Tolkien, Politics, and Hobbies vs. “Real Life”

Bear with American Flag
Other than the odd post with alternate art cards, I’ve been notably silent these days. More than the typical “life is busy” refrain, this stems from a certain unease with events outside of the game. “Real life”, so to speak, has intruded into the life of my hobbies. It is fair to say that US politics have changed rather dramatically in the last several months. Like most seemingly radical changes, it is probably more accurate to say that things have been changing for quite some time but it took a singular moment for many Americans (myself included) to finally notice this shift.

It’s best to acknowledge up front that I am delving into the dangerous realm of politics. This blog is about a game, which I play as part of my hobby, and many readers and fans of the game play specifically to escape from the drudgery and ugliness of “real life”. I too live with this bifurcation between the outside world and the world of my hobbies. This has been a comfortable fiction, but a fiction nonetheless, and one which no longer serves its purpose. For those who only want to read articles about the game, and see pretty pictures of alternate art cards, I recommend you skip this article. For those who are curious about what has been going on in the life of the author, read on.

About a month ago, I posted a deck to RingsDB called “Middle-earth, Without Immigrants”. This was my first attempt to break down these self-imposed barriers between games and my everyday life. The primary intent of that deck, beyond pointing out the irony of anti-immigrant rhetoric, was to start a conversation about how abstract political agendas have a very real impact on people’s lives. This fine community of players did not disappoint me, and the comment thread of that deck evolved into an interesting discussion. Contributors added their voices in support and provided unique viewpoints on the issue. I ended up sharing part of my wife’s immigrant story in one of the comments, but I’ve decided that it deserves its own place here. I’ve used this blog to make announcements of my achievements, to share the sadness of my loss, and to revel in the fraternity of community, so it feels appropriate to share about what is affecting my life most in the last several months. What follows is an excerpt of the story which I first shared in that comment.

One of the reasons why America is great is because we have welcomed wave after wave of immigrants. I do not see this as a controversial statement, and if you disagree, I challenge you to go back through our 240 year history and try to make that case. The anti-immigrant sentiments that are de rigueur are by no means new. The same terrible lies were made about (among others): Germans, Italians, Polish, Irish, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, etc. – this list goes back to the first two tribes of human beings. They were xenophobic lies then, and they are xenophobic lies now.

I make this argument not as some abstract part of a political platform to which I hold blind allegiance. I say this because it is something which I know intuitively to be right and just and decent. I also happen to have seen the effects of this anti-immigration propaganda in the lives of my loved ones.

My wife immigrated to the United from Mexico only 10 years ago. Her father was a powerful man in Mexico, but he refused to submit to the will of the Cartels. They threatened to kill his family, and rather than give in to corruption, he and his family fled to the United States.

If we want to be technical about labels, they really should have been called refugees, but as Mexicans the United States government has an official position of treating them (at best) with suspicion and (at worst) with outright disrespect. Overnight, her father went from being in a position of power in the second largest state of Mexico, to cleaning toilets in office buildings. His youngest daughter, my wife, went from studying for a law degree to working two jobs at minimum wage to help support her family. I strongly suspect that those who say things like “immigrants are stealing our jobs” or “immigrants are lazy” have never taken the time to get to know an immigrant. Ignorance is so often the breeding ground for erroneous notions. Meeting people who are different from us is like the sun, it drives away all shadows of fear and mistrust.

The fact that her family does not all still work minimum wage jobs is a living testament to the American dream. They worked hard, and they earned a better life for themselves and their children. That is all any of us can aspire to. My wife is a permanent resident, but as a Mexican the process has been long and expensive. Talking to friends with spouses who immigrated from Europe, I am appalled. The process for a Mexican, without a criminal record and with job skills, is so much harder than for someone from Europe who is otherwise in a similar situation. I struggle to find any explanation for this difference other than bigotry. There has been talk of even trying to deport permanent residents if they hail from Mexico or certain Middle-Eastern countries. This would be America breaking her word to those who need her freedoms most.

