“Following the Inner Bondo”

“Denethor’s Tale of Woe”

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In case you didn't know:
Links will open up appropriately illustrative pictures in a new window when you click upon them.

Mad props and high praise to Shannon, originator of the "write down what you did" idea!
Nine kowtows and six obeisances to Bob, tabard and bandana creator extraordinaire!
Respectful worship and reverent awe to Ann, queen of the universe and omnipatient party hostess!
A hearty "I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!" to Rich, helm-smith beyond compare!
Hanging-my-head-in-shame thankfulness to Scott, for taking my appropriation of his idea with good humour and class. And for taking a shift as picture-taker.
Innumerable high-fives to ALL Ring Game players, I'm proud to be associated with you all.
Last and not least, greatest thanks of all to Jeff & Bill for continuing to put on a great game year after year!

Any opinions expressed herein are mine and nobody else's. If you don't agree with them, write your own darn story and I'll be happy to post it.


Sometime during the long winter, Jeremy E. sent out an e-mail directing people to visit the web site of "The Lords of the Rhymes." As a lover of both Tolkien and comedy, I was totally blown away by the "hobbit rap," and began plans to take Tom Bombadil as my character and do a full-on "gangsta rappa" costume. Speaking of plans, rumors also began to reach my ears that Hayes had a Foolproof Plan for the Good Team and was going to go for Gandalf. I supported this wholeheartedly, as I was campaigning for an "all-new wizards" game (one in which none of the wizards had played wizards before). The night before the picks meeting, there was a bit of a hoo-ha at Bob's house (with much explosion of peeps, of course), at which Hayes drunkenly described his plan in detail.

Picks day arrived, and as usual, a few of us gathered at the Great Dane for a quick bite beforehand. As we discussed various characters people were contemplating taking, Scott commented on how odd it was that nobody had ever done an "on fire" Denethor costume. Because I wanted to get my web site and party posters put up, I headed over to the Humanities building a bit ahead of the others. As usual, the gathering was forced to move to a different room because there was a class in the room. I was very pleasantly surprised to hear that Bill had made the trip over from Milwaukee and was going to be running the meeting. I helped out by writing the Evil team names on the blackboard, and was finishing up as Bill was starting the review for newbies. When he described the procedure for a tag, I demonstrated by tagging him on the shoulder, completely forgetting that my hand was covered in chalk dust, and leaving a nice print on Bill's back. He continued to use me as his guinea pig as we demonstrated freezes, pacing, etc. It was quite fun! As picks time grew closer, the room became ever fuller, rivaling last year's record turnout. In fact, 120 numbers were taken, beating last year's record by four!

After a brief break, picks began. Hayes' number came up something like fifth or sixth, so he was able to get Gandalf, to much huzzahs. Picks continued, and Michael Nygren took Sauron, which rather peeved me, because not only has Mike played Sauron like a half-dozen times, he had just played him last Spring. Howsabout letting somebody else have a go? I mean really. Good team characters were going like hotcakes, and all three of my top choices disappeared. If I couldn't get Tom Bombadil (Beth Johnson got him), my next choice was to go for Bilbo and try once again to achieve a "most captured hobbit" record. And if I couldn't get either of those, I was going to take Faramir and go dressed as Bob (as an inside joke). But all three of those were taken fairly early on. Stacey got Imrahil, thus achieving her goal of having a character who started in the south. Finally, my number came up and the only two "name" Good characters left were Beorn and Denethor. I briefly contemplated getting the bear suit out again, but I hate repeating myself, so I grudgingly took Denethor. I sulked down to the sign in area, gave Shan a check for my eight bucks, and sulked back to my seat. It was then that Stacey remarked, "hey, if you're Denethor, you could do that 'on fire' thing we were talking about." My sulkiness immediately evaporated as I bounced out of my chair with a "yeah!" and went scurrying up to where Bob was still waiting for his number to be drawn. Around about this time, Rich got the second-to-last Citadel Guard. I queried Bob about the possibility of making me a tabard with a flaming design, and he was amenable to the idea, especially after his number was finally called and he took the very last Citadel Guard (which also happened to be the very last Good character on the board!). We agreed to do a group theme of Gondor costumes—I'd design the tabards and Bob would make 'em. I was now very psyched about playing Denethor, although I felt a bit bad for Scott, 'cause it was his idea and he ended up getting stuck with a troll. On the way back to the parking lot, we noticed a poster for the previous night's Bitter Pill show, so Rich swiped it.

