Wednesday, 27 February 2008


Observe these two items of equipment: though lacking the "must-have" chic of teal items, they are good, solid bits of armour, carrying some very desirable increases in stats - the +30 Agility, +15 Will and +45 Power you would get from the Leggings of Mirkwood are not to be sneezed at, and even the "green" Dwarf Leather Gloves of Might look useful.

Alas, it is a dead cert that nobody has ever worn these pieces of armour into battle, nor the many dozens like them. Why? Because they can only be equipped by players who have reached the giddy heights of level 50, and nobody else. Which is completely inane, since l.50s have a wide choice of crafted or reward items with stats vastly superior to these; anybody sticking their nose into Helegrod or Barad Gularan wearing similar items (never mind the Rift) is heading for a quick wipe. On the other hand, players around, say, l.40 would give their eyeteeth for some of these items.

This has always struck me as one the odder (and, I suspect, lazier) design decisions of the game; LOTRO is chock-a-block with weapons and armour of all kinds whose use is limited to levels 48-50. The iron law of marketing which states that top-level players will invariably make a beeline for the best available equipment the game offers, ignoring everything else, also guarantees that such second-rate (for their level) items will become nothing more than vendor thrash. Which, like every wasted opportunity, is a pity. A drastic down-grading of minimum levels for a lot of this stuff would be a sensible future move.

Saturday, 23 February 2008


Well, I am a level 44 Guardian, tried to survive the Barrow-Downs,
with my level 6 friend. Basically, I was soloing it.
Everything went well with the tanking, although sometimes
something came from behind and killed my friend.

However when we got the first boss (Left Hand Key)

my dad decided this would be excellent time to use the printer.
I completely lagged, couldn't click skills. And we got wiped.
However I don't think we would have survived anyway.

This is an genuine found poem, contributed to the Codemasters forum by ParkourKyle, to whom thanks and apologies. Editing was restricted to a change of line breaks in the first stanza.


Virtues are one of LOTRO's minor but still effective little design twists - and a good standby for those times when none of your friends are logged on and you have nothing much better to do than kill 300 wargs in Angmar in order to increase your Determination rank by a factor of one. The gains are minor but not entirely negligible: achieving rank 7 in Determination, for instance, grants you increases of 21 to Agility, 38 to Morale and 0.5 to in-combat regeneration. Mind you, in order to reach rank 8, the current maximum, you need to have knocked off:

  • 30 + 60 Wolves in Ered Luin;
  • 30 + 60 Slugs in the Shire;
  • 30 + 60 Barghests in Breeland;
  • 90 + 180 Wargs in the North Downs;
  • 120 + 240 Crawlers in the Trollshaws;
  • 120 + 240 Snowbeasts in the Misty Mountains;
  • 120 + 240 Salamanders in Evendim;
  • 150 + 300 Wargs in Angmar.
That's a lot of beasties...

Since only five virtues out of possible twenty can be slotted (and active) at any one time, a certain amount of tactical shuffling is possible and indeed desirable depending upon what your current objective is. Unfortunately, like other traits, virtues can only be switched around by a Bard, who is not always easily accessible in the depths of the Rift. There is obviously a lot of design potential in virtues, and it's almost certain that the maximum ranks achievable will be increased in the near future. It would also be nice if a), it became possible to slot more than five virtues at any one time, and b), if increased levels were less dependent on this "go forth and slaughter the wildlife in its hundreds and thousands" approach.

The ultimate guide to Virtues can be found on, a
very nicely designed site which uses an advanced graphical table design allowing you to look up details by virtue, by stat or by geographical zone.

Monday, 18 February 2008


If you are easily irritated by trivial comment on inherently inane subjects (and why shouldn't you be?), please stop reading now.

For all the rest of us who have by this time spent a calculable fraction of our time on earth staring at LOTRO's two loading screens, wondering what exactly those weirdly contorted, half-mineral, half-animate shapes writhing along the edge of the staircase leading into (presumably) Mordor could possibly be, I may have an answer. The figure on the right of the staircase in the first screen (above, left) is a US Marine in up-to-date desert camouflage holding an automatic rifle and hoping to sneak into Mordor. The figure on the right of the staircase in the second screen (above, right) is much harder to interpret, but I think I've cracked it: it's an elf with unusually large and pointed ears wearing a crown and clutching, for some reason, a metal crutch. Unlike the US Marine, he is intent on departing the approach to Mordor in as dignified a way as possible under the circumstances.

