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It has come to this. I am about to work for the post office. This is after their incompetence led to the destruction of an entire city and the death of Dirk Mudbrick. (That’s how I see it, anyway.) Then I took a bunch of mail and threw it away. In front of the postmaster. Multiple times. While maintaining eye contact. And humming.

The upshot being, I do not have a warm relationship with the Shire Post. But if I want fancy dresses and expensive dye, then I need money. And if I want money I need a job. And this is the best job around.

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Note that one of the terms of the job is that I can’t be spotted by any Nosy Hobbits while doing a delivery. This is made somewhat more difficult by the fact that there are armies of the little buggers watching the roads day and night. This means that instead of using the nice open roads I have to wade into swamps, push through bramble bushes, tumble over cliffs, and sprint screaming through wolf dens. By the time I arrive the mail is covered in bite marks and blood, and smells like the ass end of a toad. But nobody saw me delivering it, which seems to be all that the post office cares about.

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From Little Delving to Michael Delving to Waymeet to Needlehole to Michael Delving again to Tuckburogh to Hobbiton to Oh god my legs are tired. Overhill to Bywater to I really wish I was killing spiders instead of this. Frogmorten to Woodhall to Stock to The postman will DIE by my hand. to Budgeford to Scary to What the hell kind of town name is “Scary”, anyway? Brockenborings.

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Fifteen steps in all, and each counts as a regular quest in terms of XP and money awarded. Takes just under an hour if you don’t botch any of the steps. It’s enough XP to take you from level four to nine. And the process will net you…

Thirteen silver. That’s all I have to show for single-handedly delivering all of the mail in the Shire, a task which hasn’t been accomplished since the Shire Post was founded a thousand years ago and the very first mailmain threw the first load of mail into a ditch. I stagger back into Michael Delving, footsore and ashamed.

And now I need another job.

Maybe I’m going about this all wrong. The people of the Shire seem to be able to afford homes and food without needing to resort to unsavory practices like killing giant spiders, murdering people, or delivering mail. I can’t help but think that maybe they might be onto something. Maybe instead of doing odd jobs I should just settle down and make a career for myself.

How about farming? Farming is a thing people do. Doesn’t look that hard.

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It’s just waiting for crops to grow, right? I find someone in town willing to teach me, and I make myself a farmer.

In the game you can pick from many different crafting professions. Mining, foresting, tailoring, jewelry-ing, and a bunch of other stuff I really should get around to trying at some point. I could become a scholar and I’d probably be able to make myself some dye in another twenty or so levels. That would be fine if I wanted to spend the next three years writing this series.

I don’t own land, but there’s some communal land I can use for the growing of crops. I decide to grow pipe-weed. Pipe-weed is always in demand, so that should be fairly profitable.

I may not like my current outfit, but I’d like it even less if it was stained with dirt, tobacco, and manure. So I get some work clothes.

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I love the dress-up system in LOTRO. You can equip an entire outfit cosmetically. For combat purposes you’re still wearing your goofball clown suit of mismatched items, but outwardly you can appear to be dressed like a non-idiot. So you can look the way you want (within your financial means) without sacrificing your combat viability. I don’t know how we ever got along in MMO games before they gave us this feature.

At the fields, I get the supplies I’ll need for making pipe-weed crops. A bucket of water, some seed, and a handful of fertilizer.

Uh… handful? Why do they sell this stuff by the handful? Ok, I’m a big girl and I understand that being a farmer means dealing with animal feces. But is this an appropriate unit of measure? Not pound? Not kilogram? Not barrel, bucket, bushel, cart-load, cusec, dollop, dram, epha, hogshead, ounce, peck, pennyweight, scoop, shovelful, stone, or thirdendeal? I suppose it’s better than measuring the stuff in terms of “mouthfuls”, but still.

I tell the supplier he can measure it out and I’ll just take his word for it.

I stride out into the field and plant my stuff. Now, I’m not a fool. I realize that growing crops takes time. Didn’t expect this would be instant. I wait patiently for thirty seconds until the crops are fully grown and ready to harvest.

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Once you get to the higher tiers, you’ll be able to grow apple trees. They’re just like other crops, though. Which means you can grow trees in thirty seconds. At night. And then chop them down to get the apples.

I make with the reaping, and put the fresh pipe-weed in my pocket. Then return to the vendor to buy another bucket of water and another fistful of horse splat. I repeat the process a few times, but it’s kind of annoying to keep going back for water and waste every single time I want to grow another crop. So after making sure nobody else is looking, I buy 100 buckets of water and 100 handfuls of ick. I slip them into my pockets with all the other stuff I’m carrying and walk away whistling nonchalantly.

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I spend most of the day in back-breaking labor. Plant. Then harvest. Then take the crops out and separate the seeds for the next batch of crops and bundle up the good weed for sale. Rinse, repeat. It’s slow, hot toil in the dirt and sun, but I comfort myself with the thought that my riches will make me the envy of Hobbit-kind.

Finally I take my bounty to market to see how much I’ve brought in. Hopefully I can head to the auction house next.

Let’s see… it was 4 silver for the 100 buckets of water, 4 silver for the seed, and 4 silver for the crap. At the end of the day, I’ve turned all of that into 400 bales of pipe-weed. Which are worth exactly 12 silver. For all of them. So, I did all of that farming in order to break exactly even.

No, wait. I spoke too soon. I forgot to count the 6 silver I spent repairing my equipment. And the 6 silver I spent on the outfit. So, not only did I not make any money, I actually spend all the money I did make earlier by humiliating myself for the Shire Post.

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Tobacco gives a good return.
We grow this crop, then make it burn.

Taters and onions are grown a lot.
Must be why they’re worth jack squat.

Rice and wheat, barley and hops.
These are what we call “drinking crops”.

Peas and cabbage? I like to grow them.
But worth so little I’d rather mow them.

Trees give apples red, green and brown.
I don’t know why we chop them down?

From tiny seeds to great big plants.
We grow these things to pay for pants!

LOTRO is actually a big improvement over all the MMO games where crafting will result in a large net loss. Once you sink a few hours into it you can come very close to breaking even, and if you take the time to become a master farmer you can actually turn a profit. Of course, in the time it would take you to reach that point, you could simply level up your character and make money even faster by simply fighting monsters and doing quests.

Games usually make crafting systems a money sink because the designers don’t want players to be able to trivialize the economy. More importantly, if crafting easily resulted in a net gain then it would strongly encourage people to use automated scripts, and it would basically be rolling out the red carpet for the gold farmers.

Still, remember not to include crafting in your get-rich quick schemes.

The end of a long day. I stop to enjoy the fruits of my labor and reflect on what cheerful, peaceful, and Happy souls Hobbits are, and how I’d punch each and every one of them in the face for some fancy Elf clothes.

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Next morning. I need to find another job. Let’s try the tavern. That’s always a good place for adventurers in need of work.

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Inside, I slump down at the bar and bartender Carlo Blagrove slides a mug in front of me. I wave him off. I’m suffering from a dreadful thirst, but I can’t afford luxuries like food and drink while I’m saving up for clothes.

“On the house!”, he assures me with a cheerful nod.

Gratefully I tip the mug, take a drink, and then spray it back into his face with much terrified hacking and coughing.

“Not so good, then?”, he asks dejectedly.

“Goblin piss.”, I assure him once I’ve caught my breath.

And then in a complete role-reversal, the bartender begins to tell the weary customer all about his problems. “See, I’ve been entering my ale in the All-Farthing Brewing Moot every year like clockwork for the last fifty years.”

The fumes from the complementary ale are making my eyes water. I slide the mug away from my face. “I take it you… haven’t won?”

“No,” he admits. “Now, my granddad used to win every year when he ran this place. And the thought comes to me now that maybe he had a recipe written down someplace.”

“So, you served bilge water for fifty years before it even occurred to you to look for your grandfather’s secret recipe?”

“If it’s anywhere, it will be in the records room in the Great Smials over in Tuckborough.”

“And you think he hid his top-secret formula… in the library?”

“If you can recover it for me, I’ll give you a glass on the house.”

“You want me to march cross-country and recover the secret of Awesome Ale, and in return you’ll give me… a glass of ale?”

“And ninety coppers!”

On one hand, I’m not keen on helping someone who just poisoned me. On the other hand… eh. I’ve done worse for 90 coppers. I raise my glass, “Sold!” I then put the glass down without drinking from it.

I hike over to Tuckborough. I should point out that this is a lot less fun without a satchel of mail to inexplicably speed my footsteps. And I can’t look forward to throwing away any mail when I arrive, either. This really takes the fun out of things.

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The Great Smials is a big network of Hobbit-holes. It’s a vast complex of mansions and tunnels. It’s possible that somewhere in this dizzying labyrinth there may or may not be an Ale Recipe, left hidden and untouched since Old Blagrove died and his grandson started making ale from fermented spider juice*.

* “Juice” in this case being a euphemism for, “You don’t want to know what they do to the spider to get this stuff unless you’re a lady spider, and even then it’s not exactly something which will sound like the makings of a tasty beverage.”

Pausing at the main entrance, I steel myself for the coming hunt. If the recipe has been lost for half century, then it must be well-hidden indeed.

The library is on the left as I go in. The recipe is sitting on top of a bookshelf.

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*grab*

Back at the tavern, I present Carlo with the recipe. I didn’t bother to read it myself, but hopefully near the top it will explain in easy-to-follow terms that you shouldn’t bathe your barnyard animals in the ale and then filter it through a sweat-stained undershirt. I think these are things he needs to know.

Carlos thanks me and presents me with ninety copper and a mug of his current batch of ale.

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Yes, he calls his ale “Blagrove’s Brown”. Mmmmm!

Now, seeing as how the ale is actually worth less than negative ninety copper, this entire errand has ended in a net loss for me. I fix this by dumping the ale outside and chucking the tainted mug into the bushes where hopefully it won’t do any further harm.

I look around to see if anyone else needs my particular brand of help. There are several people standing near the mayor.

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Rollo Newbuck. He wants to pay me to play hide and seek with children. I need money, but I have far too much self respect to degrade myself like that.

Just kidding. I’ve actually forgotten what self respect feels like by this point. I tell Rollo I’ll do whatever he wants as soon as the word “coppers” crosses his lips.

Next Time: Easy as pie!

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