Role-Playing Thranduil on #TheUnpredictedParty
The Unpredicted Party is "the only TTRPG that answers the question, 'Why didn't they just take the eagles to Mordor?'" This role-playing game is run by lore-master Don Marshall (TikTok's "Obscure Lord of the Rings Facts Guy"), and follows two Elves (Tinel & Halueth) and a Dwarf (Biri) as they navigate the fall-out of the Fellowship attempting to drop the One Ring into Mount Doom from the skies. To avoid as much spoiling as possible in this intro... let us say it all goes horribly wry, which leads our three heroes to band together and try to save Middle-Earth themselves against all odds.
The first episode of The Unpredicted Party aired on YouTube on March 25th, 2022. (March 25th is the day the One Ring was destroyed in the canonical plot of The Lord of the Rings, which is a fun factoid I'm sure was entirely intentional from Don Marshall.) My involvement with the project predates that in small ways, but my main role has been as a guest as a role-player of Thranduil, the Elvenking mentioned in The Hobbit and later named in The Lord of the Rings. The character was made truly iconic by Lee Pace's portrayal in The Hobbit film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, of course, but there is a very specific reason Don kept me in mind for the role... and why it means the world to me to have played the part in Episodes 15, 16, and 17 of the campaign. This very long blog post will serve as a chronicle of my experience working on the project. Enjoy the ride!
Let's Start at the Beginning... with spoilers from here on out.
Don approached me in mid-2021 with the idea of creating a tabletop role-playing campaign to play out the hypothetical madness that would have ensued if the Fellowship had decided to ride the eagles to Mordor in an attempt to destroy the One Ring. We were Internet friends, fellow TikTok creators who have been obsessed with Tolkien lore for decades. He initially just wanted to ask if he was crazy---of course he was, but why on earth would that stop either of us?---but as he painted a picture of the scenario to me for over three hours on the phone, I was giddy at the idea... and eager to offer my own small bits of lore knowledge he could use to enhance some of the Elven details and non-player-characters (NPCs), which he knew would be plentiful.
Don has a miraculous way of juggling several large projects all at once, and while I was eager to help in any way I could, he went to work on his own. He found players, established a relationship with a TTRPG company with a system based specifically in Tolkien's world, found an artist, a fantasy cartographer, and a musician to collaborate with for the visual and audio aspects of the production. He then wrote just under 100 pages of plot ideas, timelines, and character sheets for everything from chance encounters to fully planned 'dungeons', nuanced consequences for actions or inactions made by the party members...
Don is a madman. And I have such deep admiration for his creativity, work ethic, and sheer gumption to take the idea and make it into a reality. The Unpredicted Party has become one of his creative offspring, a project with a life of its own, and one that keeps evolving as the story progresses and the characters make decisions that force him to make dozens more pages of notes! I want to make it clear that I served merely as a cheerleader in the background... until...
"Would you like to play Thranduil, Kris?"
When Don called me up, he asked if I was keeping up with The Unpredicted Party---of course I was---and then posed the question. Would I like to play Thranduil? I immediately jumped at the opportunity, but I also quaked in that odd mixture of fear and excitement. What you all need to understand is that Thranduil was my first true table-top experience. I have never played Dungeons & Dragons, and while an attempt was made to play Mage back in 2012 or so, the game fell apart after only a couple sessions due to scheduling and relationship issues.
I told Don all of this, warned him that I would need some hand-holding when it comes to any potential combat mechanics due to my lack of experience. But! I knew the character of Thranduil inside-out, frontwards and backwards, like the back of my hand. If he was looking for someone who could role-play the character, I was 100% onboard. And for more reasons than merely enjoying the character and wanting to be part of the amazing plot Don had pitched months prior.
Why Thranduil specifically means so much to me:
For those who know me, you know that I had a life partner named Saundra who passed away on September 30th, 2019, just a few months before the global COVID pandemic hit. Saundra and I spent all of our 12 years together writing fiction and role-playing together in a prose format. It began with Tolkien characters, gradually expanded into worlds and characters we co-created, and even led to us running our own LGBTQ+ micropress where we published about 100 authors from all over the world.
