The 9 Walkers – a Strategic Revision
The Fellowship of the Ring is the world’s most renowned literary adventuring party. This is the archetype that lurks in the collective unconscious of all gaming groups, be they roleplaying, LARPing or online. But what was Elrond & Gandalf’s rationale for the Fellowship’s line-up and their ploys? And how would the modern gamers’ sensibility influence the choices made from Imladris to Orodruin?
The Strategy behind the Fellowship of the Ring
Why oh why, do Elrond and Gandalf agree to send four Hobbits along with the Fellowship!? They are small, almost useless in combat, and have no great experience of the world outside the Shire. Yes they are very stealthy and can resist the lure of the ring, but four hobbits on a mission this crucial? Seriously?
Sure, events do bear their judgement out, but c’mon! The Council of Elrond is betting the fate of the free world on a gut feeling!? They are trusting in Friendship (that will be under intense pressure and the lure of the One Ring no less) versus Wisdom (ie. taking some serious kick ass warriors)?
On their travels they will encounter Nazgul, Wargs, Krakens, Goblins, Trolls, Balrogs, Orcs, evil men, Wolves, Oliphaunts, Fell Beasts, more Orcs, a giant Spider, mad kings, Ghosts, Wights etc etc. I’m afraid that those four Hobbits will be flat out killing a single Goblin. Sure – STEALTH is a great priority as no matter how many tough nuts you send on the ring-quest, they will never be enough. But Elves are very stealthy – possibly quieter than Hobbits too.
So why take four Hobbits?
Because three of them are DECOYS! Sauron and Saruman know that a Hobbit bears the ring. Sending four Halflings keeps any baddies guessing which one has it. The Fellowship can split up into four separate groups if need be. It’s not what I would have done (more on that later), but it does make a kind of sense. And sub-textually it does emphasise that even the littlest folk can make a difference (in case you didn’t get it, that is YOU noble reader).
Force of arms will not get the Ring into Mordor, so secrecy is in order. The Fellowship will thus be travelling in stealth mode and that is one of the two things that Hobbits can do well.
The other relevant skill of hobbitry is their resistance to the temptation of power that the Ring offers. They can eventually be tempted, but even their dreams are less grandiose (eg. Samwise the garden king). Having nearly half the party immune to the lure of the Ring lessens the chance of treachery from within.
Also note how evil things always target Frodo the ring bearer. The Nazgul, the Watcher in the Water, the Orc chieftain in Moria, Shelob. The Ring is like a danger magnet. Frodo even seems to attract a disproportionate amount of arrows (not counting Boromir). So if it is a death sentence for the bearer ya’d better bring a few spares. If Frodo gets killed then Sam, Merry or Pippin can carry the nasty lil trinket.
OK so maybe taking four Hobbits isn’t a completely stupid idea.
Lastly the inclusion of four Hobbits might directly relate to Gandalf’s unknown plan to enter Mordor? Barring Christopher Tolkien turning up some new document of JRRT’s plan, this can only remain as speculation.
So apart from the four wildcard Hobbit burglar/rogues, who else is going? Two armoured tanks (Boromir and Gimli), two multiclass ranger/tanks (Aragorn and Legolas), and a Magic-user demigod/angel (Gandalf). OK great choices. Actually awesome choices.
This is more than enough to kick some serious ass and snoop ‘n scoot through hundreds of leagues of wilderness. All the friendly races are covered, plus one of them is a Dwarf for any underground contingencies. There’s a Wizard for magic, and a Ranger for healing, both of whom have years of exploration XP in most of the areas they will be going. Heck even the Hobbits bring culinary ability.
But there are grounds to criticise the choices of Elrond & Gandalf…
Four Hobbits is two too many. Just take Frodo and Sam. Despite Merry and Pippin’s demands, sending them along really is flying in the face of common sense. Yes I do know that without them Gandalf probably wouldn’t have been reincarnated in his white form (Pippin drops rock in well, alerting Moria Goblins+Balrog…), and the Ents wouldn’t have risen, but the council doesn’t know that! Yes yes, they are THE WISE and “no one can see all ends”, meaning that they sort of can! But taking two useless, virtually non-combatant, mouths to feed?!! On a perilous journey across the known world!! NO, just no.
