Chapters: Lottery PreGame Game Day
Funny how, no matter how many changes, brainstorms, disagreements, and life events happen in six months, something I predicted or suggested for my next role six months ago still proved true, although not in the way I intended. Plans for Spring were already underway before we'd even finished assimilating the events of Fall game, and as I sat down to tell my Radagast story I was thinking ahead to how I might play Bilbo in the next game and serve as the slow, noticeable, oft-captured decoy hobbit. Well, that didn't happen, but my esoteric dreams of going from wizard to hobbit did come to fruition. Though I would say I've played too few games for it and because of a knee injury am not in the shape for it, I ended up as Frodo. Ringbearer, hinge upon whom the entire Game swings. He who the Evil team is gunning for, and the Good team must protect. Good gracious, what the heck was I thinking?
The pre-lottery gathering at the Great Dane sort of came together at the last minute, as Todd informed me three days earlier that he had a plan and said those with the inkling to play Good ought to come and hear him out. Jack whipped out a map of the game area and quickly Todd was pointing things out. He kept the concept of going on offense and ambushing Evil, which we had been tossing around in various incarnations since Fall—but it was only part of the great scheme now. The rest of the Good army would plan to abandon all citadels, sweep from the South to go to Bree to pick up Aragorn and the Shire to get the hobbits, and then all head to the south side of Mount Doom by 2:30/3 pm. Todd had further ideas in place from there to exhaust Evil, split them up, demoralize them, see how much desertion we could instigate, and finally confuse them so that the Good army could plow up the mountain and get the Ring to the top. I thought it was a fantastic idea, since not three weeks earlier I had pondered something of the same plan to Otto—not so much the confusing and exhausting part, but the idea of abandoning the citadels and getting the entire Good army to the south side of Doom very early. I was on board right away, and since Jack made a better Bilbo, I did as Otto had suggested sometime during the winter when he was getting Aragorn delusions and wrote down "Ranger" as my primary choice. I would still run with the boys, but as a Dúnadan rather than a hobbit. I had two newbies, my pal Trisha, and Bob, Otto, and Hayes to proxy-pick for, as they couldn't make the lottery at all (Bob and Otto being in Guatemala). We enlisted Beth's sister Carrie to proxy in-lotto for Otto (as she had done in the past for Hayes), so he could be ensured of a Ranger spot to run with Todd.
Lottery was, for once, packed. Around 120 numbers were handed out, and as I looked around the room I noticed that most were, in fact, veteran players, and not the slew of newbies everyone expected as a result of the movie that just came out. It was just that everyone came to lottery, including some of those who had in the past few games just came day-of and played whatever Evil was handy—and some of those even went Good this time! We had a plan, and fortunately the picks maneuvered us directly into position to employ Todd's ideas well enough. Rich got Gandalf with a very early pick, and not too long after came Shan's number so she took Radagast. Todd was able to get a Ranger before newbies/young kids could take them all, and we attempted to get Otto one also, but at the last minute Jeff or someone made a stink about people proxy-picking with a substitute for absent players! What?? That's never been a problem before!! We were all enraged, but quickly noticed that while the guy writing down players had rejected the proxy, no one told the lady keeping track on the blackboard, so I whispered that at the very end I would check, since "Rangers" would be erased off the board at capacity 4 but there would probably only be 3 written down. Otto may be safe. However, as we watched the picks fall after that, I was in a panic that everyone else I had to proxy for after the numbers were exhausted would not get to play at all! Characters were flying off the board, mostly on the Good team. Fortunately, Jack got Bilbo as he wanted—the ambush plan might work after all. Scott got Aragorn in a nice moment. But everything else was getting snapped up. In desperation, Beth decided she wanted Galadriel literally seconds before her number was called. Angela got the last Lothlórien elf, but the rest of Lórien's population was disseminated among people we don't know. The rest of the Rangers went similarly, leaving most of our core group out in the cold. Oddly, the hobbits were still there. Excepting Bilbo, the hobbit roles were still open as the lottery ran on and on and on. Every possible role I could or would play was disappearing and still my number was not being called. Chris (Boy) and Emily were also sitting near me wondering when they'd get picked, as was Bondo and others of the guys who didn't know about the Good team plans. Todd and then Shan asked me, "What are you going to do?" and looking at what remained, I said (none too certainly) "I'm going hobbit." There was nothing else I could do! Emily and Chris also realized in almost the same moment that they'd have to go hobbit also, and I suggested they think about Merry and Pippin. I was not honestly thinking about which hobbit I wanted to play, I was more concerned about suggesting roles to them that they could handle. The others who had already gotten their characters encouraged us, then, seeing as hardly anybody cool was left and all four hobbits were still open! Finally, unexpectedly, my number was called. I stood, hesitated for a moment of silence, and before my brain could give it directions my mouth was saying, "Frodo."
There was a bit of a cheer. The Big Cheeses were happy, and Jack said "My boy!" I immediately berated myself for not taking Sam because he was open too, but it was too late. The kid who's played hobbits many a time—and was our MVH Bilbo in Otto's Gandalf game—picked Pippin right after me, and then while I was getting out my eight bucks Chris could be heard picking Merry. Emily took Sam shortly after. We had hobbits! Best of all, it was people I knew and people who could play the roles. Chris would be stronger than me, have more stamina, and maybe be faster. Emily would definitely have the stamina and speed if she had to book. I knew my knee would be slowing me down, but my knowledge of the park and what we would have to do would more than make up for it. The shock of being the one player around which the game revolved and who was the main target for Evil hit me immediately and would not wear off for quite some time.
