The 25 Steps

(or, “My Path to Personal Financial Freedom and Domination over Middle-Earth”)

Instructions: Read the following account of the Fall 2001 Ring Game. Laugh. Cry. Rinse. Repeat. Click on hyperlinks to open illustrations or other pertinent web pages as desired. To skip ahead to a specific section, click on one of the following links: Meeting #1, Meeting #2, Camping, Pregame, The Sack of Rivendell, The Sack of Rohan/Gondor, Close Encounters, Mt. Doom, The 25 Paces, or Glorious Victory. The Prologue doesn't have a link because it starts right here:


As usual, my story starts long before any official game events took place. After last fall's game (in which he successfully Ring-bore for the second time), my nephew Joe began hinting and suggesting that the time may have come for him to essay the role of a wizard. But at last spring's picks meeting, Joe deferred the role of Gandalf to Otto, setting up the most excellent Otto-vs.-Scott game. You may recall, I played the part of Nazgûl #7, the first time I had played Evil since Spring of 1998 (not counting my disastrous turn as Saruman last year, about which the less said, the better). The game was a draw (click here for the full story), but the excitement generated by the Otto/Scott clash got me to thinking that if Joe did decide to play Gandalf, who better as Sauron to ensure that he really got a run for his money than his cranky old uncle? Plus, the Fall 2001 game would represent the tenth anniversary of the first time I had played. Hmmm...

On June 20th, my ‘your birthday today’ horoscope read:

“You are amazingly powerful this year. Don't let it go to your head. You're smart and lucky, hardworking and brave. The only thing that could trip you up would be your own ego. If you think you're doing this all by yourself, or start grabbing things all for yourself, you'll get your comeuppance. There's a built-in mechanism to keep you altruistic, as you'll no doubt discover.”—Linda Black, Tribune Media Services syndicated columnist

That sounded pretty auspicious to me (the promise of power, with a warning to share it with others, and of course, the obvious caution with regards to my highly active ego), so ‘round about the end of August, I got a hold of Joe (much more difficult than it sounds) and pitched him the idea of a “Family Feud” Ring Game, where he would be Gandalf and I would be Sauron. To help us get the roles, and to bring more people in on the fun, we also came up with the idea of asking players 25 and under to sign up for the Good team with Joe, and those over 25 to sign up for Evil with me. Thus, the Game would be an archetypal battle of Youth & Strength versus Old Age & Treachery. Joe bought into the idea, so I started by sending an e-mail to the “” group. There was some fairly positive feedback (although most of the over-25s I'd hoped would be my underlings were planning to be Dark Elves—uh oh!), so I sent another e-mail, this time to my private Ring Game e-mail list. All in all, things were looking pretty good.

Meeting #1

Before we knew it, October was upon us. I sent an e-mail to Jeff asking him for an opportunity to speak to the meeting before people started picking characters. Joe was supposed to be at my house at 8:00; naturally, he didn't show up until nearly 9:30. We hopped in the car and sped off to Madison, stopping only for gas and to grab a sandwich at the Subway in Tomah. I had hoped to get to Madison early enough to stop by the “Men of the Cloth” shop to see some stuff that Bob was working on, but our late start foiled that plan. We were in time to meet up with “the gang” at the Great Dane, however. Once again, I won't try to name everyone who was there, because I'm sure to accidentally leave someone out (darn my feeble brain!). Bob was among those who were there, showing off the nifty bandanas that he'd made for the dark-elf-wannabes (Todd, among others, tried one on). Before long, it was off to the meeting. Jeff was in the midst of the “newbie briefing” when Joe and I arrived. He had not gotten my e-mail (or had forgotten), but very nicely let me make my impassioned plea to the assembled masses to promote The Plan.

The number-picking got started, and Joe's number came up fairly quickly. My number (I'd deliberately taken Joe's “lucky number,” 69) took a bit longer. In the meantime, Stacey picked Radagast and James picked Saruman. I was very pleased to see that, with a few exceptions, people were pretty much following our 25 and under/over 25 scheme. One fly in the ointment was that the number of Dark Elves (which had grown to ten in recent years) had been trimmed back down to six, much to the chagrin of the people who were hoping to play them. Shannon, Scott, and Bob in particular wound up with Evil Men at Arms because the Dark Elves were taken. I admit to being torn—I think six is a much better number for the Dark Elves, but of course, I wanted my friends to be happy, too. More on this later. Finally my number did come up and I was able to get Sauron—thanks again to everyone who refrained from taking Big Daddy! I immediately started trying to get names and e-mail addresses for as many Evil folks as I could, but many people had already left after having got their characters. Mike Nygren loaned me a red eye banner he had handy so I could properly celebrate my new position as the Dark Lord. And of course, Joe and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to mug for the camera a bit. Before we started back to Minnesota, I had a few minutes to chat with Maury Smith (who hadn't picked a character yet, 'cause he picked as proxy for his son, Clay). There was still no Mouth of Sauron selected, so I persuaded Maury (whom I knew to be a very solid, reliable player) to take on that role. More on that later, too!

