With plenty of time to spend thinking about LotRO rather than playing it, I pondered on my final decision of class and race. And then I pondered on my pondering. And then it all got a bit existential; I think at one point John Wayne rode in on Neil Gaiman and tried to lasso me with rope made of Dolly Parton’s eyelashes, which had been hand-rolled by Guatemalan maidens.
Anyway, when I woke up I decided to write a little bit on my method of character selection. I also decided never again to eat jalapeño peppers stuffed with cheese when drinking large quantities of port.
When it comes to fantasy MMOs I tend to be pretty set in my ways when it comes to the choice of race. I usually rule out playing a human pretty early on; it’s not that I find playing a human in a fantasy setting dull, there are a lot of cool human characters in the fantasy genre, it’s more that the representation of humans in most MMOs is just… wrong. We’re not talking Uncanny Valley here, we’re talking Ministry of Silly Walks. To my eyes, the human representation more often than not looks awkward and that grates too much for me to be playing one for any length of time.
When I was younger and playing Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, I used to love elves. Back in the day they were elegant, aloof and refined. Their weapons were unique and mysterious, their fighting style was unnatural and yet in complete harmony with nature. Surfing down staircases on a shield was a big no-no, in fact they had a punishment along the lines of rafanizou if anyone was caught doing that, but obviously it was a mystical and antediluvian ritual, with elven radishes which had been bred especially over a thousand millennia. These days elves seem to have been reduced to the status of pretentious, borderline-anorexic humans with pointy ears. They’re the Paris Hiltons of the fantasy genre.
We’re running out of fantasy staples, but never fear, because I like dwarves. I guess if I’m honest I am a dwarf at heart these days: grumpy, rough and ready, loyal and devoted to friends and really quite hairy. Well maybe not the last one, but I did try to grow a beard once, and in the end isn’t that what counts? I like playing races that have some sort of obviously distinguishing height difference, mainly because it’s something that will actually stand out in the World of Wealllookalike, so short of stature dwarves or hulking ogres always appeal to me. Dwarves are feisty, tough, usually in the thick of battle and rarely back down from a fight, and that’s the sort of character that I admire. And if nothing else, there’s always the beer; the vast vats of lovely, frothy-headed bitter ale.
I don’t have any aversion to playing the more diminutive races, in fact I find them fun as I stated above, but there is a caveat in that I can’t play the overly cute ones. I probably wouldn’t play a fae in EQII, but I would play a Ratonga. I like the Yodas, the Angs and the Belkars of the fictional world. I make an exception for Sir Didymus, he’s borderline cute, but so very funny with it.
Anyway, there’s an outline of the general preconceptions and prejudices that I take with me when I approach a new game.
So I expect that you have an idea of what race I’m likely to have chosen – there will be an exam at the end of this post – but what follows is an outline of how the decision was refined and how I arrived at my initial character for LotRO. So let me take you on a journey further into the murky depths my brain; please wear the protective goggles provided at all times, and take time to read the instruction leaflet on how to assume the crash position correctly. In the event of excessive cynicism, oxygen masks will drop from the compartment above your head, please fit your own mask before attempting to fit masks to those less tolerant or understanding than you. Don’t worry about John Wayne and Neil Gaiman, they’re just after your Lucky Charms, and are mostly harmless.
It will be fairly obvious to those paying attention that fairly quickly I ruled out the race of man. (And woman). And woman, thanks Stan. They stand awkwardly, they’re gangly, and they run like they’ve watched Forest Gump one too many times, including, the last time I played in beta, leaning into corners but from the waist-up only. I mean, what the hell? Maybe it’s a Tolkien thing, I’m sure there is probably a five page song in the Silmarillion on why the gods made all humans lean around corners but only from the waist-up. Anyway, the one stumbling block at this point in my decision was that out of the choice of classes, the Captain was the one that first caught my eye, which is exclusive to the race of men. (And women). And women, thanks Stan. This made it a bit tricky, because the Captain class is very much my style of play: a jack-of-all-trades group support and all-round good guy. However, after a little research it seems as though the Captain class may be just a little too much of a JoaT, this coupled with their being a pet class which I can never really get on with, and the fact that I have played hybrids in WoW for the past *mumble mumble* years, meant that I could convince myself that this wasn’t the class for me. So that ruled out playing a human, awwwww no waist-leaning for me.
Elves were a lot simpler to rule out, thanks Lord of the Rings the Movie, and your shield-surfing Legolas that has spawned a million “Kekekeke” bouncing clones. It’s still hard to escape the fact that they’re skinny humans with pointy ears, even with all the background lore behind them, I can’t help but feel that. I know it’s hard to make attractive humanoids in games, but those elves are pretty fuggly; we’re not talking Liv Tyler fuggly, where the fuggly meter goes all the way around and comes back on the other side, and you actually find yourself deeply attracted to her even though you keep thinking of her Dad half the time. Maybe that’s just me. No, the elves in LotRO just look like really bad plastic surgery mistakes: you know those celebrities who no longer look like they’re part of the Earth gene pool any more? Put pointy ears on them, and you’ve got LotRO elves.
