Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Tour of Moria

Ever had the Tour of Italy at Olive Garden? Tonight's level 65 Sunday-night run was a lot like that. Except with less chanti and more carnage.
The halls of Fil Gashan are no refuge for the Orcs of Moria as the Dawnbreakers storm the keep! Pictured left to right: Kayloramir, Eryndil (that's me), Charcoal, Kay's adorable but rather temperamental lynx, and Caitil.

The Sunday-night gang continues to work toward the Moria instance Meta-deed (the Black Goat), and we had several participants complete some of the individual instances tonight. We cut like a scythe through Skumfil, then proceeded to annihilate Igash in the Grand Stair, tangle with General Talug in Fil Gashan, and capped it off with a second Skumfil run for more Kergrim.

For more information about the Dawnbreakers (Vilya), look up their website:

Master of Toons

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Top 10 Reasons Why Champions are an Awesome LOTRO Class

"You lookin' at me? Hey! Down here. I said, are you lookin' at me??"
Ah, the Champion – Masters of Mayhem, Dukes of Destruction, Archons of AoE, and Sultans of Schwing-schwing… if any class can give the Hunter a run for his money as Middle-earth’s preeminent “aggro-bunny,” it’s this guy. Probably the only thing that could make this class more awesome would be some animations of dismembered goblin appendages and gore flying out of the melee, and at the center of that melee is The Champ – a blinding whirlwind of apocalyptic awesome-osity.

How awesome is the Champion? Let us count the ways…

1.       Force Taunt. It doesn’t get used super-often, but it’s still fun to know you can pull anything off the main tank for a few seconds. Ha! He hates me more!
2.       Rend. There aren’t too many armor debuffs in LOTRO, and this is unquestionably the best one.
3.       Horn of Gondor. The Champion’s musical skills must be pretty atrocious to be capable of knocking a bunch of Orcs senseless, but the skill is still awesome.
4.       Boast. This has to be one of the best force-emotes in all of LOTRO. SING MY PRAISES, PEONS!!!
5.       Blue-line Tanking / Sudden Defense / Fight On! / Bracing Attack / Dire Need. Thought you had the Champion beat, didn’t you, Mr. Mob? In the words of Lord Helmet: “FOOOOLED YOOOU!!!”
6.       AoE Attacks. Is there any other class that causes so much damage to so many mobs so quickly that displaying it all can actually create lag issues? No. No, there isn’t.
7.       Critical Hits. Here’s the truth about Champions: while everyone else is concentrating on the boss’s morale level in order to prepare for the next phase of the fight, the Champion is actually playing a different game. We like to see whether we can pile up enough consecutive crits to get the damage indicators to climb over the boss’s head. Extra points if it’s a troll or a giant.
8.       Ease of Use. Similar to the above, some of us Champions prefer to play entire raids while hitting all of our keyboard commands using only our noses.
9.       Self-Mutilation. Must … hit … Priest of Vengeance’s … shiny … spinny … thing …
10.   Raging Blade. It’s incredibly satisfying to hear that infamous schwing-schwing! going off all around you like the cast of Wayne’s World broadcasting live from some nude beach on the Riviera.

“Let the bodies hit the floor … Let the bodies hit the floor …”

Master of Toons

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Lord of the Rings Films Performance Review Series: Denethor

Denethor: If the Steward of Gondor is a difficult character to fathom in Tolkien’s books, the movie version of Denethor is even more cryptic. The way Jackson presents him in his script, we get the impression the imperious leader of Gondor is overcome by too many cares: the loss of his beloved son (“He loved Boromir. Too much, perhaps.”), the burden of rule, and the apparently inevitable destruction of his realm all conspire to slowly rob Denethor of his sanity and drive him to a despairing murder/suicide. There is certainly some grounding of this reading in the book, but an audience sees John Noble’s Denethor teeter incoherently between rage, despair, confusion, incompetence, love, and hubris so quickly and without apparent reason the effect is nothing short of bewildering.

