Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Top 10 Reasons Why Captains are an Awesome LOTRO Class

Who would want to face a horde of captains? Not I!

Everybody loves them some cappie! Let's face it, these hulking heavies and hoisters of halberds and halitosis are beloved on the battlefield, and for very good reason. Let us count the ways...
  1. Racial Homogeny. Only Men can be captains. Just sayin'.
  2. Passive Buffs. Remember the days when you had to manually apply every crit buff to every member of your raid? Don't you miss those days? Yeah, me neither.
  3. Cappie Kick! Every cappie has told that story: the time when they kicked a mob, triggered a Fellowship Maneuver, and proceeded to pound the enemy into the dirt.
  4. Death by Halitosis. We all know the tongue is "as sharp as any two-edged sword," but the captain takes this truism to the next level by actually slaying foes with his voice. "Shouting down the opposition" takes on a whole new meaning when this guy is on the field.
  5. Pets. Anyone who isn't ecstatic at the idea of having their own personal Dwarf running around displaying their heraldry has no business calling themselves a fan of the fantasy genre.
  6. Halberd Crits. Whenever I get taunted about my limited damage output, I simply console myself by remembering all of the sparring matches that ended with my opponent's severed limbs lying before me in a steaming heap of gore. <wipes away a single tear> Ah, nostalgia...
  7. Red-line Routing Cry. The reason your fellowship's collective blades suddenly sound like a circular saw churning through a bovine carcass? Yeah, that's all me. You're welcome.
  8. Command Respect. For some reason, the command "/lickmyboot" doesn't trigger this force-emote, but it should. Bow before me, worms!
  9. In Defence of Middle-earth. Just being in my general vicinity is enough to make you awesome. While everyone else has to swim across Lake Nenuial to reach the Blue Lady, we captains levitate there instead.
  10. Banners. See that? That's my own personal dude carrying my own personal flag. Back o' the line, b*tch.
Master of Toons

Friday, March 11, 2016

The Trials of Piersyn Wyne, Part 7

I am beginning to get very anxious: father has obviously been trying to delay my leaving Bree as long as possible, always devising new tasks for me or claiming the Watch cannot lose another man just now for whatever reason. I know he means well, but do not think I should delay much longer. I feel as if I am being given a choice to make which will determine the course of the rest of my life. Something tells me that if I do not set out very soon I shall never do so. Which is not to say I would be doing anything “wrong,” necessarily, if I did remain in Bree. I’m afraid I cannot explain it any better than that at present; it is just a feeling I have.

The past few days have been full of the usual business of keeping the peace and (when father is not watching) preparing for my journey to the Blue Mountains. Yesterday I was sent to investigate a “situation” at Pierson’s Farm, a short ways south of Bree-town. The landowner insists his crops are being raided by brigands, but there is nothing to show that for certain. Besides, short of setting an ambush for the robbers at his farm by night, I don’t really see what the Watch can do for him, and we simply don’t have the men for that kind of thing. I suggested he and his son learn something in the way of archery in order to better defend themselves if they do get into trouble, and had to leave it at that.

There was a very bizarre thing which happened to me just this morning that I probably ought to record here, although I have no idea whether it will prove important later or not. I was at the jail around the first hour practicing my spear- and shield-work on the training dummies there. Many other Watchmen were present as well, since the early morning is often the only opportunity we have during the day to train, and it is invigorating, besides. Anyway, I had just finished some parrying exercises (from which my wrist was becoming exceedingly sore), when I noticed a woman watching me intently. She was seated on a bench inside the small garden area just to the northwest outside the jail-yard gate. Since I needed a rest anyway, I decided to store my weapons and speak to her. She rose quickly, as soon as I had opened the iron gate and continued to watch me expectantly as I strode over.

“Good morning,” I said, loudly.

She hadn’t moved toward me at all, and appeared to be eyeing my right hand. At my greeting, she raised her eyes to mine and smiled. But it was not a kind smile. As I closed the distance between us, I began quickly assessing her appearance. Her hair and her eyes were brown with nothing notable about them. Her face was certainly fair to look upon while the simple dress she wore hid most of her features. Her arms were folded in front of her and she carried no gear. There was little else to read on her, save that her face seemed to me hard, as if she had done much travel under the sun and in the wind. She spoke no word to me.