The very first characters Saundra and I role-played together? Gwindor, son of Guilin, a tragic minor character from the tale of Túrin Turumbar in The Silmarillion... and Thranduil.
Gwindor was my chosen character, and Saundra played Thranduil. Due to their timelines never touching canonically in Tolkien's world, we dropped them into Fourth Age Valinor, years after the War of the Ring had completed, when Thranduil presumably would have sailed West to the Undying Lands, where Gwindor would have been re-bodied and released from the Halls of Mandos following his death in the First Age.
These characters became our OTP (one true pairing), our comfort pair. Writing them was a joy. And while they were our first characters together... they were also our last. The night my partner passed away in her sleep, we were writing a scene between Gwindor and Thranduil. These characters had gone through dozens of different plots with Saundra and me. And now Don was giving me an opportunity to play the character that had always been my partner's. Not in a million years would I have given up this chance.
MY Thranduil vs The Unpredicted Party:
The first step in playing Thranduil in Don Marshall's version of Tolkien's world was for me to brainstorm in depth with Don. What state is Mirkwood in during his plot? Has any communication happened between Thranduil and the other Elven rulers (Galadriel, Celeborn, Elrond, and Círdan)? With Legolas and the rest of the Fellowship dead, how will the Party characters of Tinel, Halueth, and Biri break the news to Thranduil? And what on earth would be his response?
We had a ton to talk about. My version of Thranduil has four living children (Legolas was his third), and his wife Arasiel had died in a Spider attack while carrying their fifth child. He also has a deep spiritual and magical bond with Greenwood the Great, the forest in which his realm is located. That magic presents itself both elementally (being able to manipulate the trees, vines, and even the air surrounding a space to maintain an environment suitable for the flora and the Elves to inhabit)... and it also presents psychologically (being able to see/hear what the trees and animals of the forest do through a psychic link he controls at will and which enhances his own Elven senses in general).
Don decided to allow the magic, which I was so ecstatic about! It adds a lot of depth to the character and makes for a potentially powerful foe or ally. It raises the stakes. The Party will want to be on Thranduil's good side. But, of course, it won't be easy on them.
On the flip side, Don begged me to simplify the family dynamic, which I happily did. We were planning a guest appearance, which means there would be no time for that kind of detail anyway. Legolas was therefore made Thranduil's only child for convenience as well as emotional impact. Other details could be worked out after playing a session if necessary, but it would all depend on the dice... and on the players rolling them.
My Thranduil is a deeply wounded and flawed character, and putting him into a Third Age setting is a dark space for him to be. When you have a character mentally linked to a forest that is being slowly poisoned by Sauron over the course of two millennia, dealing that character a blow in the form of a loved one's death? That could go horribly, horribly wrong!
And that's precisely what we planned for. We knew from the start that Thranduil would be a potential obstacle for the Party, perhaps even be so lost to the corruption of Greenwood/Mirkwood that the grief of losing Legolas could send him over the edge and make him an active foe they'd have to battle.
At this point in the Third Age, Thranduil is walking a razor's edge. And the Party would put him in a very precarious position mentally. It would all hinge on the role-playing of the Party characters in his presence, and none of that could be... well... predicted (if you'll pardon the pun). So we planned for several outcomes. And I, personally, prepared for the worst.
I had lost my partner. Playing Thranduil would, in a sense, be a memorial, a tribute to Saundra. Given the opportunity, I could include details that were unique to her interpretation of the character. But playing him responding to his own son's death was a scenario we had never approached in our 12 years of toying with the characters. It was also going to hit close to home for me. There was a possibility I could break emotionally while trying to play... and after speaking with Don about it, we decided it was a risk we were both willing to take. I just had to be very honest with him if I was getting overwhelmed at any point of my guest appearance on the campaign. I had to prepare not only the character, but myself... and hope for the best.
