Contents: Lottery; Pre-Game; Camping; Game Day; Game On! ; Entwood; Lothlórien; Mt. Doom; Conclusion
Most people don’t think about playing a wizard until they have quite a few games under their belt, played maybe Nazgûl often enough if aiming for an Evil wizard, or big roles like Galadriel and Aragorn if aiming for Good. I’ve played four games. For my fifth, I chose Radagast, second-in-command of the Good Army, Gandalf’s right-hand…er, woman, bearer of the Windlord, avoider of Saruman, and ultimately, The Brown. Sure, it takes guts (or lack of brains) to dare to play a wizard with so little experience, but I count as an asset the fact that I have such a good group of friends who’ve been playing much longer, who have shared every story with me three times over. I may not have walked the paths with them, but they’ve told me enough that I have a good grasp on strategy for the Game. At least, I like to think so. Plus, Otto’s trust in me with the plans last game bolstered my confidence. The plans most of my veteran pals had in store for picking characters this time around meant there would be openings on the Good team for people like me to step up into true leadership roles. So, why not?
New traditions are being started and maintained among the gang. The Ring Game season now begins with a pre-lotto dinner at the Great Dane not far from campus. Granted, most of those attending had already spent anywhere from weeks to months (indeed, since the last Ring Game party itself) discussing their ideas for what to play, so getting together at the Dane was not so much for making plans as it was for solidarity, food, and making toasts to the spirit of the game. It was a great turnout: me, Shan, Scott, Otto, Bob, Rob, Jack, Joe, Chris W, John, Beth, Chris, and Angela, and eventually Todd, Greg, and their usual hangers-on whose names escape me. Plans had been in place pretty much since the Spring game for Todd, Greg, Otto, and anyone else they could recruit, to play Dark Elves. Todd wanted to bring back the glory day of the Dark Elf, the whole reason for their existence in the game: chaos. His intention was to forget all about The Chosen and just go around killing things on both armies, taking no loyalties. Otto went with him despite having declared that after the last disaster he had endured in the role he’d never play Dark Elf again, because he wanted to run with Todd after the two of them pulled off Gandalf and Aragorn so mightily. Knowing this, and knowing I would never put on three layers of black face paint and black clothes, I quietly dreamed up my favorite roles on the Good team. A month prior, Jack and Joe announced their intentions to play Sauron and Gandalf, respectively, as it would be Jack’s 10th anniversary game and he felt no one else could properly give Joe the run for his money. We were all with that, though the Dark Elves had their own plans which no wizard would derail.
Ring Game players pass through three stages at some point: newbie, experienced, and then bringing their own newbies in. I’ve gotten to the third, as this game I would be bringing in anywhere from two to five newbies. This also gave me a good reason to play Good, besides just backing up Joe and not wearing face paint – I wanted to make sure my newbies had a good time and weren’t left somewhere in a field alone. Trisha had just been indoctrinated into Tolkien-geekdom that summer, I met Tim (aka. Glothiniel) through TolkienOnline, and Dahail and Jem were old pals from QGJDL who could come down from Minneapolis to play. In the end only Trisha and Tim would play, but I also had to proxy for Joel, who could finally return to the game, driving up from college in Nebraska. He wanted desperately to be Bill the Pony.
While at the Dane I listened to the would-be Dark Elves talking as they passed out the bandannas Bob had printed up for them with obscene slogans written in Tengwar. There were more people than slots, surely, so those who chickened out on the face paint planned to be Evil men-at-arms. Jack made an early alliance that IF picks went the way they all wanted, he was cool with letting the Dark Elves wreak havoc so long as they supported him on the Mountain at the end of the game. Todd agreed. Meanwhile, I let Joe know that I had his back, and he said whatever I wanted to pick was fine with him, he would take anybody in any role. The rest of the evening, I made sure to spy out the Dark Elf plans. We all downed dinner and drinks and headed off to regroup at the meeting.
Seeing everyone at lottery is like going to a family reunion. There was Derek, and Chuck and Dean and their girls, and Chris P., and Rich, and Adam, and even Bondo. Some faces I hadn’t seen since my first or second game had trickled in too, like the guy who played Sam my first game. I made sure to give Chris P. a warm welcome and then stashed my stuff so I could run up and apprise Derek of the present state of plans. He assured me he would play Good without a doubt, and most likely a high-pointed elf role. I passed the same information on Jack and Joe and the Dark Elves to Adam and several others before settling down next to Otto to await my number. As picks began, several odd things happened. As hoped by the Dark Elves, Jeff willingly let the Chief Dark Elf go to Andrea prior to lottery, since he likes her and misses her help now, but the bad news for them was that the number of Dark Elves had been dropped from 10 to 6. Sterling, we discovered, was not playing. The Menace was already picked by this young, red-haired punk who I think I’ve seen play Evil before but couldn’t place in a role off the top of my head. Jack addressed the crowd to basically beg them not to pick Gandalf or Sauron if they would please? But let the picks fall where they may. And then we were off!
