Sunday, March 31, 2019

Aumai Goodness: A LOTRO Yule Story

Like any good Harfoot, I enjoy a comfortable hobbit hole and the warm, welcoming smell of food just waiting to satisfy and delight. My name is Aumai Goodness, and I'd like to tell you about an odd little adventure I had last week.

I have made it my life's work to dedicate all the free time I possibly can to the artistry of cooking, despite being in the auspicious burglar trade. I take great pride in making all manner of foods to please my kin in and around Michel Delving. It was just last Thursday afternoon that I found myself baking a few spiced apple pies in the communal crafting area on the hill when Jewel Underhill leaned over my shoulder and giggled.

"Everyone's run off to Frostbluff to enjoy other people's cooking and fun... and you're here slaving away at our tired old oven? Auuu-maiiii... you should go enjoy Yule while you can!" Jewel declared fussily at me. Using padded mitts that had seen better days, I pulled the last pie from the oven and stood there thoughtfully, turning over her words.

"You know well enough how I like to cook for others, Jewel. But... you say there's good food to be had at the Festival?" I was already contemplating what sorts of festive recipes might be employed at such a gathering, and had every intention of collecting them for my own use if at all possible. Jewel was a more accomplished cook than myself, though, and I needed to hear her affirmation before making any rash decisions. As much as I love my pony, I am not overfond of traveling long distances without great need.

"Most assuredly, Aumai," she said crisply, snatching the padded mitts and pie from my hands all in one deft movement. "The stable master at the bottom of the hill has a helper this time of year because of how many travelers take the Far Downs road to get to Frostbluff. Both of them can tell you how to get there if you've never been. But you should hurry, for it'll be dark soon. But oh -- how Winterhome will glitter in the evening hours!"

Before I really knew what I was doing, I found myself saddling up my gentle Rosemary. We trotted down the hill to the stable master, with my collection of pots, pans, utensils clattering as I hoped I had enough food stored up in the saddlebags for my journey. Jewel made it sound like a relatively short trip if I was to be there just after sunset. The stable master's helper assured me on this subject and told me to just head up the Far Downs road until I found a Festival sign on the road directing the rest of the way to Frostbluff. In minutes, I was well past the hedges of Michel Delving and wondering if Jewel had only meant to eat my apple pies.

Not long after the sun faded behind the growing mountains, Rosemary and I broke through the trees into a snowy valley that was altogether too charming. There at the end of the road was a stone-walled village which I assumed was Winterhome, the whole structure draped with festive banners and snow-kissed in just the right places to make it seem quaint instead of cold and forbidding. I slowed my pony to a walk and stopped at the village entrance near a small cluster of people. There were two Big Folk there who were busy talking to other travelers about stolen candy or trying to sell some Yule-bedecked horses in the paddock behind them. But there was a smiling little hobbit next to them, and she waved enthusiastically.

"Greetings, cousin! I'm Verbena Greenhand. It's good to see some kin here for the festival -- the Big Folk aren't as good at parties as we are. You'll want to head right in and talk to Mara near the first brazier. She'll steer you right, cuz!" And just like that, the incoming crowd of travelers required me to dig my heels into Rosemary's sides a little to make her move out of the way and into the village itself.

Sliding down out of Rosemary's saddle, I immediately regretted not bringing anything to cover my feet -- I'd forgotten how cold snow could be! After looping Rosemary's reins around a nearby pole just inside the gate, I scurried over to where I could see this Mara hobbit warming herself by a cheery fire. Just at the moment, my feet wanted to be by that brazier, too. I'd tell you we had a great chat and bonded over the cold, but Mara Sandydowns was just a smidge too cheerful for my tastes. She was worse even than Jewel could be, and that was saying a lot. It also seemed that Mara had been put in charge of doing several things but was either too lazy or too cold to do them herself -- she seemed mostly employed in convincing visitors to do them in exchange for bags of Yule surprises. She offered me some of these same bags if I helped out around the festival, and proceeded to shoo me away from her fire to talk to the nearby Big Folk.

Guard Kember was the stiff-necked man close by who was giving the stink-eye to everyone coming and going. He didn't seem to want to talk, but said I should go talk to a woman nearby named Ona Kay who was leading the eating contest. I couldn't help but agree when he said, "All good celebrations should start with a full belly of delicious food!" There may be hope for this Big Folk yet.

