Monday, May 19, 2014

Lord of the Rings: Exploration Angst

You existed before the rain? Does that mean you existed before the earth had a hydrosphere? What did you drink back then?

Lord of the Rings has me asking a question that I rarely ask when playing an RPG: How do I know I'm encountering all the important stuff?

CRPGs have a variety of ways to ensure that players don't simply bypass key NPCs, encounters, and items:

1. Limited number of tiles. The default for the first decade of RPGs was to construct a world with a limited number of explorable tiles. If the player wants to make sure he hits everything, he just makes sure to step on each tile. This dynamic is found mostly in first-person games like Might & Magic and Pool of Radiance, but we occasionally see it in a top-down game like Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan.

2. Environmental signaling. So you have a continuously-moving world or even a tile world so large that you probably can't hit every tile (such as most top-down tile-based RPGs from the 1980s). How do you ensure that the player hits every encounter? You make the people and icons with which he can interact extremely visible, standing out against the overall bland background. Examples include the very obvious towns and keeps of Ultima IV and Ultima V and the way that key NPCs stand out from drab commoners in Baldur's Gate

This game in no way signaled me that this tree was important. I just happened to be lucky enough to walk up to it. How many important trees have I missed?

3. Facilitate exploration. For large, continuously-moving worlds where some of the encounter locations might be non-obvious, the game can assist you in a variety of ways that facilitate exploration, including automaps that slowly reveal, obvious paths and routes of travel, and breaking the game world into small, discrete maps that are easy to explore in their entirety. This is the most common strategy in adventure games and hybrids, like Elvira and Hero's Quest; we also see it in a lot of modern games, like Dragon Age.

4. Quests. Quest-oriented games make things easier by letting you know there is a specific person to talk with, or a specific thing to find, within a map--ensuring that you won't stop searching until you locate it. Some games even provide obvious quest markers.

5. Making the consequences of missing something unimportant. I suppose some players embark on a game like Skyrim insisting that they will talk to every NPC, find every item, and solve every quest, but they must get exhausted fairly quickly. In a huge and open world like Tamriel, the developers simply have to make most items, people, and encounters ancillary to the main quest--fun if you stumble upon them, but not tragic if you don't.

Various games mix and match these strategies. Baldur's Gate and its sequel both have relatively small maps with automaps (#3) and highlight chests and barrels you can actually open when you hit the ALT key (#2). NetHack has both a limited number of tiles (#1) but also lets you see from a distance what you're likely to find on those tiles (#2). Oblivion's dungeons (as opposed to the overworld) are small enough to systematically explore (#3); it has markers for the quest locations (#4); and it makes it clear which items are indispensable relics and which you can save inventory weight by not picking up (#5).

Lord of the Rings has been giving me a lot of angst, and I realize it's largely because it has none of these features. The maps are continuously-moving and huge, so they're tough to explore systematically. There are no quest logs or lists that let you know what you still have to do in an area. There's no automap. It's impossible for me to separate key quest items from spurious junk. I suppose the only saving grace is #5--perhaps a lot of the encounters I'm missing are entirely optional, and have no bearing on my ability to win the game. But I simply don't have that kind of faith yet.

Luckily, I happened to walk into the right area to find this item. If I'd skirted the north part of the cave, I would have missed it.

Many key encounters are triggered by happenstance when you wander into a particular section of the map, and even then only under certain conditions. For instance, in the last post, I noted about finding the elves and the ELBERETH word, "the area where I encounter them seems to have a certain probability of producing a Nazgul . . . and a certain probability of triggering the elf encounter." A reader alerted me that, in fact, the elf encounter always happens if you're walking west when you enter the area of trigger pixels, and the Nazgul encounter always happens if you're walking east. This is on top of having to stumble into the right set of pixels in the first place. I now know what an anonymous commenter meant when he said that this game "can be very unforgiving to players without a walkthrough."