“Can I help you?” I asked, a bit uncomfortable with the silence. I was already reproaching myself for having walked weaponless outside of the jail-yard. Bree is not a dangerous place by any means, but Watchmen have been known to be attacked by ruffians in certain spots, such as Beggar’s Alley, and especially of late. Nor would it have been the first time someone from the Watch or the Guard had been ambushed and then robbed after being lured into complacency by a pretty face. This time, however, the woman answered me.

“How’s your wrist?” she asked. Her voice was clear and pleasant to hear, but it also carried a tinge of scorn.

“Perfectly fine,” I lied. I could already feel my forearm muscles cramping painfully. Had I been asked to, I could scarcely have handled a broom with any effect at that point.

“Hm,” was all she answered at first. I had the uncomfortable feeling she knew I couldn’t so much as make a fist with my right hand by now.

“You’ll want to practice couching your spear,” she said, “rather than trying to get more range by holding it so far down the shaft. You gain range but lose flexibility.”

I admit I was speechless for a moment. She raised her eyebrows at me and I tried to recover my tongue.

“I wasn’t expecting combat advice…”

“From a woman? And why not? You’ll also find that grip makes it much harder to parry, makes it very difficult to extract the blade if you actually manage to land a blow, and also tends to tire your wrist over-quickly.”

“I was going to say: I wasn’t expecting combat advice on such a fine and quiet morning,” I finished with a smile. “I have not seen you within the hedges of Bree-town before, so perhaps you are not aware that even our womenfolk have been known to take up arms when our need is dire.”

“I know it well,” she said. “And, while you may not have seen me here before, nevertheless here before I have been. I am a Bree-lander by birth – my home was in Archet.”

“Was?” I asked. At this point I was determined to learn more about this stranger before I was required to divulge anything useful about myself.

“Was,” she repeated. “Now my home is anywhere my business takes me. Today, it takes me to Bree.”

“And what might your business be?”

“That’s no concern of yours,” she answered.

“Indeed? As a member of the Bree-town Watch, let me assure you it can become my business very quickly.”

“Oh, don’t try to get all official with me,” she replied with a scoff. “I’m here selling wares at Three Farrow. Is that enough for you?”

“I suppose so. And staying at the Pony?”

“Yes, at the Pony. Mystery solved?” she asked sarcastically.

“No,” I said, frowning, but still with a smile. “I believe this must be the first time I’ve ever met a lone woman, roaming the Bree-land selling whatever kind of wares while bearing no sign of a caravan nor any manner of defense.”

“And this isn’t your first time either. You have been less than observant.” Her eyes darted to her right. Following her look, I finally noticed a muscular horse standing beside a house; the steed had been almost completely obscured by a large bush.

“That is a magnificent animal!” I exclaimed, truly impressed. I also noted the varied gear strapped to the saddle, including a compact but very richly carved crossbow.

“Yes, she is.”

“That is no horse of Bree,” I said. “What land does she call home?”

“The land of Rohan. Now, listen…”

“You have come all the way from Rohan?”

“Yes, and I need you…”

“Are all of the steeds in that land like to this one?”

“I haven’t all day to stand about chatting with you, Watchman,” she said, placing her hands on her waist.

“Piersyn,” I said.

“Listen, Watchman,” she continued, completely ignoring me, “we’ve decided to extend to you our invitation…”

“Invitation to where?” I asked.

“Would you stop asking questions and listen to me? It’s not where, it’s what. We’ve decided to extend to you the invitation to use our trading network. You are planning on leaving Bree soon, are you not?”

“Yes, but how could you…”

“Never mind that. All you need to know is, when you need gear befitting an adventurer, you will be able to find our representatives at every major trading post in Eriador.”

I opened my mouth, then shut it again.

“What?” she asked.

“May I ask a question?”

She sighed. “Yes, ask me your question.”

“What need would I have of your people? Why would I need new equipment?”

The woman laughed aloud. “You’ll realize the need quickly enough, if you ever learn to wield that splinter of yours properly,” she said. “Also, you won’t last long enough to forge a hero’s legend in that,” she pointed at my doublet. “I doubt that leather would turn so much as a kitchen knife.”

I looked down at my clothing with no response to her observation. She moved to her horse and drew something out of the saddlebag.

“As I was saying, when you do realize the need, look for this token,” In her hand, she revealed a curious circular emblem. The circle itself was wrought of fine gold into some flowing script I could not read. Inside the circle, I saw a small sword and a red quill crossed over an anvil of jet.

“You can find us in any market throughout the northern world,” she continued, then looked to mount her horse.

“Let me…” I began, as I started to position myself to assist her onto the horse. But she swung herself atop the beast before I had hardly begun to move.