So, mentally kicking dirt into the weird-running, plastic surgery reject races meant that I had then ruled out the Loremaster class. At this point I had to review my reasoning again because I liked the idea of that class, I mean who doesn’t want to be Gandalf? All the Legolas-loving men-in-tights can put their hands down. Gandalf is the sage. The wise man of ages. The force for good. If Tolkien had had just a shred of forethought he wouldn’t have named him Gandalf the White, and the film would have instead gone: “Gandalf? Yes… That’s what they used to call me. Gandalf the Grey. That was my name. I am Gandalf the Daddy. And I come back to you now at the turn of the tide.”, and there would have been the classic line of “Who’s your Daddy?” when he forced Sauron out from Theoden King. However, in LotRO the Loremaster is a strange class which doesn’t seem to have a strong enough definition, and again there’s the pet thing. Why do pet classes annoy me, well in this instance it’s the choice of pets that you’re restricted to:
Captain of Gondor: “Loremaster, the enemy horde outnumbers us by three to one, whatever can we do against such odds?”
Loremaster: “Fear not little one, for I shall send my faithful companion to tackle them!”
Captain of Gondor: “Your faithful companion?”
Loremaster: “Yes, Alan, here”
Captain of Gondor: “Alan, is a small bird”
Loremaster: “Well… yes. But he is a fearsome fighter! He can perform great angry feats of rage if you give him a chance”
Captain of Gondor: “Loremaster, there are four hundred orcs out there, and you propose to attack them with a chaffinch”
Loremaster: “Alan is not a chaffinch, he’s a lesser spotted wren.”
Captain of Gondor: “Oh well then… Go on then, show us. Show us what mighty… “
Captain of Gondor: “What mighty Alan can do.”
Loremaster: “Right Alan, this it, don’t let me down. Off you go.”
Loremaster: “There he goes. See! See him bravely attack the enemy head-on!”
Loremaster: “Oh dear.”
Captain of Gondor: “They’re… eating Alan. Is that a… dip? They actually brought some sort of herb dip, Loremaster.”
Captain of Gondor: “Loremaster?”
Ok so the way the Loremaster class is implemented is actually a fairly clever way to get around the First Age Non-proliferation of Magic treaty of Middle Earth (Sauron is so getting a visit from the United Nations inspectors), but as I say, it just wouldn’t work for me as far as I can tell, and so I could happily move on to the next race.
Dwarves. Now we’re talking! Those hairy tin-barrels on legs, armed and dangerous even when they’re doing the spring cleaning, they’re the nutters favourite nut. Hopefully you’ve latched on to the subtle vibe that I like dwarves. However, class choice was a problem for me here. The Champion was my initial preference, but being one of the major DPS classes, everyone and his wife will be playing one, and this is a big turn-off for me. Flavour of the month classes are never on my list of Things I Must Do To Be Popular With The Cool Kids. The Hunter suffers like the Champion for the same reason, in my eyes. In addition, dwarf hunter? Eh? A dwarf. With a bow. Oh yes, I can see the dwarves of Tolkien, all lined up at the back of the battle with their bows. And then, when the battle commences and the Captain of Gondor orders the archers to attack, the dwarven archers all barrel down the hill, overtaking the charge of the Riders of Rohan, and then smacking in to Sauron’s forces, beating them about the head with their bows and stabbing them with arrows. The Guardian is tempting, and I may well try a dwarf guardian at some point in the future, but the whole YO MAMMA issue puts me off, although I have to confess that I haven’t played the class so I don’t know how well taunting has been implemented in LotRO. And finally, the Minstrel. For me the dwarven Minstrel suffers the same as the Hunter: I have visions of the dwarf charging in to battle with cloth armour and clobbering enemies with a lute and garrotting them with the strings; any injuries in a party with a dwarf healer had better be curable with beer, because that’s all there’s going to be in the medicine kit. I hadn’t ruled out the Minstrel, but playing one as a dwarf wasn’t going to happen.
So finally I looked at Hobbits. The Hunter was more tempting with this race and certainly more believable, but again everyone goes for DPS, and so I rarely do. The Guardian similarly tempted me, since it’s always fun to play a diminutive race with a tanking class, but seeing as I had already dismissed a dwarf Guardian, a hobbit one wasn’t really any better. The Minstrel, could work very well: I like playing support and healing classes, and this was a strong consideration for a while, but I’ve played healing classes to death in WoW, and the whole Minstrel ‘strumming his instrument in the middle of battle’, if you know what I mean, just seems a bit weird.
“Hey guys, here’s a little number I wrote the other day.”
“Die! Die! Die! You Orc bastards!”
“Thank you. Thank you. I’ll be here until the end of the battle. Try the salmon it’s delicious.”
Which left the burglar. I’ve never really gone for stealthy, tricksy little characters before, and the concept intrigued me. Even better, they’re not the insane DPS machines of other MMOs, so they are less likely to attract the ADD-bouncing “Kekekeke!” player to them. What’s more, they’re actually a group support class in LotRO, providing debuffs and the opportunity to start the ‘game-mechanic formally known as conjunctions’ at will. A change of pace from healing seemed pretty good to me, and so with all the other options considered, this is the race/class combination that I settled on, with the alt-o-holic in me keeping the dwarf Guardian in mind for later, if I really take to the game.
I rolled my character on an RP server as I’m very much a fan of the RP in RPG, and I will always try to make sure I’m somewhere where I can at least get the opportunity to try it; this doesn’t happen too often as I’m unfortunately a bit shy and retiring even with online anonymity as a shield, but having the opportunity to role-play even if it never comes to fruition, is something I aim for. I won’t go into my deliberations on character naming, but a post on character background and professions is in the works.
So there we have it, a journey through the weirdness that I like to call my mind. Please stow your trays and return your chairs to the upright position, we will be landing in normality shortly. Flight attendants are now coming around to collect your sick bags. We hope you weren’t too freaked out flying with Melmoth Airways, and we look forward to you flying with us again.
Have a sane onward journey.