Over the next few days, I spent my free moments designing tabards and bandanas both for the Citadel Guards, and for myself as Denethor. I had a deucedly difficult time getting the flame motif to work properly, but Bob assured me that if I just did the Denethor tabard "plain," he could add the flames. Around this time, I got a request from Todd to create a tabard for him to wear as Celeborn. I used the "Eryn Galen" insignia I'd created for the Second Age Game, and added Todd's favorite catch phrase in Tengwar Runes as an accent. You'll have to ask Todd about that catch phrase, as it's not repeatable in polite company. <g> I also crafted a new staff, painted white with a winglike thingie on the top, to represent the "Rod of the Stewards." When it was done, I had to hack off about six inches of it to get it to fit in my car. D'oh! A "meditation ball" made for a most excellent palantír, and I sewed myself a "flaming bag of death" in which to carry it. I lucked into a pair of flaming pants (pajama bottoms, really), but could not find a matching top to save my life. I did stumble across some iron-on flame patches, so I put those on the sleeves of a sweatshirt and figured I'd just rely on the tabard for the rest. Meanwhile, I sent my head measurements to Rich, who was crafting helmets for all the Citadel Guards and a special one for me! It was quite the cooperative effort!

In addition to prepping for the game, I was also prepping for the pre-game campout. I'd reserved Site A (the Lothlorien site), which has a capacity of 45. From the number of people who e-mailed me saying they were camping, and bringing people along, I was suddenly concerned that we might be a bit over the limit! Luckily, I've been working hard at developing a good rapport with the park rangers, so I was sure I'd be able to schmooze things over if need be.

The night before driving down to the park was Game Night, and we coincidentally played Lord of the Rings Risk. I was the "Good" player, and won (the first time anyone in our group playing Good has won LOTR-Risk), which I took to be a good omen. However, we were playing until 11:10 PM, so I didn't finish getting packed and stuff until nearly 3:00 AM. Thus, it was with a rather groggy head that I composed my traditional "smack talk" e-mail:

G if for all that is Good and True (like me and the Citadel Guards).
O is for Overkill (is there such a thing? naaaaahhhh).
N is for Nice weather (jinx!).
D is for Dead (Saruman & Sauron).
O is for Orcs (see Dead, above).
R is for Roasting Peeps (beats eatin' em, that's for sure!).

K is for Killed (Saruman & Sauron)!
I is for Isildur (the troublemaker that got us into this mess).
C is for Chicks (ladies, see me if you want to check out the Rod of the Stewards).
K is for Killed (the White Hand and Red Eye armies, too)!
S is for Sombrero (I just opened up the dictionary at random and that was the first "s" word I saw).

A is for Aches and pains (we'll all have 'em around 5:00 PM Saturday).
S is for Saruman--DEAD!
S is for Sauron--DEAD!