The First Appearance of Thranduil -- Episode 15:
This is where I am obligated to strongly encourage anyone reading this to head over to Don's YouTube channel and watch the campaign itself! While it starts a bit slow (like most campaigns), Don does an amazing job of always ending with proper cliffhangers or on revelations that will keep you excited for the next episode. I truly do recommend the entire campaign! But if you just want to see my portrayal of Thranduil, then the following links to the individual episodes will be useful. Please watch them if you have time! Or read on below for my summary.
- Playlist of the FULL CAMPAIGN
- Episode 15 -- The Last King
- Episode 16 -- Food and Cheer
- Episode 17 -- Tension
As you can see from the episode that follows my first appearance, things apparently go well. But there are wonderfully tense moments along the way, I assure you!
I'm very proud of the preparation I did for Thranduil's first appearance. After deciding I would definitely play the role, there was a good long wait before the characters actually decided to turn toward Mirkwood in the campaign, so I was on standby, which gave me a lot of time to scheme on my own. When I reconvened with Don and knew my appearance was coming up very soon, I had some ideas, which Don ended up loving so much we used them.
I realize this is atypical for most guests on TTRPG campaigns. Normally, I believe a guest just appears without much preparation beyond their character sheet and having done some personal building. For The Unpredicted Party, however, it was important that I clear all major ideas with Don first, both to ensure they fit seamlessly with the plot that was already unfurling and to ensure I wasn't going to spoil or break anything unintentionally.
One idea I came up with was the individual interrogations for the Party members. Don told me the situation leading to their appearance in the Elvenking's domain, and I decided it would be fun to pull a basic deception right from the start. While the players themselves would likely suspect I was playing the Elvenking, for Tinel, Halueth, and Biri, they would be interrogated by presumably a random high-ranking Elf in the dungeons!
Don and I decided the interrogation order (Biri, then Tinel, then Halueth), and Don encouraged me to come up with a really strong first line for Thranduil to say to Biri. I was quite proud when I pitched him a line threatening to kill Biri's ore-boar and put him on the Elves' dinner plates. (As an aside: fuck whoever thought making the Elves vegetarians was a good idea. They're canonical hunters, for goodness' sake!) Don "Ooooooooo..."ed with glee at the idea, so that became Thranduil's opening line while in disguise.
It was Don's idea to have me actually appear in the Zoom meeting video call only once each player was an alone, making my guest appearance a surprise for each of them when they thought they were just about to do a bit of one-on-one with Don as an NPC. What a delightful way to enter the campaign!
To summarize the scenes in Episode 15: Thranduil in disguise as Morduin (my own personal Elvish name, by the way, which means "dark-river") interrogates the three characters. Biri, as a Dwarf, doesn't endear himself (as expected), Tinel spills everything so fast Thranduil only half-believes her, and Halueth is 100% over having to explain himself and win over what are supposed to be his own people. It's wonderfully tense and hilariously true to all their characters. Halueth (played by Zac Smith) did suspect he was dealing with Thranduil, since his character is old enough---and worldly enough---to know more about Thranduil as a ruler.
The three were pulled into the throne room for the big reveal, which apparently Max and Tori (Biri and Tinel's players, respectively) didn't actually see coming. They then had to reveal Legolas' death and convince Thranduil to aid them or, at the very least, not hinder them any longer. And thanks to a botched roll by Biri, the Dwarf pulled out the one remaining Elven Ring of Power and put it on, causing Tinel and Halueth to panic and make some amazing rolls to get the ring off of Biri's finger and stop him from trying to get the Ring back after it messed with his mind.
Once Thranduil realizes a Ring of Power is in play, there is a tense moment. All it would have taken was a single roll from Don as the lore-master... one roll that decided if the Ring would drop and roll towards Thranduil to tempt him... and given the role-play that had happened, Dark Thrandy would have been in play. But the rolls took a sharp turn in the other direction, and Halueth and Tinel barely managed to diffuse the situation, placating Thranduil with the promise that they would immediately destroy said ring if given the means. Thranduil eagerly supports that goal and takes them to a safe place far from any other Elves that could fall under sway of the ring's power. Halueth/Zac, in a moment of absolute genius in my opinion, decides to offer Aeglos (the spear of Gil-Galad) to Thranduil, giving him the pleasure of destroying that final ring himself.
