Moving to a free model is usually done by small, aging, or otherwise struggling MMO’s that need to bolster their userbase. But LOTRO doesn’t strike me as a “struggling” MMO. Lulzy here is on the Silverlode server, which is purportedly the lowest population server in the game. (I did this on purpose, so that I wouldn’t have random people wandering through while I’m trying to take screenshots.) But even on Silverlode the place seems fairly active and vibrant once you visit one of the town centers. A year ago they were priding themselves on how their userbase was still growing.
Judging purely on the basis of population density, I’m just not seeing the need for this move. I have played “troubled” MMO games before, and LOTRO is not one of them. This is a game with stable mechanics, regular updates, a happy (by MMO standards) player base, a generous supply of content, a healthy community, and solid name recognition. Compare this series to my Champions Online series if you want to see what a dysfunctional online game is like.
Note that LOTRO is run by Turbine, the company behind Dungeons and Dragons Online. DDO went free-to-play early in its troubled lifespan. It’s entirely possible that free to play is just a more profitable business model for them.
My only concern is what effect this will have on the quality of the community. Free to play games seem to have more trolls, jerks, and griefers. (Because it costs nothing for these types to just create new accounts when they are exposed or banned.) The players in LOTRO are uncharacteristically friendly for MMO players, and I’d hate to see this change. Then again, maybe the atmosphere and culture is a result of the source material. Perhaps Tolkien is too dry or cerebral to attract “teh hardcorez”?
In any case, it’s an unexpected move. I’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out when free-to-play goes live this fall.
We now return you to the adventures of Lulzy…
Ellie Cutleaf is sending me to Chetwood to attack the bandit hideout. I promised (lied) that I’d bring some friends along. I don’t actually have any friends, but I’m pretty sure I can take care of the bandits anyway. The place is also guarded by killer guard dogs. I have a bottle of poison that I collected at great pains*, which Ellie tells me I’ll be able to drop into the dog’s food supply so I don’t have to fight them all.
* The pains were actually experienced by the bears and wolves I had to kill to get it and not by me, but the point stands.
To get to their base, I just need to go to…
And now that I’m on the doorstep of the bandit base, I realize a fatal flaw with Ellie’s plan which we both should have realized right before coming up with a new plan and right after slapping ourselves in the forehead: The food is inside the base. I have to go in there to poison the food, but to get to the food I have to fight the dogs.
Well, the only thing worse than having a stupid and self-defeating plan is doing it halfway. Let’s make with the puppycide.
I kill my way through the base and slaughter dogs until I come to their food supply, which is actually just a big pile of dead sheep. I guess these dogs don’t eat hay like the ones at the dog farm yesterday? It seems stupid to poison the food supply now that the dogs are already dead, but then I realize that one way or another, the poison is bound make it into the food chain and kill something. And I have to use the poison. If I threw it away, then all those bears and wolves I killed yesterday will have died for nothing, which I’m pretty sure would be wrong.
There’s some sort of bandit bossman standing here named Jagger Jack. He jumps me while I’m right in the middle of poisoning his dead dogs, so I don’t even have time to make fun of his name before I kill him.
So this has been a good effort. I’ve cleaned out the bandit hideout, killed their leader, killed their dogs, killed a bunch of unrelated animals, and then tainted the ecosystem of Chetwood with deadly poison.
“Now,” Ellie says after I return and report my success. “I’ll see about getting you in to see their leader.”
There is a really long pause. I have a question, which I am afraid to ask, “What leader?”
Ellie looks at me funny, “The bandit leader, ye urchin! Who do ye think?”
“I thought…” my voice tails off. I do sort of remember her saying something about a hidden base or whatnot, but I hadn’t really been following very closely.
“So, who did I just kill,” I ask quietly. “And more importantly: Why?”
“Ye killed the brigands what was breeding the dogs. I felt bad about helping them get those dogs if you remember.”
“I guess, yeah,” I lie.
“And this let me set things right.”
I sigh: “So… all this work… the killing, the warg, the poison, the wolves and bears, Jagger Jack… all of that was just to satisfy your guilty conscience?”
“Aye, and ye done right by me.”
“So your idea of repentance is to hire a stranger to slaughter a bunch of innocent animals?”
“And now it’s time to go after the bandit leader!”
“But why didn’t you send me to kill the bandit leader first!?! The dogs wouldn’t be a problem if the bandits were broken and scattered. What were they going to do, elect a new master and invade town on their own?”
“Well, this is also your chance to rescue that ranger friend of yours,” she shoots back.
Oh yeah. Forgot about that guy. Yeah. I guess I have to rescue him or admit I’m only in this for the fashion. Thus checkmated, I have no choice but to take the job.
Ellie Cutleaf gives me the super-secret directions on how to get to the bandit hideout. The real hideout. The main hideout. The hideout which, as it turns out, is right outside the lumber camp in Chetwood.