My number came up shockingly early, I’d say sixth or seventh pick overall. Though Joe had not yet been given the chance to pick, I bravely stood and chose Radagast. The guys all high-fived and congratulated me, while at the same time mentioning that they were going to be gunning for me. Great. The very next number was Joe’s! So, as we hoped, we ended up as the one-two punch, Radagast and Gandalf. The Dark Elves surprisingly stayed un-picked until first Greg, then Todd, then Otto’s numbers came up, so at least six of the guys who had planned on Dark Elf really got it. Picking got really weird after that. Dismayed, Beth abandoned her last-minute decision to go Evil and chose Treebeard, to go along with Angela who was also an Ent, and one of their ex-Corsair pals too. I would later proxy Trisha into another Ent, nearly filling up the contingent. Chris got Éomer and their college pal Eva took Éowyn. Shan nearly had the chance to go straight, since Legolas and several other very excellent roles were still open, but she got bribed at the last minute to go Evil and just chose Man-at-arms, along with Scott and Bob. The dearth of Dark Elf slots meant that Emily and Cindy, who needed to be proxied-for, and Shan, could not run with Andrea as intended. Instead, they all became Haradrim. The rest of the would-be DE’s chose Dunlanders instead. A lot of young folk went Good, picking most of the named roles. Derek chose Elrond, his friends became Aragorn and Gimli. James, who played Bard Hendrix last game, chose Saruman. Chris P. is once again Tom Bombadil. I proxied newbie Tim into a Ranger, and also chose that role for Joel, as someone had taken Bill the Pony. It looked to be a pretty even spread, though Jack was going to be hard up for help. Only the Nazgûl were taken for sure, but most orcs and all the trolls were wide open.
Costuming for me had to be as no-brainer as possible since I was working feverishly to finish actual customer orders for Jedi costumes for Halloween. Sure enough, Radagast was perfect – I already had green leggings and brown leg wraps from past costumes, and the brown velvet undershirt Beth had gotten me. Over that I added the brown gi that went with my Jedi pants and my prototype Jedi robe, which was much too large and polyester to be worn as a proper Jedi costume anymore. To it I added a circlet of woven vines, and just 24 hours after lottery had my costume complete. I expected to have to help all the Ents with theirs, at least with suggestions, and needed the time between meeting and game to do important things like look for a new apartment.
E-mail has given Ring Game strategy a whole new face. Instead of trying to scrounge for players’ phone numbers and maybe give them a call once or twice in the intervening weeks, wizards can now actively email and even chat online with their guys, making, discussing, and disseminating strategy. Joe did his best to get me an email a day, while we worked out plans and bounced ideas off one another, but phone calls were better for discussion. In addition, Joe and Jack bravely drove all that long way from Minneapolis to the “team” meeting, which was pretty much a meeting for the Good team as only one Evil player showed up. Though, Mike Bourne came in to get “second” pick of characters and chose Captain of the Corsairs, promising Jack on his way out the door that he would be bringing “a bunch” of Corsairs.
Joe was particularly inspired by the winning run he and Scott had made with the Windlord token in the Fall ‘00 game, for he came to me just before the team meeting with the idea of assaulting Evil outside the perimeter of the Mountain and using the Windlord to get him and a hobbit up to the Cracks. I told him it wouldn’t work because it was against the rules, so we clarified with Jeff. He told us that the Windlord could be used to escape in any direction, but as soon as Gandalf crossed the perimeter at Doom, the five minutes were off and anyone could chase him. Joe started thinking of all kinds of what-if scenarios, and we pretty much planned out most of them. We had a lot of ideas, but we hesitated giving anyone orders about the end game because usually, so much has already happened in the first three and a half hours of the game that very little can be guaranteed by the final hour. So, finally, the week of the game, anyone who wasn’t at the team meeting was given the basic plan: Lothlórien at 2:30 pm. The hobbits had information of their own, and Joe decided who amongst the Good team ought to know other particulars (e. g.Derek/Elrond, Beth/Treebeard, Galadriel, Adam/Butterbur, Chuck/Glorfindel), but the only other person on the team who knew the entire plan was me. Between Chuck and Derek, the Rivendell people had a certain mission at the start of the game. TreeBeth was in charge of collecting people from Rohan/Gondor for scouting and to attack Isengard when I showed up. I informed Galadriel the morning of the game what she should do, involving me and the Rangers – and used e-mail to apprise at least half of the Rangers (Joel and Tim) of their mission with me. It was in this moment Joe and I realized that the “youth and enthusiasm vs. old age and treachery” thing took away a lot of strong leaders from the Good team, enabling some of the newer players such as myself and Beth to step up into leadership roles. Most of the guys who would have been either leaders for Good or Sauron’s lieutenants were Dark Elves and Haradrim (as we appropriately called the “men at arms”).
Camping – another new tradition! Jack reserved Group Site G at the base of Barad-dur (as it was the only one left) and invited everyone possible to camp there Friday night, since we had had so much fun doing so at the previous game. A fair amount of people took up his offer – myself and Trisha in the “girls tent,” Chuck and Kate, Jack, Joe, Tim (the Minnesotans) and Jack’s friend Jeremiah, who I drove to the park, and Legolas in his own little tent. In addition, we knew Maury (Mouth of Sauron) and his kids (mostly Good) were up in Site E, and Dark Elves/Haradrim Otto, Bob, Shan, Scott, Emily, Cindy (Oliphaunt, actually) and Andrea who were all staying in Dodgeville hotels planned to come by for campfire and s’mores. Jack’s crew got down in the middle of the afternoon, and took a jaunt around the park to check out the status of the citadels, show Tim where everything was, and to scout Mount Doom and Barad-dur. Trisha met me after work, we quickly packed up my new car and picked up Jeremiah, and headed out to Dodgeville. I had told everyone to estimate my arrival around 5:30, and sure enough, I hit it on the nose.