On an interesting side note, when the fellowship is broken at Amon Hen why does Aragorn choose to chase after Merry and Pippin rather than Frodo and Sam? Merry and Pip could well be dead for all they know, whilst the One Ring absolutely must be protected from Sauron’s servants. The reasoning is that Merry and Pippin will reveal, under torture, where Frodo is going (to Mount Doom to destroy the Ring) thus ruining any chance of surprise. Thus the captured hobbits must be rescued (or killed) lest they spill the beans. It’s a tough call for Aragorn, but the right one.
Whilst almost any of the Fellowship might reveal this information under torture, the Hobbits would probably cave in more readily and are thus yet another liability. Also note that perhaps Legolas should have been sent alone to pursue the Orcs and their captives, whilst Aragorn and Gimli catch up to Frodo and Sam. Legolas could run faster and for longer than the Man and Dwarf. His mission might be more along the lines of a mercy killing of the Hobbits (with his bow) from afar.
Imagine if Merry and Pippin were replaced with two capable Elves. It would have been the Orcs getting ambushed at Amon Hen rather than the Fellowship. So apart from some superfluous hobbits, the other drawbacks are…the men.
Boromir and Aragorn are actually super heroic. The fact that they are only members to try to assist Gandalf versus the Balrog illustrates how brave (or possibly ignorant) they are. The fight with the wolves outside Moria sees the men rack up the highest number of kills too. So why are they drawbacks?
- Fricken Boromir! Yep he is a kick ass fighter, and is a leave pass to roam at will across Gondor and Rohan, but he is a total liability as far as the temptation of the Ring goes. Admittedly this is not fully apparent in Rivendell, but mayhap the Wise could see this end at least…? Elrond is wise and far seeing, Gandalf is teh bomb and actually hangs out with Boromir for weeks on end. Galadriel reads his mind for fucks sake – and he tries to take the ring only a short while later! Sorry but no – you ain’t coming bro.
- Aragorn: Yep, apart from Gandalf, and maybe Frodo (with his awesome Ring resistance), then Aragorn is the standout legend in this troupe. BUT he is the heir of Gondor. And the tardy 87-year-old hasn’t got around to breeding. The lineage ends with him! Sure this “destroy the Ring” lark is an all-or-nothing gamble on getting the Ring into the volcano or lose Middle Earth, but are you seriously going to send the sole descendant of the line of Elendil on this ultra-risky trip into the heart of Mordor? Obviously YES, but sheesh that’s a big call!
And don’t get me started on the time Elrond takes choosing the Fellowship and then waiting for the scouts and messengers to return! Winter is coming people!! Send out the fellowship ASAP!! Yes, yes, this waiting was sort of wise but still – c’mon, a sense of urgency please! And what about the shoddy preparations? Only one bottle of Miruvor, seriously! No rope – WTF! Magic weapons? Elven cloaks? C’mon – whaddaya saving your cool enchanted shit for Elrond? You got anything else going on? A bigger emergency? Hmmm?
Min-Maxing the Fellowship
Now if I was organising the Fellowship – there’d be none of this Friendship over Firepower malarkey! And divine providence? Bah! “There’s no such thing as luck in my experience!”
Merry and Pippin don’t go – period. They are told that the Ring is going to Gondor so if they are captured they will not reveal the true destination. Merry is sent with Boromir on a decoy mission towards the Gap of Rohan. Boromir wont be happy either so he’ll have to be fobbed off with some ‘urgent message’ for Denethor. Pippin is sent on another decoy mission back to Bree and the Shire to warn these areas to prepare for war. Sam is the lone backup bearer and accompanies Frodo. Gandalf, Legolas and Gimli accompany Frodo. Aragorn is in the Fellowship too, but only until the Falls of Rauros. Now we sub in some total legends: Glorfindel, Elladan and Elrohir make up the remaining nine.
Having Glorfindel (a reincarnated Elven Lord no less) and the Sons of Elrond in the Fellowship turns the company from a stealth team with some bite, into a stealth team with total kick butt ability. Heck Glorfindel could possibly take the Balrog down by himself! He has already killed one before. Ok so maybe those three bonus hyper-elves exude a ‘power glow’ that their natural elfy stealth can’t conceal. Meh. Elrond can suck my fat one – a stronger party will pummel their way through Moria, de-Orc Amon Hen and get themselves to the borders of Mordor sans sweat.