With that story as background, one can imagine the fear and uncertainty at Casa De Beorn with the vitriolic rhetoric issuing from the Federal Government after the recent election. Unfortunately, this fear-mongering has not been limited to the corrupt officials who live in oblivious detachment in our nation’s capital. Here in Texas, state politicians recently passed a bill which allows any law enforcement officer to act as a “liason” for an Immigration and Customs official. What this means is that a police officer can pull someone over for a traffic violation and then, if they deem fit, ask them for proof of citizenship. To some, this seems like a reasonable law. The argument goes: “this only hurts illegals, and they don’t deserve to be here anyway”. This is the perfect real world example of the law of unintended consequences. How do you suppose, is an officer to determine who is and is not in this country legally?

As someone born here and who has only ever lived here, I have never carried proof of my citizenship on my person. I carry a driver’s license, but this in no way proves that I am a citizen. The fact of the matter is, no police officer is ever going to ask me if I am in the country legally. They will take one look at the color of my skin, they will hear the way that I speak English, and they will decide that I am allowed to be here. On the other hand, they will look at my wife’s dark skin, they will hear the thick accent with which she speaks English, and they will suspect that she does not deserve to live here legally.

My wife is a legal permanent resident. She now has to carry proof of this with her at all times, or risk being sent to a deportation facility at the border. According to the law of the land, I could come home from work one day to find that my wife is detained 100 miles away and that without my intervention she could be taken away. A simple mistake like leaving her purse at home would mean that my wife is in danger of forced deportation to a country that she hasn’t called home for 10 years. A country which she and her family fled, in danger for their lives. One government employee failing to find her file in their database, a dead cell phone battery, and she becomes an exile.

This situation is insane. The entire criteria around vetting is racist. A law which is only enforced against people of certain ethnic groups is a bigoted and unjust law. This kind of paranoia is not what makes America a great country. I refuse to believe that the spirit of The New Colossus is dead in this country. Some might have forgotten, but that poem is engraved on the Statue of Liberty, great symbol of our ideals.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


The question was raised in that comment thread, of whether or not I would agree politically with J.R.R. Tolkien. This is impossible to answer definitively, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering. My absolute favorite parts of his writing do lead me to believe that Tolkien possessed compassion. This, more than any other trait, is essential to understanding those who are different from us. The line from Sam in The Return of the King (which I have in the past erroneously attributed to Faramir) gives some insight into Tolkien’s view of the dangers of tribalism, and the need to have compassion for those who seem alien to us.

It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace

It is difficult for me to read the above and not believe that Tolkien would have had sympathy for my wife’s situation. In any case, he is on the short list of heroes with which I would like to share a pint, and discuss these deeper issues of the world. Compassion, discussion, compromise, these are the tools of civilization. The ability to share a respectful discourse with even those who you vehemently oppose is the mark of wisdom, not weakness.

Issues like immigration are complex, everyone is not going to agree and there are legitimate concerns voiced by those who have an anti-immigration stance. Broad, clumsy and racists laws like the one we now have in Texas are not the solution. Civilized discussion with a goal of compromise and understanding – this is what we need. It’s a shame there doesn’t appear to be much of the Blood of Númenor left in our leaders to even desire such a compromise.

For those who have wondered where the bear was hiding, and what he was up to, now you have a bit more of my story. My wife and I will continue to fight for what we believe is right. It is difficult to be surrounded by such ugliness and not feel pessimistic at times. On some level, this article is an attempt to find hope when all around we see storm clouds.

Posted in Community, Discussion, Lord of the Rings, News, Politics, Thanks | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Alternate Art: Aggro Caldara v3

As may be plain from my recent posts, I’ve been on an alternate art kick lately. My latest bear-brained scheme was to find and print alternate art for an entire deck. In this, the latest version of my Aggro Caldara deck seemed like a fine candidate. The archetype features some iconic characters, and it was an epic but thoroughly enjoyable task to hunt down good candidates for alternate art. I am particularly pleased with a few of the cards, which I will highlight here.

Some of the allies likewise came out looking quite nice.