Honestly? It's that single act that fully swayed my version of Thranduil. He'd have been pleased if the ring were destroyed by Halueth or anyone in the Party, but getting to do it himself was fulfilling on so many levels for his character that I knew from that instant that he was now an ally. And as a player, that was a huge relief! Because Don then immediately ended the session for the episode, it also meant I would have some time to really have fun with a brighter side of Thranduil than I had anticipated.
Scheming Between Sessions -- Worldbuilding Mirkwood:
Oh, the joy I experienced following that initial session! Knowing Thranduil was an ally now gave me more freedom with his character, and I immediately knew there was going to be some levity. The campaign had not been kind to the characters, so Don was very open to the concept of a Party-in-Mirkwood episode to lighten the mood. And boy was I ready to deliver!
In my headcanon, the Silvan Elves have endured so much hardship in the Third Age, being the one realm unprotected by a Ring of Power, that they have become experts at stress relief in order to continue fighting century after century. We see this canonically in the way the Elves of Mirkwood still manage to have bonfires in the woods and get drunk on wine! So I got to bring a bit of that to the game in the form of a feast in the caves (for safety), plenty of booze, dancing, and the promise of shirtless Elves. Don't worry; Don approved of that so long as nothing moved past PG-13.
My ongoing joke with Thranduil is that Saundra and I used to call him Randy Thrandy. During the Third Age, after losing his wife, he gets promiscuous. This plays off the inherently sensual energy Lee Pace brought to the table for Thranduil in The Hobbit trilogy. Putting Thranduil into a party situation let me play with that sensuality and expand it to the entire realm. Silvan Elves in Tolkien's world are regarded as crass and unrefined compared to the Noldor, which I always took as the Silvan Elves knowing how to have a good time without the trappings of purity culture or the obligatory performative refinement we often see out of the Noldor.
Silvan Elves get naked under the stars. They play rowdy games. Their music is boisterous and energetic. They also, in my mind, have made body modifications like tattoos and piercings an art form. This final bit didn't make it into my planning sessions with Don, but it was a spur-of-the-moment addition while I role-played the next session, and it's a bit of worldbuilding that I think everyone really enjoyed and was true to my and Saundra's vision for the Wood-Elves.
For Thranduil specifically, I took several hours on my own to brainstorm and draft some situations we now had the freedom to steer the characters into. I knew Biri would want to take advantage of Elven forges at any opportunity, so I contacted Max Randolph (Biri's player) to let him know Thranduil would allow him access if there was a guarantee of some Dwarvish design ingenuity being shared with him to help the Wood-Elves in their own fight against Mirkwood's darkness. I also planned for Thranduil to give Biri some advice when it came to steeling his mind against outside influences like the Ring had exerted on him. Much of this planned dialogue didn't end up happening, but it morphed into a way for Thranduil to encourage more closeness between the Party's characters, which is always a win in a campaign where Dwarves and Elves have to find common ground and learn to work together.
Halueth was a great character to plan for on my end because it was revealed to me that Halueth had been trying to tap into "Elven Magic". Thranduil was designed to have a deep knowledge of said magic, which made the course obvious: have him teach Halueth. If rolls went well, it would mean Halueth develops the skill faster. It would mean some healing happens between the Sindar/Silvan (Thranduil) and Noldor (Halueth) as well, since deep wounds exist between those two Elven populations specifically in Mirkwood. Due to Legolas being killed at the start of the campaign, it also meant tapping into Thranduil emotionally, because the last person he would have taught such things would have been Legolas. His son and heir is now gone, and this is his chance to pass on something of himself, which would be quite fulfilling for his character. And given the similar arrogance and general icy chill Thranduil and Halueth share as long-time warriors, it was an opportunity to strip some of that away and force both characters to be vulnerable and, in an energetic way, somewhat intimate. We could also tap into Halueth's past, which would be fun for the audience to finally see, since Halueth is anything but forthcoming.