There are other sources of angst. There seems to be no reliable way to heal all my characters (save making the long walk back to Hobbiton to purchase rations). Throughout this last expedition, every combat bled a few more hit points from one or more party members, until I was at the point I was constantly reloading because every hit was killing me. At some point, however, my hit points did all spontaneously regenerate for no reason I could tell. I didn't even notice when it happened. I don't like this kind of inconsistency and unpredictability. I like games where I know I can periodically return to town, sell my excess equipment, buy new equipment, train, and heal.

When I wrote last time, I was stuck in the Shire because I'd missed a key gate to the Old Forest and the only other exit was blocked by a Nazgul I couldn't defeat. When readers alerted me to the gate, I visited it, found out I needed a key, returned to Brandy Hall, found it, and ultimately let myself out.

I wish more parts of the game were this overt in their hints.

Leaving the Shire produced a multi-screen cartoon sequence recounting the fate of Fatty Bolger, who had stayed behind, posing as Frodo to throw off the Nazgul. (I guess he's in the book but not the films.) Meanwhile, my party arrived in the maze of the Deep Forest.

The game oversold the perils of the forest a bit. I didn't even have to follow the long set of directions I'd received from a book in Brandy Hall. I just had to go east for a few minutes and help a songbird tied to a tree. As a reward, he opened a secret door out of the forest. But this was yet another encounter that I had to be lucky enough to trigger by walking close to the relevant tree. I could have easily missed it entirely.
The "previously unseen" hole is apparently large enough for three hobbits, a dwarf, and a pony.

The rest of the map consisted of four major encounter areas:
1. A long road leading across the north of the map from the Shire to the next map (Bree, I assume). This is where I would have emerged if I'd defeated that Nazgul instead of taking the forest gate. The road was full of encounters with wolves and bandits that sapped my hit points. (I had the option to give my gold to the bandits, but who does that?)
What if I do want trouble?
2. "Sharkey's Shipping," a couple of buildings whose owners are apparently in league with Saruman. There was a store on top and a couple of dungeon levels beneath the main building where I fought a bunch of guards and orcs, freed a hobbit prisoner named Nob Appledore, destroyed an evil book, and recovered an artifact called the "Golden Wheel" that the orcs had been desperate to dig up. It apparently has something to do with finding "Durin's Axe" in Moria.
The "White Hand" appears again as an item you can buy in a store. Saruman's allies aren't doing a very good job concealing their presence.
On this map, Athelwyn revealed herself to be a witch in league with Grimbosh, the manager of the place. When I entered his room, she left my party and switched sides. Fortunately, she didn't use magic in the ensuing combat, and I killed her. I'm curious what would have happened if I hadn't wandered into this particular room. Would she have stayed with me until the end?

If you surrender the Ring, the game immediately ends.

After I left the main "Sharkey's Shipping" building, I found a journal in another building that gave me a password that would have prevented some of the battles with humans and orcs. The danger of doing things out of the game's chosen order.

3. The Barrow Downs, which I remember from the book. I had a bunch of encounters with barrow wights that occasioned many, many reloads before I defeated them. I recovered a variety of treasures from the barrows, but I'm not convinced I hit every encounter or did everything the most optimal way. Among other things, there's this barrow I can figure out no way to enter:
At one point while I was exploring, the entire area became shrouded in gray and my party members disappeared one by one. Eventually, I was taken, too, and I awoke in a barrow with a wight about to sacrifice me. The only way I could figure out to escape (after multiple deaths) was to use the HELPHELP word of power, which summoned Tom Bombadil, who freed me and helped me against the wights before disappearing at the exit. He didn't cleave in their heads with an axe or anything; he drove them away with some goofy song.

Using a word of power.

4. The residence and environs of Tom Bombadil, perhaps (let the flame wars commence) the most idiotic character in Lord of the Rings. My advice for writers is that if you're going to invent a near-omnipotent character who's supposed to be older than any other living thing, don't name him "Tom." It breaks the suspension of disbelief a bit.

