Some of my college friends and I were discussing the problems inherent in gaming in Tolkien’s Middle Earth of late. I was reminded of something I hadn’t thought of in years, namely, that most of us had participated in a Middle Earth Play By Mail game back in the early 90s. It was the first and last PBM I ever played.
In theory, it sounded fun. You rule a realm and write your own epic story large on the pages of Middle Earth’s history. Four or five us were joining a game together on the good side, so we could fight together against Mordor and Isengard. All of us were big Tolkien fans and very much looking forward to trying this out.
Apparently, the designers of this game thought that Middle Earth was neither a sweeping story of heroism and romance, nor a mythic clash between good and evil. No, apparently they believed that the essence of Middle Earth was highly trained infiltrators and saboteurs, using stealth and dirty tricks to destabilize enemy nations. I was playing Rohan. The following about sums up how much fun I had in Tom Clancy’s Middle Earth, the PBM.
“Arise, men of the Riddermark! I, Theoden King, will smite the foul Uruks that are a blight on my land.”
“Um, sorry, sire, apparently no one saw the orc spies who stole the entire treasury and destroyed our fortifications last night!”
“What foul treachery is this? Send for Eomer and Elfhelm, we march on Isengard tonight!”
“Yes, about them, sire. It seems both Eomer and Elfhelm were assassinated last night while surrounded by 5,000 of our own crack warriors.”
“Not my sister-son and fair Elfhelm! Saruman will pay for that! I shall promote Hama and Grimbold to command the armies then.”
“I’m afraid there’s a problem with that as well, sire. Since the armies were leaderless for five whole minutes, all 5,000 soldiers have gone home and can’t be recruited again without a massive expenditure of gold….and ours was all stolen, as I said earlier.”
Theoden tries to fall on his own sword and end the pain. He is captured by enemy agents instead and held for ransom. Sauron’s armies march into Minas Tirith unopposed.
Oh yeah, it was real fun! Amusingly, GSI, the company that still runs that game, sends me an e-mail once a year trying to “get me back.” Um, yeah.
A Week Without Me
I’m leaving at 6 am for a business trip and I don’t know if I’ll have internet access where I’m going. You may not see another update until next week. Please go to stick it to the Man in my absence.