Ona talked about several stations of food, not just the three full tables she was standing next to, but that I really ought to go see and talk to the mayor first before I eat myself into a stupor and miss out on all there is to see. Clearly the woman had had experience handling hungry hobbits, so I relented and trotted in the direction she pointed.

Mayor Winston Goodnough and his wife Carolyn Goodnough are easy to find just down a set of stairs, watching a courtyard of festive patrons. They seemed very pleased to see me, which is more than I could say for the Big Folk at the gate. Winston said they'd spared no expense, and I heard a story about a guy named Hammond who apparently said the same thing... and then people died. Winston is pretty amiable, though, and told me to invite my friends and do all the things. Is he a mayor or a carnival barker? Carolyn at least kept it brief and sent me on my way to see more of the town.

Across the courtyard, I could see a pair of tired-looking Big Folk at the bottom of another stairway. They had cringing smiles as I approached, but seemed relieved when I simply said hi. Mabel and Basil insisted they're just servants and not worth speaking to, and told me to head north of town to see a fellow named Cecil who hosts a snowball fight -- that I'd probably have more fun there. Game for that, I retrieved Rosemary (my feet were getting a little too cold and it sounded like quite a long way to go, even for a sturdy hobbit) and let my pony pick a safe path through the crowd of patrons between me and the north exit of the town. She naturally picked up the pace once we were out of the gate and traipsed through a veritable army of snowmen on our way down a snowy slope.

There was no missing Cecil, standing on a wooden platform next to a field that was boxed-in, mostly, by stone walls. Cecil did not improve my growing irritation, because he insisted I finish a complete tour of town before I lobbed any snow. He must've noticed my pouting, because he then added that I'd enjoy speaking to the hobbits running the theatre.

Oh, relief! It wasn't ALL Big Folk around the festival! Without much of a thanks, I turned Rosemary's head and sent her cantering back up the slope to town, leaving Cecil standing alone in the cold. We collided with a snowman -- accidentally! -- about halfway up, but the Big Folk didn't seem to notice... so we raced up to the town.

The watchman just inside was nice enough to direct me to the theatre up the stairs and in a central nook of the town. I passed three more of the food stations Ona had mentioned, but instead of looking appealing they just looked sloppier than a pig sty. Didn't anyone clean up?

The hobbit lass directing people into the theatre didn't introduce herself when I arrived -- she was too busy greeting people and talking about the Green Lilly Orators, Bards and Entertainers and how Mr. Shakesburrow put together an acting company. It sounded great -- right up the alley of my minstrel friend, Eha -- but it felt like she was trying to recruit me. She must've seen me looking for an exit to the conversation, so she bade me farewell to finish my tour of town.

I nudged Rosemary into a trot away from the theatre, and ended up heading to the west corner of town to avoid the nasty-looking tables. It's there that I found the backbone of the festival -- the workers. A sharp-tongued man named Gareth Rust was not friendly, griping about the mayor forcing them to slave away so he can become rich. So vehement was this Big Folk, that I backed Rosemary right up into another fellow, who introduced himself as Daley Utteridge. He apologized for Rust, and said he welcomed company even during hard times -- but I got the hint that I should leave them to their work.

I made my way back to the mayor -- once more letting Rosemary find the safe path between people and horses as they rushed to and fro. I tried to mention something about the workers, but Winston was completely dismissive and told me to go have fun in the festival now that I knew my way around. Carolyn agreed and urged me to go see a guy named Virgil who was making snowmen... oh. That guy. Maybe... later.

I returned to Mara to partake of the fire for a few moments, but the respite was short-lived because Guard Kember spotted me. He suggested if I was bored that I might bring some aggravating cheer to a family of snowbeasts outside of town. He basically asked me to run them off for him and do his job, but I supposed it would be fun to sneak up on them. A burglar's got to keep a hand in, right?

Seeing the sloppy tables again as I left the fire, I was reminded of what Gareth said -- so I went back to the west corner of town. I asked Daley how I could help and he started talking about the watchmen keeping the jobless workers away from the festivities. He was worried those forced out will come too close to the awful grims at the frozen pond. It was on my way to those snowbeasts, so I told him I'd take care of it.

