December 31, 2011

A Hobbit Boating Adventure

One of my many favorite parts of The Shire is crossing the ford of The Water at Budgeford.  You are certain to be greeted by an elated Hobbit who, despite standing in a sinking canoe, is very happy to announce his activity.  "I'm having an adventure.  I've paddled all the way from Frogmorton!" he proudly announces to the Hobbit Watcher standing on the bank nearby.

Just another cute, random little NPC exchange, especially given that you can practically throw a rock and still hit Frogmorton just up the The Water?  Not at all, it's another of the many tiny little nods to Middle Earth lore that Turbine snuck in to the game.

If you stick around and listen to the full dialogue, you hear the following:

Townsperson says, ''I'm having an adventure. I've paddled all the way from Frogmorton!''

Watcher says, ''Are you trying to kill yourself? Get out of the water before you drown!''

Townsperson says, ''But I'm paddling to the Brandywine! My cousin in Buckland sent me this boat, and I'm going for a visit.''

Watcher says, ''You crazy Took, you're as mad as a Baggins!''

Townsperson says, ''I'm just trying to float my boat down the river. Come down and help me.''

Watcher says, ''I'm not getting in there. Besides, you have a hole in the bottom. You're not going anywhere. I know that much!''

In just these few lines of dialogue between a couple unnamed NPC's, we have a whoooole lot of lore.

In the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring, in the section Concerning Hobbits, we learn about the three primary "breeds" of Hobbits:  Fallohides, Harfoots, and Stoors.  Harfoots are the most numerous type of Hobbit, as Tolkien stated, "the most normal and representative" of all Hobbits.  As you can imagine, The Shire is full of Hobbits of the Harfoot strain.

The Fallohides, on the other hand, seemed to gravitate toward adventure.  You may have a bunch of Harfoots living in one place, but more likely than not their leaders were Fallohides.  Remember that the first settlers of The Shire were led by the Fallohide brothers, Marcho and Blanco, as previously mentioned in my article about the Hobbit Archers at Fornost.  Both the Took and the Brandybuck families still demonstrate strong Fallohide tendencies.

The Stoor Hobbits were known for being a bit unusual, and many of the families who later settled in Buckland, on the edge of The Shire, had Stoor ancestors.  One of the many odd things about Stoors is they seemed to actually enjoy the water, and were the only Hobbits to "mess around" with boats.  Some could even swim!  No surprise given that they lived for many years along the banks of the Anduin.  The Brandybucks most definitely also had Stoor ancestors.

If you have read any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you also are aware that Hobbits can be a times against Hobbits who hail from different strains, treating them with a healthy dose of suspicion and skepticism, if not outright scorn.  We see this when old Gaffer Gamgee and friends are discussing Frodo Baggins and his origins.  Frodo did, after all, come from Buckland and though Baggins may be his last name, "he's more than half a Brandybuck," according to the locals in Hobbiton.

The Gaffer further informs us about the Brandybucks that "...they're a queer breed, seemingly.  They fool about with boats on that big river - and that isn't natural."  The fact that Frodo's father Drogo, a solid Baggins, went and married Primula Brandybuck (who also had Took blood in her, for goodness' sake!) should have tipped everyone off to what was destined to happen - both Drogo and Primula drowned while boating on the Brandywine.  Gasp!

So now you can deconstruct that bit of dialogue above and get the full richness of the context.  Here we have a crazy Took (all that Fallohide blood, remember), whose nutty cousin from Buckland (let's not go into how queer those Stoorish types are) sent him a boat and he's off on some tomfool adventure trying to drown himself in The Water.  The Watcher standing safely on the bank is clearly a solid Harfoot - she thinks he's stark raving mad to be messing around in the water, with a boat no less, and knows he'll probably kill himself.  But what more can you expect from Tooks and Bucklanders?  She also manages to get in a dig at the mad Baggins family as well, but that's nothing new in The Shire.

With that I'll wish everyone a Happy New Year.  Don't just stand on the bank - may you each have your own little joyous adventure in 2012!

Sources:  The Fellowship of the Ring

Dwaling and a Lost Lead Dog

In my prior post on the Bird and Baby Inn, I talked about the group of Hobbits who congregate in the back room, deep in literary discussion.  One very important Hobbit is missing, where in Middle Earth can he be?