Tolkien’s Denethor is a proud and stately ruler of a realm under siege. These have not been easy times, and the Steward’s own personal faults only complicate things further. Driven by a growing need for information about the dangers he is sworn to defend against, Denethor risks the palantir of the White Tower to spy on his foe. Sauron, wily demi-god that he is, allows Denethor to believe he has the strength of will to wrench the seeing-stone from the Dark Lord’s control. This plays perfectly into Denethor’s already latent belief that the race of Numenor is a superior one with the might to challenge the Enemy himself. This, of course, is foolishness borne of pride, and Sauron succeeds in “editing” the information Denethor does gather through the stone, showing him always the immense power of Mordor. This causes Denethor to believe more and more completely that the cause of defense is hopeless, until what he regards as Faramir’s utter failure to seize the Ring when it comes within his grasp finally overthrows his mind. The Steward of Gondor may have still been redeemed, had he brought a bit of humility to the fight, but Denethor is one of those people who clearly believes in the inherent superiority of certain people over others, naturally with himself very high in the food chain. His straightforward refusal to “bow to this Ranger of the North, last of a ragged house, long bereft of lordship” is perhaps the most obvious manifestation of his greatest sin as he elevates himself above the King of Gondor – a claim he notably does not think is even very important (“even were his claim proved to me”). With these types of qualities Sauron is quite at home, and it is only a matter of time before Denethor’s mind is shattered and he nearly brings ruin on his own house.

The Denethor we see in Jackson’s films played by Noble is (and maybe has to be) somewhat different. The character gets very little time on-screen, but his role is nonetheless an extremely important one. Aside from the obvious connections to his sons and their parts in the great events of the Third Age, Denethor is yet another vessel by which the audience experiences Sauron’s evil power, lending personality, purpose, and intent to the shadowy Enemy in his Tower, far away. Noble’s Denethor, however, appears in contrast to David Wenham’s Faramir (as I discussed in the previous post), who comes to his embracement of death more or less rationally. Denethor appears to have simply been driven mad by the bewitchments of Sauron, which is a decidedly less impactful choice. It’s also not grounded in the source material, which is doubly unfortunate.

Evidence of my assertion is seen in some of Jackson’s extra-Tolkien lines and moments, most notably when Movie Denethor sees the Host of Morgul on his doorstep and says to himself, “Theoden has betrayed me!” Denethor has already stated he knows Theoden is headed for Gondor (“I know who rides with Theoden of Rohan.”) and Gandalf very plainly told him to light the beacons and call for Rohan’s aid and he refused (we know he knew about Gandalf’s little movie-scheme because we saw the camera shot where Denethor glowers his disapproval when Pippin scales Mindolluin to light the first beacon), so why would he suddenly speak as if Rohan had willfully stabbed him in the back? This defies logic and, therefore, illogic (i.e., genuine madness) must be the explanation. This downgrades the character, however, because Book Denethor’s descent into hedonism via prideful stubbornness and ambition is a far more compelling story, albeit one that must be handled carefully in order to be understood and appreciated, especially in film.

Jackson’s approach is rather ham-handed, even going so far as to insert a small sequence where Denethor hallucinates and pictures Boromir approaching him only to have the mirage fade into Faramir. The only sensible conclusion, based on Jackson’s repeated hints (“The rule of Gondor is mine, and no other’s!” “All is turned to vain ambition!” “Boromir was loyal to me, and not some wizard’s pupil!” “My line is ended!”), is that Jackson’s Denethor is solely focused on the perpetuation of his ruling lineage. This tunnel-visioned idea made Boromir’s death more than he could bear, since he had no trust in Faramir. We are left to assume this is because Boromir was “less apt to [Gandalf’s] hand,” and therefore more willing to do as his father bade him, but it also doesn’t square with Denethor lamenting the end of his line only when Faramir lies dying (but not dead – which is important to gleaning the character’s mental state as well) before him.

