Jan 14, 2019

CKII: The Great Mercian Interregnum

Last time, I chronicled the life of the Empress of Mercia, Éowyn the Great. Sadly, both of her daughters died before she did, leaving the throne to the least competent of her children, Emperor Cynewulf the Monk (1123-1155).

Cynewulf picked up where his mother left off: she had inherited a claim to the duchy of Orkney from her mother and, being Éowyn the Great, conquered it. Her son decided it might be nice to own more of Norway, and secured a foothold in Scandinavia.


Frankly, Cynewulf's stats were useless, and it's a miracle there wasn't a revolution. I tried to use the theology focus to get rid of his slothfulness, but it didn't work. A pilgrimage to Rome helped a little, though.


Cynewulf also joined the long line of Mercian hermetics, and I decided to break some new ground by creating a horoscope for his oldest child Eleanor.


Apparently the horoscope picks an attribute for the character that you can then encourage, or not. Eleanor got Intrigue, and I went with it, which got her a bonus and (maybe?) the Deceitful trait.

Meanwhile, through a sequence of events I don't fully understand, the Byzantine Emperor was a Taoist, and the Pope - driven from Rome to Germany by Byzantium - called a crusade on Byzantine Italy. Now, this was a little too Fourth Crusade for my taste, and with Taoist Byzantium capable of mobilizing 75 000 men, there was no way we were going to win this. I decided to participate by storming the strategically vital Byzantine stronghold of, um, Corsica. Handily getting everyone, including Cynewulf's oldest children, the twins Eleanor and Æthelflæd, the Crusader stat, and running away like hell as soon as the first massive Byzantine army showed up. Eventually the whole thing ended on an anticlimax when the Taoist emperor was overthrown and replaced by an Orthodox ruler.


In other futile holy wars, the party of 'Ali tried again, but they made only a token effort and were easily defeated.


Unfortunately, there were sad times ahead for the imperial family. Princess Eleanor died of disease, leaving her twin sister Æthelflæd first in line to the throne. A well-forged claim and a brief war gave Cynewulf the duchy of Vestlandet in Norway, but as he was fighting to secure the last of its counties from the King of Norway, he was killed in combat.


As you can see, Emperor Cynewulf the Monk never did improve his miserable attributes. But he did his best for his children, left a larger realm for his daughter than he inherited himself, and seeing as how he went out with a sword in his hand, he died his mother's son.


**

After Cynewulf's death, things became... complicated. He was succeeded by Empress Æthelflæd the Drunkard (1155-1162), which was a completely unfair nickname because she became Temperate almost immediately after receiving it. She also found the Seljuk empire in surprisingly bad shape, and launched a holy war on the duchy of Bahrain.


The war went well for the empire, but badly for her: she was terribly injured in battle and died shortly thereafter.


Both of Æthelflæd's sons took monastic vows during her reign, so the throne went to their sister, Empress Æthelflæd II (1162-1166), who was 14 when she became Empress. She brought the conquest of Bahrain to a succesful conclusion.


Sadly, Æthelflæd II only reigned for two years until she was assassinated - I have no idea by whom.


She was succeeded by her sister, Empress Cynehild (1166-1173). Her reign started with another Sunni jihad on Arabia.


She came of age defending the realm from the infidel.


The Pope was distinctly unhelpful! Can you imagine excommunicating a ruler defending themselves against a holy war?!


As the war was still raging, Empress Cynehild died giving birth to twin sons.


The older of the twins then became Emperor Eadfrith the Great (1173- before his first birthday, losing his mother and getting credit for defeating the Sunni jihad.


Some years into Eadfrith's regency, the Islamic world looked to be in enough trouble for us to try another holy war, this time on Basra.


The former Seljuk empire had split in half, into a Seljuk realm and the Persian empire, and while they were fighting who knows who, we took advantage.


This is what the map looked like after we captured Basra: the Persian empire is now the Taid empire, and they've lost a lot of territory to the Byzantines. With their holy places in Christian hands and their jihads failing, the moral authority of both Sunni and Shi'ite Islam has collapsed.


Meanwhile, as my regency neared its end, the inevitable civil war broke out.


During the war, Eadfrith came of age and turned out to be pretty decent at managing money.


The civil war, though, was going very badly. My troops were mopping up the Middle East just fine, but we lost a couple of big battles in England and were running out of money to hire more mercenaries - until I had an amazing stroke of luck.


