Sunday, 31 May 2009


Responding to my earlier post about Nornúan, the great turtle of the Waterworks, "Anonymous" commented that his kinship had worked out a tactic which involved using a Lore-master's bear to tank the turtle: "A burg can provoke the turtle so it doesn't switch targets so no one gets an acid dot. The healer just keeps the bear up. Dead simple." I was intrigued enough to suggest the tactic to my own kin a couple of days later, only to discover to my astonishment that it was regarded as an exploit. Though I have not been able to find anything to that effect on the official English Codemasters forums, a kinsman tracked down and translated a Danish language post in which the tactic was condemned in no uncertain terms by a GM:

[18:22] +Forgildan: Hello Traxie, I am Game Master Forgildan. You have exploited the turtle raid. Therefore you will now receive a warning. Please do not exploit again in the future.
[18:22] +Forgildan: Next time we catch you doing this, a 7 day suspension will be the outcome.

[18:25] +Forgildan: I just checked your forums. It seems that this announcement has not yet been made on the english forums. As this is the case, I will drop the official warnings, so your accounts have not been marked as exploiters
[18:26] +Forgildan: But please do not attempt bear-tanking again. If we catch you again, they will be marked as such.

So there you have it: bear-tanking is an exploit. My first reaction was to be seriously annoyed; how could bear-tanking possibly be considered an exploit, other than because it happened to run contrary to the way the designers thought this battle should be fought? Coming on top of the forthcoming nerf of the Burglar's Enrage trick, the implication is that there can only be one way to complete an instance, graven in stone as Holy Writ - anything else is heresy. For me, and for many other players, the whole point of a difficult instance is that can be fun to work out different ways of completing it, some sneakier than others. A designer policy of turning all LOTRO instances into cookie-cutter exercises does not bode well.

In fact, it turns out that there is a reason of sorts for the pet-tanking ban, which is that in the Nornúan fight, a pet does not trigger the "snapping" attack and hence does not get landed with the acid DOT (damage over time) debuff. Using this tactic, Nornúan was actually duoed by a LM and Minstrel on the Snowborn server earlier this month (the debate on the link goes far beyond this issue, by the way). So on balance, I think one has to accept that bear-tanking the Turtle does rather make a mockery of the whole concept of raiding. At the same time, it would be nice if these things could be tidied up prior to general release.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009


Nornúan lives in Filikul, a rather damp and plashy chamber of the great tower of Gabil-Munz, at the centre of Moria's Waterworks. He probably doesn't mind, though, as he's a giant Snapping Turtle - a chelonian not to be trifled with lightly, since he has 688,000 morale and a habit of shedding poisonous spines in all directions when he gets upset, which is often. The spines cause stacking acid damage over time (Gushing Wound) which is incurable by any potion, salve or spell.

Filikul is LOTRO's latest 12-man raid, and a very odd one it is too. Reaching Nornúan involves a swim/trek across the Waterworks and a two-minute walk down an undefended passageway - and there you are. No adds, no minor bosses, just a quick, very brutal fight; if you don't get him down in under ten minutes, the stackable DoT will wipe the party out. Now, to my mind, the first oddity about Filikul is that it feels astonishingly arbitrary. There's effectively no plot lead-in, other than a casual mention of a missing dwarf. So why, you would be justified in asking, should I go out of my way to beard a horrible great turtle in his sanctuary, where he's been living perfectly happily and not really bothering anybody?

The answer, I guess, is loot. Nornúan is supposed to drop one guaranteed First-age weapon, plus another Second-age item and an Iron Coin (good for normal radiant armour) as well some minor stuff (I say supposed, because last time my kinship took him down, there wasn't a sniff of a First-age item). Trouble is, when it does deign to drop, the First-age item is either a Warden Spear (something like 50% of the time), or else a Captain or Guardian spear; there have been reports of Hunter and Champion spears, but they are pretty rare. So if you don't belong to the spear-carrying classes, tough luck...

I haven't been overly bothered by this, as I tend to see Filikul as the designers' response to complaints that the Vile Maw instance is way too hard, particularly the post-Book 7 Watcher II: "OK, here's an easier one, no radiant armour needed (although it does help), you can have some low-cost First-age legendaries - but you probably won't like them...". Fair enough, in an weird sort of way, but there's more. It now appears that come Book 8, the developers propose to make Nornúan immune to the Burglar trick "Enrage", which causes the affected mob to attack at random - the method adopted by most raids to deal with the turtle's stacking debuffs, which would otherwise build up mostly on the tank. Note that this is not an exploit (a cheat, in other words, exploiting a design error), but the rational use of a game skill to defeat a boss attack. This decision has caused a lot of comment, most of it negative. Again, I can't say I'm too upset; it's not as though this was an astonishingly long and complex raid, and that a strategy carefully developed over weeks of trial and error had suddenly been rendered useless.

