On the creation of new units for Middle-Earth

As I'm currently not in my tiny apartment in the ”culturally enriched” part of town I live in I have few possibilities to engage in hobby-related activities. I didn't bring me anything else than 10 daemonettes which I bought as a rare indulgence before Christmas 2012.
       Still, I wanted to make something for the blog: Presenting you with a schizomaniac's rant about canon and creation in Middle-Earth. I am satisfied with this piece of text, even though it is somewhat incoherent – but you should have seen the first version, wow, was I worried about my mental health. But now it is tidied up and ready for reading. Ahem:

They kind of stuck with the canon...
Many of us have certainly already thought about this matter: The canon and the respect for J.R.R. Tolkiens work. Much have been said about this, by myself and probably also by you and certainly by a whole slew of other persons over the years. However, in the wargaming part of the Lord of the Rings-world, there's a healthy relaxed attitude - with many exceptions, yes, yes -  of not taking these kinds of things too seriously – especially when compared to historical wargaming [1]. While I generally agree with this take on things, I still want to say some things on the subject.
       Our hobby is in many ways the tip of the spear when it comes to the aesthetics of mr Tolkien's creatures and inhabitants of Middle-Earth, or Arda as a whole. The imagery in our specific hobby – the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game, War of the Ring and The Hobbit – are an interpretation of the movies which in turn were made by hundreds of other individual interpretations of the texts. These were in turn guided by the leaders of the production whom in turn were inspired by a great deal of other things, for example other fantasy worlds and movies as well as cultures from our own world. For example (the following are GW-design decisions) the Khandish horsemen, which looks very much like the Korean late 16th century horse-archers; or the use of the word mahûd for the badly dressed blow-pipe wielding warriors of Far Harad...

For my part, it is mainly the books about the One Ring that allow me to really get immersed into the fantasy world of Middle-Earth. The movies didn't. But the game have that ability – this extra filter of interpretation of an interpretation really makes the game something original. Or at least more personal. Misunderstand me right here: Our gaming world is ”just” greatly inspired by Tolkien's work, it is not an absolute representation of any of the books. Because of this, I and many with me, have tolerated a great deal of strange things from Games Workshop – without of course always liking it and sometimes just barely accepted it, like the orc shamans and some over the top high-fantasy design decisions like the first Knights of Dol Amroth.
        These are naturally just minor bumps on the road of design and as the years have gone by it is humbling how well, as a whole, Games Workshop have done with the things that didn't show up in the movies. Or even the fact that they didn't mistreat the line totally, which was something I at least was fearing. They kind of stuck with the canon. And that's the point here: They kind of stuck with it. The creators of the movies, and then Games Workshop, imbued it with a part of their own culture and thinking – however limited by contracts and copyrights and IP-related issues... and so, making something more special and original, even if many models – most, in fact – are designed wholly from the movies. The general feeling of the game is, in my opinion, something totally different from both the movies and the books. As it should.

This leads me to the conclusion that our hobby is open for change. Small changes. And that it will allow me to expand this new inspired world. But how far can one go?