Surprise, I overslept the next morning. Apparently, when I had turned my alarm off to set it back, I'd forgotten to turn it back on. So instead of arriving at the park between noon and 2:00 PM, I arrived almost exactly at 3:00 PM, which was OK, because that's when I'd told people to be there anyway. Beth J. and Todd were there before me, and others began arriving in quick succession. I posted my red eye banner to identify Site A as the Ring Game site (as if there was any mistaking), and pointed out that I had modified it to reflect our other prime activity. I set up my tent and settled in for a very fun evening. As the sun began to sink over the ridge, I insisted that the fire be lit, because I was hungry and wanted to roast a weenie! After a bit of "who's got a match? Anyone have a lighter?" confusion, Stacey (the flame goddess) got the fire going on her first attempt. *golf clap!* It was so breezy that the wood was burning very quickly and I began to be concerned that we would run out before Bob arrived with the large supply he had promised. So Megan and I jumped into her car and went over to get some wood at the Twin Valley camp area. Due to the sun shining in our eyes as we drove along the road, however, we got lost and barely made it to the firewood spot in time. I shelled out $4.50 and we returned with a cartonload of wood, which was more than enough to supply us until Bob arrived.

About this time, we heard some rumblings that the park ranger on duty was becoming somewhat antsy over whether we were over the limit for the number of people in the site. So I had everyone write their name (and car license plate numbers) down on a piece of paper, which Sarah (B...?) and I took up to the ranger station as a sort of preemptive schmooze. We had only thirty-five people, not over forty, you see. Alas, we had to wait in line for twenty minutes (there were a ton of boy scouts checking in, but according to the scoutmaster behind me, it wasn't organized, just a coincidence), so we missed the Two Katies' Belly Dancing performance. Drag.

It's odd how traditions change over time. Ten years ago (or so), it was traditional to play the "Indian" drinking game when this many Ring Game players were together. Nowadays, the tradition is... peep destruction! There were a lot of peeps on hand, so quite a few methods were used to destroy them, from simple "holding them in the flame" to the slower, more painful, "put them on a log and watch them slowly incinerate from the inside out." While all this was going on, Hayes took the opportunity to take various people aside to brief them on The Plan. I was very glad that Rich and Bob would both be starting in Gondor, thus relieving me of any actual leadership responsibility. <g> Finally, I turned in, but it took a while to get to sleep as I continued listening to Bondo regale the last few conscious people with his humorous war stories.

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I awoke about 6:30, and discovered that I was not the first to revive. In fact, there was already a fire going again as the few conscious people struggled to warm up. Being on a bit of a tight schedule due to my web site photo-taking responsibilities, I didn't dwaddle—I put on my base costume components, packed up my sleeping bag, and got my tent and other gear stowed. Someone (Chuck, I believe) helped me affix my flame stickers to my boots (I wasn't sure how long they'd stick, so I'd left them to the last minute to do; turns out they lasted all day, didn't lose a single one!). I reminded the assembled folks once again of the importance of cleaning up the campsite behind us (Todd generously volunteered to linger a while and make sure there were no messes left), and headed off to the staging area.

Surprise, I was the first one there. The tables were still where we had left them after last Fall's game, so setup was accomplished quite quickly. In addition to the usual accoutrements, I had a giant card for everyone to sign to send to Bill Swain, a Ring Game judge who is currently on active duty in Kuwait. When everyone had signed it, I passed it on to Bill Masino to send along. Usually, I try to go through the judging lines first, to get it out of the way before picture-taking begins. But this time, I waited. Stacey was going to do makeup for me (to give me an appropriately charred aspect), plus I wanted to go through the line with the Citadel Guards, since we had a costume theme. So I waited, and took pictures, and waited some more, and during one of the breaks in the action, discovered that the Citadel Guards had already started going through the line without me! D'oh! Luckily, Scott turned up right about this time, and took over taking pictures for a while so I could go through the line. I wrangled Bob and Rich to appear with me in the costume judging so that the theme could be properly accounted for. I got 13 costume points, my second-best ever (behind the Bear Suit). I got my weapons judged (I got "rock" points for my palantír) but totally forgot to have my helmet judged. So I was actually a point or two less on my total than I should have been. Oh well.

