Chapters: Meetin' Campin' Sleetin' Strollin' Defendin' Endin' Partyin'
Instructions: Read. Laugh. Weep. Lather. Rinse. But for god's sake, don't repeat! Links open illustrative photos or web sites in a new window. A shout-out as always to Shan, who's been really cool about me stealing her idea.
After last fall's game, my nephew Joe got married and moved to Washington, which seemed like a pretty harsh punishment for losing a Ring Game to me. The most immediate game-related impact was that he was unable to return home for this game, making it appear that I'd be flying solo to Ring Game for the first time in many a year. I was just about resigned to my fate when my old roommate and goombah Drew called and said he was interested in coming to town for a visit. I replied, hey, why not visit the weekend of the 27th, that way you can come to Ring Game with me? He said, well why the heck not? And so the die was cast. The Plan was for me to get a character for myself at the meeting, then when all the picks were done, grab one for him from the leftovers. But as the poet says, "the best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men gang aft agley."
The day of the meeting, I drove down to Madison and met up with the gang at the Great Dane. Word on the street was that there was a top-secret plan afoot for the Good team. Having just gone through the stress and overwork of being Sauron, I was hoping to be in a position to just be a foot soldier at this game, preferably one without a whole ton of responsibility. I won't go into detail on what the plan was, exactly, because its creators may be giving it a try again in the future, since for reasons that will become obvious, pretty much all plans had to be abandoned on game day. The long and the short of it was that I volunteered to play the role of Bilbo (mainly 'cause I already had the costume, having dressed as Bilbo last December for the big "Fellowship of the Ring" movie premiere).
I left the Great Dane a bit early, as I wanted to get to the meeting in time to put up my ringgame.net banner and poster promoting the pre-Game party. I arrived at the Humanities building at about 6:20 and was amazed by how huge the crowd already was! I recognized a few people in the crowd, but realized that most of these were new players. Holy cow! By the time 7:00 rolled around, it was standing-room-only! The figure I heard was that one hundred sixteen numbers were distributed, about twenty to twenty-five more than usual. The character picking began! As usual, I lost the sheet on which I kept track of which characters were taken first, but I do recall that Saruman went second, taken by "Cat Doctor" Chris. Our good-plan-conspirators got very lucky, as Rich Miller was able to grab Gandalf and Shannon Green got Radagast. Somewhat further down the line, Mike Nygren took Sauron (this was at least the third time I can remember Mike playing Sauron, possibly the fourth… he's made rather a career of it!), completing our compliment of wizards. My number didn't come up until far down the line, but amazingly, all four hobbits were still available! So despite the fact that, after the Fall 1994 game, I'd sworn never to play a hobbit again, I took Bilbo. The rest of the hobbits followed in quick succession, with Stacey taking Frodo, Emily taking Samwise, Chris L. taking Merry, and Drew (not Seattle Drew, but the one who played Frodo last game) taking Pippin.
Never one to pass up the opportunity to make an entrance, Bondo came to the meeting in the great kilt he'd been wearing at a convention earlier in the day. And a great kilt it was, too. Finally, the picks were complete, but I found myself in a bit of a crisis. I'd figured on getting Drew an Elf Warrior or a Ranger or at least a Rider of Rohan, but every single character on the Good team had been taken, down to the lowliest Citadel Guard! Such a thing was unprecedented in the eleven years that I've been playing. With Drew coming all the way from Seattle for the game, I didn't want him to get stuck on the opposite team, so I struck a quick bargain with Jeff to give Drew "first dibs" on any Good team no-shows. With that done, I took down my signs (giving Rich the pre-game party poster to put up at the second meeting), checked in with the conspirators, and headed on back to Minnesota.