With the leader of the rebellion in my hands, it was all over.

**

The civil war ended in January 1189. So in total, the 35 years since Cynewulf's death saw the reigns of three empresses, and a sixteen-year regency for Eadfrith, capped off by a massive civil war that, frankly, I was going to lose. In retrospect, it's kind of amazing we got through all that with the imperial line and realm still intact. You think that with primogeniture and everything that you can plan the succession, but lol nope.

Anyway, now that we have a young ruler with an impressive if somewhat unearned sobriquet on the throne, maybe we can achieve a little stability.

Jan 7, 2019

Let's Read Tolkien 52: The Palantír

The sun was sinking behind the long western arm of the mountains when Gandalf and his companions, and the king with his Riders, set out again from Isengard.

The king's party stops for the night in a hollow, and as they bed down, Pippin is obsessed with the orb Gríma threw down from Orthanc. Merry tries to dissuade him, but when everyone else is asleep, Pippin steals the orb from Gandalf and looks into it. Soon enough he screams loudly enough to wake the entire camp.

Under interrogation by Gandalf, Pippin tells that he looked into the stone, and soon enough found himself talking to Sauron himself. Luckily, Sauron seems to have thought that the stone was still in Orthanc, and Saruman was torturing a hobbit he had captured, so he didn't start asking questions.

Afterward, Gandalf discusses the stone with Aragorn and Théoden. They agree that it must be the palantír of Orthanc, brought from Númenor by Elendil. Aragorn, as Elendil's heir, takes charge of it. Just as they've finished their conversation, a Ring-wraith flies over them, riding a winged beast. Gandalf immediately sets off for Minas Tirith, taking Pippin with him to get him away from the Orthanc-stone. As they ride, Gandalf explains what the palantíri were - seeing-stones made by the Noldor in ancient times - and speculates on how the palantír of Orthanc must have been Saruman's downfall; he had kept it secret from the other Wise, and evidently been corrupted through it by Sauron. The chapter ends with Pippin falling asleep as Shadowfax gallops toward Gondor.

**

Unfortunately for the good name of Took, Peregrin son of Paladin seems to be the Fellowship's designated moron: from dropping rocks down wells to sneaking a look at the wizard's special magic rock.

Doing so, I think, makes him the only member of the Fellowship to have actually had a conversation with Sauron. Unless Olórin talked to him before the Fall or something. Still something you can put on your resumé, I guess. The effortless way he lifts the stone from Gandalf again makes you think there's definitely something to this notion of hobbits as burglars.

But there's something about Pippin's telecom experience that I don't entirely understand. When the palantír is thrown from Orthanc, it's described in some detail, and Gandalf says of it first: "It is not a thing, I guess, that Saruman would have chosen to cast away." And second:

Strange are the turns of fortune! Often does hatred hurt itself! I guess that, even if we had entered in, we could have found few treasures in Orthanc more precious than the thing which Wormtongue threw down at us.

So obviously Gandalf has some notion that the orb Wormtongue threw at them is a very special rock indeed. But then at the beginning of this chapter, Gandalf ruminates to Merry:

There was some link between Isengard and Mordor, which I have not yet fathomed. How they exchanged news I am not sure; but they did so.

Later, after Pippin has had his way with the stone, Gandalf says: "But my mind was bent on Saruman, and I did not at once guess the nature of the stone." Aragorn then remarks that now they understand how Saruman communicated with Sauron.

I don't know, maybe I'm reading this poorly, but if Gandalf didn't know what the palantír was, then why did he go on about how it was the best thing they could possibly have got out of Orthanc? Was he that convinced that the best thing Saruman has stashed in his wizard's tower was a cool rock that's hard to break? Maybe it's just me, but the transition from last chapter's "ha ha, Wormtongue threw a super cool treasure at us" to this chapter's "I wonder what this rock is" is a bit jarring. Unless the Lord of the Rings is a role-playing game, and the players forgot everything between sessions again.

In another startling leap from Tolkien's pages into the real world, Palantir is also the name of a surveillance corporation founded by the fascist and vampire wannabe Peter Thiel. In Tolkien's theology, the palantír seems to straddle the line between technology, which is acceptable, and Machine, which isn't; its rightful owner can use it, but it threatens corruption. The kind of surveillance networks that information technology is beginning to make possible, and the naked misanthropy of so many "techbro" entrepreneurs, would have horrified Tolkien, and definitely been, for him, an example of vanity and sin: the Machine writ large.