Attachments, while not quite a critical to the deck, provided a nice opportunity to liven up the art. Sword-thain and Map of Earnil are two of my personal favorites.

Last but not least, we have the events which drive the engine of this deck. While I am pleased with all of them, Elven-light, Fortune or Fate and Hidden Cache stand out for me.

 

For anyone interested in printing these cards, here is a zip of the Strange Eons files. This project has been in the works for a while, so the cards were printed over a couple of different print runs, which means I unfortunately do not have a single Printer Studio project to link to. We’ll see about getting a Printer Studio batch as I probably need to slow down on the alternate art card printing for a little while, or they might run out of ink. I hope that you all enjoy these alternate art cards as much as I enjoyed designing them.

Posted in Aggro, Art, Community, Custom Cards, Deck Lists, Fun, Mono-Sphere, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Alternate Art: Printer Studio

alt-art-magali-heroes

I finally got around to having a batch of my alternate art cards printed and the results were even better than I had hoped. I used Printer Studio and am quite happy with the price and the quality of the printing. After seeing just how nice these Magali heroes (and a bonus bear) turned out, my new goal is to make alternate art cards for every hero in the game. The full-art template really showcases the amazing art, and FFG should at least consider moving all heroes to this style.

While I was printing cards, I went ahead and included some alternate art staples. After seeing these ubiquitous cards so many times in the last few years, it is a pleasant surprise to have the alternate art. In an interesting twist, having different art even brings a certain vitality to my deck-building, as I am looking for an excuse to mix the beautiful art together into a deck. For anyone interested in the Strange Eons files for printing these cards, let me know.

alt-art-staples

 

My latest project is to make alternate art for my entire Aggro Caldara deck. Here is my latest alternate art version of the eponymous hero:

caldara-front-face

Posted in Art, Community, Custom Cards, Fun, Photo | Tagged , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

Reworking the Early Card Pool

bear-stretching

A reader of this blog, and well-known community member from the FFG forums, has been working tirelessly on an ambitious task. John Constantine has revamped many of the player cards from the Core Set and first cycle of the game, to improve them in various ways. The cards feature updated art and game text, and I encourage readers to download the cards – the scope of this project is impressive.

When the Core Set was first designed, there was no way for the original designers to know the future (they had no Palantir on hand). Archetypes like Silvan, Noldor and Dúnedain did not exist, as such. Even archetypes like Eagles and Rohan, which were largely created in the first cycle, were too new to be judged within the context of the larger metagame. For that matter, a metagame didn’t actually exist yet provide such a context. The initial designers and playtesters faced the onerous task of testing the game in a vacuum. The fact that The Lord of the Rings LCG has gone on to be a smashing success speaks to the excellent work of these trailblazers, but the early card pool is not without its warts.

In general, the early card pool seems to suffer from a few classes of problems. I will discuss these problems in brief here, and then provide some examples of John’s work where he addresses these issues. Again, I encourage everyone who is curious to check out the entirety of his work as it is too broad in scope to be covered in a single article. For anyone interested in meta-gaming and game design, it is fascinating to see another player’s take on how to evolve the early design of a Living Card Game.

silverlode-archergreenwood-archerFirst and foremost, the Core Set and early cycles include some of the game’s most overpriced cards. A great example of this is Silverlode Archer. With the vastly superior Greenwood Archer now available, there is very little reason to ever include the Silverlode Archer in a Silvan deck. For that matter, the Greenwood Archer’s ability even allows it to fit into non-Silvan decks, a hard sell for the one-dimensional Silverlode Archer. While this sort of power-creep is inevitable, it is unfortunate in a game with a card pool which grows as slowly as this one.

Glorfindel (Core)glorfindel-allyAnother problem with many early cards is that the various archetypes were not yet established, so even some of the most iconic cards feel disconnected with the modern metagame. For example, Core Set Glorfindel does not fit into the Noldor archetype in any meaningful sense. Because this archetype was developed later in the game’s life, his ability is at odds with what Noldor decks want to do (get cards in the discard pile) and he is underpowered compared to either of his more modern counterparts. Again, this is not a criticism of the original designers – there was no way for them to know that the various discard mechanics would largely come to define that archetype. Still, having one of the Core Set heroes be essential a dead card in terms of archetype synergy is a terrible waste given the small number of hero cards to date.