Unfortunately, by the time the numbers were exhausted, the entire Good team had been filled. And then some, as there was a dispute about the number of people who had picked Citadel Guards. I still had five people in hand who needed roles. Sure enough, there was a bureaucratic snafu with the record-keeping that left one Ranger open, and I quickly got it for Otto, but what was I going to do with the rest of them? I ended up not picking anything for Trisha, hoping to figure out what to do with her and the mini-Muro she was carrying sometime before the Game, and was forced to consign Bob, Hayes, and Michael & Jean to the Evil team. Last game's default for the cool people was Men at Arms of Harad, so I stuck them all there again and left it open for my newbies to anticipate being promoted to the Good team in the event of no-shows. Meanwhile, it started to occur to me that with the recent influx of players, whether due to the movies or not, there were no longer enough roles on the Good team for everyone who wanted to play. Evil wasn't hurting either, with plenty of named orcs going, many Barrow Wights and Trolls, and Dark Elves. I didn't catch who picked either Evil wizard, but their team wasn't small. However, because of a lack of Good roles, some of the usually-Good guys (Derek and his gang) had to go Dark Elf. It was insane! I was in a panic about my newbies having to be Evil as much as I was panicking about being Frodo. It may be time to add more generic elf roles to the game.
The great thing about our core group of players is that we're hardcore about strategy, information, and teamwork. Gandalf set out immediately with the email addresses of the Good team to send notes of encouragement and generic strategy to get everybody hyped up, as well as get suggestions from people who had ideas for the plan. A group of us went scouting the Saturday before the game at the park—Gandalf, Aragorn, myself, Galadriel, Merry, Gimli, and Elfie Angela—and spent the time solidifying our intentions for getting the Ring out of the Shire. We trusted that Todd's strike force would have the North and the end game well in hand, we just had to get the Ring to them. The idea of bringing Gondor and Rohan to the Shire was dropped because the force had grown so large that they would be better off killing and striking and making Saruman quiver in his boots. Not to mention, getting that many people to move quickly to the Shire might not have been practical. Instead, it fell to Aragorn and me to decide how best to get the hobbits out of the Shire using Tom Bombadil, who was a relatively new player with a newbie Goldberry at her side. Someone would have to instruct them where to start. Scott was pretty certain that with a Butterbur and Bill the Pony to run interference for him, he could get off Bree and around the trolls easily (they were all young girls), and get to Bombadil and thereby come to the Shire to meet with the hobbits. We would then take the back path toward Rivendell, but split off it and come up behind the ridge from the back, climb it, and meet the people from Rivendell there at the top of the ridge. We assumed that Bilbo and Legolas, perhaps with an elf, would be sent to Lothlórien to rendezvous with people there, and instructed Gimli who was with us how to bring the rest of the crew up to the ridge and how they should be quiet and keep a lookout for us while spying on Evil when it came to sack Rivendell. Our intention was, then, to meet up with the Rivendell crew and split our force in half. I would take Em-wise and perhaps one other hobbit with me, and hand-pick the quietest, sneakiest people to escort us, while Aragorn would take at least Merry or Pippin—maybe both—and the remainder of the group with him to the Entwood to get the Army of the Dead token, passing through Rivendell with Elrond on the way for Flame of the West, and then they'd head up to the rendezvous point where the Northern Army and Gandalf and the Southern Army would be also heading to meet up. Magic time was 3 pm, and we set out to scout a rendezvous point. We ended up settling on a vague area south of Doom, well enough away that any Evil scouts going as far as the bend in the path would not see us massing. Rich scouted out a wooded hillside that didn't have too much bramble cover so as to hinder Good coming in, plus a separate safe area very nearby where the hobbits would be sent to hide and rest up while the Army went to the Mountain to harry and annoy Evil until it was time for the real assault. Confident I knew what I needed to know, we headed back.
Sunday, Todd came up for the second meeting, and a fair number of people showed up to see what, if anything, was left to pick and then meet up with their wizards. The core players on Good met at the Dane again, and Todd firmed up his intentions for the Rangers with Otto—they were going to take the Rangers, Radagast, and Lothlórien contingent, as well as the hardy Bard, the Good Paladin, and anyone else starting up thataway, wreak havoc and mess with Sauron until about 1:30 or so, and then head to Barad-dur to sack it, and go from there around Doom to the rendezvous. When we got to the meeting, we found out that three Good players, after receiving early missives from Gandalf (nothing about any plans in them, but still) had defected to the Evil team, and Treebeard was open again. We had nicely asked Jeff, and he conceded, to two extra elves for players coming from out of town, one of whom would be Trisha since she'd sit on the rock of Lórien all day. Jeff consented to that much. We had someone waiting in line for any news of Good no-shows so they could play, because they wouldn't be Evil in a million years, so we put her into Treebeard's spot and once again, Good was full and overflowing. Sauron made a cameo appearance and then left, and Saruman was there with his White Hands apparently planning to really throw in for the third-party win. It was only Chris's second game, and yet he looked to make a Saruman worth being concerned about, if only because we had no idea what he would do. Wild cards are the worst to try to plan around. Gandalf took the Good players and gave us a good pep-talk, answered questions from relative newbies, and got them hyped up on the promise of going around killing things. That seemed to make everyone happy.
