The Road to Mordor: Pippin's top five plugins

This past week in LotRO's been a bit like riding river rapids: There's been a lot of rapid ups-and-downs, violent lurches to avoid dangerous objects, and a whole lot of noise that's drowning out the calmer waters ahead. For every piece of good news and positive word-of-mouth, there's been a lot of unfortunate bumps, such as server queues, dynamic layers, mouthy trolls and Codemaster's launch delay. However, I believe it's all going to settle down in a couple more weeks, and LotRO will emerge the better for it.

So if this is your first week in Lord of the Rings Online, welcome! Find a great kinship, take time to smell the flowers, and hunt some orc for me.

Today I'd like to take a look at one of the unsung heroes of the recent content patch -- the ability to create and use plugins (also called mods and addons) to enhance your user interface. While the system is still in beta and has a rough-around-the-edges feel to it, it's already shown great potential, particularly though the creativity that mod designers are pouring into it. While there are only a small number of plugins available as of right now and Turbine has yet to expand the scope of these Lua scripts beyond constrained limits, it's not too early to beef up your UI with these spiffy additions. Read on, free peoples of Middle-internet!
Be a plugin pioneer!

Keep in mind that by Turbine's own admission, the Lua scripting wasn't quite ready for prime time. It's still in beta (although in beta on live servers equals some sort of math I can't fathom), and we haven't seen the full range of possibilities that this feature will have. If you're willing to enter the wild and woolly world of plugins, be prepared to put in a little extra effort to make it work.

According to the devs, right now plugins are restricted to basic UI element creation, quickslot information, inventory UI information, and information about a character's morale, power, buffs and debuffs. They have a lot of ideas for the future, but currently the system isn't as robust as something you'd see in, say, World of Warcraft.

Your first stop should be to read the instructions Turbine's given players on the Lua beta forums. I won't insult your obviously superior ability to read at an 8th grade level, but I will instead point you to the two most salient posts: here and here. I had some difficulty getting plugins to work at all until I figured out that I absolutely needed the Turbine example scripts in my /plugins subdirectory.

From there, it's time to go shopping! The current two main LotRO plugin sites are LoTROInterface and LOTROPlugins.com. Both are scrambling to organize the upcoming flood of plugins, but there are a lot of free goodies here already. I'm going to highlight five mods that I've found useful so far -- but of course, your mileage may vary.

#1: Plugin Manager

It seems a bit backwards that someone needed to create a plugin just to manage plugins, but considering that the alternative is loading plugins manually one by one every time you log into the game, it's all but a necessary to keep your sanity. Hopefully Turbine will add something similar to the in-game system and make this obsolete, but until then, I'd recommend nabbing Plugin Manager for its ease of use.

You still have to load Plugin Manager by hand, but once you do so, the interface will simplify the rest of that session's mods via a simple checklist.

#2: Buff Bars

Now, I'm not a big fan of squinting. Maybe you are, but in my experience it makes one look shifty and Mr. Magoo-like. So it should go without saying that I don't like always squinting at the icons for my character's buffs and debuffs, and I'm not willing to increase my UI to comically large proportions. Buff Bars is a better compromise, as it places a pane of buff and debuff bars on your screen, counting down until their expiration.

Buff Bars has become one of the biggest plugin hits to date and for good reason. It's attractive, simple, and has the potential to change the way you do combat for the better. I can now see how long my captain has to act after a defeat response; I have a better idea when I should be buffing back up; and I've gained a better understanding of the various injuries that enemies inflict upon me. My only complaint is that this list of buffs and debuffs can get pretty lengthy, especially in the middle of battle, and take up a lot of screen real estate.

#3: TonicBars and Bevy o' Bars

Both of these plugins grant the player a much wider range of flexibility and options when it comes to his or her quickbars. While some of the features differ between the two mods (for example, Bevy o' Bars offers a "fade" feature for quickbars), they both allow players to move, resize, and greatly expand hotbars as needed.

#4: Emo

Best. Plugin. Name. Ever.

OK, it at least made me chuckle. Emo is a simple plugin designed to let you group, create and fire off emotes. LotRO is absolutely packed with awesome character emotes (/giggle and /faint are my two favorites), but so often these emotes are underused due to the small fact that our memories have more holes than Swiss cheese after a mouse bombardment.

Emo provides a small toolbar that you can customize to include choice emotes and even your own fabricated touches. It's not a "must have" unless you're a roleplayer, but it is a lot of fun, especially if you haven't dabbled with the game's emote system much.

#5: Palantir

When you're in the middle of combat, it's not always easy to take your eyes off the middle of the screen (where the action is) to keep tabs on your health and power (typically located in the upper left-hand corner). Sure, you could drag this part of the UI down by your character -- or you could install Palantir and enjoy a classier option.

Palantir is a health/power/debuff HUD that shares a lot of similarities with HUDs in other games. Basically, it allows you to keep your eyes focused on the middle of the screen by projecting three brackets around your character: a curved health bar to the left, a curved power bar to the right, and a smaller segmented curve at the bottom that lights up if you get any unfortunate effects thrown on you. Palantir even comes with an option to fade when you're not in combat, so you don't have to be staring at it all the time.

All of the above mods are, of course, works in progress, doubly so if you consider that LotRO's plugin system is subject to change and expansion in the future. Still, I'm pretty psyched about what I've seen so far; players' creativity always amazes me.

If you've tinkered around with LotRO's plugins, I'd love to hear what you would recommend to other players. Drop a comment below!
When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti jaws about hobbits in his Lord of the Rings Online column, The Road to Mordor. You can contact him via email at justin@massively.com or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.
This article was originally published on Massively.