Before resuming my picture-taking duties, I was able to goof around a bit with Kerry (whose Beorn was a member of the Numenor Park Service), as well as the guys playing Boromir and Faramir. Pregame preparations were proceeding pretty normally, with one exception: there was no sign of Sauron! Nobody seemed to know where he was or whether he was going to be there at all. He did finally put in an appearance at about 11:30 or so; Jeff later told me that if he'd been about five minutes later, he would have been replaced! Another concern was the sheer volume of people—Bill told me later that they had 176 players, the most ever. Rumors were flying that the game would be delayed an hour, but ended up only being delayed by a half-hour. During introductions, I got a bit of a laugh when I taunted Saruman by calling out "my palantír's bigger than yo-ours!" Hayes also got big laughs when he was introduced in his "G-Money" pimpin' outfit (I'd loaned him my cane to help complete the look), accompanied by his "honeys." After the usual admonition to freeze when they park rangers say freeze because "they have guns," it was time to pack up stuff, give my car keys to Bill, and head down to Gondor for the start of the game. Bob and Rich disappeared to go stash a vehicle at Mt. Doom, but returned in plenty of time. While waiting, I took pictures of the Riders of Rohan who had arrived at the last minute, as well as all of us in our starting positions. Since everything in the game was pushed back a half-hour, I reset my watch back a half-hour, so I wouldn't have to translate times as the game progressed.

At about 11:58 (Jack's watch time), Hayes appeared from over the hill and made his way down to Rohan. Moments later, Wormtongue departed in the direction of Isengard and G-Money headed down towards us. He gave me the Red Arrow token, so we were free to begin.

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What I knew of The Plan was that sooner or later, the two "commando hobbits" would be passing our way en route to wherever it was they were going (we were deliberately kept in the dark about this, just in case we were interrogated). I knew we'd have some time before they got anywhere near us, so I volunteered to take a few people in the direction of the boat landing in case Imrahil needed any help escaping from the Corsairs. We had barely reached the top of the hill when we met her, and upon seeing us, the Corsairs (who were pretty close behind) headed off in another direction. I kicked myself for not setting a trap for them. As we were heading back to the bridge, Stacey started to have some trouble catching her breath, so I called for Rich to come join us quickly, since he has some EMT training. Leaving Stacey in his capable hands, I returned to the bridge and consulted with Hayes again, offering to take a group up the hill and see about rousting out the witches and vampires. He agreed to this, so a bunch of us started making our way in that direction. At the top of the hill, we came upon the Ents returning to life (it seems the witches and vampires had caught them not holding trees right at the start of the game). The vampires and witches were long gone.

So, we continued on up over the hill to get an idea of what Saruman was up to. Much to our surprise, he and the greater strength of the White Hand horde were still standing on the bridge. This was somewhat baffling to us, since the usual strategy for Saruman is to go looking for hobbits ASAP. What followed was a bit of a Mexican standoff, with two armies facing each other (and taunting, of course), waiting to see what the other was going to do. On two separate occasions, the White Hand attempted to send scouts southeastward in the direction of the lake, but because there had been a controlled burn in the area, it was easy for us to see what they were doing and where they were going. Hayes took some speedy volunteers and chased these scouts down, returning in triumph the second time with a Nazgûl ring! The faceoff continued for a while, and one of the newbie Citadel Guards asked me why we didn't just go attack them. I explained that there were other weapons in this Game besides points—by keeping Saruman's attention focused on us, we were preventing him from sending his forces out to hunt for the hobbits. Which was particularly important in this case, since we were expecting the hobbits to come through this area at any time.

