While I took part in three or four Ring Games in the early 1990's, over ten years had past since then. Thus, my memory had faded about the rules, the park, strategy, etc.
Having been convinced by Jack Barker to attend my first Ring Game this century, I went to my first "pick meeting." I was planning on merely serving as a Corsair. I had been a Corsair once before, and felt I could contribute in that way without knowing the game well.
However, the spirit of Ring Game affected me at the meeting, and during the lottery, I changed my mind and decided that if I could, I would go for Nazgūl. However, my number finally came up after all Nazgūl slots were taken, so at the spur of the moment I decided to choose to be the Captain. And so it was.
I had my own chain mail and rattan sword from my SCA days, so I had a good start. I purchased a cheap pirate-like puffy black shirt, and two pirate-themed handkerchiefs to make a battle flag out of. However, I discovered that one cannot wear a puffy shirt under chain mail without it looking really stupid, so I ripped out the seams of the shirt and made it into sort of a cape instead. I put boot polish on some old combat boots. Ta da!
Costume-wise, I knew I wasn't all that great, but armor-wise, I was confident that I would get a lot of points for wearing the chain mail.
I had mostly forgotten a key fact about Ring Game: the best costume looks authentic and gets you points, but is at the same time LIGHTWEIGHT. Nothing I did costume-wise kept this in mind.
Of course, since I am rather proud of my chain mail, I probably would have worn it anyway, and it was the heaviest thing. However, I probably would have done other things differently, like constructed the flagstaff out of something lighter than wood, and replaced the rattan sword with something lighter, etc. Also, I never would have worn a cape if I realized that the Corsairs would get caught in the Treacherous Forest of Thorns (see below). I am a fast runner, but that skill was mostly nullified by the weight of my costume, etc.
The smartest thing I did was to bring a whole quart of water with me. This weighed me down even further, but I have no doubt it was well worth it. Although I should have devised a better way to carry it then stuffing it in my pants pocket (which made running quite awkward), I'm quite glad I had it. At the end of the game, one player, who had not drunk any water during the game, became ill with apparent heat stroke. He was revived and was OK afterwards, but take this as a warning: Drink water during the game! I drank the whole quart, and was still very thirsty afterwards.
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Prior to game day, I found no time to re-acquaint myself with Governor Dodge State Park. I was a few minutes late to the park, and then had to figure out where to go. I couldn't remember where in the park the judging takes place! In fact, at my first Ring Game, the judging took place near Rivendell (thats how long it has been), and I went there first! Realizing my mistake, I left Rivendell, and then circumnavigated the whole park once before finally finding the starting place.
I was pleased with how judging went. I could tell that the costume judges weren't overly impressed, but that seemed fair enough to me, considering the mediocrity of my costume. The armor judges were another story, and I distinctly recall being asked by them whether my chain mail was heavy. This was foreshadowing of the exhaustion I would later experience.
All told, I had 36 points (11 of which was for the armor), which I thought was not too shabby.
I met my Corsairs, all two of them. It seems a lot of the Corsairs couldn't come. The two that did were great guys with much nicer costumes. We discovered that they had purchased some of their costumes in the same place I had (that Madison drugstore that also sells costume supplies), and so their headbands matched the battle flag perfectly.
Because there were only three of us, our battle flag only added three points to our overall score, which was a pity. But we were proud that, all told, the Corsairs were worth over a hundred points. Just the three of us were a force to reckon with. In fact, we calculated that we could take Bree all by ourselves.
Lord Sauron himself arrived late, which briefly led to some levity: what was the chain of succession? Did Saruman take over? Did the Mouth of Sauron assume command? However, Sauron did show up, and told us when and where to rendezvous near Mt. Doom at the end of the game.
Being fuzzy on overall strategy, I was inclined to play conservatively, doing what the Corsairs pretty much ought to do. This meant chasing Imrahil, who starts alone close to the Corsairs, across a small bay. We decided not to attempt to wade directly across the bay, but rather to run around it as fast as we could.
Right from the get-go, being fast was important. Id bet I could have chased her down if I wasn't so weighed down by armor, battle flag, sword, and quart of water in my pocket. Ah, well, even with these, we gave her quite a chase. I'm sure she was getting pretty tired. I know I was. I felt like a soldier at boot camp, running with all that stuff.
We realized right away that the Good Team had specifically decided to move to her aid right at the beginning of the game when the Citadel Guards suddenly appeared ahead of her. Retreat! Retreat! After all that running, the Guards may well have been able to catch us, but I think we made doing so look hard enough that they were content simply with having saved Imrahil. They broke of the chase, and we circled around.