Things were pretty quiet leading up to the game. Everyone was glued to the weather forecasts, because they didn't sound good and kept changing day to day. Those of us camping were even more desperate for good weather. First Friday was to be rainy and Saturday nice, then Friday nice and Saturday rainy, temperatures were called at anywhere from 45 to 55. Gandalf sent everyone a great missive just before Friday with some hints on how to stay warm and (relatively) dry if the weather did suck, and how to still have a good game. Trisha decided Thursday night to pull out of the game, as the impending forecast did not bode well for a pregnant woman's health and comfort. Alas! But it was for the best in the end.
Friday dawned sunny and delicious, and I had the day off work. I baked a double batch of lembas for power-food before the game, packed up the car, did some last-minute sewing for Galadriel, and then headed out about 1 pm or so. I made it to the park at 2, just as Jack and his friend Drew pulled in also! We headed to Lothlórien together, and immediately made it ours with the old Sauron standard from last game and Jack's brand-new movie-merch kite. The weather couldn't have been more perfect, with a nice warm sun smiling down on us as we staked out tent space and put up the pavilion, and watched people gradually arrive. Surprisingly, Bob and Otto were some of the next to show up, as my good boss apparently decided to leave work a lot earlier than I expected him to. Beth (Treebeard) came in about the same time and set up her tent, and we all hung around watching cars pull up throughout the afternoon. Meanwhile, Bob had his machete out and he and Otto were taking turns chopping wood (!) for the fire, it was quite manly. Roz came in, and got her tent up, then Chuck and Kaydi and Dean and everyone else associated with them, followed by Beth (Galadriel), Boy, Angela, and their carload, Emily in her lovely Miata, and sooner or later Todd, Greg, and Wynn. They were staying elsewhere, apparently, but had to stop in and say howdy, especially since Otto was already in the park and he and Todd had some important strategy to go over. Many folks were doing last-minute scouting, if they could, and I took Emily on a drive to the Shire to give her the lowdown on the hobbit plans. It was a good thing I did, because she would have otherwise been completely at a loss on Game Day when things went horribly awry.
Shan and Scott came in later with their great new camper, and things were in full swing by then. The fire was going, stuff was being roasted, people were sent for wood and yet more people kept showing up with wood—Dean brought a car-load and so did Shan and Scott. I have never seen that many people crowded in a campsite, I can't even remember who was all there and what their names were. Away from the fire it was a little cool, but still clear as the sun set and then the moon arose full and glowing over the corner of the ridge. Hayes finally crawled in and had to set up his tent in the dark, my friends Michael and Jean came in from their hotel in Dodgeville to enjoy the festivities, even Mike Parsons came to camp. Saruman became the first true Evil to make it to camp, as we didn't count Bob or the Corsair who were already with us. The clouds started to move in, then, but there was no real chance of precipitation, so apart from making sure we were warm (layers, people! Layers!), there were no worries as bit by bit we trickled to bed after the folks staying in town left for their warm hotels.
The flippin' whippoorwills calling to each other at 5 am made sure I was not only awake but my brain was jump-started, so that no matter what I wanted or how my body felt about the issue, there was no way I was going to go back to sleep. I pried myself out of my warm cocoon after 6 and met the first three or four people to also get up, who had stirred up the last ember in the fire and put on our last remaining logs to ward off the slight chill in the air. It was cool but not bad, not quite like the chilly morning of Fall '01 game, and cloudy. I hoped against hope that it would stay exactly as it was and no rain was on the way, since the last weather report anyone had gotten before coming to the park was "scattered showers." The early morning left plenty of time to wake up, stretch, get into costumes, and take down tents so that the campsite would be deserted when everyone got to judging. I was ready to go before 9, so I went down to the staging area to finish up with my costume and see what was going on. Jeff was short a costume judge since Andrea no longer lives in the area and can't always come up from Florida for the game, so Todd nominated me and got me in. A new perspective from which to view the game! I had Otto help me lace up my vambraces, and then laced his up for him, and I was ready to go. Donning my stocking cap and gloves because the wind was starting to be a little cold, I plunked down behind the bench and started checking out costumes. Alas, it meant I couldn't photograph any of them, so my scrapbook would end up with very little to show for the Spring '02 game. Jack came through first, and his Bilbo costume looked so good—and so true to the movie—that we had to give him 13 points. Gandalf we gave 12 because Rich went all out and he looked damn good. I tried not to be stingy with points unless someone came up in an absolutely wretched excuse for a costume, or all in mundane clothes, so a lot of folks on both teams ended up with 9's and 10's. The Rangers looked excellent. Scott wore his Aragorn costume from the premiere, which was perfect. The Dark Elves didn't go all-painted as is traditional but they still looked cool enough for me. The Corsairs were very good, as were the organized contingent from Gondor and Rohan. The green tabards were reprised from last game, and now there was a whole gaggle of black surcoats with the white tree of Gondor looking very regal and right-on. The young girls who all picked trolls came as the South Park Underpants Gnomes, and even sang the song for us (I was groaning but Bill was so tickled he had to see it again). Chris had shaved his beard of 20 years and his head in order to be Dr. Evil (Saruman) and he looked the part, I had to give him bonus points also. I was not only impressed with the level of costuming but the bribery—food was being graciously sent my way. And good thing too, because I only had some lembas for breakfast and started to think I wasn't going to get a chance to get back to my car for an apple and trail mix before the game started. There were so many people playing that judging got backed up ridiculously, and thing were running very behind. Then, it started to snow.