Finally, the White Hand started moving in our direction, bringing their trebuchet with them. We slowly backed towards Rohan. They stopped. We stopped. They moved forward again. We moved back again. Hayes had places to be and other things to do, so he took off to go do them. We were almost back to the Paths of the Dead when the White Hand turned around and returned to Isengard. We were debating whether to pursue (the hobbits were overdue by now), when we were disrupted by the approach of the Menace! Our whole army began scurrying back to Rohan/Gondor. I noticed one of the Riders of Rohan jumping into the woods as I went past. Most of us made it safely back to the security of the bridge, while a few others clutched the Rohan flag for dear life. The other Rider of Rohan asked where the first one was, and I reported that I had seen her jump into the woods, and that she was probably bounced at the Menace's hands by now. Once the Menace determined that all his potential victims were safely ensconced in citadels, he attempted to cross the bridge to (apparently) continue on his merry way. We stopped him, tho, since Evil is not allowed to touch the bridge: it's part of the citadel. Jeff was nearby and confirmed that this was the case, so the Menace made his way down to the stream on the north side of the bridge and hopped over. We very stupidly just assumed that was that and began returning our attention to the matter of the White Hand, who were once again approaching, this time without their trebuchet. The matter was complicated by the fact that the two commando hobbits were spotted approaching from along the lakeshore. Around this time, the first Rider of Rohan came out of the woods and made it to the bridge—it turned out she had escaped the Menace after all. A few of our people had gone out to escort the hobbits to the bridge, when the Menace suddenly jumped back over the stream (on the south side of the bridge this time) and began chasing people all over the place. Once again, our group was forced to scramble for the safety of citadels, but Stacey didn't make it, and was bounced (she had long since recovered from her earlier respiratory distress, by the way). Luckily, the Menace's reappearance had the side benefit of driving the White Hand off once again, and when the Menace was determined to have moved off for real, the commando hobbits made their way safely to the bridge.

There wasn't much time to rest, however, because the White Hand came back again. We sent the hobbits on their way, and determined to hold the bridge to give them time to escape. The few people still on Rohan abandoned it and joined us on the bridge. Rohan was sacked, and the White Hand approached the bridge. Apparently, they were also unclear on the whole "touching the bridge equals attacking the citadel" rule, because the lead orc marched right up and onto the bridge. I don't recall if Saruman called a freeze, but in any case, everyone was in the battle. Out came the calculators and we began toting up the points. Long story short, thanks to the point-tripling qualities of the bridge and the base points of the citadel itself, we crushed the White Hand easily. We took pride in the fact that we would have won even if they'd brought the trebuchet. We demanded tokens and such and sat them down. A few moments later, someone (Rich, I believe) noticed that the White Hand hadn't turned over their battle flags and something of a controversy broke out, when the White Hand claimed it was too late to plunder—we had only asked for tokens, not flags, etc. I noted that we had asked for "everything," and besides, we hadn't moved five paces away from them yet. Jeff's decision was a compromise, he let us reclaim the Rohan flag, but allowed the Corsairs (who were with the White Hand in this attack) to keep their battle flag.

We had little time to celebrate, however, because moments later, a huge Evil army (of the Red Eye variety) came over the hill and moved confidently towards Gondor. We quickly decided that we had delayed long enough, and prepared to head towards our Mt. Doom rendezvous with the rest of the Good army. As we approached the road, we were somewhat dismayed to see one of the commando hobbits sitting down. Apparently they hadn't gotten too far before they were bounced and one of them was taken captive. We didn't have much time to dwell on this, as the Evil army was not slowed in the least by Gondor and was continuing after us. I even heard someone say that "Big Daddy" was with them. To complicate things, the Menace was spotted a ways down the road to the North, coming towards us. Here we made a slight tactical error, slowing down slightly, hoping to lure the Evil army and the Menace into conflict with one another. What we didn't know was that this Evil army was immune to the Menace at that time, having already been bounced by him less than an hour earlier. So we were barely across the road when we had to start sprinting to try to escape both the Menace and the Evil army. I followed Rich off into the brambles south of the path, and attempted to hide for a minute or two, but it was clear that the Evil army had spotted us and was going to come get us. We fled deeper into the brush, but it was futile. I saw Rich get tagged, and having a plan forming in the back of my head, quickly shouted, "I choose to join the combat!" just as I myself was tagged. I wanted to make sure that Rich and I were both in the same combat so that one of us could possibly be taken prisoner.