It got dark rather early as it does in the Fall, and we had all barely gotten out there and gotten our tents set up when the hotel contingent arrived with wood and supplies, and the fire was going immediately after. Emily showed off her fire-spinning talent (talk about your glow-stick ninja) to many ooohs and aaahs, stargazing was intermittent between clouds that kept coming and going, and the s’mores were being passed around very quickly. It was sort of cold, but the camaraderie and the campfire warmed me up quickly. There was a bit of smack still being traded around, as there was an even split between Good and Evil (at least once Maury’s kids came down to visit) and with three of the four wizards present, well… we couldn’t help it. But it was all in fun. At least, until midnight. The hoteliers left, all bundled up in several layers and wishing us as good a sleep as we could get, and as the last of the insanely huge pile of wood was being burned, those of us remaining realized it might get colder than we anticipated. Trisha and I had planned to sleep on her air bed, which necessitated an AC adapter to plug in so we could inflate it, but Shan forgot it in the end to bring hers despite several reminders. We spent a long, cold night on the ground, shivering in our sleeping bags, heavily layered and protected with stocking caps but still frozen, waking at 3:00 am thinking only an hour of tossing and turning had passed. In all, we couldn’t have gotten more than three or four hours of sleep when we finally realized that it was 7:00 am, and the cold gray light creeping over the tent was dawn. Beyond the ridge of Barad-dur the sun was rising!
Jack’s tent was unloaded and struck before Trisha and I had even really woken up, as he had to get down and set up for picture-taking. Bit by bit our camping group tore down and packed up the cars, until only Trisha, Tim, and I were left. I apprised them of a few bits of strategy now that we had no Evil ears to pry while we loaded up and got into as much of our costumes as we could. By the time we were ready to drive over to the staging area, around 8:30, the sun cleared Barad-dur and we suddenly realized – it was warm! Blue skies and delicious sunlight warmed the night’s chill from our bodies fast, and made for a very happy morning at the staging area. It was good to be there early, to finish putting on costumes, make sure hair and makeup accessories were on straight and good (like Ent makeup), and watch people arriving. Otto and Bob arrived almost immediately, Otto with his makeup already applied and looking rather sinister. More and more players came. The lot filled up with orcs and Nazgûl, Corsairs in bright plumage, elves and Ents and a whole lot of green-clad Riders of Rohan. Oh yeah, and those Dark Elves. Between the standards Bob had printed up at work and the outstanding costuming, the Dark Elves and the Haradrim looked to be heavily-pointed (and impressive-looking). Good for them, because Evil was very disadvantaged. Until game morning they had no Barrow Wights (ended up with three) and no trolls (one), and once all the named orc roles were filled there were no extra orc soldiers. A lot of people were commenting on the incredible amount of unit cohesiveness this game, something the game has been lacking. Not only did just about every unit have a flag (Dark Elves, Haradrim, Riders, White Hands), they all were careful to dress similar and stick together. The Riders of Rohan didn’t have much in the way of actual costumes and had no weapons, but their green surcoats with the running white horse of Rohan made them look incredible when all together – and they had surcoats for Théoden, Éowyn, and Éomer as well. Even Sauron had his own standard – and standard-bearer. Just about all of the Good team showed up in force, except for two: Bill the Pony (but the only one miffed was Joel, since he wanted to play that role) and Tom Bombadil. Chris P. was nowhere to be seen, and for once we needed him, as we would later discover.
The costumes were as wonderful as always. Derek’s velvet Elrond could be seen a mile away in vivid blue, but it looked fabulous and he even had Vilya on his finger. The Ents were quite Entish in tree-branch camouflage and fall leaf garland crowns, with face-painted accents courtesy of me. Chuck and Dean had outrageous pointed vambraces and greaves that they got both armor and weapons points for, making them hugely-pointed Rivendell elves, but proved to be uncomfortable in the daylong wearing. I openly admit that the Dark Elves looked great. The Haradrim also, especially Emily with her Sith-like layers. Several were wearing custom contacts to make their eyes look creepy. Jack and Joe had matching-but-opposing yin and yang costumes – overtunic with the yin/yang symbol on the breast, cloak, pendant, pointy hat, and fringe on the end of their staves. Saruman was wearing a white Mickey Mouse glove hat as his giant White Hand. For all the fuss, though, the costume judges were being very stingy. I got 9½ as Radagast, all in brown with a crown and an eagle (my old toy, Sam, that I recalled I had with me), even as I complained to the judges, “What more do you want from me? ? ”What does it take to get ten? ? The Dark Elves were all uniformly capped at 10 even though each of them should have been evaluated individually and easily deserved anywhere from 11 to 13. I fault the judges completely for having been free with bonus points in very recent games (13 for my not-very-interesting Legolas? 17 infamous points for Adam’s Christmas Tree Ent?) and now trying to rein us back in to remembering that the top is supposed to be 10 rather than 15. Rather than cheat by begging the weapons judge to count my staff, I stuck to the rulebook that Radagast can’t be enhanced by armor or weapons and quietly walked away with 34½ points.
There was time for last-minute instructions before introductions. I rounded up my other two Rangers and told them that we were going over a ridge to Lothlórien, and from thence I would give them instructions. Galadriel seemed to understand (though dislike) my orders to stay on the rock with the tokens until we got there, and then we would be leaving someone on the rock for a couple hours with tokens until Good started showing up for the 2:30 rendezvous. Character introductions ran overtime, though, so Jeff and Bill pushed the start time back 15 minutes and shooed us to our starting positions.