A few flakes blew into the pavilion as I sat there, and the temperature was dropping rapidly. I started shivering, and as the wet snow continued and was being driven at us, and people started coming to judging with warmer coats under their costumes, gloves, and hats, I was whimpering with the discomfort. It was so cold and upsetting, and after a while the other judge and I were doing our best to just throw out reasonable numbers and hurry these people through so we could go to our cars and warm up before introductions. Things were so backed up at armor and weapons that they started pulling in anyone who was standing around to help judge and then total points. Once I was pretty sure everyone had gone through costumes, I went over and stood with Todd for a while so he could wrap his warm cloak around me and keep me snuggled up warmly until I could get my own character sheet totaled. The snow was positively pelting down at this point, as it was just about 32 degrees so the flakes were large and wet and hovering somewhere between rain, sleet, and snow. I got a few minutes to warm up in my car before introductions started—inside the pavilion—and we were eventually shooed to our starting places and given an extra 15 minutes to game-start again. I noted before climbing into Bill's minivan to be carted to the Shire, Evil wasn't very organized nor excited. They didn't cheer for anyone during introductions. Good cheered every single player, and Gandalf gave us chocolate and a pep-talk before sending us out. That is the difference between the teams, and also why I will never play Evil unless one of our core group of hardcore strategists plays Sauron.
The snow was coming down in huge, wet chunks as the hobbits stood in the Shire, watching things happen. I warned a couple of Evil players that they couldn't start on the path because that was the Shire, they had to go out to the road, I didn't care if their Warg needed to make a deposit. The Barrow Wights didn't look as tough or numerous as I remembered them being (early dropouts were already happening, some people never made it to their starting place) but I was concerned about Mike Bourne. He was an Evil Man at Arms, and they are supposed to start at Mount Doom, not by assignment. He and one other EM@A started in the wrong place, and it would prove bad for us. I could see Butterbur on Bree, as Chris had a very obvious costume. We waited until a judge came and called time, and then walked down from the flag to the path and back towards the north side of the Shire, watching the road behind us at all times for what Evil was going to do. I thought they were going to give Aragorn a lot of trouble, as Bondo the Pony had just shown up at the end of introductions so I wasn't sure he was going to make it in time to throw himself on the trolls to let Aragorn escape. Yet, a minute or two later, as we huddled under a tree that at least had enough leaves to give a little cover, Aragorn, Bombadil, Goldberry, and Butterbur came walking up the road without any interference from either Bourne or the trolls. They waltzed right up into the Shire, leaving Butterbur to stand guard at the road to see what Evil was going to do. "How did you get off Bree so quick?" I asked, mystified.
Scott grinned and told his story on the spot, complete with props and actions. Just before 12:15 he had gotten the trolls to come down into the wet swamp around Bree to pose by the rock for a picture. He managed to maneuver them just far enough away that he clicked the pic and then bolted, leaving them dumbfounded behind him. Poor girls! It was hilarious. We started off north along the path, and Aragorn spotted Gollum's pointy-eared head poking up at the top of a ridge to our left. We were entering Bombadil's territory, so Gollum couldn't have come near us for a while, but Aragorn figured we had to shake him off or he would be hounding us all the way across country once we left Bombadil's area of protection, and then he or some other non-hobbit would have to get into position to tag him. I could have probably taken Gollum, as I was 21.5 points alone, but we were fairly safe. Yet there was Bourne behind us to think about, as he would likely round up whoever was still there on the road, cross Bombadil's forest, and follow us in the direction he had last seen us go. We had to cross country. Leaving the path, we struck for the side of a ridge, and passed through some trees into a wide open plain very high up above just about everything. Had it not been snowing so thickly, we would have had a gorgeous view of this area of the game, and probably Bree and the Shire. Sam leaned over to me and said we should call this place Weathertop. "Second breakfast" jokes were flying fast and furious. It was so eerily like the book, with the four hobbits trotting on Aragorn's heels as he led them ways they'd never been and scouted the paths ahead for the right direction, and the weather was souring very quickly. I was starting to get rather wet despite my rain jacket, and my boots were already soaked through. I had taken off my hat and gloves for pictures and judging, but put them back on and never let them out of my sight the rest of the day—thank goodness! That hat saved my life, I think.
