Hello there! It's been a couple of months since our last article. Since then, AotR has seen the release of version 5.0 (and 5.1), which added the faction of Dol Guldur. We are very grateful for the enthusiasm with which the community received this faction - from all the kind compliments to a seemingly endless stream of community-made Youtube videos, it's been very humbling!
But now, it's time to focus our attention on what's next...
Why Woodland Realm?
Why indeed. From the moment we announced this faction back in 2017, it's been an occasional cause for misunderstanding: Woodland Realm is the third Elven faction in Age of the Ring - an obvious redundancy. There's not enough information about Thranduil's realm to make it distinct from Lothlórien, their roster and gameplay will necessarily be very similar, they should be some kind of 'minifaction' instead, et cetera.
On the surface, these aforementioned issues seem legit. The Elves of the Woodland Realm, like those of Lórien, were mostly Wood-elves. They were both led by Sindar lords (at least for a long time), they both lived in the trees, and they both fought against an encroaching evil. Contrast this with Rivendell: an entirely different set of Elves, with a different history and culture, and hobbits!
Obviously, we disagree with this assessment. There's a lot more to the Elves of the Woodland Realm and their allies than meets the eye. In this article, we will broadly introduce the faction as we've envisioned it, with later articles dealing with the specifics of gameplay, units, heroes, and spellbook powers. Themes aren’t just for eight-grade book reports, kids.
Less Wise, More Dangerous
The above adage, stated by Tolkien in The Hobbit (and by Beorn in Desolation of Smaug) has been key in informing the basic design of the Woodland Realm faction. This is reflected all throughout their gameplay: their basic units are Silvan Elves that receive various special abilities, such as Skinning Knives, which causes basic attacks to deal lingering damage over time, and Thorned Barbs, which briefly stuns enemy units when struck. Silvan Elves also have the Evasion power, which temporarily increases their armor, knockback resistance, and movement speed, which allows them to escape sticky situations and make for the cover of the forest.
Beyond this, the Woodland Realm spellbook is full of ways to annoy, delay, and mess with your opponent. Hidden Sentries places 3 Silvan sentries on a targeted location. The Elves Awoke Them summons a tree that knocks back enemy units and provides stealth. Elvenking’s Road allows the player to teleport units in and out of combat. Elvenking’s Feast summons a moveable feast that provides bonuses to nearby units. Lights Go Out temporarily reduces enemy vision, experience gain, and attack damage.
All this works towards making the Woodland Realm feel very distinct. The Elves of Lothlórien and Rivendell are portrayed as serene, ethereal beings mostly concerned with the protection and preservation of their environment, while the Elves of the Woodland Realm are far more aggressive, militarized, and trickstery.
Tauriel is the Captain of the Silvan Elves
A group of Silvan Elves plans an ambush upon an outpost of Dol Guldur
Oromë and the Hunt
Tolkien’s Elves being vegetarians is a common misconception! The Elves of the Woodland Realm were known to hunt, as is evidenced by Bilbo and the Dwarves hearing the Wood-elves hunting in Mirkwood, as well as by Tolkien’s description of them: “They dwelt most often by the edges of the woods, from which they could escape at times to hunt, or to ride and run over the open lands by moonlight or starlight …”
We thought this penchant for hunting would make an interesting motif for the Woodland Realm. It’s expressed in various ways: the Hunting Shrine, one of the faction’s two primary resource structures, has the ability to recruit a Feredir - Sindarin for Hunter - a single Elf unit that can hunt for extra resources by killing and trapping creeps and enemy units.
Beyond this, we have extrapolated the idea of Wood-elves and their hunt into a special veneration of Oromë, the Huntsman of the Valar. Oromë is ever-present in the faction, from the spellbook’s Great Hunt of Oromë, a targetable power that causes enemy units to lose armor and have their ability timers reset, while granting friendly units recharged ability timers and the ability to temporarily trample enemy units, to the Fortress’ Tribute to Oromë, which unlocks the Horn of Tauron power, which when activated causes enemy units to lose armor and flee in terror.
Oromë is also part of the connective tissue between the two main cultures of the Woodland Realm faction - Wood-elves and Woodmen. The Rohirrim revered Oromë, and so it makes sense that their Woodmen cousins were also familiar with him. This familiarity is expressed by the Woodmen Hunters’ Mark of Béma power, which causes targeted units to temporarily receive more damage from Woodmen arrows.