In the game, Tom asks me for the Ring. If I give it to him, he does a little trick and makes it disappear, then gives it back to me. The game plays some triumphant music at that point, but I don't know what I accomplished. Did he steal it and give me a replacement? That would be a neat twist.
If he's so damned powerful, why doesn't he take it to Mordor?
I never got to fully explore dialogue options with Tom, as the moment I left his room, he disappeared and never returned. Despite his great age and power, he seems unaware that his wife, Goldberry, is deathly ill upstairs in the bedroom. She asked me to find some lilies to cure her.

Unfortunately, the nearby pond where she normally gets lilies is frozen over, and the only place to recover them is from the spirit of Withywinde in a cave. Withywinde asks for some kind of token from the person who sent me to her, and this is where I'm stuck. When I first encountered Goldberry, the paragraph read:

Tom's wife, the beautiful Goldberry, is here. She is lying in bed, ill. Beside her, a blackened willow leaf floats in a bowl of stinking water. "My lilies..." she whispers. "My special pool lies south of this house. Please...bring me lilies. Take this token and whatever you may need from this house." She offers you her token, a golden leaf pasted against oak bark.
Sounds great, but this token never appeared in my inventory, and it's not in the room when I use the "get" command. Without it, I don't think I can get her lilies. I have no idea if this is a vital quest to progress, but it's emblematic of the frustration I have with the game. I'm currently dithering around, trying to figure out whether to restart, move on, or keep trying to find an alternate solution.

There's also this wall of ice I can't get past. Torches don't melt it.

A few miscellaneous notes:

  • Yes, Frodo can wear the Ring and does turn invisible. Fortunately, the game doesn't pester me with a flaming eye shouting "I . . . see . . . you" everywhere I go. But using the ring costs me 1 willpower point every time I put it on, and enemies still happily attack my other party members, so the utility of the item seems limited.
  • My pony can attack enemies in combat. I don't know whether he's biting them or using his hooves.

  • Perhaps even more nonsensically, the pony accompanies me into every building, room, and dungeon. When my characters use "sneak," he somehow sneaks.
  • Similar to encounters not triggering unless you hit a particular area of pixels, you can't collect items from a room until you get the message that "you have found something that you can use," and you can't interact with locked chests until you get the message that you've found them.

I could see it from a screen away!
  • In combat, if characters fall below 6 life points, they go "unconscious" and lose a point every round until they hit 0, when they die. But if the party finishes the combat before that happens, the characters will regenerate to a minimum of 6 points and automatically wake up.
  • The manual indicates that there is no mechanism to resurrect dead characters. I guess no particular character, not even Frodo, must survive, but it seems wrong to let canonical characters stay dead. I've been reloading.

In good conscience, how could I continue without Sam?

  • In one of the barrows, I finally found some decent weapons: "barrow daggers." Most of my party members are equipped with these; Druin has his axe; Pippin has a bow; and Sam now has a "spider sword" I found in a cave. I have an extra sword awaiting another character getting the sword skill. I still have no decent armor.
  • Even as a non-fan of the books, I object a bit to the idea of the little hobbit band doing so much fighting and killing before they even get to Rivendell. Sam is supposed to slowly and reluctantly evolve from a gardener to a warrior, and I have him killing humans within the first few hours of the game.

He even looks depressed about it.

  • Mystifying items in my inventory: various gems (can I sell them later?), a "springstone" that I dug up on one of the barrows, a "leaf belt" that I can't equip; a red acorn; a signet ring that I found way back in the Shire.
  • I hope there are stores in Bree because I have a ton of cash.
  • Torches never seem to run out.
  • I like that some puzzles have non-obvious solutions that you have to suss out based on your inventory or skills. Destroying this evil book, for instance, was a matter of selecting "use" on a torch. I suspect there were other solutions, too.

  • I still can't tell you much about magic. I only had a spellcaster (Athelwyn) for a brief time, and I only had her cast a couple of spells (which deplete life points) before she betrayed me and died.

The game has some good elements, but I'm already getting frustrated with it, so I might divert to something else for one post while I wait for any hints about Goldberry and/or decide what to do next.


  1. Maybe this will help: there isn't a single "main quest" in this game. if you skip any quest, you can still finish the game, and in many different ways. The game is mostly free flow. In fact, in some places, you may find new quests after returning to an area - I walked back from Lothlorien all the way to Bree and found new things.