We ended up on the ridges above the horse path and had to do some scouting and reconnoitering to find our way back in the direction of the Rivendell ridge where we were to meet up with Good. We were a little delayed, but it was worth it, because all Evil had been put off our trail. They had no idea where we had gone. We finally came upon the horse trail again, and the bridge, and were right where we wanted to be. There were shouts on the other side of the ridge, but it was about 1 pm so we figured it was Evil sacking Rivendell as we expected, and quietly made our way across the field, over the river, and started up the back side of the ridge. Halfway up, we could see there were people up there, and my brain was happy that the plan was still going well. Yet, I had a "bad feeling," my instincts were telling me not to go up that ridge. I'm no Jedi so I completely ignored my instincts and kept going behind Scott. As we left the blackberry brambles and got up high enough that the ground cover thinned out, I looked up and saw Jack's big umbrella on the ridge. What was he doing there? And then I heard more shouting. I hissed forward, "SCOTT! NOT GOOD! NOT GOOD!" At the same moment someone—it sounded like Alex—yelled, "HOBBITS!" and we all bolted back downhill. I could hear the sounds of people moving from all directions trying to cut us off, but we just ran straight down the way we'd come and paused behind a rock to see who was following us. They were getting close, so Aragorn led us back to the river, and Merry (bless that Boy) helped each of us quickly across the river as we just ran up and leaped without looking for a narrow place. As we ran downhill, I palmed the Ring and passed it to Emily, sure that she could outrun me if the pursuit got too close and I could throw myself on the swords, fortunately. But when we were across the river and starting to head back out to the trail and the thick forest, the pursuers stopped. I thanked God for blackberries then, because the guys on the ridge were slowed down just enough by them that we could get away. Aragorn pushed us up the steep trail back along the ridge toward the Shire, though he had already thrown the Horn of Boromir around Merry's neck and now we watched him take Merry aside, and then Merry went off up the hill to the left and disappeared. That was the last I saw of him—I assumed Aragorn had sent him to Gondor with the token. It was a hard climb, and we were wet through and exhausted already, and had lost Bombadil behind us in the field, but we pressed on until Aragorn could decide which way to take us. Alas, as we came to the ridge and were just about to pass over it into the Old Forest again, who should come upon us from the other way but Mike Bourne and the trolls.
Scott went up and made the tag, and then we had to decide whether to opt in or out of the combat. Thankfully he tagged Bourne, so he was in it regardless. I waffled, hesitated, dragged it out no matter how much Evil nagged me to choose. I wanted so badly to say that Em-wise and I were opting out of the combat, grab her, and run, but I didn't know what to do. It did look like we could take them. But the trolls all together were a lot of points, even if Aragorn was 63 and we had quite a group of hobbits and others. In the end I said, "yeah, we're in," and we were beaten. Fortunately, Bourne is a gentleman about the game and didn't want to strand any helpless newbies, and doubly-fortunately we'd just gotten rid of Merry so there were only three hobbits to choose from. He had to pick one, and decided to leave one experienced player with the newbies while taking one experienced player with him. He chose Pippin, and took Aragorn also, leaving me, Sam, and Goldberry.
Things couldn't have come out of that better. Granted, we were not the best choices for a Ring Party—I was unsure of my stamina, but I knew the paths very well. This was only Em's second game, and Goldberry's first. I determined that we'd head back down the trail to where it was easier to walk, and then cut along the ridges to circle Rivendell to the north, and head back for my original route over the Misty Mountains. We couldn't count on reinforcements, because I figured Aragorn would go ahead to the Paths of the Dead and to try to find more Good, and we couldn't count on Merry or Pippin returning to us. I told Sam it was a good thing I handed her the Ring, then, because either way she wasn't going to be captured, but I then took the Ring back into my possession for the time being. Then, two Evil came up the path to wait for us to come alive again, the bastards. We still had five minutes plus our two minute head start, but the Lord of the Nazgûl and the Evil Paladin were going to wait nonetheless. We turned down their offer of doughnuts, and I had to quick brainstorm a plan in my head which I couldn't communicate to the other two with Evil nearby. When our time was up, I said, "Two minutes!" and ran back down the path in the direction of Rivendell, away from Evil. The path was treacherous at this point, as the snow had finally changed over to rain and turned everything to shoe-sucking mud. I led the others down to a point in the path where the Evil couldn't see us, and then left the trail and ran up into the trees to find a place to hide. Sam and I were on some kind of wavelength, because she voiced the same plan I had in my head—don't flee continuously, but get far enough from the path that we couldn't be seen and then hide, and stay there until pursuit had given up and lost us, without having the thrashing of underbrush to guide them. I raced uphill through the brambles to a big rock and threw myself down behind it, trusting the others to follow and stay down. Just then our two minutes were up, and very soon after I heard and then saw the two bad guys coming back down the trail. They hunted for a bit and then gave up, or went in a direction I didn't see, because it got real quiet then. My hood was so soaked that it muffled sound, so I risked the wet and cold and threw it back to listen. My legs cramped up from being crouched there for about five minutes or so. Emily whispered something about our points, and we started to count up in case we had to attack any individuals that came after us. I was 21.5, she was 16, and I added, "and Goldberry's 23..."
Em said, "We don't have Goldberry."
I started to say, "What do you mean? She's right behind me!" and turned, and she wasn't right behind me. The perception I had that she was following on my heels and had crouched down right behind me was completely false. I panicked for a bit, because I knew Beth would kill me if I lost her newbie in the woods, but Em suspected she had gone on ahead on the path instead of turning aside with us. The Ring Party was now down to two—just Frodo and Sam, alone, with no idea where to go. How appropriate.