“No need,” she said, tossing her hair out of her face.

“And for whom would I look? What is the name of this organization?” I asked, trying to learn whatever I could as the conversation appeared to be rapidly drawing to a close. The woman stopped and looked down at me with a grave expression, as if deciding whether or not to trust me with whatever she was about to say. When she spoke, her voice was little more than a whisper, as if she feared someone might overhear her, even though hardly anyone was awake at that hour.

“We are The Artisans’ Circle,” she said, “And we can help you.”

“And for whom should I look? You? What is your name?”

She smiled and, in the same hushed, almost fearful voice said, “No, I think not.”

Then she spurred her horse and galloped off toward the South Gate.

The Lord of the Rings Film Performance Review Series: Galadriel

Ha HA! You thought I forgot about the LOTR film series, didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU?!?!

Well, you were right – I completely forgot about it for months. But now it’s back, and now it’s back-er than ever. Or something. Let’s get to it…

Galadriel: Cate Blanchett could have been born for this role. She’s a perfect fit, from her regal bearing right down to her voice which is “deeper than a woman’s wont.” Once again we see the immensely positive impact the right actor with the right training and experience can have on a role or even on an entire film. 

Like many of the screenplay’s secondary characters, Galadriel doesn’t get a ton of face-time. Therefore, the actor must use the moments available to them to convey the critical messages their role was included to convey. In Galadriel’s case, the primary message concerns the Ring and the terrible power it can wield in the hands of a mighty Bearer. So far, we have seen Bilbo’s struggle with his possession of the Ring, Frodo’s susceptibility to it when commanded by the Black Riders to wear it, and Gandalf’s abject fear when freely offered it. Each of these encounters with the Ring’s malevolent will has a different flavor, and each flavor gives us a deeper understanding of the Ring’s evil nature. It has, as Gandalf says in Chapter 2, “an unwholesome power” which can attack the mind and will of anyone aware of it, gnawing at their reason and exacerbating their sins in order to control them and bring about the will of the Ring’s master – going to any lengths to reunite the two separated energies.

Although it does not appear in the movie, Elrond (and Gandalf, for a second time) refuse to carry the Ring at the Council in Rivendell, saying, “I will fear to take the Ring to hide it. I will not take the Ring to wield it.” Returning to the film, we see Boromir begin to succumb to the Ring’s wiles on the slopes of Caradhras. Up until the Ring reaches Galadriel, however, we are left with mere hints as to what might happen were the Ring to have its way and end up in the hands of one of the Wise and Great. In the gardens of Lothlorien, however, the veil is more fully thrown back, as it were, and we get a somewhat clearer understanding of just why all of these powerful individuals are so afraid of the “trifle that Sauron fancies.” But before we dive into that pool, let us set the stage.

Peter Jackson creates a very unique environment for us in Lothlorien. For one thing, the audience is a bit fatigued at this stage of the film, having just escaped from Moria and having our hearts ripped out through our noses by the tear-jerking scenes depicting Gandalf’s sacrifice for the Quest. Suddenly, we find ourselves in this eerie forest, complete with mysterious lights, haunting music (Howard Shore’s use of tri-tonal intervals and tight harmonies is nothing short of genius here), and imposing Elven lords, ladies, and warlike marchwardens all work together to let us know we’re not in Kansas anymore. Jackson also takes a very interesting director’s liberty throughout the scenes leading up to Galadriel’s mirror: he plays much of the action in slow-motion. But not super-slow-motion – it is not slow enough to be comical or burdensome to the audience, but he slows the film down just enough to create a feeling in the viewers that something isn’t as it should be; there is something otherworldly about this place, and we’re not quite sure whether it means our heroes harm or not. Yes, these are Elves we’re visiting with, but we almost feel as if we’re being enchanted by them – as if we’re being led into a trap to be ambushed by unknown and unseen forces. If you deliberately watch the film while pretending you have no idea whether Galadriel is friend or foe, you’ll find Jackson is hinting the Elf queen might have a menacing power she is hiding from her guests. He does this on purpose to create doubt in the audience’s mind as to what will happen next.

When Frodo offers Galadriel the Ring, Blanchett’s finest acting moments of the film are revealed to us. First, she maintains her regal bearing and betrays her shock at Frodo’s offer with a mere parting of the lips. This moment is very brief, but Blanchett uses it masterfully to convey her character’s surprise. Next, a trembling hand reaches for the Ring. Then, Blanchett withdraws her hand and we see the great she-Elf with other vision. Matching Tolkien’s description of her, Jackson suddenly makes her positively radiate power using light and film techniques, turning her into the image of a “terrible and worshipful” goddess. Blanchett’s voice is altered as well and, through both musical themes and an extreme close-up of the Ring itself, Galadriel delivers one of Tolkien’s (many, many, many) superb lines, “All shall love me and despair!”