If one takes a stable point from Michel Delving, over to Hobbiton, up through Overhill to Brockenborings, and then north to Oatbarton, you'll eventually discover a small village north of Oatbarton that has been overrun by brigands of the worst kind.  Dwaling was once a snug, peaceful little town inhabited by artisan glass blowers.  Recently much of the property in Dwaling was purchased by some mysterious Hobbit from the Westfarthing, who then sold it to some Big Folk, who subsequently turned out to be ruffians working for the equally mysterious "Sharkey" (or Sharku, as the half-orc properly calls him) and quite rude, to boot.  And the Hobbit who sold all the property in Dwaling to this band of no-gooders?  That naughty Lotho Sackville-Baggins.  No surprises there, eh?

The remaining residents of Dwaling have turned to a local Hobbit of respect who apparently has some good writing skills, Mr. Ronald Dwale, to help them draft a letter to the chief ruffian in Dwaling.  Mr. Dwale is none other than LOTRO's doppelganger of Professor Tolkien himself. A number of biographical sources state that his family called him "Ronald."

Your first meeting with Mr. Dwale may actually be to assist him in a quest to find a toy that his young son recently lost (Lost Dog).  Turbine has again wonderfully integrated an event from Professor Tolkien's life into the story line here.  In 1925, the Tolkien family went on a holiday to the Yorkshire coast, where one of his young sons lost a favorite toy lead dog.  Professor Tolkien created a short story about the lost toy dog, which was submitted for publication a decade later after The Hobbit had been accepted, yet was never published until many years later and after his death.  You may read more about Roverandom and the story of the little toy lead dog at Tolkien-Online.  In the world of LOTRO's Middle Earth, however, the destiny of the toy dog is a bit nastier - it appears to have been eaten by one of the Sand Nerbyg from the dunes of the Barandalf!  Washing it off in the Brandywine before returning it to Mr. Dwale might be a considerate thing to do.

Turbine gives us two additional chances to help the good Mr. Dwale.  He seems to have lost a page from his notes that contained the first lines of a story he has been working on.  Possibly one of the most important pieces of Hobbit literature - don't just stand there, go help him!  Although just imagine where we would all be if he hadn't chosen to edit that first line....

After you have assisted him, Mr. Dwale decides he had better take advantage of the flowing creative juices (and I'm sure we would all thank him for that) and skip meeting with his friends - none other than the group at the Bird and Baby Inn in Michel Delving. They are naturally a bit disappointed, and a couple of them had hoped to read from some of their own works.  But they are ultimately understanding friends in the end.

Jack Lewisdown expressing his disappointment.
A wonderful reward for assisting Mr. Dwale is a pipe that matches his own, and which emits a very pretty smoke shape!

Unfortunately you can only smoke his pipe once every hour; probably a good thing, as these Hobbits seem to be cloaked in smoke half the time - can't be healthy at all.
You may encounter Mr. Dwale twice more in your journeys through Middle Earth - he shows his linguistic skills during one of the chapters for the In Their Absence quest group.

Those lucky enough to be invited backstage at the G.L.O.B.E. theatre in Frostbluff may also catch a glimpse of him hurriedly finishing a play.

Leeowyn enjoying a smoke with Mr. Dwale.

December 29, 2011

Hobbit Archers at Fornost

Looking up into the city of Fornost.
Hobbits are known for being insular, generally preferring to keep to themselves, rarely traveling beyond the borders of The Shire.  Bree-land Hobbits are of course an exception, living side by side with the Big People.  But an exception nonetheless.  Hobbits for the most part have preferred to stick to their own territory and not mix with outsiders.

They do travel, of course.  Their ancestors traveled a great distance from the banks of the Anduin, across the Misty Mountains, some settling into parts of Bree-land and Dunland.  The two Fallohide brothers, Marcho and Blanco, received permission from the Arnorian King Argeleb II at Fornost to cross the Brandywine River and settle what became The Shire.  This was in the year 1601 of the Third Age, or the year 1 in Shire Reckoning. Ever wonder why The Shire is full of crumbling old ruins that look like they just miiiight have been made by Men?  Well, this is why!  The Shire was part of the Kingdom of Arthedain (and Arnor, before it was split up) long before Hobbits arrived on the scene!  Very nice touch, Turbine.