I collected my wits and decided we had to move on, go along this ridge we were on and keep skirting the edges of the ridges inside the tree-line, to make our way around the pond behind Rivendell out to the Misty Mountains. We had a fairly easy go of it, sodden cloak and squishy boots notwithstanding, wisely keeping to the game trails as we crossed the ridge and headed for the next one. I thought I heard pursuit on the top of the ridge—where all of us had been less than an hour before—but every time I stopped to listen it stopped, and there were no voices. Evil, fortunately, talked wherever they went so we could stay ahead of them unless they came up over a ridge unexpectedly. I marveled to Sam that Evil was everywhere, it was like they knew where we were going to be. Apart from capturing Gimli at Rivendell and getting from him info that he was waiting for the hobbits there, no one in this end of the park save me and Aragorn and Sam knew which way the hobbits were going. Yet, for now we saw no one, and I finally started to think we were in the clear and could get a good way before seeing trouble again. As we crossed a field carefully, heading for the trees, I found more paths that I didn't know existed way out back here. We were a good ten-minute walk in a straight line north of Rivendell, still behind it for a bit, way out beyond where anyone ever went. Sam suggested we take a rest, since it didn't look likely we'd get another one until we were at Doom, and I agreed. I was starting to flag a little and the cold wind that knifed through us when we left the trees would worsen conditions. We climbed up away from the path to the tree-line and sat down on a rock for water and a power bar, and rested up a bit while I told her where I figured to take us in order to get back on the right route. We still had plenty of time, as we didn't have to be to the rendezvous until 3, and it was barely 2 now. As we sat there, finishing up, all of a sudden two Evil guys emblazoned with Red Eyes came up the trail from the direction of Rivendell, talking casually. We spotted each other at the same time, and Em and I grabbed our stuff and ran as best we could. I was too tired, though, and Emily knew we weren't going to shake these two off. She suggested we hold off and see if we could take them, as they looked like orcs. I wasn't sure, since they were orcs with plate armor, but honestly, there was no way we were going to get away from them. The oak woods there were not thick enough for us to go up into and hope that they would not follow.
They caught up and tagged us, and then thanked us for not leading them on too hard a pursuit because they were dragging. They were on their way to the Shire, they claimed, and said the odd path we had found led to the Shire a back way—and they weren't orcs but Nazgûl. Damn. There was a bit of haggling, as they could only kill one and take one, but I didn't want Emily left out there in the middle of nowhere all alone. They didn't really care what they did—they literally cast lots, in a sense, to decide which to kill and which to keep. However, they did say that if Sam was killed, they'd let her walk with us back out to the road by Rivendell and let her finish her dead time there, assuming it took us less than 15 minutes to get there. We agreed to this arrangement, and the lot came up that I was captured and she was killed. Thank goodness just before they got to us, I had once again given the Ring to Sam.
The two of them were walking ahead of us, head to head in their own conversation. I did behave myself by not talking to Emily apart from non-Game-related small talk, not giving her orders or telling her where I was going to go. She told me later she wanted so bad to let me know that she was going to go north and find the Rangers, but couldn't. Smart girl, though it would have saved me a lot of grief later. In the end it took us ten minutes to get back out the barn, and I could see players all over this back area. Some Evil, possibly Dark Elves, were prowling the base of the ridge but scampered off as we drew near. Some of the Rivendell folk were still alive, because as we came out behind the barn I saw Gimli and Drew-Elf walking along the road toward Lothlórien. My captors permitted me to tell Emily that I would try to find someone south and send them to her, and I said loudly that it looked like people were heading toward Lothlórien. I definitely played up the newbie thing, the Nazgûl really felt pity for her. Then a van drove by, and the worst thing of the whole game happened: the occupants informed us that the entire contingent of Rohan and Gondor, including the Ents (Treebeard was in the car), had dropped out of the game.
Beth did look pretty bad, cold and paler than usual, and I could excuse anyone truly suffering the first effects of hypothermia. I knew it was possible, as we were doing every thing wrong that we could have—getting and staying wet, and being out in the cold while wet—that would lead to hypothermia. But the entire population of Rohan and Gondor?? My heart fell, and I became immediately angry, frustrated, and even more miserable than I already was. The trek was hard enough, and my job hard enough now that I was separated from Sam and she was all alone with the Ring and no backup, and being soaked through and cold was not helping. Yet, I was sticking it out. There were people counting on me, counting on the Ring, and they would have no idea that this had happened if they were way in the north at the hidden rendezvous point with no way of anyone getting to them to tell them what was going on. I had to stay in the game. The Nazgûl pulled out their written orders from Sauron and tried to follow them to a particular meeting point marked by stones, and just before my half-hour was over we ran into Sauron. He first asked me, "Who are you?"
I asked back, "Is that your question?"
Mick looked stricken for a second and quickly said, "NO!" Mike Bourne was chiding me to play by the rules (yeah, says the guy who started where he wasn't supposed to start) and suggested that I had to tell them who I was. My understanding of the rules is that there is no such stipulation—if they didn't know who I was by not paying attention to introductions, it was their own fault. Generic players are one thing, but everyone on Evil should know who the hobbits are. They did know I was a hobbit, and I had told the Nazgûl with me when they caught us that I was Frodo, but they didn't speak up at the moment (duh). Sauron then asked, "Who has the Ring?"
"Samwise," I said.
"And you are...?" he wondered, which I figured at that point was fair. It was a second question, but I answered it anyway since it was obvious his entire army was made up of idiots. I told him, watched his face fall, giggled, and ran away.