You'd think costuming would be a breeze, since I already had the Bilbo outfit. Alas no, because I had to figure out some way to protect my legs and feet (while remaining hobbitish), and I had to do something for Drew (who is even more costume-inept than I am). For myself, I bought a pair of soccer shinguards, over which I pulled a pair of men's costume hose. Fur proved surprisingly easy to affix to my softball cleats (which I heartily endorse for Ring Game play, by the way), and I added some toenail-like buttons to make them even more hobbitty. For Drew, I fell back on the old standby, "tunic over the chainmail." I found some fabric that was sort of a green version of the stuff I used for my Nazgul tunic, figuring that green could easily be used for an Elf, a Ranger, or a Rider of Rohan. I also designed buttons to cover each of these possibilities. Sunday afternoon, I called Jeff and begged for an additional Rivendell Elf (so Drew and I could at least start together), and he graciously gave it to me. So I didn't need to bother with other button designs, I just made Drew one with the crest of Gil-galad (to represent the Elves of Rivendell, you see). Drew wasn't exactly thrilled with being an Elf (the ungrateful bastard!), so I added "Boffo the Elf Boy" in Tengwar to his pin. In honor of the Rangers, I also made up some "Star of the Dúnedain" pins, with the lineage of Aragorn in Tengwar runes around the outside. It was pretty cool, actually. The following Tuesday night, I popped "Spartacus" into the DVD player and got to work sewing. Frankly, I think I did a pretty good job (although you can't really see the nifty work on the collar because of the chain mail--d'oh!).
Drew was only able to get one day off from work, so I picked him up at the airport at about 10:30 PM Thursday night. Because my little car isn't really big enough for two people and all their camping and Ring Game gear, I borrowed my sister's car, which we packed up as nearly full as we could that night. I showed him the tunic and gave him a tour of my recently-Spring-cleaned apartment (I put three pickup-trucks-full of stuff into storage in March!) and then we hit the sack.
Bright and early Friday morning, we got up and prepared to depart. While Drew was performing his ablutions, I logged on to yahoogroups to add a last big of smack talk before departure (this is becoming something of a tradition):
S is for smiles, which shall be our umbrellas.
M is for mighty (see Good team).
A is for armor: who needs it? I'm a hobbit!
C is for the Crack of Doom, see you real soon!
K is for kobolds, hey howcome we don't have any?
T is for tee-hee, I crack myself up.
A is for amyotonia (look it up).
L is for lazy (see Evil team).
K is for killed, so let's be careful out there!
Put it all together, and that's my "smack talk" for this game!
We planned to stop at the Scottish restaurant for a quick breakfast, but they've recently put in a Bruegger's next door, so we went there instead. In typical Drew fashion, he ignored the dozens of bagels that were already prepared and ordered one that required a five minute wait. Lucky for him, it was ready before I was done with my ham-egg-cheese bagel. And we were off! I drove as far as Hudson, Wisconsin, where we stopped to gas up and to stock up on grocery items for the campout. Yes, you guessed it, I bought Orange Crush. Drew then took over and drove through to Mauston (Exit 69, heh heh heh), whereupon I returned to the wheel. We stopped briefly at the House on the Rock so Drew could pop in to the gift shop (I amused myself by watching a pair of Asian youths playing catch—who brings a baseball glove to the House on the Rock?).
Next stop, Governor Dodge State Park, just five miles up the road! Woo hoo! After a brief hello with the Rangers, we parked and came inside to get squared away with the camp site, the car (my sister got a free Wisconsin Parks annual sticker in exchange for loaning me her car, not a bad deal!), and whatnot. While we were in the midst of this, Stacey arrived and pounced on me with a big hug. We drove down to Site A (reveling as usual in the anticipation of a new Ring Game about to begin), where we quickly bungied my Sauron banner from last game to the Site A pole (to clearly identify this as the party place), and put up the canopy tent. Since I was Bilbo instead of Sauron, this time we dubbed it "Bag End in a Bag." I also tried to get my "Lord of the Rings" kite to fly, but the air was just too darn still. After spending five minutes wrangling it out of a tree, we gave up and proceeded to get our tent set up.
OK, time for a brief, "boy, is Jack weird!" aside. After a few more people had arrived, Drew and I drove over to Mt. Doom, where we quickly located the exact spot where I had defeated Joe last fall. On that spot, I dug a small hole and buried the last of my wisdom teeth (which I'd had pulled last year). I figure, this way, when I die, no matter what happens, a small piece of me will be buried in the middle of the game area I love. And hopefully, it will confuse the hell out of some archeologist a thousand years from now (as if all the lost Ring Game equipment won't be driving them crazy already). For those who are wondering, I buried the other three teeth in Scotland while I was there last summer.