Whoops. I wasn’t supposed to make this trip. My quest log says to go talk to Toradan first, which I didn’t notice until I got to the bandit hideout, realized my mistake, and had to hike back. You might think it’s unfair to count this trip since it was my fault, but you would be wrong for the following reasons:
1) Shut up.
So anyway, back to town…
Before I go charging off to assault the place all by my lonesome, I should stop by and speak with Toradan because apparently I hate myself.
“It is good that you’ve returned,” he says in a low whisper after he’s moved away from the window and made sure I wasn’t followed.
“Look, I think I know where the bandits are-” Toradan cuts me off with a hiss. I retaliate with the loudest possible eyeroll.
“You found Amdir?” he mouths.
“Good. I have spent the last few days formulating a plan.”
I nod. It will be nice to have a plan for once. I’m not crazy about walking into a bandit hideout without knowing what I’m up against.
He continues, “After careful consideration, I think the best plan is for you to go to the hideout.”
There is a pause. After a few moments a gesture for him to continue.
“Once there, you should free Amdir.”
“That’s it?” I say out loud. “That’s your whole plan. Just go in and free him? You don’t have anything else to offer?”
He shrugs, “After you free him, you should probably do your best to escape.”
“Brilliant,” I say as I storm out.
“I’ll be along to help you shortly!” he rasps as I slam the door.
And with that, I’m off to…
The bandit base is built into the side of a cliff beside a waterfall, which is visible from the lumber camp.
This is the base? This is the super-secret base that nobody could find? I guess it’s a good thing the townspeople never bother looking at things like spectacular scenic waterfalls, or they might have noticed this.
A few dozen people live in this cave. Somehow they managed to move in, get supplies, furnish the place, recruit from the nearby town, and install a door, all without a single townie taking notice.
Ellie used to work with these brigands breeding dogs, and she’s contacted them (I guess the post office must deliver here?) and let them know that I’m a new recruit. This will get me in the front door.
Rumor has it Amdir is being held prisoner here. If possible, I should try and break him out of the filthy brigand prison and take him back to town to be put into one of our prisons, which are much nicer. He’s been stabbed by one of those Morgul blade thingies, which is gradually poisoning his mind and making him a servant of the Dark Lord. Amdir is a magnificent dolt and if I was the Dark Lord I wouldn’t let him do anything more challenging than sweep the floors of my doom fortress, but we still need to keep an eye on him.
Inside, the door man welcomes me to the fold and tells me to go see the boss. Don’t mind if I do, thank you.
Inside, the cavern is a hellhole of filth and squalor. These guys are obviously living the dream. They’ve worked their way up to the highest echelons of the bandit order so that they can live in a wet cave, eat cold food, sleep on rock, and take a dump in a bucket. I can see why they would want all new recruits to come here. Hey kid, work hard, kill a lot of innocent people, and someday you too can live in a smelly dark hole until you die of dysentery.
There are a ton of guards posted around, and I will be very, very surprised if I don’t end up fighting the lot of them before I leave this place. As I pass through the living area I find a couple of bandit minstrels having a highwayman sing-a-long. I bring out my lute an join right in:
We live in a hole,
with the stuff that we stole,
We might smell like moles
but we’re fearsome as trolls!
We’re the men of Blackwold!
Let’s go to the village
and all rob and pillage.
So to the town proper!
And take all their coppers!
We’re the men of Blackwold!
We’re up to no good
and we live here in Chetwoo-
The rest of the song gets drowned out by my improvised lyrics that don’t really rhyme or anything and consist mostly of swear words directed at the idiot who brought up Chetwood.
Well, let’s go meet the bandit bossman.
At last I come face-to-face with the baleful leader of the brigands, the terrible captain of these fell criminals. It’s the dreaded…
He’s not as funny as my old friend Dirk Mudbrick, but then Dirk wasn’t posing as the head honcho of Brigands, Inc.
At first I’m worried he’s going to suspect me of being a spy on account of me being a Hobbit. But Skunkwood thinks nothing of it and welcomes me with a grand gesture, “You are now part of the Blackwold brigands! It’s good that you’ve come. We’ve suffered some losses recently.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t know anything about that,” I say nervously. “So… I heard rumor that you’ve got a ranger here?”
“Yes! He’s an incredibly important prisoner. Since you’re new, I’ll grant you access to his cell immediately.”
“I can just go see him?” I ask in surprise. “You don’t have any duties for me, the new recruit?”
“Are you still here?”
“No. Bye,” I say over my shoulder as I jog out.
Let’s go see how Amdir is doing.
Next Time: He’s not gettin’ any more handsome, that’s for sure.[folder_nav]
Shamus Young is the guy behind Reset Button, Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, and Stolen Pixels.