While we waited until 12:15, I told the Rangers more fully what our plan was:I started with the Windlord, but had to get it over the ridge to Lothlórien where it would be safe, without being spotted by Evil. Someone from Lórien was supposed to be on the road scouting so we would know it was safe to come down, and we would go on from there to the Entwood. It was my assumption that by going over the ridge rather than taking the road to the crossroads and back up, we would foil any chance of any Evil that started on or near Barad-dur getting to Lothlórien before us. What I didn’t anticipate was Jack starting some of his orcs as close to the Iron Hills as he legally could and sending them instantly after me. There were no Wild Men, but Jeff wouldn’t let Sauron start any orcs or goblins in the region where the Wild Men were supposed to start. I did not realize that Jack was intent on getting the Windlord from me immediately or I would have been less casual in leaving the Iron Hills. When the game started, the Rangers and I walked up to the restrooms by the campsites and met Beorn there, made a quick pit stop, and then headed into the brush to go up the ridge. It was a steep climb, but I did it without complaint because I knew the alternative was to walk the road to the crossroads and run smack into Evil, get captured, get the Windlord token taken away, and probably be dragged to Saruman. I impressed upon the Rangers, as well as the Lothlórien elves, that under no circumstances was I to be captured, because a) I didn’t want to be enslaved by Saruman, and b) I was the only person on the team who knew Gandalf’s whole plan. I also told them I didn’t want to run into the Dark Elves if at all possible.
We crested the ridge and took our time finding a safe, easy way down off the rocky faces, but about halfway down the pine-needle-encrusted hillside we heard voices on the road. I reminded the Ranger scouting ahead that Galadriel or someone from Lothlórien would be on the road waiting for us, but we soon saw between the tree trunks that the voices belonged to some black-clad folk heading toward Gladdy. Evil was already at Lothlórien. We saw them tag her, and then all of them stood there for a few minutes, while the Rangers looked pleadingly at me for instructions. Tim, gung-ho newbie that he was, insisted, “We can take them!” There were, after all, only two, and the way they were standing around down there made it look like they were taking Galadriel prisoner. An attack on them would have liberated her one way or another. I nodded my consent and said “Go!” Four Rangers and Beorn tore through the underbrush and flew downhill, and had almost reached the road when the orcs below heard them and started backing away. They had now left Galadriel nine paces behind, so she was free even if we didn’t initiate battle, but I left the Rangers to do it without a freeze because I could not be involved with the Windlord at stake. Rather, I stood on the ridge behind a tree and watched, waiting.
The orcs bolted, but suddenly cried out, “Hey, we’ve got more of them up here!” My heart skipped a beat – reinforcements within shouting distance? That was when I realized Sauron was coming after me for the token around my neck. It wasn’t just random Evil wandering up to see what they could see at Lothlórien. The Rangers chased them a short way and then came back, and with Galadriel disappeared over the road and out of my sight. The orcs came back with more teammates, and a few minutes of shouting ensued. There was a bit of an argument, and from what I could hear up the hill, the orcs were insisting that Galadriel was dead so she should be sitting down on the road, not over at Lothlórien with the Rangers (now safe). They had attempted to take the Stone of Galadriel, but only Nazgûl and evil wizards can take it so they had to come give it back to her. In the end, they settled on her sitting at Lórien and serving her dead time there, but lingered in the area for a bit. I was getting impatient, as time was getting on and I was straining to listen for sounds of Evil circling around behind me on the ridge. I started to creep down, step by step, hoping to get close enough to the road to catch a high sign from any Rangers when it was clear. Eventually Evil drew off, and I went even further down stealthily, assured now that anyone circling behind me would be too far off to catch me if I bolted downhill and over the road to Lothlórien. About that time Joel and one other Ranger appeared on the road and waved me down – it was safe. Once there, I learned from Galadriel that the orcs had never told her whether she was dead or captured, they just demanded her tokens and sort of pulled her around like they were going to imprison her. She lost the Bow, but had the Stone. I gave the Windlord to Beorn and said that at least one, maybe two people had to stay at Lothlórien and guard these two tokens, because they were vital to the end game and Good would not win without them. I didn’t care if they saw no action and did no running all game, tokens were more important than slaking bloodthirst. Considering the unexpected harassment we had endured, I had changed my mind about how many should come with me to the Entwood and Isengard – rather than a small, stealthy force to escort me safely, I now needed points. In the end, Celeborn, Galadriel, and Beorn stayed, and I took with me the Rangers, the last elf, and Bard, who had also come up. The Good Paladin wasn’t there, so I assumed he had been killed in his battle and would be along shortly if Evil didn’t bounce him again. Bard claimed to know a trail-way along the feet of the ridge that would take us secretly out to the road beyond the crossroads. I let him lead the way, as I could see there were still a few Evil players down at the crossroads and didn’t want them seeing us leave Lothlórien.
