Back in 2006 during the closed beta, I started thinking about what kind of kinship (the LotRO name for guilds) I wanted to join. As a huge fan of the books and the Professor, I knew I wanted it to be tied as closely as possible to the lore. Though I have many issues with player-created back stories that integrate too closely with the written word, I still wanted a kinship that fit with the theme and could have easily been part of the story. It was also important that the group be comprised of mature players who did NOT spend hours upon hours glued to the keyboard and had no real lives to speak of. That is a warning signal to me and I have had poor luck with those types of individuals in the past. Finally, I wanted a kinship that I did not have to lead. Having run a roleplaying guild in Everquest II, I was more than ready to be a "player" and not the "DM" for once.
Fortunately, another frequent visitor to the forums noticed my many posts in which I touted my love of Middle-earth and my desire to live a "virtual life" there. He sent me a message basically stating the same, and voiced many of the same concerns about finding a kinship. After several more conversations, we decided to form a partnership and create our own kinship based on the guidelines I mentioned above. With my extensive knowledge (and love) of the setting, the plan was that I would create the kinship, furnish it with appropriate background and lore, and guide the direction of the roleplayers in the group. Since he worked from home, he would help run the day to day activities and be the online presence when I was unavailable. Though I still had reservations about running another guild and the feasibility of two people trying to lead a group in tandem, I decided to give the project a chance.
I immediately went to work on the background. Much of my inspiration came while hiking through the woods in the afternoons after work. It was during these jaunts that I formed the building blocks of the kinship: 1) The kinship must operate under the philosophy that real life (RL) comes first. 2) Our background should tie into the novels and the game without affecting the written story or Turbine's mechanics. 3) The theme of the kinship should fit the books. 4) We should strive to create an immersive atmosphere so that member RPers, and those that associated with us, would get a sense of a persistent world. 5) And finally, we should provide a vehicle and resource to mentor players of the game who wanted to learn about the world of Middle-earth.
It was also while walking through the woods that I developed the theme and actual history of the Waywatchers. Perhaps it was due to the environment and the beautiful pine forests in which I did much of my thinking, but I knew I wanted a secretive military-type group that was more at home in the wilds than in civilized lands and loosely based along the lines of the iconic rangers in the books. As I walked along the tree-lined trails, a vision of a shadowy company of a once noble lineage began to emerge. In my mind, the Waywatchers were part of stories told in hushed voices to children or memories of long forgotten realms that a chance meeting in the wilds would prove to be real. We would be known to the wise and those that often traveled the roads of Eriador but nothing more than a whisper or ghost story to the average man or hobbit. In short, the Waywatchers were to be legends from the past come to life.
It was important to me to avoid emulating the rangers too closely however. For one, I was sure the rangers would be an important aspect of the game and I did not want player activities to interfere with Turbine's story. Also, there was bound to be numerous ranger-type kinships around and thousands of Aragorns, Araagorns, Elllezars or some other derivative of Tolkien's favorite hero. Most importantly, the rangers were fairly well documented by Tolkien and much of their story during the years in which the game takes place is set in stone. I needed something different and room to be creative without deviating from the Professor's themes.
It was then that I started thinking about the land of Cardolan. Tolkien wrote very little about it except a few tales of sadness and loss. It was once part of the lands of the Dunedain but it was written that the people dwindled and passed into legend. This gave me an entire region that was mostly unknown in the lore and sparsely populated in which to build my background. It also allowed me to tie into the history of the rangers without tainting the tale as written by Tolkien. Now that I had a home and a theme, the rest of the story fell into place.
|Cardolan after the division of Arnor.|
When the background was unveiled, the story was an immediate hit. I posted a recruitment announcement in early March 2007 and even though the game had not gone live, the response was incredible. It turned out that there were indeed others who wanted many of the same components that I considered important in a kinship. Though only a few of us had access to beta, our membership soared because of the forums and on launch day, the kinship entered Middle-earth with a virtual legion in the ranks.
|Of the Founding of the Waywatchers of Cardolan.|
Things went well for the first few months. Membership was high and everyone enjoyed our kinship roleplay, story arcs, questing and social gatherings. At one point, the Waywatchers neared the fifty member mark and it was decided to halt recruiting for a while to keep our numbers in check. Some of the more prominent players of this period include: Whaylen Blackwarden (that's me!), Periago Took, Dorin Oathkeeper, Kennit, Linnuial, Marawen, Annagil Stargift (still a member), Aralt, Branwald, Drachmar, Gamlet, Hagall, Jaiden, Kedlandir, Kimiel, Paskal, Peregrim, and Ciraran.
|The Waywatchers gather at Weathertop.|
The first kinship story arcs appeared during this period. These were basically RP events where one, or several of the members created a story and acted as the "dungeon master" for the remained of the kinship, guiding them through the events that usually culminated in some large battle or confrontation. The story arcs were an important attraction but it was soon apparent that two particular types of events were the most popular with the Waywatchers and would become the hallmark of our kinship: patrols and campfires.
|One of the first marches of the Waywatchers. This one originated in Archet and concluded in Bree.|
Our patrols consisted of an organized march along the roads and wilds the Waywatchers were oathbound to patrol. At times we would encounter brigands and other ne'er-do-wells that we quickly dispatched or we ended our march at some quest location that members needed to complete. But mostly our marches were a show of force and an opportunity for the entire kinship to "strut their stuff". I can still recall seeing other players clear the road as we passed and feel the pride when many would emote a salute or other appropriate gesture. Frequently, by the end of our march, we would have several tag-a-longs who just wanted to be part of the spectacle or find out more about us. The campfire events were similar except that we would choose a tactical location to camp and observe the activity on the roads for signs of trouble. While at these "waystations", we would exchange stories, music, and news with one another as well as plan sorties on unsuspecting bad guys.
|The Waywatchers gather to exchange news from our travels and patrols.|
All was not well, though, and I knew the halcyon days were coming to an end. Over several months it became apparent that some of our members were less interested in roleplaying than leveling. I became alarmed when those players rapidly outdistanced others and cliques and factions began to develop. The Waywatchers were founded as an immersive RP group and it was made clear in the charter that leveling was secondary to RP. Unfortunately, some players became unsatisfied with this arrangement and began to drift away. To my regret, and perhaps relief due to the deteriorating relationship, my co-founder was one of them. I sensed his slide from roleplayer to end-gamer early on but hoped for the best.
Then it happened. One day in late July of 2007, the Great RP Split occurred. About half of the membership defected and decided to found their own kinship. Some left with honor and good grace while others chose the opportunity to burn bridges with great fanfare. Of those who remained, morale was severely shaken and what was left of the High Council held several emergency meetings over the next week to discuss our options and chances of survival. The odds were against the now struggling Waywatchers and a fateful decision was finally made.
But that is another story....
(To be continued)