You see, I thought Sauron was with the Red Eye Army, so I figured, get myself captured, they'll take me to Sauron, I don't know anything, so any question he asks will be futile; meanwhile, I'll keep my ears open, and perhaps be able to return to my army with some critical intelligence. Alas, there was a fatal flaw in my plan—have you spotted it?

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So anyway, I paced over to where Rich had been tagged, managing to get myself hung up on a particularly tenacious bramble in the process. And while I was trying to detach it, Jeremy paced in, stepped on the bramble, and managed to drag it quickly and sharply across my leg (as of this writing, it still hasn't completely healed, oh woe is me). He was suitably apologetic and even helped me finally get it removed. We then went through the motions of totaling up points, but it was clear that their group had much more points than we. So I said, "ok, we lose, what are you going to do?" After some waffling (and possibly an eeny-meeny-miny-moe, I don't recall precisely), they decided to sit Rich and take me prisoner. I convinced them to let me keep the Red Arrow token (since it was used up anyway; although were I Evil, I'd've taken it just for bragging rights). The young Nazgûl was part of this group and took particular responsibility for me—he made it clear I was his prisoner. All, I thought, was going according to plan, until we rejoined the main body of the Red Eye Army and, I learned to my dismay, that Sauron was not with them. I began mentally awarding myself the Cheese Grater on the spot. I should have known that, with Mike Nygren as Sauron, the Evil Army would have no idea where he was.

After some deliberation, the Evil Army headed back through Gondor towards Isengard. To my utter amazement, Saruman and the White Hand Army were still on the bridge! I was baffled then and frankly, I'm still baffled now as to what Saruman was thinking. We paused briefly as we watched the White Hand coping with a sudden invasion of boy scouts, then proceeded on our way, keeping well clear of the bridge as we went by. The young Nazgûl treated me very well, giving me several swallows from his water bottle, and eventually just giving me the whole bottle because he didn't want to carry it any more. It saved my bacon later on, so I'm very grateful. I haven't mentioned it before, but the weather was very sunny and very dry. I can't remember being quite so dehydrated as I was at this game.

Shortly after we arrived at the crossroads, my thirty minutes as a prisoner were up. Angela gave me a sip of some blue beverage (PowerAde, I think) and sent me on my way. I headed east on the Gondor road. Barely thirty seconds later, an Evil army that was coming that way spotted me and wanted to tag me, but I told them, no, I still had at least a minute left on my head start. Bondo tried to walk behind me to tag me when it was up, but I told him, "no, head start means I go this way and you don't follow. That's the definition of what a head start is." So he relented and I was spared having to sprint away from them. After another few minutes of trudging up the road, I came to a small tree and decided to rest in the shade for a few minutes before continuing on my way (since I'd been walking pretty much non-stop since my capture). Just my luck, about two minutes later, a group of four Evil dudes came up out of the wilderness. They asked if I was alive or dead, and I confessed that yes, I was alive. I asked them to please just kill me and not capture me, since I was pretty exhausted and needed some rest. They very nicely obliged (all in all, the Evil dudes were very well behaved at this game!). So I set my watch timer for fifteen minutes and kicked back and relaxed for a while. The Menace came by, and was quite disappointed that I was already dead so he couldn't kill me. I asked him how many kills he had, and he said 82! I looked at my watch and realized that Joe's record of 97 was very much in jeopardy!

By this time, I was very late for the Good team rendezvous. I was tempted to just pack it in, but would not have been able to face the Citadel Guards if I did. So while I was dead, I plotted in my head the best route to get to the Mt. Doom area without getting picked up again by Evil. I decided to continue down the Gondor road until it started curving to the right, then strike out across country, heading towards the bluff between the road and Mt. Doom, then skirting along the south shore of Long Lake around to the horse path that would lead to Site H and thence to Mt. Doom. A secondary goal was to detour briefly to the water fountains by the backpack site parking lot and refill the young Nazgûl's water bottle, which by now was quite empty.

