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The Road to Mordor: Kicking back with Ales & Tales


Every Friday, The Road to Mordor brings you the latest in Lord of the Rings Online news, guides and analysis.

Massively's legal department has asked me to make a standard disclaimer here: I am not a role-player. Believe you me, I have tried. It's kind of like me with the guitar -- in theory, I want to play it and I like the idea of it, but in practice, I just have no innate talent for it. I like the idea of role-playing, I appreciate those who do, and I'm in full support of it -- but I really, really suck at it.

Maybe it would be different if I grew up playing pen-and-paper RPGs, where the friends and rules were more defined. But for some reason, in MMOs, I never quite know the "rules" to role-playing, and subsequently always end up ticking people off and never fit in. I have tried, though... oh how I have tried. And I continue to try.

So my latest endeavor in expanding my RP sensibilities came this past Monday evening, when I finally devoted an evening to doing something I've wanted to do ever since rerolling on Landroval (the unofficial NA RP server): I was going to go to Ales & Tales.

As a server, Landroval is absolutely ripe with player-run RP events. It's really one of the shining jewels of LotRO, and testament to how RP-friendly and encouraging Turbine created this MMO to be. There are player-run trivia contests, concerts, parades and celebrations all the time. But over all of these looms Ales & Tales, a gathering of RPers that changes locations weekly. Created by Harperella of the Lonely Mountain Band (an RP kinship), Ales & Tales feeds the RP spirit of the community by putting on an evening of song, poems and stories.

This week's event was held in the Hall of Fire, a famous room in Elrond's crib where the fireplace is always crackling and Bilbo can be spotted writing more of his questionable poetry. It is, by far, one of the more beautiful indoor locations in LotRO, and I was excited to go there. The only problem is that I had 20 minutes until the start of the event, and my character hadn't visited Rivendell yet (and therefore couldn't take the stable master's route to get there quickly). So a-galloping I went, over hills and through dales, going from the Last Bridge to the Last Homely House (is everything the "last" of whatever in this game?) in about 1/1000th of the time it took Frodo and company to make the same trip. I guess they didn't have such a pressing appointment as I did.

As I arrived there, soaking wet due to an unintentional fall into a river (whee, hobbit tubing!), I noticed a small but significant detail: an RP player was arriving by horse, but the horse was just trotting slowly. Considering that everyone everywhere in MMORPGs move as fast as their character or mount allows, to see someone ride in as if they were just enjoying the scenery instead of racing to Mt. Doom meant something. They weren't doing it for show, they were doing it for themselves -- and that's the real spirit of RP. It's not a performance piece, it's you getting into your own character's head and enjoying the world as a world instead of a game.

There was quite a mob in the Hall of Fire by the time I arrived, people emoting their hearts out and a gracious player by the name of Rixi handing out ale and pipeweed to everyone. And this wasn't the weak stuff, either -- one swig of this ale, and the room started spinning sideways. I had to lie down for a few until the dizzies went away. The /faint emote is a beautiful thing.

During this "pre-game show," a pair of musicians were entertaining the crowd with a catchy and... almost familiar piece. Hm... I couldn't figure out what it was for a minute, until my brain make the appropriate connections. It was The Godfather theme. The Godfather. In the Last Homely House. I found it strangely appropriate. After all, Elrond made Frodo an offer he couldn't refuse.

Now, as I said previously, I get really nervous with RPing because there's a whole slew of unwritten rules as to what is and is not considered appropriate. The big basic rule of thumb is that you don't ruin others' experiences for them, which is easier said than not done. Players are there to be among like-minded RPers, and they don't need some jerk stripping off their clothes and streaking (in LotRO's extremely modest underwear) up and down the hall screaming about pie. I find that most of the crowd tends to be pretty casual and flexible, but there's always one or two grumpy souls who take it upon themselves to enforce RP-breakers.

Such as me. Me being a RP-breaker, not a grumpy soul.

I was kind of proud of myself that I thought ahead to bring fireworks to Ales & Tales. I'd won them from one of the lotteries, and I wanted to save them for a special occasion -- like when I was part of a big party of folks. So as soon as the Godfather band was done with their song, I hopped up on a table and lit a couple firecrackers in appreciation. That got me a couple harsh "hurumphs!" from a stodgy hobbit who told me in no uncertain terms that this wasn't the place for fireworks, not to mention that you just don't light them off inside the hallowed sanctuary of Elrond.

Seriously? The room was like 500 feet tall and not that flammable, plus -- as I pointed out -- it was called the "Hall of Fire." I just added "works" on the end of that. Ah well. I sadly tucked away the rest of my goodies and sat down like a good little observer who didn't wish to disturb the natives.

The event proper was soon underway, as Harperella greeted the crowd and announced, in as many words, that it was open mike night. Players who had something to perform or recite would let her know, and she'd queue them up for the stage. Depending on the performer, there would either be a song, a story/poem, or a poem recited as a song played in the background. I was kind of hoping for some interactive theater, perhaps between two dualists fighting over the love of a hobbit maiden ('cause everyone knows that hobbit girls are the cutest), but that was more or less the extent of it.

In a way, it was brilliant. As the evening wound on, you could really imagine you were sitting there, smoking or eating or drinking while strangers congregated in the Last Homely House for tales of long-forgotten days. Players put a lot of work into these routines, and it showed, with the crowd clapping politely after each one.

But here is where we come to my main sticking point with role-playing in MMOs. To be completely honest, many RP events are -- dare I say it? -- a little boring. Slow. More atmospheric than anything, but it's hard to fight the ingrained habit of gaming where you're always doing something. Sitting and just watching and listening to folks recite and sing? It's like going to a play, only with no concessions. I want to do something, even if it's just a little something! Emoting, sure, I guess. It makes one antsy.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that RP is rubbish, however. As I said previously, I really admire the spirit of such attitudes and events, and in a way, it's a quiet revolution of MMORPG players who are fighting back against the dumbing down of MMOs into a generic fight-and-loot feedback routine. Here you have people who actively do something different, something outside the bounds of what the developers set up, and love every minute of it. They're not doing it for the epic gear or the boast-worthy achievements -- they're doing it because they value immersing themselves in the world more than just playing the system.

If nothing else, that's why I went to Ales & Tales, to be inspired by these peaceful rebels. Soon enough, the event was done and we scattered to the winds (or mapped home). I might not have been as drawn into it as I had hoped, but it felt worth it nonetheless.

Tavern Talk -- A look at what the LotRO community is talking about this week:

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