Steward of GondorOne other problem with the early pool, though this is less common, is over-powered cards. The prime example of this is Steward of Gondor. This card is so powerful that is has completely warped the metagame around resource acceleration effects. In essence, every card which adds resources to a hero’s pool (or reduces the cost of cards) had to be weaker because this card is so powerful. The cost of Leadership cards for the first few cycles was seemingly inflated to account for the tremendous advantage of a card that immediately pays for itself and then reaps a huge resource benefit over the course of the game. The Silverlode Archer above is a great example of the inflationary effect, which we are just need getting away from with cards like the Greenwood Archer.

With these three concerns in mind, I’m going to cover a few of the cards from John’s redesign of the early card pool, with his comments added. As with any design, these cards will not be to everyone’s tastes, but players who have been with the game long enough can agree that some of these early cards really have not aged well. While I don’t agree with some of the decisions that he made, I will say that John has done an excellent job reimagining some of the more troubling dead cards in the card pool. It is exciting to see an interpretation of a card that I have never used, that inspires me to think about the kinds of decks it allows for.

RadagastA great example of a promising card which has simply never lived up to its potential is the Radagast ally from the Shadows of Mirkwood cycle. With a high cost and ridiculously low stats, unless you could cheat him into play (which wasn’t really possible in the early life of the game) you would rarely ever get your money’s worth for this card. When you think about the other things you could do with those 5 resources – not the least of which is to simply play for the Creature cards that he ostensibly is helping to muster – Radagast is drastically overpriced.

zradagastJohn’s version of this card retains the original cost, but adds vastly improved stats and few interesting wrinkles. On stats alone, this card is certainly worth the price. He might even be too strong now – considering he sticks around – as an iconic and unique character, it seems fitting that he would be significantly more powerful. With the Istari and Healer traits, there are a few different decks in which he fits, outside of just the typical Eagle builds. His healing now applies to all characters, providing an interesting option for non-Lore decks that desperately need healing and can pay the cost (Leadership ally army decks come immediately to mind). Here are the designer’s comments:

I never quite understood why they made such expensive and UNIQUE character, also iconic and an Istari, so weak. 5 resources is 1.66 turns worth of resources without any acceleration, it needs to get the work done for the invested resources. +1 to all stats was a no-brainer, however it obviously couldn’t be bumped to the level of Gandalf due to him not leaving play at the end of the round. Extending the healing ability to any character, but making it stronger on Creatures, was another step in direction of making Radagast overall strong and potent addition to many decks, not just the Eagle ones.

Rohan-Warhorse-VoI-smalltrohan-warhorseA major focus of his redesign was Mount attachments. While this might seem like a less obvious area of concern in the early card pool, his changes not only work mechanically but address some thematic concerns – particularly where characters can ride three horses at the same time with the current card pool. I have long advocated that Mount attachments be limited to one per character and that is precisely what John has done with his mount cards in the redesign. Not only does that resolve the thematic oddity of a single person riding multiple horses, it also allows these attachments to be a bit more powerful.

tfirefootlasfalothGone is the ability to have Éomer ride his trusty steed Firefoot at the same time as he rides the more generic Rohan Warhorse. This is an example of where a design change doesn’t just increase the strength of a card, but finds a better balance for that card within the card pool as a whole. Because mount attachments can no longer be combined on the same character, there is no longer any risk of unintended (aka Seastan) interactions between Mount attachments.