Gareth overheard, apparently, and motioned me over to him. He had something even better in mind -- and suggested I set off a store of fireworks and pinch festival coins from distracted patrons. I liked this guy, even if he'd been rude before. And wasn't it every hobbit's fondest wish to set off fireworks when one wasn't supposed to? A hobbit's life is not lived to its fullest potential without that accomplishment checked off.

It didn't take me long to find the fireworks Gareth had mentioned -- they were around the side of the theatre and at the top of some stairs. Not deeming it the right time to set off the fireworks, a quick glance showed me that Mabel and Basil were at the bottom of those stairs and looking utterly beside themselves. This time, I simply walked up to them and asked how I could help them. Hesitant at first, they soon relented in telling me the tasks they were unable to finish while still managing the chaos in the immediate vicinity. If I didn't have a hearty to-do list before then, I certainly did after talking to them. Basil was the poor schmuck in charge of keeping the kegs ready and full, and was also the only one able to clean up all those sloppy tables. Mabel, on the other hand, was tasked with replenishing those tables but had run out of fare to serve -- and the firewood to cook with. She told me where I could find what she needed, and warned me about some "angry trees"?

With this new list of chores to undertake, I decided I should clear my conscience and speak to Virgil first since the snowman field was on the way to everything else outside of town. To my pleasant surprise, Virgil was a pretty laidback person for a Big Folk and told me he liked the disaster I had made of the broken snowman. Other festival patrons had even begun copying its design because it was simple and took them less time out in the cold while still allowing them to participate. To me, that seemed like the epitome of a participation trophy, but whatever suited these weird people!

Virgil directed me beyond the snowball field to a little rise where I would find "Cluckland" -- and hound-guarded hen houses strewn with fresh eggs. I picked up as many would fit in my cloth-lined satchel where I usually kept my own supply of eggs, and headed along the woodline to collect Mabel's firewood. 

The first creaking growl startled me for only a moment before my burglar skills helped me evade an onslaught of clawing, thumping, branch-like arms. "Angry trees" indeed -- Mabel was harvesting firewood from wood trolls! Belatedly, I realized I only had a paring knife with me and my large ladle -- but I made do. Firewood collected, I huffed and made my way down the slope towards the frozen pond. 

From a distance I could see the ominous swirling clouds of ice, but I also saw the winterberry bushes. The grims were not as tough as I had feared, only a nuisance in my task of picking berries, and I was soon moving up the opposite wooded slope in search of the snowbeasts that were annoying Guard Kember so much.

In the end, it was child's play to sneak up on the large, horned snowbeasts that were snoring away among the trees on the edge of the valley. I gave my loudest, whooping hobbit cheer right in one's ear, with my paring knife and ladle at the ready in case I needed them. Instead, the sleepy brute stood up with a groan and stretched, then stumped off to put several trees between us... and proceeded to flop back down to sleep. 

Flinging my hands up at this lost cause, Rosemary and I made our way up the slope to collect mushrooms from the heated tent. I was never as fond of mushrooms as my kin, and I could only imagine how decimated this tent would be if more hobbits had come to the festival. These mushrooms clearly didn't have the same quality as Farmer Maggot's, anyhow -- otherwise they'd have dogs to protect this crop instead of sending an unknown like me to come collect what I could!

Done with all the crazy errands, I huffed a foggy breath into the chill air and mounted back up on Rosemary. She grunted and shifted slightly as I did so, clearly as unused to all this activity as I was. I leaned over to pat her neck appreciatively. "Hey girl, it's alright. You probably needed this exercise, and I'll make you some apple and oat cakes when we get back home, alright?" This seemed to satisfy my pony, and she gave a little toss of her head as she began her way up the path towards the town.

Back inside, I reported to Guard Kember about my attempt to cheer-scare the snowbeasts. He half-smiled and shrugged, but gave me some festival coin for my troubles. When his attention was elsewhere, I was again face-to-face with the slop-planks behind Ona that were passing as feast tables. Unable to stand the mess any longer, I grabbed a nearby rag and began to clean to the chagrin of a surprised Ona. The smelly garbage, unsightly spills and grimy dishes were soon a thing of the past. Even us hobbits know how to clean up after ourselves! Maybe it taught the Big Folks a lesson to see me cleaning their mess, but I somehow doubt it.