It was starting to cloud up rather thickly, keeping the temperature down and visibility in Good’s favor as we left. We snuck through the woods and came out on the road above a briar patch, just past the last shoulder of the hill that hid the crossroads from our sight. Scouting Rangers said Evil was now gone, and as I looked at my watch, I knew they’d all be down taking Rivendell so we were very safe. I led the way across a goldenrod-covered hillside that hid us from Doom and Barad-dur to the horse trail, and onward to the access trail to Long Lake at the dam. With some help from my other players, Bard especially, we made our way down through the valley along the River Anduin toward the road, intending to pop out of the brush just across the road from the northeastern-most point of the Entwood. If all had gone well on the Shire end of the park, the Ents should have been there to meet us, but I told the boys not to expect them. I had a feeling we would be making our way alone through the Entwood to meet the Ents, but had them keep an eye out nonetheless. One went scouting up around the curve of the road, and just as he was about to give us an all-clear, witches and vampires came around the bend. I hoofed it up and over, not really afraid of this bunch but not knowing their number either. They seemed like the contingent that not only wouldn’t chase us into the Entwood, but wouldn’t capture any of us if we lost a battle. Still, I was pressed for time and decided it would be better to get clear. Bard hung back to taunt them a little as well as report on their number – there were a lot of them. Witches, vampires, and Shelob, it looked like. We faded back through the weeds and up the hill into the Entwood.
My worst moment of uncertainty was in the Entwood. I didn’t know if Jack was going to do his usual thing and attack Rohan and Gondor well after their scheduled times, or if he was going to break his own rule and attack them on time. If so, then the path on the other side of Entwood would be crawling with Evil at that very moment. I also hadn’t seen the Dark Elves yet, but I expected them to go around Mount Doom to the south and come out pretty much where we were, making for Gondor or the Entwood. Instead of skirting the fringes of the Entwood to come out near Rohan, which might have been the smarter thing to do in retrospect, we plunged straight into it, and before I knew it we were too deep into it to come back out by Rohan. Bard was leading, still. I told him to crest the last rise and stop so I could have a look where we might be. If we were below the cemetery I was going to make for Rohan, but if we were above it (as I feared) we would have been safer staying in the Entwood and just going to Isengard. I still hadn’t seen hide nor leaf of the Ents, so I assumed they were still down at Isengard for some reason and hoped they wouldn’t come north looking for me since I hadn’t arrived yet. We topped the rise and had a sudden glimpse of the lake (the Bay of Belfalas) as the sun came from between clouds and shimmered on it. We were very high up, not at the topmost point of the Entwood but close, and above the cemetery. Consensus was to just keep going forward and hit the path wherever we would find it, since we were so close. As we went, I thought I heard voices down by Rohan and was convinced it would be Evil, so we were better off where we were. Suddenly, at a pause, I heard the swish of feet behind us. I hissed for the boys to stop and be quiet, and looked back. Sure enough, we were being followed. I briefly and faintly hoped for Ents, but then I caught the glint of sunlight on a silver-topped head. That was Otto. Those were Dark Elves.
I was near the back of the pack, keeping two Rangers behind me to prevent being chased down and tagged out of range of my escort. I leaned forward and murmured, “Dark Elves. RUN. ”We broke into a jog, but from behind me a heart-stopping war cry echoed through the entire Entwood – we had been spotted and they were giving chase. I knew even as our whole party immediately tripled their speed that the battle cry meant they had specifically spotted me and, as I was one of their intended targets, were going to come after us. I was in a panic, because we had only about 150 points between us all and definitely couldn’t take on all seven Dark Elves. And, quite simply, the battle cry had scared the crap out of me. I passed up some of the boys when a white figure bounded out of the brambles to our right – Gandalf! Where he came from I have no idea, but he joined us and we all ran until we suddenly broke into a clearing. It was the mown strip around the cemetery, and we had come out on its western side. Once there, Joe pulled us to a stop and I panted, “Dark Elves.” He wisely told us to hold on, and took a couple of the more fresh, ready-to-run Rangers and ran back up toward the pursuing Elves. We could only see about two or three of them as they turned and bolted, scattering. There was no way we could take them – either they were too many points for us, or when they split apart the rest of us were too tired to keep up with Joe in order to be within 25 paces for a freeze. He came back and we regrouped for a bit by the cemetery. Gandalf informed us that the path was crawling with Nazgûl, and the Ents were dead at Isengard by the Menace. We talked it over and decided to go back up in the direction of the Dark Elves, taking a slow path through the Entwood toward Isengard so as to avoid battle until we had joined the Ents. It was that, or Gandalf could go ahead while we hung out inside the Entwood to wait. I didn’t want to do that, the Dark Elves were still shadowing us and if we paused for five minutes, they would come up, surround, attack, and capture me. Or him, if he stayed, or both. We pressed on. Behind us, we heard the shuffle of Dark Elf feet in the leaves.
We were uncertain, as we went, just what was going on at Isengard, whether Saruman was still there, and whether the Haradrim had joined the Dark Elves. That would give us even less of a chance of taking them out. After a while, as we drew near, we heard shuffling ahead and up came the Ents with Éowyn. The Dark Elves were now drawing off, leaving a scout or two to watch us but heading toward the road. With the Ents we could have now taken them handily, and they knew it. Andrea scouted and called back that she could see Gandalf and Ents. I heard from the trees off to our left, “Is Radagast there?”
“I don’t know,” was the reply, “I didn’t see her. ”
I looked at Joe, beside me, and murmured, “They don’t care if you’re here, but they want me.” He just grinned.