Speaking of Firefoot, astute readers will notice that Mr. Constantine has borrowed from an excellent design trick on Snowmane. Instead of giving an extra attack bonus when ridden by Éomer, Firefoot loses the restricted keyword. This makes all kinds of thematic sense as a skilled horseman can keep both hands free to fight when riding a familiar mount, essentially steering the horse with their legs. Likewise, Asfaloth, still one of the most powerful (perhaps broken) location-control cards in the game receives some very necessary changes. In addition to gaining the restricted keyword for everyone by Glorfindel, Asfaloth now requires the attached hero to commit to the quest before they can use the horse’s ability. Here is John’s commentary on Mounts as well as character-specific attachments:

I thought it wasn’t thematically appropriate to have more than 1 mount on any given character at a time, so I added a limiter on each mount card in the game to prevent that from happening. That limiter enabled me to buff the mounts in return, as people can no longer ride 7 steeds at once. Let’s take Rohan Warhorse for example. Vanilla version lets you ready on a kill, and is restricted. My rework version gives +1 attack, lets you ready on a kill, is restricted, and limits the number of mounts on the attached hero to 1. Keep in mind that it doesn’t just prevent a second Rohan Warhorse, it prevents any other mount in the game from being attached to the same hero, while still taking a restricted slot, hence the justified +1 attack bonus. Regular weapons usually give an optional +2 attack (and are rarely played unless that optional condition is fulfilled), while not preventing other weapons from being attached, so I felt like this +1 attack on Rohan Warhorse was a reasonable addition.

As for character-specific cards, I suspect you asked about them in tandem with the mounts because of the Asfaloth, so I’ll use him as a reference to the treatment I gave to the various character-specific cards in my rework. To be blunt: I hate it when in a card game with so many heroes, a card comes out that is only usable with one of them, regardless of the way it’s enforced – either by limiting the card to the name directly, or providing a bonus/penalty that makes the card reasonable only on that particular hero. I fight that approach by making card power level the same regardless of the name it used on, but I make small adjustments that make the card easier to use on the characters of that particular name. For example, with Asfaloth, unlike the vanilla version, it always places 2 progress, regardless of who rides it, however now it boasts a Restricted keyword, and only loses it if attached to Glorfindel, which also strikes a thematic goal for me – Glorfindel is good at riding his steed, which allows him more flexibility with the stuff he uses while riding.

Blood of NumenorsbloodofnumenorWith the size of his project, it would take many articles to scratch the surface of John’s redesign, but I wanted to finish this brief introduction with an example of his fixes to over-powered cards. The pair of Blood of Númenor and Gondorian Fire has been featured in several game-breaking decks in the modern metagame. They have not received errata, but of all of the cards to warp the game in recent times, they seem like the most likely candidates. The confluence of Tactics Boromir (and to a lesser extent, other heroes like Tactics Aragorn), repeatable threat reduction like Galadriel, and resource acceleration (namely Steward of Gondor), these attachments have the potential to trivialize many of the games most difficult quests. Because the bonuses they provide are not limited to a single defense or attack, these cards become obscenely powerful when paired with consistent readying effects.

hsteward-of-gondorJohn’s changes help to address these problems in several ways. First of all, he added a limit of 1 per hero for each of these cards. I almost wonder if all new attachments shouldn’t feature a “Limit 1 per character” as a general rule (with exceptions for some cards, of course). Secondly, he changed the bonuses provided by Blood of Númenor and Gondorian Fire to only apply to a single attack.

Granted, this eliminates the ability for these attachments to help with Battle and Siege during the quest phase. However, they were already so powerful in their primary usage for combat support that losing their (limited) ability of quest support seems like a fair price to pay. Limiting one per hero along with per-attack scope immediately dampens the extent to which these cards can trivialize the combat phase. Paired with his proposed change to Steward of Gondor, it is interesting to imagine what the metagame would look like if these were the official versions. Here again, are the designer’s thoughts on these cards:

One name: Boromir. The main offender. Stack the resources on him and defend/wipe any board by spending two resources. I like how these cards pack a punch and allow you to get through tight pinches, I just didn’t like how they were abused to literally annihilate anything. Limit of once per attack, and one attachment per hero, keeps that in check.

As someone who is interesting in game design, it is fascinating seeing what other players focus on when they go about proposing changes and improvements to existing cards. I hope that you enjoyed this brief introduction to John Constantine’s redesign project and I heartily encourage to download it and look at the cards for yourselves. For me, discussing these kinds of projects is just as fun as reading about them, so feel free to leave your thoughts and feedback in the comments below.