I ended up by the servants oven and proceeded to bake some of the bread that Mabel needed, while also grabbing some coal to supply to Virgil. Bread baked, I hefted up a nearby keg and brought it to the lone dwarf I'd seen in town -- who very well may have been draining the kegs all on his own. There was no telling, because he was too drunk to even tell me his name. But funny thing, that -- there weren't any elves here at all. Maybe the dwarves and elves were having a better time elsewhere?

By this time, there was a large crowd enjoying the refreshed food tables and drink, and I deemed it the perfect time to set off the fireworks. Chaos erupted in a matter of seconds, and I reveled in every second of it! Panicked servants came running to the crate of fireworks, as if their pleas would make them cease to launch. Patrons in the square thought it was planned and began to watch the sky and dance and cheer. Amid this distracted chaos, I slipped in between the besotted people and lifted festival coins from many of them. I was gone around a corner long before the fireworks died down.

Virgil was well pleased to receive a handful of coal from me, and I replicated my broken snowman to his amusement before heading back into the town. I had a lot of coin to get rid of, and I knew exactly who to give it to. I discreetly made the rounds around the town, slipping coins to the workers who'd been reduced to beggars. My good deeds done for the day, I returned to Mara to lay claim to one of her promised bag of goodies -- and to thaw out my toes.

As I stood there with her, listening to her chatter away about some exotic pets I could trade festival coins for -- I saw some Big Folk come up to Mayor Goodnough and show him a piece of paper. Winston must've been looking at his spared-no-expense receipt, because he turned whiter than the falling snow. I guess he decided to spend some more money, because I soon saw the same Big Folk going around to the jobless workers and telling them they were rehired.

Worn out, and not sure I wanted to find out what kind of drama had transpired among the Big Folk, I took my leave of Mara and decided to head to the theatre to relax. I heard they were putting on a Shire favorite about Mad Baggins, and I loved that one dearly. I only hoped the Shire tradition of throwing fruit at the bad actors would be acceptable here at the festival.


I hope you enjoyed this Yule narrative about LOTRO's Yule Festival, as told from the perspective of my hobbit burglar, Aumai Goodness. This blog entry was a reward for one of my 2018 Extra Life donors because she donated $100. This is the kind of stuff I do for my donors! If you'd like to be one, just click the image below. Thank you for reading -- and please feel free to leave comments and feedback!

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Carrots for Everyone: 2019 Incentives

You guessed it -- I'm working on the 2019 incentives. But you'll never guess the data I have to work with this year.

I know that sounds suspiciously like clickbait, but this is a pretty short blog entry. It's also straightforward and I don't make any money off of any ads you may see on this page. Thanks for coming to read the entry, and I hope you'll be kind enough to give some feedback.

You see, I haven't figured out much for my incentives this year. I had a great line-up last year and I'm still working on delivering them to all of you lovely people. I've been struggling for weeks now to come up with an equally good line-up for 2019 without being repetitive or dull. Thanks to some comments from my Team Veterans, I acknowledged that most of my donors are my age or older. That statement made me curious to find out the exact numbers, so I pulled up last year's donor list and made myself a chart.

That's right. A full 2/3 of my fundraising was made possible by people over the age of 50. That makes it a little more challenging to find incentives that are appropriate for my donors. I think it's clear that last year's donations didn't necessarily happen because of my incentive list, but because people wanted to support the cause and help sick kids. This leaves me with a distinct choice to make, I think -- do I repeat last year's model of incentives and try to appeal to a younger set of donors, or do I adjust my incentives to retain and appeal to the older demographic?

Some people might try to label this as bribery. I'm here to inform you that when it comes to fundraising, it's always a matter of bribery if people aren't wanting to throw money at your cause without some kind of incentive. It's a truth I've learned in my 7 years of Extra Life (and longer experience raising funds for various causes and projects). People are more inclined to donate if they get something neat in return -- either to show they've donated, or just to make them feel better about parting with money.

My question to you readers and supporters is direct and personal: What would I have to offer as an incentive to guarantee a donation to Extra Life from you this year? Please feel free to comment with your answer, because I could really use some direction!

Did this data surprise you as much as it surprised me? Do you think this says anything about the supporters of Extra Life, or is it simply the Gamer Reverie/snarkqueen audience I've accumulated over the years? I know I'm not hip enough to keep the attention span of the Fork-knife kiddies, but I'm certainly not discussing the classic old school games that I mostly missed out on, either. I may never know these answers, but it certainly gives me a lot to think about as I try to get things in motion for another successful fundraising year!