I'm pretty sure that Joe and I were not even out of town before the online smack-talking began in earnest, led as always by Stacey, the Queen of Smack:

From: Stacey
Date: Sun Oct 7, 2001 9:46 pm
Subject: let the smack begin!


*silly grin*

That's also the sound of nine Nazgûl wearing swords on their backs 
trying to run through the underbrush.

And the sound of Sauron taking out his frustrations and loss on the 
Lord of the Nazgûl. ;)

Stace (don't call me Ragged-Arse!)

If you're reading this and you're not already a member, I highly recommend signing up at Since they archive messages, you’ll be able to go back and re-live every message! Every once in a while, somebody gets mad because of something somebody else said, but all in all, the conversation is dedicated to good-natured ribbing and pre-game posturing.

The drive back to Minnesota was slightly less talkative than usual, since Joe and I were each deep in plotting for our own teams. One thing we did agree on, however, was doing complimentary-yet-opposite costumes. I had some ideas about this, so I told Joe I'd take care of it (which reminds me, he still hasn't paid me the money he owes me!). The following Tuesday after work, I spent a good hour and a half at Hancock Fabrics looking for the absolute perfect material with which to make Sauron and Gandalf tunics. I finally found some white fabric with some glittery stuff on it that pretty closely matched some black fabric with glittery stuff I'd identified earlier. So I bought a coupla yards of each and thought I was well on my way. Fast-forward to the following Saturday. I brought the fabric and my “Singer Tiny Tailor” sewing machine into my office (my apartment's a bit too small for sewing). I cut the fabric into the desired shape, pinned it together, and began (or so I thought) to put the tunics together. Unfortunately, because the fabric was so stretchy, it would not hold a stitch from my “bachelor sewing machine.” It has only two settings, long and short, and neither was working. According to my mom (whom I called for assistance), I needed a machine that could do a “zig-zag stitch,” whatever the heck that is. With nothing else for it, I was forced to go back to the fabric store (this time visiting the JoAnn Fabrics near Ridgedale), and get some less flashy (but more easily sewn) fabrics. These I was able to turn into workable tunics, the original fabric relegated to being used to make sashes.

Meeting #2

While I was busy with costuming during the week between meetings, I was also busy plotting the strategy of the Evil team. Since we first had the idea of doing “Jack vs. Joe,” I had been rolling a number of thoughts related to Evil tactics around in my brain and now I started setting them down on paper. Before heading down to Madison for the second, “team stradegies” meeting, I e-mailed “Sauron’s Thoughts on Evil, Version 1.0” around to those few Evil players I had addresses for. Part of my plan called for several players to be designated “Leftenants of Sauron.” (I'd been listening to the Recorded Books edition of the Lord of the Rings and I found it amusing that the actor doing the reading used the British pronunciation of the word “lieutenant,” hence my use of the funny spelling). The Leftenants would be designated by special buttons (see illustration) and would have absolute authority to command the defense of Mt. Doom in their specified patrol zones. The Leftenants would be selected according to those players whom I knew I could trust and rely on, not necessarily according to which character they were playing. The big question was, who could I get to fill these important roles?

I also created several tactical maps, overlaying them on the topographical map of the park I'd made years ago. Two of them were simply a graphic representation of where everyone on the Good and Evil team starts, one was my “guesstimate” of where I would be able to be found at any time during the game, and one was a close-up of Mt. Doom, showing where I and my Leftentants would be stationed. I brought all of this material with me (including a gigantic A2-sized printout of the basic topo map) with me as Joe and I drove down to Madison again.

I can't say as I expected a huge Evil turnout, but the dearth of players was rather disheartening. All told, there were three: one newbie was there, whom Joe and I both vigorously tried to recruit (she wound up playing Ufthak), good old reliable Maury, and Mike Bourne, whom I pleaded with to take on the role of Captain of the Corsairs (which would also let the newbies he was bringing play Corsairs, satisfying their urge to be "runners"). Naturally, I wasted no time appointing him one of my Leftenants and letting him know that I would be relying heavily on him to set up the Mt. Doom perimeter defense. Bob also put in a brief appearance, stopping by to show me the standard he had made for me: the Red Eye (of course), with a slogan in Elvish script that I had selected—a quote from that great Master of Evil, Michael Corleone (from The Godfather Part II):

“I don't want to wipe out everyone… just my enemies.”

In the end, the second meeting pretty much wound up being me and Maury sitting down and discussing tactics for the pursuit and hopefully the capture of Radagast and the Windlord token. I also signed up my friend Jeremiah to be Snaga (I wanted him to have a character who started on the top of Barad-Dûr)—he had agreed to be my “standard bearer” and basically just walk around behind me all day with the banner Bob made. Joe had a much bigger turnout for his team, with about twenty people there. We actually got a later start back to Minnesota than we had the earlier week.