Well, now I was alone, Sam was alone with the Ring and now alive again, and I didn't know where she was headed. I walked along the road toward Gondor, thinking I would go to the horse path and come up to the south side of Doom from the wrong side and let everyone who met up there know what had happened. I hoped Sam was heading toward Lothlórien, though she did know roughly where to meet the rest of Good in the end. I saw a group of Evil with the Bree and Rivendell flags going across country towards Doom, and then saw Gandalf cross the road further down and yelled "Mithrandir!" to try to get his attention. No such luck. At least Gandalf was still in the game, and stuff was definitely still going on. It was 2:30 now, and I had to get toward Doom. Then I spotted Aragorn and Bombadil coming across the edge of the Entwood from the Paths of the Dead. Thank goodness! Someone was still here! We met up, and after hasty consultation decided to cross the middle-ground by the lake and head for Lothlórien to see if Emily had made it there, or if anyone was in that area that knew where the Ring had gone. Sauron was still behind us, then, but we didn't know where Saruman was. I led them easily through the swamp to the dike and then up the horse path to where we could come out above the Crossroads and have a peek, muttering that if all had gone well I would have been crossing that very dike right then with the Ring going towards the rendezvous.
When we got near Lórien, we found it was completely surrounded by the White Hand contingent and Saruman. We couldn't tell if there was anyone on the rock, though. Aragorn decided we should go up into the trees at the edge of the Crossroads and spy out Saruman—if Sam had made it to Lórien, she was going to be captured and Saruman would have the Ring. We could find out about this when they came by, and possibly stop him. While the three of us hid, we saw Bilbo being dragged up the road captive again, and he was talking Second Age with his captor. Then Aragorn suggested I go ahead to Doom, to find what was left of the Good Army, and tell them what was going on, while he tried to hold up Saruman. I climbed down out of the trees and started down the road in plain sight, too tired now and in too much of a hurry to be stealthy. Lothlórien had just fallen, it was just after 3, and as I glanced behind me, the White Hand army was coming up to the Crossroads already. Bilbo tried to warn me, but I knew they were there and at that moment there was nothing I could do for Saruman if I did get captured, so I decided "the hell with it" and just waved as I kept walking. Soon a bunch of kids and one elder player caught up to me, and while I told him I was just heading to the parking lot to see if anyone else had quit, he never tagged me. I could have kept going, and seen just how far I could have gotten him before he tried to tag me, but I was dead on my feet and out there on the road, away from trees, the wind was harsh and cold. It had stopped raining but I was soaked to the skin and a cold wind was sapping what little strength I had left. I really did feel like Frodo after Weathertop, caught in the Trollshaws, wet and ill. I held out my hand and let the White Hand Orc tag me, and we went back up and met Saruman—who was delayed at the Crossroads, having been accosted by Aragorn and Bombadil for what I thought was no apparent reason. The fact that they wanted me meant they didn't have the Ring, and that was in fact what Saruman asked me: "Give me the Ring."
"I don't have it!" I happily sang.
Saruman grimaced and said "D'oh!" I waved and took off back the way I had been going until they rudely interrupted me, not sure what to do. I could either go to the parking lot and see who was there, in case the Rangers had also given up, or see if Emily was there, lost, or I could head up the ridges toward the rendezvous and see if anyone was still there. Considering the people who kept driving by, back and forth, ex-players scoping out what was happening, they knew the game was still on and I knew in my heart of hearts that the boys weren't quitters. They'd still be up there. I just didn't know if they'd really want to see me if I showed up alone, worn down, and without the Ring.
Chris Wood drove by, then, and asked if I wanted hot cocoa. He and his two Evil friends had dropped out, but they'd gone into town, filled up a huge thermos with cocoa, and were passing it out to all and sundry. I graciously took a cup and sipped miserably at it as I walked, going to the trail instead of the road and once again becoming unsure what to do. I took one look at the vertical distance between my point and the rendezvous area and quailed—I couldn't climb that. Yet, I was starting to get very concerned about my friends, all of whom were up there somewhere. Shan, Beth, Angela, Otto, Todd, Michael & Jean—they were all out there, playing away, maybe getting sick and cold. Yet, I was unsure about the status of the game or whether anyone had seen any of them, plus Saruman was still behind me, graciously allowing me more than a head start before coming up, and I had the feeling he was watching which way I'd go. I didn't want to lead him to Good's rendezvous point, his army might have been able to slaughter them—and I didn't want him near the Ring if Em had actually gotten through there. Even though it was probably the dumbest thing, I decided going to the parking lot and looking around to see if anyone important had quit the game was better than trying to climb up to the rendezvous and leading Saruman there.
Jeff was down at the Doom lot, directing traffic, because the park rangers were making a huge stink about us bothering the people in site H and now wanted all our cars out of their lot. I asked him if he'd seen Gandalf or any of the guys, but he hadn't, so I knew now for sure that they were still in the game and probably had no idea what was going on, that I had lost Sam and the Ring and half their team was not going to show up. There was only one thing to do, then: go to them. I dreaded the climb—I was already walking so slowly and painfully that I wasn't even using my walking stick, but dragging it along behind me—but I knew I had to do it. I went back up the trails toward the backpacking sites, and intended to cut across the field below Doom and come out to the horse path, and follow it until I ran smack into the Army. Saruman had gone ahead of me to Doom in the time I'd wasted, and it was now past 3:30 and there was stirring on the Mountain. I heard some shouting as I came up and was about to cut into the field, and then saw both wizards and the White Hand army, with Sam, coming out of the trees down towards me. "It's over," someone shouted. "Evil wins."