However, it is very poor design. If the developers really didn't want players to use Enrage, they should have seen it coming and done something about it beforehand. In the final analysis, Filikul looks and feels like a rather slapdash, not very well considered quick fix. On the European forums, Sanxo put the matter accurately if a little harshly: "The devs are fighting a losing battle against the law of unintended consequences, but rather than let the dust settle and think for second, they create a ragged patchwork of fixes held together with ill-considered nerfs". Ouch.

Friday, 22 May 2009


By and large, the average LOTRO player is rather older than players of most other online games. Does that make him or her more sensible, more mature and less likely to act like a completely selfish prat? With the exception of the thirty-odd people on my ignore list (you know who you are), this is to a certain extent true. Interestingly, it also means that an increasing number of players are electing to put pen to paper (update: fingers to keyboard) and writing about their experience of the game. It is therefore a great pleasure to welcome Epic Book to our little clan of LOTRO bloggers. Authored by Raegn, a gamer of some eleven-plus years experience, it includes some long, thoughtful but never dull posts on all aspects of the game, and comes highly recommended.

I also want to take this opportunity of bringing to your attention The Road Goes Ever On, an unusual and visually brilliant blog which is slowly and patiently illustrating each chapter of the original Lord of the Rings books with scenes from LOTRO, the game. The images are astonishingly vivid, but they have also made me realise how well and faithfully the game designers and artists have brought Tolkien's narrative to life. To give just a tiny example, which most of us may never have noticed (I certainly didn't): Tolkien writes that after waking up in the house of Tom Bombadil, Frodo peered out the east-facing window of their room and found himself looking upon a kitchen-garden, but "his view was screened by a tall line of beans on poles". Well, the beans and the bean-poles are right there where they should be, and we get a picture to prove it. Magic...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


Thorildin is a dwarf from Finland with a warped sense of humour and, clearly, far too much time on his hands. He has invested some of that time in assembling the biggest hat and helmet collection ever seen on LOTRO, and has very kindly placed it online for the delectation of the fashionable and/or desperate adventurer. The headgear shown above is only a small sampling of the collection, which currently numbers 45 different items and is no doubt growing apace.

After browsing through the set, you will probably be left in no doubt exactly why most players opt to not display their hat or helmet in public. On the other hand, you may be inspired to go shopping and vie for the best-dressed adventurer title, though in all honesty, its opposite is more likely to come your way...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


As regular readers of some of the excellent blogs you can access via LOTRO Combo Blog already know, responses to online gaming are not restricted to inarticulate WoW-speak exclamations. However, beyond those of us who, like myself, enjoy analysing and discussing a favourite game, there are a few people who have engaged with gaming at a level of what can only be called genuine scholarship. And I'm not refering here to those who consider gaming exclusively from the point of view of another discipline such as psychology, sociology or economics, but to those approaching games and gaming as a viable field of study in themselves.

In this context, readers should consider taking a look at Nick Yee's The Daedalus Project, a fascinating site packed with extensive research material, essays and insights about MMORPGs. There is unfortunately nothing directly relating to LOTRO, and the site went into hibernation a couple of months ago, but a huge wealth of original material is nevertheless available online; see, for example, the exhaustive MMORPG Lexicon. This material, essentially a labour of love, is available freely and free of charge; as Yee notes, "Currently, the research presented here is not part of any commercial venture, nor am I receiving funding for this research from any commercial source. This research is being carried out as an extension of my personal and academic interests. I am motivated by the ease with which I can survey and analyze data in a fascinating area that has a paucity of empirical data".

LOTRO is not, however, without its own scholars. The indefatigable Alash, a European gamer based in Denmark, continues to post a stream of informative articles and research results on the Codemasters site, the latest of which is an extremely interesting survey of European server activity and demography. The data was gathered by Alash on Monday 11th of May from 11:58-12:45 GMT +1, using the search function in the in-game Social Panel: "At the time of testing, about 4,638 players were online in Europe, 51% coming from German speaking servers (2381), 39% coming from English speaking servers (1810), and 10% coming from French speaking servers (449). Even though only 36% of the servers are German, they make out more than half of the European player base, and are by a large margin the most spoken language on Codemasters' servers. The roleplaying servers make out 28% of the total player base".

Alash has produced a large number of articles, some of them - like his exhaustive study of weapon speed - essential reading for serious gamers. Alash's Article Compilation has been stickied by Codemasters.

Sunday, 10 May 2009


Once again, LOTRO seems to be at a crossroads. Over the last month, the game forums have hosted some long, heated and often quite profound debates about the current state of the game and where it's headed. Looking across a broad range of these debates, both in Europe and in the States, one thing is clear: a large percentage of current players, perhaps more than half, are currently unhappy with how things have been going since the introduction of Mines of Moria. There are many reasons for this malaise, some of which I touched upon in an earlier post, "The Mines of Moria considered as a Chinese Banquet", but it can essentially be summed up as a gradual but definite swerve in the game philosophy from collaborative adventuring to a more solo (some would say selfish) approach. The signs are clear: far more solo content, no multi-boss raid requiring careful study and practice by a dedicated group of players, epic quests which can be completed almost without any outside assistance. So are the results: by all accounts, more selfish player behaviour, fragmenting kinships and players switching off for longer and longer periods.