    Same for items: there's really nothing essential (besides The Ring)

    As for your current issues:

    1) Get rations etc to heal yourself. You can sleep in Bombadil's house (repeatedly I think) for the same effect. There will be something similar in Bree.

    2) You need magic to pass the ice wall. Since you don't have Athelwyn anymore, wait until you have another magic caster and return.

    3) There are shops in Bree, although I don't really remember nothing of much use for sale (except rations etc)

    4) Signet ring is a quest item. Red acorn too. As I mentioned, there's no fatal error possible in this game: if you can sell an item and want to sell it, by all means.

    5) Don't feel too attached to poor, weak hobbits. You will find better replacements, canon characters too!

    6) Athelwyn is not the only deceiving NPC you'll find available for recruitment. Watch your back, it's a hobbit-eat-hobbit world out there! ;)

    1. Thanks. It does help a little. I perhaps need to adjust my perspective on the game a bit. I have a feeling this is one of those games whose "deal" doesn't become clear until you win.

    2. Only actual advice for the game, play it like Skyrim in top-down perspective. XD

  2. Don't worry about missing key things. The game is hugely non linear, as surprising as it would seem. I never even did the Old Forest and Barrow Wights in my playthrough. Only things I can remember that are mandatory

    1. The ringbearer must have an !Elbereth spell as he leaves Bree. As said earlier, he will be in a situation that will be uncompletable if he hasn't.
    2.You must have Gandalf alive and in your party as you cross Moria, for obvious reasons. Actually, this is not even mandatory except a lot of deaths might occur if you don't.
    3. You need to complete the final quest of the game and beat the final opponent.

    Those are the only three things required for seeing the end screen. But yes, try to keep most of your party alive. You will need it.

    1. !Luthien works as well.

      The token thing must be some kind of bug because Goldberry indeed gives it to you and you need to give it to the Withywindle. Also the Springstone is related to this quest.

    2. Where is this place that !Elbereth or !Luthien are needed?

      1) Goldberry doesn't give you any token. You need to Get it. There should be a message with that information "There is a token here"

      2) Moria is bypassable. Also, that-place-where-Gandalf-is-needed is perfectly doable without him. I did it with the death of one minor character - still preferable than losing Gandalf himself.

    3. The Ford of Bruinen.

      Ok, I mean that, she gives/lefts it for you, CRPG Addict already stated that there is nothing in the room to take, that's why it looks like it is a bug.

    4. You can bypass Moria ? How?

    5. Right. I tried "get" after the first encounter with Goldberry, and there was no token to be had. HOWEVER, the problem may be the lead character's inventory was full. The game makes no distinction in reaction or sound between "there's nothing here to pick up" and "there's something here, but you can't pick it up," which has probably gotten me in trouble more than once. Since then, I've cleared inventory space and returned, but either it really is a bug or I needed to pick it up the first time I was in the room.

  3. This game sounds like a real headache. Not sure whether knowledge of Tolkien would make it better or worse - it might impose a vague sense of goals/direction on all the nonlinearity, but that would only introduce more question marks: should I press on to Rivendell (as I expect I'm supposed to from the story), or go wandering around the Shire in hopes of finding another miscellaneous side quest I haven't yet encountered? That's unfortunate, because I imagine what they were going here was the possibility to really inhabit the epic world, and have the saga of the Ring play out somewhat differently than it did in the book. That's cool, but maybe comes up against the limits of CRPGs versus a table-top scenario, where the DM could roll with the punches of the players' actions and help them write a new story, without them even knowing there was a bunch of other content they didn't happen to bump into.

    Another problem, which you've already hit on, is that the kind of story CRPGs tell well isn't the kind of story that Tolkien actually tells, in which our protagonists are nonviolent by nature, more or less helpless ballast in many chapters (especially early on). In fact the importance of their achievement lies in the fact that they succeed while, and by, remaining (in meaningful ways) gardeners and breakfast-savorers. A world where you let all the hobbits die off and replace them with higher-stat fighters and wizards - or one where you build a hobbit up into an invincible god among men - just isn't Tolkien's world, though it might be a more fun game. That doesn't mean no good game could ever come out of this universe, just that plenty would have to get translated or scrapped. Tom Ewing writes, well, about some of these issues with regard to tabletop roleplaying - I recommend that whole series.