However, we headed up the main road for a while in the general direction of Bree, which we had vague plans to take, when we happened upon an Evil Party, including a Nazgūl and some undead. We learned that Bree had already been taken (drat! But no surprise in retrospect). No sooner had we met with them when the Menace appeared (that super-powerful character who attacks both Good and Evil indiscriminately). Run away!
We all ran together, but the unencumbered Menace was gaining. I gave what was probably my most significant order of the whole game: the Corsairs should follow me, off of the main road, away from the Nazgūl and the rest. My reasoning: the Menace could only chase one of the two groups. It worked, and the Menace stayed on the road, catching Nazgūl, vampires, and all, while we escaped. The Menace did behave menacingly towards us, but by that time we were 200 yards away across an uneven field, and made it clear that if he were going to catch us, he would have to work for it. The Menace stayed on the main road, harassing other travelers.
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So, the Corsairs were still alive, thanks to my leadership. We decided to visit nearby Isengard and see what Saruman was up to. Isengard, I was assured by one of my comrades, lay nearby, just over the wooded hill yonder. And, there was a path! It would be easy!
Somewhere, there was a path, I suppose. We never found it.
Instead, we found ourselves plunging into the meanest, cruelest Forest O' Thorns you ever saw. The going got worse and worse, such that it took minutes to go 100 yards. The Corsairs had escaped the Menace, but where essentially out of the game for at least twenty minutes, being scratched to death by thorns. Here is where the cape was nothing but a detriment, snagging every thorn it brushed against!
On the map, folks, we were crossing Entwood from the north.
It's things like this that make me love Ring Game. There's something very educational about doing without our modern conveniences of motorized vehicles, paved roads, cordless telephones, etc. Without all those, little things like keeping in touch with your team and getting from point A to point B quickly are much more difficult. It gives you a better understanding of history, etc.
Eventually, we made it to the top and were heading down. So close, but yet so far: the thorns would not relent! Then, we realized that someone was nearby. A Good player? We decided that we must find out and attack, if only to make our trip threw the thorns worthwhile. Attempting to "sneak up" on someone in that situation, encumbered as we were, seemed pretty ludicrous, but we tried. I'm sure she had already heard us. She was the Bard, and she was simply attempting to hide from us.
I realized immediately that, given the option of trying to escape us by running through the Thorns from Hell or staying still and letting us capture her, she would happily choose the latter. I instructed the Corsairs to take their time and mosey over to her; she wasn't going anywhere.
So, we had our first "kill". Whatever was she doing in such an awful place? We were also stupid enough to be there, so I didn't ask. The Bard is the only character who could wield the Black Arrow against the Menace, turning him into a lowly Orc. As such, she explained, it made little sense for us to steal her token, as it was worth no points, and would gain us nothing. She convinced us, but she was still our prisoner. At least we had something to show for all of our scratches.
Together, we painstakingly took her through the thorns to Isengard. There we met Lord Saruman and a large Evil White Hand army. We delivered our captor, and Saruman questioned her, but apparently she knew nothing. We had to let her go. I hoped she would quell the Menace.
Isengard was the scene of a great debate: should Saruman lead his army to Rohan? Were we enough? We Corsairs offered our services in the attack, provided there ever was an attack. As others have described, what followed was half an hour of feints, marches, retreats, etc. I withheld judgment, as I was unclear on the rules, but I knew that we Corsairs were getting tired of nothing happening. We wanted to try to take Rohan or leave for other, more interesting, pursuits.
Eventually, a batch of Red Eye Evil players arrived. Were they the Dunlanders? In honesty, I have forgotten, but I think they might have been. Surely now, Lord Saruman, with the great White Hand trebuchet, surely we are now enough to take Rohan! Even then, Saruman was unsure.
Finally, it was decided: we would attack! And then, just as we were leaving Isengard, the batch of Evil Red Eyes... just left! We Corsairs also were impatient with the White Hands, but we stuck by our word and marched with them. Those other Red Eyes, who had not been waiting as long as us, did not.
The war spirit was upon us. Dang those guys, we're still attacking Rohan!
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As we marched to Rohan, suddenly a shout rose up: Hobbits had been sighted! Nautrally, Saruman ordered that we all pursue them. There were two hobbits, and they ran fast. The Corsairs were among those near the front, chasing those hairy-footed bastards across a field. Alas, they made it to Rohan, passed it to the nearby bridge that is Gondor, and across. The only way to those hobbits that didn't involve swimming was through Rohan and Gondor. We regrouped and headed on to Rohan.