So the new improved Fellowship of the Ring has the following line up…
2 Hobbit burglars/ringbearers (Frodo and Sam)
1 Maia Wizard (Gandalf)
2 Elven missile specialist/tanks (Legolas and Glorfindel)
2 Half Elven ranger tanks (Elladan and Elrohir)
1 Dunadan ranger tank (Aragorn)
1 Dwarf tank (Gimli)
We now have a lethal ranged AND hand to hand presence, that is slightly stealthier too. This Fellowship is a force to be reckoned with.
Also the company has Aragorn’s travelling experience for much of the way. But rather than risk him on the final leg into Mordor, at Rauros he and one or two of the elves depart the company, going to Rohan and Gondor’s assistance. This hopefully protects the heir of Isildur from undue risk whilst sending a ray of hope to Gondor’s aid. He possibly draws the Eye’s gaze away from the Ring too. Samwise Gamgee might also accompany Aragorn as a decoy, further luring any pursuit off the trail.
Elsewhere Merry, Boromir and some Elves travel south from Rivendell via the Angle and are joined by some Rangers (JRRT mentioned in old notes that the location of the Ranger’s village was in the Angle). They travel on horseback towards Rohan but may retreat back northward if interest from Isengard becomes too hot.
Pippin and some Elves plus another Ranger of the north attempt to alert the shire to the coming danger. They may even flee beyond to the Grey Havens if their decoying is too successful/ the danger is too great.
Meanwhile our new Fellowship of the Ring have ditched Isildur’s Heir and either the sons of Elrond or, more likely, Glorfindel at Rauros – they go on to fortune and glory via Rohan, possibly even linking up with Boromir and Merry. Frodo and co. creep across the Emyn Muil to the Ash Mountains where it gets kinda tricky.
Yep without Gollum, (who won’t dare getting close to Gandalf), we have a big problem. How do one Hobbit, one Dwarf, two or three Elves and a Wizard cross into the dark land? What was Gandalf’s plan? Likely scenarios include…
- Minor magic shenanigans? “These aren’t the hobbits you are looking for”
- Sneaking through some minor pass over the mountains into Mordor?
- Divine providence / follow your nose. (ie. What actually happened). Yeah right.
Or all of the above plus…
- Orc Disguises! The oldest trick/cliché in the book. Elves will stick out like a sore thumb. Men almost as much. Goblins are smaller and stooped. Dwarfs might pass for Goblins, as will Hobbits. Gandalf must speak the debased Common Speech that Orcs use (he knows spells in Orcish) and could presumably pass as one. But with decent disguises and with Gandalf capable of Black Speech as well, they have a chance. Slap on some Orc gear plus a helmet and Ugluk is your uncle.
Perhaps the Elves create a distraction while the rest sneak in? Or maybe they frock up too, smearing themselves in Orc waste to hide any Elf stink? Regardless, the disguised party of mixed height Orcs attempt to enter via a minor pass over the mountains as an Orc patrol. Or they join an incoming army of Easterlings or Southrons and enter via the Black Gate.
And somehow, by hook or crook, they avoid close scrutiny and sneak across Gorgoroth to Mount Doom! Fingers x-ed.
Well that is the game plan, which by the way, Gandalf actually bothers to tell everyone about on their first night out of Imladris!
Speaking of which, Elrond should clamp down on those who actually know the plan to destroy the Ring. From all the people at the council of Elrond to the messengers sent out to friendly enclaves presumably with the knowledge of the plan, to people the fellowship talk to and let the secret slip we have increasing numbers of loose lips to sink ships. If Sauron or Saruman capture and squeeze just one of these peeps it will be more than just Gollum nervously chewing his fingernails at the Sammath Naur (gnaw?) waiting for a ring delivery. Game over man.
Also Elrond should conduct a more vigorous clearance and decoy campaign out of Rivendell. If he uses multiple expeditions with Hobbit +Gandalf simulacra heading east, west and south before and after the actual fellowship depart, no amount of Crebain and spies will be able to identify the real party.