Don't ask me for the meaning of these two figures. I feel I've done my bit; let others devote themselves to the task of explication.

Saturday, 16 February 2008


So far, LOTRO has been deeply frustrating for the multitudinous race of RPG pack-rats - those players who love to collect one of everything, particularly anything rare or significant, and display it to the best possible advantage, if possible in their very own digital home. Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series, above all the remarkable Morrowind, pandered brilliantly to such players, who could spend days, weeks and months collecting complete sets of every kind of armour, displayed on dummies in the vast halls of their player-designed module homes. The coming of LOTRO housing sparked off hopes that something similar might prove possible here as well, but the oddly limited system of pre-positioned and rigidly sized furniture 'hooks' which the designers opted for seemed to exclude that possibility.

Now Book 12 brings the possibility of acquiring at least some trophies of major encounters, including Sambrog's Helm (Great Barrows), Naruhel's Dress (The Red Maid - Garth Agarwen), Udunion' Swords (Barad Gularan), Ferndur's Skull (Imlad Balchorth), Remmenaeg's Armour (Fornost), Ivar's Banner (Garth Agarwen), Lagmas' Arm (Urugarth), Mordrith's Mirror (Carn Dum), Bogboreth's Head (NE Angmar), Helchgam's Tentacle (Carn Dum), Thorog's Skull (Helegrod) and Thaurlach's Sword (the Rift). Unfortunately they are classified as furniture items small, medium or large, so their placement will necessarily be limited to existing hooks, but it's a start in the right direction. If, as seems likely, LOTRO runs and runs, perhaps a year or so from now we will get fully differentiated and positionable loot items...

Meanwhile, I couldn't resist including an image of the author of these chronicles, or at least his alter ego, sitting comfortably beneath a recently acquired Sambrog's Helm (soloed, of course).


Book 12 is now up and running, not without a certain amount of grief - some people took as long as ten hours to download the patch from the servers. A sightly larger than usual number of minor glitches, of which the most serious appears to be a (partial) malfunction of the Auction House search, with certain items appearing but not others. Some players report getting stuck in odd locations, or being unable to contact a GM via the Help command.

A pleasant surprise for many was the discovery that their reputation with various factions had increased overnight, in some cases dramatically; it's too bad that nearly all the faction rewards continue to be rubbish, with the sole exception of the somewhat tougher than usual Northern Council horse (it's expensive, though, at slightly over 5G).

Visually, the first thing to strike one is the large number of people running through the streets of Bree dressed in what seem to be oriental-style bathrobes; once again, LOTRO's clothes designers have shown that restrained elegance and simplicity are not part of their fashion vocabulary. To see the complete range of new cosmetic clothing and accessories, consult Yatta's encyclopedic compendium at

Thursday, 14 February 2008


Well, the good news was that yesterday, Codemasters released the patch for the eagerly-awaited Book 12 a day prior to the update going live on the servers. The bad news was that for some strange reason, they decided to only do so as a torrent - the problem with that being, as shown by the howls of anguish on the forums, that a great majority of players hate torrents with a passion. I have to admit to being one of them myself, but the passion doesn't seem entirely unjustified when you consider that many people were reporting estimated download times of between one and five days...

By early Thursday morning, the system seems to have collapsed gracefully, resulting in a flood of "tracker offline" or "torrent rejected by tracker" messages. One generous player, RevHellfire by handle, went so far as to mirror the patch himself and post the link on the CM forums, adding the warning "no promises as to how long I'll leave it up if it gets hit hard".

At the end of the day it hardly matters, since by early afternoon today we should be able to get the entire update off the servers, but it does leave you wondering why they opted for torrent when they could have used carrier pigeons - so much more efficient.