    Obligatory Tolkien pedantry: Tom Bombadil is his name as the Hobbits know him (and they know very little about him). The idea of having him deal with the Ring is raised at the Council of Elrond and quickly rejected on the grounds that, being a kind of nature spirit operating at a higher plane, Bombadil wouldn't really grasp the urgency of the Ring problem and would most likely end up forgetting the thing in a stump somewhere.

    The barrow-daggers turn out to be of extreme importance in the plot of the book (an extremely long payoff that I suspect sends many first-time readers flipping back wildly to remember where the heck those daggers came from and why they were supposed to matter). I have no idea if they have any such significance in the game; my guess would be if they're not being telegraphed as quest items, then they could be safely equipped or tossed as weapons on their own merits. But again, I've never played this.

    1. That is an interesting point on the differences between table-top versus computer RPGs. A computer game world is fixed, so instinctively it's completable. There's definitely not that same sense of "do everything" in pen and paper. I wonder if there's a good way to ease that tension.

    2. Zenic,

      "Finite and Infinite Games" by James Carse explains the difference between CRPGs and table top RPGs fairly well. CRPGs can never not be finite (even MMOs) because they are designed with progression and completion in mind. This gives rise to the "do everything" mentality you describe. On the other hand, table top RPG rules are designed to ensure that play never has to end. Progression is part of play, but there is no achievable end state. You can't win D&D.

    3. doctorcasino, great comment and great perspective, and I appreciate the additional information from the books. Your second paragraph is exactly what I was trying to get at. I remember the same dissonance when I played some variation of Willow for probably the NES back in the late 1980s. Willow was going along blasting everything with a wand, and I couldn't shake that the game completely missed the spirit and point of the film.

    4. Thanks, Chester.

      I suppose another way of putting it would be that it's less that it doesn't feel true to Tolkien, and more that it doesn't feel true to the reasons why people enjoy and relate to the books. A game structured like this could probably scratch a lot of CRPG itches, but if one bought the game with the vague idea that it'd be like living out the adventures one enjoyed in the books, it'd inevitably disappoint. In truth, the best way to 'live' The Lord of the Rings is to read the books. The films, I think, foundered on some of the same problems, though overall I think they were about as good of an adaptation as one could possibly imagine (especially the first, which is the most hobbit-ish and the least CRPGish). I suspect other areas of the Ring story could survive this treatment; for example you could be a group of hitherto unheralded Gondorian warriors gearing up for the big battles, evading Nazgul, keeping the border secure, and maybe addressing some substantial side threat we never really heard much about before.

      Kizor's discussion of the "War of the Rings" game, below, reminds me that there's really a Tokienish precedent for this - Gandalf's "off-camera" activities in The Hobbit, sketched out a bit in the LOTR appendices (and foolishly turned into tone-wrecking padding in the new Hobbit films). It turns out he was off dealing with a disguised incarnation of Sauron called the Necromancer, whose activities in turn explain why Mirkwood was so creepy and dangerous (beyond just being a Scary Old Forest, as seems to have been Tolkien's intention when he was writing the original book). If the game was going to invent so much non-canonical plot anyway, it might as well have conjured up some similar challenges and threats, rather than making you feel like you're participating in the bastardization of Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin...

    5. The thing is that you can play the game almost exactly as it is narrated in the first book (except for the last part after Lorien and some minor things) evading combat, following exactly the same path (Green Hills, Ferry, Buckland, Old Forest, The Barrow-Downs, Bree, Wheatertop, etc) and with the same encounters and scenes from the book.