During the last four days between the second meeting and departure day, I was busy as a beaver with final preparations. I made up the Leftenant buttons (as well as “Family Feud” buttons for Joe and myself—his had a photo of Richard Dawson, the “good” host of Family Feud, while mine showed Louie Anderson, the “Evil” host of Family Feud), as well as buttons for Stacey and James with the yin/yang emblem that Joe and I were using as the symbol of the Istari. I also finalized my plan to divide the Evil team up into twelve squads, each with its own code name and set of instructions. Each instruction page also had a copy of the map showing where to find me. There was a bit of a last-minute panic over getting Jeremiah to the game (Stacey had agreed to give him a ride, but had been unable to contact him), but that got straightened out late Thursday night. Just before heading to bed, I logged on to the computer to add one last bit of smack talk to the mix:

From: Jack
Date: Thu Oct 18, 2001 11:54 pm
Subject: SMACK

S is for Sauron, the great and powerful dark lord...
M is for Mordor, the new capital of all Middle-Earth...
A is for Agony, which all Good players will experience...
C is for Cracks of Doom, where the Ruling Ring was forged...
K is for Kicked, as in Joe's Ass will soon be.

Put it all together, and you've been SMACKed!

Hee hee, I crack myself up.

--Sauron the Great and Powerful Comedian

Joe actually arrived on time Friday morning, and we quickly loaded up the van (he'd borrowed it from his step-mom). The rear-view mirror had fallen off, so we did our best to duct-tape it in place. We stopped at the local Scottish Restaurant (McDonald's) for breakfast, and happened to run into a co-worker of mine, who took a picture of us. I had arranged with Stacey to give her friend Tim (a student who attends Bethel College in Minneapolis) a ride, so we followed his very good directions to where we were to pick him up. And then we were off to Wisconsin! We stopped briefly for gas in Mauston, and grabbed some groceries at a little market in Plain. Tim had never seen the House on the Rock before, so we stopped off at the scenic overlook so we could point it out to him. And not long after that, we arrived at good old Gov. Dodge State Park.

We were, of course, ridiculously early (it's a bad habit of mine). But that gave us plenty of time to check in with the Rangers and make our way to the group camp site. The only one that had still been available when I went online to make the reservations was Site G, possibly the worst of the group sites (not because it's bad or anything, it's just about fifty yards up the path from the parking lot, which makes it a bit of a chore to schlep firewood and tents and gear and such). Joe was planning to sleep in the car, while I was planning to share a tent with Jeremiah, so we had no tent of our own to set up. I had, however, borrowed a canopy tent from Clan Cameron to give us some shelter in case of rain, so we got that put up, and strategically placed a picnic table beneath it. I dubbed it "mini-Barad-Dûr," of course. Sauron's privilege.

Since Tim was a newbie, and we were right there anyhow, we decided to go on a brief reconnoiter. We did the usual "climb up Barad-Dûr" schtick (Joe stashed a PowerAde there), and then trudged over to Mt. Doom. It was very good to have Tim along, because he was nice enough to take some goofy pictures for us, including one of Joe and I on the Crack of Doom, each claiming the Ring. Of course, we each took a few minutes to look around at the terrain. It was then that I discovered that another falling tree had washed out the old path up the Saddle, near where the old tree had formerly blocked the path. I made a mental note of where I thought the perimeter would be, and while I didn't note it at the time, Joe was making similar mental notes of his own, including "how far will my fat old slow uncle be able to get before the freeze is called…?" We made our way back down to the parking lot, where we found Bob, who had stopped by to drop off the red eye banner. He also had his Haradrim banner with him, so we strapped 'em both to mini-Barad-Dûr to make it look more impressive. As we were walking back to the parking lot, Adam snuck up on us (I never did learn just where he'd come from), and after a bit of small talk, he and Joe went off to do their own private recce.

We still had a bit of time left before we really expected anyone else to show up, so we headed into DodgEville and got a bite to eat at the Hardees. Our orders took so long, we got free cookies! We also stopped at the grocery store so Joe could see if they had any Peeps, but he came out with a six-pack of beer instead! Back at the park, people started arriving. I won't try to list everyone who was there, 'cause I'm sure my feeble brain would overlook someone. Some people were actually staying overnight in the park, while others were staying in nearby hotels. Jeremiah (and his tent, luckily) arrived with Stacey as planned. Props to Chuck & Kaydi, who drove me over to the "buy firewood" place, where we got two milk crates full of wood. And special thanks to whoever it was that inflated my mattress while we were on that mission.

Pyromania was the theme of the evening, thanks in no small part to newbie Emily, who entertained everyone with her Spinning Flames of Death. It was certainly the dangedest thing I have seen in ten years at Ring Game. There was a brief panic during her first performance when one of the flames came loose, but fire marshal Shan was on the case and they quickly extinguished it before it could burn the entire park down (something I'm sure the Park Rangers would have frowned upon). Someone suggested that it would be very cool to see the spinning flames on the top of Mt. Doom or Barad-Dûr…

As I mentioned earlier, we had tons of wood, so we got the fire burning very well. Some folks (like Andrea and Trisha) came by a little bit later, and Maury and his gang (who were staying in Site E) dropped by for a few minutes too. There were lots of laughs, more spinning, some light-saber training, many war stories (of course)—somebody noted that among the people there, we had at least one wizard from each of at least the past eight to ten games—some (ahem) libations, a little more smack-talking, some beer-bottle-melting, and generally just good fellowship and fun times amongst friends. While it may take less time to tell than some other parts of this story, it remains one of the high points of the weekend.


