I sometimes feel loath to commit to being one of “those guys”. I’m talking about those guys who create, on their own, exceptionally long blog or forums posts that outline a system that should be put into a their MMO of choice. It’s like fan fiction but for game mechanics, not characters or a story. My disdain is ridiculous because I do it anyway; I’m always thinking about improvements to LOTRO and outlining them in my head, but somehow taking that extra step and publishing them feels…scary. It’s probably more about the impending flame-war that it will produce, as the denizens of the internets poke and prod and see the angles I missed. This isn’t really a bad thing; I should think of it as a form of alpha testing and besides, my previous posts have been rather well received (thanks for that, by the way)!
One such area into which I have put a considerable amount of time and thought is the expansion of the Racial/National system in character creation and development. When we create our Elf, Man, Dwarf, or Hobbit, part of the process is choosing which “Nation” this character belongs to. Sometimes this is more like an ethnic group, especially as it pertains to Hobbits, but the term “Nationality” is still used. I won’t get picky. And what does this mean for our character, after we’ve sided with a particular realm to call home? A different set of skin-tone and hair color options and a title.
I’m the first to admit that being able to call myself “of Rohan” or “of Erebor” is rad. As a writer and small-time role-player, I love having that option in crafting my characters and giving them a bit more personality of their own, especially as it is attached to the character itself and not my vision of the character. But, as more and more folks call for the addition of new races to LOTRO, I’m left thinking this system is completely underutilized.
I call to the stand EVE Online. Okay, some of you just shuddered, but bear with me. While this game is pretty far from our LOTRO, in terms of openness and complexity and setting, there are many a lesson we can learn from it and the one I want to focus on is the option of race in character creation and its implications. I refer you to Exhibit A. I have no idea how up to date that thing is (I gave up on EVE a few years back), but it will give you an idea of the options you have at character creation and what that means for your character’s starting abilities and potential. In short, you choose your Race, then your Bloodline, then your Ancestry (heritage, if you like), then various levels of Education and Specialization, thus creating a streamlined history of your character immediately and imposing the benefits of that history on his in-game abilities. Not bad, eh?
How does this apply to LOTRO? Let me start by saying we are severely limited when it comes to player races in our game. I know there are many of you out there who think that Beornings would be a fine addition to the racial pool for player characters and I completely disagree. That’s for another post. If we take a lesson from EVE, however, and essentially make the various “Nationalities” of Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Hobbits, closer to separate races, with new and different and varying abilities and bonuses, it would help to set our characters further apart from one another and give us more of the customization we so desperately crave. It’s one thing to be able to create an outfit that sets you apart, it’s another to be set apart.
So, you are a dwarf from the Lonely Mountain. Because you are from ol’ Erebor you get a special skill called “Raven-speech” that let’s you summon a bird friend who can give you information on that elite bear you’re about to fight (not unlike the Knowledge of the Lore-master). And, because you are the son of a trader and had a great internship, you get a 10% bonus to buying/selling with NPCs. Say you also keep a Rohirrim character who, being a horse-master, gets a 5% bonus to his mount’s health and, because he is descended from a long line of warriors, some of whom even fought at the Field of Celebrant, you can tune in to the “Joy of Battle” and get a 5 second immunity to all incoming physical damage. You’re so tough!
Those are, of course, off-the-cuff examples of the possibilities of expanding the racial system within LOTRO. The possibilities are out there and they are huge.
The downside? It’s a balancing nightmare. I am about 80% through an extensive article that specifies how I would overhaul this system for every nationality, not including Ancestry, and I know that when I post it it will be scoffed at as “imba”. The other issue is that, should such a change happen, we are then no longer the same. The current racial abilities are truly negligible: Men get a sweet morale boost, but that’s really the only significant one. Even the Dwarves’ Endurance of Stone isn’t that good and you rarely hear people talk about how useful it is. But, we all have a fair shot at things. Elves aren’t overpowered with their Bow-Damage Bonus, nor are dwarves overly good tanks because they have their Shield-brawler bonus. Race is, as of now, almost a strictly aesthetic choice. Some people like it that way, and to overhaul it and make some races better at some things would be shaky for most of us. Finally, unlike EVE, LOTRO does not have character advancement options outside of combat, so if a race/nationality had more crafting or non-combat bonuses than others it would potentially be neglected except by players who really like crafting and trading.
All in all, I doubt we’d see this kind of major change to the game, but I still feel it is a viable option to add a greatly needed dose of variety to our characters and expand racial options in a lore appropriate way. What do you think? Too much? Not enough? It can be hard to say.