Hi everyone, today is the second anniversary of The Starry Mantle! That means it’s time, once again, for a slightly tongue-in-cheek — and more-than-slightly self-indulgent — look at the past year at the blog. It also means that, as is only proper in polite Hobbit society, it’s time for me to hand out some presents to show my gratitude to you fine readers! You guys are the best.
I’ve got three prizes up for grabs, dear readers: a Helm’s Deep expansion key (which includes the pre-order goodies), a code for 1,000 TP, and a code for 500 TP. To be entered in the draw, comment on this post, even if it’s just to say “Hi Starry!” I’ll put your name in my big cake hat and draw the winners. If you’d like to comment but don’t want to be included in the draw, or if you do want to be in the draw but don’t want the expansion key only the TP, let me know in your comment. Make sure to comment using the email address you’d like me to send your prize to, and please comment by Tuesday, 03 Dec, 2013. What time on Tuesday? I don’t know, before the thrush knocks. Very scientific. Good luck!
Who will behold the flowing LOTRO players from the Sea returning?
Well, it’s been a really interesting year for The Starry Mantle. After a strong start over last year’s holiday season, the middle portion of the year saw somewhat sagging readership statistics. I was very sad and my cries of “a-bloo-bloo-bloo” echoed far and wide, but then I recognised that I didn’t have quite as much time and energy to devote to the blog as I did in the early days (when I used to post three times a week), so it would be only natural that some readers would lose interest. Plus, it was summer, and people were no doubt out and about doing summery things rather than playing LOTRO and reading blogs. I also think the longform blog format might be losing ground to other social media like Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and so on; for that reason, The Starry Mantle can now be followed on both Twitter and Pinterest. (I’m still a Facebook luddite, though. Would you be interested in following the blog on Facebook? Let me know in the comments!) In spite of all this, in August when I announced that I was changing my posting schedule from “every Wednesday, religiously” to “only when I feel like it, maaan”, readership increased quite dramatically, in fact to the highest levels I’ve had yet. Go figure! But seriously, I’m sure it had less to do with readers being excited about a more relaxed schedule than it did with summer drawing to an end and players returning to LOTRO to get ready for Helm’s Deep, and thus revisiting the various LOTRO-related blogs that they had been following previously.
Whatever the case may be, I want to give a big warm welcome to all readers, both new and returning — and of course those of you “old-timers” who’ve been reading and supporting the blog with your encouragement and kind comments since the early days! I’m thrilled to have each one of you following along and I thank you sincerely for your readership. I invite and encourage you to leave a comment on any post, old or new, if you think an outfit is good, if it offends your every sensibility, or indeed if you would just like to make random, unrelated quips. It’s all good. On the other hand, maybe commenting isn’t your thing. If so, please feel free to use the star-rating widget at the bottom of each outfit post to let the world know what you think. One star for “this outfit is heinous, it visually assaulted me” all the way up to five stars for “the Valar themselves covet this fine getup”. Or whatever you decide the stars mean!
In which I toot my own Horn of Helm Hammerhand
One of the most awesome things to happen on the blog this year was that I was approached by Turbine about featuring some of my outfits on the in-game clothing mannequins. The mannequins feature full cosmetic sets, Middle-earth prêt-à-porter if you will, that have been carefully combined by Turbine staff and also by my esteemed fellow blogger Hymne of Cosmetic Lotro. I always envisioned The Starry Mantle as somewhere LOTRO players could visit for outfit inspiration, either for a few pieces that might act as the foundation of a good outfit, or for a complete look to wear — and the in-game mannequins really facilitate this. So I was very pleased and flattered to have been approached, and of course I gratefully agreed. So far, three quartets of outfits from The Starry Mantle have been featured on the mannequins (the September, October, and November mannequin sets) and it has been an absolute blast to see people running around in them. I hope you enjoy the outfits and the convenience afforded by the mannequins.
Another really nice surprise this year was that I discovered that The Starry Mantle is featured on WordPress’s list of “Awesome Blogs using the Twenty Ten theme”. This won’t mean too much unless you’re a WordPress user, but I was really pleased to be recognised over there. But enough tooting my own horn! Let’s see what else has happened on the blog since last November…
Once again, there were a number of contests on the blog this year. I teamed up with Hymne for the Mugshot Contest, in which readers sent us shots of their Middle-earth criminals and hooligans in various states of disgrace and defiance. I was also invited by Turbine to co-judge the fan-favourite category, again alongside Hymne, of the LOTRO Fashion Week contest on the official forums. And finally, I hosted the Fool-of-a-Took caption contest, which resulted in a bit of a dig at Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. As we will see, however, Lobelia did go on to be vindicated! Anyway, I love contests because they let you guys show off your creativity, and I’m always surprised, impressed, and inspired by the results. So a big thank you to everyone who participated in the contests I was involved with this year.