Personal ideas in regards to ”kind of sticking with the canon”
So, how far can one go when beating up the canon when you're creating your own creatures and designing your own things for Middle-Earth? How far am I stretching Arda's spirit when I am introducing things like a Crazy King of Rhûn and a Water Spawn into my games? Quite far, I say – especially when it comes to the creatures of light. When designing those of darkness, I always remember Morgoth's lair: It had so many unspecified more or less living things that one could indeed create a whole line of new creatures and critters of darkness.
        Though, one must remember that there are some sort of restraint in Tolkien's world however filled with dragons and demons it might be, and I am no longer sure how to look at this... it would be nice to be able to create new and crazy things at will – but if one goes to far, it will no longer be something from Middle-Earth – no matter how much Sindarin one uses when naming the new creation, or how much explaining fluff is written. No, one need some sort of "taste" of Middle Earth.
        But still, is this the only condition one need to meet? Good taste? And how to define good taste in a world of orcs and elves?
        Is a High Elf dragon too much? Yes it is. But if you were to motivate it with a not so convoluted background story, give it kind eyes (if that's even possible) and paint it up in some light colours, then yes, welcome to Middle-Earth little dragon, even if the parallells to Warhammer would be quite close and the superficial way to ”make it good” would earn you no price in either creativity or design.
       The gigantic swans pulling some sort of sky-wagon mentioned in Silmarillion [2] are just plain stupid, but still part of the canon. Would I tolerate a model? Yes, of course, it is written in the great tomes by mr Tolkien and as I am writing this I am now honestly considering making my own just because I think the goodguys still have too few large creatures and contraptions. Add the feeling and some of the aestethical ideas of the Panzer Bear from the matiné The Golden Watch with the descriptions of said swans and voila! Presto, vulgar Swan Sky Wagon. With some kewl elves riding it. Sort of tasteless, but highly entertaining.
        To continue on this, there never were a description of something like ”the Guard of Orthanc”[3] which were armed with maces and throwing spears, but I would personally accept the idea since it is not over the top – and not especially controversial, even if it never were mentioned in any of the books. Furthermore, the goblins are said [4] to be fond of cogweels and mechanical contraptions and I could even allow myself to make some high-fantasy-weird steampunk thingie and still feel it would not necessarily be out of bounds (think Warcraft III!). So, what is then unacceptable? And where to draw the line? Where do Games Workshop draw the line? With Ogres? Ogres are mentioned [5] somewhere or another in the texts, so why not? Ghouls? Mentioned [6] in the canon and thusly ”green”. Ghouls and ogres, sky-chariots pulled by giant swans... mechanical goblin beasts...
        With the above both omnious and as well as hopeful lines, I can only end with: Is it so that Middle-Earth is something better, and perhaps more noble and subtle than the worlds of other fantasy authors? Maybe, Middle-Earth is in my opinion a place of morale and kindness and not a cesspool of spilled guts and dirt and killing and people not giving a crap about each other. Is this then making it a rigid world, a world that hampers the creativity of our hobby? I think not, I believe you can expand it sufficiently without having to go the way of other fantasy world, taking the easy way of more gore, skulls, dirt and violence.

And it is probably here one would like to draw the line when brainstorming something new for our hobby: Even when brainstorming a creature for the badguys, I try to keep it somewhat family-friendly. Not necessarily because kids are going to see the creation, but for the simple reason that the canon is somewhat cleaner, despite its occassional darkness, evil and cutting of throats...
         This is merely an attempt to capture what I think is the spirit of Tolkien's world when ”translated” into a wargame. I found it truly challenging to try to find the core of what I am feeling when playing these games, what makes the immersion happen...

So, I would like to end with an ironic and not purposefully humorous statement made by unknown in our hobby's early days at a certain forum [7] – even if I sometimes suspect that this is the true reason I like the wargaming in Middle-Earth (as presented by Games Workshop) so much:

When creating something for Middle-Earth, try to stick with normal sized hands, weapons, muscles and breasts...

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With this I shall abruptly end and follow up this little text with part two of Large Creatures and Contraptions for Lord of the Rings as soon as possible.
     Readers might have noticed I switched to a darker text because my eyes were protesting when I proof-read the text. Dark text on dark background might not be optimal, but it is much better than white text on dark background for a majority of people. Google says so...
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1] It is of course in the nature of historical wargaming and besides, the minuteae [9] is one of the enjoyable parts of said hobby.
2] At least I think it was in Silmarillion. I do not have access to my library at the moment.
3] Name partially stolen from a PDF published by a BrandyBarrel of Total War-forum.
4] In my badly translated version of The Hobbit, ”Bilbo – en Hobs äventyr” printed in 1976. I think... let me come back on this one...
5] IIRC, the word ogre was just used as a description of a troll or something similar, but if you really like to press blood out of a stone and read the bible like the devil reads it, you could argue that ogres are a part of Middle-Earth, from that statement.
6] This is one I am not certain of. I am however certain that Mithril Miniatures or a company like it, did make some ghouls for LotR – and whilst this is not an evidence of anything, it suggests that ghouls have been mentioned. Again, grasping for straws here, just to make my point.
7] A forum that was resurrected and now lives it days as an ungodly abomination! But in all seriousness, the quote could've just as easily come from a blog, can't remember where...
8] Five gold stars are hereby presented to me for my highly uninformative footnotes/annotations.
9] Unclear spelling...

10 kommentarer:

  1. You raise some good points.

    I must admit I am one to stick to canon where possible. But of course that 'canon' can in part be subject to the 'eye of the beholder (or reader)' !

    To expand on existing imagery, certainly requires a delicate touch.

    When it comes to evil creatures there is certainly a fair scope, from knowledge or inference from Morgoth's realm - evil twisted Maiar spirits inhabiting a myriad of 'bodies' - the Balrog being one of the more notables.

