Friday 13 May 2011

Where do consequences lead? Depends on the escort.

There was I in LotRO, hero of the North Downs, Orc Hewer, Known to the Men (and women; thanks Stan) of Bree, Hunter of Dark Beasts, Protector of the Free People, Foe of Night, Ally of Rivendell, Troll Slayer, and all manner of other titles. So many titles. They’re a bit like war medals I suppose, you point to one and proudly state ‘I got this for defeating undead in Haudh Iarchith, you know’ and the random stranger at which you’ve shouted, nods with a strained smile and slowly backs away. They’re generally congratulatory badges for being on the winning side of one particular genocide or another.

“Mr Warden, you have killed one MILLION orcs. Well done you. We hereby bestow on you a new title! You may now be known as Mr Warden, He Really Doesn’t Like Them Orcs Much Does He?”
“Uh, thanks.”
“Well, it’s a bit of a mouthful isn’t it? Couldn’t I be called Orcslayer? Or Greenbane, or something?”
“You don’t like your new title?”
“Well, it’s just that…”
“No, no. That’s fine.”
“I mean, I…
“No, really. It’s fine. We’ll come up with a different title for you, seeing as this one clearly isn’t good enough for someone as special as you.”
“Oh really, I was just trying to…”
“Never mind, I can see you have your arms crossed now.”

[Later, back at an orc camp]

“Mother, when is father coming home?”
“I’m sorry Anthony, father won’t be coming back.”
“You mean…?!”
“Yes dearest, I’m afraid he was killed recently by that greatest foe of our people, slaughterer of a million orcs, the one the humans call ‘Whinypants’.”
“I will avenge my father!”
“Of course you will dear.”
“You really think so? I thought you’d be all ‘Oh no, don’t leave me, Anthony! I can’t bear to lose you too!”
“Well, you’re a young only child whose father has been killed be a notorious genocidal maniac. Clearly you’re a hero in the making. Just bring me back something nice when you’ve finished laying waste to your foes, okay dear?”

[Later, at the home of a strange wizened old orc]

“Very well young one, I will train you.”
[Fist-pumps the air] “Yesss!”
“Let us begin. First, I need you to paint this fence.”
“What?! Paint a fence? What sort of… ohhh! Ah. Ah ha ha, wait, I see! This is like some sort of mysterious training ritual right? Where I paint a fence and do a bunch of other menial chores and I’m all like ‘WTF gramps?’ but it turns out to have been secretly teaching me the ancient fighting art all along, which I then use to destroy my sworn enemies! Right?’
“Don’t be daft, I’m just an old orc and I want you to paint my fence.”
“And when you’re done there, wax my horse will you?”
“Well what do I get out of it?!”
“A thick ear if you don’t get on with it. Oh very well, I’ll give you a gold piece. IF you do a good job; that means I want to be able to see my face in the horse’s arse.”
“If you want to see into a horse’s arse just look in the mirror.”
“What was that?!”

Actually, that’s probably more of an accurate analogy for titles isn’t it? It’s a bit like bob-a-job week for Scouts, where you do a bunch of random menial tasks for complete strangers for money. In the rest of the world it’s called slavery, but in the UK Scout Association it was called Character Building[TM]. Of course the reality of it was that once a year you’d have a bunch of kids knocking on doors, risking abduction, only to be a) Told to bugger off, b) Given a pound coin in order to get them to bugger off, or c) Worked harder than a lone prostitute on a prison ship, given a pound coin, and then told to bugger off. Which is why you always find those grizzled eight year olds sitting around camp fires at jamborees, pointing to badges on their jumpers and saying ‘Got this one back in ’97 after washing the corns of a hundred and fifty old ladies at the local nursing home’ while wide-eyed newcomers stare with awe and admiration, and other veterans whistle through their teeth, or sit quietly hugging themselves with tears gently welling along the bottoms of their eyes.