When my fifteen minutes of dead time were up, I put my plan into action. At the curve in the road, I spotted what looked like some boy scouts coming out of the woods a bit further up the road, but I was not 100% sure that they weren't Evil dudes, so I didn't wait around to find out. I lucked onto a game trail, which took me up and over the hill rather easily, but then emptied out into a very brambly area. The next ten minutes or so were spent using my staff to hack my way through some very thick brambles in an attempt to reach the stream, cross it, and get to the slightly more open area nearer the lakeshore. As I was doing so, I asked myself what I had been thinking of coming this way—I couldn't have been worse off if I had followed Bondo on some wild goose chase! Just the night before, Bondo himself had been warning people that following him was not a smart thing to do. I figured that I must have somehow tapped into my "inner Bondo" when I came this way (because isn't there a little bit of Bondo in all of us?). I finally got through the brambles, pole-vaulted over the stream (that's why I always bring a staff, for stream-vaulting), and found myself by the lake. This marked the third time in three games that I'd found myself somewhere I'd never been before. Despite the difficulty I'd had, I was rather pleased that I hadn't gotten lost. After eleven years, perhaps I'm finally learning my way around this park!

I started making my way around the lake, and when I was about halfway along, I spotted some Evil dudes (I found out later it was Roz and her posse) on the road. I didn't immediately hide or anything, because there was, after all, a lake between us, and no real easy way for them to get to me. If they were going to try something funny, chances were I'd be able to out-maneuver them and escape. But in fact, rather than figuring out how to get to me and tag me, they shouted to me that Evil had won and the game was over. Or was it?

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Eschewing my earlier plan to make for the horse path, I changed my route to get me onto the road as quickly as possible (pole-vaulting another stream in the process), so I could make a bee-line to the water fountain. I was extremely tired (my feet were killing me), thirsty, and downright dehydrated by this point. I took a good long drink, refilled my water bottle, and took another long drink, explaining the game to a civilian camper and his son, who were also filling up on water at the time. Remembering that Bob and Rich had stowed a vehicle at the Mt. Doom parking lot, I headed that way, figuring that was where the crowds would be gathering soon anyway. Along the way, I ran into Bob, now helmetless and tabardless, who told me that he had parked his equipment by Rich's car and was going to get some water for the Riders of Rohan, who were still up on Mt. Doom and were very dehydrated. Since I had a full bottle with me, I told him I'd drop off my stuff, too, and bring some water up to them. I had to go around Site H because once again we weren't allowed through it (grrr…). As I was finally getting to the Mt. Doom area, I came across an Evil dude who told me that the Game had been restarted! This struck me as very odd—I'd heard of the game being restarted at 1:00 or even 2:00 before, but it was well after 3:00! And that was not counting the half-hour discrepancy between my watch and "real" time. I considered going back down to the parking lot, retrieving my stuff, and reentering the game, but decided to just forget about it and go find the people who needed water.

A brief sidebar for some hearsay: How exactly the Evil team won the first game may never be known. At the Great Dane the next day, Hayes told me that he had heard at least five different accounts of how Frodo had been captured by Evil and lost the Ring. What is known is that Jeff and Bill, concerned that the very large group of players might be upset for getting only "half a game," decided to restart it, loaded the hobbits and some other Good players into a van, and brought them to Lothlorien so that play could continue. Shannon was on the spot when this happened, but had to leave shortly thereafter because of a musical performance she had that evening.