So for a few centuries, Hobbits of The Shire were subjects of the Kings of Arthedain at Fornost, and were responsible for guarding and maintaining the Brandywine Bridge for the kingdom (then called the Bridge of Stonebows).

In the year 1974, as the appendices to the LoTR trilogy show us, Fornost was overrun by the Witch King of Angmar and his forces.  This occured over 1000 years before the events of the War of the Ring in 3019.  When the kingdom of Arthedain fell, the Hobbits moved on and began their own system of stewardship, electing a Thain to run The Shire until the kingdom was restored.  Contact between the Hobbits of The Shire and men was largely sundered - many men forgot Hobbits existed, most Hobbits tried to avoid the Big People.  Somewhere in the mists of all those years, many therefore also forgot that Hobbits had actually gone to the aid of the King of Arthedain to help defend Fornost, and sent some Hobbit archers from The Shire.

Searching for Hobbit Arrowheads in Fornost
In LOTRO, if you travel to Fornost and elect to participate in the quests for the Fornost instance (a long instance, but very much worth it!), you will meet Bartelot and Penny Took, two modern-day Hobbits on an archaeological excursion of sorts, looking for evidence of the Hobbit participation in the defense of Fornost. You will be able to pick up a quest (The Forgotten Company) that will send you into Fornost looking for old arrowheads from those long-ago Hobbit archers.

By the way, Gondor and Rivendell did try to go to the aid of Arthedain - they just got there too late.  They did however still march to Fornost, and booted out the Witch King and his forces.  The Elf-lord Glorfindel was there, and made one of the most infamous prophecies in the War of the Ring lore:  "Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall."

So for those who may scoff at the ability of Hobbits to be Hunters in LOTRO, let this be a lesson to you!

Sources:  Appendix A, The Lord of the Rings trilogy

The Bird and Baby Inn

Again, this is old news to Tolkien enthusiasts, yet there are countless LOTRO players who still don't know this story.  I have been in and out of the Bird and Baby so many times this past week since Yule Fest started that I feel I almost live there, and of course I can't help but think of this wonderful nod to Tolkien himself that Turbine incorporated into the game.

Those of you who have been running in and out, drinking yourself dizzy on an Inn League quest or trashing ale barrels for the Ale Association (you daft cows!), have probably noticed the group of oddly named Hobbits who are congregating in the back room at the Bird and Baby Inn.  Those aren't just random Hobbit names, and there isn't a bunny rabbit hiding in the room just because it's, well, a weird animal to place inside a tavern.

These Hobbits represent The Inklings, the real-life literary group that Professor Tolkien was part of, along with other notable authors such as C.S. Lewis of the Chronicles of Narnia.  Professor Tolkien read early drafts from the LoTR trilogy to this group, and his own son, Christopher, became part of the informal group as well.

There is no "Bird and Baby Inn" to be found in Professor Tolkien's writings about Michel Delving.  Rather, Turbine cleverly adapted the nickname of the "Eagle and Child," the real-life pub in Oxford where the Inklings would often meet and which was frequently dubbed the "Bird and Baby" by its clientele.

Owen Farfield, Carlo Williams, and Jack Lewisdown
In the Lord of the Rings Online game, the Hobbits found here are Jack Lewisdown (C.S. "Jack" Lewis), Owen Farfield (Owen Barfield), and Carlo Williams (Charles Williams).  Read more about The Inklings and their own literary works on the Tolkien-Online site, and how the group was fit into LOTRO on LOTRO-Wiki.

And what about the bunny rabbit?  The back room at the Eagle and Child that The Inklings met in came to be known as the Rabbit Room.

But wait a minute - where is the most famous member of The Inklings himself?  Clearly nowhere to be found sitting around in the Bird and Baby.  But he's in LOTRO's Middle Earth, oh yes.  That, however, is the topic of another post.

Say hello to these men (er, Hobbits) as you pass by on your ale-related quests.  And if anyone can tell me what the open book on the table is, I would love to hear it!