    And Gandalf's comment about older and fouler things than orcs in the deep places of the world... certainly leaves things wide open.

    But on the good side, I think things need to be more restrained. I must confess I would struggle with the idea of a 'good dragon' in Tolkien's Middle-Earth!

    If you look at the History of Middle Earth there are some even bizarre-er creatures that didn't quite make it to the final cut - I recall coming across something about a race cat-men; humanoids yet with cat like heads... weird!

    1. Your whole point was totally lost on me with the last line: Cat-men! I had nooo idea he even entertained the thought! If you have more information on this cut content, let us know! Perhaps it can be found in the published letters of Tolkien?

      Even if I would'nt have much to say about other people doing whatever crazy they like, personally I would also use more restraint when doing creatures for the light side. But then again, the tempting song of the Swan Chariot is calling me... :)

      Thank you for your input, it is always nice to get some feedback! I guess it just comes down to the "eye of the beholder", as Maximilian and Panagiotis suggests, as well.

    2. I have tried to find more on the cat like race but all I have found so far is this:
      "Tevildo Named the Prince of Cats, Tevildo was a huge black cat in the service of Melkor in the very early Tale of Tinúviel (in The Book of Lost Tales 2). In that original version of the story of Beren and Lúthien, it was Tevildo who took Beren prisoner, but was later defeated by Huan the Hound of Valinor (a natural nemesis for a Prince of Cats). In later versions of the tale, Tevildo vanished and his place was taken by Sauron, but the original combat with Huan the hound remained a vital part of the story." [From Encyclopedia of Arda]
      ... which I maybe be confusing with, or drawn the wrong conclusion from, when reading the Sil' many years ago... I'll have to go back and have another look at the books...

    3. A good find indeed. Tevildo... This is interesting indeed. A BIG cyber-thanks to you Scott for providing this information.

      I must confess (like som many others) to have never truly read through the old Sil' ;)

  2. I think every one can interpret the books/films however they wish. I personna;y try to capture the feel rather than follow it strictly, and if i started another LOTR project i probably chance the figures i use to get the feel i want.

    It's the same with only fantasy worlds; take a Song of Fire and Ice. On forums i've seen loads of people creating armies for this world, all different from each other and the films, but they look right.

    In the end we play the hobby to have fun, so as long as we enjoy ourselves, all is well!

    1. Yes, this is something I am inclined to agree with - especially since I have still yet to see something fan-made that is outright stupid. And I do this, I use whatever I feel is right.

      An up-to-date comparison is indeed a Song of Fire and Ice, which I have seen surprisingly much content from different hobbyists. As I am totally unknowing on these books and films I can't really judge how close they model their stuff to the media - but one thing is certain, they do some tasty things with theming and painting.

  3. I totally agree with Maxamillian! Do not bother so much with what looks weird or not, what is Tolkien's compatible or not.

    1. Yes, this is indeed true. I am trying to combat a few people in my vicinity saying that Tolkien's world is a stagnated and almost "dead" hobby world. They are of course wrong, but this is a good way for me to form my counterarguments - which is why I want your comments, to steal your arguments, hehehe ;) And besides, this is an age-old topic which sometimes needs to be re-thresed.

      To be honest, this is the reason why I've always liked your (and others of course) hobby so much, there is a certain elevation and freedom towards the hobby and the "rules" of the design of LotR-creatures - like some of the dwarf projects (not to mention the current Ironhelm!), alternate models for the goblins and orcs, warg-pulled chariots etc.

      And closing the border to craziness (in my personal opinion): The werewolves you did 2011 ;)

  4. I am definitely of the opinion that setting up some rules for one self can be a good thing. My creativity gets challenged when I impose limitations on it and that way it gets a chance to develop more, and any resulting ideas will fit in better with whatever I'm creating for. Granted, I can go a bit far sometimes with imposing limitations on myself. But it is definitely worth considering what your limitations are. Just compare to the Warhammer worlds where anything goes and the only limitation is that everything needs skullz and spikez. You get a lot of lazy creativity that way.

    To sum up: Most of us that are drawn to historical gaming or fantasy gaming of the LOTR variety, do limit the domains of our ideas, but I definitely think that can help develop our creativity outside of our normal cognitive paths.


  5. Hear, hear! This is sort of what I was getting at - with the difference that Tolkien apparently had a somewhat broad scope when creating his fantasy world. See what Scott said above about cat-men!

    Thank you for your input, it is highly appreciated.