Time was growing short. It was now almost 2:30 exactly, and we were due at Lothlórien. After a hasty conference I decided that my token wouldn’t be worth it, and we should forget about Isengard and just go to Lothlórien. Gandalf, at any rate, was needed there, and we no longer had the support of the Riders of Rohan who had all been scattered between the Menace and Saruman. The Ents had left the area reporting that there was still too much Evil down there. We didn’t really stop to count up to see if we had the points, with or without Gandalf, to take Isengard and anyone defending. I was tired after being shadowed by Dark Elves for half an hour and just wanted to get on with things, and Lothlórien was on my mind, or I would have stopped to think more clearly about taking the Ents and Rangers and going back while Joe went on alone. I didn’t think that if we did, we would get to Lothlórien ourselves much before 3:15 or so and would have to contend with a lot of Evil between us and the citadel preventing us from getting there. We decided to abandon that idea and just all go to Lórien. Passing through the woods, we stopped on the very edge of the Entwood and looked out – and saw an incredible sight. Evil, with Sauron, was massed down on the road, and they were questioning prisoners the Dark Elves had flushed out of the weeds. The Dark Elves came down out of the Entwood, having sent Scott Lewis (a last minute addition to the Haradrim) to let Big Daddy know that both Radagast and Gandalf were still up in the Entwood. He didn’t care, though, he had other things to do. We crouched down and waited, having a fantastic vantage point to observe the next few minutes and absolutely no way of going through that army to Lórien. We had to wait until they were gone. Again, in hindsight, perhaps then we should have seen the opportunity to go back the way we had come, to Isengard, but we were unsure of Saruman’s location and didn’t want to risk much. Time was pressing.
We also saw from our hiding place, the other road that went from Rivendell to Lothlórien, and on or above it a few Good players. Then, the Riders of Rohan (very obvious) came from behind a hill and passed along the road with them. Evil was still down on the nearer road, and a shoulder of the terrain hid the Good from Evil for the moment. The Dark Elves were all down there as well. I could see a figure in white far away, and then a figure in blue: Butterbur and Elrond. Evil had let the last captive go and was about to move. It was little Faramir, one of Maury’s kids, and he came sort of in our direction. Sauron started to move the army up the road and then across the field to the other road, but by then the Good players were well on their way to Lothlórien, and an even better thing happened to ensure their safety. Butterbur and Elrond feinted toward the Evil army and then backed off toward Rivendell, drawing Evil after them! Playing decoy, they made sure the rest of Good could get to Lothlórien without being chased. I learned later that they got caught and questioned, or at least Elrond did (Butterbur having been questioned shortly before), but Sauron learned nothing new. The only information anyone had was Lothlórien, and Sauron had already anticipated that.
We picked up Faramir and, once Evil was definitely out of the picture, headed down through the goldenrod, across the road, and into more goldenrod fields to cross the strip of land between the two roads. To our left some couple hundred yards were Bondo, Lord of the Nazgûl, and a couple of his minions, but they seemed not to see us as they also crossed the strip of land and went up in front of us toward Lórien. The Dark Elves had split off from Sauron when he left, but somehow came back around us far to our right because they were ahead of us when we got safely across the field to the horse path. We had the pleasure of watching – from a safe distance – Bondo allowed Todd, Otto, and Greg to approach him, then tag him and bounce him, taking his ring. The Menace had apparently just been through, because there were a couple of Good players dead in the weeds up on the side of the horse path, and Andrea also – who was just getting up and shaking out her cloak. She let us go by, as the others had already gone off in a different direction, so Gandalf took us up off the path to the road since it was obvious we weren’t hidden anymore. Ahead, on the side of the road, sat several players. The Menace, and Saruman.
Now, I had already heard from the Ents that the Menace was in league with Saruman. They had been killed when Saruman attempted to freeze the Good players and then left them to the Menace, but Jeff came along in time. It appeared they were still in league, for there was a sacrifice on. A couple White Hands were sitting nearby as if either waiting or also dead, which is also against the rules because when a wizard sacrifices to the Menace all his team’s players with him have to leave him and vacate the area. Gandalf was angry, since he hadn’t seen the Menace yet and thus hadn’t sacrificed for the Gandalf the White token. We just kept going, watching out because we figured Evil was now between us and Lothlórien and we were in trouble. Gandalf caught up after yelling at the Menace and said he needed to go fast to Lórien, so we could do whatever we wanted – scout ahead to Barad-dur, whatever. I decided we would also go to Lórien, but more slowly than he. We all took to the woods in different directions, and trekked through, but we ended up taking a better path and got ahead of Gandalf. He caught back up and had the Riders with him, as well as a few other stragglers from the woods. Bard was at the moment scouting ahead through a thicket of trees to the status of Lothlórien, and came booking back with two orcs on his heels. They were alone, though, and I called a freeze as soon as they tagged Bard. I was only twelve paces from them, and there were several players in front of me as well as all behind me in another 25 paces, which included Gandalf. The orcs were so dead it wasn’t even funny. We now had no resistance between us and Lothlórien, so we marched out and headed up to the rock which was already crowded with Good.
Ahhh Lothlórien and rest! We had less time than expected but still plenty, as it was just after 3:00 pm and apart from some White Hand Orcs taunting us from the road there was no attacking force. We put all the elves on the rock just in case, but there was no way anything but the entire Evil army was going to take Lórien for a while, and the entire Evil army was on its way to Doom. I climbed up and sat on the cool rock by Elrond and Legolas, asking them how their game had been and readjusting my askew costume. There were two hobbits there – our decoys Merry and Pippin – but I remember at one point suddenly turning around and finding the other three with us. Where they came from, I didn’t see. Then, the Menace arrived, but oddly he didn’t tag any of the White Hands or leftover Haradrim hanging around the road. Bard went up to see what his friend was up to and got lured into a trap – he could have orced the little jerk but ended up chasing him straight through a pack of White Hands, who tagged and killed him so that he couldn’t use the Black Arrow on the Menace. This was evidence to us of the alliance and the Menace’s cheating, which only got worse as he stood on the road taunting Gandalf about the fact that 3:30 was almost here and he wasn’t going to get Gandalf the White. Joe tried to go after him, tried to bait him, tried to deal with him, but the idiot just taunted us, killing two of ours but nothing else as 3:30 arrived. There was nothing else to do but prepare for the final battle.