**

So, that was Book Three: from three guys burying their dead comrade to armies, battles and war. I mentioned that I think Tolkien is better with pacing than he gets credit for; he's also quite good at raising the scope of the story. We've now gone from some hobbits rambling around the countryside to all-out war and wizards, and even a personal appearance from the Enemy himself. Finally, we witness what is I think Aragorn's first act in his capacity as the heir of Elendil and Isildur, and Gandalf rides toward Gondor and the war.

Next time: some entirely different hobbits.

Dec 26, 2018

Decisions

This fall, I made the decision to quit my PhD, and I couldn't be happier.

Looking at the past few end-of-year blog posts I've done, the themes have been the futility of trying to engage with society and politics, and the hopelessness of my attempt at an academic career. I've finally been able to draw the appropriate conclusions from this, and I've pretty much stopped trying to be in any way politically active, and faced facts on my PhD project.

There are two principal reasons why I've quit: I believe the postgraduate system is completely unfair, but even if it wasn't, working conditions are so bad that I'd much rather do something else.

For background, it's vital to understand that the Finnish academic system has no transparency at all. Decisions on who gets grants and salaried doctoral candidate positions are totally opaque to those of us on the receiving end. The only obvious thing is that they're not based on any kind of publicly visible merit like publications. The same goes for decisions like which doctoral candidates get to participate in publications, research groups or teaching.

After several years inside the system, my impression is that from the beginning, doctoral candidates are divided into those whose careers will be advanced, and those whose won't. I don't know what the criteria for this selection are, but the split seems to me to be fairly clear. If you're in the first group, you will get funding and opportunities to demonstrate your abilities, and a way up into the academic hierarchy. If you fall in the latter group, you will get nothing, and nothing you can accomplish on your own will matter. I'm very much in this second group, which I believe means that in practice, even if I went on to finish my PhD, I would have no chance of getting any postdoc work or funding. More than that, though, I believe the current system is unjust and wrong, and I don't want to be a part of it.

The other reason is that even if I did know the right people and I had an opportunity to advance my career - which would probably effectively blind me to the nature of the system - working conditions are so bad and employment so precarious that I don't want to do it. Under some definitions of the word, people my age count as millenials; I was more skeptical of this until I realized that one of my fondest dreams right now is to get a steady job with a monthly salary. I don't think that's at all a realistic possibility if I pursue a PhD.

So I've officially quit the PhD, and next year, I'll be doing something completely different with my life. And I'm very happy with my decision. I taught a university prep course and a lecture course at the adult education center this year, and I've got some more teaching work lined up for next year. I'm also getting back into programming, so we'll see if anything will come out of that.

To conclude, I'd like to wish all three of my readers a very happy new year, and a succesful 2019!

Dec 10, 2018

Rogue Trader: Let's Play Warhammer 40,000

It started with Star Wars: Rebellion. It's a great, great game, and I loved painting the miniatures. The trouble was, it left me wanting to paint more, but I never really felt like painting for the sake of painting. Then the Fallout board game came along, and like I explained before, I built a Chaos Space Marine figure for a friend to use as the Brotherhood Outcast due to his predilection for charging and stabbing things.

That got me thinking that I might actually enjoy getting back into Warhammer 40,000, but I don't know if I could ever really muster the energy to actually play it. The ugly specter of painting the well over 200 War of the Ring figures reared its head. Luckily, I had a better idea.


John Sibbick: Rogue Trader cover, 1987

**

Back in the summer of 2014, we started a Rogue Trader campaign that I've occasionally blogged about here under the Rogue Trader label. It's still ongoing, even if the cast of characters has changed somewhat. The campaign is set in the Acheron sector, which I've invented myself and set in the northernmost reaches of Segmentum Obscurus. One of the major events in its recent past, which makes an appearance in several characters' back stories, is the Ignatian Rebellion, where governor Ignatius Virius of the agri-world of Derbe declared independence from the Imperium. Eventually, he threw his lot in with Chaos, and Imperial forces invaded Derbe and restored order.

Because several of our player characters have backgrounds that involve the Ignatian Rebellion, we've actually detailed several units that fought there. So it occurred to me: why not build a Warhammer Imperial Guard army based on those units? We can even have specific models for those of our player characters who fought there. What's more, we can fight out battles they were involved in in Warhammer, and hell, I can give my players experience points for doing it. In other words, I can use my position as GM to bribe my players into playing Warhammer with me, and I get a good reason to build an Imperial Guard and Chaos army.