Tinel was actually a struggle to plan for initially on my end! It took me a long time to figure out what gift to leave her with before she would depart Mirkwood. Halueth would get his magic lesson, Biri would have support forging a bunch of goodies (and would get his ore-boar back, which Thranduil deemed generous), but what could Tinel gain from interacting with Thranduil as an ally?
I decided to lean into Thranduil losing Legolas. A character like Thranduil knows he has to be strong for his people, and that typically would mean either being stoic or laughing off any pain he feels, physical or emotional. But Tinel as a character has a way of talking out those feelings in her wonderfully awkward, sheltered way. So I came up with a scenario based on the general Elven desire to be aboveground and amongst nature. (Elves typically hate living underground, and I banked on it being uncomfortable for Tinel, which turned out to be great intuition!)
I schemed for Tinel to go wandering in search of nature and to stumble upon a memorial space Thranduil has had tucked away for the royal family. His father and wife would both have memorial stones there, and now there could be a fresh one put in place for Legolas. Instant heartache for everyone involved. This was my opportunity to address Thranduil's grief on his own terms, show everyone the softer side of him that he hides in order to keep up that arrogant, dramatic façade. But a conversation wouldn't do much for Tinel's character, so...
I made up a bit of lore, pulling from The Silmarillion and various bits and pieces from The History of Middle-Earth volumes. The Elves were initially discovered by the Vala (god) of the Hunt, Oromë. It was this divine being that led them from their birthplace across the continent with the goal of heading over the sea to Valinor. Along the way, several sects of Elves decide to discontinue the journey. The Silvan Elves are one such sect. They remained on the eastern side of the Misty Mountains instead of going further west. One sign of the approach of Oromë was the sound of his great hunting horn.
I created a necklace with a whistle made of horn that was supposedly gifted to the sundered Silvan Elves by Oromë himself. The concept behind it was that the Elves could blow that whistle, and the sound would resonate magically with Oromé's horn, basically calling him for aid. But since the Valar very rarely interfered with anything by the time the Third Age comes around, the whistle ends up having another purpose: it resonates with nature to send that same call for aid, but there is no horn on the other end of the call. So the trees alone hear it... and Thranduil's link with Mirkwood allows him to hear that whistle through those trees.
This is a gift he can then give Tinel as a way of calling upon him directly. I got to keep Thranduil's magic relevant to the plot, give the Party a way to call for emergency aid without Thranduil promising immediate troops (since he desperately needs them to defend their own realm), and I even got to sneak in a reference to Daeron the Dark.
(As an aside, Daeron is listed as the greatest Elven bard of all time in the legendarium. He appears in The Silmarillion as an Elf with an unrequited love for Lúthien Tinúviel. When she runs off to help mortal man Beren in a quest, Daeron despairs, wonders off in search of her, and is never seen again. My headcanon is that he heads East and ends up in Greenwood with the Silvan Elves, so getting to insert him here was another nod to the worldbuilding I had done with Saundra over the years.)
I then added the emotional kicker of the necklace having belonged to Arasiel, Thranduil's deceased wife, who was presumably Silvan in heritage. Thranduil is one of the Sindar, a sect of Elves who continued over into Beleriand on the Great Journey but stayed there instead of going all the way to Valinor. It's in the Second Age that Thranduil comes East again and settles in Greenwood with his father Oropher, who is then named king by the Silvan population. So this uniquely Silvan artifact belonged to a Silvan queen... and is gifted to Tinel with the knowledge that if aid is called for, Thranduil will drop everything to answer, just as he would have for his wife.
When I shared this entire lore-building scheme with Don, his response was simply, "Holy shit, Kris." I knew then that I'd done especially well, and with that approval, I went into the second role-playing session with confidence.