To keep things fresh between outfits, I try to include some special features on the blog from time to time. Of course we had a new batch of Harvestmath guises in October, and back in April, the second annual Fool-of-a-Took Day post (my take on an April Fool’s Day post, in which I get to make goofy, terrible jokes). This year I finished off a long-running Fellowship of the Ring collection (a series of portraits of each member of the company) with a composite image showing the fellowship assembled for their departure from Rivendell. I thought it was a nice way to end the series, and I had a lot of fun putting it together (but expect to see more from the fellowship at some point in the future). I added a series of guides aiming to provide tips for various outfitting topics (the third and final guide is on its way!), and I also introduced a new type of feature that I call “selections“, which feature a themed sampler of outfits that have previously been published on the blog. I thought this would be a great way to acquaint new readers and old-timers alike with past outfits they might have missed. Are there any other sorts of special features you’d like to see on the blog in the future? I’d love to hear ideas or suggestions.
Now for a look at some individual outfits and posts that were noteworthy for various reasons this year:
Most lore-heavy post
The lore of Middle-earth is an important part of my vision for the blog, and sometimes I get carried away, trotting out an etymological example or some Tolkien reference and droning on about it. Which I guess is great if, like me, you like that sort of thing (and I think that some of you do!). The example that stands out most to me from this past year was Were-worm of the Last Desert, in which I held forth about my crazy idea that maybe Tolkien had the Primary World Sauromatian peoples in mind when he wrote about the Were-worms in The Hobbit. I don’t think I convinced anyone, but I hope I entertained a few of you with my speculations. Honourable mentions in going lore-overboard (overlored?) surely go to Grammarian of Gondor, Druidess, and Figment of Dwimordene. Drop me a line if there are there any particular lore-related concepts you’d like to see explored and I’ll add them to my brainstorming folder.
Most lore-light post
As with the blog’s first year, there were posts that had, to put it mildly, not much to do with the lore of Middle-earth. To the surprise of no-one, I’m sure, the worst offender was one of this year’s “Harvestmath guises”. But hey, a goofy post for a goofy time of year. It was the Playdwarf Bunny, of course, a barechested dwarf in a pastel-blue bunny outfit, shimmying saucily for the camera. For the protection of reader eyeballs and psyches, I took the shots in the Thorin’s Hall homestead because the area has a significant bloom visual effect, making it appear that the camera lens is smeared with Vaseline. Your safety and mental health are always forefront in my mind here at The Starry Mantle.
Most flowery text
Things got pretty flowery in the text of Figment of Dwimordene, which I think is among my favourite posts from this past year, both in terms of the outfit and in terms of the text that went with it. I admit that I might have got a bit carried away writing of the beautiful Golden Wood, but what can I say, maybe I was transported to Faërie for a little while. Things can get worse than mere flowery prose though. There could be… poetry. And since I never learn my lesson, this year I once again toyed with the idea of composing poetry for a particular post. It was going to be alliterative verse to be used with the Fauxhirrim Harvestmath guise outfit. But then I thought to myself, “why would you compose poetry for a joke post?” and also, “you are a terrible poet, don’t make people read this”. All that’s left of the attempt is a heck of a lot of alliteration in the text of that post. So once again, good sense prevailed and you were all spared reading an attempt at poetry. At least for another year, because no doubt the temptation will arise again.
Most experimental format
The usual format I use for an outfit post on the blog is: 1) narrative introduction of the theme/concept; 2) description of the outfit/character; 3) my comments, an explanation of what the heck I was thinking, etc.; 4) the component pieces of the outfit; 5) tips for alternate pieces or where to get pieces; 6) suggestions for other outfits you may like. On a couple of occasions I experimented with deviating significantly from this format, such as in the already-mentioned Were-worm post where I babbled on and on about my pet theory. Another experimental post was the Swan-may, in which I presented a half-baked (yet somehow still really long) thought experiment about what a skin-changer class in LOTRO might be like. A few of you even humoured me with your own thoughts about the idea, which was very nice and all a blogger can ask for, really!
