Recently I returned to Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO) after quite a bit of time away. It was the release of the Mac client for the game that brought me back—I’ve been hoping LOTRO would come to the Mac for a long time. Now that it’s here, I’m finding it fun and easy to dip back into the game now and again. (I’m not even high-enough level for the new Rohan content, yet, but I’m getting there.)
Back when I was last diligently playing LOTRO, or perhaps the time before that, I founded a kinship (like a guild) as a means of getting a private chat channel for me and my friends. I stewed and fretted over what to call the damn thing, though. I went back through quite a bit of Tolkien’s lore for Middle-earth, the expanded lore of the game, and thought about all the joke names for kinships that I’d seen come and go on my server. I ultimately decided that I wanted to be able to play with the lore a bit while also paying playful homage to LOTRO’s writing and quest design. I chose to call us the Boars of Evendim. (If you get the reference, please don’t spoil it here.)
I founded the Boars kinship years ago and many of its members have since scattered to the four winds of gaming. Even I tend to return to LOTRO in bursts, playing for weeks or months at a time, devouring content new and old, and then drifting away for a time. LOTRO doesn’t feel like homework or a time sink to me — I play it when I want to, taking to it like I might binge on a television series. Works for me.
When friends of mine came to the game, at least for a while now that the Mac client exists, I immediately invited them to join the Boars of Evendim. I wanted us to have a common chat channel. I also wanted a chance to experiment with more in-game roleplaying and try putting my backstory for the kinship into words. A few of these friends of mine are role-players with experience from both tabletop play and WoW. I wanted to get a better sense of how RP worked in the MMORPG environment… and I wanted to write a bit about Middle-earth. Instead of telling some of my friends the out-of-character reason for the Boars name, I promised to tell them the in-character reason for the name.
Then I promised again. And again. Then it felt like I’d need to actually tell a tale to live up to the promises I had made in-character in Middle-earth.
So I set out to write out the idea I’d had, years earlier, about the made-up in-fiction significance of the Boars name. It had to be short, ’cause I didn’t have time to spare on this kind of writing, and it had to capture the sort melancholy charm of the Evendim zone in LOTRO — heart of the lost kingdom of Arnor, sister kingdom to Gondor, and a part of Aragorn’s backstory and genealogy that I’d always found to be a captivating sketch of a legend. So I took what I knew of Arnor from Tolkien and from LOTRO, made up some details, and wrote a bit. To make sure the tale could be usefully conveyed in LOTRO’s chat window, I prepared it as a collection of separated lines that I could type or paste in quickly and wouldn’t require the players to scroll around to read each bit in full.
A few of us gathered around a fireplace in the Prancing Pony, where I typed in the story, line by line. The players emoted in response as I went, showing how their characters reacted to the tale (and encouraging me to keep going). Now and again I typed “/story” to trigger the storytelling animation for my character.
Here’s a sample from the middle of tale’s middle:
The land teemed with mighty creatures, including a host of gigantic and regal boars that guarded the land against encroaching evils.
In the days before the northern capital, Annúminas, was deserted, the boars vanished from the hills of Evendim.
They vanished from the woods.
They vanished from the valleys.
But one last boar, a great white-tusked king of its kind, was seen on the lakeshore the day the last of the folk of Annúminas removed to Fornost Erain.
It is said that a boar has not been seen in Evendim since.
To evoke a bit of Tolkienesque fantastical gravitas, I even wrote a few short verses of a so-called “soldiers’ song” once sung around campfires by the people of Fornost. It’s intentionally erratic in its rhyme and metrics, so that I could mess around with it (and write it quickly). I tossed in a couple of “/sing” emotes during the actual event…
Where once the gleaming city of our kings
O’er-looked a shining lake’s teeming shores
Now it stands like an empty helm, eyes ringed
Round with stains of blood from long-forgotten wars.
Where once great tusks did cut like spears
Near the banks of Baranduin, rushing clear,
Now the land is stalked by a nameless fear
That grows in peril, year by year.
Where lake laps cold on ruins old
New shall thrive ‘neath ancient eyes.
Though the forest’s empty, keep thy sentry
For the fabled wards shall be restored
City of splendor, throne to kings of old,
Though felled by plague and wicked wars,
Shall thrive again with heroes bold
And the rightful king shall have his boars.
This kind of roleplaying is still sort of new to me, at least when you measure it against tabletop play. This brief experience, though, of performing a written piece in a fictional, virtual venue was great fun. Much to my surprise, while doing this I got a slice of the same feeling that I get when I read or perform in front of a live audience.
It also resembled face-to-face RPG play, thanks to the inputs of the other players. It’s collaborative in the moment, even with all the prep involved, and it had that certain delicacy to it stemming from the fear that I might suddenly feel silly pretending to sing a song I made up for an imaginary kingdom. What this let me do, though, was not just play in Tolkien’s Middle-earth but play at Tolkien’s own game of inventing fantastical histories and romantic legends. It makes me want to host another LOTRO story-time event and concoct another reason for me to mix my own made-up lore with Tolkien’s. It was a good time.