The Party in Mirkwood -- Episode 16:
Episode 16 began right after the destruction of Vilya by Thranduil (thanks again, Halueth!), and Thranduil immediately wanted a damn drink, so the entire Party quickly spiraled into the celebratory atmosphere Don and I crafted. Wine flowed, a couple hints of conversation happened with Tinel and Halueth testing the waters to see if Thranduil would offer them aid, but honestly, Thranduil wanted them to shut up and just enjoy the party for a night, thinking they had all earned a respite.
Biri likely drank his weight, and he flirted and danced and had a merry time all on his own amongst the Elves. Halueth enjoyed the vegan offerings of Thranduil's banquet table before challenging the Mirkwood Elves to an archery shoot-off, which he of course won. Tinel, on the other hand, went wondering in search of a tree, despite Thranduil warning her not to do something rash while drunk. This wandering was something Don was prepared for, and we had planned for it to lead to the more emotional scene at the memorial, but the timing was terrible. Thranduil wasn't about to leave the party to have a sob-fest! So I had Thranduil pull a Goblin King Jareth and have Greenwood guide Tinel back to the party.
While Tinel was gone, Thranduil intervened when Halueth beat his archers. Halueth's boon was going to be the specialized arrows the Mirkwood Elves use, but Thranduil didn't want to lose ammunition for his warriors, so I was thrilled to improv the Silvan Skin-Inking trade into existence. As I mentioned before, I have always envisioned the Silvan culture as embracing body modification, so Halueth's prize was an inking of his choice... performed by Thranduil himself, which is a suitable honor, I thought.
Now, the half arm shoulder sleeve Halueth requested would definitely have taken hours to actually ink onto someone, but Don decided to handwave that element to keep things moving, so Thranduil apparently has some amazing skills and quick hands. Biri is entirely onboard with the concept of tattoos, and Thranduil oversees him getting marked as well before Tinel finally makes her way back into the room, finding Halueth, Biri, and Thranduil all shirtless.
Being very intoxicated, Tinel gets a tattoo as well, and Max/Biri had a great idea of getting three dots inked on the skin between thumb and forefinger. Three dots to represent the members of the Party. Both Tinel and Halueth got the dots as well, making the inkings a bonding experience.
Thranduil also had a couple moments with Halueth that fell into place perfectly to set up the magical lessons I wanted to play out later. The content and even the placement of Halueth's tattoos---which was all improv---ended up being perfect for my plans, Don's plans, and even some plans Max had up his sleeve for Biri. One of the most satisfying aspects of my experience role-playing with this group was seeing how everything managed to fall into place despite us all working independently. I've never felt such a wonderful rapport amongst strangers!
To summarize the rest of the scenes from this episode, I basically got to have Thranduil's moment with Tinel at the memorial where she is gifted the whistle necklace of Oromë. At the end of that scene, Thranduil finally breaks down at Legolas' memorial stone, which I then assumed allowed him an outlet for his grief and the catharsis he needed. This led perfectly into Thranduil approaching Halueth and offering to teach him magic.
That scene played out beautifully as well, with Halueth sharing a bit of his background as an Elf from Gondolin and Thranduil really finding connection with him. Both Elves are over 6000 years old and had grown icy in order to deal with the stress of accumulated trauma and being forced into a leadership role where they must be a pillar of strength for others. There is also something inherently intimate about sharing magical training, and I tried to capture that as well. Thranduil shows Halueth how to tap into the spirit of Greenwood, and through that connection, they feel each other in ways Zac and I felt as players but didn't put into words during the game. When Halueth succeeds in his lesson, Thranduil is so elated to share Greenwood with someone that he laughs gleefully for what is probably the first time in over a century.
It was then time for us to check back in with Biri, who had spent this entire second day and into the morning of the third day in the forge working his Dwarven magic with the Silvan Elves. The results were:
- A full size mithril shield for Biri.