Our next stop was the Twin Valley campground, where we figured we'd be buying some firewood. But the firewood guys weren't there. We managed to flag down a passing park ranger, who told us that the firewood guys didn't start selling firewood until Memorial Day or May 1st, he forgot which. But he did say that they had been clearing some fallen trees from the paths over the winter, so anything on the ground was fair game. Back at the camp site, Bob had a fire going, but the wood was pretty wet. Otto and I found some dangling logs that were pretty dry that we were able to haul over to the campsite, but it proved rather troublesome getting them into burnable size. Someone suggested phoning Scott & Shan and asking them to stop and get some wood, but nobody's phone was able to get a signal in the Site A valley. Proving that they are a pair of very foresighted folk, however (and coincidentally, pyromaniacs), when Scott & Shan arrived, their vehicle was filled with good firewood. So we were set for the evening.
We ended up with thirteen tents full of people (although the prize for coolest tent went to Chuck, who had drawn the Doors of Moria on his). Everyone had a good time, although the park rangers seemed a bit more squirrelly than usual. At one point, one of them came by and requested that we register the names and license plate numbers of everyone who was going to be staying in the site that night. Which was really weird because 1) when I made the reservation, they didn't even ask me how many people were staying over; 2) when we checked in, they didn't ask; and 3) they never asked either of the two previous times we'd done a campout of this type. But I just went into my "dumb guy" mode ("Really? I didn't know that, well shucks, 'course we'll cooperate with yuh, occifer.") and they let us simply write down everyone's name on a piece of paper and bring it up to the station (Beth J. gave me a ride).
By the time I got back, the full moon was shining so bright that it was casting shadows on the ground. It was still a bit chilly as we sat around the fire, cooking various dinner items (someone even brought kabobs, I forget who), and swapping stories. Hayes was among the last to arrive, with a very odd tent that required about five guys' worth of assistance before we figured out how to get it up. Beth T. was nice enough to make me one of those pizza-turnover-thingies (I forget what they're called), so I didn't have to rely on "Episode II" potato chips for sustenance. As usual, the telling of it takes less time than the event itself; suffice to say it was tons of fun to have so many Ring Game friends hanging out in the park. And the best part of all… it didn't rain!
Ahem… yet. My Mickey Mouse alarm clock went off at 6:00 AM, startling the hell out of me and practically causing a seizure. I pulled on my socks, shoes, and jacket and emerged to see what the day had in store. A few people were already awake ahead of me and had the fire going again. I knew I had a lot to get done before heading over to the staging area, so I didn't waste much time. I had a Pop Tart and OJ for breakfast, and began striking the canopy. Drew appeared and helped me get everything stowed. I then returned to the tent, where I put on my shinguards, my hose, and my Bilbo-pants, then began deflating my air mattress while Drew took his turn changing. Long story short, we got the tent struck and our gear stowed. Before leaving, I did remind the folks who were staying behind that whoever left last should pick up any remaining trash or gear left behind.
The wind was quite brisk at the staging area, so after getting the "get your picture taken here" table set up, Drew and I made another attempt to get the kite in the air. Alas, the wind was not staying straight out of one direction, so it would go up, only to get caught in a cross-breeze and come crashing down. After several attempts, we just gave up and left it on the table. I got costumed up and helped Drew into my chain mail (and the rest of his costume). As usual, I was the first one through the line. Stacey and her co-judge generously gave me thirteen points for my costume, and I was able to talk the weapons/armor judge into giving me "fake leather armor" points for my shinguards and "mace" points for my walking stick (in my defense, it did have a very heavy metal head. I went through the usual futile motions of asking Lynn (the point totaler) to direct people to the picture-taking area, and positioned Drew nearby to also help direct people my way. Things were going fine for about the first hour or so. It was cold, but I kept my spirits up by working the crowd, recruiting folks for picture-taking duty, taking the requisite "four wizards" pictures. Chris P.'s Saruman was based on "Dr. Evil" from the "Austin Powers" movies, and he was hilariously in character. I deliberately avoided talking to anyone on the Good team about The Plan, since Rich had told me my part was going to be "go with the Rivendell crew until you get captured, then you're on your own to get captured again and often." With a bright blue and red costume, there wasn't really anything else for me to do.
Then, at about ten o'clock, we started seeing flakes. The snow kind. I'd been exerting my powers all week in an effort to prevent inclement weather, but it appeared that they were going to fail me for the first time since 1994—hmmm... that's also the last time I played a hobbit, and the last time Drew played! One of those elements must have interfered with my powers. And speaking of elements, by the time 11:00 came around, the light flakes had turned into a nasty downpour of sleet. I assumed that the fact that I was in "flash" mode would compensate for my shivering hands, but there were a few people whose pictures I later discovered came out very blurry. My bad! I gave up on having people sign in, because my notebook (and everything else on the table) was completely sogged. In hindsight, duh, I should have put my bag under the table to try and keep it a bit dryer.