Posted in Art, Community, Custom Cards, Guest Author, Metagame | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Dúnedain hold back The Long Arm of Mordor

last-guardian-of-arnor-vs-the-long-arm-of-mordor

After a brief and much-needed hiatus in the City of Eternal Spring, I finally had a chance to try out my most recent deck. Last Guardians of Arnor is the first pure Dúnedain deck I’ve built which feels satisfying to play. There are already some great examples of the archetype, notably including Damrod for traps, but I have yet build a pure Dúnedain deck that was as effective as I wanted. There is no doubt more tuning in store for this deck, but the initial tests have been promising. The above photo is from the winning round against The Long Arm of Mordor.

Posted in Aggro, Deck Building, Deck Lists, Photo, Solo, Strategy, Theme | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Poll Results: Favorite New Hero

eowyn-by-magali-villeneuve

It’s well past time that we tally the results of our last poll and see which new hero players like best. I should note that Spirit Beregond and was spoiled after this poll was started, so the only vote for him was a write-in. Similarly, The Sands of Harad was not even a mirage on the distant horizon, so Spirit Legolas and Leadership Gimli were both omitted from the ballot.

With so many heroes being released in new spheres, it will be interesting to see how many existing archetypes change to include familiar faces with new capabilities. We are already seeing some powerful combinations of these heroes, with the newer versions mixed in with familiar faces. In particular, the recent trend of ally-light decks is a nice change. Given the level of excitement when Tactics Éowyn was first spoiled, not to mention the long-held expectation within the community, it should come as no surprise that she won the most votes in a convincing fashion.

Arwen made a respectable showing in second. Her ability is at the heart of a burgeoning Noldor discard archetype, and she too works well with Aragorn, though this could be said for most heroes. Seeing these two heroines of Middle-earth win out, a bear can’t help but wonder if there is a powerful deck (or two) that features them both. It’s a shame that Arwen refuses to share with Éowyn, but they give you a powerful sphere combination and excellent stats. The design possibilities with these two are intriguing to say the least.

Seeing Treebeard in third place was a surprise as I assumed that his ally version would detract from the popularity of the hero. I’ve made several decks with the leader of the Ents (as a hero), but I find that his ally version always wins out in terms of versatility – a well-known focus of mine. Perhaps my judgement of the hero is too hasty, but the high threat does limit the heroes that you can pair with him. I will say that I very much enjoy playing Sean’s Glóin deck, which features hero Treebeard, albeit in a supporting role.

Denethor-Front-FaceThe rest of the field is rounded out by Tactics Aragorn, Leadership Denethor, Círdan the Shipwright (and transcendent hipster-level beard-enthusiast) and Erestor. The latter two are part of the Noldor archetype, which sprang seemingly from nowhere and has taken a lofty place among the most powerful decks in the game. Tactics Aragorn has a place in powerful Dúnedain decks, but can also be used to great effect in decks outside that archetype. When it comes down to it, killing everything in sight is a skill for which most decks can find a use. Last, but certainly not least, we have Leadership Denethor.

If I had to pick a favorite from the new heroes, the least likely candidate for Father of the Year would probably be my choice. His threat, stats, trait and sphere all provide maximal utility to many different flavors of Gondor deck, but it is his setup ability which I really appreciate. Almost all of the games I’ve ever lost have been lost within the first few rounds of the game (even if I didn’t realize it until after the fact). The nature of this game is such that you have a few rounds to establish yourself with critical allies and attachments to prepare for the onslaught of the encounter deck. The benefit of those two extra resources to start the game should not be underestimated.

As always, thanks to all of the readers who voted. Feel free to leave any thoughts about your favorite new hero, or why you agree or disagree with the community consensus in the comments below. Also, be sure to participate in the latest poll about where in Middle-earth you would like the next cycle to take place. From me, Mrs. Beorn, and everyone here visiting the Hall of Beorn, we want to wish you all happy and safe holidays!

