The Road to Mordor: 10 things to do in the Shire before you die

A couple of weeks ago I decided to embark on a long-planned project to play through the entirety of Lord of the Rings Online -- or at least a whole heck of a lot more than I ever have previously. My thought was that in the rush to level and progress, I had been skipping much of the content that makes LotRO so unique, and I wanted to force myself to slow down, take it all in, and get over the desire to hit endgame as quickly as possible.

Thus, I created Slyppi, a brand-new level 1 Hobbit Burglar with the intention of experiencing the game in full. My rules with Slyppi are thus: She will clear out every solo quest in a zone (including the epic storyline but excluding tasks) before moving elsewhere. She will go through all three newbie zones and ignore the fact that the quests aren't giving her much XP. She will take detailed notes, package them up, and send them back to me for the purposes of turning them into a guide to the interesting out-of-the-way quests and places in Middle-earth.

If you're anything like me, you probably die a lot, usually in very embarrassing ways (hey, that cliff wasn't there a minute ago...). Since we all have a death warrant on our heads, we might as well get the most out of our journeys, which is why I've come up with 10 things that you should do in the Shire before the inevitable occurs. Why 10? Because it's two in computer-speak!

I've already gushed about how the Shire is one of my absolute favorite zones in the game -- and in any MMO, to be honest. It's just so unique and different compared to other MMO areas that it seems to stand alone in its own category. The pastoral hills of the Hobbits may not offer much in the way of high adventure and epic combat, but there's plenty to do and see if you're willing to slow down and get into the Shire groove.

1. Join the Quick Post

It's a LotRO rite of passage: If you're going to play this game, you simply have to go through the entirety of both the Quick Post and pie-running missions so that you can complain about them later to your friends. It's not that they're bad, but just that right out of the gate the game hands you a mechanic that isn't used much elsewhere -- run fast while avoiding nosy/hungry Hobbits that appear on your radar -- and then asks you to do it a few dozen times over.

Me? I actually kind of like these quests. It's part tradition, as every one of my new characters has done them, and the rewards aren't too shabby for the early stages of the game. You can really get a jump on the Shire-wide quest deeds with these, you'll end up with a few nice rewards, and some of the runs require more than a little bit of strategy and platforming (rooftops are your friend).

2. Tour Bag End

It was literally years that I'd been playing LotRO before I discovered that you could actually go into Bag End and poke around. Bilbo and Frodo's former residence lacks anything to do (outside of the new fall festival Haunted Burrow) and no quests asks you to go inside, so I can understand why it's ignored even though it's right there in the middle of everything.

However, I recommend that you take a few minutes for a self-tour through the home, realizing that this is the staging ground for not one, but two of the grandest adventures through Middle-earth.

3. Become a chicken

Farmer Sanderson is a little off the beaten track, but his farm shouldn't be ignored by those looking for one of the most unique -- and difficult -- challenges in the game. Complete a small handful of quests at the farm, and you'll suddenly find yourself sucked into chicken play (which is less dirty than it sounds).

As a chicken, you'll experience the world in a whole new way, mostly as very weak prey who must use every ounce of cunning and skill to evade wolves and worse. If you persist with this questline, you can even earn one of the most unique cloaks in the game -- and a sense of pride for doing something most people blow off.

4. Donate to the Mathom House

A mathom is a (seemingly) useless trinket that Hobbits keep around nevertheless. There's a whole house dedicated to storing these like a museum, but you'll need to earn the privilege of entering first. You can do this by discovering and turning in mathoms during your adventures through Middle-earth. There are plenty of Gift Mathoms as quest rewards in the Shire to get you started.

Mathom House reputation may take a while (or a lot of money), but it's completely worth it. Not only will Hobbits get a great boost to three of their virtues, but everyone can purchase Mathom House items, like cosmetic outfits, a firefly jar, and a nifty horse.

5. Confront the ghost of Old Took

Adelard Took in Tuckborough's Great Smials kicks off a small but incredibly memorable quest chain in which you'll be running tasks to try to appease a ghost of his ancestor that supposedly haunts the library. The quests get more and more ridiculous as you proceed, and the finale is not to be missed for any traveler!

6. Burn people alive

Wait, what? When did this guide take a turn for the incredibly disturbing? Apparently when Turbine's writers did.

A seemingly innocent quest to destroy a batch of stolen fireworks lands you in the middle of one of the only two bandit concentrations in the Shire. It's all routine hack-and-slash as you make your way through the hidden camp -- routine, at least, until you light the fireworks and inadvertently set a half-dozen or so sleeping campers on fire. They run around, scream, make a dash for water... and die.

Well! My innocence had to end some day!

The kicker is that when you turn in the quest, that Hobbit says, "That must have been quite a sight to see, perhaps like one of the Old Took's parties."

...

WHAT KIND OF PARTIES DID THIS GUY THROW?

7. Get married

Between Tuckburough and Bywater is a lovely outdoor platformed called Methel-stage. It's a favorite location of role-players and musicians, because it offers a perfect place to hold concerts, throw plays, and perform weddings.

Interesting fact: There are 28 chairs in front of the stage. Post-script: The previous "interesting fact" was anything but.

8. Play golf

"Seriously?" you ask. "This is the best MMO ever!"

No, I'm just pulling your leg. You can't play golf in LotRO -- yet. It's been rumored that golf may be in the works as a hobby or minigame, but in the meantime, we have to make do with the odd Hobbit fascination with the sport. According to Tolkien's lore, a Hobbit named Bandobras "Bullroarer" Took accidentally created golf when he took a club, whacked off a goblin's head with it, and knocked the noggin down a rabbit's hole.

Therefore, Brockenborings honored this gruesome execution with a giant statue of a Hobbit golfer. I am not kidding. The game also references golf with the Hobbit epic story prologue (you find the goblin's skull in a cave some time later) and a few select emotes that are purchasable from the store.

9. Hug a tree

I think a lot of people in this game miss out on some of the more unique quests that end up being at the end of long chains; sometimes this happens when people out-level the area and move on without finishing up everything. It's a shame if so, because there are incredibly weird and fascinating climaxes that result, such as where you make friends with a down-on-its-luck tree in the northern reaches of the Shire.

So as you're dealing with a spider infestation in some remote nook, you stumble upon a tree that's being molested by (and I kid you not) dozens of baby spiders. Now, despite every sentient tree in this game wanting to club the crap out of you with roots, this one is desperate enough to call a truce and allow you to escort it out of the area. Then it disappears without so much as a letter of recommendation that its sapling brethren stop bullying you.

10. Solve the mystery of the Black Rider

While it's widely known that there are nine Black Riders -- or Nazgûl, as they like to put on their business cards -- you can find a rare tenth Black Rider in Budgeford who is terrorizing pigs and residents alike. Put on your best thinking cap and get ready to play detective in one of the strangest (and kind of funniest) quests in the game.

Really, this last one is indicative of Shire stories: It's humorous, it gives you a good feel for the Hobbits' inexperience with the world at large, and it's much different in tone than what you'll be facing by the time you get to "serious" places like the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood.

So if you had to add an eleventh item to this list, what would it be?

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.