I think this is brilliant, so I'm doing it. The first objective is to round up some models and figure out how to play. The last time I played Warhammer 40,000 was third edition, so to put it mildly, it's been a while.

**

My first mini-army is going to be an Imperial Guard patrol detachment. The Guard get bonuses for fielding detachments that are entirely from the same regiment, but I have two problems with that: our characters are from different regiments, and only painting models from one regiment would be incredibly boring. I'm sure I could fudge this by saying they're all from the same battlegroup that's functionally a regiment or whatever, but I won't: the role-playing aspect matters here.

To start, my patrol detachment needs an HQ unit, and while I was going through my old Warhammer stuff last summer, I found this absolutely wonderful old commissar model.


I painted it back in the day when I was very bad at painting, but I've done my best to touch it up. Because of that pose and especially that coat, there's no way he isn't Lord Commissar Zhukov. He's got a bolter, too: it's under his coat.

165th Ophir Highlanders

At the outbreak of the Ignatian Rebellion, the recruitment and training of the 165th Ophir Highlanders had barely started. The regiment was rushed to full strength so it could be deployed to suppress the insurrection on Athir. The Highlanders' youth and lack of training led to them being nicknamed the 165th Children's Crusade by the more experienced troops. Here, the 165th are represented by a unit of 20 Conscripts. Their tunics are German Camo Bright Green, the armor is Luftwaffe Camo Green and the trousers are Dark Blue Pale.


The green conscripts are accompanied into action by Brother Malachi, a Ministorum priest who will later become a Missionary in our Rogue Trader campaign. The model is a Games Workshop Warrior Acolyte.


76th Chirikov Rad-Guards

The Rad-Guards are recruited from the death world of Chirikov, a human colony ravaged by all-out nuclear war in its past and dominated by irradiated wastelands. Its inhabitants make motivated recruits for the Imperial Guard, as anywhere else is better than there! The Rad-Guards are represented by an infantry squad featuring a missile launcher team and a grenade launcher. Their coats are Dark Red, with Dark Blue Pale pants and gas masks.


This all adds up to the following army list:

Lord Commissar Zhukov - HQ, 30 pts
power fist (10), power sword (4), boltgun (1) = 45 pts

Ophir Conscripts (20) - Troops, 80 pts

Ministorum Priest Brother Malachy - Elite, 35 pts
autogun (0), chainsword (0)

Chirikov Infantry Squad (10) - Troops, 40 pts
missile launcher (20), grenade launcher (5) = 65

Total: 225 points

**

That's the Imperial Guard, then; they're going to need someone to fight.

Athir rebels

While the center of the rebellion was on Derbe, an insurrection also broke out on the nearby death world of Athir. I'm including a contingent of these rebels as autogun-armed Chaos Cultists.


The models are GW Chaos Cultists, with the heavy stubber built from Genestealer Cult bits and a head from Brother Vinni's Female Punk Heads sprue. They're led by a rebel.


Iconoclast Chaos Space Marines

The Blue Bolts were an Ultramarines successor chapter of impeccable loyalty - until they came across something so blasphemous and depraved in Segmentum Obscurus that it shattered their faith. What it was, no-one in the Imperium knows, because shortly afterward, the entire chapter was corrupted by the Word Bearers and fell to Chaos, taking the new name Iconoclasts.


The models are plain old Chaos Marines, with some Berzerker and old loyalist bits; the missile launcher operator and aspiring champion's heads are from the same Brother Vinni sprue as the cultist machine-gunner's. Their original armor color is Dark Blue, but I've shaded it into Medium Blue and Black. The original armor trim was Silver, but I've added details in Copper and given many of the surfaces a red wash.

Since I'm playing Word Bearers, obviously my Warlord has to be a Dark Apostle, to be represented by a Chaos Dark Prophet model from Wargame Exclusive, but proxied for the moment by my Fallout World Eater.

Dark Apostle - HQ, 72 pts
power maul (4) = 76 pts

Chaos Cultists (10) - Troops, 40 pts
heavy stubber (4) = 44 pts

Chaos Space Marines (6) - Troops, 78 pts
power axe (5), Icon of Excess (10), missile launcher (25) = 118 pts

Total: 238 pts

**

For this very small initial battle, we set up 2'×4' of my old Necromunda terrain, picked sides and set up our mini-armies. Since my players' characters fought in the Imperial Guard, I'll be playing Chaos.