      But also there are a lot of non-canonical stuff that is not by all means necesary to complete the game and that the game does not force you to do or explore (Moria is a good example, it's huge but you can follow exactly the same path as in the book and forget the many "Deeps" and quests it has). So you have kind of both worlds, for the purist (again, except for the last part and a quest regarding Anduril) and for the gamers.

      I'm a huge fan of the books and I'm not quite fond with the movies, but I really like what they did with this game (Ok, not so fan of the last part and of some technical things like the inventory management), not saying that it couldn't be better but for me is a good enough game adaptation.

    6. I've always thought that LOTR was a based on the World Wars. I'm not sure who's who but I think Gandalf is Churchill and Tom Bombadil is Einstein. Er... I think. And the One Ring's the atom bomb.

    7. You would be wrong. Not only was the text largely completed by 1943 or 1943, Tolkien abolutely DESPISED all forms of allegory, and his fury at people making exactly the claim you're making is legendary, to the point where all later editions of the book contain a preface by him laying this out plainly, followed by a summary of what the work would look like if it had been based on the historical events.

    8. Yeah, saw that wordy preface on The Silmarillion but never read it.

      In fact, I usually skip most of his extremely wordy parts of the story. Don't they have competent editors in the 40s?

  4. Interesting game. It sounds as if it was made with love, but it also has flaws, maybe because of limited programming skills (you always need to get to the trigger point - which shows the limited range of the interface) or because of inexperience with CRPG mechanics. But it's interesting to read.

  5. It (understandable) sounds like your knowledge of the Tolkein world is affecting how you expect the game to play out in a negative way. However, if this were set in a different fictional world with the same basic plot, then you would want and expect to be able to wander around the starting area to get experience and solve minor side quests.

    1. No, I disagree. I think the variances from the book are interesting enough to comment on, but I'm not invested enough in LOTR as a book to care about these deviations. What's affecting how I experience the game in a negative way is that to get those "minor side quests," I have to be sure I stand on a specific group of pixels next to a random tree.

    2. ... and enter those group of pixels from the N rather than W, or you may get a completely different event... that just boggles my mind.

    3. Maybe I'm wrong but I kind of remember that a NPC points to that tree (a tree near the pool or something like that) in order to find the Red Acorn. I think that it is Goldberry but i'm not sure.

      The Red Acorn is part of a quest so you can ask people about it. Looks like the problem is that you didn't find the one who gives you the quest.

    4. Also I don't think that the tree with the songbird tied is unfair, I see more like a way of rewarding exploration since there is another way out of the Old Forest (and described in one book in Brandy Hall) although much longer.

  6. I read someone else's playthrough of the game (forget whose now) and can answer a few of your questions.

    There are several points in the game where Athelwyn will betray you if she's in your party. In fact, getting to some of them is a real challenge because of how hard it is to avoid previous points. (There's also at least one point where she will permanently leave the party but not betray them, presumably because under the circumstances her chances of successful betrayal are very low.) That said, it is possible to get her to the end of the game.

    The Goldberry quest is bugged in at least one version of the game in the way you describe, so I'd just move on.

    1. Thanks for the information about Athelwyn. Between this and a few other comments, it appears the programmers anticipated more variances in gameplay than I gave them credit for.

    2. Choices and consequences... what LOTR and Wasteland did in the 90s that current AAA games still fail to accomplish.

  7. On your list of ways that CRPGs guide players to important areas, NPCs, quests, etc...

    I would suggest another common method, though you may not see it as different from #2. Many RPGs use relative difficulty to guide players to where the designers want them to go. Gothic 1 and 2 come to mind. In Gothic 2, for example, the first half of world is fully explorable from the get-go, but many areas are full of monsters that beginning characters have little chance of defeating. Through trial and error (and copious deaths), beginning characters will be pushed toward important NPCs and quests simply because they lie at the end of paths that are guarded by weaker monsters.

    1. Yes, that's a good one. It's a slightly different angle (I was talking more about finding the encounters in the first place), but it is an effective way to subtly guide players on a sensible path.

    2. Takes me back to playing Gothic 1 as a teenager, grinding terrorbirds in the forrest on a very low level, and wolves making me run like hell back to the city guards.