It was a bit chilly in the tent overnight, but certainly bearable. Before we knew it, it was morning time and we were packing up the tents and loading up the cars. Jeremiah, Joe, and I loaded up the van and headed over to the staging area to get the web site photo table set up. There was one fellow there already, who was playing Evil but didn't have a character yet. He was one of the first whom I convinced to be a Goblin (rather than a mere red eye orc—goblins have two more base points, you see). Once the photo table was all ready, the three of us got costumed up pretty quickly. Joe and I both wanted to get through the line early so we could "work the crowd" as much as possible before introductions. I thought our equal-yet-opposite costumes were pretty dang cool (I mean, we had opposing Family Feud buttons! My yin/yang had black ascendant, Joe's had white ascendant, my sash was tied on the left, "sinister," side, Joe's was on the right, "dexter" side, etc. etc.). But Andrea and Jeff decided that since Joe wasn't wearing a beard, he didn't look Gandalfish enough, and for some reason I didn't look "scary" enough (I had a tall, pointy hat! what could be more scary?), so we got only 9 costume points each. Jeremiah was wearing my Nazgûl tunic and mask from last fall, along with a bumpy hat I'd bought at the same place I got my wizard hat. And of course, he was carrying Bob's banner, so he looked pretty bitchin' cool.

The next few hours are a bit of a blur. I remember that I walked all around the staging area talking to Evil people (getting a group hug from the Dark Elves), giving team leaders their written orders, and generally doing what I could to get prepared. There was a remarkable lack of walk-on Evil players. The few people who showed up to be red eye orcs I switched over to goblins to get a few extra points—I even managed to convince a couple of White Hand walk-ons to be red eye since there was already a rather large White Hand contingent. Now, I don't get angry very often—ask anybody, I'm generally a pretty laid back guy. But I was hopping mad when I found out that the guy who'd signed up to be the Evil Paladin (and who had been included in all my strategic e-mails!) decided that morning to be a Rider of Rohan instead. I even went so far as to formally complain to Jeff, who told me that all he could do was close out Good team walk-ons, since things were quite obviously imbalanced towards Good (the number of Evil players was barely more than the number of Good players, which is pretty rare). OK, it's kind of petty, but when I found an Evil walk-on player who was looking for a character and who clearly had way more armor and weapons than the Good Paladin, I tapped him to be the new Evil Paladin.

It was getting on towards 11:00 or so and introductions were about to start, so I gathered up my army (some of whom got a little too close!) to give them one last pep talk. I managed to get through the "take prisoners, take tokens, save energy for Mt. Doom" part all right, and it's just as well that Bill interrupted me with his whistle as I was getting to the big emotional finish.

Introductions were interrupted by a group of horse riders, who appeared from the general directions of Gondor/Rohan just as we were getting through the Evil team. Just my luck, Bill ordered everyone to hush just as I was being introduced! D'oh! Just to give you some idea of how much of an underdog the Evil team was at this game, Jeff gave me fourteen replacement Nazgûl rings. I drove the van over to the Barad-Dûr parking lot, taking along Jeremiah and Shelob. As I passed by the base of Barad-Dûr, I chastized the Dark Elves not to kill the other players starting there ("Be merciful," I said), knowing full well that they were going to kill them immediately. Which of course they did. Jer and I climbed to the top of Barad-Dûr, where we met up with Ufthak and Shagrat (the only other characters who start at the top of Mt. Doom). Introductions had gone a bit long, so the game was scheduled to start at 12:15, rather than the usual 12:00.

The Sack of Rivendell

When I got to the top of Mt. Doom, I looked for the PowerAde that Joe had stashed the day before (just to take a little swig), but the rat had changed its hiding place when he and Adam did their recce. Dang! Anyhoo, as soon as the game started, the four of us headed back down Barad-Dûr. I believe this was actually the first time I'd ever gone down the steep side of Barad-Dûr (I've gone up it many times). As expected, the red eye squad at the bottom had been killed by the Dark Elves, who also took their instruction sheet (which is just wrong—they are clearly not tokens—but really no big deal). We headed down to the Long Lake Bridge, where we found the Good Paladin's smoking corpse (heh heh, serves 'em right for stealing my Evil Paladin!). We reached the crossroads and I sent a couple of people down the road towards Lothlórien to see if there was any sign of Strike Force Mortis. I also kept a sharp eye on the southern road, in case Radagast might try to sneak past in that direction (which is what I'd done when I was Radagast). Soon after, a pair of goblins came running towards me—they reported that they had tricked Galadriel into leaving the safety of Lothlórien and taken her tokens (the Bow and the Stone). I asked them if they'd had Nazgûls with them when they'd done this and they said no, so (being the "play by the rules" sort of guy I am), I told them to take the Stone token back to her. The frustrating thing, of course, is that if they had taken her prisoner and brought her to me, then I could have taken the token. D'oh. It was clear that Strike Force Mortis had failed to capture Radagast or the tokens, so there was little to be gained in staying around the crossroads, especially since we were about fifteen minutes behind schedule because of the late game start. So, I sent the bulk of the Evil army that was with me (which now included the "Angmardrim" squad of Nazgûls) ahead to Rivendell while I waited for the last few scouts to report in.

As I walked down the road towards Rivendell with impunity, I took a moment to bask in the power of being Sauron—what other character would just saunter down the road without fear of being bounced? The only real concern I had was the fact that the fourteen Nazgûl rings I was carrying were making more racket than my chain mail shirt did last spring! So I had to hold them against my chest while I listened for any sign of Good players in the hills to the right. When I got to the Rivendell vicinity, I discovered that the team I had sent on ahead was behind the barn, tagged out by the Menace! Grrr! The only ones left alive were me, Jer, and Shelob! Shelob proved to be a real trooper, especially for a newbie! I stationed her at the curve in the horse path to keep watch, and she did so without questioning or complaining about it at all (something I might have expected from more than one veteran player of my acquaintence!). Luckily, Good seemed to have decided to forsake Rivendell, so it was just a matter of waiting until my army came back to life to take the flag. While I was waiting, I had a nice chat with a lady on horseback across the road in the horse loading area—doing my little bit to promote good P.R. for Ring Game! I also noticed some activity down at the Rivendell/Isengard crossroads—I couldn't tell what was going on, but I did see Saruman.

To make a long story short (too late!), the Evil army came back to life and took the Rivendell flag with no fuss or muss. We then headed down in the direction of the path to Isengard.

The Sack of Rohan/Gondor

We arrived at the crossroads just in time to see Saruman and the White Hand fleeing in the general direction of Isengard. I sent scouts down the various directions of the roads to see what was what. While I was waiting for their reports, Bill stopped by with a group of red eye orcs who had arrived late. I was a little peeved (if they had been on time, I could have assigned them to Strike Force Mortis and perhaps captured Radagast), so I assigned them the task of going down to the Shire to take the flag at 2:00. Around about this time, the Evil Men at Arms appeared, having just come back to life after being bounced by the Menace. This was the first rumblings I heard of what would later become a major Menace controversy. Apparently the Haradrim had been ambushed by the Menace because they mistook him for a White Hand Orc. Much has been written about this elsewhere, so I won't rehash the whole argument. In any case, I was very glad to have Shan, Scott, Bob, et. al., with me—what better advisors than two former Saurons?

I sent the Knights of the Living Dead and Strike Force Mortis down the road to Rohan/Gondor (with strict orders not to approach before 2:00 pm), and sent the rest of the Evil army down the path towards Isengard. I was about to follow when Barrow-wight Mike and the troll appeared and reported Good activity on the horse path. I was a bit concerned that the newbies I had sent to sack the Shire might do so early (or run into trouble with the Good team), so I asked Mike to follow them and make sure that everything was taken care of down there, and off he went.

I started down the path towards Isengard. When I was about halfway there, I came across a group of Good players just off the left side of the path: some of them were standing, some were sitting, others were milling about. I asked them if they were dead, and after some hemming and hawing, a couple of the standing ones revealed that they were, in fact, still alive. So I went pelting after them, managed to tag one of 'em, and called a freeze to get the rest. I confess to having a sense of chagrin that I, Sauron, was having to chase down Good players myself—aren't I supposed to have followers who do this for me? 8-) I was somewhat concerned that the pair who were a bit further away would escape, but I reached them in only fourteen paces, giving me a new sense of appreciation of just how much distance a pace can cover (something that would come in handy a bit later). They were all relatively young players (the only one I knew by name was Clay Yapp (Faramir)) and I was pretty sure that none of them were "in" on Joe's plan. I sat two of 'em down and questioned the other two, asking "when is the Good team assembling for their attack on Mt. Doom?" and "where is the Good team assembling for their attack on Mt. Doom?" the answers to which were "2:30" and "Lothlórien."

I continued on my merry way, pausing to snap a photo of a pair of dead ents (I was momentarily peeved that they had not been captured, but was told shortly afterwards that they had been Menaced). I also realized at this point that I was far too busy as Sauron to be taking pictures, so I handed my camera off to Jeremiah and entrusted him to take photos the rest of the game. There were some White Hand Orcs on the bridge at Isengard, but I had little interest in them, so I started towards Gondor, completely oblivious of the fact that Saruman was sitting just to the side of the path (having recently sacrificed). I halted when I saw that a large contingent of Evil dudes was coming towards me with prisoners! These included Eomer, an Ent, and Butterbur. Neither Eomer nor the Ent gave me any new information (answering, "I don't know" to the question "what is Joe's plan for assaulting Mt. Doom?"), so I foolishly used my Butterbur question to confirm that Lothlórien 2:30 was the meeting place and time for the Good army. I kicked myself later for forgetting that Joe and Adam had gone off on a private recon the day before (I should've asked, "what were you and Joe doing yesterday?") and therefore he was one of the few people who did know what the plan was. D'oh! And I also kicked myself for neglecting to send the Ent to the Shire! Well, he was a newbie, so it would have been very cruel—but dang it, I'm Sauron, I'm supposed to be cruel!