- New stealth armor for Halueth made from the remains of a Fell Beast. The design also left Halueth's right arm exposed, which now would show off his new tattoos!
- A gauntlet for Tinel that could be used to navigate with the stars.
- An undisclosed design or two were also shared with the Silvan Elves for combat, as Biri had promised in exchange for the access and aid in the forges.
Once these gifts were given, Don ended the session, and we knew I would be involved in a third episode to get the Party out of Mirkwood at last.
Tricksy Little Role-Players...
Now we come to the fun that happened behind the scenes between Thranduil's second and third episodes. Following the second role-play session, I couldn't shake the feeling that there was a potential connection to be had between Thranduil and Halueth. After the magic lesson in the session, I noted that Thranduil would make sure Halueth was well-fed after such exertion. That was an innocent statement, honestly, but the more I thought about it afterwards, the more I suspected that Thranduil would have looked after Halueth personally following the lesson. As I mentioned, connecting through Greenwood can be considered an intimate (though non-sexual) act, and aftercare is important and something he would absolutely have done for Legolas in the same position.
After much internal debate, I asked Don for a way to contact Zac directly to ask him a question between the sessions. I didn't tell Don what it was, in case it went nowhere... But the questions were: "Do you think it would be appropriate for something to have happened off-screen between Halueth and Thranduil?" and "Is Halueth's sexuality fluid or decidedly straight?"
If you don't want to be completely spoiled, please watch the episode before reading beyond here. Because yes, Zac was game for some implied interaction, and I'll share what we spoke about. Go watch the episode here!
Zac's take on the interaction can be summed up as follows. Halueth has respect for power and control, so experiencing Thranduil display that in his control over the magic of Greenwood would have sparked a natural attraction. Zac agreed there was potential there with the meeting of two older, battle-worn souls giving a small piece of themselves to each other and enjoying a moment amidst the emotional isolation of the times.
I proposed a private meal would have happened, and Zac agreed that it would likely have led to the sharing of tales (both of merriment and sorrow) and compliments on each Elf's skills (Halueth's archery, Thranduil's magic-use), and then likely to something sexual. These characters deserved a moment of laughter, connection, and relaxation without any grand commitment or promises exchanged... so we gave it to them and planned to drop hints for everyone else to learn about it after the fact.
Don knew nothing about it, even after another planning session prior to filming the next episode of the show. I kept it secret from him, not to mention the other players. And that's the joy of being a tricksy role-player behind the scenes!
Sparks of Hope and Alliance -- Episode 17:
Thranduil was only part of the first half of this episode. Biri, Tinel, and Halueth needed to figure out their next steps and continue on their path southward out of Mirkwood. Now, they would have Thranduil's protection to get them back towards the Anduin River, and the promise that if Tinel used the mithril whistle she'd been gifted, Thranduil would send all the troops that could be spared to rally behind them.
The moment I had planned between Biri and Thranduil coalesced in him taking Biri aside and advising him to learn some mental fortitude from Halueth. Thranduil had seen something influence Biri's mind in the throne room, and while he didn't have the patience to teach Biri himself, he knew Halueth might have the chance as their road continued. This culminated in Biri hugging Thranduil, which was adorably awkward for the Elf, since he failed a strength check to prevent it or push Biri away.
Zac then had Halueth linger while the others prepared for their journey. The scene was not planned at all by me, which made it extra fun. Halueth thanks Thranduil for the time they spent together, and when he starts to babble a bit, Thranduil shuts him up with a kiss. While Halueth retreats, he stops at the door and looks back, and we all faded it to black from there.
There aren't words for how satisfying it was to watch everyone react. Don swiftly paused us to ensure that what happened was fully consented to by the players (which is exactly what any Game Master should do). Zac and I revealed that we'd spoken prior, and I reassured everyone that I wouldn't have had Thranduil act on something like that without first consulting the other player.
