Realism in Middle-earth

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Glorelendil
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Re: Realism in Middle-earth

Post by Glorelendil » Sun Jan 14, 2018 3:43 am

I took a look for instances of 'bet' and 'wager' in Hobbit and LotR:

"What nasty thick skins they have to be sure, but I'll wager there is good juice inside." (Mirkwood Spider)

"Whatever might be in store for old Gandalf, I'll wager it isn't a wolf's belly." (Sam)

"Not too dainty to try what hobbit taste like, if there ain't no fish, I'll wager - supposing as he could catch us napping." (Sam)

"I wager I could stand you on your head or lay you on your back." (Bergil Beregond's son)

"But he's up to no good, nosing around, I'll wager." (Ranger of Ithilien)

"Then I'll bet it wasn't an inch" (Ted Sandyman)

"I bet it didn't!" (Sam)

"I'll bet there's all sorts of good things running wild in this country." (Sam)

Interesting that fully half are from Sam, and the rest...aren't from Elrond (not sure how else to express that.) Clearly Tolkien is going for a certain tone of voice with these sorts of words.

Then I looked up the etymology of "wager", and it derives from Old English (of course) from a verb that means to "pledge" or "commit".

One question I would have is what they wager or bet on. Certainly people bet on things other than 'games of chance'. The important ingredient is an unpredictable outcome. Sports betting, for example.

I found no references to "dice" or "cards" so I broadened it to "game". Most of the uses were either in reference to riddles or metaphorical ("What's your little game?"). Other uses in the sense we are looking for:
- Game of golf (Bullroarer Took story)
- undefined "games" at Bilbo's farewell party
- Legolas' and Gimli's orc-killing competition
- stone giants "hurling rocks at one another for a game"
- "quoits, dark-throwing, shooting at the wand, bowls, ninepins, and other quiet games of the aiming and throwing sort."

So...what to do with all of this? I would try to find a way that you can address the needs that a gambling hall meets without necessarily including a gambling hall with cards and dice:

1) I could see a place down by the docks where working-class men square off in wrestling or boxing matches, and others bet on them.

2) I could also see betting on races on various sorts. Although I would expect it to be somewhat informal, not at organized race tracks, but in some cases a gathering spot where "everybody" knows you can go to test your horse, win/lose some money, and in general hang out with your kind of people. (Interesting historical note: in the American old west, informal horse races would start off with both riders riding slowly in one direction, and then at the sound of the gun they would turn around and race the other way. Solves the problem of fair starts without a gate.)

3) Finally, in a way evocative of the contrast between refined poetry and slam poetry competitions, imagine a raucous tavern where two locals are playing the riddle game, with their friends cheering them on and increasing the bets after each round.

P.S. No references to 'harlot' found.
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Otaku-sempai
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Re: Realism in Middle-earth

Post by Otaku-sempai » Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:06 am

Dice and dice games are ancient, so it wouldn't seem strange at all to include dice in Middle-earth. Card games might not feel out-of-place in the Shire; I'm not sure about the rest of Middle-earth (though playing cards might have originated in Númenor, despite a lack of evidence). Foot races and three-legged races would have probably been common competitions at Hobbit fairs that would invite betting. Hobbits being Hobbits, even pie-eating contests might have generated wagers.
Glorelendil wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 3:43 am
P.S. No references to 'harlot' found.
I ain't touchin' that one! ;)
"Far, far below the deepest delvings of the Dwarves, the world is gnawed by nameless things. Even Sauron knows them not. They are older than he."

Glorelendil
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Re: Realism in Middle-earth

Post by Glorelendil » Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:27 am

Otaku-sempai wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:06 am
Dice and dice games are ancient...
Well, so is prostitution, and you know how persuasive I find that argument.