It was so nasty out that introductions were moved into the picnic shelter—a first in the eleven years I've been playing! Bill had folks jump up on a picnic table bench as they were introduced. I made a comment about doing so being bad for my "lumbago," but everyone was too busy shivering to laugh. Once again, game start was delayed by fifteen minutes. Bill also announced that because of the bad weather, the "don't change your costume" rules were being bent, to allow people to put on warm/rain gear. And the worst news of all, apparently some Boy Scout Troop leader had gotten a bug up his ass at the last game and complained to the rangers, so we were not allowed to cut through Site H. As the introductions were breaking up, Rich called the Good team around for one last pep talk (and to pass out chocolates—what a guy!), which I missed because 1) I wanted to make sure I didn't accidentally hear any plans and 2) I had to get my table cleaned up. I threw all the wet soggy stuff into my bag, threw the bag in the car, helped Drew de-sword himself, got in the car and drove to Rivendell. We still had a good twenty-five minutes until game time, so we stayed in the car for most of that time and had a Twinkie.
At about 12:10, we got out of the car, got our weapons out of the back, and also grabbed our jackets. Drew's was green, so there was no reason not to just put it on right over his costume. I took off my suit coat, pulled my jacket on, then wrestled the suit coat on over it. I also decided, heck with it, my umbrella is "in character" for Bilbo, so I grabbed that too. My sister's umbrella was also in the car—I gave it to Drew, but he ended up not actually using it.
The rest of the Rivendell crew was already there when we joined the group. I suggested that we simply wait until 12:17 to start, declaring the extra two minutes the time it would take us to slog up to the flag and back. But to my surprise, when the game started, we didn't go up the horse path or down towards the crossroads. Rather, we started up towards the Rivendell flag, then past it, and into the woods. It soon became apparent that we were going straight up the ridge. "This is definitely a Rich & Todd plan," I thought to myself as I struggled along. As tough a time as I was having, I felt worse for Roz, who had a big flowing cloak that was doing its best to blow away. I did finally struggle my way to the top of the ridge. While I caught my breath, I kept an eye out for Roz, but she did not appear, so I asked Nick (Gimli) to see if he could see her—the ground was so slippery and muddy that I feared she might have fallen or been hurt. It turns out that she had simply lost her brooch, gone back down to get it, and decided not to try the ridge again.
We huddled together at the top of the ridge, talking sotto voce about things like whose shoes were most ruined already. I also tried to explain to Drew that what we were experiencing was not snow, but sleet (which is much worse). I gathered that we were waiting to meet someone. About fifteen minutes after we arrived, I saw someone approach up the ridge from the north side and wondered if it was who we were meeting. A closer look revealed that it sure as heck wasn't, 'cause the person approaching was a Dunlender! Since I was a bit too obvious to be scouting, I asked Legolas to go check and see who else was coming. He reported that there were four Dunlenders coming, and this quickly got revised to five—they were making their way along the ridge, obviously trying to block us in. I took charge, handing my tokens (Sting and the Mithril Armor) to Drew and telling the rest of the group to beat it down the ridge while I delayed the Dunlenders. They slipped off and I moved out to a position where I could clearly see the Dunlenders below me. For the next five minutes or so, I put on a mime show, pretending to talk to and giving hand signals to people who (if they had really existed) were just out of sight of the Dunlenders. Finally, the Dunlenders worked up the courage to tag me and did so. I shouted, "Oh! I have been tagged! A tag has been made on me!" This had the desired effect of making the other Dunlenders think a trap was being sprung, so they all paced in to the tag, and were somewhat disappointed, I think, that there was no one else there. They took me prisoner, of course, and started leading me down the side of the ridge where they had come up. I happened to be on an outcropping of rock when I noticed movement down at the bottom of the ridge. I saw Tom Bombadil's shirt pretty clearly and saw movement of other players. The Dunlenders also spotted them and began shouting. I stood out as far in the open as I could and just stared down, willing them to understand, "there's Bilbo, but he's not shouting or waving, that means he's a prisoner and there are bad guys up there." It seemed to work, because the group turned around and booked. The Dunlenders shouted to each other that it was Bombadil, that they couldn't approach him. I knew full well that Bombadil's powers only extend as far as you can see the Shire tree (which was something like two miles from where we were), but I didn't feel the need to volunteer this information to them, natch.