Fun with animals
Animals are frustratingly difficult to work with, in LOTRO and in Real Life™ (I hear), since they just wander off while you’re trying to pose and take screenshots with them. And if they’re not wandering off, they’re trying to eat your face. In the past, LOTRO critters have caused me a lot of impotent rage. This year, I decided to give my blood pressure a break and I only attempted two sets of screenshots featuring animals. Coincidentally, they were both birds: Swan-may and Raven-friend. The swans kept going arse-up (so rude) but the ravens were pretty well-behaved. For the Raven-friend screenshots I had a lore-master hiding out of the shot with his pet raven obediently perched on the ground near my dwarf. The downside was that neither the swans in Harwick nor the ravens in the Fires of Smaug instance are attackable, and I usually like to end my animal screenshot sessions by giving the pixel-critters a thorough slaughtering. But there’s always next year.
And now we come to the fun part. Which outfits did you guys like the best this year? As always WordPress gives a variety of tools to answer this question and none of them are very reliable. If we’re going by star-widget rating, the big favourite this year was the portrait of Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. Frequently the butt of jokes and scorn from LOTRO players (exhibit A), Lobelia was vindicated by receiving 11 five-star votes, meaning she’s tied with last year’s Satrap of Khand, for all-time reader favourite. Last year I was surprised by how much love Satrap got, since it was a fairly simple outfit composition, and this year I was just as surprised, for the same reason, about Lobelia. Perhaps readers just like granny-fashion and/or redemptive tales of crotchety old hobbit-ladies (both of these things are pretty awesome, after all.)
But of course the star-widget doesn’t tell the whole story. Some outfits receive just one 5-star vote and thus are ranked higher by WordPress than an outfit receiving, say, a hundred 5-star votes and one 4-star vote. I often find that outfits which experience a split vote, if you will, are the most interesting (to me, anyway) since I feel like they are the ones where a cosmetic “risk” has been taken that divides opinion. This year’s post that received the most votes but was not highly ranked was Túrin. Twelve readers gave Túrin stars, but not all voted 5, so he ended up about three-quarters of the way down the ranking according to WordPress. Moving on from star-ratings to other methods of determining reader faves, if we instead go by raw number of page views, this year’s champion was the portrait of Boromir — another character with a redemptive story. I’m starting to see a pattern here! Finally, we could take into consideration how many “Likes” an outfit received, in which case it was Mûmak-warrior of Far Harad that came out on top, with six.
I can’t talk about what you, the readers, liked without discussing what you didn’t like! First, the good news: this year, I received no citations for hideous headwear! However, I didn’t get away quite scott-free. Again, there are several different ways to tell which outfits you guys thought were crimes against Middle-earth fashion. According to the star-widget, and ignoring Harvestmath guises, since they’re not serious outfits, this year’s least-loved outfit was Swan-may. I’ll admit it’s not the most exciting outfit, in that it features a pretty bland colour scheme and a robe onesie (but on the other hand, Lobelia was pretty popular and she was in a frock onesie — go figure), but I liked the unusual olive-and-biscuit colour-scheme of the whole ensemble. Perhaps people were (quite reasonably) expecting something more pristine white for a swan-themed outfit, or maybe it could have been my musings about a skin-changer class, rather than the outfit itself, that inspired some low-star votes — either way, fair enough!
Another way to tell that an outfit wasn’t enjoyed is if it receives comparatively few page views. This year, the outfit with the fewest page views was the poor ol’ Westfarthing Shirriff. He suffers from the opposite problem that the bland Swan-may has: he is wearing a lot of chartreuse (some would say puke green), which is a more-than-sufficient explanation. I have (for some reason) a passion for the colour, but I know that not many share my enthusiasm. Looking back, I wish I had omitted the cloak on the Shirriff. I feel it dectracts from what I think is the main strength of the outfit, the matching of the chartreuse sections of chest and leggings and the matching of the rich brown accents with the hat.
And finally, here’s a selection of outfits from the past year, in no particular order, which turned out to be my own personal favourites!
Well, that’s it for this look at The Starry Mantle’s second year, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Do you have a favourite outfit that wasn’t mentioned, maybe even one that you’ve worn on your character? Or was there an outfit you thought was just nasty and wouldn’t be caught dead in, even on your lowliest storage alt? I’d love to hear about it, so let me know in the comments!
Don’t forget to comment before Tuesday if you’d like to enter the draw for prizes, and until next time, happy outfitting, everyone!
You may also like: