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I began this evening with a simple goal: To deliver a letter. It’s now the middle of the night, I’m covered in bits of giant-arachnid carapace and goo, and I’m about to die at the hands of an immortal wraith guided by the ultimate evil in the world.

So, this could have gone better, I guess.

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The Nazgul draws near, waving around his Really Super Evil Sword. He’s got a few human ruffians on his side, but I have no idea why. Once you have magic and you can’t be killed, you just don’t have a lot of need for backup. This is like a dragon taking a couple of pigeons along when raiding a town. He’s got a sword, a horse, some magic, and four thousand years of endless unlife under his belt. His henchmen are just guys with clubs. I sort of feel sorry for them until I remember that I’m about to die.

Boffin begins cowering. He’s been doing that all night, but this time I think he’s onto something. I cower along with him. It’s not bad.

The Nazgul checks his horse and stops, towering over us. He waits. I’m wondering if Boffin will get the knife first, or if I will. After all he’s put us through, it seems only fair that he should go first.

I glance upward and realize the Nazgul is still hovering over us. He’s not attacking. I suspect he’s come to an abrupt realization:

These Hobbits are very small. I’m going to have to climb down off my horse if I want to stab them. Shit.

There’s a long awkward moment while he decides if we’re really worth the effort. While he’s making up his mind, someone leaps out of the brush and shoots some arrows into his useless henchmen. Yay! Someone has come to save us! It’s…

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…Elves?

The Elves and the Nazgul engage in a little epic-being smack talk. “Depart, foul wraith, you have no power here!”, he tells the Nazgul. Elves are always saying silly things like this. The Nazgul is up on a horse, he’s got a sword, and you can’t kill him. I don’t know how you’re measuring power here, but I think he’s got us outclassed.

The Nazgul might be immortal, but I guess his feelings get hurt easily, because he leaves. Maybe he really doesn’t have any power, somehow. Maybe he’s just a big crybaby. I dunno.

The good news is that I’m not going to die horribly. The bad news is that Boffin is going to go on sniveling. Call it a wash,

We greet Gildor the Elf.

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For you wannabe Tolkien scholars, this is Gildor. Gildor doesn’t have much to contribute to the proceedings. He’s just here to give a shout-out to the lore fans in the audience.

Oh! And there’s a new Hobbit here as well. No wait. That’s just Boffin. I didn’t recognize him not surrounded by spiders.

Gildor and the rest of them offer to take Boffin off my hands. Yes! Very yes! Thankyouthankyouthankyou. And have fun with him. Try not to let him lead you into any spider nests.

But… they leave me alone with Amdir the Ranger. This doesn’t seem so bad at first. Rangers are a secretive group who are descended from kings. They’re grade-A badasses, skilled trackers, masters of lore, and cunning huntsmen. Well, that’s what the stories say, anyway.

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Amdir explains that he suspects there is a connection between the ruffians and the Black Riders, and that maybe they’re working together. Keep in mind that we both just witnessed a fight where they were doing exactly that.

I suddenly realize that Amdir is an exceptional ranger. That is, he is an exception to the rule that rangers are strong, skilled, smart, and useful. He wears a look of befuddlement about as regularly as another person might wear, say, pants. Which is whenever they’re awake and doing something more complicated than going to the bathroom. His hood is down over his eyes. Not in a mysterious and secretive way, but more in a “oh bother, who turned out the lights?” sort of way.

He also tells me that some ruffians have captured my friend Celandine Brandybuck. Who was the person I have been trying to reach. So my entire journey has been for nothing.

My shoulders sag, “Alas. I was traveling to Archet to bring her this letter.”

Amdir thinks on this for a long moment. I think he’s gone cross-eyed trying to look at his hood as it hangs in front of his face. “As you wish. I shall take you the rest of the way to Archet.”

“Uh, no? If Celandine has been captured, then there’s no reason for me to go to Archet, is there? She’s gone. So I might as well go home.”

There is another epic pause while he works on this one. Finally he replies, “So… you want me to rescue Celandine, first?”

“No offense, but I don’t think you should attempt that particular job all by your lonesome.”

“So you want to come with?”

“Not as such,” I say guardedly. “Fighting isn’t really my forte.”

“I see. So we should both go to Archet. Got it!”

No! Listen, you fumbling clodpole. I only wanted to deliver her this letter…

“You want me to take the letter to the bandit camp?”

“Of course not.”

“Because you want to go to Archet first?”

“You know I’m a minstrel, right?” I ask while brandishing my lute. “Do you want me to write an epic ballad about how thick you are? Because that’s where this is going right now.”

He stops and considers this for so long that I start to wonder if he’s stopped paying attention. Finally he says, “I’m a ranger.”

“Yes, I know.”

“I don’t do ballet.”

“Not ballet, you ninny. Ballad. A song.”

There is another long pause, “I like songs.”

“Okay, then.”