OK, back to me now. I made my way around the perimeter, crossing paths with a number of groups of Evil, and asking if anyone knew where the distressed Riders were. Nobody knew. About the time I reached the south side, there was a bit of a commotion, as the Good army was approaching to make an assault. Luckily, I still had my camera in my pocket, so I ended up spending the next hour and a half tramping around (and up and down) Mt. Doom taking pictures (and occasionally .MPEGs) of the action. I eventually did locate the people I'd come to help, but it turned out that they had already been given some relief long before I got there. I confess I don't remember all of the specifics of all of the assaults, but here's some of the highlights:

Last but not least, there was a strange race between the White Hand and Red Eye armies. Again, this is hearsay, but as I understand it, what happened was this: Sauron told Saruman that if he (Saruman) helped him (Sauron), he (Sauron) would give him (Saruman) a chance to win the game. So after Evil defeated Good on Mt. Doom, Saruman took the Ring, and all of the Evil people returned to the perimeter. There, Sauron's supporters gathered in one group, and Saruman's in another. At a prearranged signal, both groups went charging up the mountain. I was there, and I still don't know exactly what was going on, or what happened. What I do know is that Saruman lost, and Sauron got the Ring for a second time. I believe this is the first time that Evil has ever won a "restart" game. But don't quote me.

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It was finally time to head back down to the parking lot. I retrieved my stuff from the vicinity of Rich's car (expressing my jealousy of his utilikilt at the same time), got my car keys back from Lynn, schmoozed a bit (of course), and got a ride back to the staging area parking lot with Bob. I had worn a very thick pair of socks (anticipating weather like last Spring), and discovered when I went to change my shoes that I had paid a high price in bruises and blisters on my feet because of the coarseness of the socks. I'll be lucky if they're healed by next game. Oy. As usual, I was one of the last few cars left; one of the others was Stacey's. It turned out she had lost her dagger somewhere in the Gondor/Rohan vicinity, so being the chivalrous sort of chap I am, I went and helped her search for it. Alas, we were unsuccessful. I stopped off at the Ranger Station on my way out to thank Ranger John (who was on duty) again for letting us play our weird games in the park, thus I was the dead last person to arrive at A&W. The giveaway this time was decks of A&W "go fish" playing cards. Cool!

I had a while to wait for food, so I was able to work my way around and talk to lots of different people. Among these were Jeff & Bill, with whom I made a deal to make sure that Site H is reserved in the future, so we don't have to dink around with this "going around" crap. Beth and her carful of folks very nicely waited with me when I finally ate (my food was also delivered dead last, so pretty much everyone was gone by the time it arrived). I finished up my burger, hopped in the car, and made my way to Bob's house for the party (I was also crashing there for the night).

Now, Bob had told me ahead of time that he was working on a "gates of Moria" thingie to put over the front door of his house, but his description paled before the awesome coolness of the final result. There were already a number of people there when I arrived, clamoring to watch the "Best of Ring Game" slide show I had prepared. So before I even had time to hop in the shower, I brought the CD-ROM downstairs and loaded up the pictures and background music onto Bob's computer. I got the show started and headed back upstairs to shower and change. When I got out, I heard sounds of mirth coming from the basement, so I headed down to see how things were going. The basement was PACKED with people (I ended up just standing in the back), who seemed to really be getting a kick out of the jokes (inside and otherwise) I'd made up to go with the pics. It was very gratifying! We had a little technical difficulty getting that day's digital pictures loaded up, but eventually were able to display those on the big screen also. During one of the breaks, we also had a drawing for door prizes (Bob had many LOTR posters around the house to give away), which was a lot of fun.

The party continued on long into the night (I think the last of us were up until about 3:00 AM) before we finally passed out for the night. Surprise, the next morning (late the next morning), a few of us die-hards still managed to clamber awake and struggle in to the Great Dane for the post-Game brunch. I'd managed to get ahold of Joe's new phone number in Washington, so we called him up on the cell phone to give him the news. Todd had the best line of the weekend when he told Joe, "So, now you know how it feels to have a young punk break your record!" We can only hope that Joe will manage to attend the Fall game and attempt to recapture his record.

After brunch was over, I hopped back in my car, applied liberal amounts of sunscreen to prevent getting a "trucker's tan," and drove back to Minnesota. I even got home in time to watch The Simpsons!

The end!

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