Woodmen gather near Grimbeorn's House
It’s no secret that Tolkien’s Elves were, in part, inspired by Celtic myths. In The Hobbit, we see a white deer as Thorin and company enter Mirkwood - which, according to Tolkien scholar Douglas A. Anderson, usually prefigure an encounter with beings from the Otherworld [in Celtic tradition]. We have expanded upon this notion and incorporated several other clear Celtic-based entities into the Woodland Realm, most notably the Druids of the Oaken Order. First taught by Radagast centuries before the War of the Ring when he detected the evil presence in Dol Guldur, these Men, learned in the hidden truths of the natural world, serve as spiritual and political leaders to the Woodmen of the Anduin Vale.
We have also extrapolated the white deer from the book, combining with the spirit-like white stag that appears in the Extended Edition of Desolation of Smaug, to create the second of Woodland Realm’s final spellbook powers - A Sign of Good Fortune - which summons an invulnerable White Stag that strengthens and supports your units.
Another small nod to both Middle-earth’s more obscure figures and Celtic tradition is Frumgar, son of Frumgar, Champion of the Anduin Vale - a descendant of a mighty Dragonslayer. Frumgar is summoned as part of the Spears of Framsburg power, and is surrounded by a small force of Éothéod Riders.
The Gilded Guard of Lasgalen ride ferocious Elks into battle
Radagast meets with a group of Druids of the Oaken Order
Frumgar honors his ancestors by slaying a dragon
The Elvenking has ever been a far more relatable character than most of the other Elves we’ve come to know throughout the history of Middle-earth, especially those that remain in Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age. He is wise, yet not counted amongst the Wise members of the White Council. He is just, but bears personal grudges. He likes gems and beautiful things, as well as drinking wine and feasting. In the Hobbit films, his character was embellished to be a bit more haughty, resentful, and - dare I say it - sultry than he was in the book, all beautifully portrayed by Lee Pace.
Right from the start, we knew that Thranduil the Elvenking was going to be a very central figure to the faction, possibly even more so than the Necromancer in Dol Guldur. Thranduil is the ‘faction leader’ hero, and is presented as an isolationist, wealthy warrior-king that wants to protect his people and kill his enemies. His Renowned Warrior power is amongst the greatest ‘blademaster’ type abilities in the mod, growing stronger with each level. His None May Enter ability allows him to block off a part of the map to create a chokepoint, while his Memory of Mordor power surrounds the Elvenking with a cadre of memories-taken-shape that deal damage to everything within their range.
Because Woodland Realm does not possess a standard heavy armor upgrade, we have given Thranduil a leadership that boosts armor, as well as his Love of Silver and Jewels power, which upgrades targeted units with Sindarin Armor, permanently increasing their armor.
Beyond his status as a faction leader, he is also very present in the spellbook, where a whole row of spells is dedicated to his authority as Elvenking: the previously mentioned Elvenking’s Road and Elvenking’s Feast, as well as Elvenking’s Patience, which removes enemy units’ leadership and stuns them for a short time, and Elvenking’s Decree, which causes targeted friendly units to collect resources upon kills and have increased movement speed.
Oh, and we also emphasize his fabulousness by giving him a variety of costumes!
Thranduil poses with his Treasury
Thranduil fights an incursion from the Misty Mountains
Once upgraded with Sindarin Armor, the otherwise green and brown
Silvan Elves receive a very different look
Color Palettes, Visual Motifs, and Day Drinking
Finally, we decided upon several visual markers to easily make Woodland Realm stand out on its own, not just from the other Elven factions, but from every faction in Age of the Ring.
To this end, we decided to portray Woodland Realm in autumn - its many trees full of red leaves, and red leaves all in and around the open-spaced structures - which we decided would be made of wood, and mostly built upon ancient stone ruins from Oropher’s time, when the Woodland Realm was far larger and more cheerful, before the Elves retreated further inwards towards the underground halls of the Elvenking. These dwellings are typically not meant to be permanent, but rather temporary settlements, used on occasion when needed.
We’ve also emphasized their love of feasting and wine - there are very few structures you’ll find that don’t have a barrel or more as well as a couple of bottles of wine stashed away!
A Well of Wine surrounded by Vineyards, Galion, and several battalions of drunk Elves
The Royal Barracks and the Hunting Shrine
We’ll go more in-depth on Woodland Realm units, heroes and spellbook powers in later articles. For now, we’ve still got a lot of development to do!
Until next time,
The AotR Team
Bonus image of the Carrock!