Having seen bits of other, commendable work Noble has performed, I think it likely this odd turn as Denethor was forced upon him by a) Jackson’s personal interpretation of the character, b) the often-clunky process of transitioning a literary masterpiece into film, or c) both of these simultaneously. Other choices by Jackson also serve to further diminish the character, especially when Gandalf pummels him with his staff in full view of the entire City. This strains credulity, to put it mildly, and has the uniquely undesirable effect of creating comedy where there should be none. It is also entirely out of character for both Gandalf and Denethor, to say nothing of the thousands of people watching the exchange. In the end, whatever the cause of Denethor’s diminution, the result is a far less nuanced Denethor, from whom we are able to learn very little.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Not-Quite-So-Low-Level-Anymore Group Reaches Evendim

Our level mid-30 adventurers reached High King's Crossing Thursday night during our weekly run of the old content. We completed all Oatbarton, Dwaling, and High King's Crossing quests. Next stop -- Tinnudir!
"I'm the king of the world!" The Dawnbreakers survey the wilds of Evendim from atop the Colossus at High King's Crossing. Pictured left to right: Anacait, Ninduraldor, Ellobeth, Kaylormund, Padhwe, and Darkfires.
Why aren't you having fun running the old LOTRO content with us? I don't know, but it's a very good question. I suggest you do something about it!

Thursday night low-level runs start at 8 p.m. Central time. For more information, check out the Dawnbreaker's new website at!

Master of Toons

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Top 10 Reasons Why Hunters are an Awesome LOTRO Class

"Say 'herro' to my ritter friend!"
Everyone knows Hunters are awesome. How awesome, you ask?

"Please, Mr. Hunter, could you port me to Rivendell?"

"Oh, please, Mr. Hunter, could you take me to that camp site?"

"Oh, Mr. Hunter, your DPS is sooooooooooo big!"

To which all Hunters say, "THAT'S RIGHT! And don't you forget it! Now get over here and meat shield me from this horde of Uruk-hai I just accidentally pulled."

We Hunters have heard it all -- we totally get why we're awesome and your admiration is both fully appropriate and accepted. Foregone acceptance of Hunter awesome-ness notwithstanding, however, here are a few more reasons why Hunters are an awesome LOTRO class.

  1. Ports. Long before Middle-earth got Uber, Hunters were the main mode of rapid transport. Once upon a time those skills consumed Travel Rations, which only a few of us old-timers still carry around in our vaults as tributes to those bygone days. They also grow some really interesting mold after about year six.
  2. Run Buffs. There are few things more satisfying than seeing your fellowship hustle across the landscape like so many six-year-olds who just kicked an ant hill and knowing it's solely because you graciously invested points in Find the Path. Besides, faster travel = less time to targets. Less time to targets = more killing. More killing = happy Hunter!
  3. Ranged DPS. Don't you feel sorry for those poor, medieval schlubs who have to hoof it all the way to their target to start dealing damage? Me neither. Let fly with Heart-Seeker and drop that foe just as the pathetic Champion finally manages to reach it. Then laugh at him. A lot.
  4. Traps. Since Lore-masters have all but abdicated their previous role as kings of crowd control, yellow line Hunters have stepped up to the plate. This also led to the revelation that every bad guy in Middle-earth is apparently owed lunch money by some dude in a floppy cap with skinny arms who carries a stick bow around with him.
  5. Tracking. I know you thought it was because he revealed himself to the Dark Lord in the palantir, but the real reason Denethor descended into madness was because he tried deeding bog-lurkers in the Lone-lands without a Hunter. 
  6. Crit Buff Out of Stealth. Yes, you Burglar's thought you were all that and a side of bacon, but we Hunters have a very reliable crit buff when attacking from stealth too. Stick that in your hand-carven pipe and don't inhale it!
  7. Swift Bow. I don't recall my History classes giving Elves credit for invention of the machine gun, but obviously they should have. Revisionist historians. Pshaw.
  8. Hunter Tank. Guardians and Wardens are so overrated. Who needs one of those pokey slugs when you have a Hunter? I pull and hold whole rooms of mobs before the main tank has even pulled on his helmet. Now I just need to teach that lazy healer how to keep me alive. Sheesh... we hunters have to do everything...
  9. Rain of Thorns. Let's be honest: this is one of the most iconic LOTRO skills -- always has been -- and that's because it's (say it with me!) awesome. Who else has anything close to this ability? Yeah, yeah, the yellow line Lore-master does. Whatever. Who plays that?? "Let's see... overly aggressive lawn pestilence versus flaming lightning storms of death... Golly Gee, it's such a hard choice!" 
  10. Heart-Seeker. There was a time you had to reach the level cap of 50 in order to access this skill instead of getting it at level 7, like you can today. But hey, we long-time Hunters aren't bitter. It's not like we spent sleepless nights with the Heart-Seeker skill icon burned into our retinas, tirelessly completing every quest from Celondim to Carn Dum in relentless pursuit of acquiring it. It's also not as if, once we finally reached it, we traveled back to all of the low-level areas and started one-shotting every mob in sight just to show how devastatingly awesome the skill was for all of the noobs who just entered the game. Nah, I would never do a thing like that.
Master of Toons