We were playing the Only War scenario, and after we placed the objective markers, we rolled the version where you remove all but one randomly determined objective. Of course it ended up being the one on the bridge.

My opponent took a very Imperial Guard approach to securing it.


While the Highlander conscripts swarmed over the bridge, the Rad-Guards were shooting the shit out of my Cultists. This was one big lesson in 8th edition 40k: cover does nothing!

Since this was our first game, I decided what the hell, and had my Marines and Dark Apostle charge the conscripts on the bridge.


Soon enough, the Rad-guards wiped out my cultists, but in the battle on the bridge, my Marines were routing the conscripts. The Rad-Guards also charged in.


Eventually, the sheer weight of Imperial numbers wore my Chaos Marines down, and Lord Commissar Zhukov finished them off by defeating my Dark Apostle in hand-to-hand combat.


The game ended with my entire Chaos force wiped out!

**

So, we played a game of Warhammer 40,000 that basically amounted to one huge melee. What did we learn? Mostly that it was damn good fun. We'll be doing more of this!

Dec 3, 2018

Let's Read Tolkien 51: The Voice of Saruman

They passed through the ruined tunnel and stood upon a heap of stones, gazing at the dark rock of Orthanc, and its many windows, a menace still in the desolation that lay all about it.

The second breakfast gang head into the ruins of Isengard to meet the king's party and talk to Saruman. While the rest of Isengard is wrecked, the tower of Orthanc still stands. Gandalf leads Théoden, Aragorn, Éomer, Legolas and Gimli to Saruman's door, where Gríma speaks to them. Gandalf commands him to fetch Saruman, who eventually appears at a balcony above them.

Saruman works his powers of persuasion on Gandalf, Théoden and the others, but they resist him. Gimli and Éomer speak bluntly against him, and Théoden denounces him completely. Saruman briefly loses his cool, but then turns his full charm on Gandalf. It fails, and Gandalf expels Saruman from the order of wizards. Saruman's staff breaks. As he retreats into Orthanc, a heavy globe is thrown from a higher window: it smashes the rail where Saruman was standing, and falls to the foot of the tower, unbroken. Pippin grabs it, but Gandalf quickly takes it away from him.

It is prudently decided to withdraw from globe-throwing range. Beyond it, the King's party meet the ents, who undertake to guard Saruman. He is left to his own devices.

**

The focus of this chapter is obviously Saruman, formerly the White, now a prisoner in Orthanc. I already talked quite a bit about Saruman in the Council of Elrond, where Gandalf first revealed his treachery. Because of the ludicrous charge of fascism levelled at Tolkien, it's worth looking at what Théoden, who clearly comes away as the moral winner here, has to say to Saruman.

Even if your war on me was just - as it was not, for were you ten times as wise you would have no right to rule me and mine for your own profit as you desired - even so, what will you say of your torches in Westfold and the children that lie dead there? And they hewed Háma's body before the gates of the Hornburg, after he was dead.

What Théoden specifically refuses is what Tolkien's detractors always blame him for: submitting meekly to the rule of the "wiser" old men. As I've said before, too many of Tolkien's critics share Gimli's problem in Fangorn: they can't seem to tell two wizards apart.

Even though Théoden decisively rejects it, Saruman's rhetoric is described as tremendously powerful and persuasive. By the Tolkien Society's account, Tolkien only invented Saruman in August 1940, well into the Second World War (see Letters, 163), and it's difficult to escape the idea that the most direct inspiration for Saruman was Hitler. Tolkien was a committed anti-fascist and hated Hitler with a special passion because of his attempts to connect Nazi ideology with the same Germanic/"Northern" mythologies that inspired Tolkien (Letters, 45). Despite his opinions on Jews, which I've argued are fairly antisemitic, not to mention his ideas of blood heritage and racial decline, Tolkien strongly disapproved of the Third Reich's antisemitic "racial" laws (Letters, 29 and 30). He memorably referred to Hitler as a "ruddy little ignoramus" (Letters, 45).

Luckily for us, Tolkien didn't make Saruman into a caricature of Hitler. I talked a bit about Tolkien's notion of analogy versus applicability in the context of Tom Bombadil, and the same applies here: in his aspect of a demonic orator, Saruman certainly resembles Hitler, but in other ways they're clearly dissimilar. For starters, if the War of the Ring was a direct analogy of the Second World War, then surely the great orator would be Sauron? But we barely hear Sauron speak at all, and when he does, it's hardly memorable or persuasive.