But more generally, I'm not sure I think that 'ancient' is synonymous with 'Tolkienesque'. Just becomes humans on Earth invented something, doesn't mean Men/Elves/Dwarves in Middle-earth are going to invent the same thing. There's a (mostly) consistent feel to the elements that Tolkien chose to include, not just any old thing that's old enough.
...so it wouldn't seem strange at all to include dice in Middle-earth.
That said...I could something like dice appearing. Some set of small objects that can be thrown on the ground with unpredictable results. Even (or especially?) among orcs.
Card games might not feel out-of-place in the Shire
I'm less sanguine about this. It's tempting to say, "Sure, cards were popular in late 18th/19th century rural England, among all classes, therefore Hobbits would have them" except that it's an element that doesn't feel quite right to me. As above, I don't think finding analogues between Middle-earth cultures and real human cultures and concluding that any element in the latter will be found among the former is the right way to go about it. For example, novels were popular in our analogue culture, but I would be very surprised to find Hobbits reading writing/reading fictional novels.
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Enevhar Aldarion
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Re: Realism in Middle-earth

Post by Enevhar Aldarion » Sun Jan 14, 2018 6:35 am

Glorelendil wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:27 am
I'm less sanguine about this. It's tempting to say, "Sure, cards were popular in late 18th/19th century rural England, among all classes, therefore Hobbits would have them" except that it's an element that doesn't feel quite right to me. As above, I don't think finding analogues between Middle-earth cultures and real human cultures and concluding that any element in the latter will be found among the former is the right way to go about it. For example, novels were popular in our analogue culture, but I would be very surprised to find Hobbits reading writing/reading fictional novels.
Well, playing cards, and tarot cards, were in Europe as early as the late 1300s/early 1400s, after having been imported from the Middle East. Those early days were also before the printing press. so the sets that were around were handmade and expensive. Since Middle Earth also does not have the printing press yet, if something as rare and expensive as playing cards were not mentioned in the books by Tolkien, I would think they would not exist there yet.

As for dice, Chaucer specifically used them in his works, using the slang word "bones" for dice, also the late 1300s. Being more literal with "bones", you have the oracle bones used for divination in ancient China, and also used in many fantasy novels and more often used by the more shady/evil forces in the stories.

I can't remember if I said this in my previous post, but I can easily see the "bad guys", much more than the "good guys" using actual gambling and betting games. After all, there are many paths to the Shadow. You just have to look at the negative impact that gambling has on people in the real world to see how that would go in a world where the call of the Shadow would underlie the darker side of games and gambling.

Glorelendil
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Re: Realism in Middle-earth

Post by Glorelendil » Sun Jan 14, 2018 2:06 pm

Enevhar Aldarion wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 6:35 am
As for dice, Chaucer specifically used them in his works, using the slang word "bones" for dice, also the late 1300s. Being more literal with "bones", you have the oracle bones used for divination in ancient China, and also used in many fantasy novels and more often used by the more shady/evil forces in the stories.
Yes. Like I said about communication (ravens instead of pony riders), I would rather see the underlying idea used, but adapted to something uniquely M-e.
I can't remember if I said this in my previous post, but I can easily see the "bad guys", much more than the "good guys" using actual gambling and betting games. After all, there are many paths to the Shadow. You just have to look at the negative impact that gambling has on people in the real world to see how that would go in a world where the call of the Shadow would underlie the darker side of games and gambling.
Also very much agree with this. With my example of workers meeting in a discrete location and betting on wrestling matches, I wouldn't use it gratuitously to add some color to the setting: I would use it very specifically to illustrate how the influence of the Shadow was affecting normal folk, in a way that was tied to the plot of the adventure. The reaction of the players is that seeing this should add urgency to their quest. It might not actually be possible to influence events such that the Fight Club dissolves, any more than it is to save Mirkwood, but that should be the ideal they strive for.
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Rich H
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Re: Realism in Middle-earth

Post by Rich H » Sun Jan 14, 2018 3:37 pm

Glorelendil wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 2:06 pm
I would use it very specifically to illustrate how the influence of the Shadow was affecting normal folk, in a way that was tied to the plot of the adventure. The reaction of the players is that seeing this should add urgency to their quest. It might not actually be possible to influence events such that the Fight Club dissolves, any more than it is to save Mirkwood, but that should be the ideal they strive for.
That feels a bit too "on the nose" and unsubtle for me. A reference to it, supposedly just as colour within the setting, would also provide hints to the players that these things exist and that the influence of the Shadow is there, even in 'normal life' among certain people. That, for me, has far more of an impact than using it as part of a specific quest as it provides subtext for those players that get things, whereas others will just see people placing wagers. I think referencing it in an adventure in the way you suggest without ever mentioning it before feels too signposted which I try and avoid when running any game, not just TOR.
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Glorelendil
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Re: Realism in Middle-earth