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Lord of the Rings Films Performance Review Series: Faramir

Faramir: With the Fellowship out of the way, let us advance to examining the work of some of the more secondary and tertiary characters in the films, beginning with the not-quite-royal family of Gondor.

Right from the off I have to point out Peter Jackson did us all a massive disservice by jacking around with this character in his films: probably the only figure more grotesquely distorted from book to film was Frodo himself, but Faramir is a very close second. I refer, of course, to the ridiculous trek to Osgiliath which Jackson’s Faramir forces Frodo and Sam to make with the ultimate intent of turning the hobbits and the Ring over to his father, the Steward of Gondor. Yet this is no simplistic argument of, “Oh, that never happened in the book so it’s automatically bad.” It is very bad, but not just because that specific series of events never occurred in the source material. In fact, much if not most of the scenes we see in the films never occur in the book, but they fit its spirit – and this is not one of those moments.

The reason Faramir’s little jaunt to Osgiliath is such a travesty is because it forces the movie Faramir to make a set of decisions the book Faramir does not which diminishes the man’s character. Faramir is tempted, certainly, to seize the Ring. Not unlike Aragorn, Galadriel, and plenty of other individuals throughout the epic, the temptation for Faramir is great and is only overcome by a tremendous act of will and commitment to something greater than himself. Jackson gives us a series of flashbacks involving Faramir, Boromir, and Denethor to better establish the relationships between them and further explain how each comes to make the choices he does. Unlike many of Jackson’s extra-Tolkien inventions, the scene at Osgiliath when Denethor commissions Boromir to journey to Imladris in search of Isildur’s Bane is an excellent one where we see the chief motivations for each character. All of these behind-the-scene pressures certainly increase the temptation for Movie Faramir to do what Jackson has him do, but it is precisely because of those pressures and Book Faramir’s proper judgment against the temptation that we should admire him. By having Movie Faramir initially submit to those temptations, Jackson changes the nature of Book Faramir significantly.