In this way, the audience sees that the Ring, even when given something so beautiful as the lovely Galadriel as its canvas, turns that beauty to sheer power and tyrannical domination. All of the hints and warnings we’ve received thus far from Gandalf and others become a very real and disquieting threat right before our eyes – and that before she so much as lays a finger on the golden thing.

The following moment is equally important: we see Blanchett’s face turn fearful as the vision passes and she shrinks back to her normal self. It is the only time we ever see Galadriel truly rattled – the horror Blanchett’s expression conveys as she realizes what she might become were she to embrace the power of the Ring is what allows her to “pass the test,” as she puts it. The deeper implications of this cannot be overstated: by refusing the Ring, Galadriel is refusing to use Sauron’s own power against him, which is the only way her people can hope to survive on this side of the Great Sea. Had she taken the Ring, she would have had the power to stop the Elves’ decline in Middle-earth. “But that is not how it would end, alas,” she rightly recognizes. Her decision condemns both her people and her beloved homeland “to forget and to be forgotten” under the constant thrumming of the centuries.

As I mentioned waaaaay back when analyzing the performance of Sir Ian Mckellen, the portrayal of non-human creatures in film is a tricky business for any actor, perhaps even more so when one is not given an excessive amount of time to explore the ins and outs of the species. In her role, Blanchett does a wonderful job in showing us how even a well-meaning person, when granted sufficient power, will inevitably become a tyrant and a monster, no matter how lovely they may appear or how well-meaning their original intentions. By accepting the Ring and setting herself in a position to challenge Sauron for control of the mortal lands, Galadriel would have been working directly at odds with the will of Eru, who had decreed that Men would rule the latter days of Arda. Even if she had succeeded in conquering the Dark Lord, she would have done little more than slow the inevitable march of time while surrendering her soul in the process. Blanchett’s fabulous Shakespearean acting lets us witness Galadriel making this horrible Sisyphean choice and, thankfully, reaching the right decision.

Master of Toons

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Padhric's Peculiar Pasta and Poultry

Padhric's Peculiar Pasta and Poultry

I dreamed up this delicious pasta dish today out of random ingredients I had laying around. I was supposed to make Sloppy Joes tonight, but I forgot to get the beef out so it could thaw. Instead, I whipped this up, and it was a big hit with Mrs. Pad!
  • You will need a 26 oz. bag of grilled frozen chicken strips. You could also go natural and cut some chicken breast into strips, as if you were going to make fajitas. Pan fry the chicken thoroughly in a bit of olive oil. Season with some freshly crushed rosemary.
  • At the same time, boil 1 pound of frozen broccoli heads. You want to smash the bag up some so the heads are smaller than usual. It's ok if you get a lot of tiny florets... They do very well for texture.
  • Also boil one pound of penne pasta al dente. Nothing special about this step.
  • Once all three ingredients are done, combine them vigorously in a large bowl or serving dish. Then, liberally blanket in a Italian salad dressing. Use as much or as little as you want, to taste. You can also use garlic Italian, zesty Italian, etc. I also added a sprinkling of oregano. Parsley or sage might be good too. Finally, you might try capers on the finished dish, if you like capers. I do, and they complemented the meal quite well.
Serve hot! This makes about six servings.
Master of Toons

Friday, March 4, 2016

Three Times the Fun on a Friday Night

Saxolf continued his quest to gather allies in his desire to one day stare down Draigoch the Red, the worm that destroyed his home many years ago. He made some progress tonight by teaming with Lesraldor and Celodus as the trio tackled trials galore in Garth Agarwen, Iobar's Peak, and Goblin-town.
Saxolf (that's me) and Ninduraldor (Les, right) survey the landscape in the Barrows of Garth Agarwen.

Saxolf (center) busts a move on Ivar's altar after he, Les (left), and Celodus complete the challenge.

The team stops for a breather as they battle their way through Goblin-town.

"Hmm... I see a beautiful butterfly!"

A perfect spot for some tea and crumpets. Too bad our host was not at home.

For more information about the Dawnbreakers, please visit www.thedawnbreakers.shivtr.com.

Master of Toons