And so, we finally marched all of the way to Rohan, which the Good Team abandoned to us when they saw us coming. Boo-ya! Rohan had fallen.
Now, Rohan is but a stones throw from Gondor in the game, so we took the Rohan flag and headed for Gondor. Alas, had those other Red Eyes stayed with us, we might have taken it! However, with the Ents' help, Gondor withstood our attack, and we had to be dead for fifteen minutes.
I was an eyewitness to the controversy that followed. This is my story, and I'm sticking to it. The good army that defeated us asked for "our tokens". Nothing else, just "tokens". We gave them our tokens, and kept our battle flags. Around five minutes passed before the good army realized that we still had our flags. Shouldn't we have given up our flags as well? We argued that the battle was done, and they hadn't asked us for them. Luckily, Jeff was there to referee. His decision seemed fair: Good retrieved the Rohan flag, but the Corsairs kept our flag. (All three points worth of heavy wood staff!)
Then, a large Red Eye army appeared, marched right passed our dead bodies, and captured Gondor. Huzzah! The victorious Red Eyes marched onward, and we had to stay dead.
When our dead time was finished, we Corsairs decided we had had enough of the White Hand army, and that we would track those hobbits if we could. Goodbye Saruman!
We hadn't gotten far when we found a dead hobbit, one of the two who we had chased earlier. Naturally, he was disinclined to explain what had happened, but we could guess: some of those Red Eyes had caught them, and, as per the rules, could only take one of the two to Sauron, killing the other.
That meant there was a very good chance that those Red Eyes had guessed incorrectly, and that the dead hobbit at our feet had the Ring! What to do?
Well, we knew the rules well enough to know we couldn't just stay there until he woke up, so we left, putting at least 100 yards between him and us, and then stopped to discuss what our options were. We would have to let him go for two minutes after he woke up, but could we follow him afterwards?
We never figured out the legalities to my satisfaction, but it didn't matter, as he woke up and ran fast, and was soon God knows where. We did make a small effort to anticipate which way he would go, but never saw him again.
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It was getting close to the time to rendezvous with Lord Sauron. We decided to head in that direction; presumably, the hobbit would be doing the same, anyway.
We happened upon a batch of Good players that outnumbered us considerably, so we retreated. Later, we happened upon them again, and their leader was well separated from them. We attacked him alone, but, alas, the rest of his party was able to get to him in twenty paces, so we were killed a second time. They took our battle flag, which was ironically worth more to them (5 points) then to us (3 points).
When we revived, we joined three other Evil players and headed for Mt. Doom. We were on one of the long paths through the woods "behind" Mt. Doom. We found three Good players, including the leader of the party that had just killed us, and killed them, taking THEIR flag, the Battle Flag of the Citadel Guards, which was very nicely made, with a plastic staff. To us, it was worth 5 points, more than our old Corsair flag!
We continued on to Mt. Doom, where we met a lot of the Evil Army, and were informed that Sauron had already captured the Ring, and the "first" game was over!
Of the two hobbits we saw at Rohan, one had the Ring. They were attacked by some of those Red Eyes, who guessed right about which had the Ring, bringing him to Sauron. The one dead hobbit we had found was the one who DIDN'T have it.
We were told, at the time, that those two hobbits had been "just walking down the main road" when they were captured, with much eye-rolling about how dumb that was. From Jack's Web site, I don't know if that is true, it may not be. But there was no doubt that Sauron was victorious. Evil reigned! Hurray!
The judges had, as they tend to do when the game is over early, started another one. I do not question that this was a good thing to do, but I admit I found it hard to take seriously.
The Corsairs joined the vast mob of Evil guarding Mt. Doom. There was a lot more running around. Sauron directly ordered me to chase this one Good player, who I think runs marathons in his spare time, and with the help of others, I killed him, but was separated from the other Corsairs for a long time. I was killed myself in turn. The going got more and more grueling and confusing as the perimeter of Mt. Doom was broken again and again with no final victory by either side in this "second game", only a lot of painful running up the mountain and trudging down again. I could barely lift my feet near the end.
Finally, it was over. Evil had triumphed twice. That should settle that.
My body ached all over. We all gradually made it to the A&W in Dodgeville, where the Root Beer is like ambrosia after the game. More fun was had. After I got home, I discovered I had blisters on my heels, and my muscles ached for days. The chain mail had left a faint image on my t-shirt, and I was sunburned. Now I remembered was Ring Game was like. Very fun, but also very physically demanding.
I repeat: Drink Water During the Game
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©2003 Michael Smith. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.