At the bottom of the ridge, I was handed off to a pair of White Hand orcs, who proceeded to take me further north, to a place that I had never been in all the eleven years I've been playing (that's one of the reasons why I love this game, there's always something new!). We found Chris standing in a hole in the ground that looked like the foundations of a long-collapsed cabin or something. As the first player he had ever interrogated, there was some confusion among his team as to what he could and couldn't ask me, so I clarified for him (based on my past experiences as both a questioner and a questionee) that "demanding the Ring" did not count as a question, and that he could then ask a question if I didn't have it. So he demanded the Ring, to which I cheerily replied, "I don't have it!" He was disappointed but not surprised. He then asked, "Where is the Good team rallying?" I answered even more cheerily, "I have no idea!" I then said, "Can I ask you a question?" "Sure," he replied. "Just where the hell are we?" I asked. His army then kindly pointed me in the direction of Rivendell. I thanked him, reminded him that I had a two-minute head-start, and started off in that direction at an actual jog. It wasn't until I was well on my way that I remembered that I hadn't gotten a picture of myself being interrogated! D'oh!
I approached the park boundary and came within sight of Rivendell, which had a huge army sitting on it. I wasn't sure if it was a Good or an Evil army because of all the rain ponchos until I saw a White Hand flag unfurl. I also noted a couple of Evil-lookin' dudes heading down the road from the direction of Lothlorien. I decided to cut around the far side of the barn and head across country in the general direction of Gondor. At least I'd make 'em work for the tag, I thought. Silly me. As I passed the small outbuilding on the east side of the barn, I saw that there was a huge second Evil army huddling there (I learned later that they had just come back to life after being Menaced). I just nonchalantly kept going, and when I was just about across the road, they suddenly burst out laughing. Alex shouted to me, "Jack, you have got some balls! Walking out between two Evil armies!" I smiled and shouted back, "Lovely day for a walk in the park, isn't it?" More laughs, but shortly after I got across the road, they sent someone running out to tag me. Gollum paced into the tag and attempted to demand the Ring, but I had to inform him that the free tag only counts if he is the one to tag me.
Around this time, a third Evil army approached from the direction of Isengard. My captors wanted to wait there with me, because apparently Sauron had told people he would be there. I insisted that the rules state that a captive must be "taken to" Sauron, not held in one place in the hopes that Sauron would wander by. This little bit of rules-lawyering was intended to help me keep moving, which was how I was able to stay relatively warm. I also learned that Evil had no idea where Sauron was, what was going on, or what they were supposed to be doing (which seemed to bode well for Good). Finally, they decided to take me and their other prisoners (I saw that Pippin and Aragorn were also captives) up the road towards Gondor. I was busting to ask Scott what was going on, but resisted the temptation, both in the spirit of "bound and gagged prisoners" and because I still didn't want to accidentally learn anything about the Good plans. Scott did mention that his captors had clearly moved way more than five paces away from him earlier, so technically, he should have been able to flee. But being the stand-up guy he is, he had merely brought it to his captors' attention and warned them that if they did it again, he was going to bolt.
As we approached the first big bend in the road, we saw Sauron and a couple of his flunkies coming our way. This time, I remembered to hand my camera to someone so I could have my picture taken being interrogated. And wouldn't you know, I don't remember the question he asked. But I do remember my answer: "I have no idea!" Sauron turned to his flunkies to consult on what question they were going to ask Pippin, so I said, "OK then, I'll just take my two minute head start then, shall I?" Sauron nodded affirmative, and I continued down the road towards Gondor. About a minute later, Pippin caught up to me and asked if we should go together. I told him that if we did, anyone we encountered would simply bounce me and take him prisoner. So I told him that if I were he, I'd head up into the Entwoods (which were right there, I pointed out) and see if I could find the Ents and get my Ent Draught token. So he bounded into the woods and I watched him go, feeling very self-satisfied: "Uncle Bilbo! Givin' good advice to the young hobbits!"
