Warrior & Dragon

What IS Ring Game?

Good vs. EvilWhat exactly is Ring Game? It is a live-action role-playing game played twice a year in beautiful Governor Dodge State Park in southern Wisconsin. At a meeting about two weeks before the game, players use a lottery system to select characters. Everybody takes a number, numbers are drawn out of a hat, and when your number is drawn, you pick a character from those that are left on the blackboard. Some players just show up the day of the game to play generic characters like orcs or men-at-arms.

Each player receives a certain number of points, based on three things:

Once everybody has signed in and gotten their points totaled up on a sheet by the judges, all the players are grouped together by teams and introductions are made. This is done for a number of reasons:

Tokens are little plastic cards on strings that people wear around their neck. They represent special events and/or powers from the book. For example, Bilbo starts with the Sting token (which can automatically kill Shelob) and the Mithril Shirt token (which adds points to any hobbit who carries it). If you are defeated in battle, the opposing team can plunder your tokens, except when they can't. There are exceptions to pretty much every rule in this game!

After introductions are made, everybody goes to their starting places, which are listed in the rule book. The game starts at 12:00 noon. Players cannot leave their starting place until then, except for Gandalf, who starts five minutes early. I told you there were exceptions to all the rules.

The object of the game is fairly simple:

It is possible to have a tie. If the Good team doesn't destroy the Ring, and the Evil team does not capture all the Good citadels (see below), the game is declared a draw. This has happened only three times in Ring Game history: 1) At the Fall 1999 game, Good lost the final battle on Mount Doom, but Saruman chose to interrogate the wrong hobbit. The Evil team had neglected to capture Lothlórien, so the game was declared a draw. 2) At the Spring 2001 game, Sauron declared that he was going for a "Ring or nothing" victory, and so did not bother to take the Lothlórien flag. Once again, Good lost the battle on Mt. Doom, but Evil picked the wrong hobbit, leading to the second tie in four games. 3) At the Spring 2019 game, the hobbit with the Ring never showed up to Mt. Doom, and Evil hadn't bothered to capture several of the citadels.

Scattered about the park are flags that represent "citadels." For example, at the top of a hill about a half-mile from Mount Doom is the "Barad-dur" flag, representing Sauron's stronghold. Citadel flags usually have some point value of their own, and give bonuses to players trying to defend them (e.g., white hand players double their point values at Isengard). Citadels really only matter if Good doesn't destroy the Ring and Evil doesn't capture it. If all the Good citadels have been captured, and the Ring isn't captured, Evil still wins by default. Each citadel has a designated time before which it cannot be attacked. Gondor, for instance, cannot be attacked until 1:30 pm. This has the effect of causing players to congregate in these spots for big battles at relatively predictable times, depending on team strategies.

Here's how "combat" in the game works in practice:

This is a very simplified version of combat. I'm not even going to get into the wizard rules and all the exceptions of the various tokens. In Ring Game slang, defeating someone in combat is called "bouncing" them. For example, "we were trying to decide which way to go when the Menace came out of the woods and bounced all of us!" Or, "Radagast said she's going to bounce the Lord of the Nazgûl for being such a jerk."

Around 3:30 pm or so, virtually everyone shows up at Mount Doom. A circle of red streamers at the bottom of the hill presents a "perimeter" that Evil is not allowed to cross until Good does. Therefore, Evil usually surrounds the mountain to see what ploy Good is going to use to get to the top. Good is not allowed to cross the perimeter until 3:30 pm—this is stilled called the "gentlemen's agreement," but it's really an ironclad rule. When Good is spotted crossing the perimeter, the Evil team begins yelling "Good is on the Mountain!" and everyone charges uphill. A tag is made, battles and confusion ensue. Combat is resolved in the usual manner, although it takes longer than usual because of the sheer number of players involved. The winner of the "Mount Doom Battle" usually determines the game winner, but odd results have been known to occur. Such as the time Saruman sauntered up Mount Doom unhindered by either team and casually touched the Ring to the Crack. Or the time the Good Army walked up Mt. Doom unhindered while Sauron and Saruman were battling each other in Camp Site H.

After the game is over, everyone goes to the A&W in Dodgeville (occasionally, A&W is closed for the season and we go to Culver's instead). The owners of the A&W usually plan their "closing for the winter" date around when the game is scheduled, as long as it isn't too late in the year. After A&W, everybody drives back to Madison, takes a shower, grabs a bite to eat, and then goes to the official Ring Game party. There, the game is dissected in detail (e.g., "where were you at Gondor?" "Oh man, I got bounced by a Nazgûl just as I was coming over the hill!"), lies are told, stories are swapped, and everyone has a rollicking good time.

To view photo galleries from past Ring Games, visit the official Ring Game Web Site!

Last updated: March 2, 2021.