The primary reason for these literary gyrations, of course, was to put Frodo and Sam into a dangerous situation and create some extra drama as we near the end of the second of three films. Since it was a foregone conclusion TTT would not end as the book does with Frodo’s encounter with Shelob and Sam’s helplessness outside the Tower of Cirith Ungol, quite possibly the greatest literary cliffhanger of all time, it became necessary to create circumstances which would lead to something comparable. In one sense, having Frodo come within a split second of being carried off by a Nazgul is a great substitute: it shows Frodo’s weakening will, the greater presence and threat of Sauron’s emissaries, and the narrow escape the entire world has based not on the supposed hero (Frodo), but rather on Samwise (the “half-wit”) who is fortunate enough to not trip over his own feet on the way up to stairs to rescue his master. This, in and of itself, is not bad. Unfortunately, the gymnastics needed to get us to this point involve a nearly wholesale degradation of Faramir’s noble spirit, to say nothing of the manner in which Sam blurts out the secret of the Ring in front of no less than a dozen Gondorians in broad daylight – another absurd moment unique to the film which makes me cringe every time it comes up.

But enough about Jackson: this article is supposed to be about Faramir and, specifically David Wenham, the Prince of the Nasal Proboscis (I say this with pride, being a member of the same clan. Karl Malden is our king, in case you were wondering). Wenham is fantastic as Faramir and, quite apart from very much looking like he really could be Sean Bean’s brother, he gives us delicious insight into this man with virtually no screen-time, at least as compared to many of his cast-mates.

Like Viggo Mortensen, Wenham invests his character with a wonderful sense of loyalty, decency, duty, and honor which drives his actions throughout the films. He never tries too hard to make Faramir appear emotionally torn or confused even though the audience knows he is and feels pity for him. Once again, the successful actor lets the story do the talking: with ample flashbacks to guide us through his complicated family life, Wenham knows he doesn’t need to exert himself on the surface and instead lets the tale tell itself. He comes across as measured, just, thoughtful, gentle, and meek. Yet there is no sign of weakness about Wenham’s Faramir – to the contrary he is clearly a very capable warrior, but he is a soldier strictly out of necessity. He deals sternly and harshly (but not cruelly) with Gollum and all of Gondor’s enemies, but also shows himself very capable of patience, restraint, and mercy. All of this comes through Wenham’s portrayal beautifully, despite having few opportunities at his disposal.

Probably Wenham’s greatest triumph in the films is his interactions with Denethor, Faramir’s father. It would be a terrific challenge for any actor to successfully handle his character’s descent into a suicidal melancholy within such a small space of screen-time, but Wenham manages it. By once again allowing the story itself to do most of the work, Wenham shows us a man whose spirit is crushed into despair and willing to ride to his own death without ever turning comical. The temptation for the lesser actor would be to unleash every sort of emotion possible to justify this mental arc, but the truth is it isn’t needed: by measuring his reactions to Denethor’s cruel promptings, Wenham’s Faramir does not descend into suicidal madness (like his father), but rather comes to the simple and rational (but hardly proper) conclusion that his death would be preferable to living with no mother and no brother, but only with the father who apparently despises him. His march toward death is calculating and precise, with a determined and resigned air which makes the character simultaneously chilling and tragic. By keeping his emoting under control and letting the fact his character is willingly riding out to die carry the load for him, Wenham paints a rich and compelling tapestry for us to experience and weep for.

One can and should be forgiven if they have mixed feelings about Faramir: possibly disliking him in TTT but coming to pity him in ROTK. Those unfamiliar with the book might be especially confused. Despite Jackson’s insatiable desire for cinematic grandiosity, however, Wenham succeeds in presenting us with a Faramir that possesses an appropriate mixture of human nuances. The actor keeps a tight grip on his emotions, which allows the story to work itself in the minds of the audience instead of one person trying to drive it or “make the most” of his limited time on-screen. The result is a fully believable character, warts and all (especially in Jackson’s films), with whom we can relate as he tries to navigate the minefields of familial and political turmoil. Wenham understands the fact he’s walking around in plate armor and wielding a broadsword has no relevance to his real, spiritual battle between his rational mind (what’s best for Gondor today) and his heart (what’s right for eternity is really what’s best for Gondor – now and always). This truth is what draws the audience to Wenham and brings us to love Faramir for who he is.

Master of Toons