Gandalf took a calculator and first counted up the elf points alone, then tripled it just to see. Then, he added the entire Good army that was present, taking note of who we were missing. We had about 1,150 points, not including about five or six players who still hadn’t come, nor Aragorn with the Paths of the Dead token. All told, with him, and the other players we picked up, we could have had around 1500 points on the Mountain before the Army of the Eagles. The trouble was, we knew Evil would have about as much. Joe drew me and Butterbur aside and we talked about it for a while. Todd interrupted our confab by coming down “just to say hi,” really to scout the size of the force there. The Dark Elves were somewhere near, and after a while it dawned on me that they were down at the little turnaround at the end of the road, waiting for us to leave so they could take Lothlórien. Someone was down there, anyway, and while we watched Arwen was marched past us (to the bathroom, not the Dark Elves) as a captive and back, but apparently they either didn’t find a wizard in time or found Saruman who could get nothing out of captives, for soon after Arwen and Chuck came down to Lothlórien free. We had pretty much everyone now, except one or two citadel guards and Gimli. Oh, and Bard, who was still up on the road, but we couldn’t fathom why. When he got up from his dead time, he stayed up there. Gandalf, Butterbur, and I went back to talking, and while we knew we had the points should Joe need to Miracle out Jack, we were still going to go to Barad-dur to get the Army of the Eagles, and Joe’s primary plan was still to use the Windlord to take himself and the Ring-bearer out of battle, and leave us to distract Evil until he could break the perimeter. Butterbur and Chuck were to take the Stone and a decoy token and hang back from the battle, and one would draw off any guards there while the other came up with the real Stone to waken the Good army. If things went well, he was to waken me first, and then quickly the rest of the army so I could hopefully be available to call a freeze again in another battle, unless Evil was already in the perimeter. In theory, it could have been a spectacular battle. Either way, Windlord or Miracle, it was going to be a huge battle and a big moment, and while we knew it would be close, we couldn’t guarantee we would take Evil on points. We were going to try, though.
By about 4:00 we had everyone up, and asked for volunteers to stay on the rock and hold Lothlórien. No one volunteered, so Joe shrugged and said, “Okay. Then there will be no tie. We either win or we lose.” Galadriel deserved to run with us since she’d been on token guard all day, and Elrond was frustrated about not being able to go with Aragorn to get Flame of the West and besides, he had sat on Lórien last game. Had just one of them stayed, tripled on the rock, perhaps with an Ent or two, Lothlórien would not have been taken. At least, the Dark Elves would have had to go get more reinforcements to take it and they were supposed to be on the Mountain shortly. We left, then, knowing that Lórien was going to fall to the hidden Dark Elves and the White Hands still lurking, who tried to take us on foolishly but backed off when they realized that we weren’t going to be drawn into battle with them. They would have all been bounced and then the Dark Elves would have had to wait 15 minutes to have the points to take Lórien. Along the way we picked up a stray citadel guard or two, and Gimli, and marched in one huge pack up the road to Barad-dur. We were delayed at the base by a huge line of horses, thirty of them at least, but finally climbed the steep side and very quickly, not wasting any time, took the flag and the token and had a few sips of Gatorade that Joe had stashed up there. He and I gave a few last minute instructions and a pretty grim pep-talk about how we were going over there to march, and do battle, and maybe die, and it was either win or lose. None of the army but me (and hobbits) knew about the Windlord plan, though, and only Chuck and Adam knew about the decoy Stone plan. Whoever had been watching us come on from the top of Barad-dur had gone, wisely, because no force could stand the entire Good army. We all got out onto the path together, and Gandalf and I marched at the head of the force, which we kept together in a pack no more than maybe twenty paces wide. One of the citadel guards went ahead to scout, but saw nothing until we got just about right around to where we would have to climb up to the saddle. Gollum suddenly sprang out of the weeds and free-tagged Sam, but someone immediately tagged him and he was obviously dead. We could hear shouting on the mountain, so they knew we were coming, but they had no idea what was about to come over the hill.
