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Let’s Play Lord of the Rings Online, the popular MMO based on one of the greatest and most influential works of fiction of the 20th century. As the guy who wrote the DM of the Rings webcomic, I have a history with this material. I think the books are a beautiful work of fiction and a celebration of language itself. I’m also one of those strange abusive fans who expresses his appreciation through satire and mockery, which is the fanboy equivalent of being a wife beater.

If you’re curious what this series is all about, allow me to point you to my series on Champions Online, where I followed the adventures of superhero Star On Chest.

Here is how this is going to work: I’m going to play the game, and I’m going to drag you along with me, kicking and screaming. Text that looks like the paragraph you’re reading now is in-character stuff. From now on when you see this kind of text it will be written from the point of view of my character. Roughly. If you’re lucky.

And this is out-of-character. I’ll use this when I want to comment on goofy gameplay mechanics, interface problems, or whatever else I think you’ll put up with.

So… character creation time. I’m going to play as a female, because, hey – if I’m going to be staring at an ass for hundreds of hours, it might as well be…

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…shaped like a dumpling? Hey baby you got any fries to go with that bowl of yogurt?

I decided to play a Hobbit because:

1) Dwarves are too awesome.
2) Why play as human? You can do that in any game.
3) Everyone knows that Elves are tools.
4) It won’t let me choose “Balrog”.

Next I choose “Minstrel” as my character class.

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And now I just need to pick a name and we’ll be good to go. The thing about LOTRO is that it is the most polite and mature MMO that has ever existed. Newcomers are usually disoriented by this. We’re used to being welcomed into a new game with a duel request from some level 60 jerk named “IGankedUrMom”. But in LOTRO people are polite, helpful, and pick lore-friendly names.

It’s really weird.

What usually happens is that new people will enter the world with the usual dumb-ass MMO name like “MadKilla55”, “AfroElf”, or “Star On Chest”. Then they see all of the appropriate names everyone else is using and they start to feel like the idiot who shows up at the prom in a dirty t-shirt. If you’re too cool for Lord of the Rings, then why are you playing an MMO based on it?

So, I want to pick a good name for my lil’ hero. Let’s see, the character creation screen says that Hobbit women are named after flowers, and gems. Okay then. Just give me a minute here to try the name of each and every flower, only to find out that they’re all taken. And then the name of every gem. And then the name of every flower, but sticking an extra “y” on the end. And then every gem…

Okay, I give up. Fifteen minutes is where I draw the line. There just aren’t that many flowers and gems in the world that work as girl names, and I’m not all that keen on naming myself “Tourmaline” or “Orthoceras”. It’s obvious all the good ones were taken about five minutes after the game went into open beta.

Screw it. I type in:

“Lulzy”

And the game launches. If any of you veteran players don’t like me slumming about your legendarium paradise with the name Lulzy then feel free to delete your level sixty “Rosie” to free up the name for me. Then maybe we can talk.

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Her likes:

1) Food
2) Meals
3) Snacks
4) Victuals
5) Shoes (Actually, clothing in general. But especially shoes.)

Her dislikes:

1) Fighting
2) Battle
3) War
4) Combat
5) Armed conflict
6) Violence
7) Fetching things for people

Great! As long as she can avoid those things, she’s sure to have a super-fun time in Middle Earth. Let’s get started.

Like all truly great and epic legends of heroism, this one begins…

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…in the post office.

According to my Quest Log, Celandine Brandybuck has sent me a distressing letter warning of troubles beyond the shire.

I have a letter here. I wrote her back. I told the daft bint to keep her gob shut about it since I don’t give a sod about what’s going on in foreign parts. I’ve got my lute, I’ve got my supper, I’ve got a pint, and Bad News about the Tall People doesn’t concern me in the slightest.

Now I just need to get this thing mailed so I can get back to minding my own business. Maybe have a bite before bed.

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Tending the office is Postman Took. Beside him is his trustworthy assistant “Townsperson”. Also here are my dear friends “Townsperson”, her husband “Townsperson” and their nephew-neighbor “Townsperson”.

You know, good folks.

Postman Took gives me the bad news:

Here is a screenshot of the quest text. Note that when I do this I don’t expect you to actually read it. I just put it there when I want to make it clear that I’m talking about a real, actual thing in the game and that I’m not just taking screenshots and making stuff up. In general, I stay true to the plot of the game and the only stuff I make up is what my character says and thinks.

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The postman tells me he can’t deliver the letter. Ruffians are vexing the town of Archet, and so he’s afraid to send any delivery-hobbits in that direction. Sensing my annoyance, Postman Took helpfully suggests I could go there myself.

It’s actually kind of an outrageous suggestion, but I humor him anyway. I mean, I could do it. I could just roll right out of here and deliver the letter myself. It occurs to me that the swiftest way to shame these cowardly postman would be if they were bested by the town minstrel. And I’d get to see Celandine’s face when she read my letter.