I continued my march towards Gondor, and when I came in sight of it, I noticed that there were a few people on the bridge, and what looked like the three young trolls heading up the path towards the parking lot. So, I got down into the ditch and continued working my way towards the bridge. When I emerged onto the path, the trolls were nowhere to be seen. On the bridge were Eomer, Eowyn, and a Citadel Guard. I loaded Kaydi my umbrella while I took their picture. Michael reported that the Gondor/Rohan army was over the hill doing something. Moments later, sure enough, the army appeared over the hill, heading our way. "All right! Now we've got a decent citadel-defending force!" But I was soon disappointed, because it turned out that the army was just passing through—they were all quitting! And Michael told me he was quitting too. And perhaps worst of all, Pippin was with the group, had on the Ent Draught token I'd sent him to get, and he was also leaving. To top it off, they told me that there was an Evil army coming over the hill right behind them. I couldn't really blame them for quitting, since the conditions were so horrible. But I was a hobbit, and I had an umbrella, so I determined to stick it out. I told them that I alone would hold the bridge! Two of the young Citadel Guards piped up, saying they didn't want to quit—it was their first game and they hadn't even been in a battle yet! I was genuinely moved, and told them I would be proud to have them defend the bridge with me.
The rest of the army went on their merry way (ok, not so merry, more like soaked and miserable way), and I asked the two Guards how many points they were worth. 107 on the bridge, they told me. I was worth 23.7, which doubled to 47.4, so we had a total of about 150. Moments later, an Evil group appeared from over the hill. I walked out about a third of the way towards Rohan and taunted them, "I shall smite you with my walking stick!" They laughed and proceeded to take the Rohan flag. I retreated a bit, continuing to taunt. I finally made my stand with my feet just on the bridge, telling them, "none shall pass!" Grishnahk was in the lead of the Evil army, and he didn't hesitate a moment, he walked right up to me and tagged me in the center of the chest. Once again, I made a big show of declaring, "oh! oh! I have been tagged!" But then I looked down (drawing their eyes with me) and said, "oh look! I'm on the bridge! Which means our points our doubled and you are attacking our citadel, which is an additional..." I went and looked at the card on the flag... "five hundred points!" Suddenly I realized we were worth close to 650 points! I turned to Mike Bourne, who seemed to be nominally in charge of the Evil group, and told him, "hey, I want to see sheets. I'll trust you guys to just tell me how many points you have, but if anybody's lost their sheet, even one of your people being zero could make the difference." He agreed and was very sporting about it.
So the Evil army lined up and started listing off their points. One of the Evil Men-at-Arms volunteered to keep a running total, because nobody had a calculator and Lord knows, I'm terrible at doing math in my head. As we were about halfway through, I noticed that they had a Nazgûl with them, and that it was going to be very close. I was already making plans to capture tokens, and couldn't wait to strut my stuff as "Bilbo the Nazgûl Killer!" Heck, I'd've hidden out the rest of the day, just to make sure I kept that Nazgûl ring! Alas, the Evil total wound up being 656—we'd lost by two points. Augh. I should've demanded a recount. While we were in the middle of counting up points, who should come slogging through the swamp than Bill the Pony himself, Bondoman. If only he'd arrived two minutes earlier, we would have been victorious. As it was, of course the Evil army bounced him as soon as it was determined that the Citadel Guards and I had lost. Mike said that he really should take me prisoner, but he didn't want to leave the two young girls alone (although Bondo was there, of course), so they just went ahead and bounced me along with the others.
At almost the exact moment that our fifteen minutes were up, another group of four Evil appeared over the top of the hill. I told Bondo that I would run interference for him and went up to meet the new enemy. I gave them the whole line about our two minute head start (even though it was really close to expiring), blah blah blah, then looked over my shoulder and saw that Bondo and the Guards were long gone. So I headed off towards Isengard.
I neglected to mention earlier that two White Hand orcs had brought along a homemade seige machine, which they parked on Isengard all day. They had rigged a tarp over it and were hangin' out. As I approached, they shouted out to me, inviting me to have a snack, but I declined. I'm no dummy, I'm sure the price of the snack would have been "you're dead for fifteen minutes." So I cut off the corner of the path to ensure I wasn't within 25 paces of Isengard and continued on my way.
