The Road to Mordor: For want of a horseshoe, my sanity was lost

So a while back I was at an art fair with some friends when I commented on how much I liked a strange piece and one of the guys with me said, "Justin, you know what? You're kind of esoteric, ain't ya?"

I agreed wholeheartedly and then rushed home to look up "esoteric" in the dictionary. And yeah, it sort of fit. Sometimes I get obsessed with small details that get shrugged off by others, a habit which extends into my MMO playing career. So you'll forgive me if today's post is a little more esoteric than usual, because this topic is honestly driving me up the wall.

I think many of you already know what I'm talking about from the column title up there. Today, we're going to talk about a horseshoe. A very interesting, very confounding, very obtuse horseshoe. It may even be the biggest smallest mystery that Lord of the Rings Online has to offer. I haven't stopped obsessing over it since I first found out about it. So it's better for me to exorcise my demons here than keeping them bottled up inside.

Luck has nothing to do with it

The horseshoe in question, of course, is Erebrandir's Horseshoe. It's one of the quest rewards during Volume III, Book 2, Chapter 4 of the epic storyline where you're riding south with the Grey Company in Eregion. One minute you're progressing happily through the main story as usual, and the next you're stumped by one of the oddest quest rewards in the game.

You see, Erebrandir's Horseshoe doesn't appear to really do anything at all. It's a blue trinket item that has no stats attached, and is described with the enigmatic phrase, "Some people believe such a shoe brings good fortune." If you equip it, a little horseshoe buff icon pops up under your character's portrait. That's it.

"OK," you say, "it's some random piece of garbage. Every MMO has tons of those." Well, yeah, except that this is a significant-looking quest reward from the game's main storyline, one that all but winks at you and dares you to figure out what it does.

Players such as myself have gone to the brink of madness trying to figure out what Erebrandir's Horseshoe does. Nobody wants to pick one of the other rewards from the quest, because what if this is important or useful? There's no way to go back and get it later on. While we're loathe to skip picking it up, we're equally hesitant to keep it equipped, because it takes up a valuable trinket slot that can be used for useful stat boosts.

What really drives me up a wall is that the collective power of the LotRO community has yet to crack this puzzle. Oh, sure, there are theories bandied about, but nothing has been proven conclusively. The Lorebook is no help on the subject, and neither is Lotro-Wiki. Heck, I even broke down and wrote to Turbine asking a dev to comment on the item, even in a tangential fashion. The response? They refused to discuss it, period.

However, Turbine's MadeOfLions did drop three pieces of information in the forums. The first was, "The question was raised during Beta whether Erebrandir's Horseshoe had been thoroughly tested; the answer is that it was." The second was in response to someone asking if it does have an actual effect; MadeOfLions responded, "You should be happy, then, because it does have a verifiable in-game effect. The question is whether you believe it is something you would like to have." The final piece of info was supposedly in the beta forums, where he confirmed that it had something to do with NPCs.

Later on in the thread, Istien pitched in: "Yes, I did test the horseshoe. It does what it's supposed to. I personally haven't gotten to Volume 3 Book 2 on my live character yet, but when I do you can sure as hell bet I'll be picking that horseshoe! I wouldn't miss out on that!"

Thanks. You guys are super helpful.

I guess that means we're on our own. The topic of the horseshoe seems to come up weekly in kin chat, especially when someone gets it for the first time. As I said, we have theories, but the truth may be far more complicated -- or far more simple -- than anything we anticipate.

Theory #1: It helps you with legendary items

This is probably one of the most common theories I've seen discussed. The idea here is that if you have the horseshoe equipped while identifying legendary items, you have a higher chance of scoring more or better legacies than you would otherwise.

There are two problems with this theory. The first is that nobody's been able to prove this apart from statistically useless "I wore this one day and lucked out on my legacy" testimonies. The second is that with the recent change to LIs and the standardization of legacy reveals, that would mean the horseshoe is useless. And I don't think it is. Relic combinations are another possibility, but I'm going to move on from this topic.

Theory #2: It improves rare drop rates

I think the driving force behind this theory is that when we think "lucky" in MMOs, our minds go to "great loot drops." In other titles, lucky items have been put in the game to increase one's chance of scoring loot and money, but there's no way this applies to LotRO. Why? Because can you imagine the outrage if Turbine had gone ahead and included a loot-boosting item without telling us what it was and giving us the chance to not pick it up? There would be riots. Riots like you've never seen. So it's safe to rule this one out.

Theory #3: It's for an epic quest down the line

I subscribe to this theory. I don't think this is a useless artifact, but for it to be skippable and mysterious, it most likely falls into the "fluff" category in some way. If MadeOfLions really did say that this had to do with NPCs, then it's not a stretch to consider that future quests, NPC reactions, or even epic quest text may change if you're wearing the horseshoe. This wouldn't be game-breaking in any way, but just a really cool little Easter egg that will (hopefully) be discovered some day.

Theory #4: It's a mind game

Lots of frustrated players cling to this theory to retain their sanity, and I don't blame them. The idea here is that this is nothing more than a social experiment or inside joke on Turbine's part to keep us guessing when there's nothing beyond the obvious: That this is simply a trinket that makes a buff icon light up, nothing more and nothing less.

It's interesting to see how tight-lipped Turbine's been in the half-year or so since the item was put into the game. If this is really just a mystery without an answer, then you almost have to tip your hat to the dev team for keeping the questions going for as long as they have.

Of course, if this is the case and it's confirmed one day, it's going to rankle more than a few players' underpants. People don't liked to be messed with, even if it's just for fun.

Theory #5: Everything else

It keeps tigers away. It allows you to fall from higher places without hurting yourself. It gives you a higher chance of winning items when rolling on them in a group. It will be useful when we go to Rohan and engage in mounted combat. It increases your chance of starting a conjunction. It helps you find boars in Evendim. It increases lag. It increases your odds of harvesting rare mats. Sauron likes playing horseshoe.

Really, any of these theories are as likely as the next, especially since nothing's been proven one way or another.

So here we are at the end of the column and, as expected, we have no conclusion to the matter. Will the mystery of Erebrandir's Horseshoe ever be solved, or will it remain the biggest smallest mystery in the game until LotRO's final hours? Who knows, but I'd love to hear your theories about it!

When not enjoying second breakfast and a pint of ale, 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.