As we continued towards Rohan/Gondor, I received several reports that Joe and Stacey had both been spotted in the Entwood. This was good information to know, but I think some of my soldiers were disappointed that I didn't go chasing off into the woods to get him. "Stick to the plan, I'm sure Joe would like nothing better than for me to exhaust myself and my team futilely running after him in the Entwood." The Menace also put in an appearance at this point, and I confronted him about the cheating reports I had heard, but he proclaimed his innocence. I was tempted to tag and bounce him, but I couldn't afford the time out that would be required for the sacrifice, so I let him go. As per the plan, we arrived at Rohan/Gondor at 2:00 PM, by which time any Good defenders had left, so we easily took both the flags.

Close Encounters (of the Absurd Kind)

With Gondor and Rohan well in hand, the reunited Evil team took to the road and started heading towards the crossroads for the planned 3:00 PM meet-up. Since I was not weighed down with an abundance of armor and weapons, I found myself rather far out in front of the rest of the army. As I was coming around the bend in the road, I heard sounds of furtive movements in the field to the right. Luckily, there was a tree that was hiding me from view, and I was holding on to the extra Nazgûl rings to keep my noise to a minimum. Moving forward, I saw five Good players moving through the field, who then ducked down out of view. Moments later, the Dark Elves emerged from the Entwood and started moving in a sweep pattern down the hill. I waved at them and tried to signal that there were five Good players hiding nearby, but they seemed to think I was merely waving "hello." D'oh! They broke into a run (having spotted one of the Good players finally), so I shouted, "I order you to take prisoners!" By this time, my army was catching up to me, so I signaled them to hold back while I dealt with the Dark Elves. They brought me only one prisoner, alas, and it was Faramir again, and frankly I don't even remember what pointless question I asked him. The Dark Elves also reported that Gandalf and Radagast were still in the Entwood, and that they had nearly chased them down. I was glad to know that Joe was behind schedule in getting to his rendezvous at Lothlórien, and hoped that he wasn't planning some diversion (like having the entire Good army meeting at Lothlórien while he and a hand-picked few made a run on Mt. Doom). I chatted briefly with Andrea, Otto, and Todd, emphasizing again my desire for them to become the Chosen and how much I was relying on their help at Mt. Doom. As a show of good faith, I had my army give them the Rivendell flag.

Letting the Dark Elves go about their business, I led my forces across country (to cut off the big loop in the road) and to the crossroads, getting there well before the 3:00 deadline. I was a bit nervous that the only Evil there seemed to be the group I'd brought with me, but moments later, Mike B. and the corsairs appeared, and I was dang happy to see him, let me tell you! I hand-picked a few people to stay with me, and sent the rest off with Mike to start setting up the Mt. Doom perimeter. The rest of my group I sent down to scout out Lothlórien. I walked a little ways towards Rivendell, straining to see if any other Evil team members were headed this way, when I noticed a most definitely Good player walking across the field to my left, apparently planning to cut across the road and head to Lothlórien. I was a bit peeved at the thought of Good waltzing across the road with impunity and did a little visualization in my head to see if I could cut him off. I decided it was close enough to give it a try and pelted into the weeds after him (upon closer examination, I determined that it was Dean I was chasing). Alas, I'd miscalculated my angle of attack just slightly enough that he managed to get ahead of me by just enough steps that it was useless for me to keep chasing him. But at least I hadn't made it easy for him!

I walked back to the crossroads and sat down by the road sign to rest a bit—I hadn't sprinted after someone like that in years! Scott and Shan came over to report on Lothlórien, confirming that Joe and much of the Good army was there—quite a relief to me, since it was just past 3:00 and I had been seriously concerned that Joe would do a 3:30 on-the-nose assault of Mt. Doom. Now I knew that whatever happened, I'd be able to get to Mt. Doom ahead of him. As we were talking, Scott noted that Saruman and the White Hand Orcs were approaching from down the Rivendell road. And they apparently had not noticed me sitting there. So I waited until they were clearly within twenty-five paces (James and I had agreed earlier that 25 paces constituted "the presence" in which Saruman must obey Sauron) before standing up and greeting them. "Saruman! Buddy! Hows it going?" I said, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you for that Fireball token." James was rather peeved, but took it in good humor and turned over the token. [Sidebar: Before anyone protests, I know now that this was wrong; that Sauron can't take that token. When it was pointed out to me later, I immediately gave it back to him. In any case, he had no opportunity to use it between this time and when I returned it.]

At this point, it was nearly 3:15, so I felt the need to get going to Mt. Doom. I told Saruman that he'd be coming with me, and spoke briefly with the White Hands Orcs, telling them that I knew I couldn't order them to do so, but that it would be a big favor for our common cause of Evil if they could wait here for the Dark Elves and help them take the Lothlórien flag. I also assigned Strike Force Mortis to Lothlórien-sacking duty (they were all wearing heavy armor, which made them the perfect choice to attack Lothlórien, as they had lots of points but limited mobility for Mt. Doom). Taking Saruman, Snaga, the Haradrim, and a couple of others, I headed in the direction of Mt. Doom to face my destiny!