Hero Votes Percentage
Éowyn (Tactics) 90 18.56%
Arwen Undómiel 75 15.46%
Treebeard 40 8.25%
Aragorn (Tactics) 38 7.84%
Denethor (Leadership) 31 6.39%
Círdan the Shipwright 30 6.19%
Erestor 30 6.19%
Amarthiul 29 5.98%
Damrod 23 4.74%
Rossiel 21 4.33%
Merry (Spirit) 18 3.71%
Théoden (Spirit) 15 3.09%
Faramir (Leadership) 15 3.09%
Halbarad 9 1.86%
Dori 6 1.24%
Galdor of the Havens 6 1.24%
Lanwyn 2 0.4%
Beregond (Spirit) 1 0.2%
Legolas (Spirit) 1 0.2%
Posted in Community, Metagame, Poll Results | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Big as a House

Here I am! As you all probably know by now: I arrive precisely when I mean to.
Some of you already now me as GandalfDK from the Deck Spotlights on COTR.com or from the COTR Discord server. After several journeys I’m currently staying at the Hall of Beorn, for peace, thought, honey and company. I will produce articles that will mainly focus on lore, for my love lies therein. Without further ado, I hope you’ll like the article and have fun playing!

Finally we are at the utmost border of Middle-Earth as known from the maps of old. Not only on the physical border, but also treading into the unknown lore-wise. Deserts, Harad, Haradrim: keywords for the upcoming cycle. Deserts may sound dull, but if you know the Haradrim, you’ll be familiar with something called an Oliphaunt. Yes, Mûmakil, yes!
The designers are taking us on such an epic adventure, the excitement is overwhelming.

What exactly are Mûmakil though? They are big elephants, yes, but there is more to it than that, I deem. Mûmakil, as the Haradrim call them, Oliphaunts, as the Hobbits call them, or Annabon, Sindarin for long-snout. These elephant-like creatures had legs the size of trees (large trees of course), bodies larger than a house, sail-like ears, a long snout and six tusks!
They lived in the jungles of Far Harad and Rhûn. How big would the trees be there? How much fruit would these trees hold? To sustain even one Mûmak, let alone multiple Mûmakil, there must have been quite an abundance of food. So, if Mûmakil have legs the length of trees, these trees must’ve been massive in their own right. The jungles of Far Harad were likely far more vast than even Fangorn Forest before Saruman betrayed the Free Folk. One great mass of trees and plants, with even more exotic creatures than Mûmakil.

Sadly, Mûmakil were only known in the West because of their use by the evil Haradrim during the War of the Ring. Resembling howdahs as used on elephants in South Asia, they built massive platforms atop of the oliphaunts. Archers and javelin throwers would have a great view to target their enemies. More than any tactical advantage, fear would have been the greatest weapon of the Mûmak. Many a soldier would break and run at the sight of a giant mass of muscle and bone stampeding towards you. Only the most disciplined soldier would be able to hold their ground. With thick skin to protect them from arrows and blades, their most vulnerable spot would have been their eyes – not an easy target for most archers. Mûmakil could also go berserk when roused to anger, as seen with the Mûmak that got ambushed by Faramir and the Ithilien Rangers. Mûmakil are one of the (not so) small things in the Lord of the Rings which has always tickled my fancy. Giant elephants at the edge of the known world, the very concept implies adventure.

One of the aspects I love the most about Tolkien is how he allows for mystery. Rather than explain everything in depth, he chose to leave certain threads of his narrative with many gaps, to leave space for your own imagination to fill. Such is the case with these giants beasts, one immediately wonders: “Where did they came from? Are there more like them? What happened to them after the War of the Ring? Were these creatures themselves evil as well, or was it simply their riders who spurred them to evil deeds?” So many questions, and without an authoritative answer, we will never know. But being left to contemplate these mysteries is part of what gives Middle-earth its charm. This is also what draws me to this game and I am enthusiastic that the designers have free reign over these mysterious lands and majestic beasts. I wish you all luck with the taming of your own magnificent Mûmak!

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