Swans!” said Sam. “And mighty big ones too!”

    “Yes,” said Aragorn, “and they are black swans.”

    I also found a passage in the “Treebeard” chapter of The Two Towers that I wanted to include (p. 99-100 for me; you can find it just before his Ent/Entwife song). I think it’s really interesting and gives the Brown Lands more significance than just being a desolate land.

    Treebeard: “Then when the Darkness came in the North, the Entwives crossed the Great River, and made new gardens, and tilled new fields, and we saw them more seldom. After the Darkness was overthrown the land of the Entwives blossomed richly, and their fields were full of corn. Many men learned the crafts of the Entwives and honoured them greatly; but we were only a legend to them, a secret in the heart of the forest. Yet here we still are, while all the gardens of the Entwives are wasted: Men call them the Brown Lands now.

  • Deed Log: Ghámgur, Rohan, and the Northwest Vales

    Mountainsong (my level-cap main) finished up the Wells of Langflood area recently, so to fill the time between updates I’ve been continuing the never-ending process of clearing out my deed log. I took some nice screenshots and had some interesting moments in my most recent deeding session, so I decided to type up an account of it.

    Now, when I say “clearing out my deed log,” I’m serious: many years ago, I set a goal to finish every single regional deed on Mountainsong, and I currently have everything up to West Rohan cleared out (a couple more slayer deeds and I’ll be done with WR too). Of course, I don’t expect to ever finish this process—both because of new updates and because even incremental deeding progress takes up a lot of time—but it’s nice to be able to click through a bunch of completely empty tabs in my deed log. There’s also a lot to be said for going back to lore and explorer deeds to gain a greater knowledge of and appreciation for a region. (And yes, slayer deeds are always the last ones I have left to finish).

    I started this deeding session knocking out a huge sticking point in my deed log progress. For multiple years now, I’ve had one unfinished South Mirkwood deed that’s been bugging me, sitting on an otherwise perfectly empty page. I don’t know if you guys remember when Roving Threats were introduced (I had to look up the year: it was November 2014), but they were a decently big deal, with enough interesting rewards that there were frequently pick up groups recruiting in World chat (was this before World chat? Huh, looks like /world was added one update before RTs. GLFF cannot have been phased out six years ago, excuse me while I have a crisis).

    I saw RTs 1) as a fun new thing to take part in, and 2) an accessible, not very difficult form of group content to try, so I joined a fair amount of RT pick up groups over the course of a few months, trying to get the deeds done as well as collect enough barter tokens to get cool stuff. Side note about said cool stuff: I have a bunch of the housing tapestry rewards still displayed in my house, and now that I think about it, I think both of my first age LIs may have been gotten with RT tokens?

    Anyway, to circle back around to the actual point: in late 2014 and early-mid 2015, I finished every related deed and helped defeat every Roving Threat in the game except for Southern Mirkwood’s Ghámgur. Here’s his Lotro-wiki page: you may notice he has 2 million morale, an occasional anti-kiting run speed buff, and, most importantly, a constantly stacking +50% damage buff. This was killer to my PUG that tried to tackle him on-level (ie. at 100): we wiped at least twice, honestly probably three times, and then people decided to move on because it wasn’t working. So my “3 out of 4” Mirkwood RT deed sat in my deed log for like five years, unfinished: I hung onto the quest for just as long, and at higher levels I’d periodically think about trying it solo, but would be dissuaded because hunters are squishy and dude has > 2 mil morale.

    Well… turns out I could have finished it up probably as early as two years ago. It should be self-evident by now, but I finally did find and kill Ghámgur. Honestly, it was kind of anticlimactic: he was in the second place I checked, and with an initial Camouflage-Focus-Heartseeker crit setup (and my skirm healer summoned, and using move-and-shoot blue line!), the fight was over in maybe a minute. I think I’d forgotten how severely overpowered character stats have become when compared to every enemy created pre-Mordor expansion. I fumbled the screenshot right as I defeated him, so I don’t have a shot of his corpse (that sounds so morbid, sorry), but I do have this record of my quest turn-in (FINALLY!).

    Judge my UI and quick slot setup, I guess?

    It’s a pretty low-key anecdote, all things considered, but I am honestly super psyched that I finally finished this freaking quest and fully cleared out my Mirkwood deeds. It’s the little things, you know? I felt the same way when I finished the Volume 2 epilogue by figuring out how to do most of the group quests solo.

    This post isn’t just going to be big-ass trolls in Mirkwood (I don’t know what else I could even scrounge up for that topic): I did move on to some other stuff once I’d finished that up. As I mentioned, my current in-progress deed tab is West Rohan, where I just have a handful of slayer deeds left to clear. So next, I grabbed a slayer deed boost and decided, for no particular reason, to tackle Crebain-slayer in the Broadacres Snagfen (per the guidance of Lotro-wiki, all hail our lord and savior Lotro-wiki). To go there, I ported to Helm’s Deep—and, as one does, got distracted by the landscape and wandered around for ten minutes feeling an existential appreciation for this game.