So, being the Bob-a-job King of Middle Earth, it shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise that when I rolled-up to the dwarf encampment in Moria the first job I was given was to escort an old lady across a road. Or an old dwarf through a treacherous mine full of danger and death, same difference. Oh how I’ve loved escort quests in MMOs in the past (and I use ‘love’ in its sarcastic pejorative participle), and escort quests in LotRO are no exception. We all know how escort quests work: you speak to an NPC and then they run off and try their damnedest to get themselves killed while you try to keep them alive, with the judges awarding bonus points if the NPC manages to take you down with them. The dwarves of Moria seem particularly keen on this sport, and despite being doughty warriors and fearless explorers, they always seem to be getting themselves into situations that require you to escort them to safety. Personally I think they’re faking it; I think it’s a game they play amongst themselves because they’re bored, and if you check closely you’ll see they have Scout badges displaying columns of crossed-through lines for the number of heroes they’ve killed this way.

“Oooo. Ooooooooo. Help me Adventurer! I’ve… uh… I’ve sprained my beard and can’t get away from this…. [looks around] large… [looks around some more] small… mushroom, here. Ooooo, I think you’ll have to escort me out of here [sneaks a glance sideways at the adventurer]. I’m sure there will be a reward for safely returning me to my kin.”
“Can’t you just make your way past the… uh…”
“… past the mushroom yourself?”
“I’m afraid I’ve sprained my beard quite badly, I really can’t move without aid. I can barely muster the energy to speak [fake cough] I’m so… w-weak. [sobs unconvincingly]”
“[mumbles] Fine.”
“Okay! Okay. I’ll do it, alright? I’ll escort yo…”
“HUZZAH! I’M GONNA KILL ME SOME HERO… UH GOBLINS. CHARGE! I’M AN UNSTOPPABLE AGGRO MACHIIIIIiiiinnnnnneee [runs off into the distance at breakneck speed] COME ON WHINYPANTS!”
“[sigh] I’d better get a new title for this.”

I mean, these dwarves attack everything, including the stuff that’s just standing around minding its own business. Poor innocent gredbyg, eating rock, oblivious and uncaring about the world around it, and suddenly BA-CRUNCH! and there’s this crazy dwarf taking a few wild swings at it with his axe before running off to do the same to its mates. For the player it’s like being the designated driver on a pub crawl which includes amongst its members ‘permanently embittered Frank’, who always manages to get his pint spilt and then demands righteous vindication because fifteen pence worth of beer has slopped from his glass onto the floor. So you’re dragging Frank from the bar shouting “Leave ‘im Frank, ‘e’s not wurf it!” while Frank flails about trying to break your grip, and subsequently manages to spill the pints of several other ‘permanently embittered Franks’ from different pub crawl groups, who all start lashing out at random as well. It’s like popping a balloon next to a box full of nervous feral cats.

What’s worse is that, as a Warden, I’d easily grab aggro from the crazy dwarf and keep myself self-healed, so he’d get bored at this and bugger off up the road to see if he could find a troll and spill its pint. And as we carried on in this fashion, I began to worry that he was going to chain-aggro his way right back to Thorin’s Hall, only stopping when he mistakenly thocked Dwalin on the nose. It got to the point where he was attacking stuff that didn’t even have a pulse, as long as it represented some way of getting me killed he was determined to fight it, or die trying, hopefully taking me with him. “An unstable rock fall?! Attaaaack!”, which was when I ended up trying to force him not to attack “No, you don’t need to attack the cave lichen. Jus… just… no… just… look… stop it… stop… it… STOP!”, and that was when I slipped and accidentally stabbed him through the neck.

Thankfully there were no witnesses because we’d killed everything in a seven hundred mile radius, so I gradually back-heeled his corpse under a nearby outcrop of rock while whistling innocently, tip-toeing and craning my neck to look up and down the path every now and again to make sure no one was coming.

I slowly made my way back to the dwarf camp, having to take a few detours to avoid several desperate dwarves who pleaded to be taken to safety after becoming stranded with devastating fractured toenails, crippling severed eyebrow tendons, or catastrophic girdle failures. When I arrived I put on my best ‘I’m so sorry, he didn’t make it’ face, but imagine my surprise when I entered the office to find myself staring at none other than the King of the Aggronauts himself, with a bandage around his neck and a look that could fry bacon at fifty paces. I exclaimed how glad I was to see that he had made it back safely, and asked whether I could have my reward now. However, I got the distinct impression that the mood had turned sour, so decided to quickly vacate the room full of angry dwarves that like nothing better than to incessantly pick fights with anything that can be vaguely considered to be a carbon-based life form.

I never did get paid, but I did get a new title. You can call me Mr Warden, Hated By Escort NPCs. Best title ever.

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