When I got to the crossroads, I saw the first of many cars and vans going by with ex-players in them. I wondered if Jeff and Bill had called the game on account of the weather and the resulting mass defections, but no one seemed to know, so I continued on. I ran into Elrond at Rivendell, but she was packing up her car, she was out, too. I was kind of surprised it had taken her this long, as her costume looked really chilly to me! I decided to continue on up the road towards Lothlorien, figuring there might be some Good army folks there who could tell me what was going on. Among the cars that went by was one driven by Bob, and for a moment, I was stunned at the notion that Bob and Hayes of all people would have quit! But it turned out that they had just gone back to the parking lot to get a coat for Hayes. They were still in. Whew!
About two-thirds of the way to the crossroads, I finally encountered my first "still in the game" person since Isengard, the Evil Paladin (aka. the Paladin formerly known as Anonymous White Hand Orc #4). He took me prisoner, since we were both going the same way, anyhow. At the crossroads, we took a left and went about halfway to Lothlorien, where we ran into the White Hand Horde again. "Mister Saruman!" I greeted him pleasantly, but he missed the joke and didn't say, "That's Doctor Saruman, I didn't go to Evil Medical School for four years to be called Mister Saruman!" I forget the question he asked, but once again, I didn't know the answer. He asked which direction I was going, and I indicated that I was heading down to Lothlorien and he very nicely told me not to bother, because they'd just been there and there was nobody home. So I headed towards Mt. Doom at a brisk pace. Then it hit me that I'd once again forgotten to get my picture taken being interrogated by Saruman. D'oh!
About the time I was getting back to the crossroads, a number of White Hand came running past me. "Hey! Hey! Two-minute head-start!" I told them, but they just kept going, and that's when I realized they weren't after me—there was another Good player on the road ahead of me, also walking towards Mt. Doom. "Look out behind you!" I shouted, but he or she didn't seem to notice, so I let fly with a loud whistle (a pretty good one, too, considering how frozen my fingers and lips both were). This time, she turned, and I saw that it was Stacey! She didn't seem too panicked, and I knew she was smart enough not to be walking down the road in plain view if she had the Ring. Sure enough, just shy of the bridge, I found her with her new White Hand captors. My two minute head start was long since up, so I didn't want to risk being bounced, so I cheerily went along my way, although (as with Scott earlier), I was dying to ask Stacey what was going on.
I didn't see anyone again until I got to the T intersection that leads down to the Mt. Doom parking lot (with the exception of Chris Wood, who passed by in a van offering hot chocolate; I declined, because the last thing I needed to add to the misery was a full bladder). I passed Greg and told him that I was just looking for anyone who wanted to capture me, which made him laugh. Jeff and Bill were directing traffic in the parking lot. The hopes I'd had that the boy scouts might have been driven off by the weather were in vain, so sure enough, we had to slog through the mire around Site H. My usual annoyance at the site not being reserved for us was turning into downright pissed-off-ness. On the bright side, I was reunited with Bondo and the two Citadel Guards (who'd managed to keep up with Bondo the whole time since we parted at Gondor, quite a feat!). Bondo used his whole-body-plate to burrow us a path to the perimeter. Once there, I became concerned about causing them to get bounced, so I asked Bondo if he wanted to go clockwise or counterclockwise around the perimeter. He chose clockwise, so I headed off counterclockwise. It was now only a few minutes until 3:30.
I managed to make my way almost a full 270° around Mt. Doom without seeing a single Evil character. At one point, I had a clear path straight to the Cracks of Doom. But I didn't know what (if anything) was left of the Good plan, and I didn't want to screw the pooch for the Good army by crossing the perimeter prematurely. I eventually got around to the Saddle, where I finally saw a group of about ten Evil players. But they were all looking straight up the mountain, and seemed completely oblivious to me. Right about that moment, the Mouth of Sauron started shouting that the game was over, Evil had won. Since the jig seemed to be up, I figured I'd get a laugh and said, "I say, I've lost my Ring, and I've heard it might be found around here somewhere!" The Evil dudes turned around and did a double take, wondering where the heck I'd come from! I chastized Alex for the shoddy perimeter defense, but as he said, he didn't have a lot to work with. Right about then, the judge up on Mt. Doom shouted that the game was not over. Which cheezed me off, because if the Mouth hadn't shouted that the game was over, I'd've continued my circuit around the perimeter, and (I found out later) I would have stumbled across the Good army moments later. So, I was captured, and once again had the "you have to take me to Sauron, you can't just keep me here waiting for him" conversation. I figured the least I would do is reduce the number of Evil guys running up the Saddle by one.