Chicken Nuggets in LOTRO

The kin I am part of does an annual Free-Range chicken event to obtain the Crosser of Roads title; we'll probably do the next event in February, so I have just now started encouraging new kin members to take care of all of the preliminary quests in preparation, which has made my mind turn to the Chicken Lore Nuggets that can be found in abundance.  (It's just a bad pun, and I'm actually vegetarian anyway.)  If you are not familiar with Chicken Session Play in LOTRO, you are missing out!  I won't reinvent the wheel and describe it in detail here, you can learn more about it on LOTRO-Wiki.

One of the neat things about Chicken Play is it takes you through various regions of Middle Earth to talk to many animals, and get the animals' perspectives on the situation in Middle Earth.  What's fun is the fact that many of these animals come directly from various works of Professor Tolkien.  If you engage in Chicken Play, you can expect to meet:
Fang, Farmer Maggot, Hammy Maggot, Grip, and Wolf patrolling in the background.

  • The Fox in the Green Hill Country - Granted this fox has no name, but seeing as how we don't come across too many talking foxes in Middle Earth, I think chances are very good that this is the same fox who crossed paths with Frodo, Sam, and Pippin as they were leaving the Shire.  From the Fellowship of the Ring:  A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed.  "Hobbits!" he thought.  "Well, what next?  I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree.  Three of them!  There's something mighty queer behind this."  He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it.  Our Fox in LOTRO states the following:  "Now what is this? First three hobbits sleeping in the forest, and now a chicken?" 
  • Grip, Fang and Wolf - These are the dogs your chicken will encounter at Farmer Maggot's mushroom farm of Bamfurlong, located in The Marish in the Southeastern portion of the Shire in LOTRO.  And of course these are the same dogs that terrorize the Hobbits as they trespass on his land in Fellowship of the Ring.
  • Radagast the Brown - I don't think any explanation is needed here!  Your chicken will speak to Radagast in his room at Ost Guruth in the Lone Lands.
  • Roheryn -  Your chicken will find Roheryn near the Stable Master in Rivendell.  Roheryn is Aragorn's mount, who is brought back to him by his fellow Dunedain in the Return of the King, and accompanies Aragorn through the Paths of the Dead.  I guess he's just hanging out in Rivendell, eating Elvish hay or horse lembas, until he's needed.
  • Wink the Cat? - I have seen a lot of conjecturing about the cat-house in Bree, but ultimately I don't think it is a Lore nugget, just cute.  In fact, I believe I have seen a reference that LOTRO's Berephon stated the Bree cat-house was an inside joke among devs.  So are they the descendants of Queen Beruthiel's cats?  Probably not lol.  She is mentioned in the Unfinished Tales, and supposedly only had 10 cats - 9 black and 1 white.  There are way more cats than that in the cat-house, and of all colors and patterns!  We get one mention of her in the Fellowship of the Ring, by Aragorn when the company enters Moria, when he speaks of relying on Gandalf to find the way:  "He is surer of finding the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Beruthiel."
  • The Chickens - What about the chickens themselves?  To the best of my knowledge, NOT Lore nuggets.  Pimpinella, Telltime, Moonlight, Cineraria, Bellflower - as far as I can tell, these are just creative Hobbit names, most if not all of them plant-related.  (Unless Telltime is part of the old joke, "How does a chicken tell time? one o'cluck, two o'cluck...groan!)  Then there is Bilina the Chicken - Dorothy and Oz, anyone?  And what about George the Chicken?  There are several Chicken Georges in pop-culture, but again, this seems to be some sort of inside dev joke from what I have been able to gather.  I do believe there was/is a LOTRO dev named "Chicken George."
Once you complete all of the Chicken Play quests (you earn the coveted Cloak of the Cluck for this, by the way), it the opens up a golden, Free-Range chicken who can engage in that Ultimate Chicken Adventure Royale, the Crosser of Roads deed!  This is not for the faint of Chicken heart, as it must be completed in one sitting and takes about 5-6 hours to complete (the game gives you a maximum of 8 hours, and if you log out or die, you go right back to square one).  If you would like to read more about the Crosser of Roads deed and strategy, a wonderful Community Guide was created on the LOTRO forums by Lorr, aka Nightwind.

An Unexpected Journey

Welcome to the first post of my blog!  How did I get here in the first place?