The most brilliant part is that throughout the rest of the episode (and for several episodes further, to my knowledge), only Tinel rolled high enough to notice the reason why Halueth was suddenly relaxed and smiling. Biri was completely clueless as Thranduil set them up with sashes to mark them as allies under his protection. The flirting between Thranduil and Halueth at that point was blatant, but Biri was oblivious, which played perfectly for the characters!
As a behind the scenes note, the moment where I had Zac roll a success/fail a couple times was for a coin-toss idea I had to hint at what might have occurred between Halueth and Thranduil without getting explicit. This was actually lifted from a couple characters my partner and I wrote together. They were both relatively dominant types, so they relied on a coin-toss to determine who would be in charge of that bout of their intimacy. Since Zac and I hadn't discussed such preferences for the characters, I allowed the dice to decide.
The way the session was edited made it a little confusing how the rolls were counted. Just to clarify, I had Zac roll twice. The first roll, I counted even numbers as a fail and odd numbers as a success. The second roll, I actually swapped the two results. So while Zac rolled 5 first and 6 second, both rolls were successes. I realize in hindsight that it looked far more confusing as it was filmed. My apologies!
The takeaway was that Halueth won both coin tosses. The first was to determine who had taken dictated the intimacy the night before. The second toss was to determine who would take the lead the next time they met. So Halueth was in charge both times, and Thranduil was amused by his luck. What exactly it meant for Halueth to be in charge was up for Zac's interpretation. I didn't want to presume anything about Halueth's preferences, so this just meant Halueth got to chose. Whether he chose to be more dominant or more submissive is entirely up to Zac. Later in the episode, Zac hints that Halueth topped Thranduil, so you viewers are allowed to run with that however you'd like in your minds. Either way, Thranduil and Halueth obviously had fun during their night together and whatever quickie happened while Biri and Tinel were waiting to depart Mirkwood.
Following that, I took my leave of the role-playing session and had to wait several weeks to experience the hushed conversation that followed between Tinel and Halueth. So I was in the live-chat with everyone else when Zac dropped these gems:
Tinel: "The king?!"
Halueth: "I'm bizarrely attracted to powerful characters, what can I say?"
Halueth: "He showed me strength; I showed him mine."
Tinel: "He's firmly on our side now, I would suppose."
Halueth: "I think so. I certainly, uh... stretched his longbow."
The implication that Thranduil got bent was a riot in the live-chat! Well played, Zac.
Bonus -- Thranduil's Letter to Tauriel:
As a bit of a bonus, I reached out to Don following my last session with The Unpredicted Party and asked if I could have Thranduil send a letter to Tauriel to explain what was happening and better tie her into the plot as she appeared at the end of Episode 17. With his permission, I then wrote a letter... and then decided to make it a physical reality just for fun. I recorded myself reading the letter aloud, and then made a calligraphy project out of the letter, giving Thranduil's handwriting several stylistic flourishes. It took me several days to come up with Thranduil's signature for the end as well. I made it look like a leaf and a budding flower, which is perfect for his name, which means "Vigorous Spring". This sparked me making signatures for several popular Tolkien Elves, which I'll have to include in separate posts here on the blog at some point.
The letter was then shown to Tauriel and the rest of the Party at the beginning of Episode 20: Armed Forces (link goes directly to the part with the letter).
Getting to play Thranduil was one of the highlights of 2022 for me. The character has meant so much to me; it was truly a joy to revisit him for the first time since my partner passed away. And in doing so, I got the itch to role-play again. This led to me writing a sassy, sexually open young Thranduil (as he could have been in the 2nd Age long before the Last Alliance) as part of The Unhinged Fellowship on Twitter. Having fun in a more communal writing space like that has been very healing for me, and it's great to have Thranduil and The Unpredicted Party to thank for finally bringing me back into a creative writing space after so long!
A huge thank you to Don Marshall for inviting me onto the campaign. I hope that Thranduil left an impression and that he'll eventually be called into action to help in the ultimate fight against Gwaihir to save Middle-Earth. The Thranduil I know would relish the chance, and I'd be happy to play him again if the opportunity arises!