Post by Glorelendil » Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:32 pm

Rich H wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 3:37 pm
Glorelendil wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 2:06 pm
I would use it very specifically to illustrate how the influence of the Shadow was affecting normal folk, in a way that was tied to the plot of the adventure. The reaction of the players is that seeing this should add urgency to their quest. It might not actually be possible to influence events such that the Fight Club dissolves, any more than it is to save Mirkwood, but that should be the ideal they strive for.
That feels a bit too "on the nose" and unsubtle for me. A reference to it, supposedly just as colour within the setting, would also provide hints to the players that these things exist and that the influence of the Shadow is there, even in 'normal life' among certain people. That, for me, has far more of an impact than using it as part of a specific quest as it provides subtext for those players that get things, whereas others will just see people placing wagers. I think referencing it in an adventure in the way you suggest without ever mentioning it before feels too signposted which I try and avoid when running any game, not just TOR.
Oh, yes. This is what I meant. I wouldn't be explicit about the implications of the fight club, but I would hope it would be apparent. (The reality of GMing is that sometimes you err on one side or the other of course.) The goal is to make it subtle enough that the players infer a connection; that's what's most rewarding, I think.

Sort of reminds me of the scene in Star Wars I where the used spaceship salesman is totally immune to the Jedi mind trick. I thought that was hilarious...until they felt the need to explain the joke. Ruined what could have been the only good 5 seconds of the movie.
Last edited by Glorelendil on Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Rich H
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Re: Realism in Middle-earth

Post by Rich H » Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:39 pm

Gotcha. I misunderstood what you were meaning but that makes sense.
Glorelendil wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:32 pm
Ruined what could have been the best 5 seconds of the movie.
It wasn't even a very high bar!
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Glorelendil
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Re: Realism in Middle-earth

Post by Glorelendil » Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:47 pm

Rich H wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:39 pm
Gotcha. I misunderstood what you were meaning but that makes sense.
Glorelendil wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:32 pm
Ruined what could have been the best 5 seconds of the movie.
It wasn't even a very high bar!
4 Realz.

EDIT: There, I fixed it.
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Re: Realism in Middle-earth

Post by Otaku-sempai » Sun Jan 14, 2018 5:11 pm

Glorelendil wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:27 am
Otaku-sempai wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 4:06 am
Dice and dice games are ancient...
Well, so is prostitution, and you know how persuasive I find that argument.

But more generally, I'm not sure I think that 'ancient' is synonymous with 'Tolkienesque'. Just becomes humans on Earth invented something, doesn't mean Men/Elves/Dwarves in Middle-earth are going to invent the same thing. There's a (mostly) consistent feel to the elements that Tolkien chose to include, not just any old thing that's old enough.
Unlike brothels or drug dens, the inclusion of dice and gambling with dice is not an element that should fundamentally change the feel of a Middle-earth game. That is not to say that we need to have Citadel Guards in Minas Tirith taking part in a high-stakes craps game. It's just another background element that could be present.
That said...I could something like dice appearing. Some set of small objects that can be thrown on the ground with unpredictable results. Even (or especially?) among orcs.
In other words--dice. There is no need to re-invent the wheel. The earliest dice were actual knuckle bones and I could easily imagine Orcs using those.

Dice games can be quite elegant. I could imagine Elves developing a few, though others might be more common among Men and Dwarves.

I do find the argument that 'because Tolkien never mentioned it, it cannot show up in Middle-earth' a bit tiresome, especially in the context of a role-playing game. If C7's developers stuck strictly to that philosophy then TOR and AiMe would be much poorer games for it and we would not have many elements that have already be introduced.
Last edited by Otaku-sempai on Sun Jan 14, 2018 5:20 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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