Saruman's appeal as a character lies exactly in the fact that he is, so to speak, more broadly applicable. Consider this part of the first description of Saruman's voice:

Mostly they remembered only that it was a delight to hear the voice speaking, all that it said seemed wise or reasonable, and desire awoke in them by swift agreement to seem wise themselves.

This hits home, not just as a description of persuasive political rhetoric in general, but it specifically captures the neoliberal orthodoxy of our times: an expert is talking, and they know best. This is especially so in Saruman's address to Gandalf, where he directly preaches exactly the techno-gerontocracy of old wise men that Tolkien supposedly advocated. Again he does so in fully 20th-21st century political rhetoric, even including a fauxpology: he doesn't apologize for imprisoning Gandalf, but tries to talk around it and "regrets" it while trying to blame his victim. Saruman's rhetoric hasn't aged one bit since Tolkien wrote it, and its modernity is one of his most succesful deliberate anachronisms. The juxtaposition of Saruman's glib smoothness with Théoden's archaism and Gandalf's down-to-earth directness is very powerful.

In the end, Saruman's powers of persuasion fail him. It seems fairly clear to me that Gríma was trying to kill Saruman with the palantír, specifically when he saw or heard Saruman humiliated by Gandalf. One suspects that the only loyalty Wormtongue ever had to anything was to strength, and seeing Saruman suddenly weak must have made it amply clear to him that his treason had been a complete failure. In confronting Saruman, Gandalf broke his spell, which must have been his plan all along.

Next time: a special rock and a fool of a Took.

Nov 12, 2018

Lotr LCG: Thy kinsfolk wander afar


John Howe: Descent into Rivendell, no date given

**

Back in 2016, we had a couple of friends coming over to try the Lord of the Rings living card game for the first time, and I wanted to build them some decks to choose from. One of them was a Dúnedain deck I pretty much threw together on the spur of the moment from cards we had that nobody was using at the time; I'd used Beravor before in my first deck ever, but other than her, I had practically no experience with the Dúnedain archetype. This was what I came up with:

50 cards; 31 Leadership, 16 Lore, 3 Tactics; 21 allies, 17 attachments, 9 events, 1 side quest. Starting threat 30.

Amarthiúl (TBoCD)
Halbarad (TLR)
Beravor

Allies: 23 (14/6/3)
Eldahir (TTitD) x2
Dúnedain Watcher (TDM) x3
Guardian of Arnor (TBoCD) x3
Son of Arnor x3
Weather Hills Watchman (TLR) x3
East Road Ranger (TWoE) x3
Sarn Ford Sentry (TLR) x3
Dúnedain Hunter (TLR) x3

Attachments: 17 (11/6)
Heir of Valandil (TLR) x2
Dúnedain Mark (THfG) x3
Dúnedain Quest (AJtR) x3
Dúnedain Warning (CatC) x3
Forest Snare x3
Athelas (TLR) x3

Events: 9 (6/3)
Descendants of Kings (EfMG) x3
Fresh Tracks (TLD) x3
Expecting Mischief (OHaUH) x3

Side quests:
Scout Ahead (EfMG)

**

This deck actually made its first outing at the hands of a new player, and I was surprised at how succesful it was. We breezed through Passage through Mirkwood, but a four-handed attempt at Into the Pit turned into a grueling, multi-hour slog through a gigantic pile of locations and an even larger horde of goblins. After a near-disastrous initial staging, we got much further than I ever expected before threating out in the second quest stage. In both quests, the Dúnedain more than pulled their weight, so I think I managed to accidentally create a working deck!

Now that I'd actually seen the deck in action, a couple of thoughts struck me. Seeing as how they need to stay engaged with enemies and therefore have to defend regularly, at least until you can get some enemies snared, it occurs to me that A Burning Brand might be a really good idea, along with Song of Wisdom, which would also add some resource smoothing. I've also got a spare copy of Armored Destrier hanging around, and since every hero is a ranger, Wingfoot would also fit in quite nicely.

53 cards; 32 Leadership, 15 Lore, 3 Tactics, 1 neutral; 23 allies, 22 attachments, 6 events, 1 side quest. Starting threat 30.