    Hunter next to hunter.

    I don’t know what spurred this, exactly, but when I ported into Helm’s Deep I was just struck by how lively and detailed the atmosphere felt, and how big and immersive the settlement and the lands beyond seemed, so I decided to run around the area for the first time in a while to acknowledge that feeling properly.

    It’s not flashy like Forochel or Lorien, but Helm’s Deep actually has a great color palette.
    Framed a little weirdly so I could include Theoden in the top left.

    Like, the fact that you can just go around the corner and find this group of guys dancing and drinking together, enjoying themselves despite the fact that one of Middle-Earth’s greatest battles is threatening to crash over their heads? There’s something special in finding those little moments, even (and maybe even more so?) when they’re in a digital universe.

    Alright, this is a mood-killer, but after that sentimental break, I stabled off to shoot some crebain. For reference, Lotro-wiki’s listed location of the Broadacres Snagfen is in fact a good place to knock out the deed: there’s a decent number of crebain there, and they’re in a wide enough loop for you to stay just behind the respawn timer. It’s kind of scenic at the right angle, too.

    The Snagfen

    Slayer deeds are slayer deeds: I don’t need to spend any more time on that. While in the area, though, I did steal some glances at my old friend the Beacon of Eaworth, which was just across the river. Yes, I’m one of those people that loves parkour quests. My friend and I literally just did Ridge-racer last week.

    Just looking…

    I finished up crebain, but I still had some time left on the slayer deed boost, so I headed over to Wildermore to work on Wood-troll Slayer—which is, frankly, a pain in the ass and a deed I’ve tried to finish a few times before. I only made it tolerable by 1) using the 2x deed boost, 2) moving in a constant loop between two clumps of trolls (again, the areas listed on Lotro-wiki), and 3) listening to a new album to keep myself engaged (Kiki by Kiana Ledé is lowkey what I wanted Kehlani’s newest album to sound like). I got some nice screenshots out of it, though, and did finish the deed (I guess I lied by accident when I said I’d cleared everything up to West Rohan, but Wood-troll Slayer was my last deed left in Wildermore anyways).

    Pensive Hunter Staring
    More Pensive Hunter Staring

    Remember when I said I glanced at the Beacon of Eaworth when I was in the Broadacres? That was foreshadowing—for no reason other than I had free time and wanted to do it, I next did a nostalgic climb up the Beacon.

    We’ve reached my third outfit in one blog post.

    I did it by memory, no guide consultation required (unlike my first time up), and saying that makes me wonder how many times I’ve actually climbed the Beacon. I didn’t do much of the Hytbold grind when it was endgame, so it can’t actually be that many—maybe high single-digits? For some people that’s probably a lot, though: I remember the days when Captains would be advertising summons to the top of the Beacon in world chat.

    Yes, I did Ridge-racer recently; yes, I climbed the Beacon recently; yes, a few weeks ago I redid Ost Galadh Tower-climber just for fun. Parkour objectives can be frustrating (I understand why some players really don’t like having to do them), but I love the sense of accomplishment when you finally get to the top! Like I mentioned, I had to follow a guide the first time I did this quest, and it took a bunch of tries (mostly because I had to learn not to overcorrect when jumping between the wood planks), but it felt so good when I finally made it all the way up.

    Looking down at where I just was in the Snagfen

    I think that hidden deed you get for jumping into specific bottomless pits in Moria is the exact opposite of these parkour challenges. Speaking of hurling yourself off Moria cliffs—I did in fact jump straight off the side of the Beacon to get down. Whee.

    The best part is that I didn’t even die.

    I’m almost wrapped up with this deed log, but I made one more quick stop before I logged off for the afternoon. I noticed that I was at 14 out of 15 in the Vales of Anduin A Chronicle of the Company deed, and having one spot left is basically a freebie, so I quickly checked the location and ported over to the Vales. The one I hadn’t discovered was “Where Bilbo returns home”: it’s all the way up in the top left of the map, near the pass to the Misties. On my way there, in a small section of the Vales I obviously hadn’t been to before, I rode by a pond that had a tiny flat patch of land on the opposite bank. Hmm, I thought. Seems like an out-of-the-way area hiding a treasure chest. And it actually was!

    I kept going and discovered the last place for the Chronicle of the Company deed, then rode a little further northwest, since I’d noticed I also had yet to discover the High Pass that would finish another Vales exploration deed. This pass is actually what connects the Misties and the Vales: if you go through to the other side, there’s a Beorning guard who warns you that the land beyond his post is dangerous and should not be traversed lightly (as a warning for low-level players, I’m sure).