Those unhappy with this state of things are, virtually by definition, the hard-core players, often referred to as end-content players; of course, there are also many players who prefer solo play, and who are not in the least unhappy. The point is that Shadows of Angmar by and large succeeded in satisfying both groups, by providing alternative routes to success; sure, you needed to join a group of pretty hard-core players to get a complete Rift armour set, but the best crafted armour was almost as good (and anyway, unless you were going up against Thaurlach or Thorog, you didn't need the Rift set). You could also work at PvP, if that was your preference, and assemble an Ettenmours armour set. SoA offered lots of alternatives at different levels. MoM doesn't; it's much more linear and inflexible.

It's been said the current design mindset is aimed at potential Asian customers; I can't speak to that, never having played an Asian online game. But I don't really buy the theory, since it makes no commercial sense to try and expand your client base by pissing off your current customers. And while nobody can accurately gauge just what percentage of the current client base is made up of hard-core or end-game players (they are, indeed, more vocal, so forum activity is not an accurate measure), it would be a commercially dire mistake to write them off - one which I sincerely hope Turbine won't be tempted to make.

What is absolutely clear by now is the immense importance attached to the forthcoming Book 8, and particularly to the inclusion or otherwise of another Rift-type multi-boss raid. Here is a quick sampling of recent comments from the European forums:

"I wonder if turbine know how important the book 8 update will be to them. For a lot of people it seems this will make or break lotro for them." "The new raid will be in Book 8. Another delay would be the last straw for many, they just have to." "If the multi-boss raid is not out soon - they will prob kill the game off... All the bigger kinships on Laurelin are fed up with the watcher, and the turtle seems way too easy and pointless. We all miss the days with the Rift and Helegrod - all night raiding with plenty of loot and happy players."

None of these comments, and dozens of others like them, can be written off as knee-jerk whines; these are players who love the game, want to stay with it and wish it well. What's more, I think they are right: what LOTRO needs, as soon as possible, is a new Rift. Give this group of players another Rift-type raid, and they will forgive almost anything; hell, they'll probably be too busy to notice anything else between now and Christmas. Disappointing them, however, would not be a good move...

Sunday, 3 May 2009


Should you fancy a swim across the River Anduin and a stroll through the sinister woods of Gelirdor, on the east bank, you would be well advised to think again... The banks of the river are patrolled by ugly great Mirk-eaves Felarrows - l.65 orc archers with 41,580 morale who are decidedly not well disposed towards unheralded visitors, be they hobbit, dwarf, elf or human. I shall be curious to see how the developers handle our eventual landing in Gelirdor, since at the moment the Felarrows don't mess about, but simply one-shot anybody who comes within range. Oh, and sneaking won't do a bit of good, either. Guess we'll just have to wait and see...


By the great wheel in the north-east corner of the Waterworks, just off the passage running northwards from the Rotting Cellar to the Deep-way, a bridge leads to a great building with a colonnaded portico. In the centre of the portico is a massive door; unlike the doors in the Rotting Cellar, this one appears "usable", suggesting that it can be opened to gain access to the building!

Alas, clicking on it, even if you are at the maximum level of 60, produces the message "Your level is too low". Now this is intriguing. Other locations or sites may at times be placed in the game with a view to activation at some point in the future, but they do not normally respond in any way at all - certainly not by appearing usable at the present time. So we may assume that this location is due to be activated in the near future; probably as part of the "back to Moria" quest thread which is supposed to be part of the forthcoming Mirkwood expansion.

However, I will pass on, will all due reservations, the following entirely unsubstantiated rumour. A kinsman who happened recently to ask a GM when this door would become accessible claims to have received the answer "At level 80". If true, this is truly astonishing. We have all been assuming that the level cap would be raised to 70 with the release of the third volume, presumably entitled Riders of Rohan, towards the end of 2009. Finding that level 80 has suddenly appeared on the event horizon is, to put it mildly, disconcerting.

Friday, 1 May 2009


Rarely Seen Sights, 3: An Angmarim Idyll

This charming rural scene of Angmarim soldiers fishing from the end of a dock in Bail Catharnakh proves that it's not all work and no play for Angmar's loyal troops. Enjoying a spell of rest & recuperation, these loyal warriors of the Witch King take a well-earned break from murdering, torturing and slaughter by dropping a line into the err... turgid green waters of Himbar.

[Issued by the Angmarim Army Recruitment Board, a public interest body]