What a long, strange trip it’s been. Last year at this time, I was happily riding through Rohan alongside my wife, discovering the joys of dispatching Bugud and the grind of Hytbolt. It’s strange to remember that my only real “outward” voice was my Twitter account. This blog did exist, but was used exclusively to showcase Braxwolf’s backstory to the six people who were interested in reading it. The “posts” page was only created recently. I was happy to use my precious free time playing the game, listening to podcasts on my drive to work, and goofing off with my kinmates and Twitter friends. A consumer, for all practical purposes.
Then, on June 14th, I saw something in my RSS feed that altered my involvement in the game and community, though I didn’t know it yet. In a post titled CSTM to End with Episode 200, community stalwart Goldenstar explained her and Merric’s plans to shutter the Casual Stroll to Mordor podcast. To the casual consumer, it seemed as though CSTM had always been there, so we naturally assumed that it would continue to be. CSTM was my Monday morning drive podcast, which means that it was the first thing I looked forward to hearing every week. Of course, the reasons for CSTM shutting down the podcast were completely understandable, but for those of us who had built them into a weekly routine over the past several years, it introduced some very interesting questions. First and foremost, would the community step up and fill the rather large gap?
I had seen the announcement for LOTRO Players prior to June 14. Somewhat ironically, my first exposure to the site was via CSTM. However, my initial impression was one of slight confusion. The content looked to be very similar to what CSTM was already doing – news, community events, and fan fiction. Why try to cover the same material as CSTM? Adding to my confusion was the understanding that it was being overseen by Andang, a CSTM contributor who by all accounts seemed to be on very good terms with Merric and Goldenstar. It was only after the June 14 announcement by CSTM that the whole LOTRO Players “thing” fell into place for me. Andang had a heads-up, and was going to attempt to be the one to fill in the gap! Big shoes to fill, to be sure. That challenge was very interesting to me. I wondered if he could do it.
I probably would have left it at that, and remained consumer for life, but then in July LOTRO Academy released their podcast episode 79: LOTRO Players in which Andang was a guest and spoke with Branick about the inception of the website, his hopes for the future, and a solicitation for new contributors. To be honest, I had fleeting thoughts of sending some sample writings to CSTM in the past, but there was always something that held me back. What would I write about? How would I have time? Why would they want me when they already have such a great stable of contributors? In hindsight, these were all pretty poor excuses and the truth was probably closer to me being too intimidated and too afraid to put myself “out there”. Anonymity can be a very nice thing, sometimes. Andang’s appearance on LOTRO Academy was just enough to convince me to give writing about LOTRO a shot. Perhaps I could have some small part in filling in the CSTM gap.
I approached Andang with my idea of a different kind of fan fiction series (my Letters from the West) and he was very encouraging. I must have been a little fired up, too, because it looks like the LOTRO Academy podcast was released on July 3, and my first LOTRO Players post came out on July 5 of this year. I didn’t waste any time! Now that I was a contributor to the site, I started paying careful attention to the content. I subscribed to the new LOTRO Players News podcast immediately, and studied the interaction between the cast. Podcasting is one of those things that, in the back of my mind, I know that the best podcasters make the difficult seem easy, but I still had this feeling that I’d like to try it. One night, I was having a conversation with Mysteri, and I got up the “gumption” to mention that I’d like to try it sometime. Within the next week, I had an invitation in my inbox from Andang asking if I could participate in the Wildermore Zone review episode of LPN. I was extremely nervous for about five hours leading up to that podcast. Mentioning that I’d like to try it out is one thing, but realizing that I’m going to be talking LIVE with such community giants as Andang, Pineleaf, Ethelros and Mysteri was something completely different. It was the first time I’d spoken to any of them using anything other than instant message or forum comment. Voices that are normally recorded and played back at me were now going to be listening to and reacting to my feedback. And, oh, by the way – whatever I said was going to be recorded and played back, and potentially picked apart by those with much more game experience than what I had. What did I have, anyway? Nothing special, really. I don’t raid. I don’t PvMP. I craft if I have to. I don’t role play. I’m just this average guy who enjoys playing the game with friends. The only thing that probably got me through that first episode (LPN Episode 8) was the realization that the ‘normalcy’ is exactly what attracted me (and probably countless others) to CSTM in the first place. Merric and Goldenstar always felt like friends, even if you never actually had any interaction with them.
I must have done something right, because I distinctly remember that the first thing Andang said after the recording was over was “Brax, that was AWESOME!”, which really made be feel good. He next extended an invitation to be a regular member of the crew, which was very surprising but I quickly accepted with the caveat that I may not be able to make all episodes due to a busy family schedule. The recording was almost two hours, and I listened to it again that night. It’s a practice that I’ve continued with the episodes I appear on, so that I can hear them right away, and then again later in the week, in order to look for things to improve on.
Fast forward, and my involvement in LOTRO Players has resulted in so many awesome opportunities this year. I’ve met new players, both within LOTRO Players and outside of it, I’ve been blessed to podcast with not only the regular crew, but also Layanor (of LOTRO Reporter), Roger Edwards (of Contains Moderate Peril), Chris Perry and Harry Hol (of MMO Reporter), and Justin Olivetti (of Massively). I was able to participate in, and assist with the 2013 Fellowship Walk. As a result of my exposure to the creative video community within LOTRO (I credit Pashbo, Lilikate, and of course Andang), I have recently spun up my own YouTube channel and started a regular feature (The Braxclan) where I get to play the game with my two oldest sons, and people actually watch it! Really, one person shouldn’t be allowed to have this much fun.
So, how was my personal 2013 in LOTRO? It was a complete blast. This is what a hobby should be like. I get to try new things, meet new people, be a part of something larger than myself, and schedule it all around my own family situations. Having said all that, I am enjoying the moment. Because if there’s something I’ve learned, it’s that situations change, people change, and this moment will never come again. Of course, I’ll keep doing this as long as it’s fun. Here’s hoping we have many more years of fun ahead!