      Made for some good exploration, just trying to test the monsters (and the engine) to find out exactly where you could and where you couldn't go yet.
      Also a one buggy game with very poor controls..

    3. I always hated that approach, because the only way to find out you're in the wrong place is to die and reload, and savescumming should never be the expected behaviour, it's just bad design. But Gothics have it even worse, because it's not the matter of what level your character is but rather what armor/spells he has, and those are strictly tied to main quest progression. I mean - what's the point of having an open (if small) world only to make areas still open up at specific points in the plot?

    4. @VK, I honestly thought the same of Gothic when I first played it, but I started to appreciate the design more once I realized I could just go somewhere else and come back later. In truth, I really liked the approach once I got used to it. It encouraged me to map out as much of the world as I could, then look at the areas I couldn't get through and think about ways to conquer them.

      It's also unfair to say that parts of the world are closed just because the monsters in those places are tough. A big part of the Gothic 1/2 combat system came down to player skill. If you were good enough at the game to defeat the monsters that were tougher than your level the reward was overpowered loot. You could also sneak into harder areas and steal everything, or just run in, grab stuff and run out.

  8. There's a board game out there called War of the Ring. It also adds events that never happen in the book, but unlike ice walls near the Shire, many of them feel like alternate history. One of the hobbits can be sent back to the Shire from Rivendell, Gimli can bring the book from Moria to the dwarves and rouse them to war, the Fellowship can cross that mountain and avoid Moria entirely, and (of all things) Sauron can attack Tom Bombadil.

    These things "could" have happened in the book, and some of them were even brought up in it - Elrond wanted to send Merry and Pippin home.

    Other events happen like they did in the book, still others can play out differely: Aragorn using the Palantir to bait Sauron has a risk of killing Aragorn. If you have the right expansion, the Ents might march on the forces besieging Lorien.

    It's an interesting comparison to the plot-twisting going on in this RPG. I suppose the operative word is "can": most of the things are mentioned happen through event cards that are not at all mandatory to play. if Gimli hit a plot trigger in this RPG and left the party to do something that went completely against the book, it'd be ridiculous.

  9. You say you have the Springstone? How did you find it without the Ruddy Oak tree in your party?

    1. Somewhere--I think Brandy Hall--I'd read a book and gotten a hint to dig in a barrow southwest of the Old Forest for the stone. I didn't even know what it did when I dug it up, but it sounded important.

  10. Hello.

    First, great blog. It's great reading about all these old CRPGs from the perspective of a player, instead of a professional reviewer.

    Now, as a long time Tolkien fan, your jabs at ol' Tom & the like make me want to express my own opinions on this literary work. I hope you don't mind.

    I don't think Tom's real name is Tom, though I may be wrong, I'm not exactly a Tolkien scholar. And the reason he doesn't take the ring is because he sinply doesn't care. Tom meddling in these affairs would be like you stepping in to sort out a fight between ants. Sure, you CAN do it, but more often than not you wouldn't even notice, or if you did, you probably wouldn't care.

    Similarly, I think the reason Gandalf just doesn't get it all over with by himself, is because he wants to see if Middle-earth will be left in capable hands before he sails back to Valinor.

    Lord of the Rings, to me, reads like a passing of the torch between generations. Gandalf, Elrond & all the others have dealt with far greater threats, Sauron looking for the Ring is in a weakened state, so now it's the mortal races - the children - turn to finally sort things out for themselves.

    Gandalf & the others act pretty much like a caring father helping to guide a young son in taking his first steps in the adult world, not interfering too much, but ready to step in should things get out of control.

    The triumph of the mortal races signals their coming of age & a time when wizards, gods & elves are not needed any more & can go to their own secluded place in the world. You know, like an old toy stored safely away in an attic somewhere.

    In that last regard, Lord of the Rings is just a way more convoluted Winnie-the-Pooh.

    Which I also love.

    Try reading the books again with that in mind. It might help.

    Now, these games, well, they sound like utter crap. Lord of the Rings Online, on the other hand, is pretty good, a much better way to visit these locations on your PC.


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