I have been playing LOTRO for almost 3 years, and have leveled up 4 characters, with many other "babies" in a spectrum of levels 8-75.  I'm part of a vibrant kin, I like to raid, I like to quest.  I love to collect outfits - my wardrobe and shared storage are filled to the brim, and I even won an outfit contest on Cosmetic LOTRO recently (yes, this is my Farmer Girl!).  I also love to collect houses - that's right, houses.  I own a Deluxe house in each of the four neighborhoods, plus three kinhouses of my own or that I share with a couple friends/family.  It costs me over 9 gold/month just for upkeep!

Yet even with all these special interests in the game, I was recently bitten by the completionist bug.  What is this bug, you may ask?  It compels me to take my main, a Captain named Leeowyn, through all aspects of the game.  This means completing all quests, deeds, hidden deeds, raids, instances - you name it.  I have a few friends in my kin who are completionists, and I always thought they were a bit mad.  Nevertheless, I now find myself in the same state.  It is made all the more challenging due to the fact that I switched mains one year ago, and since she was the fourth toon I chose to take to the level cap, I admit skipping large swaths of quests all over the place.  This means I have a lot to go back over.

Since the Yule Festival is currently underway, much of my time has been devoted to running consecutive Inn League and Ale Association quests to get both to Kindred, while also earning enough Yule tokens to get 300 each of the 5 consumables available (oh yes, I must complete all those deeds, and have finished one already!), complete all the Frostbluff deeds that were not finished last year (all but one, handing out coins to the poor, are finished), and earn enough other Yule tokens to get the nice cosmetics and other items that I want.  This has meant lots, and lots, and LOTS of Yule festival grinding, but I'm pleased to say I have both beer-drinking factions in the middle of Ally, I'm making good progress on obtaining the consumables, and have obtained all other barterable items that I wanted, including the horse, snowglobes, and wallpapers.

So - all this grinding has also meant I have needed a break here and there.  If not running Tier 2 of the Foundry with my kin, what better time to take Leeowyn back to the beginning, and start wiping out quests and deeds in Bree-land.  I am almost done there, except for wrapping up a few kill deeds in Haudh Iarchith.

A giant on the borders of The Shire.
In the midst of my completionist activities, I came across a quest to go retrieve a backpack from the giant Svalfang.  I had done this quest on other toons, albeit a long time ago, and had forgotten all about this small but very neat quest arc that takes you into a rarely visited section of Bree-land.  As it so happens, I also recently started my annual re-reading of the trilogy, and was just going over the part where Sam and some other Hobbits are sitting in the Green Dragon in Bywater, discussing the strange folk who have been passing through The Shire lately.  Sam states his cousin Halfast claims to have seen a giant on the borders of The Shire!

Now, based on the description, we could interpret that also as an actual Ent, or possibly a Huorn, as Sam's description of what Halfast saw could be taken to actually resemble a tree, specifically an elm, and not just being "bigger" than a tree.  And there is indeed another quest bestowed by Gammer Boffin in Overhill, to go rescue a "walking tree" caught in the spider's lair in the Northfarthing.  At any rate, the description of giants on the borders of The Shire jumped out at me this time around.

Despite having read the trilogy countless times, and run through the Svalfang quests in the past, I never made the connection between that small account in the FoTR and this giant in the far Northwest of Bree-land.  And as any Tolkien fan who plays LOTRO understands, that warm fuzzy "ah-ha!" glow of recognition you get when once again Turbine has managed to weave a tiny bit of canon into the game, is truly a pleasure to experience.  Hence this blog is my own attempt to collect those warm, fuzzy Lore bits for everyone to enjoy.

Much of this will not be new news.  In fact, many readers will know or have encountered or heard about things I will discuss here.  My intent is to create a sort of Mathom House of lore nuggets collected by myself and others as well.  Comments will be welcome, particularly if you think I have made an error or missed some vital information.  Herein may certainly be spoilers, so fair warning!  But my hope is that folks who don't mind a spoiler may enjoy the growing compilation, possibly even learn of something new and how to find it in-game, and get that warm, fuzzy Lore glow just like I do!

So thanks for joining me.  I look forward to the company along the way.