We went up to the crown of the ridge and sighted below us the Evil army, en masse, at the low point of the saddle. They confess to being as impressed and shaken by the sight of the entire Good army coming up over that ridge en masse as we were of them. I noticed, then, Jack’s mistake – he did exactly what Joe and I wanted him to do, position his army outside the perimeter with nowhere to escape to if we initiated battle. The tag would be outside the perimeter, meaning that anyone who ran up the mountain would have a head start before any more freezes were called. It was largely ceremonial, then, as we just walked up, stopped abreast of the Evil army, and Joe tagged Saruman. He and I called freezes but there was no need for Evil to do so as well. Joe then went to each end of the army to call in as many of the Evil army as was close to be in the battle, deliberately taking time and drawing as much of the Evil army to our position as possible. Finally, the referees got him to stand still and declare what he was going to do in the token phase. He said, to Jack, “As much as I would love to Miracle your ass and count up all these points and see who wins, I’m using the Windlord and taking a hobbit.” Jack had clarified with Jeff just before this battle that Joe couldn’t run straight up the mountain with a five minute head start, but we already knew that and told him so when he tried to tell us. Joe grabbed Frodo and they went off to our collective left, around the easy side of Doom. We declared that it was still the token phase of battle so Merry and Éowyn wanted to orc Bondo, which Jack accepted, saying “We knew it was going to happen sooner or later, Bondo. Give ‘em your ring.” This gave Joe enough time to use the Army of the Eagles to take out a handful of perimeter guards one by one, and Jack delayed himself further by declaring his intention to take prisoners. But he only took one: me, and gave me to Saruman who stood beside him. It was pretty much a meaningless enslavement, so I was okay with it, but later Jack pointed out that he did it not so much for spite but to keep me from helping Joe any further. He had contemplated asking me what Joe was up to, but that would have freed me with a head start and I could have gone to assist him, so for Jack, enslaving me was a better option. At that moment, Gandalf and Frodo broke the perimeter far outside 25 paces of us, and were halfway up the mountain when Jack yelled for his army to chase them down, pausing quickly to order a couple White Hands to stay back and guard the Good army to prevent someone from coming with the Stone. I had to follow Saruman through the perimeter onto the Mountain, and we were only a few paces along when “Freeze! ” was being passed all the way down the mountain.
This was the crucial moment. Had Jack been delayed and dawdled enough to ensure he was outside 25 paces? Were Joe and Frodo far enough up the mountain? Meanwhile, I looked back. Butterbur had come down toward the Good army, but the guards were dogging him, facing off with him. He dashed away to one side, and the guard followed. Of course, he was the decoy, and I stood there laughing because I knew that the guard had totally fallen for the ploy! Sure enough, a second later Chuck came bounding down the hill, and in seconds enough Good players were awakened to kill the remaining guards, and should there be another battle they were ready. But it was crunch time on the Mountain, less than five minutes to 5:00. One of the referees paced down and said Jack was too far, but then let Jack pace up himself. He took a few moments to gather himself, take his inhaler, and then leaped steadily up the mountain. He made it to Joe in exactly 25 paces. One pace more and Evil would have lost. Just to keep the victory from being true, Joe Miracled him, and the scads of Evil within the pace killed Frodo, but it was now five o’clock on the dot. The Ring was dead, but all the citadels had been taken, so Evil won.
I did go up the mountain to congratulate Jack and take a breath of fresh air, and show my newbies the view and pose for pictures. I was oddly not saddened or angry at the loss because for one, it was really down to the wire and could’ve gone either way, so it was an exciting conclusion. And, Jack is such a cool guy, I don’t mind losing to him. But of course, now comes the second guessing. Should the army have captured Frodo and taken him down to Saruman – who was with me inside the perimeter – and let Saruman take the Ring and win with it? Or would Evil have bounced Saruman? Could Good have run into the perimeter, bounced Saruman, and gotten the Ring back? Could this game have gone on forever? And then there was the matter of the Radagast token at Isengard. It wasn’t until a day later Joe and I realized that had I gotten my token, I could have used it to prevent Saruman from enslaving me, and thus been available to help Joe in some way – or tagged someone before much of the Evil army got into the perimeter and called a freeze, and though they would have killed me, it might have frozen Sauron further down the mountain, ensuring that he didn’t get anywhere near Joe. Had Jack been just one pace further down, Joe would have Miracled out the Evil army, leaving Frodo with the Army of the Eagles to take out the Mouth and win. Also, we lost the Horn of Boromir, which would have been another delaying tactic, as I would have declared that in the “token phase” we were using the Horn to kill Dark Elves. It wasn’t the points, it was the delay, but I risked the wrath of good friends doing that. We were contemplating whether the new Radagast token rule was more or less fair to Radagast’s getting it. I’m starting to think less, but I also don’t want to go back to being enslaved as a requirement to getting it, so unless someone can propose something better, it’s the way it has to be. We also wondered how much the Menace’s alliance with Saruman factored in. Was it an alliance, or just the Menace cheating and Saruman taking advantage of his stupidity? There were moments when he just stood around in the middle of White Hands and other allies and didn’t kill them when he should have. If not for that, perhaps things would have been different at Isengard. But then, there is always the factor of the unknown. When you’re playing, when you’re hiding in the middle of a forest trying to shake off pursuit and decide where to go, the things you don’t know hurt you. I didn’t know Saruman was NOT at Isengard while I was in the Entwood with Gandalf and the Ents, but instead going northward to sacrifice to the Menace and get the Fireball token. Had I known, I wouldn’t have balked in the Entwood. But, in Ring Game more than anything else, hindsight is indeed 20/20.
One thing is for sure – many players are going to complain to Jeff about that Menace, and also about costume judging. There are many rules that we feel need to be either clarified or tweaked with. But for now, we’ll just keep playing the game and having fun. It was a hard-fought game, and coming down to the wire like that, to the difference of a pace, was so exciting and so fun that the outcome doesn’t matter. At least my newbies had fun, and every one of them will be back in the spring. I have a feeling next Spring will be fantastic, because of plans once again already forming at the Great Dane on Sunday morning. Let’s just say that now that I’ve conquered my first wizard role, I’m ready to try a hobbit.
©2001 Stacey Lee. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
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