Monday, 11 February 2008


It seems to me that a successful MMORPG represents, amongst other things, an almost perfect microeconomic model – and what’s more, one based on the responses and reactions of real people, rather than computer algorithms. All the elements of classic market economy theory are present: supply and demand, gluts and shortages, self-interest and a very moderate amount of altruism, love of novelty and brand loyalty - and of course, determined efforts to influence, manipulate or subvert the market…

This conceit is reinforced by the frequently violent fluctuations of LOTRO’s economy as expressed though Auction House prices. Among the reasons for such fluctuations are changes in the supply of specific goods as implemented by the designers (i.e., price control by the government) and the introduction of new and hence more desirable goods (i.e., innovation and marketing by manufacturers). At the moment we seem to be going through a mild depression, with prices for many goods set high while demand is falling. The current price for that perennial market indicator, the Beryl Shard, is floating just above 1 gold, up more than 40% from early January. Scarcity drives up prices, needless to say, but sometimes it does so to the point of also driving out buyers. Bits of the highly desirable Armour of the Aurochs set, for instance, which have the great market advantage of not being Bind on Acquire (BoA), are found almost exclusively in Helegrod – but as we know, Helegrod requires 24-man raids which are difficult to organise and, as far as the individual player is concerned, offer a very poor return on time invested. The result is that not many players bother to raid there, and Armour of the Aurochs pieces are correspondingly scarce; a Helm of the Aurochs may be the most expensive item on the Laurelin AH, offered at 70G with an 80G buy-out.

Not surprisingly, the current scarcity of top-quality single-use recipes has also driven up the price of the very best crafted weapons, armour and jewellery; Etched Beryl Necklaces average 5-6G, Etched Beryl Bracelets 12-14G and Etched Beryl Earrings 15-16G. On the other hand, the general disdain in which Annuminas armour is held by most players and the extreme difficulty of assembling complete sets (is anybody still bothering?) means that the market for Arnorian Armour Fragments and Battered Arnorian Armour has almost collapsed; current prices are as low as 10-20 silver for the former and about 300S for the latter, with no takers. Rift-Iron Coins are on offer for 400-500S each, again with no takers at that price – probably a reflection of the fact that there’s not much of value to buy with them. In general, it can be taken for granted that irrespective of what the developers intended, the price of poorly thought-out or unimpressive goods will quickly go though the floor – another perfect concordance with real-world economics.

Come to think of it, how do we know that LOTRO’s economy isn’t already being manipulated by economists from the Harvard Business School running arcane experiments? Maybe those infamous gold-farmers are really MBAs, and all of us are nothing more than white mice running through a sophisticated economics simulation. A chilling thought.

Sunday, 10 February 2008


It's possibly the rarest and almost certainly the most prestigious item of gear in the game: ladies and gentlemen, presenting... the fabulous Cloak of the Cluck!

Presumably it's the final reward for completing chicken play. It comes with a generous armour count of 2 and is described as "indestructible", which is intriguing right there, but the big question is, what form does its fowl power take? Battery power?

Thursday, 7 February 2008


Multi-player games are, by definition, a social activity, and one of the main characteristics of any form of social interaction amongst humans is a gentle jockeying for and preoccupation with prestige. Prestige accumulates from your actions and the degree of influence, good or bad, you exert on your social group – but it is also determined by visual clues of all kinds, particularly of course in anything as dependent on vision as a computer game. The designers of LOTRO have cleverly pandered to players’ desire for prestige and one-upmanship with their system of titles, any one of which, once earned, can be publicly displayed to any other player who has activated the “Names” option – though they may have scored an own goal by creating far too many of them, and making many far too easy to get.

In any case, it’s always fun to see which titles get used in the game – some are perennial favourites, while others appear briefly and then fall out of fashion. There is of course an excess of trait-related titles which merely confirm that you have massacred hordes of this or that foe – enemy of this, foe of that, bane of another and slayer of a fourth. Not much glamour there...

Some of the best titles, confirmed by the fact that they remain perennial favourites, are among the most poetic; they include the fine if low-level Watcher of Roads (slay 30 brigands in Bree) and that source of much frustration, The Undying (survive undefeated to l.20). Some players cock snoot at the whole idea by choosing tongue-in-cheek titles such as Slug-Squasher, Fly-Swatter, Pie-Eating Champion or that excellent chicken-play title, Crosser of Roads.

For a long time, one of the most impressive titles for those in the know was A Light from the Shadows, which indicates that a player has completed Books 1-8, but you don’t see it very often any more; too complicated and unclear, perhaps. My own favourite is Warlord of Angmar – an example of precocious influence, perhaps, since I remember being both awed and puzzled as a humble l.21 by the sight of a l.50 kinsman in all his glory flaunting that title (how could a good guy end up being called that?). I’ve also got a soft spot for the enigmatic Hated by Zaudru (who he, and why does he hate you?). Currently, the coolest titles to swan around with are both associated with fell deeds deep in the Rift: respectively, Ruination of Thrang and Vanquisher of Thaurlach.