    Interestingly, the coordinates for these two locations are hugely different: the Vales High Pass is at [10.1N, 65.6W], and while I can’t find the exact coordinates for the Misties side out-of-game, the nearby NPCs outside Goblin-town are at [21.4S, 5.9E]. That’s quite a distance to cover: I feel kind of bad for making Mountainsong go between the portals twice.

    That’s it for this first installation of Deed Logs: I hope it was at least occasionally entertaining to read my ramblings about this relatively random selection of ingame tasks. My next post in this vein (not sure if it’ll be my next post chronologically or not) will be about Mountainsong going back and finishing the Gorgoroth Lost Lore quests, and the miscellaneous discoveries and experiences I had along the way. Until next time!

  • Journal: Weatherstock 2020

    My main character is on Brandywine, but I’ve had an alt on Landroval since 2014. I’ve only started questing semi-regularly on that character (Willamae) in the last year or two, but before that I’d occasionally log into Landroval for social purposes—and, of course, I’d stop by Weatherstock almost every year. There’s really no other player event in LotRO with the same sense of energy and camaraderie as Weatherstock: the feeling of looking into the crowd, watching people cheer and joke and sync up dances, seeing everyone flaunt their favorite cosmetics in the festival spirit, and understanding the dedication and sense of community that it takes for the event to come together on the scale that it does. And, of course, there’s great music too.

    I logged into LotRO at about the two-thirds point of Weatherstock this year and headed over to the Lone-lands for the usual climb up Weathertop (which has the same “I memorized this half a decade ago, but also I just forgot which way I’m supposed to turn” dynamic as the ride up to Rivendell). Then I got sidetracked for about fifteen minutes because I caught the Lone-lands at dawn looking prettier than I’ve ever seen before.

    The first point I decided to stop to capture the sky (feat. that one silver deposit over there).
    Who gave the brown plains region permission to have gorgeous glowing skies?

    I did keep riding up to the summit of Weathertop, just with a lot of pauses for carefully framed screenshots.

    Looking east from the lower slopes: shoutout to well-positioned bird flocks everywhere.
    Slightly further up: the stone structure is Naerost.

    Unsuprisingly, climbing Weathertop gives you a great view of the region’s landmarks: I had to look up Naerost just now (it’s been a while since I took a character through anything lower level than Evendim), but I remember Minas Eriol as that place with the spiders and the annoyingly stealthed wargs.

    Continuing to ascend and looking south at Minas Eriol. Willamae makes an appearance!
    The western Lone-lands: Candaith’s camp is somewhere down in the area blocked by the rock.

    Just one more landscape shot before I get to the event itself: this screenshot is my favorite out of all the ones I took that day.

    Another view of Naerost, this time in the full dawn light.

    Finally, I rode up to the summit of Weathertop to join the fun. I arrived around the start of DisEnchanted’s set—and, to my absolute excitement, they happened to be playing “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa. My other major interest that I blog about on the internet is pop music, and “Don’t Start Now” is one of my absolute favorite songs of the last year, so this was almost an unfairly good start to my Weatherstock experience. DisEnchanted went on to play a few other contemporary pop songs, and I had fun dancing along to songs I recognized in a very different environment than my usual music listening.

    Arriving at Weatherstock: notice the rainbow in the back left!

    Next up were the Remediators. As their set started, my real-life friend (character name Madelenne) arrived on Weathertop to join the fun. I also noticed that just behind where I was standing, there was a chicken session player chilling on top of the wall. First of all, that player and any other people who attended as chickens are icons, and seeing this also brought back memories of the few times where I’ve seen horse session players hanging out in the crowd. Maybe next time I’ll go as a horse? Oh, but then how could I show off my cosmetic outfits? The dilemma. Anyway, the Remediators’ set was nice as always.

    Me, Madelenne (the hobbit in the foreground), and the chicken. Also a Bill the Pony pet.

    The other sets I watched were Polnolunie, P.I.E., and the Grayhawke Band. Of course I clapped and cheered plenty, and I also reminded myself what lots of the dance emotes look like (/dance_man is still my go-to, nothing tops the sassy claps).

    A nice shot from the stage perspective!
    A fun game to play with Weatherstock (and other community event) screenshots is to look for characters who are matching their dances with each other.

    Madelenne also saw a hobbit right next to us in the crowd who looked amusingly similar to her own character.

    All told, I stayed at Weatherstock for about an hour and fifteen minutes—much less than some attendees, I’m sure, but enough time for me to revel in the atmosphere and get a solid dose of ingame fun! (Plus, I did have other things to do, but I’ll spare you the account of me going to Bree afterwards for inventory management, because that was mostly me sitting in silence and realizing I had to do LI upkeep).

    Weatherstock is always an impressive, enjoyable achievement, and this year was no different: the music was good, the crowd was lively, and the scene on Weathertop was vibrant. Until next year!

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