I was passed like a baton from Evil to Evil around the perimeter, finally ending up following Travis. We hadn't gotten far when we heard the sounds of the Good army attacking the perimeter; however, before the battle could truly be joined, the word came down from on high (again) that the game was definitely over, Sauron had the Ring. Rich and Alex shook hands, and both agreed that the real winners were everyone who'd managed to stick it out to the bitter end of the game. I was reunited with Drew (who still had my tokens!) and we all started back down to the parking lot, once again having to go through the bazz-fazz of trudging through the swamp around Site H. instead of taking the relatively dryer path through it. Grrrr.
Drew and I were able to get a ride back over to our car at Rivendell, and as we were de-costuming, I realized that the only way I could get my soaking wet socks off was to first take off my pants! D'oh! Dratted tights! And my suitcase was buried somewhere deep in the back of the car. So, I just left my wet shoes on as we drove to A&W. The crowd was pretty upbeat, although there were a few people there that were pretty down in the dumps. I'd planned to meet with Jeff and Bill at A&W to discuss Second Age, but I was desperate to get out of my wet things, so I asked Todd and Scott to convey my apologies. I chatted with a few people, but on the whole, it was my shortest A&W stop ever. From there, we went to the Dodgeville Wal-Mart, where I bought a pair of socks. When asked, "would you like a bag for that?" by the cashier, I replied, "No, but could you direct me to the Men's Room, I need to change into them." Mind you, I still had on my wig and vest and furry shoes at this point, but the guy very nicely directed me. I changed into the new socks and my regular tennies, and felt about a gazillion times better.
We drove from there to Madison, and checked in at the Motel 6. There was a bit of a screw-up, as the first room we entered was occupied (luckily the occupants weren't there at the moment), but I got it quickly sorted out and our new room was just fine. I lost rock-paper-scissors, but Drew very nicely let me hit the shower first anyway. After we were cleaned up, I called over to Rich's house to find out what the Plan for the evening was (there had been some talk of hot-tubbing at his house before going to the party). He said, "bring some ice!" so we stopped at Cub Foods and got some ice. Well, we didn't actually end up in the hot tub, but our "brief stop-off on the way to the party" ended up lasting 'til past midnight. So we didn't make it to the official party, d'oh! But we did get to hear Scott's excellent story about how he'd tricked the trolls at Bree, as well as Chris L.'s story about how he went miles out of his way to save the Horn token, only to learn about Boromir's early retirement when he was reunited with the Good army. Around about midnight, people started heading out, so we went back to the Motel 6 for a good night's rest.
Usually, I end up awakening very early the morning after Ring Game, and this time was no exception. The difference is, unlike most times, I was able to roll over and go back to sleep for another few hours. Drew and I did the traditional "Sunday morning unload and sort everything" ritual, and it was disturbing just how much of our stuff was still soaked. We checked out of the hotel and drove downtown, arriving at the Great Dane just a bit before noon. Soon, other folks began trickling in, and we soon had four tables pushed together to accommodate everyone. Shan had already transferred her pictures to her laptop, so we were able to look at those, as well as what we could see in the viewfinder of my camera. Rich began a great new tradition, wherein we passed a horn of mead around (root beer, actually), with everyone making a toast. We toasted the fortitude of the players who'd made it to the end, we toasted those people who had first introduced us to the game, Drew toasted everyone for making him so welcome, I toasted Joe and other "absent friends," and there were many others. We even managed to get the waiter to take a group photo of us all.
Drew had to be back at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport for his flight back to Seattle by 7:30 PM, so our window of departure was quickly closing. Many hugs (and other gestures) were exchanged, and as usual, Beth took care of making sure we had enough cash to pay the bill. Except for one big slowdown near the Wisconsin Dells, the drive back to Minnesota was quite uneventful, and I dropped Drew at the door at 7:30 right on the money. Of course, that meant that I had to unload my sister's car all by myself (it took six trips to get everything inside!), and then I had to take it back over to her house and retrieve my car, so it was past 9:30 by the time I was home for the night. I remembered to take an "after" picture of my hobbit shoes, and then I crashed out.
Post script: The following evening was the season opener for the CTS Fightin' Swine, my company softball team. We lost 11-4, alas.
©2002 Jack A. Barker. All Rights Reserved.