It’s settled then. I’m off to Archet. The only thing I don’t understand is…

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…why in the name of Sauron’s fancy jewelry am I making this trip at night?

This part is the tutorial. Note that each race has their own tutorial story, so only Hobbits have to do this letter-delivering business. Naturally other races have a bit more adventure at the outset.

I walk a little ways down the road. Man, this walking gets a little boring. Do I get my mount soon?

And speaking of mounts:

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A black rider! The Nazgul! One of the nine devils of the world. Is that right? Something like that. Okay, I’m not really sure what the hell he is. I’m not up to speed on my legendary evil beings, but that’s because I didn’t expect to meet any of them while trying to do a mail run.

A little ways ahead, I run into Bounder Boffin, who is busy being chatted up by the Nazgul:

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The Nazgul, having wounded Bounder Boffin with nothing more than the World’s Tamest Insult, rides off into the distance.

For those of you keeping score at home, “Boffin” is his name and “Bounder” is his job title, not the other way around. It’s kind of an all-around cop / handyman position. They also deliver the mail, which means this is one of the pants-wetters responsible for me having to make this trip in the first place.

As I approach, I can see that Boffin is quivering and wiping snotty tears off his face.

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Hello Boffin. You look as as brave as you are tall. How can I help you during this difficult time of faffing about instead of delivering my mail?

Boffin is scared and wants me to escort him to safety. Sure, no problem. I mean, since I’m already out and doing your job I might as well take you for walksie, right?

Boffin has me look in his satchel for a… weapon?

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His bag does indeed have a “knife”, which I’m pretty sure is just half of a pair of safety scissors. I’m talking about a knife so dull it would be better to use my hands, even if my foe was a slice of hot toast in need of butter.

Thus “armed”, I join Boffin and we head on through the nearby door in the hedge wall. (Don’t ask, it’s a Hobbit thing.)

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Boffin looks down the path and sees large, troublesome webs strewn about. Really large. We see large, un-Hobbit-like shapes with a suspicious number of legs. I don’t claim to be a ranger or anything, but it’s entirely possible we’re about to have a spider problem.

Boffin looks out towards where the Nazgul had been, then back down the path at the spider webs, and he thinks for a minute.

Finally he suggests that I go on ahead and clear the way while he stands in the doorway and “keeps watch”.

I raise an eyebrow at him, “Boffin, you know I’m a musician, right? And that I hate violence?”

He keeps looking back out towards the road and pretending he can’t hear me.

Just a handy tip: If at any point in your life you find yourself asking a musician to kill things for you, then you have screwed up somewhere along the way.

“Boffin”, I say in my most calming voice possible, “Let’s just say you stand here and keep watch.”

He nods his head vigorously.

“And let’s say that Black Rider does come back, as you fear. What exactly are you planning on doing about it?”

He slams his eyes shut. Maybe he’s telling me he can’t bear to picture such a scenario. Or maybe he’s showing me he plans to close his eyes and not look if it comes back.

I hate violence, but there’s no sense in both of us standing in the doorway until the sun comes up.

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I march down the path kill a couple of gigantic spiders. It’s nasty, smelly, crunchy work but the spider screeching (did you know spiders screech?) drowns out Boffin’s sniveling, so I don’t actually mind all that much.

Boffin perks up when the last spider succumbs to my safe-for-children-under-three knife. Then he leads me down the path to a farm.

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Farm? This is a farm? There’s no farmland. No crops. The only thing here is spiders.

Is this some kind of Hobbit spider farm?

Boffin has decided that in order to reach safety the two of us must kill every single four-foot spider in the Shire. Actually, that’s not true. He wants me to kill the spiders while he supervises from the fetal position.

Boffin, you simpering hayseed yokel, did it occur to you that we could just go back the way I came? The post office was perfectly safe, assuming you don’t also have a phobia about people named Townsperson.

Eventually I finish killing off this year’s bumper crop of spiders. Boffin wants to hide in the farmhouse, but he accidentally breaks off his key in the lock.

I really think there needs to be some kind of rule against being griefed by friendly NPCs.

Great, so I guess we go in the back? Or a window? No? We’re leaving? So, I guess this tiny wooden Hobbit-house with a thatched roof is some sort of impenetrable fortress?

Fine. Let’s just run further down the path like a couple of ninnies and see what we run into. I mean, it can’t be worse than the spiders.

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…unless it’s another Nazgul.

Through sheer willful stupidity Boffin has managed to lead us all the way around and back to the main road, where we have met the Black Rider again. Or another one. I don’t know. It’s not like they wear nametags.

The Black Rider is miffed now, and decides to off us. Sigh. I’ll probably end up as a withering shade in eternal service to the Dark Lord of the East, which is really going to suck.

Stupid post office.

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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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