Mount Doom

As we made our way to Mt. Doom, we came across some of my loyal Nazgûls, who had apparently been bounced by either the Menace or the Dark Elves, I forget which. Probably the Dark Elves, as we met them at the water fountain. We paused briefly to take a drink, and I once again stressed to Andrea and Todd how much I was counting on their help. I told them about the White Hand and Mortis teams at Lothlórien being ordered to help them get the flag. It was now almost 3:30, so we hurried the rest of the way to Mt. Doom, arriving at the north end of the perimeter right at 3:30. Barrow-wight Mike quickly shouted up to the Mouth to pass the word that Sauron was here!

 I was amazed by how far up the hill the perimeter was! I found out later that the diameter of the Mt. Doom perimeter was one of the things that the judges use to balance Good vs. Evil. And since we had such a small Evil army compared to normal, they'd moved it up a bit closer than it has been the past few games. During my recce the previous day, I'd decided that I would make my way counter-clockwise around the perimeter to get to the Saddle, but upon seeing the situation (and since I was running a bit behind), I decided to go around clockwise, stopping to chat with each group of sentries as I made my way there, beefing up morale and such. And of course, I periodically checked up on Saruman to make sure he wasn't planning to sneak off or something.

Thus began the long wait at Mt. Doom, about which there's not much to say, so let me take this time to send a "shout-out" to some of my homies (in no particular order):

One small thing that I'll mention about the wait: the former Menace showed up, and claimed to be a judge (not an orc) when I attempted to bounce him. He claimed innocence of wrongdoing, but since he'd managed to piss off a large amount of my army, I told him in no uncertain terms that I wanted him to leave. He did linger in the area for the rest of the game, however.

The 25 Paces

While we were waiting on the Saddle, Maury kept us well-informed about the movements of the Good army. Thus, it was no surprise when one of our scouts came running over the edge of the hill shouting that Good was coming. But it was nevertheless impressive to see the Good army come over the crest of the hill like a tidal wave. Much shouting and confusion ensued, but they did come slowly enough that my forces were able to gather themselves pretty tightly. My original plan had been to wait until Good crossed the perimeter before making (or allowing) a tag. But Jeff had been by a few minutes earlier and confirmed that Joe could not use the Windlord token to take a hobbit across the perimeter and up the hill. He could only use it to go away from the battle, and if he subsequently crossed the perimeter, then his head start was forfeit. That was good enough for me, so I let them get close and then shouted to make the tag! Not surprisingly, Joe called a freeze. This was the critical moment—Joe's army was so huge that if he used the Miracle on me, I was pretty sure his army would defeat mine (much of the Evil team was still spread out around the perimeter). But as I expected, he used the Windlord token, grabbed a hobbit, and took off clockwise around the perimeter.

I didn't have much time to act, so I turned to the Good army and told them they were all dead, except for Radagast. "Let me introduce you to my good friend Saruman," I told her. I did this because I suspected that she and Joe had some sneaky plan to try to call a freeze on me or something. I also told my Evil guys to collect tokens, quickly! Bondo was a bit peeved because he got Eowyn/Merry-ed, but I consoled him with the fact that's it's part of the risk when you take the Lord of the Nazgûl as your character. Right about then, a shout went up that "Good is on the Mountain!" and all hell broke loose. Evil guys started running towards the summit willy-nilly. I grabbed the character closest to me (a White Hand Orc) and told him to keep an eye on the dead Good players in case somebody was lingering nearby with the Stone of Galadriel token. Without waiting for a response, I turned and bolted up the hill as fast as I could go, shouting for people to "Make way for Sauron! Make way for Sauron!" People jumped out of my way left and right.

I was well past the dead tree when I noticed that several people had stopped, so I shouted, "Don't stop because you're making way for Sauron!" Then somebody shouted, "there's a freeze!" So I stopped and shouted, "OK, then I'm calling a freeze, too! Make sure they know up there that I'm calling a freeze, too! Now, where was I when the freeze was called?" Several people nearby directed me back down the hill about fifteen or twenty feet. It was tough to tell what exactly was going on, but it seemed that Joe and the Ring-bearer (Frodo, what a cliché!) were waaaayy up the hill and had been tagged. Bill was about halfway between me and the tag, so I relayed through him my desire to be in the combat. Jeff paced his way down to me, but was about ten feet short when he got to twenty-five. That meant if I wanted to be in, I had to pace in myself, uphill. I could tell from the look in his eyes that Jeff didn't think I had a chance in hell of making it.