Amarthiúl (TBoCD)
Halbarad (TLR)
Beravor

Allies: 23 (14/6/3)
Eldahir (TTitD) x2
Dúnedain Watcher (TDM) x3
Guardian of Arnor (TBoCD) x3
Son of Arnor x3
Weather Hills Watchman (TLR) x3
East Road Ranger (TWoE) x3
Sarn Ford Sentry (TLR) x3
Dúnedain Hunter (TLR) x3

Attachments: 23 (12/10/1)
Armored Destrier (TotD)
Heir of Valandil (TLR) x2
Roheryn (TFotW) x2
Dúnedain Remedy x3
Dúnedain Warning (CatC) x3
Rune-master (ASoCH)
Forest Snare x3
A Burning Brand (CatC) x2
Athelas (TLR) x3
Wingfoot (TNiE) x2
Song of Wisdom (CatC)

Events: 6
Descendants of Kings (EfMG) x3
Fresh Tracks (TLD) x3

Side quests:
Scout Ahead (EfMG)

**

In this form, the deck was succesfully employed by a new player on, of all places, a Sweden boat, where I introduced two new players to the game with Passage Through Mirkwood.



It was a success, in that we beat the quest, but also in that as near as I could tell, everyone enjoyed themselves. So both new players I gave the Dúnedain deck to liked it. I guess the theme of engaging enemies is easy to take to, but I also enjoyed playing it, so maybe this is just a good deck type!

**

So that's the lesson here, I guess: Dúnedain decks are fun! Try one.

Nov 5, 2018

Let's Read Tolkien 50: Flotsam and Jetsam

Gandalf and the King's company rode away, turning eastward to make the circuit of the ruined walls of Isengard.

As the Riders of Rohan leave, Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas stay behind at the gate-house, where Merry and Pippin serve them a meal from Saruman's captured supplies, and they catch up. There's even pipeweed, and Pippin wins Gimli's eternal gratitude by giving him his spare pipe - because of course a hobbit has a spare pipe.

The hobbits and the Three Hunters exchange stories of their pursuit, and Merry and Pippin tell about their time with the Ents, and narrate the Ents' attack on Isengard for our benefit. The hobbits had watched as Saruman commits a rookie War of the Ring error in emptying out Isengard even though there are Companions in Fangorn, and while the Huorns - like feral Ents - went after the orc army, the Ents smashed their way into Isengard and drove Saruman to hide in the tower of Orthanc. Once Isengard has been wrecked, Gríma Wormtongue shows up, and Treebeard sends him on to Saruman's tower. The hobbits are then left at the gate-house to await the King.

Finally, Aragorn, bothered by the barrels of pipeweed from the Shire, makes a prophecy: "Wormtongues may be found in other houses than King Théoden's."

**

Geez, 50. Back in November 2013, when I was a second-year theology student, I wrote about a very proper gentlehobbit having his house crashed by a party of dwarves.

As it happens, this chapter is also a meal featuring dwarves and hobbits, and not really that much else. One of the problems of reading a book you know by heart is that it's difficult to judge how effective some of the literary gambits are; much of the effect of Tolkien's changes of perspective is lost when everyone knows the story. Still, the reunion of the hobbits and the Three Hunters in the ruins of Isengard is memorable, and the pacing of the story works: this is a little interval between the climactic battle of Helm's Deep and the following chapters, which begin to set up the next major section of the plot.

In my mind at least, there are two reasons why Tolkien chose to tell the story of the Ents' assault on Isengard through the hobbits: it fits with the lowered tension of the story, and preserves a little more of the mystery of the Ents. Hearing everything at second hand leaves them at a bit of a distance, and I think it works.

Finally, Tolkien's theology of luck also rears its head here, in a remark by Gimli. I mentioned the concept way back when Bilbo met Gollum, and discussed one sense of it in Chapter III: luck as providence, Eru/God intervening in the world. Here we have a glimpse of his other idea of luck: one where luck is something you make or at least grasp for yourself. A northern theory of luck, if you will.

"The cutting of the bands on your wrists, that was smart work!" said Gimli. "Luck served you there; but you seized your chance with both hands, one might say."

This idea is a complement to the notion of luck as divine intervention: whether God stoops down to arrange matters for you or not, what's important is that you grasp the opportunity. This is a similar idea to Richard Simpkin's concept of luck management, and even has shades of the New Age-y idea of affirmations peddled by cartoonist Scott Adams in the Dilbert Future - one of the first strong signs that he was going round the bend. In this context, it's another tension between the Christian and pagan elements of Tolkien's creation.

Next time: a parley.