As for the pre-departure checklist, Elrond should also pass around a couple of flasks of Miruvor, not just one. And of course rope, magic swords and Elven cloaks etc. And how good is that mithril coat!! It saves Frodo’s life multiple times. I don’t suppose there are any more of those kicking around in Rivendell? Boromir could certainly use one!!
Speaking of magic items, the pit stop in Lorien, for healing, re-supply (and more magic items) almost predetermines the direction of travel for the company. Perhaps Galadriel could dish out a few more Phials of Magic Light, not just one?
The Wise could also exert themselves: perhaps using a smidge more of that telepathic ability would come in handy? Something like –
“Hark Lady Galadriel, we are heading toward the Redhorn Pass – how dost it look from the East?”
“Alas Grey pilgrim, thou art shit outta luck, tis snowed in! And tempt not thy fate in the mines, go back to the Gladden Pass.”
Speaking of which Gandalf, take the goddamn Gladden Pass! You’ll dodge the Crebain, and the Wargs, and the Watcher in the Water and the Balrog!! Why take the Redhorn, that renowned arse-of-a-pass, when the Gladden has been recently crossed by Elven messengers not a month or so ago? Lemme guess… reasons! Sigh. *Shakes fist at Tolkien*
Lastly there comes the eternal question: Why not mount the Fellowship on the Eagles?! They fly in stages to Gondor, then have a last dash from Mount Mindolluin, over Cirith Ungol and across to Orodruin? Well, there is no real reason other than, it is a fucking BOOK!!
No one would read “There and Back Again, Part 2 – Where Eagles Dare”!
“And lo, Frodo did soar on the back of Gwaihir across Gorgoroth unto the crater of Orodruin. Wheeling on high in the fetid thermals above the Crack of Doom, the son of Drogo was tempted to withhold the ring and keep it for himself.
But Frodo had only been on the wing for eight breezy days, so dropping it was no big deal. With a heavy heart, he watched the One Ring plummet into the lava. Thus was Sauron, the Lord of the Rings, undone…“
Yawn. Forget books two and three. Just free Theoden, get the Ents to smash Isengard, crown Aragorn, and smoke some more pipeweed.
So we have three possible Fellowships to get the ring to Mordor. In order of preference:
- The Fellowship mounted on Eagles –special express delivery to Orodruin. Just Frodo, Sam, Gandalf and Legolas riding amidst a squadron of Eagles. Actually getting the Eagles’ attention and help is the only real problem. To prevent exhaustion of the birds they travel carefully over a week or two, south down the spine of the Misty Mountains, then east along the White Mountains. There is a chance that Sauron may see them via palantir, but their path towards Minas Tirith should not reveal the endgame. They may have to deal with an ambush by Nazgul on fell beasts (but Gandalf can “white light” ‘em); and a possible defence force at the Sammath Naur (just enter the crater/drop the Ring from above). This small airborne Fellowship is the obvious solution, but makes for a lame tale, which leads us to the more reader friendly solutions…
- The Ultra-Elf Fellowship as detailed above, including Glorfindel and the sons of Elrond, while the extra Hobbits and men move out in decoy parties. Disguised Frodo & Gandalf et al to sneak into Mordor. Heresy – maybe, common sense – YES! Or you purists can go as per JRRT intended in…
- The original Fellowship of the Ring , using the “Follow your Nose” plan (or lack thereof).
The Ultra-Elf Fellowship seems to me to be the smart bet. And yes it proudly boasts a power gamer, min/max approach. However please note how restrained I have been. The true power gamer with no regard for a story would probably lump Radagast, Galadriel, Celeborn and Elrond in there too. And why not a shapeshifting Beorning for good measure. All with Elven cloaks, lembas, buckets of miruvor, a couple of Phials of Galadriel, some Elven rope etc etc.
Tolkien’s Fellowship does seem, by comparison, a bit power lite. Admittedly ole JRR has sub-textual messages to address other than just dropping a ring in a hole. Which leads me to the only real problem with my min/maxed Fellowship: actually getting Frodo to drop the Ring into Orodruin. Without Gollum then Gandalf will more than likely have to do something drastic to get Frodo past the final test.
As for ‘me of little faith’? Divine providence – pfft.
Perhaps this is why ‘the wise’ are called just that.