I knew that this was It, this would decide the game, so of course I milked it for all it was worth. I did some deep knee bends to stretch out my knees, I took a couple of precautionary puffs from my inhaler, and so on. I was going to have somebody hold onto my hat and staff and such, but the Good players protested, saying I couldn't rid myself of costume components. So I took the hat and staff back, but gave Bill the extra Nazgûl rings I was carrying, as they were not costume components. I took a few moments to make sure my staff was exactly balanced and wouldn't hinder me. The people between me and the tag stepped aside to clear a path. I shouted up to ask them to please indicate where exactly the tag was, and Joe obligingly put his hat on top of his staff to show the place. My heart sunk a bit, because from where I was standing, the staff looked more like a toothpick! But there was nothing else for it, so after a couple more stretches, I started up.

Cameras were clicking on both sides of me, it was like Carl Lewis at the Olympics! Naturally, everyone was counting along with me. By Pace 13, I was easily halfway there, and knew I could make it, as long as I didn't slip up on the boulders that were right in front of Joe. I did slip just a little bit on Pace 22, but made up for it on Paces 23 and 24. And on Pace 25, I stretched as far as I could—my toe bumped against the base of Joe's staff as I grabbed it with my free hand and shouted "TWENTY-FIVE!" A huge cheer went up from the Evil team! I sat down by Joe, who to his credit, was a very good sport about it. Jeff and Bill went through the motions of "are you using the Miracle? how many points does Frodo have? how many points of Evil are within 25 paces?" and so forth, but it was 5:00 and the Game was really over and everybody knew it. There's been some loose talk since then about what the final result would have been if the Game had continued, but as far as I'm concerned, even if Joe used the Miracle, I would only be dead for ten minutes and the hobbit would be a prisoner for thirty, so I'd be alive again in plenty of time to get the Ring. And there was more than enough Red Eye players there to take out Saruman and the White Hand. And we'd captured all the Good citadels. So Frodo (who was also a good sport about it) handed over the Ring! People from both teams soon joined us at the top of the hill, congratulating both of us on a great game. I hoped to get a four-wizard photo, but James had already split, so we only got three.

Glorious Victory

 It was all over but for the shouting. As usual, many folks trudged up to the top of Mt. Doom to bask in the sweet taste of victory (or to resign themselves to the cruel twists of fate, as the case may be). Before everybody started back downhill, Jeremiah took a couple of "big group" photos, risking life and limb to do so! On my way down Mt. Doom, I was so engaged in talking to people that I wound up taking the most bramble-filled, difficult route downhill. D'oh—some all-powerful Lord of Evil I am! The folks in the Mt. Doom campground were very nice about letting us pass through on the way back to the parking lot, and even wanted to see the Ring that all the fuss was about. Of course, both Joe and I spent a considerable amount of time chatting with folks from both teams as we were ostensibly making our way back to the car. Thus, we were among the last people to leave the park and head to Culver's (A&W was closed for the season already). When we walked into the restaurant, we were greeted with a spontaneous round of applause from the players present, which was very flattering and gratifying. Of course, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to say a few words: "It's nice to see that the future of Ring Game is in good hands with these young folks, but it's also good to know that us old guys can still kick some ass!" Which got a few laughs. Joe and I took turns standing in line for food while the other walked around the room chatting with folks. One thing that I learned at this time was that the Good army had in fact been revived by the Stone of Galadriel token—Butterbur and one other player had faked out the White Hand guys who were guarding the dead army.

There was no official Ring Game party planned, so several different spontaneous possibilities were suggested. Joe and Jeremiah and Tim and I decided to go to Scot and Shan's place, as most of the people we know were going there (and I'd been there before, so the chances of us getting lost were minimal). It was a very relaxed gathering, with lots of war stories, naturally. Scott hooked up the camcorder and we watched part of the video he took. Around about this time, it was getting to be nearly 1:00, and I was concerned about getting Jeremiah some sleep before we had to get him to his bus stop at 4:30 am! In fact, as we were driving back to the Motel 6, he decided to just blow off sleeping and take the 2:00 am bus instead. The only trouble was, he'd left his coat in the room, so I gave him mine to use until I saw him again at the Halloween party in Chicago the following week. Tim and I dropped him at the "park & ride" (that was weird so late at night!) and headed back to the motel. Joe got a ride back from Chuck & Katie.

You'd think that after spending all day chasing each other around the park that we'd be sick of each other, but no, the next day at the Great Dane there was a good turnout for the post-Game brunch! Shan brought her laptop along, so we were able to look at the digital pictures she'd taken, including several that seemed to present pretty damning evidence of the Menace's alleged cheating. Even with that slight drawback, everyone there agreed that it had been a most excellent game, and that both teams had performed extremely well. In fact, we were unable to agree on who should get the cheese grater award, as there had been no really memorable boneheaded moves all game! Galadriel's loss of the Bow token was the only real candidate, and we agreed that it was hardly cheese-grater-worthy. All too soon, everybody was giving goodbye hugs, and it was time to hop in the car for the long drive back to Minnesota. There was a really neat bookmobile truck with a Harry Potter design on it at the gas station we stopped at. We dropped off Tim at his dorm, then Joe dropped me off at my house. And that's it, that's the whole story. Until next Spring, of course…

©2001 Jack A. Barker. All Rights Reserved (but really, who would plagiarize this nonsense?).

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