My heart was already too low to sink any further. I asked Emily when she caught up to me and we walked with the Evil folk back out, what had happened. She actually gave Lórien a miss, she said, since it was surrounded, and remembered what I had told her the night before about our route and followed it to the letter. She had gone across the fields, crossed the dike, and climbed over the ridges, coming out below Doom. She must have missed Aragorn, Bombadil, and I by mere minutes! She had then circled Doom several times and gone up and down the trail looking for the Good Army, because she didn't know the exact rendezvous point. We didn't have time to go hike up there so I could show her—and I figured there was no reason, because she'd be with me all day. Our intention was to never get Sam and Frodo separated because it was essential that Evil be forced to choose between us if we ever got caught. Emily had no sign of the contingent, no Gandalf, nothing, no matter where she went, and when she heard shouting about hobbits she took it to be Evil again and ran the other way. In the end, she merely took a wrong turn, and Saruman and Sauron took an unfortunate turn themselves, bringing them to a place where they could spot her and give chase. Saruman almost got the Ring himself, and Sauron had zero backup because they were not on the Mountain and Sauron was surrounded by White Hands, but in yet another questionable call Mick stopped Saruman in mid-sentence asking for the Ring and demanded it himself. Game over.
We got back out, and managed to hitch a ride back to the other parking lot with the Dark Elves. I was just hauling my dry clothes to the bathroom to change and try to warm up when the remaining Good finally crawled out of the woods, with Michael & Jean, and though they all were tired and wet, my dear newbies looked like they were having the time of their lives. The guys were dragging, but they all looked at me with pity as I came up and cried out "There you are!" I was ready to burst into tears at that moment—I was dead, I was cold, shaking, and I had no good news for them and thought the loss of the game was all my fault, yet none of them thought ill of me as we met up finally after the game was done. They were just as cold, and we all did our best to cheer each other up and get each other into warm, dry clothing as quickly as possible. Michael & Jean apparently had such a great time despite the weather, and despite being dragged up and down the ridges by Hayes, that they were already stoked about returning before we even got near the parties. That did warm my heart a lot, then, when Jean excitedly told me what they'd been up to while we changed.
At the happy warm confines of A&W, we could at last catch up with some of those who had quit early and find out what had happened elsewhere, and Emily and I could apprise the Rangers of our unfortunate and evil day. Otto wanted to know everything, so I told him what I could and promised I'd tell him the full story at the party. It turned out that Emily was very close to them, and they to her, but they all just kept missing each other. Rich was combing the ridge after 3 looking for hobbits, and he missed her also. They had also been led to the wrong spot for the rendezvous—they were further down the path than Emily, and she had no information that would have led her to go down as far as they were. What an utterly frustrating, miserable, dumb-luck ending to a crappy day.
We all agreed that this was the worst weather ever for a Game, and some were even saying—I was definitely saying—that it was the worst Ring Game ever. The judges should have called it or postponed it when people started getting hypothermic. Poor Chuck! He was in position to be a spectacular Menace, but he had nothing to keep him dry under his costume, and once he soaked through to the skin he was in trouble. As long as he kept moving he was okay, but when Gandalf caught up to him and sacrificed, it was over—the ten minute spell rendered Chuck hypothermic and he had to leave the game. Tales of Evil cheating and Evil being somehow exactly where I intended to be at every step were starting to surface, then, and I couldn't understand it. Myself, Aragorn, Todd, and Otto were the only ones who knew exactly what I was going to do, and Gandalf had a slight inkling, but we told no one else until I apprised Emily personally before and during the game. Yet, somehow, Evil managed to be exactly where we were going to go—behind the ridge, in that area north of Rivendell, and in the Misty Mountains even! It was like they were reading my mind! Both teams had heavy losses of dropouts, but the effect was greater on Good because we needed people to be around, to harry Evil and to be in a position in case we needed to run for backup. I could have used a handful of Rohirrim or Citadel Guards to send after Emily or send to find the Rangers. We could have used more people attacking the small bunches of Evil that were combing the Rivendell area looking for hobbits. Once it got to be 2:30 and Emily was already crossing the dike—and I was also, just after that—we were scot free, that was the one part of our route that Evil did not anticipate. But it was very long after the game was over and I started to hear from poor Rivendell people, poor Bilbo, and Aragorn and the others what they were doing, that I started as usual to second-guess some of my decisions. There are a few things I could have done better. But in the end, I think the only flaw in our plan was not giving the hobbits enough backup at the start of the game, and pulling people away from the area of Rivendell instead of toward it. The rest of the plan was perfect, and would have been, if not for the weather and the occasional dumb luck. Yet, there are still allegations of cheating that have to be looked into, mostly on the part of Nazgûl being given spare rings and not serving their dead time.
My only conclusion is, this game should never have happened. I could have handled being harried like that, and things going awry, if the weather had been reasonable. But right now, I just want to put this game out of my mind and not remember it ever again. My first hobbit game, my tremendous forced leap into Frodo, was a failure, but not on my part I think. I will be a hobbit again, and I will learn from my mistakes—but not anytime soon. No, we have Fall plans already well established. It's about time I played Evil and saw the game from the other side.
©2002 Stacey Lee. All Rights Reserved. Used With Permission.