“Let’s get you to Archet. Then I’m going to attack the bandit camp and rescue your friend.”

“Yeah. Good. Do that. You can just drop me off at the besieged town that I no longer have any reason to visit, and then run off and assault the bandit camp and the Nazgul all by yourself. Don’t let the fact that you’re alone, on foot, and not immortal stop you from picking a fight with Satan’s nephew.”

I thought Gildor left him here to take care of me, but now I see it’s actually the other way around. When he took Boffin off my hands, he was really just letting me trade up to a more useful dunce. Which I guess I sort of appreciate?

And so ends the tutorial part of the game for Hobbit characters. Cutscene time!

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Here the game shows us a pre-rendered cutscene of Amdir the special-needs ranger assaulting the bandit outpost and rescuing a couple of Hobbits. If you play as a human character, then your tutorial is assaulting the camp along with Amdir. During that sequence (which is just a combat / clicking stuff tutorial) your human character will kill all the bandits, Celandine will burn down their hideout, and Amdir will bumble around until a Nazgul runs him through.

Either way, both Human and Hobbit characters wind up in Archet on the same quest line. This is a second-stage quest area, as you’re still penned in – you can’t get out of Archet and explore the world until you finish these quests. (If you play as a Dwarf or an Elf, you will have an entirely different starting area.)

Since I’m playing as a Hobbit, as soon as I meet up with Amdir I’m transported to the town of Archet.

It’s morning now. I’ve had a nice rest and a bite to eat. The sun has risen and things are looking up for me. Maybe I should think about heading home now. Then I remember: The town is surrounded by brigands. Besieged even. Nobody can leave town.

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As I exit the inn – which sounds like an oxymoron but really isn’t – a towering human female greets me. She tells me that Amdir has returned from his errand and has rescued a couple of Hobbits. So, good on him and all.

Oh, and a Nazgul poked a hole in him, which is probably bad.

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I find him in a heap in the middle of town. I nudge him with my foot and he mumbles something about being stabbed with a Morgul knife. From what I gather, the knife might kill him OR turn him into a wraith. But aren’t wraiths actually dead? So, same difference, really. Then he asks me to take his place in defending the city.

Hello? Did the Nazgul stab you in the brain? I’m three and a half feet tall and armed with a knife so dull that it doesn’t actually matter which way you hold it. Plus, I’m a musician.

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But Amdir offers me a bribe to do a little job for him. He gives me a shirt. A green shirt. I love green. And shirts. And… well, I love clothes in general. It’s a minstrel thing. Okay, Amdir might be the runt of the Ranger litter, but he’s found my weak spot. For clothes, I will do him a favor.

Although I’m not going to ask where he got a Hobbit-sized woman’s shirt.

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And look, Celandine is here. I’m glad she’s safe. I’m even more glad to see she still has her shirt.

This whole adventure began with me wanting to deliver her a letter telling her she should stop getting mixed up with foreigners and mind her own business. But now I’m really mixed up in it myself. I throw the letter away and try to forget all about it.

Amdir has explained the problem: A guy named Calder Cob is a member of the watch in this town, but he’s been secretly working with the brigands. The captain’s son Jon knows. Amdir knows. And, one assumes, Calder Cob knows. So, pretty much everyone knows except the captain of the guard. The captain needs to be told that one of his men has gone over to Team Evil. Amdir wants me to talk to him.

Right. He won’t listen to you, or his own son, or any of his own men, but I’m sure he’ll listen to the complete stranger who just rolled into town last night. I’d tell Amdir to forget it, but he says there’s a nice pair of gloves in it for me if I go.

He may be an idiot, but he’s a devious idiot.

Okay, okay. I’ll go.

Let’s take a look around town, first.

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The town of Archet looks to have a population of around a dozen or so. They are being threatened by about a hundred brigands. Against these difficult odds, the townspeople have set up the following defenses:

1) They assign two guys to stand at the gate.

2) All the rest of the town watch – all six of them – have gathered in the tavern.

3) All of the rest of the able-bodied people in town have formed a merchant guild, gathered in the town square, and begun trying to sell each other stuff.

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They’re looking sort of despondent. This whole “build a strip mall in Middle Earth” idea of theirs isn’t really helping the town as much as they might have imagined. Business is naturally slow at first due to the siege, but sales really take off when I come in and buy a new knife. I’m sure this is a great morale booster for everyone.

Great. Let’s head to the captain of the guard and see what he has to say.

But before I forget. Amdir? I warned you I was going to do this, and you have nobody to blame but yourself:

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Amdir the Ranger went out Nazgul hunting,
With blade and with bow and with much caveman grunting.

Unskilled, unfulfilled, Amdir fared very poorly.
Thus sent out he went out to find death prematurely,

Through fumbling and stumbling met the Angmar man-witch
Who vexed him and hexed him and made Amdir his (man) bitch.

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Shamus Young is the guy behind Reset Button, Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels.

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